A Fragment of 'The Life of Almuric Volenti'

The thrilling conclusion to the story of Lord Almuric Volenti's search for the tomb of the terrible Lich, Nasul Vont.

From ‘The Life of Lord Almuric Volenti’ by his son Kaihir Volenti, adapted for publication by Adonis Calver.

Almuric Volenti, now in his 25thyear, descended into the Lich’s crypt, leaving behind the verdant green hills and crisp cool air of the Skyne Wilderness for dank stone, the musty, rotten odour of unnatural antiquity and the far-off sound of sinister chanting. Clad only in day-to-day finery supplied by royal court of Ys, he now felt he should have come better prepared. He walked down the worn stone steps into the earth warily, one hand on his sword hilt, the other gripping the bone shaft of the spear of his fallen comrade, Avanslaine. The deeper he went, the more the brilliant sunshine of the open country grew dim, succumbing to the veil of impenetrable darkness of the crypt. Almuric stopped and held the spear out like a staff, and suddenly the ornate golden head which held the blade itself in place shone like a torch, illuminating the way down. Almuric walked down the great stair, the spear held out in front of him like a warding torch.

Eventually, he came to a landing. He looked about at the various intricately carven stone coffins that lay strewn about, smashed and overturned, their contents missing. He was standing in an arched hallway that led to another flight of stairs, leading down once more. Almuric tested the floor of the crypt with the spear tip, wary for any traps set there by the original architects of the tomb, other past explorers or even the Lich. Nothing seemed out of place on the paved stone floor, save for a few minor cracks here and there. Stepping over the broken stone coffins, Almuric noticed that the culverts in the wall where they had once lain were now lined with red and black candles, some still burning ominously in the darkness. Their pale fire danced the more Almuric looked at them, in strange interwoven and winding shapes, like the many writhing dead souls of the world. It was only a vague, distant rumble which broke Almuric’s trance. He cursed the vile sorcery of the Lich and walked forwards and down the dank steps into the nether regions of what appeared to be a vast tomb.

The stairs now wound downwards like a spiral and Almuric’s senses were heightened during this descent, for around any corner could be lurking a noisome abomination or eldritch horror. Many carvings of intricate patterns adorned the stone stairs, which he noticed, weren’t nearly as worn as those above. He reckoned that not many had set foot here, but were captured by the Lich as they lay ensorcelled by the demoniac candles. The stairs came to another landing, and another hallway, but this one was square in shape and longer than the arched ante-chamber above. The gold light of the spear was feeble in this evil darkness; not even the wizardry of the Skyne druids was able to fully penetrate the unholy veil of shadow created by the Lich’s black sorcery. Nevertheless, Almuric went onward boldly, his heart steady, though his teeth chattered slightly. A chill, both physical and mental, suddenly came about him as he noticed a vague mist that lay close to the floor and it was then he came into the vast, vaulted tomb of the Lich Nasul Vont. Almuric stopped dead in his tracks and withdrew the spear to his side. The first thought that came into his mind was that the Lich must have been someone of great respect in life…or fear. There was a distinct twilight about the place, a light from a source unknown, and Almuric saw about him 3 great arched passageways leading into the earth on each side of the cyclopean walls of the tomb. On the back wall of the tomb was a huge section of a star-map, in the centre which, glowing hatefully was the Demon Star, Algol. Just before this, on a wide rectangular dais of black marble, was a great stone sarcophagus that had become a makeshift altar for wretched yet imposing humanoid figure facing the star-map, its arms held outwards with the palms flat and chanting unintelligible words which nonetheless chilled Almuric to his very soul. Yet despite this, he walked forward a few steps into the cavernous sepulchre and shouted the name of the Lich, words it would have to obey.

