Vorel sets her sights on conquoring the city of Visharna, but its viscount, Lord Lucidian, has other plans.
Chosen of Ashurha IV: Thy Kingdom Come
A black shadow glided over the sleeping city, wings pushing silently against the cool desert air. It landed on a parapet and waved one clawed hand in a strange pattern. All along the stone wall guards slumped forward, snoring loudly. Down it leaped, landing so light not even a claw mark was left in the soft sand. A light breeze stirred around it, batting lightly against its wings. Red eyes tinged with gold glanced from side to side, surveying its location. Wooden stalls devoid of products lined the print-covered road, the lingering scents of foods and material wares still strong enough to register to his trained senses. The figure rose and withdrew a small pouch from its side. It began to chant in a strange voice; the voices of many, tangled around each other, raspy, feminine, deep, masculine, warbling, steady all at once. Archaic words seemed to drip from its mouth like venom, searing the atmosphere around the quiet market. A surge of power flowed through the creature, creating a glowing silver orb around the object in its wicked hand. The wind grew stronger as it cast its spell, buffeting the figure, forcing it to bend its legs and dig its claws into the ground to keep its footing. At last the cacophonous voice faded as the shadow placed its parcel beneath the cloth of a display table in front of it. Laughter echoed off the stone walls as it rose into the air and vanished over the horizon.
Visharna. A remote city in Egypt, run by the shrewd governor Lucidian, marked by a tiny rat skull which had been placed on the map spread across a table of sturdy oak. Vorel narrowed her golden eyes as she studied it intently, her powerful mind taking note of every road in and out.
"It is protected by an artifact, milady, that prevents teleportation or the creation of rifts. Our scouts reported that watchmen patrol the balustrades every second of the day, armed with bows and swords. There is a mage stationed at each parapet as an added precaution. They allow entry during the afternoon hours and the early dawn- the city is locked like a fortress after nightfall. Lucidian really seems to enjoy hoarding his resources." Queen Ashurha contemplated her captain's words, mulling it around in her head while she called up everything she knew about the city. Though heavily fortified and boasting a large population, it also had one thing that would be her biggest boon if negotiations went south- a very large, very ancient burial site. Vorel straightened and turned to the generals gathered in her war room, a customary grin on her slender face.
"Very well, gentlemen. You will all remain here- including you, Valgar." Her mate looked crestfallen but he nodded, knowing that her word was law within the boundaries of Ezba Khamis.
"I will need a royal procession laden with gifts- Load honey, pearls, myrrh, and silk onto three camels. I'll go trade with Q for some alchemical irons to bring as well. These gifts will head our caravan. We must approach from a peaceful perspective, although should they grow hostile I am more than prepared to rain death upon them. While I am absent, Valgar, you will be in charge. Your word is law. Should anyone disobey... well, your people need to eat, yes?" Her smile widened cruelly as she leered at the gathered officials. Valgar swallowed and nodded, standing brave beneath the weight of his new authority.
"Lieutenant Dartesh, would you follow me please?" An armor-laden gargoyle exited after her, following her to the dim room where she performed her larger rituals. From the bag at her side she withdrew a simple linen-wrapped object and began to remove its cloth. Nestled inside was the befouled corpse of a dock rat she had found a week prior. She placed it on the floor and knelt before it, dragging her finger around the animal, enclosing it in a circle. As she traced the design onto the marble floor, her finger left a blackened trail of rot. She began to chant, raspy words skittering from her mouth like crawling insects, filling the room with a haunting echo of death. The corpse began to glow and sweat, droplets of water trickling from its dark brown fur. A faint silver sheen began to form around the creature. Once it was fully enveloped she ceased her spell and handed it to the silent figure.
"Go now. It will take a week at least for us to arrive, and by then the spell should have taken full effect. I need you to hide this in a public area and escape as quickly as possible. You're the only one with the infiltration skills capable of pulling this off. Do you understand?" He nodded and tucked the dead animal into his sash.
"Now go." Vorel watched him leave with a smile. "This is going to be good." The queen fastened an ebony cloak around her neck and went to kiss her mate goodbye.
"I'll be corresponding by the usual means should any situation requiring aid arise. Be careful with my city, Val- If she burns, you're building me a new one."
The caravan traveled for a total of eight days, Lady Ashurha's litter borne by the tireless undead in her control while her handmaidens relaxed on camelback. Night and day they crossed the harsh desert, basking in the heat and enjoying the clear air. When finally the city gates loomed into view Vorel called a halt and leaped down from her litter. The skittering, raspy language of the dead slipped from her lips as she chanted a spell, her hands glowing black as she brushed the rotted flesh of her corpses. Their skin began to knit itself back together as her black energy enveloped their rotting bodies, banishing all signs of decay and bacteria. When they were presentable she reclaimed her mobile throne and they began to approach Visharna. She ordered a halt when they reached the massive iron barrier. A short human made his way to the lead and pulled out a rolled scroll of parchment.
