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The Undead Slayer

Author: 
Andrei Pambuccian
Old Vault Category: 
fanfiction
Old Vault ID: 
23

"Then, will you give me your word?"

The central tower's doors would not open without it, and if they did, it would be only for one of the pair. Standing outside of the imposing stone circle, the man dressed in robes made his reply. He was clearly a priest, judged by both his speech and visage, for only a priest would be holding his hands in steel gauntlets when outside of them his only protection was that of a thick, black woolen cape overbearing plain linen robes. Once the vow was declared, it took only a flip of his complement's wrists to feel that, indeed, he had no evil intent. The paladin himself was certain before, but felt the need, as dictated in his scriptures, more important than his most sound judgement.

After all, they were the scriptures that had guided him throughout his life, those that brought his statuts as paladin of Helm, steered him by the god's wisdom with the god's precision throughout his blessed life, while never taking anything back. It was a blessed life indeed, that he had told himself during the prayers he spoke at the priests' side each time he saw the sun melt into the tall, milky mountains surrounding his sanctuary's valley. He prayed for that which he defended, goodness of soul and resolution against evil, like it was written in the scriptures he loved as his life, not because they equalled it, but because they were his life. Still he had rarely made such a prayer, for the evenings almost never saw him outside of a dusty catacomb or burial mound where the dead had been disturbed. He endured through each of these assaults with the gauntlets of his god clutched firmly in his hands, stepping out of all dangers with bones left shattered behind him.

He faced necromanciers, warlocks and dark spirits with the joy that is reserved only for the greatest moments of one's life. And after each test was over, he thanked his god for the blessed life he lived as a warrior against the undead. Indeed, it was the kind of blessing that one outside his sanctuary would reluctantly accept, seeing the demands overburden the rewards, though once he would finally forget the weight of those demands - an inevitable fact, due to this gift's tendency to shine off more light than it takes - the newly-bathed paladin would proudly wear the sparkling armor as symbol of his station, right to watch over those that could not protect themselves and holy mandate to remove all that is evil. Except, of course, for that evil which had been cleansed and payed for to the church officials. The paladin never understood, and consequently never cared for these activities, for their significance in the scriptures was vague, often conflicting itself over the pages written by various highfathers of Helm's clergy.

His sole interest was kept in fighting evil, as he learned of this interest joyfully from the first days of his life at the sanctuary, since he made his first vow... His first, most memorable vow! If the times he recited it out loud in his chamber had been counted, it would've been the hundred-and-fifteenth, spoken like the rest of them - unblemished and unchanged by his astounding, immaculate memory. That vow had seemed the proudest moment of his yet-meager life, but after ten years of fighting the undead, vows were amongst the most meaningless things in his scope.

This last one had to be verified by the new talent he posessed, the skill of finding evil in the hearts of men, even though it meant testing a priest of his own faith. It had to be verified, for if the cleric was not as lawful and good as he was demanded to be, by no means should the paladin even speak with him, as to do so would've been a violation of the sacred scriptures of Helm. Fortunately, the cleric wasn't by any lenght evil, therefore, not having any means to tell if he was truly good or lawful, the paladin bid him to show the way.

The tower was indeed imposing on first glance, but stepping inside one would find the cobwebs and dust at the very least undignifying. It was left in this state only that the priests would not risk disturbing the marks - now covered in a grey blanket - barring passage to the evil they buried long ago. That is why this sanctuary, shaped in four concentric circles, was ever built. Its presence, as holy place, was meant only to guard against the evil sheltered at its peak, and perhaps for this very reason its defenses were all oriented towards the inside. "For instance," the paladin explained to the cleric as they were going up the spiral stair, "the farthest wall is left plain, since it houses the priests' quarters and the temple-gatehouse. The middle wall, inside which most of the work is done, is where the servants live and do their tasks. It has about three towers, placed to form a perfect, balanced triangle. The closest wall, where we paladins stay, has five towers arranged as an even more perfect, balanced pentagon. It keeps the design plain this way, so that no one ever needs to leave his own wall, except the priests' personal servants, when they move things like meals and such about, or the priests themselves when they come to supervise. Finally, the central tower keeps the lich inside. Now that I've answered your question, I'm interested in hearing how you intend to defeat this lich which is said in the scriptures to be invincible." the priest nodded. He could see the farthest wall's base from a window that exposed the long road towards the temple-gatehouse. Twenty-five steps past, ninety more to go, he had plenty of time to explain. "The lich is, in fact, almost undead."

