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From the black on the night, with the campfires lighting up the graves and tombs of the cemetery with dim, orange light, the skeleton himself stood in the cast shadow of the brute before him.
Up went his cleaver, and Geiger brought it down, parting the exposed flesh and crushing the skull of the greenskin. Everything went silent. Geiger slowly pulled his cleaver away from the dead orc.
The orcs saw little in the darkness behind their dead comrade. A large slab of metal rested in the cavity of the head of Morc and he became limp. They all stared at it. Behind him they could barely see what there was. A lone figure in plate as far as they could tell, with a helmet that adorned long, dark horns at either side.
A thin hand of what appeared as a pale tree branch slowly pushed its way into the fire’s light and it took the round shield at Morc’s side. He wouldn’t need it anymore.
The horror put silence in the air. Two red dots appeared over the shoulder of Morc, and the skeleton of Hans Geiger slowly creeped out from the darkness, bedecked in armour and showing his fleshless face to them at last. Whiter than death as it was, it was so much paler, so much whiter than that of the orc’s green faces.
With a shout the next largest one, only a few strides away from Geiger, rushed him. Geiger’s shield came up sideways and smashed aside the hammer that came from an angle. His own cleaver came across and slashed at the throat of the orc, tearing away muscle and skin.
A mass of them charged him now but only three could approach him in this alleyway of walls and plants. He blocked one and parried another. The third over-lunged at him and he took its arm. It fell and rolled in agony and it was replaced by another orc. Geiger bashed his shield’s rim into the exposed jaw of one of the first three and before it was seen another two lay on the mud, hidden by the diminishing numbers of his greenskin foes.
He took some vicious blows to his plate. His greaves at been dented and his chestplate bashed inwards. There may have been a broken rib but Geiger was unnatural in his physique now, and no nervous system existed to shoot pain through his body. He fought as he remembered to fight in life, narrowing his numerous enemies and stopping them from surrounding him. He pushed away more attacks and threw his own when he saw the precious openings. Openings that saw the final lights of life in some assailants, and others that collapsed their bodies and left them dying on the graveyard’s dirt.
Geiger took a club from his next target, denting his open helm with a crater that would have punched blood from his skin. It was a wound that he couldn’t have anymore. It didn’t register that fact. His flesh had long been gone, taken by time and rot.
His shield was knocked away from him, and it left an opening for the last two orcs before him. He managed to shunt one away with a lucky placing of a boot. Only just, and the other greenskin saw the moment to grab his leg and pull it from under him, It was his last action as a living creature as Geiger split his arm from his torso. As a last insult Geiger forced his foot down on its temple.
The last one was not so brave. In seeing its last ally crumble beneath the undead spectre’s boot it turned and fled. All of its fearlessness had died. Geiger realised that he instinctively knew where it would go.
Greenskin warbands were not unusual to him. As he remembered it they had raider parties that ran ahead of their hordes. If they still did that now – he thought, having remembered that he had been dead – he would need to take care of this one before it reaches the horde. These thoughts took only a few seconds, churning themselves out one after another as he quickly made connections internally.
He was not for running, and he lumbered after the last orc. It would not work. He wouldn’t be able to run him down in this condition. He would need another plan.
If catching the greenskin would not work then it would find the horde and he’d be alive again for not much longer. He turned to look at the tomb on the top of the hillock in the valley. It was tall and despite its overgrown state was still very imposing. He thought back to the enchantments that were placed on his own grave. He could not have been the only one of The Cleaved’s sworn who had had the very same treatment to return to life should they be needed again.
He remembered this now. He did not realise when he’d remembered these details. It was entirely possible that Hans Geiger, always remembered these things but it was not something that he could actually be certain of.
He took the corpse of the still kicking orc whose throat he’d punched the rim of his stolen roundshield into and dragged it up the hill. In some small time he’d made his way to the tomb. The runes above the walled up door had faded – just like his own grave, he suddenly realised – but he recognised them nonetheless.
If the kingdom still stood then the horde would need to be taken care of. He had no knowledge of anything that could stand against it now, but he was certain that something might remain here that could fight his ancient foe.
With the hammer from his victim’s belt he hefted it high and smashed its square edges into the stone slab. It dented at first, shaking a cloud dust from its edges.
Time stood still in the cemetery. Winter chilled the land and froze the bodies of those recently dead. Geiger could not feel the cold anymore. It was a phenomena to him that was centuries past, and in this moment he did not notice. His face of bone was timeless as he brought the hammer up and took it to the stone again and again. With a hollow thud of thunder, the stone gave way.
