Slink's pointed teeth chattered furiously as he scurried through the snow, the tattered robes he had wrapped around himself not helping in the least. An arctic wind howled through the stands of dark, towering trees, driving buckets-full of the nasty white powder into his face as he ran. Silently he cursed the miserable, pathetic corporeal body he was stuck with, wondering why in the names of the Elders he should have been forced to take on such a ridiculous form. He'd wanted to be an incubus, but no, they'd said he didn't have the charm for that. Stupid infernal bureaucrats...
The gremlin was brought to an abrupt halt as a wall of iron materialized out of the white-out three feet in front of him. His feet skidding on the slick paving stones, he slammed head-first into the thick, heavy doors of his Mistress's palace. The impact sent a dull ringing sound through the doors, like the peal of an enormous bell. One of the doors opened quietly inward just as he dizzily fell forward into the space where it had been a moment before.
"Come in," a bored voice said.
Picking himself up off the nicely carpeted floor, Slink shook his head a few times and raced over to the desk at the far end of the entrance hall, where a skeleton sat guarding the door to his Mistress's hearing chamber. Moving aside a few papers on the desk, the undead creature picked up a quill and gazed at him expectantly.
"Name?" it asked, its eye sockets glowing with a dull green light.
"Slink," the imp replied quickly. "I have to see Mistress Lilith--"
"Do you have an appointment?" the skeleton asked, looking down at its topmost sheet of paper.
Slink suppressed another shiver -- it was freezing in here, too, though he doubted that the skeleton noticed it. "She sent me a personal summons," he said, quickly growing weary of this meddlesome creature.
"Really." Deliberately, the skeleton began searching through the huge stack of papers that sat on one end of the desk, examining each one carefully before setting it aside.
Slink shifted nervously on his feet. The last time he'd been late for a summons, Mistress Lilith had given him to her pet dire wolves as a chew toy. It had taken him months to pull all of his pieces back together again...
"Could you go a little faster?" he asked.
The skeleton stopped, looked up at him for a moment, then looked back down and continued examining its papers. "Be patient with me. It is much harder to read ever since that worm ate my optic nerves."
"Not to mention your brain," Slink muttered.
"What was that?"
The skeleton scowled, which was a real trick since it didn't have any facial muscles. "I am very sorry, Master Slink," it said, slowly and precisely, "but I cannot seem to find any record of your summons. Good day."
The gremlin spat out a series of colorful oaths. "Listen to me, you quivering bag of bones," he snarled, pointing a long, bony finger at the skeleton. "You let me in to see the Mistress right now, or I'll--"
"Kill me?" the creature said, hopefully. Its eye-sockets seemed to be growing more brightly.
"Erm." Slink closed his mouth abruptly. "Well, I -- I'm afraid I can't do that... Um..."
Just about then, the door beside the desk opened.
"Don't worry about him, Julius," a voice called from the room beyond. "I'm expecting him."
The skeleton looked disappointed. "Oh." Reaching down, it placed the papers it had examined back on top of the pile. "The Mistress will see you now, Master Slink."
"Thank you," Slink said, sardonically, as he approached the door.
As he stepped inside, the wizened little daedra was hit by a wave of delicious heat and humidity.
"Mmm," he moaned happily, rubbing his arms to work out the chill that had saturated them. "It's hellishly warm in here!"
"Delightful, isn't it?" said the dark-haired beauty across the room. She gestured to the tall metal columns that were scattered around the room, each of them with a brilliant orange-yellow flame spouting from the top.
"Aye, Mistress!" Slink agreed heartily, as he approached the dais. Mistress Lilith was sitting on an ornate golden throne atop the raised platform, her two dire wolves sitting on either side of her. The beasts' eyes lit up with recognition as they caught the gremlin's scent. The one on her right whined pleadingly.
"Maybe later, Hecatha," the Daedra Lord purred, scratching the animal behind its ears.
Slink cleared his throat nervously. "So, um ... what sort of fuel do the torches use?"
Smiling thinly, the seeming-woman handed him a small cup. It was half-filled with a thick, black substance, the consistency of tar.
The imp took a whiff of the stuff and grimaced. "Smells awful. What in hell is it?"
"The soul of a lawyer," Lilith explained. "With proper care and tending of the lamps, they will burn for _centuries!"_
Slink frowned. "What's a lawyer doing in the Second Hell?"
The Vampire Queen smiled again, sending shivers up the gremlin's spine. "Agemnos sends them up specially for me from the Eighth Hell. He has more of them than he knows what to do with."
The imp nodded, grinning. "And how long do they last when you're burning them like this?" he asked, gesturing to one of the brightly flaming torches.
Lilith's dark eyes sparkled. "Oh, about a week." Reaching inside her outer robe, the Daedra Lord drew out a scroll. "In any event, here is the reason I summoned you. I want you to take this letter and the soul gems from the second cache and deliver them to our friend, the Turguroth."
Slink swallowed hard. "Aye, Mistress. Um..."
The female daedra raised an eyebrow. "You have a question, Slink?"
"Um ... well ... aye, ma'am. I thought that the second cache was being saved for Lord Ba'al's use."
Lilith's eyes narrowed. "Have you heard what has just happened in Metamor?"
Slink nodded. "Aye, ma'am. Nasoj failed to take the Keep again." He laughed, nervously. "Rumors say that Lord Ba'al lost six Moranasi in that battle."
"The rumors are correct," Lilith said. "When our exalted prince can learn to play with his own toys without breaking them, then we can talk about him borrowing mine. Until then, I have other plans." She waved him off. "Now go, quickly. You're letting out the heat."
"Aye, Mistress!" Slink said. Sketching a quick bow, he turned and ran out the door, being careful to shut it firmly behind him.
"Oh, my. This is delightful."
Slink winced at the sound of the Turguroth's voice, trying hard not to shudder. "Glad you approve," he said, a little sarcastically. "The Mistress wants you to begin preparations immediately. The project must be underway in four months."
"Then I shall have it for her in three," the creature assured him, running a delicate hand through his long black hair. He examined the scroll critically for a moment before rolling it up and placing it within his robes. "Some of these reagents could prove difficult to obtain, but I shall find a way. Of course you realize that purely practical considerations could delay the arrival of this last component for weeks after the project is in motion."
"I'm sure the Mistress has considered that."
The Turguroth smiled. "I knew she would." He rose to his feet and bowed once to the gremlin. "Thank you, Master Slink. I shall start drawing up plans at once."
Nodding, the imp turned to leave.
He turned back around. "Aye?"
The Turguroth's face carried an expression of concern -- possibly the most frightening thing Slink had seen yet. "Are you quite all right? You look dreadfully blue in the skin. Much more so than usual."
Slink shrugged. "I'm fine. Hell just froze over."
The Turguroth's eyebrows went up. "Really? Do tell..."
Shaking his head, Slink headed for the door. "What can I say? It happens."