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The dingy chugged across the calm black waters which reflected the dazzling starry sky like an astral plain. Wutarl gazed across the two tiered spackled majesty as he sat by the prop, wearily igniting paladism into the power cell to keep their graceful journey in motion.
Merigol sat at the bow, scanning the waters for threats with drooping eyes and Vinetta cradled the sleeping Gazlan in her lap. She caressed his cheek and sung in soothing tones as fever dreams tried to claim him.
“How much longer do you reckon?” Wutarl grunted.
“The islands couldn’t be more than two days away,” Merigol reasoned. “Otherwise the village would have had better boats to get there…” He spotted a ripple in the surface of stars and tensed.
Wutarl sensed his tension, ceased powering prop and the boat drifted.
“What is it, Merigol?” Vinetta asked.
“I could have sworn the waters moved. Ubzlan must have many undead beasts in the deep by now.”
“Not just him.” Gazlan rose from his slumber. “The ripple was but a tendril of the war raging below us.”
“The creatures of the sea are fighting back?”
“We aren’t that lucky.” Gazlan said with a hint of wry humour. “There is a naga necromancer nearby. Sscrell. He has taken much of the Dark Seas. His threat enticed a coalition of necromancers to supplant his dominance before he overwhelms the coast.”
“Ubzlan moves in to assist his rivals then?” Wutarl asked. “He didn’t seem the cooperative type.”
“None of them are,” Gazlan said. “Ubzlan is moving in to mop up the survivors,” he closed his eyes and sensed with his necromancy. “The fighting is fierce below, and upon the islands not an hour away… I sense only a third surviving necromancer… they are all fighting each other.”
“Ah, to wade into a three way war,” Merigol chimed.
“Four ways. Many of the dwarves still struggle in the battle. We must hurry.”
Wutarl breathed deeply and powered the propeller again, “my paladism won’t be much use after this journey.”
“Just leave enough juice to power my exoskeleton, friend,” Merigol said.
“Galzan.” Vinetta still caressed his cheek. “Are you ready for this?”
“No. But we have no choice. When I set out on my quest there were dozens of would be tyrants. I quelled many and many quelled each other. I sense no other than these three in the world. Whichever of them wins will be able to wage their war on the living uncontested, whichever wins here will become unstoppable. We have no choice but to ensure that none win.”
“Then we will do so,” she squeezed his arm.
“Vinetta, if I fall…”
“You won’t fall.”
“I mean, he won’t be able to bewitch me because of my lineage. He’ll have to kill me…”
“He won’t get you, I won’t let him.”
“I want you to know that I give you permission to puppeteer my body.”
He held his hand over his chest. “You can use the rose that mended my heart to infiltrate my nervous system, like with those beasts when we first met. If I am turned into a ghoul I could be used to summon my own ghouls in service to my enslaver. You must not let this happen. You can counter their necromatic commands with your druidry to nullify me.”
“I can’t take control of you like that. It would be unthinkable.”
“I would suffer any worldly threat to complete my goal. I would suffer any torment to my soul to protect my friends, to protect you.”
“Vinetta,” He kissed her. “Promise me.”
She bit her lip, looking into his dark eyes. Her rosy skin flushed as she considered the reality of what might transpire.
An hour later they sighted a dark presence in the astral reflection. It was surrounded by churning waters, pulses of necromancy and flashes of resistance from the brave souls on the island.
“We’re here,” Gazlan said.
“Islands?” Merigol asked. “More like island.”
“The dwarves are as industrious as they are tenacious,” Wutarl growled. “When they move into an area they liaise with the local races, in this case the water races. Here they filled the waters between their islands to create artificially flowing rivers. They use them to sieve the minerals they mine for jewel smithing. Also to irrigate their paddocks for herds,” his mouth watered, “mutton.”
“They irrigate with salt water?” Merigol asked.
“They have inverse towers which burrow into the earth and depths to mine the ocean floor. There is some mechanical trickery with pumps in those buildings to keep the rivers fresh while the ocean below is salty. I am actually excited to study it for my own tinkering… if we survive.”
