“Do you have what I asked for, Senton?” A pale, stooped old man stood in the doorway of Goldshore Castle’s laboratories. He wore a black cloak over his hunched frame, which made his milk white skin painfully obvious. His beady colorless eyes stared harshly at the man on the other side of the door way.
“Of course I have, Druadan. When have I ever let you down?” Senton whistled, and two men just up the hall each picked up an end of a large black bag. When they did, it slumped lazily in the middle and thumped onto the stone hallway floor.
“Careful with that, fools,” Senton snapped. He glowered at them, but neither seemed to care.
“Why’s that? He’s dead enough already,” the larger of the two said nonchalantly.
“And still in one piece as well, and I’d like to keep it that way.” Senton gave them another look, and turned to Druadan. “Now what do I get for my prompt delivery?”
“You get to keep your head, kind sir. Have your little henchmen lay the package out on my stone table-” he pointed at it with a flourish-“and you all may be on your way.”
“Just see that the good councilor doesn’t forget about me,” Senton sneered. He stepped into the laboratory and motioned for the two oafish men to enter. It was quite dark in the large room, with only the table and the area around it illuminated by a couple of primitive rag torches. They ambled in, the large black bag slung between them. The brutes deposited the bag with a thunk on the cold slab of stone that was Druadan’s operating table.
Druadan waved them away promptly, and stood watching until the three men sauntered away. Only Senton looked back over his shoulder, doubtlessly still hoping for some type of monetary reward. When they closed the door behind them, Druadan rubbed a hand across his hairless head and spoke.
“You do pay these… lowlife subordinates of yours, don’t you? It seems they always want a handout when they come around.”
Laughter erupted from the shadows behind Druadan. A man stepped into the torchlight and over to the stone table, peering at the old man with his one good eye. “I pay them more than they deserve to do my dirty work, rest assured. Although, I’ve considered not paying them at all. Fear is such a wonderful motivator.” The man smiled slyly. He rubbed the patch over his right eye absentmindedly, and then changed the subject. “So what do you have here for me, is it the toy I wanted?”
“It will be, my good councilor. In good time. We Vau’kir take time and pride in our work.” Druadan bowed his head slightly and grinned a hideous toothy grin. The old man’s teeth were black as night.
“Yes, you Vau’kir are a peculiar lot. I wonder what our new king would think if he knew one of his favored war councilors was hiding one of the Damned right under his nose. Oh how they hate your kind, Druadan.” The councilor leaned forward against the stone table, adjusting his grey cloak to the side.
“Ah yes, the humans of Tel’Aran are quite the unforgiving sort. If your race takes over a few of their lands and slaughters a few thousand of their people they seem to get all uptight about it. I still think they should be thanking the Vau’kir for abandoning the Dragon Empress’s mad scheme while they still had a pot to piss in.” Druadan began cutting away the bag that lay upon the stone table as he spoke.
“I suppose so. I also suppose that by that logic I should gut you where you stand for denying my people victory in the very same move.” The man’s eye flashed dangerously, prompting Druadan to take a step back.
“No need for hostility, milord. I seem to have forgotten my place for a moment, that is all,” the Vau’kir spoke apologetically. Druadan forgot sometimes who his employer really was, and in his advanced age he always seemed to let his tongue wag a bit uncontrollably. History was a touchy subject between two beings that had been alive for hundreds of years. He changed the focus of the conversation quickly.
“It will be a few weeks before your new plaything is completely ready, but you may stay and watch me revive him now if you wish.”
“I do,” the councilor replied curtly.
Druadan quickly cut the rest of the black bag away, revealing the recently deceased body of a young adult male. “The princess was dead too long before I could get to her, and the old king was too frail even in death. But this one… this one should do well.” He stroked the long blond hair of the corpse and smiled perversely. The young man’s skin tone had faded to a light green in death, and his body was nicked in several places with battle wounds. None of those were deep enough to prove fatal, however. The tell-tale cause of death was the large bruised ring around his neck from a hangman’s noose.
“Hmm. How odd. It took me ages to convince Rothowar that this young man should die, and here I am watching you bring him back.”
“He is much more useful to you this way, of that I am sure,” Druadan proclaimed. The old bent man retrieved a powder from a pocket in his black robes and rubbed some upon his fingers.
“Have you ever witnessed a raising before, councilor?” He asked, never looking up as he placed his right hand’s thumb and forefinger onto the dead man’s forehead.
“Not in a long time,” the man responded in a hushed tone, watching closely.
Druadan nodded and held his silence. He produced an artifact from another pocket in his garment with his free hand. It was a jade skull, maybe a quarter of the size of a human’s. Slowly, he lifted the skull into the air above his head and began to chant unintelligibly. His other hand remained pressed to the corpse’s head firmly.
Black tendrils of what could only be described as liquid shadows began to swirl about and dive into the jade skull, slowly at first. As the old man sped up his chant the spinning darkness danced about faster, plunging into the jade skull rapidly now. The air filled with the acrid stench of burning flesh as Druadan’s hand sizzled around the jade skull. It seemed to mock him with its wicked smile as he continued to chant, undeterred by the pain.
Suddenly a wave of energy burst through the artifact skull and tunneled into Druadan. It exploded out of his right arm violently and into the corpse with a loud crackling sound. The force of the power leaving his body knocked Druadan harshly to the ground, dazing him. He shook his head and looked at his charred hand, cursing silently.
At that moment Jonbryl Ardeum’s body convulsed and jerked upright on the stone table and took a shallow, ragged breath. It was the first he had taken in days.