Part 3 of the Grendel Rising series
|White light cast shadows that contrasted sharply with the stone walls that had been lined with chalk. Behind him, the door sealed with a faint click. Grendel knew he would have to open it again from his side, if he wanted to leave. It wasn't the best of security measures, but the things born here weren't likely to take hostages. Besides, if he was dead, the door would refuse any password and Hienriche would be more than disappointed if he acted under coercion.
The hallway stretched on, two thick oak doors on either side. Grendel knew both were empty. He stepped forward smoothly, steadily, alert. Two more cell doors were revealed by his light, then the beginning of the intersection.
"I sense undead on either side of us, master," Anjel said, sounding anxious.
"Worried for my safety, spirit? There are many stored here," Grendel replied.
"I wouldn't want your skin to be torn," she purred. "And I wouldn't like to be trapped down here. I hate dungeons.
"Oh, and they're getting closer," she added.
Grendel cursed himself for a fool and stepped back to the intersection. A moment later he started to hear shuffling, then the faint rattle of chains. A figure stepped into the light from the left. Another appeared a step later on his right. They both wore rags soaked yellow and red. Their hair was stringy and their eyes rotten pools in their head. Yellow teeth, gums withdrawn, bared and worked with hunger. Their hands were broken and bloody, as if they'd smashed through some obstacle, and manacles with a few snapped chain links jingled on their wrists. The smell of them might have overpowered the necromancer if he wasn't used to it. They shuffled towards him, arms outstretched, quicker than Grendel expected. He had to act quickly or flee in fear.
Grendel raised his wand, closed his eyes, and channeled his will to live and his will to dominate into it. The bone glowed black and the witchlight withdrew to his shoulder. Twin rays of black energy shot out into the foreheads of the two zombies.
Grendel felt the two simple minds whose brains they inhabited had turned to mush. Negative energy fueled what little intact tissue was left and would replicate it once there was nothing left at all. Their minds crawled and squirmed restlessly as worms boring blindly through the dirt. Grendel grasped them with his own mind and held them firmly.
Speaking in the arcane language of command he said, "Undead, you are mine. I am Grendel, of Nagash. You will obey. You will stand still and hunger no more. Undead..." Grendel repeated himself once more and felt their slow minds ease into acceptance under his metal grip.
Grendel opened his eyes. The zombies had stopped in their tracks, just short of touching him. Their arms at their sides, they stood slack-jawed and blind, awaiting commands.
"Beautiful job, master," Anjel purred.
Grendel was about to rebuke her when hideous laughter and meaningless babble echoed down the left corridor.
"What was that?" Anjel inquired, her shyness seemingly overcome.
"Our newest guest has awakened. I am to Bind it, much like these two." Grendel was curious how they could have freed themselves, though it wasn't unheard of.
Grendel stalked down the hallway, which had many more cells than the main branch and came finally to the source of the ever louder cacophony.
The steel door was ringed by white warding glyphs. Similarly, the sliding view port was warded. From beyond the door, no movement was heard, but it sounded as if a dozen men screamed, laughed and ranted unintelligibly beyond. The sound seemed to resonate in his head uncomfortably.
Grendel read the glyphs Hienriche had painted there and began to prepare a similar ward for himself. He found an ink pot and small brush in his hip pouch and mentally reviewed the glyphs needed.
"Please, sir," Anjel said, "Allow me."
Despite himself, Grendel was pleased at the offer. "All right, Anjel. What do you need?"
"Simply use your knife to write the key glyph on your forehead and I'll take over from there." The key was either the opening or closing glyph in any written spell. It generally denoted the target of the magic or any special boundaries.
Grendel unsheathed his dagger and brought it up to his face. The thin, wavy blade reflected the witchlight brightly. Taking a deep breath, he carefully brought the point against his head. He had to concentrate greatly to produce the symbol in reverse. When he'd finished, Grendel wondered if it had been worth the trouble, as blood was beginning to flow down his nose, but decided that anything that saved him some time was useful.
"Very nice...'" Anjel said, her voice in his head trailing off. Grendel heard a distant whispering, though with the unrelenting noise from cell, it was barely audible. The whispering grew in volume rapidly and tiny spheres of his blood began to spin around him wildly. Where they hit him, they splashed and sank in. On his skin, Grendel could see the blood spreading beneath the surface as a black tattoo.
