Ascension, Chapter 1: The Caravan

Vildree was moping. She sat in a snarl of overgrown herb plants on a hill, her arms crossed over her chest. Every few seconds she’d blow upward with a huff. A single strand of slightly curling auburn hair kept falling into her face blocking her left eye. She was annoyed enough by it to try and move it but not enough to actually lift a hand to do so. She didn’t want to sit and wait while the others had all the fun.

Well, not all the others. Glowie the gnome sat a couple feet away sampling the herbs. The snarl was made of overgron sage, mint, thyme and a few others Vil was unfamiliar with. The gnome was having a great time; she’d never met anyone who loved food more than him. Despite being a mere three and a half feet tall, the little man could put away more food than even the huge Perrin, who was only four inches shy of seven feet in height.

Vildree Willowbough was fourteen, but not at all typical by any measure. Daughter of the powerful Shandrelle Willowbough, a duchess and sorceress of great skill. Vil followed in her mother’s footsteps, she was very practiced in magic and shared her mother’s outspoken manner.  Some called her arrogant, but most who knew her knew Vildree was merely supremely confident.

She had, in fact, been instrumental in the escape she and her companions had made just two weeks prior. Vil had been kidnapped on her way home from the prestigious school she attended to be sacrificed on the very holiday she’d left school to celebrate. A cult was going to feed her to a shadow dragon they believed to be a god. Her mother had hired the people who at this moment waited on the road below for an approaching caravan to rescue her. They’d succeeded in rescuing her and the gnome, but their escape from the catacombs where she’d been hostage had been facilitated by Vildree’s magic.

Now they were getting ready to ambush a caravan of orcs, humans and a giant, and she was stuck sitting in a tangled mess of smelly plants with a gnome who would stop picking leaves and trying new combinations, trying to find a new flavor to cook with. The little man had a huge, bulbous nose that seemed to match his big round ears, all of which looked like they belonged to a large man, not one the size of a young child. He wore a metal cap on his bald head and was surprisingly thing despite his enormous appetite.

She watched him for a minute, then cast a small spell, one that allowed her to see through the underbrush  to the road as if a tunnel had been carved through it all. In the middle of the road stood Brieze. Vil cast another small spell to surround herself with silence so she didn’t give away their position with her angry mumbling. The hair fell across her eye again.


 

A group of ten men, two regular orcs and three black orcs walked alongside a cart pulled by a pair of oxen. They all wore black parkas over leather armor, with steel swords on their belts and ready eyes. Just in front of the oxen was a bog giant. Twenty feet tall, with long, thick arms that almost reached the ground when he stood upright, fingers as thick as a man’s leg, and a sloping brow that made it look at once angry and stupid. Appearances told nothing but the truth when it came to bog giants. The wagon contained barrels of beer and whiskey, food and bundles of steel rods that were destined to be beat into swords.

As the caravan rounded a bend in between some hills topped with trees and thick tangles of fragrant herbs, they pulled up short, confused for a moment. In the middle of the road was a tall broad-shouldered elf woman. Her hair, which looked like strands of pure silver tied back into a long braid, was draped over one shoulder. She stood with supreme confidence in silky metal armor that had a light bluish green tint to it. The handles of two swords showed over her shoulders, and she smirked at the group as they stared in surprise, her ice-blue eyes glittering in anticipation.

Behind her was another woman. It was hard to tell if she was a tall dwarf or a short human. She wore dark blackish plate armor, and carried a matching shield  that was easily half her height. Her hand rested easily on the pommel of her chopper, a vicious looking weapon that combined the best features of an axe and a sword, it’s blade ending in a flare that bore a slight resemblance to a cat’s claw.

Next to her was an enormous giant of a man in light leather clothing, the dark brown of it contrasting his pale skin. Bright green eyes glared at the group with unbridled hate, and his giant hands opened and closed as he flexed his huge muscles in anticipation. He looked like a statue carved out of pale stone to resemble a man made more of muscle than anything else. He carried no visible weapons, and anyone who knew Perrin knew he could and would find them easily enough when he needed.

