The Warring States of NPF

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Green Spanner 12-12-2009 06:28 PM

A short story I wrote (feedback plz?)
 
(Story is below, but first an introduction):

So here's the thing.

I'm an aspiring author, one with a fantasy novel already written (currently pending another read-through in order to fine-tune it). I figure I need as much critical perspective as possible, so I'm throwing this short story, part of the intended series the novel is the first of and very similar in style and content, to be torn apart by the ravenous literary critics here.

In essence, this is little more than set up for two books. It might be a bit confusing to read, but rest assured that most of the questions you're likely to have will be answered in the series itself (if I ever get published that is, and assuming you care enough to want answers). Right now, I'm looking more for feedback on my writing ability than anything else.

Please keep inevitable criticism as constructive as possible. For ease of reading, the whole thing will be posted in three instalments.

And so, without further ado, I give you:

A Gentleman's Competition

“It’s just a bird, moron!” sneered Rollim as Calder lowered his sword. The bird stared at him curiously before hopping back into the bushes, mocking him. Calder glared at Rollim, who gave him a nasty smirk in response. Rollim was a dick.

“Silence!” hissed Plesic angrily. “Who knows what lurks in these accursed woods?”

“Birds?” said Calder. Plesic merely turned away in disgust, hurrying to catch up with Yulmen and Laymaar. Rollim and Calder quickly followed suit: they didn’t want to get lost in the trees, and as long as they were with Laymaar, the leader of the Brotherhood, no harm could come of them, right?

Laymaar…

Laymaar terrified Calder. Laymaar terrified the entire Brotherhood. Even Plesic was terrified of Laymaar. If you were to get on the wrong side of Laymaar, you were sure to die in a particularly slow and unpleasant way. And then the worse part…

Just thinking about it made Calder shake. He was a warlock in the Brotherhood of the Demon! He should be beyond fear, a trivial emotion felt by inferior people. The people that would bow to the Brotherhood or be destroyed when their time came!

It was highly unlikely that the time would come in Calder’s lifetime though. He was already in his 30s, and the Brotherhood was still almost entirely unknown to the world, skulking around in the uncharted wilds of Askrytion.

Calder remembered when he had first been joined the Brotherhood. What memories! Not particularly good memories, but memories nonetheless. He had had a choice between carrying on the family trade of being a cheese-monger, or finding his fortune in the uncharted wilds, where Askrytion was trying to permanently settle. He remembered when the Brotherhood attacked the small scouting party he found himself in, and vaguely remembered something about magical potential, which was what stopped them from killing him. So he ‘willingly’ joined them they trained him in the ways of the warlocks, had him give a vow of servitude to Ignicious, and that was that.

Ignicious…the titular demon the Brotherhood worshipped. Was he real? All Calder knew was that the Brotherhood was dedicated to serving him, and that he would one day return and enact vengeance on mankind, who had sealed him away long ago. It was all a load of bollocks by Calder’s reckoning, but he wouldn’t say that out loud. A large number of the rest of the Brotherhood did not tolerate ‘heresy’.

There was Yulmen for example…

Yulmen was loyal to a fault, having memorised the code of the Brotherhood inside and out, and being a firm believer in the whole Ignicious nonsense. He was walking besides Laymaar, acting as an unofficial body guard. Not that Laymaar needed one with his power, but Yulmen liked to feel like he was Laymaar’s favourite. The reality that nobody likes an arse-kissing sycophantic toady was lost on him.

There was not much else to say about Plesic, who was just quiet and had a like of order and discipline that may well have crossed into fetish territory. If any of them were Laymaar’s favourite, it was probably Plesic.

Rollim was a dick. That had already been established.

And so the group of five warlocks were scouting the wilderness for the purpose of…well Laymaar hadn’t told them, but if one were to disobey Laymaar to his face, it was a sure sign that one was tired of life. And not being in pain.

Calder never got tired of not being in pain. It was really great.

The trees kept going and going, until it got to the point that Calder was starting to believe that they were going round in circles. They had left the temple how long ago? He couldn’t remember, but it didn’t matter. All that mattered was doing…whatever it was that they were doing.

Soon, they arrived at a clearing. Laymaar suddenly stopped.

