THE DYING OF EMBER (A Parody of Amber, with Apologies to Roger Zelazny) Kevin Knight c 1988 Reproduced with Permission
My destination: Ember. My goal: the crown and the throne. My mode of transportation: walking in Shade. My name: Lord Corbin. First stop, Revlon. Ah, fair Revlon. A Shade world I once knew so well. I had ruled there for many years in the Old Times. Revlon was my home away from Ember, and through my presence there, I had built it into a mighty power. Rolling hills, deep forests, men of honor, fair maidens . . . Fair maidens with heavy makeup. Strange as it may sound, the makeup of Revlon would enable me to launch a massive attack on Ember and win back what was rightfully mine. Years before, you see, I had brought a case of Revlon rouge to Ember, as a gift for my sister Didi. She didn't like the stuff, and in my anger I threw it into the fireplace. It exploded, very prettily and very noisily. My first thought was: I was lucky that Didi had spurned the gift, for she sometimes smokes. My second thought was: wait a minute, nothing explodes in Ember! And so I formulated a plan to build weapons based on this chemical, weapons which would one day make me the most powerful man in Ember. Unfortunately, this plan had slipped my mind last time around. Blaise fell off a cliff and I got four years in the slammer because of it. Not this time, brother. I shifted Shade for Revlon.
I came upon seven men, six dead and one slouched against a thick oak. I hated to see so many dead men, so using my power as Prince of the Blood, I walked to a nearby Shade where there were also seven men, but only one was dead. The other six stood laughing. They noticed me as I approached. "Wot's this then?" said one. Their shirts were thin and ragged, probably from the battle that had resulted in the death of the one who lay plastered on the ground. "Warriors," I said. "Does any of your number know the way to Revlon?" They looked at each other quizzically. "For whom do you fight?" I asked. "?" they tried. "Who . . . is . . . your . . . leader?" "Tha' would be me, bloke," said one of the tall ones. "You innerested in joinin' us? Headin' for Revlon, we are." "Fine, fine!" I said. "What instrument do you play?" he asked. "I play some guitar, but why do you ask?" "We're a Heavy Metal Band, boy! And Lord knows we need another guitarist!" "We only got three," piped one of the short ones. "You're in!" said the leader, and he slapped me on the back. I wasn't really interested in hanging around with a burned out metal band, but I had to admit I was out of practice, and a few jam sessions would be just the thing to get me back into top form. I would travel with these men to Revlon. "I've been in the slammer," I explained. They murmured to each other in their heavy foreign accents. I could only pick out the words "pigs" and "drugs." I slept, and in the morning I found that my sword Graceland had transmuted itself into a silver Stratocaster. I picked it up and played a C chord. Then a G. The guitar was in tune. I cradled the neck and pulled up on the distortion bar. Yes, I knew how to use the thing. Outside, the men in the band were tuning their instruments. The two drummers were dueling. The bassist/vocalist was running through some scales. I stepped out and roared into a Stones riff. The other guitarists were taken aback. They jumped in with some rhythm, and one of them contested me for the lead. I was able to squeeze in more notes per second, however, and he quickly conceded. I switched to some of the heavier stuff. After an hour, two of the guitarists put down their weapons and had a smoke. The other one played with me for another hour, but he too grew tired. I was just starting to feel back in shape, though, and I wanted to push myself. I played a few songs with the drummers, then engaged the bassist/vocalist in an extended version of Stairway to Heaven. That night, I ate a huge meal and slept for ten hours. I repeated the same routine for the next few days, as we drew closer to Revlon. On the fourth night I met Lauren. I would like to tell you that we met an a patio overlooking a lake, with the full moon highlighting her hair and her silvery dress. But that would be crap. I had seen her several times before, first with the bassist/vocalist, then with one of the guitarists, and later with the two drummers. The first time I ever spoke with her, though, was after a gig. She came by my dressing room and asked me if I wanted to do it. I said, yeah, sure. She said she loved me. I said, crap. But she started hanging around me anyway. We spent several nights together, and she told me many things. "I've seen you play. You're good," she said. "I've seen better," I replied. "The guys in the band respect you. They also fear you." "Why? Because I can squeeze a few more notes out of my Strat?" "They think there is something supernatural involved. They're Devil Worshippers, you know." I had not known this, but as I reflected upon the human skeletons, the pyrotechnics, and the hell-inspired lyrics that made up our show, pieces of the puzzle began to fall