The swirls and whorls of the glyphs felt pleasantly warm and the voices from the cell seemed more distant as the last droplets settled into his skin. "All done, master. These should last about a day before fading and be much stronger than inked glyphs."
Though the wound on his head no longer bled, Grendel wiped the residual blood from his nose and said, "Thanks. There's nothing that can be done. Let's head in."
"What is it, Master? In there?"
"An Allip. You'll see."
Grendel tapped the door's lock with his wand and spoke the word to unlock it. The moment he did so, there was nothing to be heard from the other side. Grendel worried he'd gone deaf, but he could sense the ward was still up. It was waiting for him.
He swung the door open and the smell of bodily fluids washed over him, making him gag. He steeled his senses and stepped inside. As he did, the normally steady witchlight on his shoulder flickered and flared wildly. Shadows danced around the small room. A hanging figure twitched and grinned while something bulbous in its mouth lapped at the air. Something in the shadows moved; or was it mere shadows from the dangling fingers?
Grendel's heart skipped a beat and he spared a moment of concentration to maintain the light, lest it leave him the dark. No sooner had be done so did he realize his mistake.
A blast of noise, like a raging army of lunatics and madmen, overwhelmed his ears and battered his mind. Grendel had but a moment to see the writhing, formless thing that tore itself from the shadows. It was vaguely man shaped; there were arms, legs and a head, but that was where all resemblance ended. It was simply a mass of ever-changing black wisps that emerged, barreled through the hanging figure, setting it swinging, and reaching ropy black tendrils to Grendel's head.
As it made contact, Grendel heard every scream and gasp of pain he'd ever witnessed, along with the insane laughter of this spirit, though it had no mouth, blast through his mind. It crushed into his mind and Grendel bent every ounce of will to maintain his sanity. A hand grasped his head and Grendel could not resist it. There was another voice in his head, but he couldn't hear it. There was a sharp pain in his head. Then, nothing...
"... Father!" some shrieked. Grendel's eyes snapped open. Who had said that?
'"It was you, master. You passed out," said a voice above his ear.
Grendel lashed his hand out at the sound, startled. He only smacked his hand on a cold stone wall. The shack made him remember Anjel and aware of his sore head. In fact, Grendel discovered, he was lying on the stone floor. He couldn't see anything, but at least he couldn't hear that mad chorus in his head.
"What happened?" Grendel croaked, trying to find his voice.
"That... Allip, you called it, rushed you as soon as you entered. Only the ward kept your mind and body intact. I'm afraid I didn't notice sooner, but the distraction you suffered caused one of the zombies to go free. You were the closest thing living, so it grabbed you. I can't command the other one and I don't think you heard my warning. I acted with my own magic. I forced a splinter of skull from the back of your head and through the zombie's brain. I'll see if I can dull the pain."
Grendel sighed and sat up, his head throbbing. A felt through his pack and found a torch, which he lit with a simple spell from his finger, and held over his head. There were two others in the room with him. One swayed gently from a rope in the center, the other lay in a heap next to him.
Grendel tried to stand, to see where the other zombie was, but a wave of dizziness overwhelmed him.
"Easy now, I need some time to fix this," Anjel said.
"Maybe if you hadn't blasted a hole in the first place," Grendel snapped back.
"You'd be dead," Anjel said, hurt. "Just rest a while and talk to me."
"What is there to talk about? I'm a failure of a necromancer. How stupid was I to even think about that light going out. I should have been focused...," Grendel lamented, but Anjel cut in.
"I meant talk about me. How did you know I was a harem girl?"
"You act like one, to be honest. Always twisting and exposing yourself. Trying to make me like you by displaying your assets. It's not so easy without a body, now is it?" Grendel heard a distant whimpering that echoed around the room.
"You really know how to make a girl feel wanted," Anjel said scornfully.
Grendel sighed. "I'll admit, my opinion of you changed quickly. Your magic is quite skilled. I do wonder how you came into that power."
"Considering my profession, you mean? There are more of us than you think, Grendel the Young. Blood is everywhere and when you live in the gutter, blood helps to relieve the pain. My former master had paid off the Conclave Testers. My talent was much more valuable to him than coin.
"And you would not believe the power of violent bloody sex mixed with my monthly bleed. If I couldn't use that power to kill that bastard slaver myself, I would probably have cut myself to death."
"When did that happen?"