"Her Majesty Lady Ashurha, Queen of the city of Ezba Khamis, arrives bearing gifts for the house of Lord Lucidian. My lady asks for an audience with the good lord, and a place to lay her head during her stay." Crucial seconds passed as they waited for a response, wary eyes locked on the armed soldiers atop the fortress. Vorel knew she could protect her people, but there would be no chance for negotiations if it lead to violence. After what seemed like forever, the portcullis began to rise, grating against the stone walls of the city. At a sign from the guards, Vorel Ashurha entered the enclosed city.
"Milady, it is wonderful to finally meet you. I have heard tales of your travels abroad, of your adventures with your companions, and of the prosperity of your kingdom. I am surprised by your sudden interest in us, though, I must admit. Why exactly are you here?" Vorel sat kneeling before the muscular human viscount, her head downcast as a sign of respect though her standing was above his. Thoughts flowed through her mind, different points of conversation she could address, the paths down which they would lead her branching off behind her eyes. She studied them in depth, taking her time as she picked the best answer.
"Viscount Lucidian, I am here for the wealth of our two kingdoms. I wish to propose the forging of an alliance, beginning with trade routes between Ezba Khamis and Visharna. Both of us can profit from this; We are both in need of more resources. I can provide tireless laborers, fine silks and perfumes, and plenty of alchemic metals for your weapons and armor. We have a seaport, unlike you, and can send away for objects and materials unavailable in our locations. My kingdom is close to The City of Serinos, much closer than yours, and we trade with them often. Our position is perfect for keeping you in contact with the outside world. What say you?" Lucidian mulled over her words intently, whispering with his advisers, ignoring her presence as they puzzled over her proposal. Ashurha passed the time by rotting the wooden floor beneath her hand, restoring it before it spread to a visible area. All in all, it was the simple amusements she found to be the best. Smiling to herself she zoned out, until her name was uttered by the ruler before her.
"Lady Ashurha, we need more time. Our kingdom is undergoing a crisis of sorts at the moment, and I must dedicate my time and energy to taking care of that. While we weigh our options please enjoy the hospitality of my fine city. A room will be readied for you, and you will be provided with anything you require. Feel free to explore- there are some very historic sites scattered throughout Visharna. Now, if you will please excuse us?" Vorel rose to her feet and bowed, pulling her golden cloak around her as she exited the throne room. Outside of the silver-wrought doors waited a Catkin servant who led the Queen to her temporary quarters. With a bow he left her to her own devices. Her possessions had already been folded and placed in their proper places, with the exception of the bag at her side. Insistent on keeping it near her during her audience she set it down on a small oak table by her lush bed and withdrew black linen pouch from its depths. Inside was a crystal with a birds-eye view of the city nestled inside. Everything was coated with a strange silver mist, invisible to the denizens going about their day below. A wicked smile stretched across her face as she gazed at the artifact.
"Everything's going just as I planned..."
Vorel left the palace and headed toward the market, in search of a shop that catered to magic-users. She passed stall of clothing, food, tools, instruments, and a myriad of other goods, spending hours browsing along the way. Finally she came upon a wooden building with a cauldron in the window, a sign over the door reading Carthin's Apothecarium and Tomes. The necromancer motioned for her retinue to remain outside as she entered, greeted by the scent of herbs as she crossed the threshold. A goblin lounged behind the counter, flipping through a rather thick book and muttering to herself under her breath. Her head rose as Vorel approached and a smile spread across her features.
"Welcome, welcome! I haven't had a customer in ages! What can I help you with, madam?"
"May I browse your collection of tomes and scrolls, please?" The shop-keep faltered in her cheer and grew somber at Vorel's request.
"Of... Of course. Please, follow me." She led Vorel to a large room lined from the floor to ceiling with shelves crammed full of musty books and yellowed parchment scrolls, the air thick with dust and age. The goblin waited near the exit, leaning against the door frame, her eyes never leaving the well-dressed jackal. Vorel's golden eyes filled with joy as she ran her eyes over the spines of the many volumes, searching for any she felt might be of use in her research of forbidden lore. She came to rest in front of a scroll sealed with the visage of a dragon.
"Ma'am, where did you find this?" The goblin shrugged.
"It was here when I took over the store. The former owner never told me- it wasn't listed on her inventory sheets. It's just, well, here. I'll sell it to you for fifty gold pieces, if you're interested." Vorel readily tossed a small coin pouch to her.
"Will this cover anything else I happen across?" The goblin counted out the money and gasped.
