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“You haven’t said anything in a while, so I am assuming that there is still no plan!” Veximarl cried out, moving his spell shield up to deflect another jet of fire. “Sybil! I had some time to think, and one possibility is that this might not last long since the spell caster is dead! We just have to survive until the spell runs out!”

“Good luck with that!” Sybil called back. She was safe and sound in a tree. The creature hadn’t bothered to aim in her direction at all.

Veximarl had only a moment to glare up at her before he had to shift his shield spell again. “The other possibility is that its soul is anchored to the skull somehow! There are some factors to consider for that, but it is also the worst of the two options!”

She paused and went over a few things in her head. Spellcasting wasn’t really her thing. “Go on!”

“There are plenty of subtle differences, but it comes down to two outcomes! If it’s a weaker spirit, it can’t keep up this form for long! It might burn out over time and need to recharge! But if that is not the case, we are forced to destroy whatever tether it has to this world!”

Sybil looked over to where the headless shaman’s body lay. It was still laying on the bone platform Veximarl had constructed. Would it have moved by now if the shaman wasn’t truly dead? Maybe? She was new to this necromancer thing.

“Try to get it to burn the shaman’s body!” She called out.

She watched as Veximarl steered his mummy mount over to where the body lay. It danced in front of it until the lizard shot off another jet of flame. Fire engulfed the corpse, swallowing it up quickly, yet the flame lizard appeared fine, if not irritated. Perhaps the tether wasn’t in that.

Which meant that it could be the skull itself. The coal eyes still lay within the creature’s sockets. That could be it. It could also have something to do with the decorative carvings within the skull. Sybil sat down and inspected the sight unfolding in front of her.

Maybe it was no different than a golem? This was a mist region. It could use the mist to power itself. A golem’s programming is done through arcane writing. That meant that while the golem itself was made purely of fire, the skull had to be the source it was summoned from. Veximarl’s shield can never deflect its damage back, since it was magic in nature.

The flames were too hot to safely approach, Sybil didn’t have any tricks up her sleeve, and Veximarl was the only mage here. If she chose to attack with her daggers, she would not be able to effectively defend herself. This was certainly a bother...

“Vex! Got any ranged spells?!”

“Not - AH! Hot, hot! HOT! AH! - exactly, no!” He called back. Fire spewed forward, and he failed to deflect the damage away from his mount. The mummy wolf caught on fire and he was forced to tumble away in a panic.

“New plan! Focus all defense on me!” Sybil shouted out.

Veximarl was going to protest, but she had already jumped off of the branch and towards the platform. A pillar of bones flew up and caught her. She did another leap as the pillar was engulfed in fire, a new one rising out of the ground to catch her again. The smell was unbelievably terrible, but she was doing her best to ignore it.

“My shield isn’t ranged!” He cried out as she continued to jump and tumble until her back was against his. More fire, and he ducked low to raise a shield above the both of them.

Sybil gave him a pat on the shoulder and pulled out her daggers. “So, we both agree that we have to destroy the skull. I can’t get close enough to smash it with a sword and my daggers won’t pierce it just from throwing.”

“It can fly, and it is baking the swamp into a hard substance. I cannot pull bodies around it to crush it.” Veximarl let out an exhausted sigh. “It will also can outrun us, and we cannot risk letting this get to a town.”

This wouldn’t be a problem with either Zaniyah or Chickadee, but they weren’t here now. She needed to stop thinking up strategies that included them. “Am I correct if I assume you can’t cast anything unless it involves flesh or something that was once flesh?” She looked over her shoulder and felt him nod. “The skull was once living. Nothing there?”

“It is already enchanted with necromancy magic. I cannot take control over it without overriding the original caster’s spell and I haven’t exactly had the opportunities to practice that.” Veximarl raised his shield up high again as the creature came down on it with their claws.

Sybil thought back to the entrance exams at Braytons. Both Luca and Vincent used similar shield spells. It was a serious concern of theirs in the group fight. Their shields were meant to absorb physical attacks, but Veximarl’s reflected damage back into flesh. What could she do to use that to their advantage?

