Chapter 11 – The Monochrome Rainbow

The desert that had glistened like a sea of gold by day was neither shimmering, or stagnant as night came. A restless wind was blowing through the field of unwashed bones still lingering untouched. Clouds were gathering, promising a chilling downpour.

A campfire in a flimsy tent. The group of survivors took refuge outside of the ruins, in the shadow of a pillar, for they could not know how long it would rain. As the ruins were like a pit, water could flood the exhumed tomb of the unnamed civilization. But there was no rain. The black clouds flashed and rumbled.

As Karma waited for rain, looking up at the thick, patternless, smoke-like cloud formations, for a fleeting moment he felt as if he saw a recognizable pattern. A black-grey arc. A monochrome rainbow.

Karma whispered under his breath: “Where does the light come from?”

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Chapter 10 – The Final Star Goes Dark

“There is no pain more excruciating than bleeding in a world so beyond reason that poetry is blasphemy. The prevailing order is foul! It must burn, burn and burn some more, until the three kingdoms are all ash!” Maron bellowed at his audience.

He moved his hand from his bleeding wound, opened his red palm, at the center of which rotated a ball of fire.

“I can now create worlds in my palm. Suns and galaxies…”

The group stared at the miniature sun, which despite its tiny size, lit up the gloomy valley of shadows that was the dig site. So deep the undead had dug, the expedition were surrounded by stone pillars and structures from ancient times. As the waves of light licked them, the runes on the structures began to flicker. The robed reaper wiped a runaway trickle of blood from her cheek.

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Chapter 9 – Poem to Lady Death

Battles between mages had a formula that had formed during the violent centuries. As much as the kingdoms attempted to quell the rise of unsanctioned speakers of the language of creation, new prodigies appeared constantly. But these men were often jealous, prone for one-upmanship. An unofficial dueling etiquette formed around their destructive engagements. As every spell had its direct counterspell, the element of surprise was often the tie-breaker between equally matched speakers. Secretly developed techniques that no other speakers knew of ensured the dominance of a magi. Without trump cards, every duel came down to chance.

Skilled speakers feared each other, as talent posed too much incentive to kill a rival mage and steal their research. Alas, the most important part of the etiquette was to avoid direct confrontation, until one had successfully forced an opponent to reveal the extents of their study. Nothing was more dangerous than a magi who concealed what they knew until the last moment.

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Chapter 8 – A Comedy of Bones

The putrid smell of burning flesh was everywhere, there was no escape from it. The carpet of carcasses stretched towards the far end of the sand valley to the other end, growing thinner from the sides, like its threads were unravelling. The killing fields were being devoured by the fire, purged from horror, only the pace was dreadfully slow. It was an absurd nightmare, more absurd than any maddened mind could conjure. To see so many battle-mutilated carcasses at once, the visage grossly clashing with what a mortal mind considered normal, your reaction would not have been to scream. Any man or woman to see such a thing, would have been gripped by awkward laughter instead. Charred ribs and skulls trodded randomly in the most awkward of angles, many stuck in the sloppy mass of other corpses, like skeletons having rough, bloody intercourse. The brush strokes were countless, the golden canvas of the killing fields was the stage for a comedy of bones.

The corpses posed not just a sanity test, but a physical challenge for those wishing to traverse across this red line. The desert had effectively been cut in half for a second time in its history. The indomitable colossus stood still on his post, unfazed by the carnage.

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Chapter 7 – Battle of The Burning Dead

Tarot stood his ground, whereas the royal army was a mess of vomiting men. The most physically fit, combat-hardened men in the entire kingdom of Sharam were vomiting their guts out as they dreamed their own bloody deaths repeatedly, but not Tarot. He had already died a thousand deaths and would die a thousand more.

Unshaken, step after step, he approached the giant that had crawled from unnamed depths. It did not breathe, nor pay heed to his presence. Curiosity, it showed none. Fear, it showed none. Its size and physique, the four tower-like arms protruding from its torso, possessed unquantifiable crushing power. None could say if a beast not of this world of such awesome stature could rip apart the very planet. But where it had punched the ground, deep cracks certainly showed. Tarot jumped over them, no heed to the potential fall.

