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The guard who had given Sybil her bag had dropped to the floor. He was dead. He also appeared to have died before he had even walked in here, but she couldn’t be sure. Sybil hadn’t much experience when it came to dead bodies. She chose not to question it, or risk her sanity in the process.

“Talvin.”

Her daggers loosened themselves from her bag and flew to her hands. Sybil then pulled the sword out and attached it to her belt loop. There were noises from beyond the door. Shouts and sounds of a struggle. The corpse had a point. She probably did need to flee.

Leaving the room, there was another guard who was fighting against an ally, or what might have been an ally. It’s body was mutilated beyond recognition, with blood oozing out from different slashes cut into it. As hard as the guard was fighting, the corpse would push back. Sybil tossed a dagger, and it wedged itself into the spinal cord of the creature. It fell onto the ground, but its arms continued to flail towards the guard.

“Vin.” The blade flew back to her hand, and her foe slumped to the ground. “What’s going on?” She looked over to the guard.

“The shaman… She started to chant while we were questioning her, and- It doesn't matter, we need to get out of here and get help! We can’t handle a necromancer on our own!” He gestured for Sybil to follow and ran out onto the walkway. The guard station was a series of smaller buildings that were strung about different trees, and now the paths were choked with stiff creatures.

More of the guards were stumbling after them. Each of them mutilated and seeming to be dead. It didn’t make sense to Sybil. Why would one help her while the others appeared bent on taking the lot of them out? She continued to toss her daggers at them, attempting to keep them at bay while the guard made his way to the exit.

Coming around a bend, her path was suddenly blocked off by a woman dressed in faded rags. Her face was painted with mud in a decorative manner, and she held a tall staff covered in bones and feathers. A large reptilian skull was worn on her head, with coal set in the eye sockets.

“Were you the one who accused me of associating with the Dudley brothers?” Her eyes narrowed at Sybil. The coal eyes set in the skull were smoldering, making it seem like her hat was also glaring.

“Perhaps... Were you the one that supplied the herbs to summon those bugs and sicken those people?” Sybil narrowed her eyes back. She was just as capable of glaring as this shaman was. Though she did spare a glance over the woman’s shoulder, just to make sure the guard had gotten away.

The staff was lifted up and tapped hard against wooden plank below it. A tinkling sound came from the charms that hung on it, and Sybil could hear a loud groan resonate out from the dead. She turned around and ducked an incoming swing. It was the guard who had given her her belongings, and it continued to swing forward until it wrapped its arms about the shaman.

“What are you doing?!” She cried out as she began to shove the zombie away.

“Keep… R-running…” The corpse looked over at Sybil, who didn’t need to be told twice to slip away.

Waiting outside of the guard area was a different sort of cadaver. This one was old and appeared mummified. It creaked and cracked as it lifted up an arm. The direction it pointed in was directly towards the swamp itself. She was hesitant to approach, as Veximarl had mentioned that people who had wandered out carelessly often sunk to their deaths in the mud.

Then again, she also knew that she was easily outmatched by the shaman behind her. Give herself over to the dead or trust the dead? She might not have a choice in the matter. It appeared to be safest to go along with what the mummy said. As she approached the end of the floating pathways, the swamp itself began to churn.

Bodies, much like the mummy, rose up. Old, absolutely disgusting, smelly bodies. Bones rose above them, forming a path that looked much less squishy to step on. Very hesitantly, she touched it with the tip of her shoe and found it to be somewhat stable.

A howling screech came from behind her, and she turned to see the shaman there. Behind her were her minions. They were moving faster now, in fact, they were sprinting at her. These zombies had armed themselves with swords and spears, which would no doubt serve them well as they sought to murder Sybil.

Sybil also chose to run. A path was being formed beneath her feet as she moved. It led upward until she was sprinting on a bridge of bones suspended in the air. The corpses attempted to run after her, but the pathway collapsed under their feet and dragged them below the surface.

Something below her was also moving quickly. The pathway started to sink down again until she was near the ground. Her eyes widened at the sight she was beholding. The creature running next to her was a massive mutated wolf. One that easily surpassed the size of a horse, but it was mummified and dead like the other corpses, with large sections of bone visible underneath its leathered skin.