“We will stop here and rest,” he said, “but not for long.”

They all obeyed, making sure to not get too comfortable, lest they not be ready to move when Laymaar decided the rest was over. There was no telling what he would do to them if they showed any sign of weakness…

There was a slight rustle from the trees surrounding them.

“Did anybody else hear that?” asked Calder shakily. Rollim chuckled.

“More birds, Calder? Careful, they might get you!”

“Shut up you two.” Said Plesic.

“I really did hear something…” said Calder dejectedly. Plesic sighed.

“Is it so hard to believe that there may be animals lurking in the bushes?”

“Look, I know what animals sound like, and what I heard was no…”

“Enough.” Said Laymaar without turning round. The rest of the group went entirely silent.

Calder knew he would do best to drop the subject, but as they rested, he saw shadows moving through the trees. It’s just an animal, he thought to himself, biting his lower lip to prevent its humiliating trembling. When he joined the Brotherhood, he thought he was going to get power and adventure. What he got instead was hanging around in a dank temple, living in fear of both his malicious superiors and opportunistic inferiors, the latter of which knew that the only way to advance in rank was with a knife, a back, and a liberal application of one to the other.

He had wanted to conquer his fear, and show all those who had mocked him who the real cowards were! Now he was living in more fear than ever…

But all he had to do was not show it, not step on anybody’s toes and keep his guard up and he could at least survive each day. Not the best life, but was really that much worse than being a cheesemonger?

Seriously?

There was another rustle, closer this time.

“You must have heard that! Plesic, tell me you heard that!”

“I’ll tell you no such thing. Now shut up. Forever if possible.”

There was quite an audible snap of a twig, followed by another rustle. Plesic seemed to notice this time, and thought for a second.

“Ok, I think I believe you now…” he whispered. “That did not sound like an animal…”

“Don’t tell me you’re listening to wet-knee over here?” said Rollim.

“Wet-knee? What does that even…?”

“Shut up! You’re disturbing master Laymaar!” shouted Yulmen in a way that wouldn’t disturb anybody ever.

“We’re not alone, Yulmen.” Replied Plesic. “Can you hear that? There’s something out there…”

Rollim opened his mouth.

“Not an animal.” Said Plesic.

Rollim shut his mouth.

“Are you afraid, Plesic? You know that fear is not to be tolerated in the Brotherhood! Why shouldn’t I take my blade and…”

“We’re not alone.” Said Laymaar without turning around. This was enough to convince Yulmen and Rollim, and the five of them began to crowd together. One by one they drew their swords, preparing for whatever was out there.

There was a terrible pause, filled with silence. Not one of them let their guard down for a second.

Eventually there was another rustle, louder this time. Whatever was out there was bearing down upon them.

There was another pause for seemingly no other reason but to build up a bit more tension.

Suddenly, a shape emerged from between the trees: a man. As he stepped into the light of the clearing, Calder managed to get a good look at him: he was dressed in somewhat archaic looking armour, bearing a shield in one hand, whilst his other hovered at his scabbard. Most of his head was covered with a strange helmet that obscured his features, leaving only his face below the nose uncovered.

What got Calder’s attention, however, was the skin. It was sickly pale, almost white with a hint of green to it, patterned with red scars and blotches. It was the kind of skin that would not look too out of place on a corpse.

Corpse.

Suddenly Calder thought of the soul-batteries that Laymaar used to store magical energies for an unknown ceremony that he called ‘the Ritual’: every single one of them innocent people that the Brotherhood had killed, whereupon Laymaar used his most unnatural magical ability…

He raised them from the dead. He used his powerful necromancy to make them into walking corpses, fully aware of their predicament, but bound to his will, whereupon he chained them to the walls of the temple the Brotherhood occupied. They would be periodically blasted with magical energies, turning them into little more than magic-storage devices. Their screams of anguish and agony echoed around the temple all day and all night.

And this man that stood before them seemed to be one of them.

Undead…

Green Spanner 12-12-2009 06:29 PM

Part 2
 
But he was not one of Laymaar’s. Calder could tell that just by looking at him, and the way he stepped menacingly towards them. But that could only mean that Laymaar was not the only one there who had mastered the true power of necromancy…

Yulmen brandished his sword threateningly. “How dare you enter the presence of the all powerful Laymaar unannounced?!” he snapped. “You would do well to cower before the Brotherhood!”

