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Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Corpse Brigade

The following is an excerpt from a story I've been working on. Please enjoy. 

The clanging and screeches of metal awoke Gundir from his sleep. Hastily strapping his sword to his waist, he pushed aside the tent flap and stepped into the cool night air. He instinctively sniffed the air and caught the scent of campfire smoke, salted pork… and blood mingled precariously in between.
"What's going on?" he barked at a nearby guard. The main shrugged and resumed his duty of staring blankly at the horizon in search of an enemy they wouldn't see coming anyways. Gundir scowled and stalked off towards the bonfire pit, where the flickering flames and shadows illuminated the figures of two men battling to the death. Upon closer inspection, Gundir could see that one of the combatants was Lord Farrax, grinning maniacally as he plunged his broadsword into the other man's heart, whose garb, as Gundir could now see, was emblazoned with a Pyromancer's sigil.

"What is the meaning of this?" Farrax turned, ripping his blade free and allowing the prisoner's body to slump to the ground. He shrugged, still smiling like a perfect idiot.
"Don't ask me. Just following orders, sir knight."
Gundir stepped forward, allowing his impressive height to tower over Farrax. The sniveling lord's smile dropped a couple of notches as Gundir laid a hand on his sword hilt.
"Those are our prisoners," he snarled. "On whose orders, pray, are they to be slaughtered?"
Gundir inhaled sharply as Absalon emerged from the shadows, moving in such a way that no light seemed to fall upon him. The necromancer gave him a toothy smile before kneeling at the side of the prisoner's body. "You are about to see, Sir Gundir, the nature of death that we can bend to our whims, if we are to win this war."
Extending his hand, Absalon muttered a few words, and Gundir saw a small, amber-colored gemstone on the corpse's throat begin to pulse with an eerie yellow light. In an instant, the prisoner's eyes opened, and he sat up fast as a bolt of lightning, gasping for breath.
"You see?" Absalon asked, turning his gaze back to Gundir.
Gundir scowled. "More of your sorcerer's tricks. Bringing a man back from death in such a state will only send him back soon after."
Absalon laughed, a hideous sound like dried paper. "How wrong you are!" He held out a hand to Farrax. "May I?"
Farrax wordlessly produced a dagger from his belt and handed it to Absalon, who immediately plunged it into the prisoner's neck. The callousness of the act would have disgusted Gundir, but to his shock, the prisoner did not even seem to notice. Absalon removed the dagger and a trickle of black fluid dribbled from a wound that should have sent the prisoner back to Death's embrace.
"Do you see?" Absalon repeated, wiping the ichor from the blade onto his robes. He reached down and picked up the gemstone, and the prisoner wordlessly slumped to the ground again. The necromancer handed the gem to Gundir, who held it up before the light of the fire skeptically. "Soulstone," Absalon explained. "The solution you've been waiting for, sir knight."
Gundir broke his gaze away from the still faintly glowing stone to glare at him. "Are you saying that with these stones, we cannot die?"
"Strictly speaking, you'd already be dead." Absalon extended his hand for the stone. Gundir hesitated, but handed it to him, though he felt strangely reluctant to give it up. Absalon spun the stone between his fingers idly. "Upon the moment of death, the stone captures the soul of the wearer, returning them to a kind of… temporal state where they cannot feel pain nor fear. And unless the stone is removed from the body, it would take nothing less than decapitation for them to die again."
Gundir scowled. He was doing that a lot tonight. "It's an abomination. An abhorrence against the gods."
"Now, see here, good sir knight," Farrax interrupted, rubbing his hands together like a child trapped in the back of a sweetshop. "Can you not see the beauty, the… tactical advantage of such a gift?"
"You really believe this… death-conjurer can win us the war with mere pebbles? Where are we to find them, anyway?"
"Oh, there are quite a few more," Absalon said with a smirk. "Supply is really no object. That mine you captured last night contained a vein of pure mithril. Enough to forge weapons, armor… and I can provide the Soulstones, of course. One small stone is enough, embedded in... a gauntlet, perhaps? Your troops will need new armor fitted, anyways, if we are to utilize them to their maximum effectiveness…"  
"Your presumption is that I'm going to use them at all, necromancer."
Absalon's eyes narrowed into slits. "Now Sir Gundir," he said, his voice taking on a dangerously lower tone. Gundir felt an unwelcome shiver make its way down his spine. "Now, Sir Gundir, I know that you and I do not often see eye-to-eye, but do you honestly believe you would have made it this far without my help?
Memories of bodies rising from the deep, and the screams of the bishop's troops, emerged unbidden in Gundir's mind. "No… no, I don't."
Absalon reached out a hand and grasped Gundir's arm. He tried to pull away, but the necromancer's claw-like grip was as strong as iron. "You need me," he whispered, leaning so close that Gundir could smell the odor of his breath and see his yellow pupils dilating. "Never forget that."
Gundir stared back into those reptilian eyes and nodded slowly. Seemingly satisfied, Absalon released him and stalked back over to the fire, once again kneeling beside the prone body of the prisoner.
"I will be requisitioning a few more of the prisoners we've captured to test my methods. I will report to you, Lord Farrax, in good time."
"As you see fit." Farax's lips quivered into the smile that made Gundir want to bash his teeth out with a mailed fist. "You should return to your tent, sir knight. We've a busy day ahead of us…"
Recognizing a dismissal when he heard one, Gundir gave a pained salute before beginning to march back to his tent. He paused, though, and turned once more to face Absalon and Farrax.
The necromancer glanced over his shoulder. Hunched over the prisoner's corpse, eerily reflected in the light of the fire, he resembled a crow, ready to fill itself on carrion flesh.
"Their souls… when they are separated from the body. What becomes of the souls?"
The necromancer's crooked smile widened.
"Why, sir knight, nothing becomes of them. They stay right where they are, in the stone."
Gundir shuddered and turned away hastily. Absalon had started laughing again.

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