Do you know the story of Salamongue Greymouth, Waspkeeper of Hell?

“No? I’m not surprised. His story was left out of the canon of the world religions. It taught the wrong lesson for the priests, you see.

“Salamongue was a minor angel who, in the great conflagration, spoke against patience and understanding, choosing instead to condemn his rebellious brethren with fire and damnation for daring to question the divine. Not openly of course. He spoke only in the quiet spaces, in his home and in the nooks of the cathedrals where he could bend the ears of his comrades and utter snarling, spittle-filled insults. He was seedy. And fractious. And pretended to be noble. And when the fighting was over, he was cast over the battlements with the insurrectionists, despite having only ever spoken against them.

“Oh, Salamongue remembered well that day, when he and his fellows fell aflame through hazy orange clouds, like meteors, to crash upon a land of pus and acid, to stand again, despicable and deformed, on the shores of the Sea of Despair. But where Beelzebub and Azazel and the others were praised by their peers, sitting high and fat as princes of pandemonium, Salamongue—now called Greymouth—was kicked and chided and given naught but the hellwasp farm of Blistermead, on the Venge, for it was a job no others would take.

“Hellwasps, in case you don’t know, sup on the suffering of sinners, which they collect with their bite. When they’ve had their fill, they return to their nests, where they regurgitate it into blister-like sacs before concentrating the vomitus into a thick sap by beating their wings over it and sealing it with secretions from their anal glands. There it reaches potency after a fermentation of three seasons, at which time it’s collected by the Waspkeeper and given to the brewmasters, who turn it into a bitter relish that the Lords of Discord pour over their meals. One drop is said to turn fresh meat foul and a single taste to waste a mortal man’s mind.

“But the long years of tending Blistermead left their mark on Salamongue, who became even more despicable than after the fall. Hellwasps are vicious, needy things, and they bit and stung him constantly. Stray drops of their acrid vomit burned his skin, which swelled into knots and turned callous. Over the centuries, he developed cankerous swellings on his joints and fingers and large humps on his face and back that looked much like the wasps nests right here on earth.

“Of course, his afflictions made a perfect home for his wards, who burrowed into his callouses and laid their young in the very pits of his flesh. It is said that the major demons relished most of all the mead that was fermented from back, fingers, and knees of Salamongue Greymouth, that it was a pustulous brew and tinged with blood, that the brewmasters sealed it in the ash-lined urns of the ancient dead where it aged like fine wine, and that after a century in the cellar it turned the color of charcoal and smelled of sulfurous urine and festering skin.

“So it was, every three seasons, at the time of the harvesting, the Lords of Discord made a sport of the gathering. A great horn would sound and hellhounds would bay and Salamongue would run from Blistermead and across the Venge. He knew that if he could make it to the fells across the Styx, he could disappear into the maze of crypts, where the hounds could not follow, and the Lords of Discord would grow tired of the chase and return disappointed to the hollow halls of pandemonium.

“But if caught, Salamongue would be dragged by hook and chain down to the lowest circles of the Mad Keep and his cankers and mounds would be pierced with needles and he would be placed in a great vise and pressed like a grape, and he would scream, and what dribbled from his open sores would be collected in a fermenting vat tended by the Brewmaster himself, who watched each pressing with lips wet from smacking.

“Such was the suffering of Salamongue Greymouth. Such was how he lived, with the buzzing and squirming of hundreds of tiny larva buried in the humps and hills of his back, in his face, and in his fingers.” The old conjurer wriggled his at me.

“So what happened to him?” I asked.

“Happened? Nothing! He’s still there, just like the rest of those fuckers, right where they ought to be.”

“Then why the hell did you tell me that story?”

“No reason. I just like it. It’s a good one, don’t you think?”

rough cut from my forthcoming occult mystery/urban fantasy, FEAST OF SHADOWS

cover image is “Monster Tower” by Unidcolor


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