Book of Eibon, Chapter 1.
As I have elsewhere described, though a claimed native of Mhu Thulan, my true parentage was revealed to me before my indenture to the sorcerer Mirzhel was to begin. My mother had elided the fact to me before, but had steadfastly refused to elaborate on her remarks until that moment when the knowledge could have been the key to the preservation of my very life. In her youth, she had enacted a dalliance with a stranger, a man she met while adventuring to the fringes of the jungle from the familial estates to which she retired while her husband and my fallacious pater was away for great lengths of time on the small matters of state which became the common chorus of his career. This stranger was of the Efjool, considered by most to be sub-humans on account of their general apanthropinization. In later years, more intimate study informed me that their rejection of the civilized world is more veraciously conceived as an extreme reverence of more primeval forces.
The time of this confession of my mother's capitulation to her own more bestial urges and the inevitable consequences thereof I regarded as a particular irony, recognizing at the time that the transfer of my wardship from family to foreigner was predicated on the importune financial transactions of my mother's husband, whom we both deeply despised. Before I departed with Mirzhel, my mother impressed upon me the sole token exchanged during the course of her affaire – a small idol, of a size that I could easily conceal it from my new master, as my mother counseled me to do. She imparted as well the name of the god depicted in the fetish, Zhothaqquah. No further advice regarding either god or sculpture had been imparted by her consort, but she trusted that these bare resources, coupled with my precocious wits, would be sufficient to see me through whatever ordeals fate had set before me.
The name of Mirzhel would surely be consigned to oblivion were it not for its inclusion here, as he was a sorcerer of most mediocre talent and interest, who lacked the necessary intelligence and dedication fundamental to excellence in the magical arts. While he knew some secrets of magastromancy and the timely conjunctions of empyrean phenomena, and it could be granted that his grasp of arithmancy was masterful beyond that of magicians of much greater renown, he had heretofore resisted contracting with those spirits, demons, and gods whose arcane fluency signalled them among the most significant, and sinister, of cosmological entities. This timorousness had greatly retarded his advancement in relation to his surviving peers, whose navigation of the appetites and ordinances of more potent apparitions had led to manifold increases of their own magical prowess.
My role was defined as servant, but it was apparent from the outset that Mirzhel had more ominous designs. He had learned of a chthonic being whose domain stretched beneath the mighty Eiglophian Mountains, and who, in exchange for proper obeisance and sacrifice, could impart knowledge of arcane mysteries beyond the conception of the greatest of mortal intelligences. I, then servant Eibon, was designated the esculent in the iniquitous liturgy. Despite this forthcoming fate, my education was not neglected, no doubt to inflate my merit as a sacrifice to this patron of the wise and powerful. Adjunct to my master's instruction, in secret I spied upon his enactment of other wizardly rites and so learned the summoning of such minor spirits and demons as he designed to consort with.
Part of my duties required me to venture into the jungle to procure the rare saps, fronds, and vegetal essences used in the formulation of various magical compounds. These brief unsupervised interludes allowed me leave to practice these small arts, mandating conjured minions to undertake my menial assignments in my stead while I interrogated the more knowledgeable among their number for increasingly tantalizing secrets. The possession of the idol imparted to me by my mother, along with the name of the depicted deity, acted as passkeys, or perhaps markers of initiation into the doctrines of nerterology. Mirzhel's mystic collaborators betrayed him – not only did I learn of his plan, but I was certain I knew the identity of the creature to whom he intended to offer me as a bargaining chip – it was Zhothaqquah himself!
My suspicions were substantiated when Mirzhel returned from an adventure of his own, bronze sword dripping with the blood of one of his rivals and the viscous decoction of their erstwhile guardians. While Mirzhel could be described as pusillanimous when it came to the supernatural, in the affairs of mortal servitors and cohorts of the unknown powers he had no compunctions whatsoever. This was not the first of his rivals to come to a violent end, and the incident was remarkable only for the spoils that had been his ambition from the outset. Along with an ancient rimestock inscribed with runes of extraterrestrial origin was another idol, larger than my own and more exactly rendered, depicting the squat fur-covered body, long in-curling claws, bulging, heavy-lidded eyes and wide, toadlike face of Zhothaqquah.
Mirzhel looked upon the idol with revulsion and wonder, considering the acquisition a necessary step in his preparations, both as a measure of familiarization and as a tool vital to the communion he aspired to undertake. I took the icon's arrival as a portent not of my impending gastronomic doom, but of the opportunity to take charge of my fate and prostrate myself before a more meritorious teacher. Unlike the wizard I nominally served, I did not shy from intercourse with otherworldly entities, rather seeing such gods, and Zhothaqquah in particular, as sources of knowledge and understanding beyond the greatest of any Hyperborean wizards.
