The translation work was nearing completion. The diggers were clawing, shoveling, reaping the sand off hungrily and relentlessly. The stone stood in a deep hole, and he sat on its edge. With a mere paper and pen in hand, he wrote words that had not been read for countless generations. It was the ending of the great story, the climax of the journey of life in the universe. The fate of every star, every soul, every war and struggle, was written on the monumental slab towering before him. As he scribbled, his mind and body hovering in a strange middle-ground of this life and the next, he felt at peace. The threats to his mortality no longer concerned him, and the sheer act of writing gave him profound joy.
Behind him, at the edge of the digsite, the nameless gargantuan monstrosity awaited still, its lumpy, veiny back like a wall of rocks. He couldn’t see anything past it. Like a loyal guard, protecting the excavation process, it paid no heed to what he was doing. Its unholy presence was almost comforting.
In his life, he had been a soldier, rising the ranks with hard work and determination. In battles, he had blocked blades aimed at his neck, cut down men, for gold and to afford food, in defense of the provinces of Sharam. But deep down, attending wars and lesser skirmishes had never been about gold or status. He had lived according to his nature as a man. That weighed most. And having accomplished that, there was nothing he felt robbed of. So he wrote, and he wrote, and he wrote.
The air turned cold behind him, and in the next instant the necromancer named Maron appeared, carrying in his left hand the severed still-bleeding heads of three people by their hairs.
“The theocrats are coming to parlay, with the only language theocrats understand”, the necromancer sighed, replying to the inquisitive gaze of his minion.
He glanced at the mighty stone, fully freed from its ancient sand tomb. The undead diggers made no motions of celebration, merely standing around aimlessly, their work complete.
He raised the three bleeding heads to eye-level with himself. Their mouths were gaping, eyes frozen in shock.
“Idiots”, he scoffed.
Only a moment later, in a puff of smoke, the nimble black-clad Nembra appeared before him, holding her scythe in battle stance with two hands, the massive blade grazing the man’s throat. The fire in her eyes oozed with the full intent to kill.
“Back there, you seemed to be weighing the option of killing me. Were you slow, or simply hesitant?” Maron inquired.
“Stop this excavation. You can’t succeed here”, Nembra stated.
“I’ve already succeeded”, Maron chuckled.
“This temple is easily buried with a few words. It will be buried”, the mage-hunter snarled.
“For that, you’ll need less restrained magic-users than yourself. And from what I saw, the ones accompanying you are the inquisitive types. You’ll need to expose their eyes to the monolith, to bury the truth to the earth again”, Maron said with a smile, continuing “You’ll have to kill them after they’re done. Additionally, you have to kill my little army guarding it, and the monster I summoned. Both will go berserk without my somber mind instructing them”.
As he finished uttering the venomous words, a foul cry from innumerable mouths inside the digsite reached for the heavens. The dead were cackling, some even clumsily dancing. It was a sloppy but coordinated victory dance.
“This game is decided and I am the victor. The contents of this stone will be seen. And when these theocrats you brought along as cannon fodder see it, their religion will crumble to dust. The social order you guard will vanish soon after.”
“Believers aren’t persuaded by truth like that. You know that, Maron”, Nembra replied.
“My dear, every empire in history fell over time. This one will as well”, he sighed.
The blonde woman’s face was strained, she barely blinked. Her weapon was shaking along with her robed body.
“Bitch, put the fucking scythe aside”, Maron snapped and grabbed the wooden part of the polearm, making the woman fumble feebly to the ground with her ass first, like a clumsy little girl.
“You cannot stop me, you cannot kill me. It is an unbreakable stalemate!” Maron gloated.
“You’re right. I can’t kill you”, Nembra sighed grimly.
When their eyes met, Maron felt an uncomfortable sting. She did not wear the face of someone who had been defeated. A familiar fire was raging in those sharp eyes. Steeled determination. She stood up in a hunched pose, holding her heavy scythe to the side on just one hand. On that moment, it dawned on Maron he had miscalculated.
Before he could part his lips to recite a spell, the woman and her weapon were already gone in a black puff of smoke. The pain in his abdomen came with a moment’s delay, and blood gushed from the freshly cut wound. He fell on his knees, clusping his open stomach.
“I don’t have to”, the woman spat the words.
She disappeared in a smoky puff again, reappearing on a nearby cleft above, at the edge of the hole that had been dug into the desert. She was out of reach of all of the undead.
“Call off your monsters, Maron! This excavation is over! Call them off, or I bury you with them!” Nembra shouted from the high-ground.
Bleeding slowly, the necromancer was hunched on the ground, in the shadow of the mage-hunter who’d just delivered a slow-killing blow. Even without her explanation, he understood how the game had changed, but she told him anyway.
“You need a healer! I’ll bring the monks! Unsummon your minions! Be reasonable, Maron!” Nembra pleaded.
Holding his bleeding stomach with one hand, and the three heads he’d taken in the other, a sly smirk soon sliced Maron’s chin. He looked up at the woman with a gleeful face, roaring at the top of his lungs:
“The only language you theocrats comprehend is violence! Your only argument against rational inquiry is the application of force! I accept this paradigm! You kill me, that ends the argument. But can you kill a master of death? We’ll see!”
His roar was met by ravenous battlecries from every side of the monolith. The digsite, moments ago still silent as a grave, save for the conundrum of the two battling mages, was suddenly full of restless ratchet, like an anthill. Thousands of minions turned their heads towards the dunes, where a small army of men still struggled to assemble their ranks. They marched in unison, to add more numbers into their ranks.
“Is it still victory, when everyone dies?! Or was this epic conclusion your plan?! Magnus would be proud of your strategy”, the necromancer laughed out his words.
Without another word, she disappeared from the cleft and reappeared in front of the wounded man.
“The hell are you doing, Maron?! Your leverage is walking out! You’re forcing my hand, call them off!!” Nembra screamed.
“That grizzly giant I summoned remains my leverage. Minions I no longer need”, Maron chuckled.
The desert rumbled at the weight of the horde marching in their battle armors and blades.
“You should go save those monks, before I perish”, the master necromancer snarled triumphantly.
She yelled in frustration and disappeared. The mage turned his attention to the heads in his hand, which had stopped bleeding from their cut throats. Meanwhile, the former commander of the first expedition had been hiding behind the monolith, he came out of hiding. Noticing the lurking, fallen soldier, Maron nodded at him.
“We have confirmed that revival prevents speech of those with magical blood. But who is to say…”, he said and stopped and mumbled some dark spell under his breath.
With pained gasps, the heads came alive.