Tuesday, October 5. 2010
Continued from Training III
The torch burned out. Darken flexed his fingers. Fire traced its way down his arm before settling on his hand. It lit up a dark hole in the side of the mountain. Tracks led to and from, many tracks. Darken took a step inside. Hel hovered in the entrance uncertainly.
“Coming?” Darken whispered.
“Yeah, just a second,”
Hel fumbled with a tinder box. Sparks flew from his efforts and he caught one, willing it to grow. When he opened his hand there was a small flame wavering in the palm of his hand. He unwrapped his iron next and with a chant of shaping wound it around himself as armour. His flame died with the shift in focus and he had to relight it.
“Right,” He said finally.
Hel took a step inside. The night slipped away. The air chilled. The passage was dry and musty. Ancient stone slabs were laid out beneath his feet. The walls shivered at his touch. Darken took slow cautious steps, passing his lit hand through the air. Hel followed, mystified. He tried to reach out with his senses but the stench of decay that had soaked the village was thick here. Everything seemed to burn with energy. After a few paces Darken stopped short, touching something in the air. Hel squinted. “What... is...?”
“Defences,” Darken replied, tracing invisible lines.
There were footfalls from behind. Hel turned, metal forming a blade in his hand. Nothing.
“We can pass now,”
Darken led the way.
The buzzing set Hel’s teeth on edge. Twice now he’d heard something following them from behind. Each time he caught nothing. Darken seemed remarkably untroubled by their being followed. He remarked only once on the nature of necromancy.
“A taint that infuses the very earth with its stench. It makes it difficult to discern spells amidst the background emissions,”
This was true enough. The tomb pressed in, clouding the senses. The buzzing was constant, like he was maintaining a huge spell. Darken wasn’t forthcoming on how to deal with it though. Another noise gradually filtered into consciousness. Someone was sobbing nearby. A body slumped against the wall came into view. Its head bobbed up and down as the person drew sharp gasps and then sobbed them back out. As they drew alongside Hel realised it was a woman. She was dressed in robes caked with old blood. Hel’s mouth tightened and he reached for his pack. She sounded near gone.
Her head jerked up as they closed in. She was deathly pale. Darken oddly stopped a good few feet away, staring at her strangely.
“Help me,” she rasped. “The others gone...” she gagged as something caught in her throat. Hel started forward only to bump into Darken’s restraining arm.
“Watch behind us,” he said.
Darken drew his hands up, silently he ran through a spell. Then he was upon her.
His hand stroked her face and Hel smelt burning flesh. The woman moaned.
“How many of them were there?”
“So... cold!” the woman sobbed, her body shuddering. Darken’s grip tightened on her face.
“Answer me and I will grant you Dia’s mercy,”
“Darken-“ Hel began but the woman hissed, her face twisting.
“Why won’t you... help me?”
She lashed at Darken, raking his arm with her nails. Darken made a gesture with his other hand. There was a brief flash of light and the woman was still.
Something else hissed. Hel swung about. He briefly saw a distended face, jagged teeth, and hate-filled eyes. It was gone again, leaving only the thumping of his heart.
Darken rose to his feet, checking his scratched leather for damage.
“Sometimes the fresher ones are talkative,”
“Darken. What the fuck did you do?”
They looked at each other. “She’s dead, Hel. Probably only a day or two,”
Hel glanced down at the body. The blood was indeed old. “I- what?”
“Undead, Hel. I told you what we were up against,”
Hel shook his head. “But you... she acted alive. She was talking,”
“Now you see the nature of the beast. Souls trapped in dead shells. Abominations,”
Darken’s tone held a bitter edge.
Hel knelt down and touched the corpse’s neck gingerly. No beat stirred her veins. Darken couldn’t kill people that quickly, which meant he was telling the truth. Fingerprints had been burnt into her cheek, the stench of sizzled flesh. She had been pretty enough otherwise. Hel rose mutely. Darken was studying him.
“We will stop them,” was all he said.
Hel glanced behind him as they left, watching for faces in the gloom.
They passed through a hall rather than passages now. They were empty, all cut and polished stone. Hel could only wonder at the efforts it had taken to build such a labyrinth. The thought of who was behind it unsettled him. The image of the dead woman, and that face, weighed on him. He almost didn’t notice when Darken stopped.
“What?” Hel murmured, looking up.
They were at the end of the hall. Between thick, squat pillars was a dais. Upon it was an unimposing throne. It was mercifully empty.
“Did she sit there?” Darken mused aloud.
Hel looked behind him again, his light casting long shadows.