together. Perhaps it was no accident that I, a man who had been called a demon more than once, should fall in with such a crowd. I laughed aloud to hide my thoughts. "I'm no demon," I said. " I'm just the second best guitarist around, that's all." "Who's the best? "Benedictus of Ember, if he is still alive," I replied. Benedictus had once upstaged the Moonpeople of Ghinesh by doing four encores in a single night. We are a very musical family. "Wanna do it?" she asked. "Yeah, sure," I replied. "I love you." "Crap." There was something sad about Lauren, though I enjoyed my time with her, and vice-versa. One night she told me that she was going to die. I asked her why. She said that soon the band would break up, and without us, she was nothing. I was silent, for I knew that the band would indeed break up. I would be the first to leave once we reached Revlon. I had no choice. My destiny was to become King of Ember, not Bandleader of Devil-people. With a few gigs under my belt, I felt better than ever. I no longer felt the physical and psychological strains of my four years in the Big House. Lauren lay next to me, sleeping. Suddenly, her eyes grew wide. "You are in trouble," she said flatly. Before I could formulate an answer, the door to my hotel room flew open. On the threshold stood an inhuman beast, six feet tall, gray and unclothed. It wore a fake arrow through its head, in a low grade imitation of the Comedians of Ember. In its right hand was a long silver blade that I liked not at all. "My name is Strygalldwinnirdrillbinir. Conjure with it, and I shall eat your spleen." "Conjure with it? I can't even say it," I lied. "Who are you?" it demanded. "Misli, gammi gra'dil, Strygalldwinnnirdrinbillir," I said. "No, it's 'Strygalldwinnirdrillbinir'," it said. "Sorry. Misli, gammi gra'dil, Strygalldwinnirdribblnir." "No, not '--dribblnir'. It's '--drillbinir'." I never was very good at foreign names. One more try: "Misli, gammi gra'dil, Strygalldwinnirdrillbinir." "You seek to drive me away with such a simple spell? I am not one of the wimpier ones. I must ask you again, who are you?" "This isn't fair. My name is much easier to pronounce." "Three times I must ask you--" Those were its last words, for just then, a man slid up behind the beast and put a dagger through its throat. The thing died silently. The man entered the room. "Lose the bitch," he said. Lauren pulled the sheet around herself and left quickly. "My thanks, sir," I said. "What is your name?" He hesitated. "Look, I won't conjure with it, I promise," I promised. "The name is Galenon, and if I may offer you some paternal advice, I would transmute that guitar back into a sword. The times they are a-changin'." I chuckled and snorted and did this thing, and we stayed up most of the night talked of our respective travels. Galenon was also on the road to Revlon, as it turned out, and I decided to split the band and join him. I packed my things and left in the night. I was forthright with Galenon, for I trusted him. I told him of Ember and of my plans to take the throne. He had heard of Ember and asked to be my lieutenant in the upcoming battle. I accepted his offer. We reached Revlon at last. I wondered if its inhabitants would still remember me, their ruler of five hundred years past. At the border, a guard stopped us. "You look familiar," he told me. "You look just like that guy on the old coins." "George Washington?" I tried. "No, no, that other guy." "Lincoln?" "No." "Kennedy? He's on the half-dollar," I suggested. "Forget it. You may pass." "Was it Jefferson? Thomas Jefferson?" Galenon nudged me. "I don't mean to sound like your father," he said, "but don't you think we ought to be getting the explosive rouge?" "Right," I said. We made it to the city, where we were approached by the local cops. They insisted that we see a man known as the Defender, in City Hall. We travelled to this place. Inside, I was surprised to see that the man behind the desk was my own brother, Benedictus of Ember. My eyes widened, and so did his. "Brother!" said he. "Brother!" replied I. "How fare thee?" he asked. I dared not tell him of my plans. "Fine, and you?" I said. "I am tired, and as you can see, I have no arms." This was true, he had no arms. "This is true, you have no arms. How did this thing come about?" "It is a long story. But at last I have re-united Revlon and driven the demon creatures out." "Demon creatures? DEMONS OF EMBER?" "No, demons of Revlon. A particularly nasty race of beings known as Housemaids. Cold, icy, stubborn beasts, they refuse to do windows, and worse, they always put stuff back in the wrong drawers. Their attacks began three years ago. As you can imagine, they caused great confusion in the land. In an effort to resolve the conflict, I met with their leader, a woman called Linda. Unfortunately, I was forced to kill her after she lopped off my arms. Much later, I made love to her and then began counterattacking her troops. Only in the past month have we driven them from the city. I will continue the patrols for the next two hundred years, however, for we may