"Y..y..Yes, of course. Please, keep browsing milady!" Vorel grinned. The money would last her at least another four books, if there were any worth her time remaining in the shop. On one of the shelves she found a book bound in black fur. With a wave of her hand it tumbled off the shelf and she caught it deftly, flipping it open and glancing through its silver pages. Blank. With a shrug she placed it in the crook of her arm and continued browsing. When she left she had, in addition to her two stranger finds, a book on surgery and a book of maps of Egypt and its many kingdoms. Traveling back to the castle, Vorel returned to her room and began to read, pausing only to ruffle the fur of a black cat snoozing on her balcony.
"Lady Ashurha! How are you feeling?" Vorel pulled the book off of her chest and rose up, her golden robes trailing behind her as she walked gracefully to the door.
"Huh? I'm... I'm groggy, but otherwise as healthy as usual. Why do you ask?" She opened the door to reveal the male Catkin from the night before, a worried look on his face.
"In the past four hours, our hospital has been flooded with citizens complaining of illness. They all show the same effects... a few have already died. The first few trickled in a few days ago, but two or three people didn't have us worried. This many... Lord Lucidian has ordered a lockdown of the city until we can cure whatever this thing is. Unfortunately, this means you'll be remaining with us until we can be sure it won't spread beyond these walls." Vorel nodded.
"Thank you for the warning, I'll remain indoors today. Would you mind sending me up some hot water? I'd really like to take my bath now." The catkin nodded and bowed as he exited. The jackal grinned from ear to ear as she relished the knowledge that her spell had succeeded. Within the hour the servants arrived bearing a large wooden tub full of heated water. Two male humans began undressing the queen, baring her black fur for all the servants to see. They lifted her lithe body and placed her in the basin, lavishing her with attention as they scrubbed her coat clean of the desert grime and filth. She enjoyed the service, closing her eyes as the steaming liquid cascaded over her, drifting off as she languished in the soothing scented waters. It was no surprise to her when she began to dream.
She sat nude atop a mound of corpses, the black clouds above her pregnant with electricity. AS far as her eyes could see was an ocean of the dead in varying states of decomposition. She knew she could rule them all. At her right side Valgar perched, glaring at the sight before him. At her left lurked the robed figure she recognized as Sot-Amenthotep. His silver eyes gleamed in the inky darkness beneath his hood, studying her reaction.
"Rashida. You could control the world with my assistance. You could be worshipped, feared, loved... Together we are more powerful than any could fathom. We are one, you and I. Why do you resist the might of a god?"
"I do not trust you. Kakonomian's destruction looms on the horizon. I was raped in the name of Be Shao. Rammadarian tried to kill me. Tsathoggua nearly succeeded, had it not been for Q's presence. Forgive me if I'm leery of interdimensional beings." A black hand emerged from the folds of his sleeve and caressed her fur with a dagger-fine claw.
"You are a creature of immeasurable potential. What you are doing here, with Visharna, is a testament to your greatness. I have been leading you to ancient texts and knowledge, granting you magics beyond mortal ken. Am I still unworthy of your affection?" Vorel slapped his hand away and narrowed her eyes in anger.
"First you treat me like a servant, now a superior? Choose a demeanor and stay with it, Sot. I am not here to play games- I am here to accomplish great things."
"And you shall, Ashurha, with my guidance. Without me you could not comprehend the power of Byakkath. Without me you would have no guidance. You would spend your days relaxing in that gilded palace of yours, letting that razor-sharp mind wither and rot when you could be about exploring, learning, conquering the masses and leaving a trail of vicious undeath in your wake."
"I would have STILL forged the alliances I have, I would still be powerful, I would still be deadly. I will admit your protection and assistance has been a boon, but it has not been the sole cause of my accomplishments. Your vote of confidence is simply staggering." She rolled her golden eyes. "If power is what you seek, why do you not follow Aaron or Q? I can understand avoiding that Gaelic vampire, but... Especially Aaron. I have never met a more powerful plasmoid. Did you see the way he tore through Tsathoggua? I barely scraped him that fight. Tsathoggua was a GOD. My fire bounced right off of him." Sot-Amenthotep's twisted silver gaze swept over her, cold and detached.
"You're lying to me, Rashida. You know better." A searing pain flashed through her skull, dropping her to her knees, burying her up to her wrists in rotted flesh. He rose, placing a bladed claw on the small of her back.
"I am through with your games, Necromancer. You do not respond to orders, you do not respond to worship, you do not respond to pain. Will you react if I rip your soul from that fleshy prison and cast it back into the icy torture of Pergamos? Remember my words, Ashurha. I am a GOD in your world. I can destroy you so utterly your soul will not be able to return to this dimension. A partnership with me will make you one of the most powerful women in all of Laodisia, but should you continue to stand against me I will not hesitate to tear your immortal flesh to shreds and feast upon the knowledge locked within your soul. Do you understand me?" He flexed his talons, ripping away fur and flesh from the prone jackal's body.