When the stars were in the conjunction deemed most favourable for the venture, Mirzhel undertook his final preparations. In these his pilfered icon was essential, as it became the focus for the sympathetic colocation that would transport us beneath the Eiglophians and into Zhothaqquah's subterranean dominion, without having to pass through the many hazards, such as the lairs of the savage Voormis, that may have slowed our progress and risked delaying our engagement. He informed me only that we were to undertake a short journey for the purpose of magical research, and that I was to accompany him in my function as assistant, in order to provide him with what materials may be necessary for the undertaking. I had observed his calculations and preparatory arcane invocations, and understood the materials necessary on this occasion to be my very flesh and blood! As Mirzhel prepared himself, I did likewise, taking precaution not only to protect myself from ensorcellment, but from his methods of mundane treachery as well.
The cavern to which his spell dispatched us was gloomy, lit by patches of phosphorescent worms that feasted on the slimy moulds covering the ancient granite. The air around us was still, and the chamber silent save the slow and syncopated dripping of aggrandizing stalactites, and the quiet crocitations of lurking amphibians preying in occasional turn upon the fungus-fattened glow-worms. Ahead lay the chamber of Zhothaqquah – my fingers curled around the small idol concealed in the folds of my cloak as Mhirzel directed me forward, his hand tightening in fear around the hilt of his weapon. Within the deepening murk, we could first perceive the bulk of the waiting god, the thiastery prepared as a table awaiting its feast. Advancing forward, I soon felt the tip of Mhirzel's sword at my back.
"Great Old One!" he called, his voice projecting only a slight quaver, "I have come with an offering, that I might implore you to impart me some measure of your ancient wisdom and knowledge of the secret workings of arcane sciences!"
With this mediocre invocation, he aimed forward with his blade, expecting to force me up to the altar. I had expected this tactic, however, and beneath my cloak and tunic I had armoured myself with a girdle of hard boiled leather. This provided sufficient resistance to his thrust that I was able to slip aside unharmed, much to the amazement of the man who had considered himself my master, who reeled in further astonishment as I delivered my own address.
"Mighty Zhothaqquah, I have offered you prayers and supplications in preparation for this meeting, that you would recognize me as your true servant. I have dedicated myself to your veneration and exultation, though the cities of Hyperborea have turned their backs on your worship in favour of lesser gods whose miens are more tolerable to their weak and recreant minds! As a willing servant to a worthy master, I would not turn from you, not blanch at the requirements of your worship. Signal to my devotion, I decry the wizard Mhirzel, who trembles before you in his fear and weakness, as unworthy of your most banal philosophies!"
Mhirzel was greatly taken aback by this pronouncement, and would have redoubled his efforts to skewer me had not Zhothaqquah commanded our attention with a smacking of his vermicular lips. His enormous tongue slipped from between them to taste the air, affording us a glimpse of the conformation of yellowed ridges beyond, reminding us both of his reputed insatiable appetite. Though a lethargic creature by instinct, we were both well within reach of that sinuous muculant tongue, and the possibility yet persisted that he would not consider either supplicant as deserving of patronage and simply devour us both. I stood tall, awaiting judgement. Mhirzel postured himself defensively, his bronze sword wavering between myself and the furred monstrosity that dominated the cavern chamber.
He spoke, the words forming with alien syllables inside our minds even as they were uttered through a gullet not formulated for the pronouncing of earthy sounds. "Eibon, you are known to me through your invocations and your abasement before my icons. You have made to me the proper obeisances, recited prayers as prescribed." He turned his luminescent eyes from me to Mhirzel. "You have not made yourself familiar to me, wizard, though I have heard your name. Your preparatory rites are lacking, yet you have presented to me a blood offering, and were it not that in your ignorance you claim to consign me my own acolyte, I may have indulged your supplication with some arcane tidbit to assist your advancement among your Hyperborean peers. But despite your great learning, you failed to observe the transformation from slave to master that had taken place within your own domain, and so I deem you less worthy."
Mhirzel's face drained of all colour, and he brandished his sword ineffectually. I stood watch as the great maw opened wide and the slimy, swollen tongue lolled forward, enveloping him completely so that when it withdrew, all that remained was a dingy puddle of effervescing ichor. The sleepy-lidded eyes kept their focus on me as Zhothaqquah swallowed his meal, a demonstrative warning of my fate should I betray my given oath.
His appetites slaked for the time being, the god's voice resonated once more in my skull. "Go now, Eibon, hence from this place with my protection. Take possession of that one's holdings, and return when your knowledge of mortal sorceries has expanded. Then shall we speak long on the greater mysteries of the worlds and the spaces between them."
With such a dismissal, I withdrew from the chamber, venturing forth from the underbelly of the world into the Eiglophians to make my long return to Mhu Thulan and claim Mhirzel's tower for my own.