The giant slab of unnamed stone peeked from the bottom of the sand pit. Scribbled with words not read for aeons beyond remembrance. Only some lines were visible. Like one gigantic tombstone, untouched by the ravages of time and wars past. Did it speak of an age lost to historians, divine laws of the land, or was it a warning? The only words that the white-haired slenderly man could read on the small surface area that was partially visible, despite his vast knowledge, were just the name of it.
“Orbituary of the universe… it exists”, he whispered to himself as he fell to his knees that just lost their strength.
“That stone somehow important?” the man standing behind him asked.
“Yes… the most important written work to exist. If it could be read… But there is no-one alive who can.”
“Okay, but silly question. Will you never ask me my name?” the ex-commander asked curiously.
“No. You’re a nameless nobody in the expansive continuum of time. Your life is as fleeting and without worth as a breath of wind.”
“And you’re a motherfucker”, the ex-commander scoffed.
The necromancer stayed kneeling. He almost seemed to want to bow in worship of the stone.
“So where’s that library you wanted? Don’t see it. Just broken pillars and walls”, the ex-commander commented while surveying the canyon the undead had carved out.
“It was a joke. That library was burned in one of the many retarded wars the rulers have fought”, the magi replied bitterly.
“The stone slab survived though. How’s that?”
“Made to survive the end of the world. That’s how.”
“Some crazy prophecy?”
“No. And I need more diggers now. Unearthing this monument requires more able hands”, the necromancer replied.
As the words parted the magi’s lips, the other man was stabbed in the heart by an undead minion. He died near instantly.
They had enough food and water to last weeks with what they had scavenged. Staging a small picnic on a dune, the two healers and the warrior sat, ate, and discussed their next move. Karma had unrolled the map taken from the commander’s tent.
“The officers of the expedition were drawing marks on this. These circles are the towns the necromancer has attacked. They are mostly mining towns, poor ore miners. So it’s reasonable to assume he built his army from miners, and perhaps took their gear. There’s nothing else here except sand and ruins, so he must be after something in those ruins”, Karma said.
“If that fag can travel long distances by talking smack, he could escape and lay low. Sharam’s got mage hunters, and they’re surely alerted to the faggot’s shenanigans”, Boros added.
“Could you… use derogatory terms less?”
Karma bit his tongue, his shoulders sunk.
“We’ll talk about this another time.”
“I’ma saying, whatever the fag is after, it’s gotta be important, worth the shit fest. And with an army that big and mining stuff, he’ll be rich. Free labor, scavenge ore, sell it on.”
“If his plan was merely to collect labor for a mining expedition, he’s got it already. He can go mine ore anywhere in the world. He also could have collected the labor from another region.”
“Yah. But he’s in this desert, so there’s something here for him.”
“We know little details about this person’s life, but we can deduce his personality. He is bold. He’s unafraid to cause noise, unafraid of mage hunters, unafraid to attack an army sent after him, the killing of which will anger the royals.”
“Sounds like a suicide mission.”
“We’re also on a suicide mission, more than likely. We have to find this guy and do it soon.”
“On that note, why you care, warlock?”
“Aside from saving countless innocent lives by stopping a madman, we need more reason?”
“Everyone’s selfish. Don’t fucking start with me. You want the gold.”
“The gold would be useful for our travel expenses, yes”, Karma replied dryly.
Boros leaned closer to him, his massive arms folded, wearing a sly smile on his hard, bearded face.
“You want his spellbook, don’t ya?” the warrior asked suggestively.
“For the last time, I am not a warlock, and desire no power. I am devoted to the twin gods and desire NOTHING!”
The young monk raised his voice, so the entire desert heard his cry. The smirk on Boros’ chin was so wide, it sliced it in half. He glanced at Tarot, who was meditating in the lotus position, his eyes closed, ignoring their banter.
“Knew it. If I had to guess, you’re desperate to find shit to cure your gay lover. Bet you’re not related at all.”
“You know, man… We Sharamite monks are trained in hardcore martial arts. It’s actually all we do, besides prayer and study. Just kicking and hitting each other, morning to night.”
“Good! We live violent times. Ya ask me, not enough wars!”
“Anyway…” Karma sighed.
He tapped his finger on the crumbled map.
“This little farming town is close by. The officers never drew a circle around it, so they haven’t been attacked. They’re rather isolated, so they likely don’t know what’s happened. We should warn them before continuing the chase”, the monk explained.
“And when we find that fag?”
“We play every card in our hand and hope to survive.”
The three of them arrived in the farming town at night-time. The lights in the windows of houses were welcoming signs of life. Like the stars, the candles and oil lamps held defense against the dark. But the silence on the streets, the deafening, complete silence, whispered the grim truth. They were woefully late to stop the massacre, a story which was written with the blood that painted the paths, decorated the walls, and the severed limbs that soiled the cropfields. None of the three felt like talking about it, as they made camp nearby, to rest. They chose a spot outside the ravaged town.
“At least we know the fag’s still around”, Boros sighed as they set up to sleep.