Last in the group was a half elf, casually leaning against a tree. He wore the large hooded forest green cape of a ranger. His large pointed ears jutted out of deep brown, nearly black hair. He had the lighter build of an elf, but his shoulders belied his human heritage; he was too broad for an elf man. Across his waist was a long, curving blade, a legendary elvish weapon he’d inherited from his lost elven father. His mother had gifted it to him when he was old enough; she had been a ranger herself and one of the only humans ever worthy of wielding the magnificent weapon. His almost luminescent aqua eyes analyzed every member of the caravan, scanning for those that he would need to put down first.

Resting easily in his hand was a bow, his left hand draped over a quiver of arrows. This group had questions for the caravan. The kind most easily obtained if the creatures guarding it were dead. A black orc tipped back it’s cowl revealing a golden tattoo on it’s obsidian skinned face, designating it the leader of the team.

“If you are looking for trouble, there is more here than you can handle. Get out of our way or my bog will squish you and my boys and I will eats you for supper.”

Brieze, the elf woman chuckled. “That’s not going to work for us. We will make this easy for you. All of you go back the way you came and leave the wagon, and you’ll get to walk away from this.”

The orc scoffed. “Hah! You four against us? There are easier ways to commit suicide, elf.” He stepped back a bit when he noticed that his response seemed to amuse her. “Okay, we’ll do it your way.”

In a blink, two arm-lengthed, slightly curved elven blades were in her hands. Beryl, the dwarf woman, had her shield up and her chopper in her hand, ready to strike. Perrin, the huge man appeared to be concentrating while Fennec, the half elf already had an arrow nocked and ready to fire. The lead black orc stepped back and shouted “Bog, squish!” The giant slide and lumbered forward. It swung it’s log of a club downward at Brieze. Just before the titanic piece of wood struck her dead, she almost casually stepped out of the way.

There were several loud sounds of metal ringing as it tore through flesh as she chopped at the monster’s hand. To the bog giant’s surprise and horror, when it tried to lift the club to swing again, it found that all of its fingers had been severed at the hand. In dumbfounded surprise it lifted its hand to look closer, as if that would make his fingers reattach. It tried to step back, but its feet were rooted in place. Perrin grinned, the former gladiator turned druid had summoned thick vines to mire the giant’s feet in place.

As the hand lifted, and agile elven from leapt on his hand and easily ran up his arm. The bog giant’s face twisted in anger and pain, but before it could turn its attention to the elf on his arm, half an elf, half a man fired two arrows into its face. One hit its left eyelid, the thick flesh protecting its eye with a lucky blink. Its right eye fared worse, the slender shaft piercing its pupil. The head jerked back in pain, and as the giant shrieked out in agony, its voice turned to a gurgle.

With amazing precision, the team acted as a unit. As the distracting arrows hit their targets, Brieze had scaled the giant’s arm and stabbed it in the throat just next to its jugular, then twisted and dragged the blade around to the back of its neck. Blood gushed from the hole, the giants back-tilted head providing an easy target, and the now-severed tendons that would have pulled his head forward no longer providing support, the giant tipped backward and fell hard. Brieze rode the falling giant to the ground and hit the road with a roll.

Beryl was already charging the lead black orc, who still hadn’t quite registered that his giant had been dispatched with almost grotesque ease and would be dead within minutes. The dwarf barreled at him with her shield up, then at the last second swung down hit her chopper. The black orc managed to get a wooden shield up at the last second, but it was a feeble defense against the woman’s incredible strength. The flanged head of the blade bit through the wood and then nearly two inches into the orc’s forearm. As it wailed in pain, she tugged back on her weapon and delivered a powerful kick to the beast’s shield, simultaneously freeing her weapon and slamming the wooden shield into the black orc’s face, knocking him down.

As he tried to sit up, the stocky, thickly built woman jumped over him and brought a steel boot down on its forehead, crushing the skull with its power, killing him instantly. For good measure, she spun on her foot and brought the edge of her thick, circular shield down on his neck, crushing several neckbones and nearly severing his head. Without hesitation, she started running around the dying giant, using its bulk to block the others from seeing her approach.