Darken turned. “There’ll probably be some labs off of here, or a library. They’ll hole up there,”
Darken lifted his light up, casting a keen eye about the hall. “Necromancers of course,”
Hel skipped the obvious question. “How can you be so sure they haven’t scarpered?”
Darken still gave him a look. “We’ve been followed the whole way down. If they’d run, or were never here we’d have been accosted by random souls like her in the corridor,”
“So they’re letting us come down? It’s a trap?”
Something crept just on the edge of vision. Hel tried to follow but the blackness swallowed it. He followed. Darken did too after a brief hesitation. Hel made out a doorway, another passage.
He led the way down the corridor, confidence growing with each step. At the end was another hall, lined with stone shelves. Upon the shelves sat skulls.
“Library,” announced Darken behind him.
Hel advanced more cautiously. The skulls were... skulls. There were small ones and big ones. They weren’t particularly scary, just weird. They were halfway down the hallway when the whispering began.
It started behind them, tongueless mutterings on the cusp of hearing. Slowly it grew closer. Darken turned, standing back to back with Hel. Hel felt the heat rise and knew Darken was summoning a spell. He maintained a straight face raising his fists into a combat stance. He stared rigidly ahead as the whispering grew in volume. Closer. Closer. The words became distinguishable and as the noise surrounded them Hel realised it was coming from the skulls, their jaws were moving, chanting.
“Join us, join us... join us,”
Hel lurched and swung a forming mace at one of the skulls. The metal shattered the fragile, ancient bone with a sharp crack. The whispering continued, travelling away now as skulls further down the line took up the chant. Eventually it faded away. The skulls were silent again. Hel wiped his forehead. It was slick.
“Just a trick,” Darken said; his voice was level.
Hel managed a barking laugh. “Not gonna fall for that again, huh?”
Darken moved away, raising his light again.
There was light. A glowing sphere crackled and hummed with energy, giving off a baleful blue light. It lit up a hellish series of bloodstained benches and bubbling vials. Hel peered over the edge of a pit. There were bodies chained to the walls. He remembered the dead woman and approached them cautiously. Darken moved about above, searching for journals or research notes.
The first one was male. It looked starved beyond belief, where its bones were not poking through it was covered with swollen grey sores. Hel prodded it a few times with the sharp end of a blade before he dared to touch it. Its skin felt vile and its heart had long ceased. He tried the next one.
“There’s something here. Alkaline residues,” Darken’s voice drifted down.
Hel focused on the next body. The woman had been stripped but the bruises and filth obscured any beauty she might have had. She too was rake thin and she bore similar festering sores. Hel blunted the end of his metal prod and tapped her. Her eyelids fluttered as she awoke. She stared dully at Hel and cleared her throat. Hel shuddered. He lifted his hand to her, stumbling over the words of the spell Darken had taught him. Then something extraordinary happened. She spat at him. Most of the drool only made it as far as her chin but it was enough to make him pause. The spell died from his lips and without a word he reached forward, placing a hand to her neck. She struggled weakly in her chains, resisting his touch and Hel could see now, even as his fingers brushed her skin. She was alive.
He grabbed the chains that bound her. They resisted his moulding spell momentarily, and then softened like putty in his hands. He pulled her arms free, one by one, then her legs, grabbing her under the shoulder.
“Darken!” he roared.
The sound bounced throughout the lab and a curious face appeared at the rim of the pit, peering down over some old documents. A fist batted his chest. She was trying to hit him as he helped her to the floor, gulping as she tried to form words. Darken was there a second later, pulling him away from her.
“What are you doing?” he hissed.
Hel elbowed Darken aside and went to her again. Darken looked around exasperated and noticed others stirring in their chains. One still had a voice.
“Leave her be!”
Darken ignored them. He looked up.
“Hel we need to get out of here,”
Hel pulled out a blanket and wrapped it around the young woman, still unable to speak. He produced a gourd and raised it to her lips, giving her a bare sip before jerking it away again.
“Careful. Too much and you’ll throw up,”
“Who are you people!”
Hel stood up, leaving her the gourd.
“Hold on. I’ll get you free,” He moved toward the voice, guard up.
“Hel, leave them,”
“Shut up Darken,”
“We have bigger problems, boy,”
Hel twisted in fury at the name and then he saw them too. Looking down on them were distended faces with jagged teeth and hate-filled eyes. The ghouls leapt into the pit.
They were met with a wave of flame. As one the undead recoiled, yelping.
“Well done. Excellent bait. Rather poor spring though,” Darken commented.
