The Necromage walked across the desert, clutching a staff that carried a serpent twisted around the oak. The hand wrapped around it was bone with desiccated skin stretched taught.
“I am death incarnate, and the last living thing that you will ever see. God sent me.”Susan Ivanova, Babylon Five; Between the Darkness And Light.
“But if it is preached that Christ has been raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith.”The Bible, 1 Corinthians 15:12-19.
This is another short story for this month’s prompt. All characters have been silenced, as this is the first appearance of the Necromage.
Dragon Stone: Necromage
The Necromage walked across the desert, clutching a staff that carried a serpent twisted around the oak. The hand wrapped around it was bone with desiccated skin stretched taught. Beneath the robe rested a pendant with the Heart of a Dragon purring in time with thoughts that carried the death of worlds.
He chased daemons, not through fear but a need to palaver. Ask questions on the old laws. Ones that lay forgotten in time as ages passed and fools repeated the cycles of the past. The pendant throbbed briefly. Smiling, he knew The Matriarch was awake.
Sand blew as the wind increased. It mattered not as the direction remained imprinted like some old friend. He came before the Elder Magi when the world was tree and shrub. His mind reached the cosmos, searching for before. In other worlds, an eternal battle with beings that man described as gods. Always, the unknown fell to religion as a prop against the darkness. It struck him as foolish. Did a bat or fox worry about the night?
In front, a mountain came into view. Blurred by particles of sand that appeared to restrict the path forward. It mattered not. The staff knew the way. On it, the serpent blinked in response. Its head shifted and set a new direction.
Mistakes filled his mind, and with that came a rage. Trust in allies was low. Had they not failed to slay all the dragons? Annihilate the Elders and take the Stones. Had not the Witch Queen fled and been turned by the Paradox Man? Thoughts became darker. He was of old blood. A hunter merged with the man, a god if that’s what you chose to believe.
Always wanting order, light and worship. Other ways were better. Strength, survival of the fittest, and a structure that ruled all worlds. Was that not what they all sought? Their ways shed blood throughout time, causing the chaos they abhorred. Who were they to hold a self-righteous arrived arrogance?
The questions recycled as they had in the conjurer’s bubble before some elf and dwarf forgot who they were. He smiled again; the elf should have known better.
The mountain was close. He could see the entrance to a cave shimmering in a perception field. One of his making, in some distant past. Inside were Dragon eggs. Older than time and a clutch belonging to the Matriarch. Like everything else, waiting for the time of chaos spawned in fire and temporal destruction.
He would keep the elf and dwarf, though, along with the witchling Morgan.
He was at the cave now. Runes covered the rock surround. He stood with the wind billowing the shards of his shroud. Inside, its weave shapes shimmered in Collection. Dead souls trapped in necromancy. The screams were silent and comforting. Below the hood, eyes swirled in vortices. These were used to bewitch and hold an enemy while his staff drew out the essence, leaving a desiccated husk to crumble in the breeze. Not before he fed on terror. Man deserved such. They were creatures unworthy of existing. War and pestilence followed them like a plague excuse in some confessional ceremony to gods who cared not.
Dragons were the same. Selfless creatures unless nurtured in the Way. The Matriarch understood and was sure The Black did too, or would if he could strip away the Stone Keeper. That thought lingered. He should be turning by now. That would bring him into line. Perhaps as a marshal. There was always the girl to remind him of. Chained and feral, along with the witchling.
His staff cracked on the ground as the runes glowed dark blue. The cave yawned open like some daemon inviting him in. A bone hand caressed The Matriarch’s Stone. It was cold as ice, and he knew she was watching.
The darkness of the cave was welcome after the heat of the desert. Even at night, it hurled fire at those crossing. Bleached bones littered its sand in an amusing replica of the Dragon Yard.
Inside, black fires pulled what remained of light into them. This was his domain. Rough-hewn steps led down. Weathered before even he first entered after some vision burned in his mind. What went before was outside time and stripped from history in the first temporal war. At the bottom was an altar resting on a catafalque. In the centre was a scrying glass.
Down more steps to his left were catacombs. The right held a hatchery, but it was the glass he was here to see. Sitting on an old stone bench, he leaned forward. Resting in a small worn ripple in the stonework. Like the steps, it was eroded in time and use. Who came before him was a nagging question. Did that entity know more? If so, where was the knowledge now? Hidden in a grimoire somewhere in this cavern, perhaps and guarded by a grimalkin. Was ascension the work of Gods? If so, they were vicious and unworthy of praise or religious following. Not that man ever truly believed. Power corrupts, and those claiming connections with some ethereal being are false. They took to war in haste and were manipulated like the toys of a chylde.
He would search the catacombs later. Now, it was time to seek the rogue witch. Bone touched the glass. It misted and formed the shape of a tower. This he remembered from before. An entry portal where two fell before the Elder Magi fled within. And there she was. The Emerald Dragon turned in hatred as she breathed death upon his acolytes.
