Chapter One - A Rude Awakening
“I can imagine what’s going through your head right now. ‘Maybe if I stay very quiet, the scary lich person won’t kill me and my friends will have time to save me.’
“It’s a very quaint thought. Your friends could never save you. Though, I must admit, there is some validity to the former claim. If you stay very quiet and listen very well, you will get to live... a little longer, at least.”
I, like many others, enjoy a good night’s rest. Undeath never truly changed this, it only made the periods between rests that much longer.
The magical sleep I was in, the one that I chose to succumb to, was not your average rest though. It was a deeper thing, more primordial, closer to the essence of sleep itself. Magic wove itself into the concept of sleep and rest and eternal slumber and made it something more.
Which is probably why I was a bit miffed when someone rattled my bones and woke me up.
My eyes flickered to being and for a moment, in the darkness, all I could see was a youthful face, lit by torchlight. Inquisitive eyes lingered on me, and a hand quite rudely pressed up against my face.
I may have acted on instinct that was a bit uncouth at that moment. My jaw cracked open, teeth parting for the first time in however long I had rested there, and words escaped my non-existent lips in a sibilant whisper.
Ah, that had been a bit of a mistake.
I am aware that you, a plebian, might not know all that much about magic. Fortunately, I am something of an expert on the matter. The only one greater than I was Zaloth, the god of magic. At least, Zaloth was greater than I until I used a nifty spell to drain its divinity, then consumed its essence to empower a.... That’s a story for another time.
Forgive me, I do tend to ramble.
Now, let me explain why that was a mistake. See, casting, at least in the proper traditional style, demands a few things from the caster. You need gestures and motions, the right words and incantations. Often, you need the right reagents so that the magic will be imbued with unique properties.
When I cast ‘Drain Life’ I was actually casting an old favourite spell of mine called Greater Word of Death: Drain Existence.
Quite a handy little spell. It attacked the subject on a conceptual level. I derived it from a drain soul spell I found in some forgotten tomb. The common Drain Life was an old favourite of mine, so I got into the awful habit of just using that as a shorthand.
See, it’s a mistake for two reasons.
One: it’s terribly lazy casting. Wasteful, and for the most part a bit much. This is burning down a city because a single shapeshifter stole one of your books.
Two: the young man standing above me, suddenly faced with a point blank spell designed to remove his very existence, died rather quickly.
Had I skin and such I might have been a little distraught at all the dust falling on me from the boy’s everything as it turned into nothing. As it was, the only thing annoying me was my own foolhardiness.
I could have questioned the young punk.
Reality stopped eating away at the boy’s body, and what was left of it flopped to the ground next to my coffin.
That left me on my back, laying upon a no-doubt rather chilly piece of magic-carved stone, and staring at a cracked and time-ravaged ceiling.
As my father used to say ‘there’s no time like the present!’
Of course, once I discovered how to stop time, I always found the saying a little facetious. It was more accurate to say ‘there’s no time but the present.’
Nevertheless, I set aside my rambling at myself and tilted my head up to see what was what. The top of my tomb had been slid aside, leaving only a passage large enough for some foolish young punk to stick his head where it didn’t belong. I corrected this oversight with a wiggle of a bony finger.
“Lesser Mage’s Hand.”
Eight ephemeral hands appeared around the lid of my coffin and slowly, carefully, raised it up and set it off to one side. The advantage of a mage’s hand, other than not having to move one’s self over to pick something up, is that it is quite impossible to pinch one’s fingers off.
Very handy spell. Oh hohoh!
I extricated myself from my place of not-so-eternal-after-all rest and stood up next to the body of the young man that had disturbed me.
My burial chamber was in a bit of a state. The walls were cracked, with some of those splits running right through the runes and enchantments meant to keep the place spotless. I had never been one for grand displays of wealth, so there was little else in the room but my crypt and a small bench off to one side that I had once used to tie my shoes.
Before laying myself down for the long rest, I had, of course, properly enchanted my clothes. A glance downwards revealed that these enchantments had held marvelously.
My derby’s were still shiny and new, with a neat pair of double bows atop them. My slacks could use a bit of ironing, I found. They were a pinch rumpled around the hem. I supposed that my ankles were a bit bony.
Bony! Oh hoh! My sense of humour was quite lively, even after all this time.
I ran my fingers down my favourite tweed jacket, the one with the big pockets and the leather pads over the elbows, then inspected my button up shirt and the vest covering it. All nice and neat.
Finally, I tugged my bowtie on straight and reassured myself that even after all this time, I seemed like a proper gentleman.
I was ready for a showing!
Unfortunately, there didn’t seem to be any heroes charging into my chamber as I had imagined. Nor did the three-quarters of a young man by my feet seem to have many friends. There was a bag off to one side, no doubt filled with knick-knacks, and a torch lay on the ground off to the side, spitting and burning away and casting a needless amount of light around.