have missed one or two of them." "Prudent," said I. "But enough about me. I hear you escaped Erik's dungeons. I would like to know more about this." "Tunnels," I said. He raised his eyebrows. He knew I was lying, but he dared not accuse me. Had he accused me, though, I would have been forced to challenge him to a duel of the blades, and this was a thing I did not want to do. For even without arms, he could still outfence any of us. I feared him, properly. "You are free to stay in my house, Corbin, of course. But if you are planning to use Revlon as a staging area for an attack on Ember, then you have come at the wrong time. I will not permit such a thing." "No problem," I said. "I appreciate your hospitality, Benedictus. Live long and prosper." I wanted to ask him more about Revlon, and about the Housemaids and their leader Linda, whom he slew and later loved. But there was no time. I sent Galenon to search for the explosive rouge. For my own part, I began to mentally organize the weaponry and personnel I would require. As I walked through the forest, I decided where and how I would gather the necessary materiel for my war against Erik. Suddenly, a woman appeared. She was thin and freckled, and she held a thin and freckled blade in her right hand. "Wanna do it?" she asked. Not again, I thought. "Let's fence first," I said. Her blade rose. She was good. Very good. I came on strong and aggressive at first, but she deflected my advances with ease. I decided to be more formal. We went through a series of standard exercises, after which I felt I knew her style. I closed with her. Our blades met at eye level, our faces nearly touching. I grazed her cheek with my sword. She pulled away, but I advanced. I forced her back into a thicket. She gasped. I lunged. She did not parry. I lunged again. Again. Again. She screamed, and so did I. We both fell to the ground. "So you wanna do it?" she asked again. "Give me a little break here." She gave me a break, and then we did it. I asked her name. It was Darla. I told her everything about Ember. Why? I do not know, for I am not a trusting person by nature. What was the reason for my loose tongue of late? Perhaps it was that annoying character change of mine . . . "Will you take me to Ember?" she asked. "No." "Please, please, please?" she pleaded. "I don't think you understand the danger involved. Awaiting my coming are the DEMONS OF EMBER." "What DEMONS OF EMBER?" she asked, but I did not answer. I did not know myself. I bade her farewell, and promised to look her up. I found Galenon in a department store, haggling with the woman behind the perfume counter. He held a knife to her throat. "Hello, sonny," he said to me. "The bitch says she doesn't know anything about any exploding makeup. Should I kill her?" I saw the fear in the woman's eyes, and I called my partner off. "It doesn't explode *here*, Galenon, it explodes in Ember. Look, I see some of it over there." We bought two hundred and twelve compacts of the stuff. Galenon and I departed into Shade that day. I found a Shade close to the Earth I had inhabited for so many years, but one which was subtly different from my old home. To wit, the ground was littered with automatic weapons. We collected these weapons and took them to a more familiar Shade, the place where I had collected my army so many years before. You might think that the inhabitants would be angry with me, for I had taken their youth from them and caused them to die uselessly in a foreign war. But these people revered me as a god, and thousands of them would volunteer again. I had only to ask. Galenon and I arrived. A multitude waited below us. An old man with a crown came to greet us. "I have returned!" I boomed. The man look displeased. His eyes went back to the multitude. "Don't take it wrong," quoth he, "but, uh, you did take our youth from us and cause them to die uselessly in a foreign war. What do you, uh, want this time?" "Soldiers!" I boomed again. "Soldiers," muttered the man. "Are we going to, uh, win this time?" "Of course! But it won't be easy, for awaiting my coming are the DEMONS OF EMBER!" "DEMONS OF EMBER?" "Indeed! But I have brought new weapons!" I took an automatic rifle laced the crowd with bullets. Many fell, my friend, but the rest cheered and cheered. Their god was back. Recruitment went smoothly. I only needed twenty men this time. I picked the best and trained them well. Before we left, I inspected the troops. "Who is Erik?" I asked one of the men. "Beats me," he replied. I ran him through with my sword. There was much blood. "Who is Erik?" I asked the next one, who began to sweat. "Erik is the Lord of . . . Lord of . . ." "Yes? Yes?" I provoked. "Lord of . . . Ember?" he tried. "NO! NO! LORD OF EVIL! LORD OF EVIL!" I ran him through. "Who is Erik?" I screamed. "THE LORD OF EVIL!" they all exclaimed, elated that I hadn't run them through. Galenon and I made some final arrangements, and then we set off for Ember. By now, I had mastered the Axioms of Ember. I knew that All Roads Lead to Ember, for instance, so I picked a road and followed it, and