“We have to get it to headbutt you.” She stated. “If the skull makes a hard hit against your shield, the damage will reflect back and destroy it, right?”

“I don’t think it’s willing to do that sort of thi- AHHH!” He grabbed her wrist and dragged her away as the creature went to slam its entirety on them. There was only so much fire he could hope to block before the heat overtook the both of them.

Sybil tumbled the moment that Veximarl let go, then she kept running. “I’m going to run distraction! Get up high and drop down directly on it!” She tossed her daggers at the skull, and the blades deflecting off of it. Calling out the blade’s names, they flew back to her hands just as quickly as they left.

“Have you lost your rationality?!” Veximarl stumbled back as the creature turned its attention towards Sybil.

“Get up high and fall! Cast your shield directly under you! The impact should bounce back directly at the skull and shatter it!” She continued to run. The ground below her feet was uneven and baked with random body parts jutting out. It was difficult to talk and run without tripping at the same time.

Veximarl shrugged and started to move towards softer ground. He lifted up his staff and was carried up in the air. The bridge he created curved over the platform, and he was able to scramble on top of it. Sybil was tumbling and running about as the necromancy golem continued to chase after her.

He dug the bottom of his staff into the substance below him, using it as a pole to launch himself off. As he fell, he twisted his staff around so that it faced downward. All the mana he could muster was placed within that shield. It came into contact with the skull, and the force he placed upon it was doubled in strength as it reflected back and forth.

It cracked open, the flame body surrounding it shattering. Now all Veximarl had to worry about was hitting the ground. In the heat of the moment, it may have been possible that he didn’t think this entire chain of actions through. Now all he could do was brace for the world of pain he was about to be in.

Sybil put her daggers back in her belt and charged forward. She leapt up and tackled Veximarl mid-air before he had a chance to hit the ground. It was at least an attempt to absorb some of his fall damage. They both tumbled against the hardened and warm ground, bruising as the different protrusions banged into them.

Eventually, they came to a stop, with Sybil shoving Veximarl off of her so she could groan in agony. It smelled. Her body hurt. Everything smelled. It smelled so bad... At least they stopped a rampaging monstrosity and its former master, but… A part of her had been left numb by the experience.

“Are you alright?” Veximarl stumbled to a stand and walked over to where he had dropped his staff during their tumble. He picked it up and proceeded to lean heavily on it while letting out a pained wheezed.

Sybil sat up and rubbed the back of her neck. “I’m alive... “ She looked around. “Why are there so many dead bodies?”

“There are pockets within this swamp where very little decays. They are easily spotted by a lack of trees or plant life.” Veximarl gestured to everything around them. “This is the product of thousands upon possibly thousands of years creatures living here.”

She came up to a stand and started to dust herself off. Her cloak was unclasped and she shook debris off of it as well. “Basically, you’re saying that it’s a necromancer’s paradise.”

Veximarl shrunk back and let out a nervous laugh. “We may not have known each other for very long, Sybil, but we are perhaps due for a serious discussion.” He raised his hand and a path of even more bodies and bones came up through the swamp. It was his gesture that they should keep moving.

Sybil walked down the path next to Veximarl, rubbing at her shoulder as she did so. Hopefully, she didn’t dislocate it. “So the reason you were sick while we were traveling was because you were taking on the caravan’s injuries yourself?”

“I felt as though I couldn’t say anything until I knew they were sickening the caravan on purpose.” Veximarl sounded disheartened as he spoke. “If I had mentioned something sooner, we could have planned accordingly. Though I doubt that would have stopped the necromancer from attacking...”

She grimaced at the thought. “Plus there’s the whole thing about you lying about being a paladin. You know, because you’re a necromancer.”

“That is hardly fair,” he said with a frown. “I do wish to be classified as a paladin, at least when it comes to paperwork. Being able to become a teacher for underprivileged children is my desire. No child, despite the circumstances of how they were born, should be judged or treated poorly. Plenty agree with the sentiment, but no one is going to entrust them with necromancer.”

