CHAPTER ONE Now, in my autumn years there was need. I walked behind my
creation and his bones gleamed with soft magic, lighting my
path in the dark. The skeleton was made to fight for me. I
robbed bones from a warrior's grave to create him. He would
have been stronger had the corpse been fresh, but my people
were offended at the violation of their dead.
My skeleton was beautiful. Glowing a muted azure, his bones
lit my way into the mine shaft and we penetrated the
darkness side by side, searching for the old enemy of my
kind, the darklings.
My Grandfather fought darklings in his younger days. As a
child I sat at his knee and listened to stories of the
monsters that defended the violated earth. The earth
goddess, Tellus, was jealous of her treasures. Tellus hated
the mine but it was how we lived.
The darklings were demons of the earth. With each kill they
fed on the bodies of their victims, growing stronger.
Grandfather said they represented decay. When he was a young
man he found their weakness and exploited it. He used the
mysteries of life and death to raise up warriors from the
grave, unnatural creatures which Tellus could not control.
When our created skeletons died their bones crumbled into
dust, leaving the darklings nothing to feed on.
This skeleton and I were bonded, with one purpose. We would
cleanse the copper mine of the foulness that endangered my
kinsmen. If we failed my village would starve. My
grandchildren would die. This was not acceptable.
I thought of those two, my little ones; Messia with her dark
hair and gypsy eyes, Rasce the bold and aggressive. I was
sixty summers old when my grandchildren found me. I hid
myself away from the world. My hut was next to the
graveyard, where children loved to scamper, telling stories
to frighten one another. How surprised Messia and Rasce were
to find out I was their Grandfather. Kaisie never talked of
me. To his children, I was just the crazy old fool they
played pranks on with their friends.
Only seventeen summers between them and already they were
wiser than their Grandpa. They knew to let the sun shine on
their hair as they scampered through the fields. Messia and
my brave Rasce gave me love, fresh and new, like the wild
grapes they brought me. They were my treasures.
I would kill for them. Save for anointing my dead wife and
child in their tomb, I had not used the old art since Messia
ran away, crying at the sight of my necromantic tools. Now I
returned to the magic of my Grandfather.
I walked into the underworld in search of the monsters that
would starve my people. The hem of my robes dragged the
ground. The walls were damp, bleeding moisture into the
tunnel to pool at my feet. The skeleton preceded me,
lighting my way. The air was dusty, hidden from the warmth
of the sun. It was like entering my wife's tomb.
I thought of my grandchildren. Tellus wished to hoard her
treasures, but she must not threaten mine.
* * * *
I was old to do this. The skeleton and I made a good match.
Both of us were aged and our bones brittle. My knees were
stiff, aching in the cold mine. The hair I pushed away from
my eyes was white and thin. There was a good chance, as we
entered the mine, that we were going down into our own tomb.
My skeleton became accustomed to life, after laying dormant
for so long in his grave. He was armed with the ax I used to
chop wood for my fire.
The man whose corpse I used to make this skeleton was strong
and fleet, killed by disease rather than the animals he
hunted. He spent his life supplying our people with meat
through the mountain winters. His bones now served to
protect them. I watched as the skeleton's long arms swung
the ax, cleaving the stale air in the mine shaft. Bony feet
dug into the packed dirt floor. Yellowed teeth chattered as
he swung his head around, searching for enemies.
Grandfather's necromantic art gave this skeleton a mind of
his own, but he was bound to my will. He could see and hear
as well as a human. I did not know what he thought, or felt.
Did he even have a soul, or memories?
A stunted, vicious darkling ran at us. Its eyes glowed
yellow, and its jagged teeth reflected the light from my
wand. The darkling's body was so twisted I felt surprised it
could move quickly. I raised my polished bone wand and power
surged up my arm into the wand's shaft. Runes, carved along
the wand's length, flashed and a spear of energy the color
of blood shot out of the tip. Magic lanced into the
darkling's chest. My skeleton swung his ax, and hacked at
the darkling. It barreled past us, the yellow-lit eyes
fading as it fell to the dirt. My warrior threw back his
head and chattered his teeth. I smiled at his display of
A wind-driven spray of black ichor came howling out of the
dead creature. The fetid liquid coated my skeleton. Hot
blood whipped my robe around and tossed my hair back,
plastering it to my neck.
It was the magic of the kill: the deathwind. My own
creation, it siphoned energy from the dead monsters to fuel
My wand fed on it, growing hot against the palm of my hand.
Power surged through my body, a sensation like sudden
emersion in heated oil. The stiffness in my bones receded. I
felt young and strong again. It excited me.
Perhaps this task was not impossible.
* * * *
I rushed to meet the next monster and the next, gaining
energy with each kill. The bodies of five darklings littered
the narrow mine shaft when I stopped and wiped the ichor
from my cheek. My skin was torn and slashed, but there was
relief in the bottle of spiced green fluid tucked into my
belt. The apothecary brewed it just this morning. He charged
me dear for it. Three skeletons served him now, and I lost
as many spells. It took a year to prepare the scroll that
helped me create them, but I had no choice. I knew this old
body would not stand up to the stress of battle.