The monstrous Perrin followed. He stooped one step to pull the sword from the dead black orc’s belt. He lept onto the dying behemoth’s stomach and ran up its chest. He twirled the blade once then using his weight and massive strength slammed its tip into the middle of the giant’s forehead, putting it out of its misery in an instant. He lept from its head into the throng of confused men on the other side. As one swung at him, he grabbed the man’s wrist, then Perrin thrust his forearm into the other man’s elbow. He shrieked as the joint popped and then bent in the opposite direction.

Perrin caught the now falling blade by the handle and stabbed another man approaching from the left so hard it erupted from his back, killing him instantly. He then reached over and grabbed the man with the broken arm by his head, and with a violent wrench, spun his head t two thirds of the way around, severing his spine and ripping the sinew and blood vessels in his neck. His left side was exposed, and one of the remaining black orcs took the opening. He dove at Perrin, his sword tip coming within inches of the big man’s side for a crippling blow…

But he had no idea that the huge druid left himself open on purpose. He had a partner he’d fought with for years, that he trusted completely. And true to his instincts, a dwarf woman was there in an instant, appearing seemingly out of nowhere from behind the dead giant, her heavy shield deflecting the blade. Her gauntleted fist smashed into the black orc’s face with a sickening crunch, his momentum lending the punch even more power. Its nose exploded with blood and the orc fell back dazed.

It was pierced from behind by twin elven blades, both puncturing its heart. Brieze yanked her blades out and turned to face the two regular orcs. Both hesitated, taken completely off guard by the brutality of the attacks.

Two of the men had stalked around the dead giant to find a half elf holding a bow. They charged, hoping one or the other could get him before he could shoot both. But he was done with the bow. As they approached her agilely slipped the bow over his shoulder and in the same move drew his long, curving elven blade. it escaped the scabbard as the first swing dove in and slapped it aside with surprising ease. He ducked under the next swing into a roll and sprang to his feet behind both men. Fennec kicked the closest one in the back of the knee, throwing him off balance.

The other swung, which the half elf parried, then swung underneath and slapped it away the cut back across quickly forcing the man back on his heels. The one that had been kicked was recovering his footing and made an awkward stab at Fennec who easily dodged it and dropped to the ground. As the man regained his footing and stood fully erect,  a strong half elven leg swept under and stole his footing again, only this time the man fell hard flat on his back, several of the large rocks in the road bruising him painfully and knocking the wind out of him. Fennec jumped on his chest and traded blows with the other man, metal ringing off of metal as the man attacked and Fennec easily batted aside each strike. He feigned losing his balance as he slid down off the man on the ground and the standing man seized the opportunity to strike. He stabbed at the half elf’s slender midsection, and by all rights should have skewered the slender half-man.

But Fennec was a ranger of the south wood, and the son of the most accomplished woodland fighter to ever live, so the blade met nothing but air. Fennec had already moved around the man’s right side and kicked him in the rump with the bottom of his foot, sending him stumbling over his prone friend. Fennec was finished toying with them. As the first man to fall struggled to get out from beneath his clamoring companion, the ranger’s blade sliced deep into his throat. He feel back clutching his throat as he drowned on his own blood.

Fennec stepped over and as the other man pushed up to stand, he drove the tip of his sword through the man’s back, cleaving his heart in two and bursting through his sternum, killing him instantly. When he withdrew his blade, the man fell hard on his face, dead before he hit the dirt.

On the other side of the giant’s body, Brieze was having an even easier time with the pair of orcs. Both had thrown hatchets at her, which she swatted out of the air as easily as if they had been throw pillows. Bolstered by the numbers the remaining men gave them, they didn’t flee, although they likely should have. The two drew their swords and moved to flank her. If they knew who she was and where she hailed from, they would have fled in terror.

Brieze was one of the last of her clan, the ice elves. They came from an area covered in glaciers in the south western mountains. Molded by millennia of deep freeze and powerful enemies, ice elves were powerful warriors, and they lived thousands of years in which they honed their skills. Brieze was one of the elite, the most powerful of the most powerful race of elves to walk the face of their world. one who had faced terrible loss and still survived; in no small part thanks to her unrivaled skill with her swords.

A dozen orcs would have been outmatched against her.

Those men that were not currently being routed by Perrin and Beryl watched on as the two tusked, burly man-beasts approached from either side, both grinning and gripping their swords tightly. As they closed in, both moved in practiced unison, one chopping down and the other swinging at her legs.