A bit of a listen revealed that there was some wind coming from the far end of the room, and certain enough, there was a rent just big enough for someone to sneak through.
I snuck my fingers into my waist pocket and yanked out my trusty old stopwatch. It was a nice thing, with a simple silver case and a finely wrought chain. I wasn’t one for embellishments and decorations and such. I prefered cold functionality, and I think my watch showed as much.
I flicked the device open, and as the name suggests, stopped time.
A bit of an interesting project, that one. Fortunately, it also served as a very handy little pocket watch, and you quite literally had all the time in the world to see what time it was when using it.
A flick on one of the buttons stopped the running count that I’d set off before going to sleep. Ethereal numbers appeared in the air before me.
That was quite a few seconds. Had I a tongue I would have pinched it between my teeth as I worked out the math. Some twenty one centuries and a year, and change. The exact day and months hardly mattered. In all likelihood a few mega spells would have tossed the planet out of whack by some fraction of a degree and made any accurate calendar all null and void.
I snapped my watch shut and slid it back into its pocket.
Two millennia and a bit.
Not nearly as long as I had intended to sleep.
I supposed I could have gone back to sleep right then and there. The spells I’d need to cast to return were a little tricky, but to me it felt like I had cast them just the night before. But that would just lead to some other young fool poking at my tomb.
No, I had some questions that needed answering. Seeing as how the only other person in the room with me had suffered from some critical existence failure I had to pursue other avenues of research and discovery.
I began with the man’s bags.
A tent, some spare clothes. A few strips of salted meat wrapped in cloth. Two glass bottles filled with water. A camp knife and flint. All the essentials someone on an adventure would need to keep a minimal level of comfort.
It was near the bottom of the bag, past a few other odds and ends such as a small shaving kit and some dried herbs in a small porcelain container--medication, perhaps--that I found the true prize.
A well bound book, even. Thumb-thick, about a handspan wide and twice again that in height. The paper was some sort of vellum I wasn’t entirely familiar with. The ink seemed organic and the binding made of tightly knotted strands of leather that had been cured to remain flexible.
A well-made book. It warmed my decrepit old soul to see that education was still a priority even in this distant future.
There was, of course, a title imprinted on the very first page. One I couldn’t read!
Of course, linguistic drift was a common enough occurrence. I had seen it happen in my own lifetime. That was nothing to worry about, as there were a few more esoteric spells that could assist with that.
Out of curiosity, I opened the book and observed its language.
Written from top to bottom, judging by the strokes of... a brush as opposed to a pen? Daring. And no noticeable alphabet. A written language based on pictograms? No, not quite. I could see some repeated strokes here and there. Logograms then, or ideograms.
Strange, and fascinatingly primitive.
I reached into my breast pockets and took out my spectacles. I had no eyes, of course, so they only truly served to translate and magnify text, as well as a few other minor assisting enchantments. Notably, they were enchanted to stick to my face just-so. Living with neither nose nor ears made spectacles a unique challenge.
A Study of the 250 Steps to the Path of Earthen Enlightenment
I found myself staring at the text and wondering if my spectacles had perhaps fizzled out over time. Regardless, I flipped the pages, eyes scanning up and down and taking it all in at a glance. Soon pages were flying by.
I stood there for all of a minute studying the book and all of its text. In the end, it snapped shut with a dull thud that echoed in my little tomb.
“What did I just read?” I wondered.
It was... wrong. All wrong. Daos, and martial arts, and eating strange things to become more powerful and to open gates within one’s body? Pressure points, and the art of cultivating... something?
It was nonsense.
Had the world lost all sense while I rested?
No, no, that was unlikely. The scientific method did not die so easily, not as long as the learned continued to share their knowledge and understanding. Progress marched ever onwards.
This tripe book of nonsense was likely some trash written by.... I inspected the cover once more. The Sect of the Richest Earth.
Ah, a cult. Wonderful. I did like cults, they made for morally unambiguous test subjects.
I flicked the book into a pocket dimension, then looked around. My next objective, obviously, was to resecure my tomb, toss the body out lest I trip on the bones the next time I awoke, and then...
Were I able to, I would have winced.
See, my foolish and quiet audience, I have a small vice.
A paltry, insignificant fault that I’ve had my entire life and subsequent unlife.
I suffer from acute curiosity. I can never leave things uncovered, and a glance into the hole leading to the world outself left me wanting to peek, to see what awaited me there.
I wouldn’t merely go out there on my own, of course. That is where my new servant’s body would come in handy.
Nothing like a bit of necromancy to get the old bones rattling!
Just a glance, then I’d return to my slumber I promised myself.
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