For a moment Hel was frozen, only able to stare into those soulless eyes. The way the creatures moved was like nothing human. They loped on all fours like wolves, naked bodies lean and muscled. Then Darken spoke and all Hel could think was how dumb he sounded. He snapped out of it and shaped a blade, stepping between the ghouls and the girl. The other prisoners fell silent, hoping to avoid notice.
Darken unleashed another cascade of fire but this one passed over the undead harmlessly. He frowned and cast his gaze about.
“Hel, cover me,”
“Like hell I will!” Hel pulled out a vial and unstoppered it.
The ghouls lunged forward. One charged Darken, the other Hel. Hel raised his blade letting the unarmed ghoul crash right into it. He staggered back heaving the ghoul over his head and dumping the contents of the vial onto it. It slashed at him with nails as sharp as claws then stiffened. Darken assumed a defensive stance but as his field came up his ghoul danced sideways and rammed into Hel. Caught off guard Hel barely had his blade ready and the ghoul’s claws scored into his armour. Hel punched wildly, knocking the ghoul in the shoulder. The space gave him leverage and yelling out his moulding spell he slammed an elbow into the ghoul’s head, iron shooting from it in a point. The spike pierced the ghoul’s head and did not even slow it down. It grabbed Hel’s arm and twisted it out of the way.
Fire burned into the ghoul’s face. It howled and let Hel go, clawing at itself. Hel stabbed it twice before another ghoul was on his back sending him to the floor. He rolled. The snarling monster was beneath him then he kicked out, driving his iron to the foot. Another useless stab. He couldn’t fight these things this way. The ghoul’s maw closed around his head, he could feel teeth pressing into the iron, bruising his flesh. He slammed his head back, feeling the ghoul’s crown knocking against the floor. It barely deterred the thing. Hel shook it loose and staggered to his feet. The ghoul twisted on the ground, it bared its fangs and then blossomed fire and fell back writhing. Darken was beside him, looking severely displeased.
“I said cover me,”
“Fucking... things!” Hel panted.
Darken weaved magic effortlessly, fire sprouting from his fingers and wrapping itself about the howling undead. They backed away flesh healing even as he struck it.
“There’s a necromancer reinforcing them. I cannot counter him while holding back pests,”
Hel glanced around for the girl; she was nowhere to be seen, his gourd laying abandoned on the floor. The paralysed ghoul was still lying there. Its compatriots pressed in again. Hel slammed his fist into the ground and willed his self outwards. The stone groaned in response then metal spikes sprung forth in a ring around them. The ghouls bounced off and immediately began clambering over. Hel grinned slightly as the spikes receded, dropping the ghouls to the floor.
He pulled out some gourds and splashed their contents together then flung it. The mixture began to smoke just as it caught a ghoul’s arm. The limb buckled, melting away beneath the creature. He summoned fire and flung an unsteady ball of flame at the closest target. It splashed over it harmlessly. The ghouls were upon them. Hel spread his metal thin trying to shield them. It lasted for several blows before the ghouls tore it away, others loping around the sides and diving at him. Hel knocked the first one away with a hammer, kicked the second. The third got in his guard and thumped him on the head. Hel dropped sideways. His metal shattered and crumbled as his focus on the spell stuttered. Darkness consumed him.
The air burned. Ghouls fried in the heat, charring to black instantly. The stones cracked. Hel almost passed out. A hand grabbed him, pulled him upright. His eyes blurred, head whirling. Then all was right with the world again. Darken stood over a shiftless ghoul, slamming a fist into it as he called a spell. The ghoul’s struggles died. Its brethren gurgled, crawling away on scorched limbs.
“That-“ Hel began.
“Dia’s breath!” The prisoner who had spoken earlier piped up.
Darken took another ghoul down. “We’re not done yet. The necromancer is somewhere nearby. Go get him,”
Hel blinked, his anger returning to him. “Oh I’ll get him,”
Hel bounced up the steps. He saw two people right away. A figure in ragged black robes and a naked woman on top, caving his head in with metal bar. He laughed bitterly. Darken was such a liar. Hel grabbed her by the wrists and pulled her off. She resisted with surprising strength. Revenge could do that to people. The necromancer groaned, bleeding from welts in his cranium. He looked up at Hel pleadingly.
A scream was cut off as the necromancer went flying down the steps. Hel strolled down after, still supporting the woman. Darken watched as he swaggered down, reached the necromancer and gave him a kick. The necromancer stuttered.
“You bastard!” yelled the shackled prisoner.
Darken smiled. Hel walked past him, heading purposefully towards the prisoners. Darken went in the opposite direction and offered the necromancer a hand up.
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