"Two years ago. It's hard to tell. I didn't last long without his protection. I had to hide from the Conclave, who weren't getting paid off, of course, and from rival slavers. When the Conclave finally caught up with me, it wasn't really them. It was a necromancer who agreed to take me in and tell the Conclave I was dead. I had no choice; the dead were stronger than my magic. I'm glad I did, though. He didn't want me for sex, just assistance. I could make my own money and Nagash... Well that's between Him and I."
"You don't seem the type to just lie down to die. What happened that the Order punished you this way?"
"I said, that's private. I might tell you later, if you're nice." There was a pause where neither of them knew what to say. Anjel piped back up, "So, how's your head?"
"Sore, but better. Thank you." Grendel picked himself and the torch up, taking a moment to steady himself. He placed the torch in the nearby sconce. Flicking shadows danced around the room, making the figure seem more alive as he twisted and swayed gently from the rope.
He stepped over to the hanging corpse and nearly stumbled over a stool that had been knocked over. There were a pair of bloated feet hanging at chest height above a dried black stain. Tattered rags covered his legs and chest, a rope belt kept it all together. His head hung forward, a rough rope around his neck, and his bloated tounge and bulging red eyes gave him an almost comic expression to his death.
"Who was he?" Anjel asked.
"A murderer and rapist of children. Lyon Ophalli, I believe. He also suffered, if that word can be applied to him, from hallucinations that made his killings quite brutal and... messy," Grendel said as he reached into his pouch. "We, Hienriche and I, caught him last week. He seemed a perfect candidate to create an Allip, an undead of madness. We left the stool and noose inside after four days without food. His mental condition had greatly worsened by then. I documented all our steps. There's just one other..."
Grendel found what he needed, a pair of short-bladed and curved shears. "What are you doing?" Anjel asked.
"Taking what's mine, before I let the zombies clean up," he replied. Grendel reached up and grabbed a stiff hand. It took some effort, but he got the shears around a finger. With a sharp squeeze and a muffled snap, the digit dropped into his hand. He wrapped it quickly in cloth and placed it his pouch.
"Why do you need his finger?"
"We all have our rituals. Having a piece of my victims, for lack of a better word, gives me power over them. Even if it doesn't, I want to remember it."
"That's sick," Anjel said in disgust.
"Don't give me 'sick'. Surely you've kept tokens of the people you've killed."
"Not their fingers," she conceded.
"Finger or ear; it doesn't matter really. Don't be sore at me because you can't have your mementos back."
Anjel said nothing in reply, so Grendel withdrew his dagger from his belt. He deftly sliced a short string of runes on the corpse's arm. Noisome fluid oozed out and glowed with a dull red light. Grendel stepped back and spoke a few words of power in the black language of demons. Immediately, the corpse's arm ignited into flames. The flames, a deep unnatural red, spread very quickly to the entire body as smoke billowed up to filled the ceiling of the cell. Once the body was engulfed, the red flames flared to a white, smokeless inferno. Grendel stepped back further just before the rope burned through and the body fell into a heap. In another minute the flames went out, having exhausted all their fuel, leaving only cracked, blackened bones and grey ash.
Grendel turned and removed the torch from the sconce. He left the cell, his nostrils burning from the smoke. As he passed the zombie waiting outside he ordered it to follow him and gave its brain a mental squeeze to motivate it. The corpse shambled obediently behind him
"Can you find it, Anjel?"
"I will try." Faint whispering floated above Grendel's head. After a moment, Anjel cried, "It's..."
Her voice was drowned out by the wave of screams and ranting behind him. Grendel was prepared this time and, with the ward to bolster him, resisted the effects. The sound the Allip made still drowned out all other sounds, but his thoughts were still his own.
Grendel spun and ordered the zombie to grab the Allip. The corpse rushed to obey and lumbered towards it. The cries of anguish and terror intensified briefly and Grendel gasped while he fought to keep control. Abruptly, the focus of the Allip's rage changed focus and Grendel found himself nearly deafened by silence.
He took the opportunity to trace a burning sigil in the air and he shouted a phrase in the Infernal tongue. The mark on his forehead, which had rapidly healed the other day, flared like an uncovered coal and heat filled Grendel's body. He channeled the fire through his arm into his wand. At that moment the zombie, immune to the Allip's attack, as it had no mind of its own, reached its arms around the shifting form.
A thick jet of sooty, oily fire streamed from the tip and struck both the zombie and Allip. The animated corpse ignited in bright lames, but it hung it, not caring. The Allip, however, didn't burn but it was injured as trendrils evaporated. By this time, it had realized the zombie couldn't be mind blasted, so it began to shred at the undead flesh with its tendrils as it renewed a psychic attack on Grendel. Distracted as it was, it couldn't do more than shout nonsense at him.
