I again woke to screaming, and again it wasn’t my own. I wasn’t sure if I preferred it that way or not.
Looking around blearily, I took in a rather curious sight- Dozens of bodies filled the room, each in the colors of Micheal’s house of Vord, and each armed and armored as though to go to war. To compound this strangeness, all of them were facing the door as though a monster was about to lunge through it, spears lowered and swords bared, with sweat clear on more than a few faces.
Looking to my side, I found that Micheal was seated in his chair, which had been moved to sit beside me. Wrapped around one of his hands was a chain, and the other end of that chain was attached to the source of the screaming. Unsurprisingly, it was the girl, Eve, and she was doing everything in her power to kill Micheal with words alone. Unfortunately for her, that was all she could do, as she was pinned to the ground by one of Micheal’s booted feet.
“Hello Micheal. What’s all this? Expecting visitors?”
He chuckled, but it was forced and strained. Looking closely, I could see a few beads of sweat above his collar.
“No, no, just taking some precautions. There are some unsavory thieves about tonight, and I worry that they might be coming for what is mine.”
Eve jeered from under his foot.
“Ha! It’s Jessa and the others! I told you they’d come-”
He kicked her, hard, and she yelped in pain and fell silent.
“As I was saying, there are a few thieves about. My guards above should be more than enough to deal with them, but on the off chance they manage to slip by, I decided to take precautions with the most valuable pieces of my collection.”
Meaning his life, the girl, the book, and me. I grinned wryly.
“But to cram all these guards into one room? These must be some fearsome thieves indeed.”
“Well, they aren’t run-of-the-mill bandits, I’ll admit that. But my guards should be more than a match for-”
The door blew off its hinges, slamming into several guards and knocking them for a loop before sliding to a stop directly before me. I slowly turned my attention to the doorway as several figures emerged from the gloomy corridor beyond. First came a tall young man in heavy armor, a faceless helm protecting his head from harm while leaving his youthful face clear. Behind him came another man, this one older and leaner, a short bow clutched in his hands and a black cloak over his shoulders. A tall woman followed, short red hair framing a hard face and two curved blades clutched in her hands. What came next was an odd sight- A squat man, bound in armor and a warhammer clutched in both his hands. Bringing up the rear came a young woman, wrapped in a brown cloak and bearing a staff in one hand. The other hand came up to pull back her hood, letting long raven hair fall past her shoulders, and freeing her head to swivel about the room until it locked onto Micheal- and Eve.
I could feel the anger in her voice, even at the distance which she stood. I was almost surprised Micheal didn’t simply drop dead from the venom in her word. I coughed a laugh.
“More than a match indeed, Micheal. Though not in the way you expected, I suppose.”
He shot me a glare, then refocused his attention on the woman with the staff.
“I suppose by ‘you,’ you would mean me? Duke Micheal et Vord, ruler of these lands and representative of His Majesty the King?”
The woman scoffed and spat.
“Some Duke, kidnapping children and killing his people! You’re just some scum, scum that we’re going to clean up.”
I snorted at that.
“How noble. And in all fairness, Micheal is hardly the first Duke in such a way. In fact, he is rather close to the norm that I can recall.”
She turned her head slightly, locking ice-blue eyes on my dangling form.
“And who the hell are-”
Micheal slammed his hand into the arm of his chair, refocusing the attention on himself.
“He is nobody- You are speaking with me. And you-”
He shot me a venomous glare.
I shrugged as best I could, but lapsed into silence nonetheless. I wanted to see how this would turn out. Micheal nodded once, then turned back to the intruders.
“Now then, where were we. Ah, yes- You have intruded onto the land of a representative of the King, essentially baring your blade against the kingdom itself. If you wish to survive such a mistake, I would advise you to lay down your arms and beg for my forgiveness.”
He was lying, of course- Micheal never forgot a slight, nor did he forgive, If they surrendered, they were going to die. If they were lucky.
The raven-haired woman laughed. It was not a happy sound.
“Do we truly seem that stupid to you, Duke of Vord?”
I couldn’t help it- I had to interject.
“Well, you did invade his mansion with less than ten people, so…”
She turned again to glare at me.
“Again, who the hell are you? And the seven of us are more than a match for any Duke’s army.”
Seven? Ah, she must be counting the two children. It seemed as though they hadn’t realized the unfortunate reality yet. I decided to enlighten them.