But she was just gone. Before they even knew their own strategy, Brieze had anticipated it. She spun to the right and as the one who chopped down swung, she deftly stabbed him deep under the armpit with one sword while the other bit into his neck and tore down through to emerge from his other armpit. She then rolled over his back as he fell and with the other orc over-balanced from his low swing she simply crossed her blades and slid them across like a pair of scissors cutting a pair of two-inch-deep gouges in the other’s throat. Both fell to the ground, dying quickly but not really sure what had happened, she’d struck so fast.

The men who had witnessed her brutal effectiveness started to reconsider their next move. That was unfortunate for them; Perrin and Beryl descended on them like the physical manifestations of death. The pair were no doubt skilled, but the sheer brutality of their attacks were enough to strike terror in anyone who face them. The massive Perrin grabbed two men by their cloaks and slammed them together with such ferocity that it looks liked he was playing with man-sized dolls. Their limbs flailed st they broke against one another.

Beryl slammed one man with her shield, taking him off his feet. Another swung down with his sword and she allowed the blow to glance off her thick dwarven alloy armor. She swung her shield up and caught the man in the lower jaw, removing the front eight teeth from it and dropping him to the ground. The man she slammed first was almost on his feet, so she delivered a withering blow to the top of his head with her chopper. Almost the entire end of the blade disappeared  into his skull, and the blade wedged in the bone. Two others approached, hoping for an easy kill as she struggled with the blade.

But Beryl was a dwarf of many tricks. on her belt she carried several hurlbats; small throwing axes that had a blade opposite the ax head, one sticking out of the top, and another making up the handle. They were a solid piece of steel designed so that whichever side hit, the target would bleed. She let go of her chopper and slid one of the hurlbats out, then spun. She released the small axe, and carrying the momentum of the spin, it’s ax head bit deep into one man’s chest. He managed a surprised, pained cry before falling forward dead.

Next to her, Perrin dropped his knee onto the throat of the man Beryl had de-toothed. With a flex of his leg muscles, he crushed the man’s windpipe and quickly choked the life out of him. The remaining men and black orc lost their taste for the fight, and they turned and ran. No one in the group was close, although they raced after them. They couldn’t afford any of these cultists to identify them; their enemies would find them easily if they did. fennec nocked an arrow as they rounded the original bend behind the hills.

Luck appeared to be on the companion’s side, as all three of the runners tripped and fell hard. Fennec fired two arrows into the back of one man. The black orc paused for a fraction of a second; he’d felt something. Magic had just happened! They’d not tripped over anything but open road. His thoughts died along with him a second before he could process the thought as a rushing dwarf slammed the edge of her shield into the back of his skull, creasing it like a piece of fabric.

Perrin grabbed the last man with his enormous hands and wrenched his neck with a loud crack as several of the bones shattered in his powerful grip. The team stalked around the perimeter to make sure that they had in fact taken out everyone, then Perrin whistled for Vildree and Glowee.

Vildree’s high-pitched-but-still-too-old-for-her-age voice rang out from the snarl. “It’s about time!” This was not the group’s first confrontation by a long shot, but originally Perrin, who had suffered horrible hardships as a child, tried to shield the youthful Vildree from the carnage left over from these encounters, but she would have nothing of it. She’d witnessed untold horrors in the pits of the dragon Deep Fires before her scheduled sacrifice, and had seemingly come out the other side with no long term trauma, so he’d relented. Dead bodies didn’t bother her in the slightest, it seemed.

True to form, she stalked down the hill with the diminutive gnome trundling behind, her light green, billowy dress flapping behind. At the base of the hill, she crossed her her arms indignantly and tapped her foot. “You almost let three get away…” Beryl rolled her eyes. “What would your mother say if we let you get blood on your pretty dress?”

“How is blasting an orc with a fireball going to get blood on my-”

“Enough. You know why, Vildree.” Brieze cut in. Vil huffed. Brieze was tall, strong and very very smart, but she also had a “mom” feel to her that both comforted and inspired rebellion in the young mage. “You can help us in a minute to scry the origins and destinations of the wagon. And if you really want to make a fireball, you can help us burn these bodies once we build a pyre.”