The glass paused while he examined the runes. Satisfied, he sat back. Access to the portal was simple. Those currently seeking entry would not do so. Another folly of man. A wealth of historical knowledge wasted in the present of stolen by false religions as secrets or destroyed. It seemed a simpler way to control en masse. But then they did not understand the wider game. Throw them a vision, and it was a daemon or miracle. Justifying abuse in exorcisms and confession. Travesty.
Within the cowl, he paused.
She lives Necromage.
“Aye, the poisons did not take. Slowkill became slumber.”
And rage burns. Use it. Both her and The Black will turn.
“And Tor Angra?”
Will fall. We know this. Each turn of the wheel brings us closer. There is another key waiting in the future.
The Necromage nodded in the darkness: Flynne.
Standing, he covered the glass. It was time to search, but first, the hatchery.
Even in the gloom, the Necromage could see as all. More weathered steps led to a chamber that must have been dwarven in origin. The folly of deep mining. Much slept under the earth. Ignore warnings, and no surprise if Leviathans awakened crushed you. That dwarves were so curious about rock was intriguing. The balance of species. Those above claiming righteousness and those below countering. When there were gods, there were daemons, and when they cast gods aside, there were still daemons.
Why the dwarf Nahir turned aside from his heritage to take up with the elf was an anomaly. One that fulfilled the Prophecy of the Crow and without whom the conjurer’s bubble would still be inside a mountain. Balance and symmetry. Without fire and chaos, there would be no worlds. The light invested in life. The dark made life possible out of the chaos: without such creatures, nothing would exist. Did they not understand this?
The hatchery was warm. Volcanic fires ran below. In the distance, he could hear the rumbling of the sleeping caldera working the machines of the planet’s core. Hell, Gehenna, Underworld. Myths and legends of the inferno waiting for unworthy souls. Yet the fires kept life going. Created the fields that shielded the surface from stars. The Dökkálfar knew this. Dragons understood while man created selfish doctrines to justify their existence. If they wanted daemons, then the mirror is where they should search first.
He stood looking at the clutch of eggs in a stone hollow. Surrounded by ash and bone. How they got here was a mystery. That they were here was not. It struck him The Black may have sired The Matriarch and that these eggs could bring into the world greater beasts than either parent. Perhaps that was why they were brought here. Satisfied they were still inactive, he wrapped his skeletal fingers around his staff and turned away.
Opposite the hatchery lay the descent into a necropolis. It was here the first screams began. Even the dead showed fear at his approach, knowing the touch of necromancy. No escape in life and even less in death. More so, if it was information being sought, unknown to most, it was why he wanted Elder Magi. Living, they presented powerful adversaries rich in lore and knowledge. Dangerous, holders of Stones and masters of sorcery. That he wanted them exterminated was a common understanding.
They thought he wanted Stones and dragons. What he craved was that which living they would not yield. Even dragons could not escape his art after death. Why else did he require the Boneyard? None knew or tried to understand the perspective of the enemy. It was why they failed. A dead Elder was more useful than a living one. Little wonder they fled as the horde approached.
He paused before descending, waiting for silence as each soul shrunk and cowered, hoping to remain incognito as he moved through rank and file of bones. This was an old catacomb. Parts even he didn’t fully know. Which meant somewhere were the builders of the Keep at Tor Angra. Those with the power over time, creators of the Dragon Stones and ancestors to what would become the Elder Mages.
He knew only part of this vast expanse. As those in the Keep were frustrated by a rune wall, he was confronted by a temporal impasse that defied access. Several chambers down, with each representing an Age. Yet, how many lay undetected? He always found anger rearing when challenging the dead near this zone. Despite his wrath, something else existed they feared more, and that was the probing art of the necromancer. Unknown to the Necromage, this necropolis was created by another, a predecessor, who collected both souls and bodies to act as a repository of knowledge. That it was a library had not yet dawned on him. The Matriarch found that amusing.
As before, he stood at the temporal barrier. Those closest to it shrank away. It mattered not. The touch of necromancy knew no boundary.
Gatekeeper, will you reveal the entrance now?
That was never revealed. Must we keep treading the same ground?
The Necromage tightened his grip on the staff. In response, there was a scream of pain. Something no corporeal creature could comprehend. The dead could not cringe, curl up or plead to an inquisitor. The Necromage listened. Sooner or later, the Gatekeeper would break. This time, he escalated the conjuration. Dust rose from the niche where the bones lay as they crumbled to nothing. He could smell the death sweat and smiled.
The key is the sixth rune. Conversely, another must accept the request and do the same.
Not so hard, was it? The Necromage released his grip on the staff. A blue drift of smoke left the bone residue and entered the shroud. He smiled as the soul entered a place that made what just happened trivial.
He drifted over the runes lining the walls. Amused, the rune in question meant ‘God.’ The tip of a bone finger touched it. In response, he felt another presence. This Elder Mage was about to discover that revealing his presence would cost dearly.
I have been waiting for you Necromage.