At first a hairline fracture appeared in the thick grey of the rock, which soon after became a thick crack, large enough for him to seep his thin, phalanx bones inside. One last, powerful swing and the night’s silence was defeated with the avalanche of the obstacled entrance.
After that, the iron gate just inside was kicked away after it was smashed at its lock. The hammer was discarded aside and Geiger stepped inside, over the crumbled stone.
Before him lay the stone sarcophagus of The Cleaved. Varg Haugr-eldr, he instinctively knew, was beneath it, beneath the carved rock of his horizontalimage, clutching his staff.
He crouched to its height and his fingers clattered at its rim. He heaved it over, pushing the cover over the other side where it smashed into three pieces.
Beneath his gaze was another corpse, another skeleton, this time dressed in robes, long and dark, hugging near visible ribcage and bones, and riddled with holes. The hood was down and his staff lay in his grasp. Geiger stood over him, watching the lack of movement there in his face.
He was like that too.
He shook the notion. It should work on Varg if it worked on him. He left from the tomb.Before he got to work he looked out over the view. In the darkness of the night he couldn’t see far abroad. He saw the fire in the distance though; dots along the distance made a great serpent of flame across the countryside. That must be the orc horde, he thought. He would need to be quicker than he’d thought, since it wouldn’t take the one that got away very long to find the nearest group.
On the floor nearby the orc clutched at its throat weakly. His eyes were drooping and his pupils had grown. It watched the night sky with no real notice. It knew that he was dying and had no energy to do anything about it. Everything was blurred. Everything was getting darker.
There, on the edge of what was left of his vision. Something was stood over him. He didn’t know how long it was there. He started to black out and didn’t recognise anything.
He recognised movement though. He was pulled over some debris, something hard. He was inside. It was darker here. The sky had long gone but he knew that it wasn’t above him anymore. There was a vaulted ceiling there. A white face appeared above him again. He saw the teeth there, and the hollows of the eyes.
The orc didn’t recognise the floor being taken from beneath him. He was turned over and pushed over the slab beneath him. His stomach lay open to the gap between its sides.
Geiger took the seax from his belt. He’d forgotten that it was there but his hands remembered. It was in good condition, if blunt, but he didn’t need its edge. He needed its point.
His hands found the stomach of the orc that he laid over grave of Varg the Cleaved. One, two, three times he punched the tip of his dagger into the flesh of the creature there. Blood was ejected from the body. The shock pushed him over the threshold of life and death and the red gore fell in a waterfall, pouring down into the mouth that was no longer there.
There was a rumbling behind Geiger. It was far away but he knew what it was. That one orc that had gotten away had reached his brethren. The alarm would have been raised and now his time was running out. Hopefully this would work.
Geiger pulled the corpse off of his sworn charge’s grave. Blood smeared the exposed incisors, canines and molars. The entire skull was black and red where blood had started to congeal in the crevices of the bone.
Flickering red lights, like dark, flaming orbs slowly came to life in the long deceased sockets of the wyzzard.
The skeleton beneath Geiger would have sent shivers down his spine. He knew that he was a skeleton himself but seeing another becoming animated was still wholly new to him. It was not a welcome sight despite the necessity of it.
The body did not move. Only the jaw did. It closed, and seconds after that the red orbs slowly moved to regard Geiger with cold, deathly glare. He tried to imagine the wyzzard’s thoughts, about how he himself must have looked – a skeleton in plate, standing over him. Despite this he still didn’t move.
The skull twisted. The eyes, this time, did not. The absent face of Varg looked straight at him and he sat up. His fingers, void of flesh, tapped either side of his tomb like the legs of a spider. Varg took one step back, suddenly unsure of what to expect from this magick user.
Varg Haugr-eldr stood up straight. He held his staff to one side and still looked to Geiger. Wind licked at the robes, ruffling them at the edges. It was something that Geiger couldn’t feel. He didn’t know about Haugr-eldr.
“We have been woken. Is the kingdom in need? Caddoh has sent for us?” His was a voice that wasn’t spoken. It echoed through the air and pierced the mind. Geiger’s features were like stone but he flinched at the phenomena of it.
“It is not known, lord,” he spoke back, unsure of whether or not he was having the same effect to his speech as Haugr-eldr. “I was returned by the ritual by an accident.”
“An accident,” he returned. He stabbed the air with his voice again.
“Blood was spilled by the greenskin scum. There is a horde upon the doorstep.” He watched Haugr-eldr’s response. It stirred the sense of surprise inside him to see that Haugr-eldr was calm.