"Almost?" the paladin asked with doubt. "How can something, especially a lich (which we know from the scriptures to be classified as undead) be more or less so?"

The priest shook his head, smiling in relief, as if all doubts he had of his companion when they entered the tower had been shattered by this remark. "Undeath is not just the typical raising of a corpse. It is life, but in spiritual death. Why, then, do you think ressurection is any different from raising through necromancy? Because in ressurection, the spirit is cleansed, whereas in animation the spirit is tainted with the necromancier's unholy grip. Looking at it from this perspective, you will see that a lich, having ideals such as strenght and immortality - the very ideals that convince a mage to take up lichdom - keeps more of its soul than the mindless, animated variety. That is why a lich is almost undead." Sickened by concepts so far from the simple truth of Helm, the paladin thought the priest mad, and instead of listening to his heretic rants decided to count the number of steps passed. Forty-five, and they reached a window exposing yet again the grand road, though this time the farthest wall's top was exposed. The paladin wondered at the sight - he had never seen the height of this wall since his childhood days, and felt great memories come back in a slow, yet pleasant stream. He remembered the inquisitor, his mother's tears of joy and the beautiful, ocean-blue sack rattling as it went from the inquisitor's hand to his father's. He remembered the splendor of a priest's quarters, the just punishment he was given - and, later, gave to himself doubly - for trespassing ground holier than him, the indulgence he was promised for a fulfilled quest. The first quest in his life... How it pleased him to fulfill Helm's wishes in capturing the brigand and bringing her to justice, then seeing her soul cleansed as she vowed with the shining ring on her finger to serve Helm forever! It was the ordination of all things, that paladins must fight explicit evil and priests attempt to sway those of any hope towards the righteous path, as was written in the scriptures of Helm. Indulging in his memory as he was, he failed to notice the glint in his companion's eyes that had been watching the round symbol on each of his gauntlets' backs. "What is this to you?" the cleric asked as they stepped on the seventieth stone. Again the window was, like all others before it, turned to face the road running from exit to center of the sanctuary. They were so far up now, they could see the third tower of the middle wall with ease.

"The servants' quarters, you mean?"

"I was talking about the sign on your hand, the eye of Helm. Nevermind that, since you did open a good subject. What is it that needs so many servants - and so much noise - here in this sanctuary?"

"That's the smithy. I know it's odd, having a big foundry like that in a monastery, but the priests need it to make weapons. Sometimes a cart laden with gold, jewelry and gems, as well as the occasional damaged plate armor, comes in with a guard of unwashed soldiers in chain mail wearing many nobles' colors. That's about every lord in the area bringing in his tithe. For gratitude, the priests fix their gear and give them things like clothing, food, ammunition and fresh weapons, which they make from the foundry. Then they send them off and start unloading the cart, carefully checking the items. Some of them, made of inadequate quality to be kept by our church, are smelted into gold bars. The others are taken into the farthest wall for blessing." His words took the paladin as high as the ninetieth step when, bored of this talk, he looked out the window that exposed the same thick road. This time, out his hole in the tower he could see the tops of all others. Only the mountains surrounding his sanctuary could hope to bar the eyes of Helm's watchman. From his window, the cleric pulled him by gauntlet to remind him of his former question.

"If you don't mind my asking you again, what is this to you?"

A grin, or what should've been a smile, blossomed across the paladin's face. "The symbol of Helm, my life, my soul. The twin pieces of clothing I was baptised with, the twin weapons of faith and life with which I relentlessly search and defeat evil. If it is my faith that lets me find evil by a simple flip of my wrist, then it is these gauntlets that symbolize my faith."