At this challenge, the Lich stopped it gesticulations and chants and turned to him. Even though it lay in the misty twilight some way ahead of him, Almuric could discern its eyes, which were nothing more than black sunken pits with points of hateful blood red in their centres. The Lich came forward a few steps, as did Almuric. The chamber was long, but not long enough that the Lich was shrouded from view by the mist and darkness. Almuric thrust forward the spear and the light and cast a gleam on the dark form before him. It was tall and wore a beautiful but tarnished steel breastplate inlaid with gold and jade that shimmered strangely under the light and under this, one could see the emaciated body of the Lich. Its face was greenish grey, dead and mostly skeletal, with withered flesh and muscle that somehow formed into an unchanging snarl of hate, its old yellow teeth bared incessantly. On its head it wore a bizarre but not hideous headdress or crown with a gem of immense value set into the forehead. Its arms were laid bare save for wicked obsidian gauntlets on its forearms and many rings on it fingers. By its side was a ruined leather scabbard with a jewelled hilt jutting from it and hiding its legs was a tattered and dusty black gown. In its left hand however, it now grabbed a staff of twisted dark brown wood that rested against the coffin-altar. The air was still now as the two opponents stared at teach other, Almuric his blue eyes agleam with boldness and determination, the Lich its red points burning with the hateful intensity of a thousand devils. Just then, Almuric started to stride forward to the evil thing, but in the hideous silence, the Lich jarringly screeched and pointed the tip of its staff at Almuric, on which was set an eldritch pillar like crystal of greenish-blue hue. Almuric halted his approach as he heard the unmistakeable sounds of shuffling come from the 6 arched passages either side of him. From these loathsome maws there came a legion of nigh-on indescribable monsters, each one skinless and half-formed with enlarged limbs and misshapen frames, but what Almuric found the most disturbing was the uniformly human skulls on each abomination. These things were the necromantic experiments of the Lich, perhaps new bodies, but all were failed test subjects set as guardians of its domain. Each one gave a low sigh or growl as they crawled, slithered, lurched and undulated towards Almuric. He unsheathed his broadsword; the pommel inlaid with his family crest, a mystical Aeliar symbol, and stood in the twilight gloom of the Lich’s crypt, encircled by undead fiends.

The first to attack was a vaguely ape-like horror that skittered towards him on 6 limbs, four of these arms. It leapt at Almuric with a guttural cry and the warrior spun towards it, spear pointed outwards and the lunging creature was impaled on the head of the weapon, momentarily dulling the light. A thick black ichor oozed from the creatures open torso as Almuric withdrew his spear. The monster lurched and fell with deep throaty gurgle. Others now attacked him and he swung his broadsword in an arc of blue steel in every direction, decapitating the human skull-heads, severing unnaturally long arms and grasping things like the legs of spiders. He stabbed and thrust his spear into oncoming horrors, stopping them in their tracks. All about him the black ichor pooled around his feet, making the ground uncertain, but Almuric never once faltered. He spun and lunged, killing more of the horrors as they spilled forward from the passages. Just how long the Lich had been down here creating these aberrations of nature was unclear, but by sheer volume alone Almuric guessed it must have been centuries. As he chopped and slaughtered the amassing creatures, he slowly made his way towards the Lich which stood motionless, observing the bloody spectacle. Suddenly then, from somewhere unseen, a smaller horror leapt with a high-pitched screech, something like a monkey but with four multi-jointed arms and a long whip-like tail. It crushed itself to Almuric’s back and coiled its tail about his legs making him fall and drop the spear, which rolled away. But Almuric fell backwards and aimed himself at a piece of debris, which struck the beast square in the back of the head. Black ichor oozed out and Almuric shook himself free of the dead things grasp. But as he did this he did notice a new horror, a towering, monolithic creature with a head encased in black metal engraved with evil red glowing runes. Its forearms were nothing more than huge bone spikes and these it sent towards Almuric with terrifying force. Almuric, just in time, rolled away and to the spear which he picked up and held upward as the monster lunged again, but this time, was impaled upon the ichor stained spear point whose gilded head none-the-less glowed golden. It let out no sound as Almuric stood and thrust the blade deeper and cut at its thick legs with his sword. When it did fall, after an almighty upward slash to its chest, a veritable torrent of stinking black ichor vomited forth from the chest cavity. Almuric spun around, his heart racing, ready to face more of the Lich’s abominations. But none came; instead, the Lich gave a low screech before giving out what Almuric could only guess was its version of a laugh. He looked at the undead sorcerer as it shot its hand out, palm facing downward, encased in a glowing misty orb of sickening green light.

