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The kingdom through the.., p.17
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       The Kingdom through the Swamp: The Courts Divided - Book 1, p.17

           Kell Inkston
 
CHAPTER FIFTEEN: THE DEAL

  Well out of sight from any chance onlooker, Love lifts the veiling magic off the necromancer and it continues to lead her through the thick woods north. The walk is fairly long in the dark, thirty minutes, but the two finally reach a long clearing. Love notes a distinctive drop in the temperature of the air when they step out into the field, and there is an eerie feeling about the atmosphere. The two of them step out a good ways, and then the feel of the ground changes. It sounds like the two of them are walking on piles of sticks, rather than earth. Love can still feel some soft grass under her shoes, but it’s only placed there to fool the absent minded. The necromancer, as if memorized, steps to a certain spot on these boards, and waves a hand.

  Slowly, creakingly, a hatch opens by itself, made of crude wicker and sticks. The necromancer steps aside and points down. It’s pitch black below. Love stares a moment, says “okay” and descends. The hatch closes behind her in the darkness.

  The next thing she feels is the invisible grasp of the necromancer’s abyss-home, the conjoined magic influences of all of the necromancers combined, attempting to take control of her. The hallway lights up to reveal spiraling, nightmare-like passageways, hewn roughly with foliage and wood. Even though she’s alone, she can feel the breaths of thousands upon her, all attempting to weigh her down and cause her surrender. All around her she hears moans, cries, and the lightest hints of intelligible speech through the thick walls. It’s as if she were overtaken by a horrible dream, in which nothing makes sense except the terror of one’s environment, and the threat of the unknown, slowly bearing its teeth for the kill. Her calm disposition is shattered, eyes widening to alertness, and teeth clenching securely to focus herself on her task; and then, it speaks.

  “COME DOWN,” it says, its voice forcing up through floor after floor of madness. To Meeo, its voice sounds like a weapon being strewn through a corpse without mercy, each syllable being another laceration. Meeo checks to make sure her feet are on the floor, and then sets off down the most illuminated hallway; the others are dimly lit, to appear non-existent. Through the godless lair Love walks, past the screaming of the glowing symbols, objects, and spirits surrounding her. She descends the first floor successfully, entering into another layer of insanities. Love is overcome with a feeling of assailment as she goes down the next hallway, composed of objects and items. It is as if she is being searched and inspected by an army of hands, scoping out everything up to her very soul, what they desire most. She hears music as she passes various doors and openings, filled with noises both arcane and terrible; the sounds all blend into a cacophony of weight, each note accommodating another with incredible accuracy. Love does her best to hold her mind to her task and ignore the atmosphere, but even then she cannot ignore when the necromancers pile on layer after layer of confusion and fear. She’s certain they’re attempting to break her before she gets to it; they must need her for something, and that’s why they’re trying to dull her sense of reality- to cloud her judgment.

  She pushes to the end of the second hallway and descends. The unintelligible speech sharpens into coherence; it is a thousand voices, singing: “The dead will return by the hands of the first,” again and again. The blackened chorus goes on and on, never stopping as Love forces each foot forward with direct, intense focus. The entire structure about her, even the air, is vibrating violently as she descends another hallway. She feels something soft under her and realizes that its flesh. The entire hallway is human matter. As the floor writhes and tangles at her every step, she forces herself down yet another floor, the volume of the singing increasing, and any light to be seen decreasing. Floor after floor she descends, meeting new horrors by the droves, finally to the ultimate floor. Everything is pitch black. The singing by this point sounds, and feels, as though she is surrounded by the chorus, singing from every direction, both around her and from her core. She stumbles across the hallway, ignoring the ear-shatteringly-loud voices in the darkness and pushing on to the final door, very old and made in archaic fashion.

  Suddenly the singing stops, and the atmosphere returns to normal; not quite the right word, more like the feeling one has right after waking up from a nightmare, and wondering if it’s over.

  This room is cold, large, and quiet. From the edge of her vision she can see something moving, just out of what she can identify. The enormous silhouette breathes, and Love can feel a long, icy breeze come forth. What looks like not just a forest, but a massacre, and a ruined building all twisted together heaves forward, raising its head to inspect its guest. The hideous amalgamation of matters, masked with the fashioned skull of a great forest spirit looks over Love with a saneless, soul-devouring gaze.

  “HEAR MY WORDS,” Oa, the first of the necromancers speaks with its masses of stolen vocal chords. Love can hear the voices of men, women, young and old in Oa’s voice, torn from the throats of hundreds.

  Love, usually a calm and collected kind of woman, the kind that sees a person’s demeanor as half of their value, is shaken. Tremors run through her body as she looks upon the defier of death and mincer of millions. She takes a moment to control the shivers down her spine, takes a breath of the icy air, and speaks herself.

  “Very well,” she says, only a slight uneasiness in her tone. Love can hear the eerie laugher of a hundred stolen voices gurgling from Oa’s long, thick throat.