“It would appear you ran into some trouble while I was away.” Veximarl was sitting cross- legged on top of the creature, and smiling down at her. His staff was glowing brightly in the dim atmosphere of the swamp.

“Veximarl!” Sybil almost cried at the sight of him being alive.

“I request that no matter what happens, you continue to run!” He pointed ahead of her. “Veer left to avoid the tree!” The creature went right of it as she went left, meeting together again on the other side. “I wasn’t expecting there to be a necromancer waiting for you in Bog Vale! This will get quite ugly so please keep moving!”

Sybil looked over her shoulder. There was a wave of body parts behind them, and the shaman was riding on top with a board made of bones. She looked back over to Veximarl, who was only providing a slightly less horrifying scene. “What do we do?!”

“When I fell off the path, I stayed out of sight to ensure you were alright. When you appeared to have run off, I went to Husk first to fetch some help. They’ve already headed off to Bog Vale to assist. With the necromancer drawn away, the village will be safe.” He paused as they had to part ways again to get around another tree. “Unfortunately, that means we won't have any help when we get to Husk. This is a situation where we will have to handle ourselves.”

“It shouldn’t be hard if she doesn’t have anything fresh to control, right?” Sybil asked. She had never dreamed that this was something she would encounter, but was suddenly in need of advice.

Veximarl grimaced at the thought. “Bear with me as I empart quick lesson on necromancy. First and most obvious, controlling the dead. It is the act of mentally possessing the bodies of those who have died and puppeteering them about. Secondly, transferring injuries from one living creature to another, including themselves. Lastly, a shield that reflects damage back an a melee attacker. Those are at least main three problems to worry about.”

“Can we form a plan?” Sybil jumped over the protruding roots of a tree, and Veximarl lifted the bridge again slightly so she wouldn’t have to worry about more.

All he could do was shrug at her question. “If we can decimate her in a single attack, that might do it. It’s difficult to say. Each family of necromancers has their own bag of tricks. Some may even activate spells at their time of death.”

“Make a wide area so I can stop.”

Sybil slowed down to a jog and a large circular land of bones rose up out of the swamp. She moved to the center of it and debated her choices. This wasn’t how it was with Sal Dudley. There wasn’t a moral debate on if she could run or not. Plus, there was no telling what would happen if the shaman reached Husk. Fighting here and now was the correct answer. Risk themselves and no one innocent.

Her hand went to her sword. It wasn’t stuck in place this time, coming out smoothly the moment she yanked on it. A large cloud of mist burst out of the sheath, just like last time. It became difficult to see, but she noticed that Veximarl’s movements were slowing down. Was time dilation the reason she wasn’t attacked last time? Everything was seeming to slow...

“A necromancer this time?” Her own voice was talking to her again. Or was it talking to itself?

“Two necromancers.” A voice cooed next to her. “How interesting.” But it might be true. It would certainly explain why Veximarl was such a terrible paladin. That and… Literally everything else that had happened in the past ten minutes.

“It’s dangerous. The probability for survival is slim,” a voice behind her whispered. “How terrifying.” The remark was stated in a cooing tone, as she was clearly amused.

Veximarl’s shape appeared in the mist. “If we can off her in one attack,” he whispered before disappearing again.

“Will that be good enough?” Her own voice cooed again out from the fog. “Are there no other options?”

“She will kill. She will carry the hunt to Husk and kill there as well. Her very survival cannot be guaranteed unless there are no witnesses.”

“No survivors,” the voice behind her whispered.

Sybil agreed with her misty voices. “I need to get behind her. If I can do that, maybe I can-” She drifted off from her statement. Her grip tightened on the hilt of her blade.

“Taking a life is a scar,” said the voice in front of her. “It will stay forever on your soul.”

“If there are enough scars, it’s impossible to tell them apart,” another voice cooed.

“The first one is the deepest,” said yet another.

Sybil tightened her grip on the sword and held it in front of her in an attack pose. “I don’t have a choice in the matter! I’m prepared to face the consequences.”

“You are not prepared. There is always a choice.” The voice from behind her said, still seeming amused by the situation. She felt a push against her back. “Run.”