“Perhaps. Though, I’m afraid to say you’re down to six now-”
I was cut off, quite literally, as Micheal exploded from his seat to drive a dagger into my throat, blocking my windpipe and preventing me from saying anything more. But the damage was already done. I looked past the bobbing handle of the blade still stuck in my throat to watch as the woman slowly scanned the room, searching for something I knew she wouldn’t find. Her gaze eventually settled on Eve, who nodded tearfully to the unspoken question. A grim silence seemed to envelope the group of intruders, and the closest of Micheal’s guards drew back slightly out of fear.
“You bastards. You are all going to die.”
The words were hardly more than a whisper, but everyone heard them- They seemed to echo around the room, as though spoken from thousands of tiny mouths. As the words echoed, the raven-haired woman raised her staff and began to chant in a low, steady voice- A caster, then.
Her party sprang into action before the guardsmen could even register what was occurring- The warrior lunged forward, his blade cleaving heads from shoulders in a whirlwind of violence. Beside him, the red-haired woman danced, a barely-controlled dervish of blood and rage. Behind them, the man with the bow sent arrow after arrow into the crowd, each twang of his bowstring the death knell for another man. And woe betide any opportunistic guardsman who might think to lunge after the archer or the caster- For each who tried, there awaited the short man’s warhammer, and an impressively messy end.
In all, it was one of the most one-sided massacres I had ever witnessed, and I’d seen more than a few up until that point. They were truly an impressive group.
But for all their prodigious blood-shedding, they weren’t making much progress towards their goal- There were still dozens of guards in this room alone, and I knew Micheal kept a few hundred close at hand whenever he was at this manor. Or rather, that’s what the old duke had done, and Micheal took after him in most ways. Regardless, if something didn’t change soon, the party would be overrun by sheer numbers- Already, there were cuts lining the red-haired woman’s arms, and the archer was having to reach ever farther into his quiver for arrows.
Almost as though my thoughts had reached her, the caster suddenly threw her arms wide and screamed a single word.
Immediately, every member of her part threw themselves flat against the blood-splattered floor, except for the caster herself. Instead, she thrust her arms downward, almost as though she were throwing some great weight down upon the ground.
The effect was impressive, to say the least.
Every guardsman in the room was thrown off his feet and sent tumbling backwards as an invisible force surged from the caster. The surge didn’t stop with the guards either, rolling out from the caster in every direction until it impacted upon the walls, embedding the hapless guards in the stone. When the surge struck me, I could feel my bones breaking and crushing, almost as though someone were striking me repeatedly with a great hammer. The surge also tore the knife from my neck, taking with it a significant chunk of my throat and sending an impressive gout of blood up and into my face. Before I could blink the gore from my eyes another surge struck me, harder than the first. More bones crumbled.
Then another surge.
And another after that.
After the fifth surge, the caster seemed to be spent. A good thing, too- The walls couldn’t have taken much more. As it was, the room was awash in gore from the dozens of crushed bodies now splayed about. Beside me, Micheal’s body was little more than paste-stained robes, while my own body seemed to be more a bag of jellied flesh than any true vessel of life.
Really now, I hadn’t even done anything to them.
That said, something good had come from the abuse that had been heaped upon me and my helpless body- The chains holding me up hadn’t fared any better than myself, and had shattered after the third surge. Which was why, when the final surge faded away, I flopped to the ground with an ignominious thud.
“Halls below, Jessa! There’s hardly anything left of ‘em!”
That was the short man, who was carefully picking himself up off the ground while attempting to avoid setting his hand in any jellied guardsman. The caster swayed slightly, then shook her head defiantly and straightened up.
“What of it? They were a bunch of murderers, rapists, and kidnappers. They deserved worse.”
The short man shook his head as the other party members slowly stood and surveyed the damage.
“Not what I meant, lass. You pushed yourself too hard- Look, you can barely stand. What if there were more?”
“There aren’t though, are there? Enough, Radd- I know you’re worried about me, but let’s just focus on Eve and- On Eve. We can talk when we get out of this charnel house.”
She glared at Micheal’s remains.
“I want to be far away from that sick fuck as soon as possible. Leric, check on Eve. Radd, Tor, search this floor for anything useful. Daniel, watch the door- I’m going to see if that psycho had anything on him.”
I lay silently as the party splintered, allowing my body to knit itself back into whatever semblance of health it still retained. I watched as the caster, Jessa, picked her way carefully across the room towards myself and Micheal’s body while the red-haired woman moved towards where Eve lay. The girl had thrown herself down when the party did, but that hadn’t protected her from the gouts of blood created when a man gets crushed to death. She was now sitting up, knees to her chest, painted in the blood of her would-be captors. It seemed as though she had been right after all- She wasn’t going to die here.
