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Long after the fires burned out, it poured. Ash and soil dislodged from the crisped woods and ran into the marshes, flooding them with acrid mud. Now the skies were still and the marshes turned to swamp. Insects of plight swooped along the basin, feeding on the expunged corpse of the forest, it’s denizens and the wake of The War Of The Damned.
Gazlan paid no heed, the carrion broke far from his path as he drifted towards his goal.
The muddied waters were obsidian mirrors in the night, stark reflections of the silver, moonlit fog which rolled over the desolation. The pale light oozed through the fog canopy, casting a sickly white over the marshes like the backdrop of some terrible dream.
Gazlan glided unnaturally across the flooded plains, only his robes dragging behind him caused the waters to ripple. He could sense the foul use of necromancy on the air, his nose wrinkled and he cursed his ill tempered compatriots.
He could also scent something sweeter behind him. Vinetta had been tailing him for days now. He smiled, realising he would have to give her lessons on how to properly sneak around if she was to accompany him.
‘But back to the business of the night,’ He thought.
He paused at muddy mound protruding from the water; it held a single crushed marshwort. The yellow flower was broken and beaten into the mud by the passing paw prints of ghouls.
He knelt down and plucked the desiccated marshwort from the mound and sighed, caressing the petals.
“I’m sorry, my little friend.”
He froze as a sound cut through the fog like an ice shard to the heart. Wailing.
Not from the ghouls he sought to free, this was from the living.
“It seems you were not the only victim this night.” He said, drifting into the murky fog once more.
After a time he found his quarry. The bereaved was a man, slumped over the fallen body of his comrade amidst a smattering of dead ghouls.
‘Impressive’, Gazlan thought. Ghouls were more powerful than the living – the living had inhibitions in order to preserve the body. The dead not so much, which made them so dangerous. It meant they could strike with the full force of the muscles without paying heed to their own torn ligaments and broken bones. They could suffer more than any creature was capable and still drag themselves along mechanically in order to tear you limb from limb.
The young traveller sensed his presence and fumbled through the shallow waters for a large axe. He gripped it with quivering hands.
“Calm, young friend,” Gazlan said, raising his hands in peace. “Calm, I am no enemy of the living.”
“You are a necromancer?” The man said with blood shot eyes.
“I’m one of the good ones.”
This did not seem to convince him, yet he was too weary to fight and sagged into the waters once more.
“You did well to survive such an attack.” Gazlan said.
“He did most of the work, I never could swing a weapon.” He replied.
“Muscular degeneration.” Gazlan said to himself, taking note of the entropic figure of the traveller before him.
“That’s what the physician said.”
“But you shot some of these creatures down.” Gazlan said, pulling a bolt from one of the ghouls.
“He made this for me.” The traveller hefted a bulky looking crossbow from the waters. “Scatter shot, he called it. The bolts splinter and multiply as they leave the slide… He made it so I could defend myself if he wasn’t around…” He choked back a sob. “If he was…” He slumped again.
Gazlan crouched over one of the slaughtered ghouls; it still twitched and rasped, the soul trapped in the horrid form until its master released it. Necromancer’s never really cared to do that once their servants were incapacitated, it sent a flush of heat down his spine.
He placed his hand on the ghoul’s head and murmured an incantation. The body shuddered and the ghoul rasped its last breath, the soul finally allowed to enter the afterlife. Gazlan rose and made his way around the battle ground, releasing the damned from their servitude.
“What is your name?” Gazlan asked between incantations.
“Merigol.” He replied.
“What was his?”
“Who was he?”
“He was mine…” Merigol scrunched his eyes in an attempt to hold back the deluge, “And I was his.”
“I am so very sorry, Merigol.” Gazlan released the last ghoul from its curse.
“You.” Merigol perked up, looking to Gazlan. “You’re a necromancer?”
Gazlan paused and sighed. “I cannot do what you hope.” He said.
“But I’ve seen what necromancers can do!” Merigol gestured to the surrounding ghouls. “Please, he was all I had.”
Gazlan rose from the last ghoul and stood before the weeping Merigol and his love. So much hope in his eyes, so much pain. This was going to have to be handled delicately.
“He would return a perversion of your love, like these poor wretches who slew him.”
The hope drained from Merigol’s eyes and the deluge resumed, sobbing over his dead lover.
‘Delicately…’ Gazlan chastised himself, “Look, Merigol.” He crouched before him and raised his chin to look into his eyes.
Gazlan removed the broken marshwort from his pouch, and held it between them.
“If Sinan were this poor flower,” He began, closing his eyes.
He concentrated for a moment. Incanting the holy magics that made his profession possible and the yellow flower reconstituted in bloom. Only it was wicked. The scent turned foul and vile pus oozed from the broken, glowing skin of the stem as it held itself together.
“He lived, and bloomed, and was taken before his time yes. But to undo that would be to undo him, his life and impact, the wake of his journey. This flower provided some beauty, some bee pollinated it, took pollen from it, it provided sustenance for creatures in this plain, supported the soil it grew in… and then it’s life was cut short. To restore it artificially would be to usurp what it had worked for, to destroy the delicate world that it was a part of.
Your Sinan, he left his mark on the world. He changed you, altered the trajectory of your life. If you were to prop up his corpse, your life would become venom, like that leaking from this flower.”
Gazlan released the magic, and the flower sagged and died again. He produced a seed from his satchel, crushed it in his palm with the dead flower and plunged it into the waters. He drove it through the acrid scent and into the earth beneath the surface, chanting again. An entirely different magic swirled beneath the waters.
Not his magic – not all of it, Vinetta lent her aid from the foggy veil.
“But if you were to use the experiences his life gave you.” Gazlan continued. “Let it fuel you. Let it direct your life that you have now, you yourself can bloom into something different. This is not betrayal. It is helping him stay alive, through his memory, through his legacy. Here” He pulled his hand from the watery earth and held a rose, red, thorned and perfect. Moisture glistening in the pale moonlight clung to the petals. “I became a necromancer to protect that process…” He paused. “To honour the ones who I have loved and lost… It will take time.”
He offered the rose to Merigol. Who took it with trembling hands.
“It won’t be easy. I do not envy the journey you have before you. But the gift of Sinan’s life can keep on giving, if you let it.” He rose, “Or you can stay here… and become the corrupted marshwort.”
Merigol gripped the rose close to his chest and bent over the form of his dead lover once more. “Just go.” He sobbed. “Leave me be.”
“I leave you then with you all the love I can muster.” Gazlan said. “And I am sorry for what has been taken from you.”
“If you can manage it, you can join me on my quest. I am pursuing the necromancer who commanded these ghouls. You could find justice. But I understand if you decide to stay.” Gazlan said before turning from Merigol.
He breathed in the rich damp air and scented more perversion of life in the distance. He glided into the night to pursue it.
Merigol did not react when Vinetta emerged, clumsily, from the fog.
“Come, Merigol. It is not safe here, and Sinan would not want you to grieve alone.”
Merigol eyed her wearily. “A necromancer and an elf find me in the depths of hell and offer to lead me out. Perhaps I should take that as a sign?” He grabbed his crossbow from the waters. “But I can’t leave him here.”
Vinetta wove her hands and the magic of druidism swirled between them. “Say your final goodbye, Merigol. I will ensure that the earth keeps him safe.”
Merigol started as the roots deep below the surface rose through the dead soil, the foul water and gently embraced Sinan’s body. Fumbling, Merigol took a locket from his lover’s neck and watched as he was pulled reverently below the waters to rest within the earth.
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