He Who Shall Not Be Named, The Ender of Worlds, The “Bogeyman.” No matter the title, the Grand Necromancer is one of Thyderalis’ most dangerous villains. A lich wearing shiny golden armor along with a fearsome, red cape long enough to cover a crowd of people, and wore a crown made of the skulls of the heroes who fell by his demise. A foe capable of harnessing the powers of the Void, driving almost all the living into extinction. His legend was spread across the lands of Thyderalis and no matter the various iterations, he was a monster to be feared.
However, Aren couldn’t help but be disappointed when he saw him. Through the low-tier illusion spell, there was no golden armor, cape, or crown made of human skulls: only a wimpy skeleton wearing tattered clothing with a loosely tied robe, sitting on a ruined stone throne. Nothing was glorious or menacing: the appearance made him doubt that this was the infamous demon.
“Another lost lamb wanders into the slaughterhouse. Good, I shall—erm…” The warlock noticed Aren’s unimpressed look. He flicked his tattered robe to the side and shouted even louder than before. “I have etched my name into history! I bring fear, hopelessness… death….”
“Wow, I’m so scared. Hard to believe it when you are trying to mask your appearance using illusion magic.”
“B-Huh?! Well, I suppose this vile magic is no longer needed. Honestly, do you think I can maintain my form and glory in these conditions?”
Aren shook his head, and the Grand Necromancer touched his bony chin. “Tell me human, what year is it? Surely those damn Emerald Knights couldn’t have—”
“It’s 992 AD, middle of the spring season. Now the date… I lost track.”
“That’s… a long time. Ahem, no matter. With the army I’ve amassed over these countless years, I shall take over the continent!”
Aren looked around and shrugged. “What army exactly?”
“A work-in-progress, young one. Don’t worry, soon you too will join the corpses of your fellow brethren!”
“No villain monologue and straight to the point. You truly are a fiend!” Aren pointed his machete. “I’m here to hold you responsible. You know, all I’ve been seeing are trees and… trees! For me to get out of this damned place, you just need to turn into some fine bone meal.”
“Baha! You’re nothing but a mere child!”
“I got a skeleTON of tricks up my sleeve, you numbSKULL!”
The Grand Necromancer rattled his jaw. “You little—enough with the skeleton puns!”
Loud thudding sounds resonated behind Aren. The tortoise climbed the steep stairs and expressed its fatigue. An awkward silence filled the room. The creature took notice, raising its head, and blinked twice. When some time passed, it recognized the skeleton warlock and hid behind Aren for safety.
“Well, well, what do we have here? Still alive after all these years, pet?”
The tortoise growled as the Grand Necromancer continued on. “Yes, the ‘Shining Stallion,’ or so she calls it: Archimedes! I pity you, creature. Your master was a delicious soul, along with your many friends who protected her.”
The tortoise writhed in anger. Archimedes dragged his front leg across the marble floor. He charged with all his might and was struck before reaching the Grand Necromancer. He quickly stood up, in shock to see what was before him. It was an armored skeleton with a greatsword. It stood with confidence and assumed its battle stance.
The Grand Necromancer cackled in glee. “You think you can land a blow on me, Archimedes? I think not, especially when your former master being my protector!”
“Wait, that’s June? The Shining Emerald?” Aren said.
“Of course! She has lost her flesh, but her combat prowess is still at my disposal. Go, my Shining Emerald! Kill your pet and his new friend!”
The fiendish champion came at lightning speed, zooming toward Archimedes. She swung her blade down. Pieces of the floor flew and violent winds swirled all over. As the filthy particles settled, Aren and Archimedes was meters away from her, the reptile shivering in fear.
“Oh my! A mere child able to match the speed of the Shining Emerald?!” the warlock exclaimed. “Yes, your body is suitable for my needs! You shall become one with me!”
“Eck, what a creep…” Aren remarked.
Archimedes was in disbelief, knowing his former master was standing before him. He knew that thing was no longer June, but he still did not want to hurt her. Old memories surged through his mind and it overwhelmed him with grief. Aren saw this and gave him a thumbs up.
“Hey turts, stay back. I know this is too much for you, so leave this to me. Got it?” Aren twirled his machete and lunged forward. “I hope Mother was right about your skills in combat!”
The two traded blows for several minutes. The sound of banging metal resonated across the castle chamber. Sparks danced around the fighters and the ground beneath them shattered by the raw power of their strikes. The fight was a stalemate, until June raised her greatsword, slamming it on the floor. Its impact made Aren fly back some meters but quickly he regained his stance. She appeared out of nowhere, landing a strong hook at his cheek. Aren replied with his own and backed off to regain his composure. He shook off his disorientation and glanced at his machete, seeing it bent and chipped.
Even with a rusted greatsword, she’s kicking serious ass. I gotta use magic, though in limited quantities. After all, it’s the reason I’m still alive, Aren thought.