"Oh I understand, Sot. But I will not beg for your mercy. I will enter this agreement as an equal, not as a slave. Cut me, I do not care, but know that I will never forget the pain you keep attempting to inflict on me. Every scratch, every headache, every drop of blood you cause will be one more blade I will bury into your alien hide. Do you understand me?" With an unnaturally wide, razor-edged grin Sot-Amenthotep removed his limb and helped the bleeding Queen to her feet.
"Then you accept my offer, Rashida?" Vorel nodded. The god before her tore off his robe to reveal his otherworldly form. Arms of aberrant length held her close as his ropey black flesh began to quiver and writhe, snaking toward her as though alive. It began to rub against her soft fur, slapping against her round haunches, emanating an aura of longing. She was pulled down into the pile of desiccated corpses and nestled against his eerily cold body, his sideways eyes shimmering with hunger, hunger for her flesh, hunger for her soul... All around the pair bodies began to lurch and grasp, shambling to join the pair in their carnal coalescence, gripping and penetrating where they can. Even Valgar stepped off his throne to join them, gripping Vorel around the waist as he waded into the sea of bodies. Everything that made Vorel who she was began to merge with the horrifying god beneath her, becoming an amalgamation of the two separate beings. Hands groped and caressed as the sea of figures surged with ecstasy.
"Queen Ashurha? Can you hear me?" Vorel grudgingly opened her eyes, squinting against the blinding red glare of the setting sun blazing through the windows. She was laying on a soft bed, wrapped in a soft linen robe, sterile-masked faces peering over her as she glanced around in confusion.
"Oh thank the Gods, she's alive. Quick, bring me some water!" One of the faces disappeared into her blind spot and returned a few moments later with a small wooden bowl of cool water.
'Drink, milady. It's for your won good." Lifting the makeshift cup to her lips Vorel drank deep, feeling her head clear as the refreshing liquid filled her body.
"Where am I?"
"The hospital wing. During your bath, you just sort of..." The speaker, who appeared to be in charge, wrung her hands and cast her eyes to the ground. "You stopped breathing. The maids brought you to me immediately. We'd thought you died." The prone queen smirked to herself and sat up, taking stock of her surroundings. She was in what appeared to me a medical tent, crammed full of people laying on cots- all were either clutching their head, muttering in their sleep or vomiting violently, though everyone was coated in thick sweat. She could feel the presence of the dead here, as well, alerting her to the fact many patients had already passed away during her vision. She got to her foot and thanked those fretting over her health.
"I assure you, it will take more than a dream to kill me. Is this your city's hospital, then?" The head nurse nodded.
"I apologize for the state we're in, but... we never get illness of this magnitude." Vorel pulled on a mask she lifted from a nearby table.
"I'm considered to be a great healer in my country, may I take a look?" Color drained from the woman's face as she stared at the queen.
"But, milady, if you were to fall ill-"
"I have been immune to most diseases for many year, ma'am. Please, perhaps I figure this out." Vorel rose and approached one of men squirming on his bed, plagued by whatever fevered visions danced behind his rapidly flitting eyes. She placed a slender hand on his forehead and began to chant, making up the words as she went along.
"Avah shi neb abodyha, vu tal'anir go sivhis... Lo Matneeyon!" Her eyes widened and she whipped her head around, sending her black hair flying wildly around her face.
"Ye gods, I know what plagues this man! He has the Saeson Sweats! I can cure this, but it will take a few days. It's lethality is known across Breton and Gaul, but I've never encountered a case here... I'll need a few supplies to eradicate it. I'll need candles, honey, and a clean white linen. Please, hurry, I must begin the ritual immediately." She watched with scrutinous eyes as the attendants rushed out to gather what she asked for. Vorel knelt in the center of the room and began chanting nonsense once more, her eyes closed and her head down. She congratulated herself in her mind as she passed the time, knowing how close she was to her goal. As her "components" were brought to her, she began to fake a trance. Her body shook and her eyes rolled back, her speech garbled, and she watched through fluttering lids as the nurses whispered and watched. When they took their leave, she ceased, slumping to the ground and feigning unconsciousness. Holding her eyes shut she dipped her hand in the honey and began to draw hieroglyphs on the floor around her, circling her body. A word whispered beneath her breath sent the four white candles flaring to life. She rose, her body loose and limp, and began to perform a jittering dance within her strange designs. In her clean hand was the thin linen sheet; as her body twirled it came free, whirling around her, partially obscuring her from view. She danced and danced for three days and nights, her eyes closed, nonsense pouring from her lips as she swayed and leaped around the circle. Finally she fell to her knees and uttered on final word, canceling the necromantic plague holding the city in its grasp. Every patient left alive groaned as the disease was sucked from their bodies. Feigning sleep, Vorel listened to their praise as she was carried back to the castle, fighting the urge to grin.
