Image: art comission “Resurrection” by Benjamin Witunsky

 

Twilight had come. The rhythmic crunch of the hooves in the snow once more pulled Lisbeth into her own head. Her comrades were having a conversation as they traveled to the meeting house of the Ealdormen, it was muffled by the traffic of her thoughts. Resurrection was a rare thing, only the most skilled clerics would use it, and only when absolutely necessary to boot. She had never seen it done, but had heard stories of the Priestess’ most revered clerics bringing heroes back from the dead, giving their own life as sacrifice. It seemed like those cases were extreme, she hoped the consequences for something so trivial would not force the exchange of her life for another’s. After all, she had the whole body of this man. It’s not like he was turned to a pile of ash by a rakshasa or ripped to shreds by a manticore.

Her eyes glazed over and her body nothing more than a vessel to contain her maddened track of thinking, her right idly hand rested on the bag that was tied to her belt; the bag that held Mia’s father’s head. Tiberius, being the most perceptive, called out to her. Lisbeth didn’t hear him, it sounded like the others were under water. Can I really do this?

“Lisbeth!” Tiberius called, with a little more authority this time.

She shook her head and met his gaze with a weak smile. Only then did she realize she had a hand on the bag, quickly returning it to the reins of the horse.

Tiberius’ brow furrowed with concern, “Is everything all right?” His voice was soft and genuine.

A curt nod was her response, swallowing the words she actually wanted to say. I have to do this.

Corbin and Crysx were sharing theories as to what was happening in the area, both of them seemed to disagree. There simply wasn’t enough information that had revealed itself yet. It was likely idle chatter to simply fill the silence, Crysx’s time in the Underworld made him hate silence. Mia pointed to a shack on the horizon, indicated that was their destination. It looked shabby for a meeting place of such importance. By the time the reached it, darkness had claimed the sky. It was about the size of a barn, a thatched roof and big double doors in the front only reinforced that image. The front doors were locked.

“We need one of the Ealdormen to open it up,” Mia said meekly. Crysx rolled his eyes and hopped off his horse, smashing the lock and chain around the handles with the butt of his axe.

“You folks have weak steel out here. Perhaps taking some notes from the cityfolk would do you some good,” Crysx said, trying not to sound too offensive. The iron hinges on the double doors screamed as they opened, echoing in the freezing air. Puffs of breath escaping their mouths drifted into their eyes, impeding their effort to see into an already very dark room. Cryx’s axe sputtered with magical flame as he commanded it to ignite. Walking inside, he found an obvious place where the room would be illuminated; a fire pit in the center of a round and massive stone table to the left of the door. The chairs around it were all made of different kinds of stone. Crysx stuck his axe into the pit and it roared to life, though surprisingly with a green flame. The light from the fire played with the shadows of everyone inside, it made the mounted elk’s head high up on the left wall look ominous. It was almost as if it was looking down at them with disgust and malice. Up against the far wall from the entrance, there was a stone about 8 feet tall, it had a faint glow to it.

It was just as cold in here as it was outside, but the fire provided some relief. Corbin went to sit on one of the chairs but was interrupted by Crysx before he could plant his seat, “This place is clearly religious. Don’t foul its sanctity.” Corbin rolled his eyes but obeyed. Upon closer inspection of the stone, it became apparent that the glow came from a ward that covered an iron door embedded in it. Lisbeth knew that was the crypt, something within her screamed it. But why is it warded? The thought filled her with dread.

Corbin was analyzing the ward, but he couldn’t make much sense of it. It felt different, its magic foreign to him. The magic was primitive, primordial even. It invoked feelings and emotions, a far cry from the organized logic of his grasp on arcane magic. It was more akin to the divine magic Crysx and Lisbeth were attuned to, yet still quite strange. It was difficult to spot, but Lisbeth had managed to locate a weakness in the ward and pointed it out. Corbin mustered up all the energy he could to blast that spot with a powerful arcane blast, forcing the ward to shatter and fragment before dissipating. I don’t like this, not one bit, Corbin thought to himself.