Vildree perked up a bit at this. She loved magic the way most children liked pastries, and what was more, she was good at it. She’d exceeded every expectation put in front of her, and devoured new spells, theories and techniques like knowledge pie. At fourteen, she was easily the equal of many experienced adepts more than twice her age. It was as if she’d been born specifically to do magic, which she assumed she was. Her mother was a very accomplished wizard, and her late father had shown significant aptitude, despite being a warrior.

The young woman and gnome followed the elf over to the wagon while Perrin and Beryl grabbed bodies and dragged them over toward the dead giant. Glowie looked up at the frustrated wizard. “Why are you so eager to fight?” She froze mid step. “I… I want to feel useful. These people rescued me, us, and I want to contribute to the group on my way home. Soon enough it will be back to conjuring classes and pouring wine from across the room and I just want to cast. I’ve been in battle now. I know the rush of fear, the thrill of casting as if my life depends on it because it does. How can I go back to duplicating books and lighting hallways?”

Glowie pursed his thick lips and thought for a moment. “Makes sense, based on what I know about human adolescents. But think about this. What if you got hurt? Or died? Your mum spent a great deal of money to get these fine warriors to rescue you. They risked their lives for yours.”

“But I-”

“Yes, we know you played an important part in everyone’s escape, and for that all of us, especially me! Are very grateful. But now you’re free. You’ve been rescued, so you can’t be risked again. Do you understand?”

Vil paused and nodded sheepishly. Glowie smiled and clapped his hands together. Suddenly the air smelled of the thyme he’d been rubbing between his small hands. “Now! Let’s get this scrying over with so I can help myself to some of that ale! And whiskey. And any other food they had on the wagon…” Vildree chuckled. Glowie had proven himself to be a good friend in the past couple of weeks. Aside from their own shared experiences in Deep Fires’ dungeon, he seemed to have a brotherly affection for the young woman.

It was different from the others. Beryl and Perrin had quickly taken up guardian roles with her, and Brieze simply acted like everyone’s mother. Fennec was like a fun uncle, coaxing squirrels to let her pet them and catching fish with a bow and arrow. She liked them all and would miss them when she returned home. As much as she hated sleeping on the ground and getting rained on, she was going to miss this adventuring. It was like camping, but with more action.

Even the somewhat dour Brieze was fun sometimes. And goodness could she fight! Everyone in the group was skilled, even Glowie could fight when he had to, he could hit an ogre in the eye with a rock with barely a thought. But Brieze was something else. During their escape from the dungeon, she’d stolen Vil’s breath as she fought four men simultaneously without breaking a sweat. her guard had slipped once or twice revealing a sarcastic, warm woman beneath the icy exterior, but she seemed to be holding back, as if she was unable or unwilling to let anyone inside.

As they approached the wagon, the oxen snorted and started to hoof at the ground. They had stayed calm in the fight, likely because it was over so quickly, but they were nervous around strangers. Fennec slowly approached the two and while speaking to them in a calm voice, lightly rubbed their heads between their eyes. Almost like magic, they relaxed. It was great to have a ranger around when dealing with animals.

At Brieze’s direction, Vil climbed into the back of the wagon. She placed her hands on the items in the back and began chanting softly. After a few seconds, her eyes rolled back into her head and she was transported through time in her mind, to the day weeks ago that the wagon was loaded. She saw several of the dead men speaking to another. The merchant(?) wore a black cape and a helmet that appeared to sport demon horns. She could only make out impressions of the conversation, but there was a clear idea that the steel was to be made into new weapons for an army of death.

She slid forward through time, past the fight they’d just finished (even speeding by it was exhilarating to be in the middle of it) toward the intended future. These impressions were always vague, but she was surprised to feel warmth and comfort from the destination. She couldn’t make out the details, but there was a sense of familiarity that filled her with an odd mix of comfort and dread. There were two men waiting for the wagon, a tall thin one and his shorter, rounder companion. She still felt a disturbing familiarity, but she said nothing.  Normally confident and sure, Vildree felt uneasy and off center. She decided to keep the impressions to herself to sort them out, but announced that the caravan was definitely destined to pass through her mother’s land.