Something knocked the boat and set them to stumble.
“What was that?” Merigol darted his bow around the rippling waters.
“You don’t want to know,” Gazlan grinned even as his voice quickened. “Wutarl, more speed please.”
Behind them a titanic kraken tentacle lashed from the depths, enwrapping a leviathan beast and slammed back down into the water.
The orc roared as he charged more of his light into the device and the dingy jetted across the growing storm in the deep.
“WHAT WAS THAT WHAT WAS THAT WHAT WAS THAT?” Merigol was screaming.
He raised his bow to shoot the titanic monsters when they breached the surface again. As they slashed and bit at each other smaller creatures that clung to their skin were flung with the ocean spray. One landed in the boat, an adolescent naga.
Nagas were serpents with arms and this poor specimen pulsed with the foul arts. The aquatic ghoul snapped and writhed to strike at the Rose Squad and Gazlan gripped at it to release its soul.
The creature went limp as it was saved from damnation but more slithered after them in the boat’s wake.
“How can we kill the naga necromancer?” Vinetta screamed as she vine whipped a murky claw that gripped the edge of the boat. “We couldn’t fight in the depths even if those colossuses weren’t waiting for us!”
“Necromancers of this power are extremely hard to kill by ghoul, they will need to face each other!” Gazlan bellowed as he swiped at a rearing sea creature with his mage rune scimitar. “Sscrell will be closer to shore where the fighting is thickest!”
An undead whale breached in front of them. The great mass loomed under the stars like a dark tower in the night and listed to crush them.
“Hold on!” Wutarl twisted the prop and the dingy drifted as it turned from the dead whale’s path.
Another whale breached behind, jumping from the water to clamp its jaws around them. Wutarl bellowed another warning as he turned the boat again and the whale crashed into the waters, missing them by the barest inch.
“More speed Wutarl!” Merigol pleaded.
With another bellow from the orc the boat accelerated towards the approaching beach which writhed in battle between the ghouls of many different races.
“This is going to be rough!” Gazlan grabbed Merigol from the bow and threw him onto the deck, then Vinetta and laid himself over them.
With a roar Wutarl channelled one final burst of acceleration into the prop. He dove on top of his companions as the dingy slammed into the shoreline, sliding up the beach, grinding over the sands and squelching over the bloated corpses.
The boat half screeched half squelched to a halt and Wutarl was the first one up. He roared and swiped with his axe, dismembering a wide swath of the damned as they swarmed. Gazlan shot up and leaped over the bow. He slashed with his rune scimitar at the recovering ghouls and conjured necromancy into the dead matter in the sands to create waves and geysers to scatter the enemy.
Vinetta was right behind him lashing out with her vines to keep the stragglers at bay.
Upon the boat Merigol struggled up and fired two scatter bolts in each direction.
“Wutarl, I need you to power my exoskeleton!”
“I have no light left, friend,” Wutarl grunted as he lifted Merigol with one hand and threw him over his shoulder. “Keep the fiends off our back!” He leaped to follow in Gazlan’s and Vinetta’s wake.
As the Rose Squad pushed through the beach they realised that many of the ghouls were not just swarming them, but each other as well.
“We’re in the right place!” Vinetta cried.
They made it to the edge of the beach and pushed into dune grasses and higher ground as the battle raged behind them. Beyond they saw a curving river which had an outlet down the shore. A dwarf village was built around it, lit by the spackled starlight. The land had been carved into deep depressions around the curving waters as they had dug and mined and built their towers that burrowed deeper into the earth.
The inverse towers were a mistake in this conflict as the Rose Squad could see sea ghouls spewing from the ground level. The dwarves fought a desperate battle on the higher levels as they coordinated a defence through interlinking bridges using the strength of crude fire arms.
“This is absolute anarchy,” Wutarl growled.
“Some still live,” Vinetta commented.
“Ubzlan,” Gazlan sighted his father on the bridge over the river.
He had around him an army of ghouls and grotesques and fought off a stampeding charge of undead centaurs, commanded by a drow necromancer on the far side.