Queen Ashurha sat against the gilded headboard, pouring over her copy of the Lupus In Fabula when there was a knock on her door. She stashed the book beneath her pillow and answered, not surprised to find the red-haired Catkin servant bowing before her.
"My Lord Lucidian requests an audience, my lady. If you are free at the moment, would you follow me?" The queen nodded and smiled, slipping on her sandals before exiting the room. She followed the slave through the palace to the small throne room, waited patiently for him to announce her arrival, and then stepped through the gossamer curtains.
"Ah, Queen Ashurha, our own personal miracle worker. How nice of you to grace us with your presence. My people cannot cease their incessant whisperings of your healing prowess. You've left quite an impression. You must have been too exhausted from using your healing powers to partake of our dinners." She smirked.
"Lord Lucidian, you would do well to remember that I am in your presence at the moment by your own invitation. I'll gladly leave if you so wish. Hell, I would restore your plague if I had the power if it meant you would speak to me with a softer tongue. I have done no ill toward you or your people. I am here for the sake of diplomacy, and yet your words imply some lurking distaste. Tell me, why did you call me here? Was it just to hint at some devious behavior on my part, or were you actually intending to discuss business with me?" Lucidian sighed and ran a hand through his blonde hair.
"I apologize, good queen, it just seems strange that a rival would help our kingdom so readily."
"I told you, Lucidian, I wish you to ally yourselves with Ezba Khamis. Why would I not show you how worthy I am at any chance I get? You obviously do not trust me, and when I heard of your plight I assisted the only way I could- by healing. Why hold that against me?" She looked at him inquisitively, the light sending golden streaks shining against her jet black fur. Her back was straight, her hair bound and braided behind her. With her angular features she knew she was attractive, and the cut of her clinging silk garb did nothing to lessen the effect. If she could not sway him with logic, surely he would be moved by her beauty... Although the fact he was human might swing the odds away from her favor. Lucidian's brown eyes swept the figure of the queen, regal and intelligent, waiting for him to give his verdict on whether or not he would open trade with her mighty kingdom. He could tell that every inch of her, from her appearance to her wit, was crafted to appear perfect. Something lurked beneath the surface of her façade, however, something dark that he could sense. He had no reason to be wary of this royal Faunan, but he was. As nobility himself, and the ruler of his own fine land, he knew how to play the game like almost no other she had encountered in her travels.
Lucidian had heard of the destruction of Tsathoggua, of the eradication of the demon-summoning pixie colony, or how she and her companions had saved a small village from annihilation at the hands of an invisible monster that tore people to shreds. He had also heard, however, the whispered rumors of her true form, locked inside a living creature that acted as her skin, a rotting corpse hiding in plain sight, of her disgusting, vile magic, of her alien romantic interest, of the ability to wake the dead. Though rumors, he was smart enough to know that something has to occur to get the slander started, something unnatural in her case. The lord needed more information on her, and thus he must stall her departure a little while longer.
"I am sorry. I need a little bit longer to decide the fate of my city, but I wish to thank you for your services to Visharna. I accept the gifts your caravan has brought as a token of peace toward your nation. With the epidemic stemmed, I can now devote more time and discussion to the diplomatic proposal you offered. Please, stay a while longer, enjoy the sights of my city. If you'll excuse me, I must see to other matters of import. Thank you for your time, Lady Ashurha." They bowed to each other and Vorel exited, scowling as soon as her back was to the throne.
"Yes, my lord?" asked the slender catkin slave, his green eyes cast toward the ground.
"You have my permission to search her room. Should you find anything unpleasant, bring it to me at once. I need to know if she can is lying to me." The faerie's body twisted and warped, shrinking and shifting, until no humanoid form was left in his place.
The sun sank beneath the glowing horizon, blanketing the city in a veil of blackness. Torches burned like fireflies, blinking and sputtering as the people began to make their way home. Vorel closed the door of the bowyer behind her, a beautiful new bow for Valgar wrapped and tucked beneath her arm. People who passed her cheered for her and thanked her for banishing the sickness that crept in. Tomorrow would be the burial of all who perished, and they begged her to attend. She would, all right... and she would linger long after the last mourner had departed. She would remain until dark, and she would devour any souls who still lagged behind. Vorel hungered. Lost in her thoughts, going through the motions of kindness with her admirers, she didn't notice the guards behind her until it was too late. They grabbed her by the arms and began leading her back toward Lucidian's barracks.