As I drank the potent mixture my wounds tingled, and then
began to heal. I was relieved that the pain would not last
My dead friend was not so lucky. He was worn, his energies
almost drained, his bones cracked and brittle. Mercifully, I
dispelled the incantation that animated him. He crumbled
Alone, I looked at my wand. It seemed puny, not strong
enough to inflict damage to the many monsters in this
cavern. I needed another warrior quickly.
I was could not summon more than two skeletons at a time. I
was quickly exhausted when running, and I took too much
damage when struck. The mine was deep and infested with
enemies. Could I do this?
My stomach tightened as my mind filled with doubt. I could
feel my heart hammering in my chest. Would I have the time
to summon another? Sweat dripped from my nose, even though I
was cold. I listened nervously for sounds in the mine shaft,
but it was silent. I sighed, and my heart slowed a bit, the
tightness in my chest relieved. The wand was icy in my
grasp, polished bone covered with runes that emitted a
gentle blue glow to help me see.
I searched among the dead for something intact enough to
yield a proper servant. There were enough darkling corpses
to choose from. I found an intact body. It amused me to know
this corpse would yield the warrior I needed to kill its
I knelt down, ignoring the pain in my arthritic knees and
whispered the words of Orcus' Prayer. Using my wand's honed
tip, I pricked my wrist and let three drops of my blood fall
onto an open wound in the carcass. As my blood mingled with
his, the body shuddered. The spell was ready to cast.
Before I could activate it, a loud roaring sound distracted
me. A giant, brutish creature charged out of the blackness.
He was a Dark Beast, a darkling who had eaten enough victims
to grow into a more dangerous opponent. He was the evolution
of Tellus' warriors, the largest and most vicious of his
kind. The Beast towered over me.
I trembled with revulsion and fear to look at him, with his
shaggy head and humped back. His warped body was supported
by legs that reminded me of tree trunks. His shriveled loins
were stained with yellow, and he reeked of decayed meat. His
skin was covered with rope-like veins of yellow, which
pulsed as the ichors flowed through them. His tusks were
broken and stained. The Dark Beast roared and swung his
weapon, narrowly missing my head.
I staggered up and fired a shaft of death magic at his eyes.
The Dark Beast's head snapped back and he howled, then swung
his club wildly.
The club thudded on a timber supporting the shaft, and the
roof shuddered. I was pelted with clods of dirt. My head and
shoulders stung and I looked up at the ceiling, clenching my
teeth. Would it hold? I didn't want to die in a cave-in. The
sound echoed, hurting my ears. I cried out in anger, in
The Beast roared again, and swung his massive spiked club at
my head. I dodged and fired energy at the darkling corpse,
igniting my creation spell. My new servant would help me
kill this thing.
As the magic gathered in the corpse, a squelching sound
drowned out the roar of the Beast. He stepped back. His
bloodshot eyes widened and he stared as my warrior was born.
Shreds of meat littered the cave floor as the skeleton shook
off his flesh. Blood, the color of bile, sprayed to coat the
stone walls and splatter darkling bodies. His bones were
thicker than my last skeleton. There was strength in him. My
skeleton, shining with power, picked up a fallen ax and
rushed past me. He charged the Beast.
Together we attacked the foul thing. I struck the Beast with
my wand, driving a spear of death magic deep into his chest.
My warrior hacked at the Beast's upraised arm. He shrugged
off the blow and slammed his club down on the shoulder of my
skeleton. I heard bones crack, but my skeleton did not fall.
He continued to hack away, withstanding assault as the Beast
smashed him about the head and shoulders. I cast shaft upon
shaft of death magic into the Beast's torso.
At last we penetrated what served the Beast for a heart.
With a screech, the Beast dropped his weapon. He collapsed
on the floor at my feet.
I felt weak. The sensation confused me for a moment. I
leaned against the dirt walls and tried to catch my breath.
My chest was tight with exertion. My old legs trembled. The
walls seemed heavy, threatening.
My skeleton turned his head, regarding me. Soft azure light
bled out of his eye sockets, dissipating into the black air
of the tunnel. He ground his teeth. Stepping back, he placed
himself between my kneeling figure and the darkened mine
shaft. My heartbeat slowed, and the crushing pain in my
chest subsided. I rose, stiff with pain, and walked over to
I took a moment to prepare the Dark Beast carcass. I cast
the last of my spells and another skeleton rose from the
body. He was a giant, twice as tall as my first skeleton. He
snatched up his spiked club. I heard the club slice through
the air as he swung it, his teeth clenched in a rictus grin.
He would carry us through the mine to the completion of our
They stood there, the two of them, gleaming warriors in the
darkness waiting to kill. Wanting to kill.
I knew that we could meet this challenge together, my
warriors and I.
Love was something I had forgotten. My wife was lost to me
in the birthing of our second child. My son, Kaisie, blamed
me for the death of his mother. I mourned in darkness,
burying myself in the trappings of my deadly art, and Kaisie
hated me. He kept his light from my eyes.
His children did not know hatred. They shared their world
with me, so that I was reborn, and I lived for them.
My grandchildren would not starve. Tellus would give up her
copper and the village would survive.
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