She started to charge forward, noticing that the shaman had reached the platform that Veximarl had made. Or at least she thought it was the shaman. Hopefully it wasn’t Veximarl obscured within the mist. The fog suddenly cut in half, and she was able to see clearly. Her target was indeed ahead of her, and the shaman was slowly turning towards her.

Sybil couldn’t stop her feet and risk losing this chance. She continued to move faster and faster. A cold sensation took hold of her body as the shaman slowly swung her staff to counter her. The staff was raised up and pointed forward. A gray and white shield of mana appeared in front of her, with writhing hands bursting forward from it and grasping at the air.

The sensation of chill swallowed Sybil whole. For a single, brief moment, everything went black. It felt similar to being teleported out of the field at Braytons, but instead of falling into a warm hug, it was like being doused with chilled water.

Her vision blurred, and when it focused again, she found herself behind the shaman. The enemy was still reacting to the visage of Sybil in front of her, but that image was blurred and misty looking, similar to how the voices appeared in the mist when they spoke to Sybil.

There wasn’t time to hesitate. Sybil swung her weapon true, cleaving cleanly through the necromancer’s neck. The mist swirled around her once more, and Veximarl’s image appeared beside her.

“Some can even activate spells at time of death.”

The cold sensation took over again, and she didn’t bother to fight it. Darkness. Blurred vision. The ground shifted below her feet and she swung her arms around to keep balance. Now she was up in the branches of a nearby tree, looking down at the scene unfolding below her.

Time was speeding up again, and the mist that has spewed out from her sheath was dissipating. The shaman’s head tapped against the bones below, with the reptile skull hat rolling off and forward. Was that it?

“... What?” Veximarl hardly understood what had happened. The moment the necromancer arrived, her head had somehow loosed itself from her body. “Sybil?” He was becoming wary of the reptile skull, keeping his eyes on it rather than where Sybil may had vanished to.

The skull shuddered, and the fire coming from its coal eyes spread over the skull. Then it was floating. Flames continued to spread out behind it, forming into the long body of a lizard. Demonic looking in nature, and Veximarl recognized it as a creature created from the bones of a tainted beast.

It hovered for a moment. The heat radiating from it started to dry up the ground. Trees were starting to smolder, and plants were wilting. The creature itself started to twist about, looking around for something in particular. Its head tilted up slightly, as though it were sniffing the air. Finally it set its fiery gaze on Veximarl, growling.

Veximarl did what his fighter instincts told him to do and let out a high pitched scream.

“Put your shield up!” Sybil shouted down, placing the sword in her sheath so she could better keep her balance.

“How did you get up there?!” Veximarl squeaked back.

The entity charged at him, and Veximarl in turn raised up his staff. His shield was less impressive than the shaman’s. A deep purple oval with a reddened glowing crest of a cat’s skull. It did its job of protecting Veximarl as the lizard brought a claw onto it, but it did nothing to the flame entity.

If Veximarl was a necromancer, and if his shield was supposed to reflect damage, that meant… “We can’t hurt it! I don’t think it has a real body!” Sybil shouted down at him. Maybe those weird misty spirits could give her advice, or slow down time and teleport her about again. That would be useful.

Her hand gripped at the sword again, spreading her stance out a on the branch while she was at it. Accidently falling would be a bad idea. She gave a swift pull, wretching the sword free from its sheath… And nothing happened. Sybil looked at her hip in a confused manner, placed the sword back and then pulled it free again.

Still nothing. She puffed out her cheeks and exhaled slowly while thinking. Meanwhile, the beast that Veximarl was riding on was running circles around the bone platform. Veximarl moved his shield around as the lizard started to breath jets of flame out him. He probably wouldn’t last long like that.

“Please propose something quickly!” Veximarl exclaimed.

Sybil put away her sword for good this time and shrugged. “You’re the expert! What can we do?!”

“I don’t know!” Veximarl let out another scream as he barely ducked under another spell that was aimed at him. At least his skill with a shield was better than his skill with a sword.

“Alright, just hold tight! I’ll think of something!” She lied, but there was no way she was going to tell him that she had absolutely no idea what she was going to do.

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About the author

Adelaide West

Bio: Author of the Grimstone Series and Duck and Wolf.

I have a Twitter. I check it often, so I guess tag me anytime you want. I just don't post very often. @AdelaideGWest

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