Yulmen never changed. The undead stranger was unperturbed and merely smirked. Calder looked around him and realised why, and let out an embarrassing whimper.

“And you would do well to realise that your group is surrounded by archers, warlock.” Said the stranger, motioning for his undead allies to step forward, just enough to intimidate the group; Laymaar, however, didn’t even blink.

“Who are you?” He said flatly, looking up at the stranger for the first time. “What is your business in our territory? Who is your master? Speak.”

The stranger laughed, though there was no humour in it. Calder couldn’t help but think that he wouldn’t be coming out of this encounter alive.

“Your emotionless bravado is amusing, especially as you’re hopelessly outmatched.”

Yulmen seemed to take this personally. “We are warlocks!” he yelled. “We hold powers that many could only dream of! How dare you mock the Brotherhood?! How dare you?!”

The stranger sighed. “Your emotional bravado is amusing, especially as you’re hopelessly outmatched.” The undead archers aimed their bows in a threatening manner. Rollim seemed to be sizing up each of them, waving his sword in a threatening manner at the undead soldiers, who aimed their arrows at him in response. Plesic kept his distance, but still held his sword at the ready in case any of them tried anything. Yulmen, however, was still concentrating on the stranger, and he was positively seething.

“Enough of your insolence and disrespect: now you will feel the wrath of the Brotherhood of the Demon!”

He said a brief prayer to Ignicious before charging towards the stranger, sword in hand, letting out a bestial cry. If Calder was not so transfixed as to what was going to happen, he would have been suspicious of the fact that the archers did nothing.

Did this stranger have a chance? Yulmen was usually little more than a festering bag of extreme boot-licking loyalty towards Laymaar, but he could be fearsome when angered. Calder had never seen him as angry as he was.

Quick as a flash, the stranger’s sword was drawn, and easily blocked Yulmen’s strike. Plesic looked set to help him, but the bows strained threateningly around them. Yulmen and the stranger exchanged blows, until the latter, with a kick, sent Yulmen reeling backwards.

“If you must know, I am known as Lifebane.” He said with a smile. “Do you know why I’m called that?”

“Lifebane?” said Calder.

“S…seriously?” added Rollim.

Lifebane sighed. “Yes, Lifebane. You heard it right.”

“Lifebane. That…you’re going with that are you?”

“I feel it’s a name well earned. But you’ll see that soon enough, I assure you.”

“Yeah, but…Lifebane?” said Calder. “Couldn’t you…um…”

“Couldn’t I what?” said Lifebane. Even with such a ridiculous name he was still intimidating, and so Calder decided to shut up.

“Couldn’t you change it to something that isn’t quite so shit?” finished Rollim, his urge to be a dick overruling his common sense.

“Rollim…” warned Plesic. It was nice to know that Calder was not the only one with common sense in their group. Yulmen was holding back, though he could attack again at any moment, whilst Laymaar hadn’t moved. He appeared to be sizing up their main opponent, who was approaching Rollim. Rollim raised his sword as if to threaten Lifebane, who seemed unperturbed.

“Never annoy a guy whose name alludes to the fact that he can cut you into ribbons without sweating. Probably not rule 1, but definitely high up there, wouldn’t you say?”

“Don’t ignore me!” screeched Yulmen, more than a little bit pissed of from his apparent humiliation. He began to charge at Lifebane, but the archers tensed their bows once again.

“You’re going to be, how you say, considerably more riddled with arrows if you don’t calm down, boy.” Said Lifebane. Yulmen gritted his teeth, but not even his hot-headed fervour made him want to challenge the resolve of those undead archers.

“Now then.” Said Lifebane simply, bearing down upon Rollim. Rollim raised his hand, concentrated for a second, and sent out a fireball from his fingertips. Lifebane managed to raise his shield and blocked the blast, though his shield was badly scorched.

“I liked that shield…” he said sadly, though Calder couldn’t tell if he was serious or not. Rollim charged at him, thinking he had an opening. He did not, evidently, as Lifebane parried his blow, and struck back with his own. Being undead, he was not disadvantaged by fatigue, and so was not feeling the effects of a long tramp through the forest like Rollim. It was only a matter of time before Lifebane could find his way through his defences.