Beside me, Jessa grimaced as she knelt down to pick carefully at Micheal’s gore-stained robes. I doubted she would find much- Micheal wasn’t one to carry much, he preferred to use his servants as pack mules. If anything, what she was likely to find was…
I bit back a sigh as she pulled the book from within the robes, miraculously undamaged and untouched by blood. I had almost hoped it was destroyed by the surges, though I knew that my continued survival gave the lie to that hope.
“What is it, Jessa?”
The armored young man had noticed her find, though he kept his attention focused on the entrance to the room. A look of concentration flashed over her face in response.
“I’m not sure. It looks like a book, but it’s practically dripping with energy, almost like some sort of altar. And these gems, I’ve never seen anything like them…”
Almost as though in a trance, she let her fingers stretch towards the golden clasp of the book.
“I wouldn’t, if I were you.”
She whipped around, as did the red-haired Leric and the armored Daniel. As a trio their eyes locked onto myself, who was now propped up against the wall- My legs were far too atrophied to stand upon. I gave a strained grin.
“I really wouldn’t try and open that book- It’s extremely fond of two people, but all others who try to open it are in for a truly unpleasant surprise.”
Jessa backed away from me quickly, while Daniel hurried forward to stand between us. Leric moved around to shield Eve from any further conflict.
How cute- They were afraid of emaciated little me.
“What- How are you still alive?”
That was from Jessa. I smiled sadly in response- I used to wonder the same thing.
“He has to be an undead!”
That from Daniel, whose sword was now pointed firmly at me. Leric shook her head from the back.
“Impossible! The undead aren’t sane, you know that! Most can’t even make words, let alone speak actual sentences!”
“And who said I was sane? But you are correct- I am not an undead, though some days I do wish that were the case.”
You can destroy an undead, after all.
Jessa’s frown deepened from behind Daniel’s back.
“Then what are you? Nothing should be able to survive a knife in the throat, and being crushed to paste.”
“And yet here I am. Also, I am under no obligation to answer you, so I don’t think I will. Now, if you’d kindly hand that book over to me, I’ll leave you all to your merry adventures.”
She clutched the book tighter in her hand.
“This is an incredibly powerful artefact- Why would I ever just hand it over to you?”
I sighed condescendingly.
“Because it’s mine. And you really don’t have a choice- I’m just trying to be polite.”
It was Daniel’s turn to frown.
“What do you mean it’s yours? And was that a threat?”
I shook my head.
“No, it was a statement of fact. Think about it- Neither blades nor magic can put me down. How would you stop me from taking it back? But that’s beside the point- I don’t even need to take it by force. See?”
I snapped my fingers, and barked a single word.
Jessa cried out in surprise a the same time as a loud pop filled the room, then stared at me with her mouth agape as I lightly tossed the book back and forth between my hands. A quick glance at her own hands would reveal them to be empty.
“How- How did you do that?! Teleportation of something with that mass should be impossible!”
I just shook my head.
“Again, I am under no obligation to answer you. Book–Clothes–Restore.”
Two more loud pops echoed throughout the room, and by the time the reverberations had ceased I was clothed again. It was a very old style of clothing- Rather, it was the very same outfit I was wearing when the book came into my possession. Black loafers, black slacks, black leather belt, white button down, black tie, and a black jacket- It had been centuries since I had attended a funeral that required such attire, but the memory of the last one haunted me still through my outfit.
The clothes hung like a flag on my bony frame, but even then the neck still felt too tight. I immediately reached up and tore the tie free from my neck, casting it aside to land in a puddle of blood, then refocused my attention on the party. Every one of them, with the exception of the two missing members, was staring at me, awestruck. Again, it was Jessa who spoke up.
“W- who are you? What are you?”
I sighed and tapped on the book thoughtfully, considering her question.
“As I told the little one hiding behind you, my name is Evren. As for what I am…”
I shrugged apathetically.
“I honestly couldn’t tell you. I’ve never met anybody similar to myself, nor found any mention of my situation in the many tomes I’ve read. But if you found yourself in need of a descriptor, I would probably go with ‘Immortal.’”
I chuckled weakly at their stunned expressions.
“Yes, feel free to call me Evren the Immortal. That should do nicely.”