The first chapter, explaining the origin of our mysterious heroes.
|A boy sat hunched by a crackling fire, gnawing on the remnants of a roasted rabbit. Grease dribbled from lips consuming the cooked flesh ravenously, stopping only to lick savory juices off chubby fingers. Orange flames writhed, casting shadows in a frenzied dance.
They played along the walls of the cave; quivering silhouettes melding into amorphous shapes, twisting until they became unrecognizable. But despite the poor lighting and flickering flames, there was one thing within that grotto that failed to cast even the smallest of shadows.
The boy leaned back, patting his stomach contently. Bones lay scattered around the child as he basked in the comforting heat, obsidian eyes observing the flickering flames. Eventually disinterest crept across his face, turning his gaze to the ivory remains. The rabbit skull grinned. The boy smiled back.
Concentrating, he breathed deeply and blew on the rodent’s head.
Dust swirled as a small gust swept over the skeleton. Within the empty sockets, a cold light blossomed. Rattling, the bones quivered into place until the frame was complete. Then wisps of darkness took the place of sinews, allowing the dead rabbit to take its first steps in unlife. The animal sat on its hind legs, sniffing with nonexistent nose.
From the back of the cave, in a dark corner where no light could ever reach, a voice hissed. The gloom shifted, a living being of pure umbra pouring over the stone surface. “I’ve told you about playing with your food.”
Mikros pouted with childish indignation. “I’m bored!” He huffed, frowning.
With a musical rattle, the skeletal creature crouched near its creator, cowering. Roiling with irritation, the spectral shadow rose to the ceiling. “Disobedience is not a form of amusement.”
Sighing, Mikros waved a hand over the undead rabbit. There was a clatter as the magic was released.
“Can you tell me a story at least, Fyla? I’m sick of sitting around this stupid fire.” He stuck a lip out, eyes pleading.
The specter deflated, lowering until it was slightly taller than the fire. “Swear to me there will be no more mischief.”
Mikros nodded, clapping excitedly. “Yes, yes! I promise. No more food-pets.”
There was a pause as Fyla considered his sincerity, but finally the spirit relented. “Alright, one story. But tomorrow you have twice as many lessons.”
Waving impatiently, the boy agreed. “Whatever you say, that’s fine. I want to pick!”
Fyla floated over the fire, sparks flying through the ethereal haze. “What would you like to hear about?” It asked, voice crackling.
“Tell me abouttt….” Mikros narrowed his eyes in thought. “Tell me about my parents.”
A strange silence filled the cave.
Fyla slumped, groaning heavily. “This was bound to happen. Alright, child. It is time to learn of your past.”
Wrapping itself over the fire, Fyla formed gaps in the darkness, creating images that came to life on the walls and ceiling.
Enthralled, Mikros lay back and watched as the shadows told the tale of his birth.
“Many years ago, a great necromancer held a terrible power over these very lands. They called him Thanatos, God of Death.” A man stood on a mountain of bones, eyes like glowing embers.
“The people feared him, for he held sway over the realms of death.” The bones formed a castle and the man sat on a throne of skulls.
“But husks of the living are mere puppets with no desires of their own. Thanatos longed for someone who would challenge his will.” The necromancer sagged on his throne, waving listlessly as skeletons tended to his every wish.
“So one day, he left the Necropolis and disguised himself as a wayfarer.” The throne and castle swirled into a hooded cloak, which Thanatos wore.
Mikros sat wide-eyed in fascination as Fyla continued.
“He wandered lands he ruled, walking to the edge of his realm and beyond.” Thanatos strode past dead trees and bubbling swamps, craggy mountains and grassy valleys, until he reached a great forest.
“It was in the great forest Dimurgia, where the birth of all creation began, that he heard something which gave him pause.” The necromancer turned his head, looking through the trees.
“The sound was a woman singing, soft as a summer breeze and sweeter than any honey.” Hood swiveling back and forth, Thanatos searched for the source of the music.
“And suddenly, there she was. The most beautiful thing he had ever seen.” A woman danced in a ring of mushrooms, graceful and elegant. Thanatos watched from a thicket, entranced.
“She was a witch, a white witch who sang songs of magic to the trees and animals. Her name was Crysiphone, Golden Voice.” The trees swelled as the woman danced, animals creeping from the underbrush to watch her.