And indeed, it didn’t take long for Rollim to mistime a strike, which led to him having a bleeding stump where his hand had once been.

“Arghle! My hand!” he screamed. “You bastard! I’ll kill you! You fucking bastard! I’ll fuck you up! I’ll fucking kill! I’ll fucking fuck fuck!”

“That’s not very nice.” Said Lifebane, and promptly decapitated him.

Rollim was dead, but Calder couldn’t bring himself to care. Did that make him a bad person?

Oh gods, of course not.

Yulmen, however, did care. “You killed a warlock of the Brotherhood! You will answer for that!”

“What are you going to do? Kill me? I’m sort of already dead, if the corpse-like stink didn’t tip you off…”

“There are far worse things I can do to you than kill you.” Said Laymaar. He was crackling with magical energy, preparing to unleash an onslaught of spells upon Lifebane and his archers. “I have now seen your skill, Lifebane, and I tell you, that you are not match for me!” Calder gulped. He was glad he was on Laymaar’s side.

“And here’s me thinking you had forgotten how to talk.” Smiled Lifebane. “You think you’re all powerful don’t you? That’s actually adorable.”

Laymaar smiled, which was much worse than his usual scowl. It was the kind of smile that could cause a serpent to flee in fear. “I am more powerful than any man! I am Laymaar, leader of the Brotherhood of the Demon, servant of the glorious Ignicious! You think you and your puny archers can even lay a scratch upon me? You pale before me! You are the one that is adorable, Lifebane!”

Lifebane’s brow furrowed. “That’s your fearsome speech? ‘No, you’?”

Laymaar let out arcs of lightning from his hands, which struck the archers either side of him, who fell down…double-dead? Was that what it was called when you ‘killed’ an undead? Calder didn’t know. All he knew was that shit was getting real. So real…

Lifebane wasn’t intimidated. In fact, he just seemed all the more amused. “Very well.” He said, getting into his action-pose, “We shall see just how powerful you are, little man…”

The two adversaries stood, one brimming with magic, the other holding his sword, still dripping with blood, at the ready. Calder, Yulmen and Plesic were kept in check by the archers who had not been zapped to…double-death, and had tightened their circle around the three of them. Yulmen waved his sword angrily, whilst Calder and Plesic were more restrained: any wrong move, and all three would be dead. Lifebane and Laymaar were to face each other one-on-one.

Lifebane was as good as…double-dead…

“Prepare to feel the power of Laymaar, master of necromancy! I am the lord of death!”

“I’m going to have to disagree with you there.” Said a deep new voice. Everybody stopped what they were doing, with only Lifebane and the archers seemingly having any idea as to what was going on.

“When did you get here?” said Lifebane. The warlocks followed his gaze to another stranger. This one was pale and gaunt, but evidently not undead. He was tall but not overly so, so that he loomed rather than towered. His head was practically little more than a skull wrapped with skin, hairless but for a pair of black, bushy eyebrows and a goatee, silver flecked with black. His eyes were what got Calder’s attention though, as they glowed with a sickly light that illuminated nothing. His thin lips were twisted into a slight smile, the whole effect making him look almost kindly, but mostly unsettling.

Calder tried to gauge just who or what they were dealing with, but nothing about him rung any bells. He could practically see the magical energy flowing off of him, radiating off of his body and making Calder’s skin tingle. Whoever it was, he was a powerful mage. Not even Laymaar had the power that he seemed to have.

His attire was nothing Calder had seen before either, consisting predominantly of a breastplate made of a golden material, a strange symbol consisting of a four-point star with two crossed swords behind it engraved on the chest, and an orange cape that went down past the new arrival’s knees. The rest of his clothing seemed to be a dark grey shirt-trouser combo, with black leather gauntlets and boots. A belt straddled his waist, with two long, thin scabbards attached. The new stranger was armed as well. Just great…

“You also dare to insult the mighty Laymaar?!” spluttered Yulmen, who had gone bright red. “You have the sheer audacity to insult a man whose powers could bring armies to their knees?!”

“Yes.” Said the newcomer simply.