“It was pretty obvious that you weren’t a paladin. Let’s be honest, everyone could see it.” Sybil let out a sigh. “But I get where you are going with that. Braytons doesn’t let ‘evil’ people in.”

“Speaking of evil... If they do still decline your entry, you would have an amazing career as a bounty hunter or assassin.” He swung his staff in front of him. “The way you sped up faster than the eye could perceive, and dashed through a sudden cloud of mist that appeared from nowhere. The only sight I witnessed was that woman’s head popping off before you were suddenly in a tree.”

“How about we never mention the assassin thing again.” Sybil was still upset about Lady Till using that word as one of the excuses to refuse her entry. “I mean, you don’t even have to go to Braytons. You seem more than comfortable being here.”

Veximarl looked off to the side. “Terrible juxtaposition, but do you know much about illegal magic?” She shook her head. “There are several types of the magic in the world. I’m certain you’re familiar with acolyte and elemental spells. However, there is magic out there that has been deemed too dangerous to wield, and entire bloodlines have been wiped away to in ensure no human can ever cast their spells again.”

“And necromancy is one of those?” She looked over, and he nodded.

“This swamp is outside of Lustro’s laws. There is little that can be done to bring civilization and order here. This place is perfect for people like myself to thrive. Though it isn’t uncommon for us to be executed if we are caught, even here. Very view people wish to have a necromancer running about, and I am fortunate that my own village chose to accept me due to Lady Grulick’s support.”

Sybil felt conflicted. That sounded terrible, but, “Necromancy needs people to die in order to be used,” she whispered. Veximarl nodded once more at her statement. It was one of those gray areas that had no right answers.

“Necromancy preserves nothing. It gives nothing. The only focus of necromancy is to maintain the balance. There is no inherent good or evil within it. Another terrible juxtaposition, but it is the reason why Lady Grulick chose to raise me. She was partially involved in the death of my parents, at least, she claimed to have killed my father herself. Absolutely wonderful woman, despite that. She never said anything terrible about my abilities, and always said I should find a way to grow beyond them in order to help people.”

“You said that families have specific spells?” Sybil was concerned with what else he could be hiding from her.

“My spells may be average, but my both parents were from exceptionally powerful families. Astral projection is a dangerous spell to learn, and very few choose to do so. I find it uncomfortable to use it myself, and I believe I am only one of maybe a handful of those in the world who are capable of casting it in the first place. It is one of several heirloom spells at my disposal, but my mother died before I had the chance to learn any others.”

Sybil rubbed at her shoulder. “I see.” She was having trouble believing anything he was telling her at this point.

They continued to walk towards Husk. Veximarl assured her that the walk would be much shorter than it normally would, as they could take a straight path via the bone trail versus trying to locate an aerial pathway. Sybil didn’t pay much attention to his ramblings. She felt torn about the situation.

On one hand, she could understand why he would choose to hide his magic from her, but she also couldn’t see a situation where she wouldn’t eventually find out about it. Not to mention the fact that Veximarl was accepted into Braytons, and he was going to be in a squad with Chickadee. It was unlikely that he could avoid either Alton or Zaniyah or literally anyone else he would need to work closely with.

Chickadee must have figured it out already. Veximarl may have used more magic than he originally thought. That would be the reason Chickadee gave him the staff. Zaniyah would never notice, nor would she care. Alton would definitely say something. Saying something was the best case scenario for Alton finding out. Sybil had no idea how the other squires would react, let alone the the knights. There were too many ways Veximarl’s plan could fail, and his life would be ended because of it.

“There it is. Salutations, sweet Husk.” Veximarl pointed ahead, ignorant of Sybil’s panic attack. It was a series of wooden huts set on logs that kept the whole village afloat. Above were larger homes that were strapped to the trees, and the whole of the town was surrounded by a fence made of sharp wooden spikes.

Treacherous knights, giant mosquitoes, necromancers, and fire golems. That’s what she had to put up with in order to get here. Hopefully meeting with Lady Grulick would be worth it.

“This is so much worse than the core,” she muttered, following behind Veximarl as he led the way.

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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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