Brieze nodded. “Maybe we can sell some of this before we get to your home. Glowie hugged the barrels of drink. “Not yet! This whiskey and ale are top shelf! They are worth more than we could carry. We shouldn’t leave too much…”

Brieze sighed. “We’re at least three days from the nearest village. I think you of all people can put away enough in that time that we won’t be overburdened with gold. Wouldn’t you agree?” As the gnome nodded Perrin shouted over “If the gnome tries to hoard it for himself he’ll learn what a crow feels when it’s wings freeze mid flight!”

Glowie looked at Vil. “For a nature priest, he sure is violent.” To Glowie’s surprise, Perrin was standing right next to him; the big man was incredibly fast. “Nature is violent my little friend. I respect and worship all of its aspects. Save some whiskey or I will toss you.” To emphasize his point, the giant druid casually tossed the lead black orc onto the pile of bodies on the giant’s chest.

Vildree had been looking at the orc when she noticed the golden tattoo on its face. For the second time in a few minutes, she started with sudden familiarity. The sigil on the orc’s cheek matched those on the forearms of the men and other orcs in the group. Again it was oddly familiar. She’d seen it before, but she could not quite place it. She shook off the the disturbing feeling. They were going to take the wagon, which was a welcome respite from the two weeks of hiking they had done leading up to the ambush.

Perrin had grabbed a small barrel of lamp oil and tossed it up to Beryl who was on the pile of corpses arranging bodies so they would burn better. At Brieze’s suggestion, they tossed all of the swords from the group onto the pile. Better than to let wandering bandits find a trove of weapons to terrorize other. They kept one to see if anyone could identify the markings on the blades to identify who was trying to transport these goods.

On top of the pile of bodies, Beryl arranged the blades like a teepee, then poured lamp oil over them and the pile of bodies. The rest of the group piled into the wagon while Perrin took the reigns. As the wagon rolled by, Beryl leaped in. She was surprisingly agile for a dwarf. “Hey girlie! Are you going to make us a nice big fire with this pile?”

Vil smiled. “Maybe. Are you sure you wanted to waste the lamp oil on these things? It’s going to be dark soon.” The both chuckled. Vildree had proven her usefulness several times over with a spell she knew; she could make the area around the group as clear as day no matter how dark the night was. the best part of the spell was that it only affected those she chose, so those with natural night vision like Beryl, Brieze and Fennec didn’t need it, and anyone outside of those affected only saw regular night, so they were better off without torches or lamps in the wilds at night.

As the wagon rolled further and the pile was maybe half an arrow’s flight away, Vildree began chanting quietly while she crumpled a small piece of paper in her raised palm.  The paper transformed into a brightly glowing orange-pink ball. Vil lifted her hand to her mouth and blew gently. The glowing ball drifted quickly toward the mound of corpses and disappeared into the giant. It looked as if it had snuffed out, but by the time it reached the giant, it was so hot it merely bored through the dead flesh and into its chest cavity.

Seconds later it exploded, the intense heat instantly turning a six foot sphere of giant into ash while igniting the oil and clothing of the dead bodies. In seconds the entire pyre was engulfed in flames. Even at their great distance, they could feel the heat. At Glowie’s insistence, the bodies had been topped with huge thickets from the herb snarl. He said the smell would entire predators to come eat what remained after the fire. No need to leave evidence, and as Brieze suggested, if the “army of the dead” meant anything, they would likely encounter a necromancer. A few less bodies to reanimate made everyone safer.

Perrin drove while Brieze and Fennec stood watch. Glowie and Vildree sat on a pad between the piles of equipment as Beryl tapped the ale keg and passed around cups to everyone. Perrin took his gratefully while assuring everyone that a single cup was not going to affect him beyond putting him in a good mood. Glowie sat back, propped his feet up and pulled a piece of jerky from a pouch and started chewing and drinking. After a few sips, Vil felt drowsy and gave hers to the gnome, then laid down to sleep. She smiled as she drifted off, thinking about seeing her mother again in the next day or two.


 

Days of travel away, a tall, thin man named Ehrvis was busy studying a manual his assistant had procured for him. He was a man of great intellect and skill; a master of dark magic but also of manipulation. Ehrvis had great ambitions, ambitions that exceeded those of the most greedy lord of any thieves guild or that of any king or emperor. he wanted dominion over life and death itself. He was well on his way for Ehrvis was one of the most powerful necromancers that still breathed.