Yulmen had had enough. Something inside him evidently snapped, and he disregarded Lifebane and the archers, charging towards the stranger and screaming like a man possessed. Calder couldn’t help but watch: the stranger was barely paying attention, whilst Yulmen was angrier than he had ever been in his life, and channelling all that rage into his sword. Even Laymaar watched curiously, though it was more than likely he was sizing up the newcomer as he had done with Lifebane.

What happened next, Calder had no idea.

One moment, the stranger had no sword, the next, he held a long, thin blade in his hand, and had sliced it in an upward motion. It had cleaved right through Yulmen, whose blood flew from the sword and his brand new chest wound, splattering onto the ground. Against Lifebane, who had dispatched Rollim with little effort, Yulmen had managed to at least hold his ground, but against this newcomer, he hadn’t even got that far. He didn’t even have the chance to block.

He fell, lifeless, to the ground. That was two from their ranks that were no more.

The stranger seemed disturbingly aloof. “Who are your friends Lifebane?” he asked nonchalantly.

“Some prick and his prick friends.” Replied Lifebane. “Look, why are you here?”

“I came to say hello. Hello.” The stranger waved the Lifebane. “But seriously, I came to check on your forces and their progress. Have you found any sign of the Orb?”

“There’s a lot of wilderness to get through. I’m not even su…”

“The Orb?!” interrupted Laymaar. This seemed to get the stranger’s attention.

“Oh, how rude of me. I am Necromar, leader of the undead army. You’ve met Lifebane and…is that archery force 7?”

“Archery force 8.” Clarified Lifebane.

“Jolly good.”

“Necromar?!” said Laymaar, showing more emotion than…well…ever…

“Master, what is all this about Necromar and an Orb?” asked Plesic, asking the question that Calder was too scared to ask.

“But if you are Necromar, surely…the writings…” said Laymaar, though probably more to himself.

“The writings?” Necromar mused. “Ah! The Books of Death! I trust you have them? I assume you are no stranger to the art of necromancy then.”

Books of death? What were they talking about? Were they the secret to Laymaar’s mastery of necromancy? But that meant that Laymaar was keeping secrets from the Brotherhood! The vow of Ignicious contained a clause that there would be no secrets between them!

If he wasn’t so pant-shittingly terrified of Laymaar, Calder would’ve been angry with him.

“So how did you get your hands on the books? I lost track of them after that whole me-being-sealed-away tomfoolery…”

“I will tell you nothing.” Said Laymaar. Necromar shrugged.

“Not my business I suppose. I take it you are searching for the Orb of Omnipresence?” Laymaar said nothing. “Well I’m afraid you’re search is going to be fruitless, as I just so happen to be searching for it as well.”

“What orb?” asked Plesic.

“Oh dear, has your leader not been forthright with you?” said Lifebane nastily. “Man, who can you trust nowadays?”

Plesic and Calder approached Laymaar, though Calder was keeping his distance, just in case. “What orb are they talking about, master?” asked Plesic, keeping his tone as neutral as possible so as to not provoke. Laymaar straightened up, turning to face his servants.

“You have heard me speak of ‘the Ritual’, you have seen me cultivate the soul-batteries.” He said mysteriously. “Ignicious has spoken to me! He has told me that all we need is the Orb that is hidden in these wilds, and we can free him from his prison! He will be free to enact vengeance on those who sealed him away, and we will be granted more power than we can possibly imagine!”

“And what, pray tell, is to stop your demon master from turning on you when you have outlived your usefulness, which will probably be not long after he is summoned?” asked Necromar.

“Don’t listen to him!” said Laymaar. “We will be rewarded for our service to Ignicious!”

“Or you’ll be killed horribly.” Said Lifebane.

Laymaar began charging his magic again. “It is regrettable that the glorious Ignicious is unable to lay his wrath upon you himself, so I’m going to have to do it for him!”

“Is that so?” said Necromar, cocking his head to one side.

“You’ll see soon enough.” Said Laymaar darkly, and let lose with a stream of magic; fireballs, followed by lightning, all in the direction of Necromar. As the smoke began to clear, the shape of a non-vaporised Necromar became clear. He bore a look of concentration, and his hands were outstretched before him, the magical onslaught having been mostly absorbed. With a quick motion, he snuffed out the remaining magic that had gathered there.