As the Lich did this, Almuric noticed the expansive pools of ichor on the ground exhale a similar green fog before they slithered away and at once joined together in a great mass of darkness. The remaining experiments of the Lich then fell dead to the stone ground, black ichor streaming from their skull maws and racing towards the gathering mass of blackness like dark serpents. In the baleful twilight of the tomb Almuric saw with dismayed eyes the orb of darkness take semi-shape. Out of the gargantuan lump there protruded two great stumps that looked vaguely like arms and another, slightly smaller lump that sat forward on the general body and from which extended dozens of slowly writhing slim feelers or tentacles. Along what Almuric guessed was a forehead were six malevolent red points of light, much like the Lich’s eyes. The general outline of the thing gave Almuric the impression of a bloated toad or some such pestilential thing. It was the image of some primal god of plague and or darkness, a beastly thing whispered of only in terrified passing on only the most abhorrent manuscripts. A great lipped maw formed and seemed to smile slightly as the surrounding tentacles reached outwards for Almuric. The warrior, his only real armour a thick leather vest, realised that the malignant black toad-god was more than even he could manage. Instinctively he thrust the golden head of the spear forward into the oncoming black tendrils, and to his relief they recoiled, but still amassed about him. He spun the spear about, sheathing his sword. The light made the tendrils recoil, but may not be enough to kill or even harm it. He warded the tendrils off by their dozens as he backed away, desperately trying to conceive a plan.

At any moment the Lich may call forth another horror or this primal fiend may display some hitherto unknown ability. Then the beast started to lumber forwards on its two great arms as the tentacles wouldn’t reach. It looked more like a toad now more than ever, and in this moment Almuric realised he may have a chance to attack the foul thing. As many of the tentacles retreated to help push and pull the creature forward, Almuric desperately sprung forward with all his might, the spear-point aimed for the forehead of the bloated toad-god. The Lich gave from behind a startled shriek and thrust its own right hand forward, but Almuric had already embedded the spear in the monstrous forehead of the great beast. The maw opened as it gave out a gurgling, guttural roar so deep it resounded about the vaulted chamber like the exhalation of Hell itself. And then from recesses of the beast’s form their shot out a long tongue or tentacle, on the end of which was a thing not unlike a great black hand. Almuric leapt to the side and quickly unsheathed his sword and swung straight down in an effort to sever the blasphemous appendage. His sword became stuck halfway through and the tongue flopped disgustingly as it tried to reach back to the warrior, the fingers of the hand spread wide and grasping almost blindly. But Almuric’s perseverance emerged victor as he managed to sever the black tongue completely as he freed his blade from the black trunk and once again swung downwards with all his strength. The toad form screamed monstrously as it jumped back, half of its own body melting amorphously into itself in the process. The Lich also gave out a horrible, inarticulate cry and then growled evilly. Almuric, seeing this as his chance, ran forward, leapt up the front of the reclined toad god, his feet sinking slightly into the stinking mass and thrust his sword deep into three of its eyes. He did the same to the other set as the thing tried feebly to grasp him with its trunk-like limbs. He took the shaft of the spear in his hand as he jumped away from the monstrous shape of unhallowed eons and watched as the Lich grasped its head in apparent agony as the dark god bubbled, burnt the ground black beneath it and vaporised in a thick, green smog. Almuric shouted victory at this point as the Lich stared in what he could only describe as extreme terror.