"Now now, gentleman, perhaps you could be a little more polite and tell me what this is all about?" The humans ignored her. She called up a chill aura that surrounded her body, radiating so strongly that it began to damage the guards. It was minor pain, but enough of that pain added up. As their skin began to freeze and crack they released their grip of her, content to steer her from behind as they nursed their bleeding hands. When they reached the squat building she was shoved inside a black room unceremoniously. She could hear a wooden board slam against the door- she was trapped here, alone... At least the lighting was of no consequence to her. Vorel willed her eyes to grant her the sight of the dead, throwing everything in the room into black-and-white relief. There was a chair to her left, iron-barred cells to her right, and a tall cloaked figure standing next to an animal of some sort in front of her. With little other option Vorel took her seat and turned her glowing eyes toward the room's other occupant.
"You might as well get started, I can see you." The shadow lowered his hood to reveal none other than the viscount himself, his eyes full of hatred as he stared in the direction of the queen. He lifted a torch from the wall and Vorel whipped a tiny fireball at it, setting it aflame and illuminating the bleak room.
"I know what you are, you Feral monster, and I am going to put an end to your crimes against nature and Laodisia itself. I don't care how many lives you've saved; you've devoured far more than that. A necromancer... I should have known! You handled that plague far too easily to have been a cleric or a priestess."
"So, what, you have the ground to arrest me just because I did something more easily than someone else could have? That's a pretty shaky argument. It won't hold up; I am a HERO to your people, or have you forgotten?" Lucidian smirked.
"They won't think so highly of you when I show them the contents of your satchel, now will they?" He lifted her bag from beside the cat sitting at his feet and emptied its contents- a small rat skeleton, the crystal, her copies of the Lupus In Fabula, Al-Azif, and Unaussprechlichen Culten, various incenses and pieces of flesh, her dragon scroll and her black-furred book that contained nothing inside, as well as her own grimoire bound in the flesh of Tsathoggua himself. The evidence was inescapable- she was caught black-handed far outside the realm of her influence.
"How... When did you find the time to go through my things? I had them hidden away, I had my door locked, how could you-" She stopped mid sentence as the cat by his feet began to shift. Its fur began to melt away in giant patches, pooling on the floor, revealing naked pink flesh beneath. The bones rippled beneath the surface of the skin, elongating and changing shape as the body began to stand upright and straighten, lengthening and contorting. Finally before her eyes stood the red-haired catkin slave that had been tending her, his face blank of any expression.
"Feynrial did his job, that's how. Lucidian moved toward her and took her by the wrists, tossing her into one of the four empty cells lining the room. She landed on the filthy stone with a dull thudding noise, fire burning behind her golden eyes.
"You don't want to do this, Luc. I will destroy everything you love. I will take your city by force and I will devour your very soul if you cross me. I came here peacefully- anything that happens beyond this night is on YOUR head. Remember that, Lucidian. YOU are bringing my wrath down upon your beautiful city. If you kill me I will rain fire and rot upon you and yours for centuries. Take my words to hart as you lay your heal on the silken pillow tonight. Remember that I can be a very deadly adversary." He laughed and spit on her before beckoning to his servant.
"Come, Feynrial, let's leave this Feral whore to rot for a night. I grow weary of her presence." The catkin followed his lord, casting an apologetic look back at the imprisoned queen before leaving the barracks.
"Get up, wench. Today you'll answer for your crimes." Vorel was seized by a rather tanned dwarf and dragged out of the cold stone building by her long hair. She struggled, but refused to use any of her spells- she would show them what their insolence would bring upon them, but only after they felt they were safe. Only after they had begun to hope her evil had been eradicated. She was brought to a tall wooden gallows set up in the very center of town, where the dwarf tossed her haphazardly onto the planks and placed a black executioners hood over his face. She sat before the crowd, filthy and furious, waiting for the arrival of the main entertainment. She was not kept disappointed for very long. Lucidian approached in his best clothing, her bag of 'evidence' clutched in one manicured hand. He mounted the steps and stood before the gathered peasants and nobility, a sly grin on his masculine features.
"Good citizens of Visharna, we have a traitor in our midst. This woman, this queen, has led us all astray with her lies and sorcery. Vorel Ashurha is a murderer, a whore and a necromancer!" A gasp echoed among the crowd. "She is the cause of the recent illness that had gripped our city. She is responsible for the life of every single man, woman, and child who died because of it. Somehow she managed to get a fetish in to our safe haven, which carried a delayed spell in its rotten flesh. Her three day ritual was nothing more than a hoax- all she had to do was cancel the spell and those who were sick would be cured, the magic inside them having been withdrawn. She had us all fooled. Well I say we deserve retribution. I say we deserve blood, her blood, in exchange for the blood of our people! What say you, my friends? What do you think?"