“The drow is Junla. Sscrell will be in the river somewhere,” Gazlan said, “Let’s go.”
The party set down the slope towards the strange town. As they took off a horde of ghouls from the beach swarmed over the dune and pursued them. Dwarves upon the rooftops and makeshifts ramparts took notice of the approaching swarm and fired sporadically into the mass, causing it to crumble as ghouls were floored and tripped over each other.
“Do they know we’re here?” Merigol bellowed as he shot a scatter bolt at a group of ghouls nipping at Wutarl’s heels.
Vinetta flung her vine into the air and waved it wildly like a desperate flag in the dark. A shot pinged off the ground by her and she almost stumbled to her death.
“No!” She called.
“Wutarl, your light!”
“I have nothing left,” Wutarl grunted.
He cried out as a stray shot hit him in the shoulder, tearing through his chain mail and ripping his flesh. He did not falter in his step or lose his grip on Merigol.
“Same side you short hairy bastards!” Merigol screamed. “Same side!”
The Rose Squad reached the first buildings and sped down the street to the bridge, where Ubzlan and Junla were concentrating the bulk of their personal swarms. The bridge was a haze of green pulses shimmering through the sprays of mist from whatever was brawling in the waters.
The dwarves above stopped firing on them and focused on the swarm behind.
“They’ve seen us!” Vinetta cried. “Finally!”
Gazlan pivoted without slowing down, skidding across the earth as he turned and sent a pulse of necromancy through the ground. The unholy green light shot through the street like a wave, gathering the particles of dead matter to roll and slam into the churning mass of ghouls like the tide against the shore.
Many ghouls were crushed as Gazlan reinforced the barrier, adding wave upon wave of dead matter for the ghouls to slam into.
Vinetta took his lead. She faced the adjacent street where ghouls were pouring out of the lower levels to brawl with others. She reached down with her druidry and found coral lining the bottom of the artificial landmass and the towers burrowing down into the deep. She breathed her power into the coral and commanded it to surge upwards.
The sea life burst through the ground. It sliced the ghouls as she filled the streets, creating a razor sharp labyrinth which they could not navigate without dismembering themselves beyond uselessness.
Wutarl placed Merigol down and unslung his hammer. With a bellowing war cry he smashed at the ghouls that rushed out of the nearby buildings – ignoring his gun shot in a battle rage. Gazlan and Vinetta continued their work, creating a stronghold within this section of the town.
The dwarves above began to cheer and cry praise from the upper levels. The lower levels still teamed with conflict between the living and the dead.
Merigol cried up to them, “reinforce the upper levels! Get everyone you can to safety, we will kill the dead!”
“Aye, strengas!” A Dwarf woman replied form the top of one building in her slurred accent.
“Sure ya med besterds!” Said another.
“What the feck do ya think we’ve been tryna do?”
“Just do it,” Gazlan panted as he and Vinetta finished the barriers.
A grotesque troll broke from one of the lower levels, bursting through the wall and charged Merigol. He shot one, two, three scatter bolts into its mass to no avail. Gazlan, Wutarl and Vinetta turned just in time to see it rear to tear him limb from limb.
Only it didn’t.
It collapsed mid charge with a collective sigh form the many troll souls that made up the grotesque and skidded to a halt by Merigol’s screaming form.
The Squad looked around, bewildered to find that many of the ghouls surmounting or forcing their war through the barriers went silent. Much of the fighting within the buildings died down.
“Shit,” Gazlan glanced at the bridge.
Ubzlan had Junla held down by many ghouls, he had just rammed a knife into her heart.
“This is good, no?” Merigol asked as he pulled himself from the grotesque’s corpse.
“Now the two remaining necromancers can raise these ghouls and concentrate the mayhem!” Wutarl roared. “We have to end this quickly!”
There was a titanic roar and the sound of breaking foundations as the leviathan emerged from the riverbed. It was entangled still with the rotting tentacles of the kraken and it slammed into the bridge, setting it crumbling into the murky depths.
The ground around the river began to fissure.