Grendel knew he had little time as the jet of fire sputtered out and the cacophony of the Allip's victims echoed in his head once more. The zombie tried to bite the Allip ineffectually in defense, but it held on. However, bones were being exposed as the Allip tore chunks off it.
Grendel dropped the torch but kept his vision locked onto the Allip. He couldn't afford to lose track of it if it escaped from the zombie after all. With his free hand, he began to weave a complicated sigil in the air. Each letter of spell burned into existence, then faded to be replaced by the next. With his wand, he wrote a separate series of glyphs. These glowed with a cold blue light and the whorls remained visible, becoming a bright wall in front of Grendel. When the large diamond shaped glyph was finished, he incorporated the last few Infernal characters into it and spoke the command word, "Shar'ough Nadagna."
The spell flared to life and the blue and fiery characters spun in concentric circles. Abruptly, they flew towards the Allip to encircle it. The blue glyphs, near the Allip's head, coalesced into an dark iron band as thick as two hand-spans while the burning glyphs, around its middle, became a ring of fire the same width. They constricted as Grendel focused his will. They pressed against the smoldering flesh of the zombie. The iron band slid through it like so much clay, snapping bones as it went. The ring of flame merely cut through it, as if the zombie wasn't there, but the burning innards let up noxious smoke. When the rings had passed through completely, the corpse fell away in three pieces into a heap, throwing up a putrid cloud of ash.
The iron band completely encircled the mass the Allip called a head, thus blocking its cries and blinding it. The fiery ring bit into its middle, immobilizing its formless arms and causing it great pain.
These were known as the Rings of the River Oblivion. It was a combination of necromantic and demonic magic and only known to the Order of Nagash. It was the best way to restrain an unbound undead and a few lesser demons. The theory goes that, though silver is most harmful to undead, a silver ring would be too destructive. Cold iron, though, stilled the undying mind's control over its form. The ring of infernal fire was to instill dominion through pain. A ring of fire alone would simply be broken. It was said to be the opposite for demons, though Grendel had never tried. They appreciated being bound even less than the dead and were supposed to be allies. Undead, with a few rare exceptions, are guaranteed to be hostile towards the living while demons preferred negotiation.
Grendel was grateful the Allip was young enough to fall for that ploy and more over that it had worked. The zombie wouldn't have lasted much longer.
The Allip's head lolled from side to side slowly and the tendrils of its body twitched lazily. Surely it raged internally, but there was no escape unless it could break the magic. Lyon was no mage, though.
Grendel began writing a Binding circle in the packed dirt floor. "Is it safe?" Anjel asked.
"Should be," Grendel replied, keeping one eye on it as it slowly writhed. "How is the ward?"
"Then I'll begin."
"Wait!" Anjel cried. "You're going inside? Isn't the circle to protect you? Can't you bind it from here?"
"The circle is to keep it from escaping again. An undead of this potency requires a much stronger bond. There's too much of the living mind inside it. Now be quiet and do not interrupt; I have to concentrate." Anjel did not reply.
Grendel kept his wand up and ready, dark energies twisting around it, as he stepped carefully into the circle. The Allip made no move. Grendel touched the tip of his wand to the metal surrounding the Allip's head. His wand flared black and a connection was abruptly made.
The screams and pleas of uncounted victims filled his ears. Lightning quick images of tears and white flesh tearing dominated his mind's eye. Grendel conjured an ancient sigil of command and forced it to the surface of his mind. Silence! Grendel shouted. He wasn't sure if he'd spoken it aloud.
As suddenly as the sounds and images began, they ceased. There was the soft sound of sobbing laughter, distantly, and the dream-like image of a girl dancing in a dilapidated studio, then a haggard man mimicking the same moves, and back again. Grendel thought the words with the same will he had mustered with the zombies, I am speaking to the thing called Lyon Ophalli. I am Grendel. You belong to myself and my Master Hienriche. We are necromancers and chosen by Nagash to command you. Submit.
I remember you, a voice said, deep, gravelly and stinking of decay, You put me in that cell. Left me there to rot and burned my pretties. You aren't Conclave. The single dancing girl became a troupe of childen holding hands that circled a huge nude man with a shaggy beard. They would fall down, get up, and start again.