"Blood! Vengeance! Retribution!" came the cry, voices of thousands mingling in the chants. Everyone gathered was frenzied, hurt, angered by the knowledge that this 'hero' had betrayed them. Thousands of eyes were locked on the stage, watching as their leader showcased the incriminating items in her possession. Their cries grew louder, more fevered, until every being present had begun shouting 'String her up! String her up!' Lucidian turned to the bound jackal, his expression grim.
"Any last words, Vorel?" She glowered up at him, her exotic eyes smoldering with hatred.
"Put this bitch to sleep." The dwarf placed a strong noose around her neck and lifted her to her feet. The crowd jeered and booed as he began his countdown, resting his fingers lightly on the lever that would seal her fate.
The wooden planks dropped away and Vorel fell, dangling from the rope like a rag doll. She could not suffocate, her neck could not be snapped, but she had a plan to feign her death all the same. She struggled against the taught rope, rubbing the flesh of her neck against the rugged length draining the life from her alchemical mask. The use of a whispered spell weakened the organism and the rope cut through, sending hot blood splashing down against the stand. Vorel ceased her movement and went still as she withdrew her aora from the sword resting back with her caravan, insuring she would not regenerate her wounds. A breeze pushed against her limp form, sending the rope rocking and swaying like a pendulum. The people gathered watched her 'lifeless' corpse with morbid interest, from her matted fur to the glare in her eyes they were transfixed.
"Let this be a lesson to any who decide to harm my people- I will destroy you. Cut her down. I have the perfect place for her." The dwarf obliged his master, taking a sword to the yellowed noose and slicing through it as though it were nothing. With no ceremony Vorel fell to the hot ground, the grainy sand sticking to her blood-soaked fur. He tossed her over his shoulder and began following Lucidian, who was striding toward Visharna's sprawling necropolis. A plain hole had already been dug in preparation for the day's event. With a nod from the viscount the stout executioner dropped the queen into the dark earth and began to dump the soil back on top of her, sealing her away where she could not escape. As each shovel-full began to obscure her form, the last glimpse of her the pair had was of her engraved ring showing the seal of the Order of the Wolf. A daughter of Serinos. Strong Dwarven hands patted the fresh grave down, packing it tightly and covering it with a liberal layer of sand for good measure. As he finished his work he turned to Lucidian, a look of worry etched on his elderly features.
"My lord, she was of the house of Lamben Serinos. He will not let us off lightly- hell, he has been known to destroy kingdoms for less offences than the murder of one of his children. Are you sure this is wise?"
"Soren, no one will discover what we've done here. We are safe. Now come, I need to see about destroying the goods she brought with her from Ezba Khamis."
"Yes, my lord."
In the following days the town forgot about the evil buried inside their impenetrable walls. They carried on with their lives, only addressing it with through whispered gossip in the darkest hours of the night. Three moons rose over Visharna, three suns set, and it appeared their feared necromancer would stay dead. Beneath the soil Vorel had been waiting, listening, biding her time. On the evening of the third moon she began to speak. Dry, skittering syllables wove their way out of her mouth and through the soil, calling to the nearest corpse as she cast her spell. A servant is what she needed right now, not an army- her first priority was getting out from the grave she rested in. She finished her spell and waited in silence, working hard to keep from letting her excitement get the best of her. Queen Ashurha always looked forward to a kill, but this would be veritable slaughter if she had her way. And she would- Vorel always got her way. A strange sound filled her tiny plot of dirt, a scraping and pounding like no other. A rotted hand began to break through the earth where she rested, tearing away the soil covering the necromancer within. It reached out for her and lifted her to her feet, assisting her as she climbed over the sides of her grave. She smiled at it and watched as, its task complete, it fell to the ground lifeless once more.
"This will be a night to remember," she hissed as she began to make her way toward the innards of the city. Vorel kept to the shadows, moving silently as she crept back toward the center of Visharna. Most of the city's houses were built around that area, and the palace looming overhead would have a clear view of her display. She would show them what happened when you messed with the line of Serinos... when you messed with the goodwill of an Ashurha. She mounted the steps of the gallows, searching for some remnant of her possessions. He had dumped her bag onto the wooden platform, breaking a fair amount of her spell components in the process. Every crack was probed, no inch of the setup left unmolested. Eventually she found exactly what she was looking for- a small bird skull, cracked down the center but still intact. She scooped it up gingerly and pressed her rotten lips against it, thanking Sot-Amenthotep for her luck. Vorel focused her will and began to speak into the skull in the bone-chilling language of Death. Her words began to pour out in the local tongue, swelling to cacophonous volume as it filled every alleyway, every home, every mind in the city.