No other words were exchanged that night. None had strength for them.
“I found three survivors!” a man’s voice shouted at dawnbreak.
The group had been discovered. Before they could rub their eyes, they were surrounded by armor-clad men on horses. While a big group of riders ventured into the town in search for more survivors, an out-of-place figure in full black slipped into view from among the ranks. With determined steps that cut the distance at an astonishing pace, this very slender figure walked up to the sleepy trio. Her legs were muscled, trained, and carried the full weight of her gear effortlessly. Her breast was under chains and black fabric. On her back, she was carrying a crooked iron-tipped scythe, the wooden handle as tall as a man.
She bent her knee, her inquisitive eyes scanned them from up close. Her hair was blonde and short, untamed. A sharp nose and a even sharper chin, bony cheeks that made her seem malnourished. She stared them down, one by one. While the brothers averted their eyes, so invasive her unflinching gaze felt, Boros stared fiercely back at her.
“You want a fight, a bitch?” the warrior blurted out, despite still laying defenseless on the sands, his hammer resting with him.
“I have no orders to kill you”, the woman replied softly and turned on her heels to leave.
With those words she parted and slipped behind the horsemen, one of whom wore the crest of the royal family on their breastplate. When he spoke, the words bursted out with a strong, low tone that commanded respect:
“We are happy to find you alive. The capitol has sent a mage hunter, we are backing her up. This tragedy will end swiftly when she gets to work. You can call me Ashem, should we find ourselves speaking in the future. I am the commander of this military expedition.”
The monks and the warrior nodded in response. The commander kept sizing them with his gaze.
“What is your relationship with each other? You look like a ragtag crew”, Ashem asked.
“We’re brothers. Boros is a friend, I suppose”, Karma explained.
“I’m Boros. Those two are the bros”, the warrior added.
It was one obnoxious morning, with horses and men being loud. Soldiers hurried to help them on their feet, to the back of a carriage with hay and supplies. While the scouts were surveying the village, they had time to discuss.
“That’s no ordinary fucking mage hunter”, Boros whispered.
“I wouldn’t know”, Karma replied.
They caught glimpses of the black-clad woman and her scythe, as she slipped past men, seemingly looking to walk ahead of the expedition. The horses scurried away from her path, whinnying restlessly. She was like a ghost, floating through unabated by material obstacles.
“Listen, kid. A mage hunter’s someone like you; trained in the arcane, but constrained. Rules up the ass. Deep study in narrow, narrow areas of magic. They’re crazy, brainwashed fucks. They go any deeper, they’re murdered by the aristocracy.”
“Huh? Fuck is with the gloomy face, warlock?”
“There’s too many people here, making noise. They brought horses.”
“Kid, you don’t really know military stragegy, do ya? Lemme fill you in, these men are a lure. That bitch is the trap.”
As Boros said that, the woman peeked behind her shoulder in the direction of their carriage. She couldn’t possibly have heard them from all the commotion around them, plus the distance. It was impossible. Glaring right back at her, Boros resumed speaking.
“Telling you, she’s a grade above average mage killers. It’s in the eyes.”
Tarot was ignoring their conversation again, sitting and praying.
“I’ve read something that… women tend to be more proficient in magic than men are”, Karma whispered.
“They’re more intuitive, and magic requires that shit”, Boros replied bluntly.
While the three were still deep in talk, the leader of the expedition came to them.
“Greetings. I hope you men are comfortable. Our scouts completed their work, you’re the sole survivors. We make haste now, we have a lead. You will be safe with us, so long as you keep out of the way.”
The trio nodded at the officer’s words, Tarot included.
As the morning light pierced the curtain of his eyelids, memory of the moment of his death was the first in his mind. He raised his arms from his side and slipped his fingers into the stab wound in his chest. The hole was closed, the skin felt strange and numb. He bolted up and tried to scream, but not a word slipped out. An obtuse heaviness lingered in his throat. He remained at the bottom of the sand pit, where he had died, surrounded by the cackling undead hurrying with their work. With his hazy eyes, he tried to survey his surroundings. And there, around the massive ebon tablet, which was more visible than he last remembered, a slender figure was sitting deep in his reading. He tried again to make a sound, any sound, but failed. It’s like something was inside of him, consuming every word before it got out.
The necromancer did not notice him. The dead ignored him. As if he didn’t exist. He stared at his arms, his legs, his abdomen, dreading whether they’d phase out at the gusts of wind like puffs of smoke, for he did not feel them. But he got up on his feet, he walked several steps, and soon enough could ascertain, he was no ghost. But neither did he feel aching where he used to.
He dragged his legs to make a step and a step, towards his sitting target, who had his back turned on him. When he was mere feet away, the rot-faced living dead, their skin and bloody meat shedding from the surface of their skulls, grunted at him. To this, the necromancer was alerted. He glanced a peek at the man.
“To answer your question from before your death, I suspect the mute monk was revived”, the magi stated.
The ex-commander had no reply. He was physically unable to speak. Moreover, every word written on the imposing ebon stone towering before him, he could now read with clarity.