“Wutarl,” Gazlan said, “get Merigol to higher ground.”
“I can still fight!” He bared his teeth.
“I need you to help Merigol and these people,” Gazlan pleaded. “Your light is all that would help in the battle against my father and you’re outta juice!”
Wutarl muttered some profanity and lifted Merigol from the ground.
Gazlan glanced at Vinetta. “We can do this.”
She nodded, setting her face in grim determination.
He flourished his blade and set off towards the crumbling artificial floor of the island by the river. It brayed and thrashed as titanic forces clashed within the depths, striking at the foundations of the inverse towers and setting them trembling in the starry night.
They reached the last block of buildings before the river to find the ground had splintered and cracked completely, listing strangely like the shattered shards of a frozen lake. Ghouls of dwarves and humans and naga alike swarmed over the shards, desperately thrashing to find purchase as they killed and re-killed each other in the name of their terrible masters.
“Ubzlan could not have survived,” Vinetta said breathlessly.
“But he did.”
The leviathan breached the waters again and slammed into the breaking river bed with a colossal boom. The minced head of the kraken writhed in its jaws as Ubzlan pulled himself from the leviathan’s blow hole.
“That was close!” He cackled. The deep reverberating sound of the leviathan cackling with him sent the remaining ground a tremor. “Ah, my boy,” He sighted Gazlan and Vinetta on the bank. “Come for another spectacular defeat?”
“I have come to fulfil my oath!” Gazlan stood forward, ignoring the hordes of ghouls that broke from the conflict to stand between him and the leviathan. “I will purge you and all the perversions of necromancy from this world. Tonight!”
“Gazlan,” Vinetta watched as Ubzlan’s ghouls were torn apart from the rear. They watched him and ignored Sscrell’s forces from the deep. “Gazlan, something is off.”
“Well, there are only two more ‘perversions’ for you to slay,” Ubzlan answered. “You wouldn’t happen to know where that naga worm is would you?” He laughed. “The crossing was, hah… eventful thanks to him. But I can sense him nearby.”
He flicked his wrist and the leviathan shifted. Its jaw clenched around the thrashing kraken head and it gasped, spitting a serpentine form from its maw.
“Ah, there he is.” Ubzlan hopped from the leviathan, sliding off its scaly head and plopping into the wet earth. “Sscrell my dear friend, how have you been?”
The naga writhed and clawed across the ground, making for the crack into the ocean.
“I would not do that,” Ubzlan warned.
Sscrell’s fingers gripped the edge of the crack and an undead whale breached the waters, its maws opened and a horde of ghouls spilled out of it to engulf him.
He spluttered and screamed as they dragged him to Ubzlan. He looked over his shoulder, at his ghouls who were being torn apart by Sscrell’s, desperately trying to reach and protect their master.
“Sstop toying with me, critter,” Sscrell hissed. “The moment my ghouls break through you’ll end me. Just, do it.”
“Ah Sscrell, you are no fun. I guess I’ll just have to torment your soul as it serves me.”
He produced his knife and slit Sscrell’s throat. He sputtered a blubbering cry and fell limp in the ghoul’s arms. His thrashing ghouls fell silent, the waters stopped churning and the chunks of artificial land bobbed into each other pleasantly under the starry sky.
“Ah.” Ubzlan raised his hands. “Victory!”
“Not yet,” Gazlan stepped forward. “There is still one necromancer for you to fight!”
Ubzlan’s eyes flashed with green and he sent a pulse of necromancy throughout the islands. Sscrell’s ghouls picked themselves up at his command, as did the Drow’s. The combined might of three powerful necromancers now arrayed against Gazlan and Vinetta.
Wutarl, Merigol and the dwarf defenders watched on silently, barricaded above in their towers.
“Son, you won’t even raise an army against me. What do you think is going to happen here?”
“I am going to tear your throat out and watch you writhe to death.”
“That is a bit dark,” Ublzan laughed, “As in I can’t see it ever happening. My legions will sweep you and your companions from the face of the world, your souls will be bound to your weak flesh and you will serve me in perpetuity.”