"Good citizens of Visharna- how are you this fine, cool evening? My name is Lady Vorel Ashurha, master necromancer, queen of Ezba Khamis and daughter of Lamben Serinos. I came to you peacefully, hoping to gain your alliance, hoping to further trade and wealth between our two nations. I came in the name of diplomacy. You repaid me with attempted murder. My last words... do you remember them? 'Never', I said, and I meant it. I am undead. I cannot be destroyed. You have been judged by my hand and the hand of He Of The Hunger, as we have decided you are unfit to be a stain of the fine Egyptian sands beneath your heels. You called me bitch, whore, monster, murderer... I will show you murder. I will show you annihilation. Did you feel I was dangerous before, when I did no harm except show you how benevolent I can be? Well I will show you dangerous. I will show your power. Look upon my works, ye peasants, and despair, for I. AM. GOD." Her hands began to glow with a sickly green as she raised them to the sky, chanting in the spidery language of magic. The unnatural light spread, bathing her entire rotted form with its cold energy. The ground shook as the earth heaved and cracked, spilling forth a horde of angered corpses from their sanctums within. Thousands rose, their eyes glowing with the same magic power as Vorel, moving toward her with sickening speed. They gathered en masse, her anger fueling their battle lust. Dead of all ages, sizes, races, and decomposition were present, an army of the unholy waiting for their Queen's command. Vorel turned her glowing head towards the castle, locking her burning eyes on Lucidian's watchful form. She grinned.
"TAKE THEM!" she screamed, spreading her arms wide as her corpse battalion fell upon the terrified denizens of the desert city. They moved as one, bashing through doors and ripping apart every man, woman and child they happened across. Vorel moved toward the castle as they tended to the city itself, withering anyone who got in her way. Wrinkled husks of flesh fell away as she stormed on the warpath, her golden eyes glowing with a pulsing energy. The door fell away in flames as she launched her Dragon's Breath at the barrier, blackening and burning before her might. She took her place in the center of the main hall and waited for the feeling masses to scurry in, screaming and weeping in fear. They cowered before her, horrified by her rotted flesh and skeletal grin. It wasn't taking long for it to fill with bodies, stopped before her, waiting to see if she would let them pass. With a roar a fierce wind began to whip around the gathered servants and guards, pushing and shoving them against the marble walls and each other, tearing their possession from their hands. As it grew in strength it began to tear at their very souls, sucking them out of their bodies, whipping them into a frenzy as flesh after flesh fell to the ground devoid of life. It ripped into every person their, leaving their hollow shells behind, bringing their wailing souls to Vorel who stood waiting, mouth open, devouring them all as they flowed around her. The task of exerting her will over the wills of every person she ingested was an easy task, bolstered by her pact with the dark god watching over her. The majority of the castle dead, it was time to turn her sights to the prize she wanted most- the soul of the king himself, Lord Lucidian. Her wait was not very long. He approached the sea of bodies with a look of mingled disgust and hatred etched on his regal features. In his hands he gripped a long steel blade, glistening in the silvery moonlight filtering in through the windows.
"I had hoped it would not come to this, Viscount. I came to you offering friendship, and you threw it in my face. I would be lying if I said I wasn't going to enjoy this after the way you treated me." Lucidian spared no words. The viscount charged at the necromancer, hate filling his brown eyes as he readied his dangerous blade. Vorel was ready, however, and filled with the fury of Sot-Amenthotep. At her command the mass of corpses began to shatter and break, creating a vortex of gore and shards of bone that surrounded her like a shield. Through the bone storm Lucidian charged, burying his blade deep in the necromancer's stomach. His blow came at a large price, however, his flesh torn and ripped asunder by Vorel's defensive spell. She cackled as he fell to his knees and wrapped a bony hand around his throat.
"Thanks for your hospitality," she whispered, chuckling as her hand began to drain the tattered remnants of his body of all remaining life and liquid. Lucidian withered and cracked, collapsing in on himself in a could of dust. The queen left the castle, brushing the stone as she past it, sending the whole building crumbling to the ground with a flood of entropic force from a quick spell. Her horde of undead waited for her outside, silent, coated in blood and innards as they awaited her next command. Vorel cast a glance over the dead city, taking quick stock of every building, every unanimated corpse.
Vorel mounted the bleeding corpse of a camel, probably from her caravan, and slowly began to release her spell. The corpses she had raised began to fall to the ground, devoid of the energy to stay mobile. At last she was alone. A quick jaunt to the charred barracks proved to be fruitful, as she discovered her books and weapons tossed haphazardly into a corner. With the last of her Aora reserves she realigned herself with the strange, hooked sword and silver staff, feeling the creature around her beginning to heal itself as the powers of the artifacts flooded her once more. She exited the city then, smiling to herself, a fetid shadow against the raging orange inferno that had once been Visharna, one of the greatest strongholds in the country.