A rumbling and cackling from the digsite poured into open air, like a sudden thunderstorm. Racing in the burning shadow of the colossus, the rotting army was caught on fire.

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Chapter 6 – Trial of Severed Heads

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 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, cut down men, for gold and 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.

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 four people by their hairs.

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Chapter 5 – Fuck the Death God In the Ass

He gave his breastplate a defiant thump with his fist. The army of horsemen that had been boastfully riding into battle, had mostly fallen on the ground, many men trapped under their rides, others hurrying to flee as far as their boots could carry them. The thump was a gesture of respect and a challenge.

“Best way to go, dying in glory fighting a worthy enemy”, Boros cackled.

His traveling companion looked at him stunned. Nembra shook her head in disbelief, her lips silently emoting the word “men”. The sight of the colossal unnamed thing wasn’t nearly as confounding as watching a man prepare to fight it with a mere hammer and his black armor. He stared fiercely back at them.

“Fuck you guys waiting? We fuck the death god in the ass!”

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Chapter 4 – Clear Shades of Black and White

It was night, hundreds of military horsemen were travelling with lights everywhere, an oil lamp strapped on every soldier on a horse. It was not a subtle war effort. They were coming and they wanted the magi to know they were coming. At the back of a supply cart being pulled by horses, a conversation was taking place.

“What you suggest is madness! Throwing this world off balance is too easy, that’s why we need laws and enforces and a hierarchical system that ensures the rules are followed! One mage gone mad can turn everything upside down! There is no grey area to this! One brilliant mind, who reads too much, can upend the social order overnight. That’s clear shades of black and white!”

“And if the prevailing order stinks, like a toilet?”

“I’d rather have a stable dictatorship, than an anarchic democracy.”

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Chapter 3 – Obituary of The Universe

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.

“Obituary of the universe… it exists”, he whispered to himself as he fell to his knees that just lost their strength.

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The Journey Begins…

A world at the edge of the universe. The near-lightless sky has but a few stars at night. Every few thousand cycles, they become fewer in number. As if something is devouring them.

This world has no sun, it is its own light source. Eternal summer. No storms, no earthquakes, no natural disasters. Paradise. Or so it should be…

A strange affliction plagues the nations of this world. Robbing its victims not of sanity or their health, but their mortality. These deathless men bring untold havoc to the world, ending entire civilizations.

There is a legend. That in birthing the world, the two gods awakened something in the dark. Something with a mind but no form. A venomous whisper worshipped through the eons by maddened cults. Two lidless eyes that stalk the sleepers. Choosing its champions to carry out its ravenous carnage. The gift of undeath. A prayer, to extinguish the last lights of the universe, so it may sleep again.

Bloodlines dating back to the beginning of creation have been muddied. But they are not lost. A secret organization with remembrance permeating the ages seeks to maintain a dying world order by any means necessary, hunting the deathless, isolating old bloodlines.

This silent war is in vain and they know it. The last hope for the world is to die slowly. Resolved to lord over a slow decay, they fight in the shadows as whisps with scythes.

Hunger is growing. A great famine threatens populations as the nights grow longer and longer, as if whatever has been feasting on the stars is walking among the living.

A consensus is emerging among the leaders of nations that survived the genocides of past centuries. The study of ancient legends and languages cannot be allowed, lest the people would understand. Why their families are dying. Why the nights are long and where the stars are going.

The historical society, politically neutral academics collaborating across the borders of nations, is persecuted, forced underground. Their study of the oldest known language becomes forbidden.

But not all is lost. The keys to salvation may yet lie in ancient texts, but the truth is elusive. Old records are altered, to fit whatever petty reasoning justified the retouching at the time. The image they paint of times past may all be lies.

Two brothers from a desert city are hunting for these stories. If only there was more time…