The cleric was satisfied and smiled the second time just as his feet landed on the last stone. Before them, the oaken door seemed completely red from the countless wards that faded in and out from its surface. As the cleric pressed his finger against them, one by one they retracted into the wood before vanishing forever.

"I've done my part. Now you go in and fight the lich."

"Alone?" the paladin asked in confusion.

"Yes, alone. Don't worry, I'm sure you've fought worse before. All you have to do is kill the lich, and I'll step in to get rid of the phylactery."

The paladin was still puzzled, though his confidence in Helm's wisdom nudged him to open the door. Ahead, in a room void of all other things was the foul creature, standing towards the door from across the open circle. It wore a coat of dust and dirt as much as it wore its armor, a coat so neat and evenly spread that took only the lich's first step to be blown away. The two warriors, champion of good and champion of evil, met silently at sword's lenght to face each other. Weapons clashed, sparks danced off and plates became dented. Each seemed the other's equal in strenght and endurance, for they scored many blows without their battle reaching a conclusion. Eventually, the noble warrior's strikes into the age-old rusted armor began to show their worth, as plates fell off to expose yellow bones and rotting skin. "Such a filthy soul this must have been", the paladin thought as a random swing of his sword removed the lich's, "to have twisted itself in such manner! For what could immortality bring to counter the stentch coming from this thing's suit of rust? What power is so great as to put flesh back on these bones, or remove the rot of an undead soul?" His blows were being so savage, his attacks all so wild that in his rage he barely noticed the lich gripping his neck with its brown-plated gauntlets. It took him a minute to feel this, and by this time he had unconsciously severed the creature's right arm. He would've swung towards the left, but saw no need to it: exhausted and deprived of its phylactery, the lich collapsed into a pile of bones with its hand still trembling in the mix of iron and rust that shielded it. The cleric, who was watching all this from the doorway, rushed in and, with one touch of the ancient gauntlet, ended all movement from the bony hand.

"Is it done?"asked the paladin, taking off his helm and right gauntlet to wash the sweat off his head.

"Yes, you have successfully carried out your task. As for me, things are not yet quite over."

Before the paladin could respond, his companion lifted one finger towards him. From the tower wall emerged four man-like creatures made of stone, each quickly seizing the paladin by one of his limbs. As he twitched with an anger to match his confusion, a fifth such creature emerged from the floor below him, collected the gauntlet that had been dropped in the struggle and walked gently towards the cleric.

"What is this?" the paladin shouted, turning his head towards the priest. His expression, in contrast with the desparate war against the four stone men, was that of hope.

"You mean the gauntlet? It's your phylactery."

The paladin, satisfied with the answer, laid his head on a stone man's knee, in disgust of the ritual that was about to take place. He gave one last question, this one slow and well-worded, passed more to himself than to the cleric.

"I scrutinized you, before we came into the tower. No evil intent. Why, then, are you doing this?" The cleric, busy with the incantations he was weaving on the gauntlet, still kept eyes on it for a long time. The thumps of a rock aganist a screaming man's chest served nothing but to prolong this monotonous activity. Only once the enchantment was finished and all became silent did he raise his stare towards the now-dead paladin.

"Because, sir, it's my duty."

He left by stair with pieces of the old lich in his hands, the stone men dove into the floor with the rest and the paladin assumed its position across the empty room. It took a single touch of each ward to bring it back again, seeing that done the cleric carelessly continued down the tower. It was a good day today, for through his actions the sanctuary would live hundreds more years without fear of the local nobles or any higher authority. With his feet out on the cobblestone road, he took a brief moment to study the armor, bones and sword. It was enough to notice his predecessor's mistake: a golden bracelet, dotted with hundreds of diamonds for hundreds of quests fulfilled, was still attached to the corpse's hand. He pulled it out and slipped it into a wide pocket of his robe, smiling. Twenty-five karats... It was a good day indeed.

 

The undead slayer © Andrei Pambuccian

Migrate Wizard: 
First Release: 
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