“Really? You’d just set your slaves on us? You would just flick your wrist and end the final ‘actual’ challenge you’ll ever encounter? Ubzlan the Terror, Ruler of the Damned – Little Bitch.”
Ubzlan’s head cocked to one side, “are you trying to goad me, little necromancling?”
“What master of the world would baulk at a chance to duel his final opponent, a chance to demonstrate their right for glory over all? The Guardians of the Sun will one day descend to challenge your perversion and they would first laugh at the coward who could not fight his own battles.”
“Who was the last necromancer you killed Gazlan?” Ubzlan retorted. “Did it make you feel, honourable, when you slaughtered your own mother?”
Gazlan gripped his scimitar, grinding his fingers into the hilt.
“If you’re going to goad someone child,” Ubzlan laughed, “make sure your own house is in order.”
Gazlan growled and lunged forward, ploughing through the ghouls between him and his father. Ubzlan laughed and danced away while flicking his wrist. Tentacle tendrils shot from the cracks in the earth and entrapped Gazlan’s limbs, holding him in place.
“Do you have any idea how many giant squid there are beneath us right now? It’s ridiculous really.”
Vinetta bellowed her own battle cry and charged forward, summoning her vine to whip at the pulsing tentacles and raising a cluster of coral around Ubzlan. He scoffed at her attempt as his ghouls surged around him, creating a fleshy mound for him to stand upon which rose with the razor sharp coral.
More tentacles emerged, one lashed at her vine and ensnared it mid whip as another tentacle wrapped around her waist and hefted her into the air.
“Let her go!” Gazlan roared, the tentacle gripping his sword arm constricted his wrist until it clattered uselessly to the ground.
“I shall, as soon as I have turned you to my purposes.”
“Your sorcery won’t work on me,” he countered, “I may not have learned to master the power of the Nunnadan Shamans but by blood right it will not ensnare me!”
“Then I shall kill you, and ensnare your soul to your body. I will command you to rip this she elf apart, and then turn you onto your crippled friend and that pathetic paladin orc nerd. You can tear them to bits as my forces dismember the dwarves.”
Ubzlan lunged forward and swiped with his wicked knife. The blade passed through Gazlan’s neck and a jet of blood burst forth, spraying his father and his ghouls.
Vinetta shrieked as Gazlan went limp in the hold of the tentacles, choking without a wind pipe. His eyes burned with fury even as they drained of life, taking in the leering face of his father who watched him die.
Within seconds he was dead.
The tentacles threw Vinetta into the earth. She grunted and gazed through tears at the forces arrayed around her and at Gazlan’s corpse as it was discarded like garbage.
“I see you have feelings for my son… had.”
Ubzlan approached her and she crawled back from his advance until she reached the crack in the earth with the deadly waters beneath.
“It never would have worked out, you see, he was of superior stock. And you are just a fucking elf druid.” He reared with his knife to kill her and hesitated. He laughed, “oh, silly me. I promised my boy that he would kill you.” He turned back to Gazlan’s corpse and raised his hand.
In a flash, Vinetta remembered her promise to Gazlan, remembered his words. He would suffer any worldly threat to complete his goal. He would suffer any torment to his soul to protect his friends, to protect her.
She raised her arm in tandem with Ubzlan and muttered her own chant.
She found the rose plant that had morphed into his heart and lungs and ribs by her magic and that of Wutarl’s. She spoke to it. It still possessed residual life and it was a part of Gazlan. She spoke to it and summoned the fungi strands from the stems and cracks in the leaves and the pollen itself to spread and seep into Gazlan’s dead nervous system.
Then she breathed motion.
Gazlan’s corpse writhed with a great spasm and picked itself from the ground.
Ubzlan hesitated, withdrawing his hand. “I, I had not completed the necromancy yet?”
Vinetta bit down the urge to vomit as she manoeuvred Gazlan’s corpse to face his father. She made it walk through the guarding ghouls who showed just as much confusion as their master. The body twitched and limped forward.
“What magic is this?” Ubzlan turned from his son to face Vinetta, “What in the damnation are you doing?”