“Impressive.” He said, the smile not having left his face since he arrived. “You have a talent for magic that is quite rare. I can respect that.”

Laymaar was panting, the attack having taken a lot out of him. Necromar, on the other hand wasn’t even fazed. Though he was exhausted, Laymaar drew his sword regardless.

“Why do we have to resort to violence?” asked Necromar sweetly. “Why can’t we resolve our grievances using our words?”

“They started it.” Said Lifebane, his arms crossed.

“Did not!” Calder blurted out, though he wasn’t too sure why, as it could have only got him into trouble. There was a brief pause, whereupon Plesic placed his head in his hands.

“Ok, are we ready to move forward like adults?” asked Necromar. Laymaar straightened up, but kept his sword pointed at him.

“What do you have in mind?” clearly he was wary of Necromar, but didn’t want to try anything whilst he was still not at maximum strength.

“A gentleman’s competition perhaps?”

Green Spanner 12-12-2009 06:30 PM

And finally, part 3
 
“A what?” said Plesic.

“We both want the Orb, but if my theory on what you want the Orb for is correct, we can’t both use it how we want to. I propose that we each stay out of each others way, and if one of us finds it first, the other must respect his right to the Orb. How does that sound?”

Laymaar began rubbing his chin, deep in thought. Was he seriously considering it? “What if I refuse?” he asked slowly.

Necromar raised his arm, and slowly, ice began to magically form, until they took the form of small crystals. With a flick of his wrist, they flew into Plesic’s chest, whereupon he fell down dead in a pool of expanding blood.

“Probably something like that will happen. I’ve been around long enough to know to always keep my bases covered, and I can’t have a wildcard like you and your cult running around, potentially ruining my plans, can I? I need to know that if I find the Orb first, you will be of no hindrance to me.”

Calder had almost wet himself with fear by this stage, but Laymaar was disturbingly aloof, considering nearly all of his force had been slain by these newcomers. Fortunately Calder wasn’t alone, as Lifebane also looked uncomfortable.

“Are you sure this is a good idea? What if they don’t uphold their end of the bargain?”

“Then we will have to enact terrible vengeance upon them, wont we? Oh dear Lifebane, I thought you would have known all this by now…”

“You will do no such thing.” Said Laymaar irritably, “Our base of operations is hidden deep in these wilds, untouched by even the native fauna. You will never gain access to it!”

Necromar paused for a second. “You have a point. Hold on a second…”

And with that, he stretched his arm out and began to concentrate, magical energy crackling from his fingertips. A white glow enveloped his hand and white arcs of lightning burst forth, striking the corpse of Yulmen, which in turn began to glow. The body was wrapped in magical energy, which swept across its skin, scarring it, disfiguring it…

Calder had seen such things before, though he wished that he hadn’t: when Laymaar raised another soul battery, the proceedings were identical, though Laymaar had to strain and concentrate much more than Necromar was apparently doing.

Though the pure magical energy he had been blasted with had not done wonders to his body, the undead that got up was still unmistakably Yulmen. His sickly pale skin was covered in the same blotches and blemishes that marked the rest of the undead there, and his eyes were cold, lifeless and glowed slightly with energy, but it was most certainly him.

“Yulmen?” asked Necromar, “Where is their super top-secret base?”

“Twelve miles south-east, across the river and inside the temple built into the cliff. The interior can be accessed by moving the 22nd stone on the east wall of the foyer.”

“Thank you Yulmen.”

Calder blinked, the horror that this super-powerful necromancer knew where they lived and how to get in not as prominent in his mind as the fact that Yulmen rattled it all off without hesitation.

“He never did have a mind of his own.” said Necromar as if reading his mind, “He’s nothing but an empty shell of loyalty. Isn’t that right Yulmen?”

Undead-Yulmen smiled a hideous smile as some thick, black liquid began to seep from his mouth.

“How did…?” spluttered Calder. Necromar chuckled.

