Battle of the Necromancers
Tultamaan stuck his head into Osoth’s hanger, interrupting another round of ghost-conjuration. “Osoth! We no longer operate in Perfect Safety! There are Gaps between the Scales of our Defenses, and we are slightly Emperilling all of Reality, in particular Ourselves!”
“Why, Tultamaan, you sound alarmed. What is this slight peril, and how slight is it?” said Osoth, reluctantly setting his spellwork down and whacking it with his vô to destroy it.
“My Primary Occupation in this grand and noble company is to be Alarmed, or to Sound alarmed at any case. At the moment the alarm is not utterly implausible. The Quiet Lord of Cussa has managed to insinuate a Hole or Aperture in the first barrier in our cyclone to that world, and has flooded the first segment of the passageway with undead cush. If she learns how to treat the remaining barriers similarly, we will be flooded with undead cush. I hardly need to tell you that a pitched battle with a world’s worth of Zombies could damage our hangers, slaughter our herds, ruin our research, and demolish the small handful of Hoard-Sparks that we have managed to acquire thus far.” He did not mention the possibility of injury to dragons; little likelihood of that.
“Well, then. I suppose I shall have to go and see how good a necromancer this Quiet Lord of Cussa may be,” said Osoth. He brought Lovrain as a magicologist, and Vaareng and Hyxy and Ngassith and Evrath as warriors, but none of them got to do very much. Clearing the first two dragon-lengths of the passageway of the battalion of zombie cush that had gotten into it is not very much.
The Quiet Lord did not live up to the most literal interpretation of her name. She had caused a massive metronome to be assembled next to the cyclone in Cussa, so that its basso-profundo ticking could make the whole situation audible to her. She had set up a conjuring-tower on the Hill of Ferns, a quarter-mile away from the portal and the highest point around. The area swarmed with zombies and ghosts.
Osoth and his guards flew through the portal, and Osoth roared a challenge in the tongue of Cussa. “Quiet Lord! In your arrogance you deem yourself a skilled necromancer! Let us contend in this place, your powers and your armies and your might against mine, and let us see what becomes of your arrogance!” He landed on a second hill, which historians (viz. Yarenton) have dubbed the Hill of Beans.
The Quiet Lord raised her staff, which seemed to be woven of stretched and petrified cush babies. Her legions of zombies started marching towards the Hill of Beans and the dragons. Osoth’s guards crouched, as if to leap into the air and attack them, but Osoth bade them hold. He spoke seven words in an impossible and non-linguistic tongue, which fell like a rain of mercury upon the zombies, who turned about and started marching towards the Hill of Ferns and the Quiet Lord.
The Quiet Lord emitted an intricate disharmony, and held forth her staff. The zombies shook themselves like wet dogs. Osoth’s mercury words spattered off, and ran down the hillside. Again the zombies marched for the Hill of Beans.
Osoth reared on his hindlegs, and pronounced a Name. The Quiet Lord’s disharmony folded upon itself, becoming a tedious little harmony that provided no shelter. His mercury words again ruled the horde.
The Quiet Lord wrote the Name down in twining curliques on a rock for later reference, and then swung the tip of her staff in a particular diagram, whose points and vertices cause immediate and intense pain to all geometers. She had abandoned the zombies for the moment. From her diagram emerged a huge ghostly contraption, a monster of fifteen heads and towering stature even by the standards of dragons, built from the spirits of thousands of wailing cush.
Osoth performed the Dismissative Gesture of Qho-Vheng, and the monster cowered before him.
The Quiet Lord spoke the Name that Osoth had used before, which she had presumably just learned. The Dismissative Gesture became as a cloud of ghost-moths, and flew away. Lovrian murmured, impressed at the Quiet Lord’s skill.
Osoth shrugged. “It seems you are the better necromancer, after all.” He leapt from the top of the Hill of Beans and flew towards her. The contraption attempted to snare him in its tentacles. He swatted it with his vô, and broke the spells that held it together. Its ghosts fled back to the underworld, wailing thanks.
The Quiet Lord raised her staff again, and sang the final notes of a spell that must have taken her a week to cast, but only an instant to finish. A zombie mastodon broke from the ground, with plates of metal and heavy spikes embedded in its thick skin. It plucked a boulder from the ground with its trunk, and hurled it Osoth. Osoth being Osoth, and therefore clumsy, suffered a bruise to the chest.
But the mastodon was on the ground, and Osoth was in the air. Osoth tried to speed around it to get at the Quiet Lord. Osoth being Osoth, and therefore slow, and the mastodon having to take only three steps to protect the Quiet Lord from any side, he failed again. The Quiet Lord conjured a murder of undead crows, and sent them aloft to plague the poor dragon.
Osoth was having none of it. He breathed a tight jet of flame at the Quiet Lord. (Ordinarily he breathes graveyard dust, a very eccentric breath weapon that only necromancers use. But before he discovered necromancy he studied fire breath like a perfectly reasonable dragonet.) She had no defenses against such things. Her tentacle was burned entirely through, and her staff went tumbling down the Hillside of Ferns. Her conjurations quaked with a spasm, as if in pain.(∝)
(∝) And here I am, being envious that a bunch of stupid zombies get to feel pain and I don’t. I am such a petty, whiny lizard. I probably wouldn’t even like it if I could feel it.
Osoth, like any
sensible greedy dragon, dived and snagged the staff on the fourth bounce. He swung it in a commanding arc. The mastodon raised a leg to crush the Quiet Lord.
The Quiet Lord, despite the trauma of her burns and the loss of her mighty staff, whispered a troubling tune. The mastodon charged down the hill at Osoth. Osoth tried to divert it with staff and spells, but it was implacable. Only his wings and five dozen feet of altitude saved him from what would have been an embarrassing and painful tusking.
Osoth nodded. “You are, indeed, a better necromancer than I am.”
The Quiet Lord said, “And you are mighty, though slapdash and slipshod. Join me. I shall take you as an apprentice. You have much to learn.”
“I am quite sorry to decline; my current position is in all ways satisfactory,” said Osoth. “Though your offer does carry considerable interest, and under different circumstances I should have be glad to take it.”
He then burned her to ashes, and thumped on the ashes with his vô to pulverize all the various spells that would have brought her back from the dead in this or that intriguing form.
“Well, that was not one bit satisfactory,” said Osoth when he was done, and when Lovrian had confirmed that all the spells were extinguished. “Should we bring some zombie cush back to Narethy, do you think?”Support this project! Show that you’re reading it by exchanging notes with the characters, other readers, the writer, and occasional other entities at sythyry.livejournal.com. And/or buy Bard Bloom’s books on Amazon, especially Mating Flight and World in My Claws, the prequel to this story. Also: Glossary and Dramatis Personae.