  “AS YOU KNOW, I HAVE STOLEN SOME ONES DEAR TO YOU AND OTHERS LIKE YOU. I WILL RETURN THEM, UNHARMED, SHOULD YOU COMPLY TO MY WISHES,” Oa says, the stench of dirt and blood permeating each word.

  “I would have presumed as much. Whatever could it be that you’d want?”

  “I DESIRE TO STEP INTO THE FAIRY’S HOME, SLAY THE KING AND QUEEN, AND BE THE GUEST AT THE HIGH TEA MYSELF. YOU WILL WITHDRAW YOUR KNIGHTS, BE IT THROUGH ORDERS OR DECEPTION, AND I WILL STRIKE IN THE NIGHT. IN RETURN, I WILL GIVE YOU BACK YOUR TWO FLESHLINGS, AND YOU WILL HAVE MY WORD THAT I WILL BE A LONG FRIEND OF THE KNIGHTS. WE HAVE FOUGHT LONG, AND WE DESIRE NOT ITS CONTINUATION. WHAT SAY YOU?” Oa says, each syllable a nauseating quake vibrating through Meeo’s body. Love is quiet a moment, and Oa reaches forward a hand of its from the darkness; judging by the angle of its arm in regards to its face, Love imagines Oa to be well larger than a tower.

  In Oa’s giant hand woven from metal, flesh, and foliage, lies Aoline and Lain, unconscious and in their natural bearings. Love spots over the hearts of both of them is a magical seal burnt in right below the left breast. “TO ENSURE YOUR COOPERATION I HAVE TAKEN THE LIBERTY TO CHANNEL ONE OF MY OWN GREAT SPELLS UPON THEIR HEARTS. SHOULD I DISCOVER ANY KNIGHT AT THE FAIRY PALACE TOMORROW, I WILL ACTIVATE THE SPELL, AND THEY WILL LOSE THEIR LIVES, ALONG WITH ANY NEAR THEM; FOR A GREAT MAGIC EXPLOSION WILL DESTROY THEM ALL. I HAVE PREPARED THESE SPELLS FOR YEARS, AND YOU CAN BE CERTAIN THAT ALL OF LIEFLAND WOULD BE BUT DUST SHOULD EVEN ONE OF THEM DISCHARGE. BE YOU DISOBEDIENT, YOU MAY AS WELL EXPECT MANY MORE DISAPPEARENCES OF YOUR KIND. NOW, YIELD TO MY WILL, AND DO AS I SAY,” Oa booms, plopping the two naked teenagers on the ground and forcing its masked face forward into Love’s.

  Love, as she ponders the proposition, makes the uncomfortable realization that Oa’s mouth could accommodate about twenty of her. She pauses; simply staring into the dark purposeful eyes of the creature, and does her best to keep herself together.

  “I suppose I could do that,” she says as calmly as she can. Oa smiles, not that Love can see its face, but she can hear the objects and flesh churning together from behind its mask.

  “YOU WILL NOT REGRET THIS DECISION,” Oa says. Love nods.

  “But I suppose it is worth asking. What do you intend to learn at The High Tea?” she says while looking over the walls of necromancers surrounding her, peeking just out of her vision.

  “I HAVE WALKED THIS OMNIVERSE WE SHARE FOR MANY AN EON. I HAVE LEARNED HOW TO CHEAT, COMMAND, AND GIVE DEATH, BUT NOT HOW TO REVERSE IT. SHOULD I BE GIVEN KNOWLEDGE AT THE TEA, I SHALL REQUEST THESE METHODS. THEN FINALLY I CAN COMPLETE MY LIFE-LONG GOAL.”
r />   “Oh, and what might that be?”

  “YOU ARE SO CURIOUS?”

  “If you do not mind.”

  “I WILL TELL YOU NOT. YOU, A HUMAN OF EVEN THOUSANDS OF YEARS AGED CANNOT COMPREHEND THE MEANING AND IMPORTANCE OF MY MOTIVATIONS. SOON, I WILL HAVE BACK WHAT I HAVE DESIRED, AND WE CAN DIE THE WAY WE WERE MEANT TO,” Oa says.

  Love thinks on its words, and gradually, a smile crosses her face. Suddenly she feels more comfortable in front of her enemy, as she sees there is still a shred of what it used to be inside of that wreckage of flesh and things.

  “Hmm, Oa, were you a human once?”

  “I WILL INDULGE NO QUESTIONS.”

  “Oh, is that so? Even if you need me to get the knights to leave so it’ll be easier for you? If you want me to cooperate, I feel I am at least owed some sort of discussion of things,” Love says, crossing her arms right in front of one of the Royal Knight’s greatest foes. Oa is quiet a moment as it looks over Love and then laughs, sending another wave of chills down her spine.

  “YOU WILL DO AS I SAY BECAUSE I WILL KILL ALL OF YOU IF YOU DISOBEY ME.”