Vinetta’s brow furrowed as she used her druidry to speak to the plant which spoke to the nerves. Her eyes shot open as she found the path forward.
“Forgive me, Gazlan.”
She flexed her hand and sent the signal through the rose. Gazlan’s corpse wove its hands and spoke a muttered necromantic chant, puppeteered completely by Vinetta. Through him she harnessed his power and cast the binding spell of soul to body – ‘his’ soul to his own body.
The foul puppet shuddered as a flash of green shot through its body and gasped in wheezing terrible pain.
Vinetta shut her eyes.
Gazlan’s eyes flashed with necromancy as he sighted his father, sighted her on the ground behind him. His grin widened as the foul arts mutated his jaw into a fanged maw and his hands into terrible claws. He scooped up his scimitar in one meaty paw.
“What?” Was all that Ubzlan could say.
“This is what you wanted, father,” Gazlan rasped. “To become a ghoul and kill something I loved… I once loved you,” He shambled forward.
“This, you…” Ubzlan stuttered. “You are more than a ghoul… you’re a lich! That’s not possible! You need a totem of great power. You can’t be!”
Gazlan’s grin turned sinister. “The sinews of my heart have been formed by the rose of elven ancients, swelling with their mighty spirit. It was implanted by druidry, empowered by paladism and beset in the descendent of the Nunnadan Shamans. I am more than a necromancer now, more than ghoul or lich. I am your doom.”
“Kill him!” Ubzlan shrieked in terror, “Kill her! Kill them all!” He turned and bolted over the crack in the earth and up the slope towards the buildings.
The ghouls and grotesques swarmed Gazlan and with a terrible cry he went to work. He had now the ferocious lack of fear that a dead being possesses. He swiped with the dreadful strength of one who pays no heed to worldly injury. With his keen master’s mind he had the skill and wherewithal to dodge and block and evade. The first waves to meet him found themselves with crushed skull or dismembered knee or were cut limp by his mage rune scimitar.
The undead Gazlan sprinted from the break in the melee he had created, scooping up Vinetta. He made an impossible leap across the growing gulf between breaking land and dwarf town. Tentacles lashed at them and Gazlan swiped with his rune blade, stilling the creature of the deep.
Ubzlan made it up the slope and bolted between the buildings to find Vinetta’s coral labyrinth had continued to intertwine the streets, blocking his path.
Gazlan mounted the slope and tore down after his father with Vinetta in his arms. Ubzlan turned and shrieked for support as his ghouls swarmed out of the lower levels and into the street to combat him.
Gazlan threw Vinetta away as a grotesque gripped his shoulder and ripped his arm clean off.
Vinetta was about to become overwhelmed when she heard a cry from above. Merigol shot down with his scatter bow in tandem with a volley of gun shots from the defending dwarves and the swarm crumbled enough for Vinetta to summon more coral around her for safety.
Seeing Gazlan on the back foot with one limb she weaved druidry, commanding the rose in his heart to grow and burst from his shoulder socket. A thorned vine which twisted into sinuous layers formed a deadly whip, equally controlled by him and her. Gazlan whipped at the grotesque and the thorns caught in its flesh, tearing its head from its body.
He used this unholy flail to batter the swarming dead away as he continued his warpath.
Ubzlan was backed up against the corals as Gazlan sprinted forth. He summoned a smattering of dead matter to his hand and fired it like a lance at Gazlan’s gut. It tore a hole through him and continued on, tearing down Ubzlan’s very own reinforcements who had evaded the gun fire or swarmed up from the river.
Gazlan stumbled and collapsed, heaving. From the force, not the pain. Though he could still feel the pain his master compelled him to continue on regardless.
His master was him.
He launched up and wrapped his rose vine arm around Ubzlan’s legs. The thorns dug into his skin and he screamed as Gazlan dragged him closer to slice with his scimitar.
Ubzlan fired another dead lance and it tore through Gazlan’s chest, striking the rose. Gazlan’s vine shuddered and went limp and he stumbled onto his knee. Ublzan scrambled onto his feet and conjured another lance of dead matter to finish him off.