But this terror was short lived for the Lich gave out a barbaric snarl and threw down its staff and unsheathed its own wicked curved blade and strode towards Almuric, unfathomable hate almost issuing from the red lights in its long empty sockets. Almuric thrust the base of the spear into a crack in the ground and walked forward, blade in hand, ready to do battle with the undead fiend. But the necrotic sorcerer then stopped and thrust its free hand forth and Almuric was pushed to the ground by an invisible force. He was momentarily dazed from the attack, but shook it off, only to see that it was all the time the Lich needed to advance dangerously close and raise its blade, point facing down at his throat. The Lich fought dirty, using the black sorcery it has learnt over nameless centuries to defeat its enemies, warriors and mages alike. Just as the Lich was poised to thrust downward, Almuric contemplated what fate the Lich had in store for his corpse. Would it use him as a new body? Would it reshape him or re-animate him? Who knew, but the twisted mind of the Lich sorcerer? He laid his head back, closed is eyes and searched through his mind as the Lich gave out a final cry of triumph in its necromantic black speech. But alas! Almuric Volenti was no fool – his high name granted him access to great stores of weapons and magic, and he knew well that the undead fear nothing more than purifying fire, and Almuric had packed with him a scroll, forged especially for him by the Keeper of Powers back in his homeland of Kumari Kandam, a scroll designed to conjure a great stream of flame to immolate one target. The words inscribed in shining crimson ink shot back into memory and Almuric shot his left hand forth cried out the incantation. In an instant, from his fingertips there shot a stream of blazing fire which hit the Lich square in its brittle, tarnished breastplate. It staggered back from the impact of the spell as great tongues of fire swept across the withered, dry corpse of the shambling undead. Hideous, indescribable howls and screams issued forth every second like a million voices of dread and despair from amongst the blazing pillar of flame that was the Lich Nasul Vont. Almuric sat up, watching the spectacle as the vague form of an armoured fiend fell to the ground and was no more. The inferno was soon no more and only wisps of black smoke carrying a hideous odour were the only movement on the dead Lich.

Almuric stood up and staggered over to the sarcophagus near the end of the room. He knocked the various candles, brittle pages and illustrations from the surface and kicked the lid off. Inside the coffin was a jaggedly spherical black gem which glowed weirdly with veins of red placed carefully amidst many plump pillows and piled rags. This, Almuric knew, was the Lich’s heart, the source of its power. Lich’s only gained immortality when they removed their souls from their bodies and placed them in some kind if keepsake. The souls couldn’t go on to the Afterlife, so the Lich and its mind remained animate forever, the body slowly decaying, but kept intact with necromancy. Almuric took the gem in his hand. It was bigger than his fist and rather hefty. With a final glance towards the prostrate and ruined form of the undead monster, he cast the gem to the ground where it smashed with an ear-splitting crash. A final, echoing screech issued from the Lich as its body literally turned to dust. Almuric wearily stepped over to the huge star-map and looked the star of Algol. It had been replaced with a smooth sphere of crystal, inside which there swirled a terrible purple and black vortex. It was evidently an idol or symbol of adoration for the Lich. Almuric decided to leave it, for it was doubtless through its black magic that the toad god was summoned and controlled, and the skull-headed guardians fashioned. But Almuric was wary not to smash it either, for the legends of the Demon Star are many and unspeakable. He instead pried it from its place within the star-map fragment and covered it with the rags from the sarcophagus, for he did not like the sphere, and felt it was something more than an eye for entities that have none…

He dragged the lid back on and left the tomb, passing without interest the pile of dust and now faded and broken breastplate that lay burnt on the ground. He retrieved the spear from its place in the crack and sheathed his sword. He made his way through the misty square hall, up the carven, winding stair, past the now extinguished black and red candles that lure men to their undeaths and up that dank, worn stone stair and once again into the resplendent sunshine and verdant green hills of the Skyne Wilderness, with not so much as a passing glance at the wound in the ground from which there still to this day emanates a sinister rhythmic chant as of a million voices of dread and despair.

The End

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