The blackness of the crypt swallowed nearly all of the green light from the fire that attempted to illuminate it. The only thing that was apparent was that there was a stairway, crumbling and dilapidated, that lead downward. Crysx kept his axe lit and lead the crew. Lisbeth was the last to follow and addressed Mia before leaving, “You stay up here. If we don’t return by morning, you head to the closest Ealdorman. Understand?”

Mia nodded sheepishly, she didn’t know what would come of this. At the bottom of the stairs, they found themselves in a catacomb. The walls were lined with shelves, floor to ceiling, skeletons stuffed in them for their eternal rest. Hatred hung in the air like a dense fog, they weren’t welcome here. Crysx’s axe and Corbin’s staff struggled to fight back the cold black of the underground, it was unnaturally dark. They walked for what seemed like forever. The crypt was a sprawling grid of shelves, presumably endless. Claustrophobia grasped Crysx’s heart like the paw of a dragon, this space was too confined. It was almost like he was back in the Underworld. His pupils constricted with fear, his heart trying to pound its way out of his chest. Sweat coated the clothes under his armor. As they traversed deeper, the sense of hate and unrest increased. He instinctively looked behind him every now and again. Much to his horror, the skulls of the deceased followed them with their gaze, though never moving while being watched. Their lipless grins and hollow eyes clawed at Crysx’s soul. The curse mark on their foreheads burned with intensity. He knew fear all too well, but still could not get used to it. He could hear the cackle of the necromancer from his dreams echoing in his cerebrum.

The state of the bodies started to take the form of earlier stages of decay. They were getting to the section where the more recent dead were stored.

A disembodied scream echoed in the halls, turning everyone’s blood to ice. In an instant, the party was surrounded by shades. Their legs nonexistent, wreathed in swirling shadows, their faces void of any flesh, the cursed mark carved into their foreheads. They were angry, and they blamed the trespassers. Like a well oiled machine, the party fought the tortured souls, pushing them back to the torturous nether region they manifested from. When the dust settled, Crysx felt pity for these souls. Lisbeth’s compassion only increased her sense of determination.

After what felt like an age, they had found the less populated part of the catacomb. The only body without a head presented itself as Mia’s father. His shirt was torn open at the chest, the curse mark carved into him. Her stomach twisted, not because of the grotesqueness of the scene, but because of the hatred that caused this act of violence. A lump in her throat threatened that vomit was not far from escaping her mouth. It never came.

“Help me with this,” she said, going to the feet of the corpse to pull it off the shelf. Her friends looked at her a little confused, but Crysx came to her aid. The man was frail and therefore very light. The temperature had kept him from decaying, and their noses were thankful for that. She pulled the head out of the sack, stared at it for a moment. The expression of horror and agony tugged at her chest. She was unsure what he’d feel when she brought him back. His lifeless eyes stared at the ceiling, unseeing and unknowing. It chilled her.

She placed the head at the stump of the neck. Placing both of her palms on his chest, she closed her eyes and began to pray. Ithildin clearly heard her plea, even in a place where she couldn’t see the sky. Corbin cried out in protest, finally becoming aware of what she was doing. Crysx held him back. A gasp escaped the head’s mouth as his eyes filled with life again. Veins from the neck slithered out, black with the hatred of the curse. The eyes had rolled back, the mouth quickly gaped open and released a scream of sheer agony that filled the crypt. Lisbeth started to cry but continued the spell. His body twitched and writhed as the veins started to pull the neck and head together once more, the cursed mark on his chest wept blood. Pebbles and dust fell from the ceiling as he screamed, all of the veins on his body turned an ink black and the eyes became white as pearls without pupils or irises. The cursed mark was affecting the ritual. Lisbeth began to panic, but it was too far gone. The scream took the form of not one voice, but hundreds as the spell progressed, but came to a steely silence at its completion. Mia’s father was alive again, but cursed with this awful form. Twisted and tortured, he had been brought back from the grave to be tormented further. He was to help them, in any way they could.

Corbins eyes were wild with fear and disapproval.

“What have you done?”

 

 

Stay Metal \m/