“Not good enough, boy!” He mocked.
Then there was a bellowing. Wutarl charged from the lower levels, his weapons and armour drenched in ghoul and he roared as he summoned a last scrap of paladism. A beam of light shot through the hole in Gazlan’s chest and struck Ubzlan in the shoulder.
With a cry and the smell of searing flesh he spun into the coral and got caught.
The light burned Galzan’s flesh as well, but also revitalised the rose. It pulsed and spread through his body in roots and stems and petals, intertwining with muscle and tendon, allowing him to move. He shambled forward and tackled Ubzlan further into the coral. Tearing and swiping and dragging him through the razor sharp edges.
He clawed at the Ubzlan the Terror’s face, his neck and body until finally the screaming stopped, and the swarming ghouls throughout the island fell dead.
It was over.
Gazlan rose from the shredded mess that was his father and moaned into the brightening night. The stars were beginning to dwindle into the morning. He dragged himself through the corpses to the side of a building and slumped against it as Vinetta rushed to his side. Wutarl and Merigol limping behind.
The rose continued to grow through him, as did the seeds in his pouch, forming a garden of colourful petals which fed on his desiccating body.
“Gazlan!” Vinetta took his face in her hands. “I’m so sorry.”
He grinned, horrifying and reassuring, “Vinetta, you survived?”
“Yes, and Wutarl and Merigol. You did it Gazlan, you ended the war.”
“Heh,” He rasped. A beam of sunlight crept over the horizon and lanced through the street at his face. “Oh.”
“We’ll cover you up,” she reached for his hood.
“No,” he rasped, “no, the light doesn’t hurt anymore… the Guardians of the Sun have noticed my atonement for all necromancy.”
“Aye,” Wutarl grumbled. “You have done well, Necromancer.”
“I couldn’t have done it without any of you… but now I have to go.”
“No,” Vinetta cried, “no you can stay a little while longer.”
“Vinetta,” he rapsed, “I’m in pain.”
She scrunched her eyes shut and buried her head in his shoulder – in the thickening bouquet that was now his shoulder.
“But you are the last necromancer, period.” Merigol said, “What about the haunted souls that need you to continue your work?”
“In time, more necromancers will emerge. I have freed enough souls, for two life times.” He laughed.
“So you’re going to just release your own soul?” Vinetta wept. “Leave us here?”
“I can’t. As a ghoul I must protect my master at all costs, which means I cannot allow myself to die… but you Vinetta, you can override that with your puppetry.”
“So I must be the one to kill you?”
“Oh, gods.” Merigol turned away and wept. “I’ll never forget you, Gazlan.”
Gazlan’s bed of roses grew more rapidly, engulfing his face as it decomposed. His body became less, shrinking into bone as the soil and thorns and petals bloomed in the golden light.
“You would have made a good orc.” Wutarl said. “It was my honour to fight alongside you.”
“I will remember our time together fondly, Wutarl the Meek, Merigol of Frenk… Vinetta.”
“Gazlan.” She sobbed.
“I love you.”
She leant in and kissed his bony forehead. “I love you.” She reached with her druidry and sent the signal through the rose, through the fungus and into his withering nerves. There was a pulse of green and a relieved gasp as the soul left him.
Vinetta stayed on her knees there, her head pressed into his skull as the rose garden claimed it.
“May the Guardians of the Sun welcome you into their domain a hero,” Wutarl growled. “Vinetta.”
“Leave me.” She sobbed.
“Wutarl and I shall be there in a moment, if you need.” Merigol said. “You once met me when our position was reversed. I will not abandon you now.”
The dwarves emerged from their buildings, picking their way through the chaos.
“So ah necramensah saved os?” One asked Merigol.
“We’ll keep tha garden as ah sacred sight, what was his name?”
“Gazlan of Nunnadan,” Merigol said.
Wutarl turned to them, “Gazlan the Saviour.”
Vinetta breathed deeply and rose from the natural shrine, turning to the new dawn with tears in her eyes, “Gazlan the Rose.”
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