my men followed me. Erik did not notice us this time. I figured this was due to the small size of our force. "Corbin?" Galenon said. "Yes?" I answered. "Often you have mentioned the DEMONS OF EMBER which await your coming, but I myself know nothing of such beings. How do you know they await us?" "It's on the cover of the paperback," I replied. "What paperback?" "THE GUNS OF REVLON. The one with the goofy picture on the front." "But book covers are notoriously unrelated to the the text that lay between the pages. I would wager that there are no DEMONS OF EMBER," he wagered. "Hmm, you may have a point. But if you are right, then it is quite possible that THE GUNS OF REVLON is neither a HUGO nor a NEBULA AWARD WINNER. Good God, Galenon! I might not be a ROGER ZELAZNY hero--I might be living in a MICHAEL MORCOCK book!" "Get hold of yourself, son!" said Galenon. "Maybe there are DEMONS OF EMBER after all. And maybe, just maybe, there is also A MYSTERIOUS FEMALE IN THE PERFECT KINGDOM who PORTENDS TREASON, TREACHERY--AND OBLIVION!" "What does that mean, 'TREASON, TREACHERY--AND OBLIVION'? Never mind. I agree with you. I feel we must trust The Man Who Writes Book Cover Blurbs, for even though he probably hasn't read this book, his is the only information we have to go on. I only hope that bullets will be enough to stop the DEMONS OF EMBER. Come, let us hie." And hie we did, until Ember was within sight. "Ember is within sight," I announced. "I know, I can see it," said Galenon. "You act as though you have been here before," I accused. "So do you, kid," he replied. "I have been here. You've never been here. Got that? And why do you keep calling me 'kid' and 'sonny'? I'm starting to get perturbed with you." "Sorry," he said. Then, "Look!" I looked. There was a battle already in progress. Erik's men were fighting hand to hand with a large force of Shade creatures. The creatures were pouring in across a huge expanse of darkness, some kind of black road that led from deep inside Shade right up to the foot of Rivlok. I had planned to take Ember by killing Erik, but now . . . In one of those split-second decisions you usually wind up regretting, I ordered my men to attack the Shade beasts rather than Erik's men. Confused, they carried out their orders. O, how they died that day! The creatures burned and died and heaved, and I chuckled. I diverted my attention from the battle in order to find my brother Erik. At last, I spotted him on the far mountainside. I left Galenon in charge of the battle. After negotiating the crags and crevices, I reached Erik. He was lying on his back, bleeding. Around his neck was the Jewel of the Judge, a magical pendant often worn by our father. "I . . . am . . . dying," he announced. "Oh yeah?" I stuttered. "That's, uh, too bad, Erik. Listen, about your Death Curse, I mean, you're not going to, I mean, well . . . you don't even have to have a Death Curse. Not if you don't want to. It's not like a law or anything. Even if it was, what could they do to you? I mean, you're dead, and if you didn't use your Death Curse, too bad--" "Enough!" he sputtered, spitting blood all over me. "Jesus Christ, that's disgusting," I observed. "I reserve my Death Curse for the creatures from the Black Freeway. And I give you this Jewel. With it, you can control the weather. You must attune yourself to it by wearing it and walking the Design. You're in command now." He coughed up a lung. "You'll find that things are not what you expected. Ember is in deep trouble. Deep . . ." He gasped for air. "Can I get you some water or something?" I asked. He mumbled his Death Curse, a horrible thing to hear. It had an immediate effect on the battle. The creatures began retreating. Erik heaved his last breath then. I took the Jewel from about his neck. It pulsed curiously in my hands. He had said to take it to the Design. I signalled Galenon to pursue the creatures. I headed for the castle myself. Just inside, I ran into Randy. "Corbin!" he said. "Downstairs! Something's happening!" We both ran down to the Design room. Someone was walking the Design already! Who was it? I squinted, but could not make out the face. "Some chick," said Randy. "Never seen her." I looked again. It was Darla. "What do you think it means?" Randy asked. "It portends TREASON, TREACHERY--AND OBLIVION!" I said. "What does that mean, 'TREASON, TREACHERY--AND OBLIVION!'?" "Shut up for a second." I turned to the girl and yelled, "Darla! What the hell are you doing?" She looked up at me and continued walking. She was almost finished. Randy said, "So she must be of the Blood of Ember. I thought there were only thirteen of us." "There must be countless others. You're not counting Delwyn and Sandy, for instance. That makes fifteen right there." "Oh yeah. How come we never talk about them?" he asked. "We're supposed to pretend like they don't exist." "For how long?" he asked. "Until the sixth book or so," I said. I raised my hand. "Wait!" Darla had reached the center of the Design. She raised her hands into the air and said: "Ember will be destroyed!" Shit, I thought.