I made you, Grendel said, leaving no room to argue. And your crimes are irrelevant to me except as a tool to make you. Submit to me.
Lyon continued as if Grendel hadn't said anything, The divine told me to do it. They were the only way to bring her back. She's trapped inside a girl somewhere... Or all of them? I get... Confused. The man looked up at Grendel. You took the key!
Silence!, Grendel commanded sharply. I will throw you back in the River if you are of no use to me. Submit.
One of the children, a small boy hiding in a dim corner Grendel hadn't noticed looked up. Please, no! He sobbed. It's so cold and they laugh and push me under and pull me back. Did I drown?
Yes, Grendel replied without emotion. He knew he could not afford sympathy for it was likely a trick to lower his guard.
Submit, he said again to the bearded man. There will be other voices to join yours if you submit. I will not ask again.
Other voices? he pondered, the children pawing at the man's body affectionately. Some new voices spoke of you, asked of you like I knew... No! I will eat your mind as I did...
Grendel did not, could not, let him attempt to escape the lengthy binding spell Grendel had been quietly casting while the two had conversed. The dark magics that wreathed the Allip suddenly collapsed. The voices inside it coalesced into the single screaming voice, and mind, of Lyon.
Grendel mustered his willpower and focus and forced them into the Allip's mind. Lyon Ophalli, now Allip, you belong to Nagash. I am Grendel, necromancer of Nagash. I command the will and authority to dominate you. You will submit. Grendel spoke this three times and with each utterance he felt Lyon's will to resist dissolve and the illusion of the studio faded until only the bearded form remained; small and alone in the dark. Soon, there was nothing left but obedience and hunger.
Whom do you serve? Grendel asked cautiously.
The eternal Nagash and his servants, the Allip replied, a chorus of voices echoing in unison. I hunger for the minds of my enemies.
Am I your enemy? Grendel probed.
No, you are the master who will feed us new minds, it replied.
In time. I will free you and you will follow. The Allip did not reply and the image of Lyon faded away.
Grendel found himself back where he was, inside the circle with the bound Allip. The torch outside the border had burned out, leaving only the burning ring to illuminate the corridor. Grendel's bone wand no longer touched the metal cap and the Allip still swayed slowly.
"By Nagash, you were in there a long time. Did it work...?" Anjel said.
"Silence!" Grendel hissed. "I'm about to find out. Be prepared."
Grendel stepped back slowly, keeping his wand at the ready. He looked away only to ensure he didn't touch any of the runes as he stepped over the circle, but was confident that Anjel watched for him. Grendel wanted to have at least one other barrier between him and it if the Allip had deceived him.
When he was outside, he drew the small sigil to dispel the Rings holding the Allip. The firey ring evaporated into smoke and the iron band dissolved into black dust. The runes of the circle glowed more brightly and faint whispering leaked through the arcane barrier.
"Can you hear me?" Grendel asked.
"Yes," Grendel heard the reply from all directions from a dozen hushed voices, "But I cannot follow you."
Grendel was about to move forward when Anjel spoke, "Do you think that's wise? You've bound it. Why not let Hienriche come claim it?"
"I came down here to bind it and I will not inconvenience my Master by wasting his time collecting it because I was afraid. No, I will present it to him as he expects," Grendel replied.
Grendel stepped to the edge of the circle. Using his wand, he drew a tall arch above the runes, which darkened. The Allip slid forward on its tendrils as Grendel backed away.
The hushed whispering grew in volume, but was subdued. The mind inside the Allip was still insane, much stronger spells would be needed to silence it completely, but it appeared no longer dangerous.
"Follow," Grendel ordered and turned his back on the Allip. He tensed as he prepared for an attack, but none came. He took a deep breath and they made their way back to the dungeon's door, which he opened without difficulty. Draenos waited for him on the other side. Grendel would have been surprised if it had been anyone else. As Hienriche's head servant, he was the only one who knew what they did, though not why. He was only an Inept after all, albeit one with private habits nearly as twisted as a necromancer's. Hienriche let him indulge in them from time to time as reward for loyalty.
He was about to speak, but his jaw flapped uselessly when he saw the shifting black form behind Grendel. "It's been subdued, Draenos. Out with it," Grendel said.
Draenos caught himself and wiped an errant drop of spittle from his chin. "Master Peiter, mi'lord Hienriche is waiting for you in the fifth lab. I daresay he's rather impatient with you," he said.
"I'll head right up then. And it's Grendel now."