  “I would imagine you would have done it by now if you were so confident.” Some of the necromancers shake or quiver at her words, disgusted in their failure of weakening her resolve and logic before she reached their master. There is a long, cold breath coming from the stolen skull of the nature spirit.

  “... YOU SPEAK TRUTH,” Oa admits.

  “I promise I’ll keep it a secret too- how’s that?” Love says, issuing another heart-freezing laugh from Oa.

  “VERY WELL. I MUST SAY I TOO OFTEN UNDERESTIMATE THE CHARM OF THOSE FEW HUMANS; YOU SEEM TO BE OF THAT SORT. YAY, I WAS ONCE A BEARER OF COMMON SKIN, AND COMMON WAYS, BUT THIS WAS LONG BEFORE THE BIRTH OF EVEN YOUR DEAR REINEN.”

  “Quite a while then.”

  “YES, I HAVE NOT COUNTED THE YEARS, BUT I BEAR AGE OVER MOST OF HUMANITY’S KINGDOMS.”

  “I see, and if I may guess, the reason you want to the power of resurrection is to bring back someone?”

  “YOU SPEAK TRUTH. INSIGHTFUL; YOU MUST HAVE A GOOD MIND.”

  “Well, thank you ... a lady?”

  “DO NOT GIVE HER SUCH A DISGRACEFUL TITLE. SHE WAS THE STARS OF THE SKY, AND THE LIGHT OF MY EXISTANCE. EVERY MOVEMENT SHE MADE TRANCENDED ALL PHYSICAL FACETS AND KNOCKED ON THE DOORS OF MY VERY SOUL. SHE WAS A GODESS, MY DEAR WIY.”

  “Pardon me then. So I suppose you liked this Wiy quite a lot?”

  “AN UNDERSTATEMENT MOST DIRE. HER BEING WAS THE TRUEST AND ONLY QUALITY OF MY EXISTANCE. WH- ...” Oa breathes a sigh, “I HAVE NOT SPOKEN OF THIS TO ANYONE FOR AS LONG AS I CAN REMEMBER.”

  “It’s alright if you need time for the words.”

  “SHE WILL BE WITH ME AGAIN SOON- MY DEAR WIY. WHAT’S LEFT OF MY MIND AS A MAN IS EXCITED BEYOND WORDS. I ... HA ... HUMANS ARE TRULY PECULIAR. IN MY CHEST BEATS MORE THAN A HUNDRED HEARTS, WON FROM BOTH BRAVE WARIORS AND GREAT MINDS, BUT NOT ONE OF THEM HAS THE STRENGTH TO GO ON ABOUT THIS. BEGONE, DO AS I SAY, AND YOUR KNIGHTLINGS WILL BE SPARED.”

  “Oa,” Love says.

  “WHAT IS THIS?”

  “You understand that by killing Pitch and Tylvania, you will be taking their equivalents of Wiy from them. Don’t you think, perhaps for the good of the Omniverse as a whole, you-”

  “I WILL NOT BE SWAYED BY YOUR WORDS. MY DECISION IS FINAL AND YOUR ULTIMATUM WILL LAST UNTIL YOU ACT UPON IT. MEASURED AGAINST MY WIY’S LOVE, THEY ARE LIKE A MURDERER AND A VICTIM. THE VALUE OF HER IS WORTH A THOUSAND OF THOSE SICKENING EXISTANCES. YOU WILL SPEAK NO MORE ON THIS. BEGONE.” At that, Love nods, bows politely and picks up the two kids wearing nothing. She turns to leave, and then turns back the moment she comes to the realization she would be forced to carry two nude teenagers through the public streets of Liefland.

  “Certainly, but one last thing.”

  “... YES?”

  “Would you be so kind as to return their belongings? I understand you needed them in their ... hmm ... birthday suits to inspect them properly, but I feel they would get along better in the outside world with their clothes on,” Love says with a strange smirk. Oa waves his hand, and out of the dark a crowd of necromancers engulf Love and her two carried knights. A bit of shuffling of objects later and the two are back in their under-armor clothing. Love isn’t all that surprised they could clothe or de-clothe someone in a matter of seconds; they have had a lot of practice with specimens, she presumes.

  “GOODBYE. YOU WILL NOT SEE ME AGAIN,” Oa says as Love turns about to leave again. The door opens for Love as she steps toward it, revealing a better-lit and far less paranoia-causing environment than the one Love had walked through to get here earlier. The entire environment has now changed to a comfortable, rustic abode, complete with crackling fire, book cases, and leather-bound chairs. Love has heard rumors about necromancers being incredibly adept at manipulating their lairs, though she never expected the structure of the rooms to change as well. She walks up the well-lit wooden stairway back up to the surface, just as she had left it. Love starts back for Liefland with a fair bit on her mind, among them a hopefulness that the situation can still be won over.

 
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