His specialty was disease and the many myriad ways it could kill. He’d used his skill over the past year to insinuate himself into a position of power. Thanks to some subtle magic from his lieutenant and trusted friend Oremorag, he had managed to keep his intentions hidden from the powerful enchantress he’d wooed. He was a very handsome man for his apparent age; short, well groomed hair and a neatly manicured pointed Van Dyke all in the same vibrant slate grey. His piercing brown eyes belied great intelligence, and he could speak in the warmest, most empathetic tones. He’d won the woman over with his kindness and empathy. Little did she know that he was merely a very talented deceiver. Ehrvis cared only about his own power. Once he had insinuated himself into her her life, and eventually her home, he’d subtly infected her with a magical disease. Her death happened suddenly, with symptoms attacking quickly and death happening within a day.

Duchess Willowbough’s passing was all the more tragic because it happened while her dear daughter had been kidnapped and was presumed dead, sacrificed to the dragon-god of an obscure cult. Ehrvis had done the only kind thing a man in his position could do; he married the poor grief-stricken mother. By a convenient “coincidence”, with her only child missing and possibly dead, the duchy passed on to her only other living relation, Ehrvis.

His ambitions demanded uninterrupted study in a secluded area with easy access to bodies and preferably handservants to attend to the more mundane aspects of life such as food and drink. Food was plentiful; Willowbough Keep was on the banks of the Misty River, which regularly blanketed the area in a thick haze, even on all but the hottest days. Vegetables and fruit thrived in the deep moist valley, and the thick, rich grass provided great feed for sheep and cattle.

in the weeks since his inheritance of the land, the servants had learned to fear Ehrvis and Orem, but they also learned that keeping in line was the surest way to not become an experiment for the creepy Orem. He performed all manner of experience on corpses and sometimes the living, and his skills for animating the dead were rivaled only by those of his friend and master, the new and current duke of Willobough, Ehrvis Svartendelikt.

Bright moonlight pierced the window of his top floor study, but was drowned out by the many candles he had lit in the chamber. He was reading a tome Orem had collected for him on a trip to the south. It contained formulas and spells that could be used to merge several bodies into a single colossal zombie. The necromancer chuckled quietly in excitement as he read each page. This was a magnificent piece of work. He took a long sip of red wine from the Willobough’s own vinter. Orem would be rewarded handsomely for this find. Every new technique he learned, every new command over death he discovered, cemented his destiny further.

Ehrvis was perhaps the most powerful wizard of death on all of Fhina, but that wasn’t enough. He wanted ascension, he wanted to be the God of death. Nothing short of absolute control of the dead would suffice. he envisioned a future where he presided over existence from the divine realm, with Orem acting as his avatar on the ground as a powerful lich; a mage that gave up mortality for the study of magic, only more so… As the voice of the god of the dead, a wizard-priest of necromancy.

He had created inroads with other beings with similar ambitions. The dragon Deep Fires to the south had its eyes set on the throne of the God of shadows. In the fiery mountains to the east, he’d struck a deal with the demon Grohvahl who desired nothing less than godhood himself. He was forming a powerful network of evil beings, creating a brotherhood that might one day overwhelm the fledgling gods of good and mold the world in their image. Other gods had tried before, but they opposed established gods in full power. Ehrvis’ group would rise to power faster, through subterfuge and fear, and crush the others before they could establish any kind of hold on this broken world.

And it all started here, in the misty halls of Willowbough Keep. Deep Fires had sent a convoy several weeks back with steel for new weapons and the finest whiskey and ale available. The whiskey was for Orem, a gift of gratitude for the grimoire Ehrvis was currently devouring. If there was one thing Oremorag enjoyed more than dissecting a new, strange body, it was strong drink.

The necromancers tilted his head back and swallowed the last of his wine. He smacked his lips and glanced at the book in front of him. He needed more wine, and some food. He rang the bell that summoned a servant. He would need more of the same vintage, the bottle he decided. And some apples, bread and strong cheese. He had much reading to do and needed his energy.

He was going to need many fresh bodies, he thought. The idea brought an wide, evil smile to his face.

 

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