Tales of the Ruddy Spirits Taproom
Ghoulmage from Yentha's Past
Yentha felt as if a stifling net of bewilderment were being drawn about her.
“Who are you?” she cried desperately. “What madness is this? Why do you come here?”
“Who am I?” There was the spite of a Yuan-ti’s hiss in the soft response. The cloaked intruder stepped to the edge of the settee, grasped the shadowmage’s white shoulders with fierce fingers, and bent to glare full into the startled eyes of Yentha.
“Fool!” gritted the ghoulmage between her teeth. “Can you ask? Can you wonder? I am Kafdra!”
“Kafdra!” Yentha breathed the word, and the hairs prickled on her scalp as she realized the incredible, numbing truth of the statement. “I thought you died within the hour of your birth,” she said feebly.
“So thought many,” answered the woman who called herself Kafdra. “They carried me into the black dunes of the Umbrul desert to die, damn them! And do you know why they took me there to die?”
“I—I have heard the story—” faltered Yentha.
Kafdra laughed fiercely, and ripped open her blouse. The low-necked tunic left the upper parts of her firm breasts bare, and between them there shone a curious mark—a fang, black as moonstone.
“The mark of the ghoul!” cried Yentha, recoiling.
“Yes!” Kafdra’s laughter was dagger-edged with hate. "The curse of the shades of Aykelo! They tell the tale in the marketplaces, with wagging beards and rolling eyes, the pious fools! They tell how the first undertaker of our line had traffic with a fiend of darkness and bore him a daughter who lives in foul legendry to this day. And thereafter in each century a female baby was born, with an ebony fang etched between her breasts signifying her destiny.
“‘Every century a ghoulmage shall be born.’ So ran the ancient curse. And so it has come to pass. Some were slain at birth, as they sought to slay me. Some walked the earth as mages, proud daughters of Aykelo, with the fang of hell burning upon their ivory bosoms. Each was named Kafdra. I too am Kafdra. It was always Kafdra, the ghoulmage. It will always be Kafdra, the ghoulmage, even when the mountains of ice have
roared down from the pole and ground the civilizations to ruin, and a new world has risen from the ashes and dust—even then there shall be Kafdras to walk the shadows, to trap men’s hearts by their sorcery, to dance before the lords of the world, to see the heads of wise men fall at their pleasure.”
“But—but you—” stammered Yentha.
“I?” The malicious eyes burned like dark fires of mystery. "They carried me into the desert far from the city, and laid me naked on the dark sand, under the black sun. And then they rode away and left me for the shadow wolves and shade prowlers.
“But the life in me was stronger than the life in common folk, for it partakes of the essence of the forces that seethe in the black gulfs beyond mortal ken. The hours passed, and the sun slashed down like ebon flames of hell, but I did not die. Something of that torment I remember, faintly and far away, as one remembers a dim, formless dream. Then there were mounts, and sharp-fanged demons who wore silk robes and spoke in a weird tongue. Strayed from the desert road, they passed close by, and their leader saw me, and recognized the black fang on my bosom.
“He was a demon lord from far Chath, returning to his native plane after a journey to the Abyss. He took me with him to obsidian-towered Garlorc, its spires rising amid the vine-festooned jungles of shadow, and there I grew to womanhood under his teaching. Age had steeped him deep in black wisdom, not weakened his powers of evil. Many things he taught me—”
She paused, smiling enigmatically, with wicked mystery gleaming in her slate gray eyes.