“What, you think you’re master there is the only one with knowledge of true necromancy? Both he and I learned from the same writings, after all. You can keep them by the way, I don’t need them anymore. I’ve been practicing necromancy since way before your great grandfathers were conceived. Now, about that deal…”

Laymaar looked furious, but Calder knew that his hands were tied. He couldn’t put his plans in risk when they were progressing so well! Calder was torn on what would be best: Necromar was powerful, and who knew how many more undead warriors he had under his command, and yet if they agreed to the deal and he found the Orb (whatever that was) first, then all Laymaars plans would be undone.

Whatever they were…

“Alright.” Said Laymaar reluctantly, “You have a deal. Whichever of us finds the Orb first will remain uncontested by the other.”

Necromar extended his hand. Laymaar eyed it suspiciously for a few seconds, before carefully grasping it. The two men shook hands solemnly.

“May the best man win.” Said Necromar.

“Trust me, I will.” Said Laymaar.

“Of course, you do realise that if we find it before you do, you’ll now look like a massive twat, right?” said Lifebane helpfully. Laymaar said absolutely nothing, merely glaring at Necromar, who continued to give his somewhat friendly smile in response.

“I see no reason why we shouldn’t start right now. Anyway, it was lovely meeting you all…you both. Truly splendid. Have fun searching for that Orb!”

And with that, Necromar, Lifebane and the undead, including Yulmen, began to disappear into the trees. As they left, Calder heard a final exchange between them.

“What if Askrytion finds the Orb first? You know they’re sending more and more scouting parties out looking for it…”

“The agreement is between us and the warlocks only. If Askrytion finds it, there’s nothing really stopping us from taking it by force, so to speak.”

“Nice. You know I like a bit of slaughter.”

“And besides, what with the burning of Hasselfed, Askrytion’s eyes are increasingly to the east. If Fostar’s reports are anything to go by, we…”

At that point their conversation became inaudible, and so Calder turned his attention to Laymaar. Despite everything that had happened, he had survived, but still wanted to check on his master, just in case.

“Are you ok, master?” he asked carefully. Laymaar was still angry, and he didn’t want to push his luck with his prodding. He didn’t get an answer right away, so he decided to drop it. As he was walking away however, Laymaar turned to face him.

“Ignicious will crush their bones! He will sear their flesh and they will crumble before him!” he said through clenched teeth. “We cannot let them get the Orb first! Ignicious will never roam free once more if we do not get the Orb first!”

“Um…master, if you don’t mind me asking, what is the Orb and why do we want it?”

“I do not have to explain myself to scum like you!” Laymaar snapped. Calder suddenly feared for his life, but Laymaar relaxed.

“I have much work to do.” He sighed. “I need more soul batteries, I need to find that Orb, and I need to swell the ranks of the Brotherhood. Be patient, Ignicious, I will find a way…”

Calder looked at the corpses of Plesic and Rollim, and let out his own sigh. They now had an enemy who was too powerful even for Laymaar! What could they do against an army of undead?

Suddenly, Laymaar began to concentrate, and his hands began to glow. Unlike Necromar, it took quite a while for him to raise one of their fallen comrades as an undead, let alone two. Eventually, however, Plesic and Rollim were standing once more, though no more alive than they were previously.

“You have both failed me, and by extension, you have failed the Brotherhood. You are to become soul-batteries, and suffer until Ignicious is free again.”

Undead Plesic and Rollim looked horrified, but could not disobey: they were bound to Laymaar’s will now, more so than when they had been alive.

“Um…shall we go home?” asked Calder sheepishly. Laymaar approached him casually, his face emotionless as per usual. No surprises there.

The surprise came when he drove his blade through Calder’s body. Calder gasped as blood trickled from the corner of his mouth.

“You too have failed me. I have seen the fear in your eyes since we first set out, and it sickens me. You too shall be a soul-battery.”

Calder felt himself starting to cry as his vision began to go black. A fate worse than death and it had to happen to him, didn’t it? It was a shame that it was in his final moments that he realised that Laymaar was truly insane. But it was too late for that kind of thinking. Soon he would be chained to a wall in the temple, blasted with magic periodically and forced to store it in his body; forced to live in agony, unable to escape, unable to do anything but suffer.

A single thought went through his head before it all went black. Before it suddenly went light. Before he became undead, and could no longer disobey Laymaar. Before his torment began…

…I should’ve been a cheesemonger…


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