Orbs of light surrounded his figure that shot multiple piercing rays at June. They traced their target, but with her superhuman speed, she outran them all, leaving a trail of explosions behind her. Aren raised his hand, and the ground erupted beneath her feet. He clasped his hands together, causing a massive fiery blast. June came out from the cloud of debris, thrusting her sword to his chest. Aren deflected the lunging attack. Before he knew it, her skeletal fist was through his lower chest. Blood dripped from his body and Archimedes trembled in fear.
“Yes, yes! This is the end for you, little boy!” the Grand Necromancer yelled.
To his surprise, Aren struck June down with the back of his machete, breaking her skull into pieces. Her corpse was still and the fight was over. He spat blood to the side and smirked. “Sorry to disappoint, but you’re not the only one who has been alive past their time. This body ain’t no ordinary body, and I—!”
Pain surged from his chest and he regurgitated blood. Aren looked down to see June’s sword through his ribs, her skull slowly reforming. He kicked her away and struggled to be on his two feet. Particles of blue light rose from his body and the feeling of his arms and legs was gone. He was using too much of his strength and it was causing his body to shut down.
“C-Crap… I let my guard down for one second and this happens.”
“Bwaha! As long as I’m alive, she will never die! Go June, finish the job!”
June did not move. Even when the Grand Necromancer repeated his order, she stood still. Though faint, there was a voice crying out in desperation.
Aren gritted his teeth, going deep into his satchel. “Thank you… I promise, I will come back and save you, June!”
By throwing smoke bombs all over the room, he and Archimedes fled. June swept away the fog and when it settled, they were gone. The Grand Necromancer slammed his bony fist on the throne’s armrest and summoned skeletal soldiers upon his command. With June’s lead, the skeletons formed groups of five and swept the perimeter.
“Find them, find them now! Get that boy’s corpse intact and kill Archimedes!” the Grand Necromancer growled. “With that body, I will rise once again and take over this damned planet!”
It was hours since Senior and Merlin’s escape from that mysterious mist. Since then, the horrors of the forest were now past them. Merlin still hasn’t woken from his unconscious state and Senior has yet to find a way out of the place. The skies soon fell dark, and he set up camp around a river stream, making a bonfire with a magical barrier to prevent a sudden ambush. If it weren’t for the constant crying of wolves, his eyes would’ve closed on their own.
“Guess we are up the creek now. I hope the others are okay. Can’t believe that this is happening… What in the world is going on.”
He glanced at Merlin, who was still moaning in pain. Though the bleeding stopped and the wounds were patched up, the young mage still needed medical attention or if lucky, a Priest to heal his injuries completely. Him surviving the next encounter with those beasts was unlikely.
“The training in the Conclave never prepared me for this. They trained me to kill people, not ghastly monsters. I wonder if my brothers and sisters are watching me from the heavens. Most likely disappointed.”
Senior sighed. “You know, it’s hard being around you, Merlin. As much as I don’t want to admit it, you bring up old feelings of my past self. Maybe, when all this is over, I—”
The bonfire suddenly was extinguished and the magical barrier emitted a strange, red light. Senior quickly shot up, readying his weapon. The cry of wolves became louder and from the darkness, red eyes gleamed: they were here. Many Shadow Wolves rushed on top of the barrier, trying to break the spell with their teeth. It turned bright yellow, then emitted a shock wave to push the attackers back. This continued on until one wolf broke through. They rushed to the broken hole, charging at their new prey.
Fire manifested on his blade and with a slash, it burnt the wolves, turning them into a black mist. He heard the sound of broken glass behind him and he turned to see a wolf gnawing Merlin’s leg.
In a flash of lightning, the wolf was vanquished before it had any time to react. With their numbers overwhelming him, Senior took Merlin and ran once again. As he ran through the darkness, he only felt the slap of the tree branches and the rocky surface of the ground below him. The howls of the Shadow Wolves grew louder with every step, and they would catch up no matter how fast he may be. When all hope seemed lost, a flourish of white cloth appeared at the corner of his left eye. He stopped to turn, seeing the woman-in-white from before, staring at them. She beckoned him to follow, which she led Senior to a clearing in the forest. He was stopped when he tried to enter.
“Only one shall this clearing save. Maketh thy choice, warrior.”
It was Senior’s duty to defend Merlin, and duty was all he knew in his life. To sacrifice one’s life was what they trained him for, what was physically beaten into his mind. And so, he gave Merlin to the woman-in-white, and he went into the clearing. He took a deep breath and let out a chuckle. The Shadow Wolves manifested around him, readying themselves for a feast.
“Only one this clearing shall save, indeed.”
“And thee art fine with this decision?”
“I am… How long?”
“A day or two. His fate shall be decided by the forest’s mercy. Farewell, brave warrior.”
The woman-in-white turned and Senior assumed his stance. The clearing became dark as a cloud above blocked the moonlight. Sounds of tearing flesh and thunderous claps of lightning echoed through the forest and when moonlight came once more, his sword was in the dirt with a pool of blood surrounding it.
Silence was the only thing that remained.