“Thanatos could bear it no longer; he sought to make himself known to the lovely maiden.” Stepping out from the thicket, the necromancer threw back his hood.
“The animals fled for they could smell death on his robes and feel the weight of his gaze.” The forest creatures vanished as Crysiphone stopped dancing.
“Crysiphone too, feared the stranger. It seemed the very trees trembled at his presence. But Thanatos knelt before her, swearing he would pledge his soul if she would have it. She didn’t know what to make of it, a necromancer’s promise. Could a god of death create life? She wondered as he bowed at her feet.”
The man prostrated himself, as she tilted her head in thought. Mikros beamed, witnessing his parents meet for the first time.
“After some time, Crysiphone agreed on the condition she was free to come and go as she pleased. Thanatos agreed, and summoned an undead steed to whisk them both to the Necropolis.”
From the ground, a shadow beast rose. After its passengers climbed on, the creature ran through the trees with great speed.
“At first, Crysiphone felt uncomfortable in the dead city, as it was never meant for the living. But so gracious was Thanatos and so kind that she grew accustomed to skeletal servants and never ending silence. She attempted to grow a forest in the barren land, but nothing would sprout from the cursed soil.
Left with no choice, Crysiphone would visit the forest Dimurgia from time to time, singing her songs of magic. Thanatos grew uneasy when she left his realm, each time he would ask her to take his strongest soldiers but Crysiphone would refuse with a smile. 'I need no protection,' she would say. 'I need only your thoughts to keep me safe.'
Years passed and love deepened between them. Crysiphone’s belly grew and she smiled. It seemed a necromancer could create life after all, she teased Thanatos. A few months before your birth,”
Mikros sat up, ears pricked as Fyla continued.
“The white witch pined for green trees and bird song. Pleading for her to stay, Thanatos could not sway her heart and the pull of the forest. This time, she agreed to be accompanied by two undead soldiers, if only to appease Thanatos’ worry.”
“But ill-fate struck, a bandit loosed an arrow which flew though a soldier and pierced Crysiphone’s breast. Enraged, the undead dismembered every bandit but the damage was done. Seeing through the eyes of his puppets, Thanatos rushed to side of his beloved. She smiled weakly at his touch. ‘The baby is coming’, she whispered. ‘But I do not have the strength.’”
Holding his dying love, the necromancer wept tears of bitter blood as Crysiphone sang her swan song.
“When her breath grew still and light faded from emerald eyes, he opened up her swollen belly and tenderly cradled baby Mikros.”
Frowning, the boy interrupted the spirit’s tale. “Why couldn’t father bring my mother back?”
Fyla drifted from the burning fire and hovered by Mikros. “Such a thing is impossible, child.” It said, softly.
“I still would have tried.” Mikros said defiantly, crossing his arms.
“Your father did as well. With all his might, Thanatos fought against the laws of nature. The earth cracked and heaven darkened as the lines between life and death blurred.”
“Did it work?” The boy inquired, half knowing what the answer would be.
“It did not.” Fyla hissed sadly. “With great despair, he mourned her death until a spark enkindled the fires of hate. Swearing vengeance, Thanatos fought a great war against the human race. His hatred was immeasurable, sending legions upon legions of deathless soldiers to stain the world with crimson blood.
Every race, both man and beast forged an alliance in order to bring an end to the ceaseless massacre. For years, the battle raged. But though he was powerful, Thanatos grew frail. Revenge is all consuming. Before long the stone trolls were beating at the Necropolis gates as harpies flew over the battlements, holding men in their claws.”
Thanatos imbued me with the last of his power before he placed you in my care. ‘Raise him well.’ He said, kissing your head one last time. When the armies burst into the throne room, they found Thanatos on his throne, withered and grey. As they approached him, the once great necromancer crumbled into a fine dust. With a shake, the Necropolis began to fall apart as the creatures and mortals fled the cursed city. And so ended the reign of Thanatos, God of Death.”
Fyla looked at Mikros, who had fallen asleep somewhere near the end of the tale. The specter gently touched his cheek with an ethereal hand. It began to sing a lullaby, rocking the boy back and forth.
Perhaps it was a trick of the light, a brief illusion cast by the fire. For a moment it seemed a woman was holding the sleeping boy, green eyes shining as she sang.