“Show me.” It was a command, not a request, and one that Geiger not only remembered by instinct but by actual memory. He remembered when Haugr-eldr’s flesh was pale and white, untouched even by the northern sun. He touched on the shred of memory but that tendril slowly slipped from his grasp. Instead he gestured, taking one step to the side and holding his fleshless hand out to show his charge the way.
The lich appeared to glide out of the coffin to Geiger. He was sure that it was an illusion of the robes but, in their current states of undeath he did not rule it out. He did not question it for the simple sake of what may be left of his sanity. Being only bone now Geiger was mortally surprised to find that he suffered no negative shock, nor even became temporarily mad with himself. He found his curiosity a dangerous thing and daren’t risk what was left of it. He focussed on the moment instead.
Geiger’s heavy footfall echoed out from the tomb, following the silence of Haugr-eldr’s own steps.
The night hadn’t changed but for the shifted fires in the distance. They were moving, and on the air was the thunderous rumble of what could only have been their chants, warcries and taunts at their coming enemy.
It wasn’t all of the horde. At least a hundred by Geiger’s estimation. Clearly more than were necessary for them but he figured that more than those who were alerted to his fighting earlier were excited and stirred into action by the mere prospect have having a fight. He didn’t think that two could stand up to the horde’s shard, let alone two undead creatures. He shared the idea with Haugr-eldr, who stood still in the breeze and watched.
The staff clutched amongst dry bone clacked with its metallic edges. Tall and thin, the rubies set in the brazier at the very top glittered brighter than they should have.
Haugr-eldr seethed of menace. The rubies glowed brighter, darker, redder than they should have and in that brazier appeared all the more as crystal fire. The stones grew, rippling from their insides they pushed out a red cloud higher into the night’s air. Suddenly they pointed downwards and like seething tentacles snaked down to the graveyard earth. They rooted themselves into the dirt. What happened then was a mystery to everyone but Haugr-eldr and he, Geiger saw, merely stood there. He knew, Geiger told himself. He knew.
Orcs were getting close now. Geiger could begin making out the words, clumsy and guttural in their language. He readied his cleaver and looked out to the entranceway to the cemetery down the hill. He replaced his grip on his liberated shield’s punch-grip and with a creak ground his teeth against each other.
Geiger’s original plan was working. Geiger thought that by releasing The Cleaved from death he would have some way to destroy the orc scum. He may have been correct but still he had doubt. He did not know the ways of the arcane and had no words for them. In all his time in serving Haugr-eldr he only knew of one word. He remembered it still, and never forgot it.
That word was necromancy, and it was a word whispered with superstition in every circle in Caddoh’s kingdom, even moreso than the other magicks.
The orcs could be seen now. First their torches, glowing orange just before the gates and the toppled walls, and their weapons of crude and cruel make were flashing in its glare. They were all shouting and that, more than anything else alive, could have woken the dead.
It didn’t. When the orcs fell silent it was not at the fear of those overlooking them atop the hill, but at those beneath the earth. Dirt disturbed itself, grinding amongst itself and collapsing like sink holes into the shattered coffins beneath. Every stone head and every cold stone creature observing, weeping and grieving at the earth beneath itself did not move. If they too were made of flesh then they may have fled, shrieking into the night more than any greenskin may ever shout.
Hands of bone and weapons of cold, rusting steel pierced the skin of earth. Broken jaws, broken skulls and lungs that no longer existed screamed in silence, gasped and gulped at the cold night’s air. They had not tasted such fresh atmosphere for centuries and now, with their broken bodies of the mortality that they had succeeded, they crawled from their final resting places with a vigor not seen for generations.
Armoured in steel, their maille and plate had rusted. Hauberks and gambesons all but deteriorated and gone and their weapons of axe and sword had blunted. They clattered as their bones shuffled them forward, their faces all white, brown and unbleached beneath their helms. Where their flesh was no longer, the moon picked out their bones.
They all wondered at their state. Some held up their hands to the light above whereas others touched their faces. Fingers without nerves found cheekbone and felt the holes of their eyes.
Some fell to their knees like weeping widows. Geiger thought them weak but wondered if he would have felt the same if he had to dig out from his own grave. As it was, his resurrection was different – he was opened to the air just as Haugr-eldr was, and he was forced into butchering instantly.
He made his way down the hill. He looked back to the wyzzard. Haugr-eldr the Cleaved looked down at him, face unmoving but the orbs in his eyes watched, knowing.
“See that they meet their fates, Ser Geiger. Our work is not yet done.” He looked over to the opening graves. Geiger looked too.
Every one of the revived were watching Haugr-eldr. Like royalty he looked down at them and raised his boned hand to those who stood at the entrance way. The orcs were still there, not knowing what to do, glancing at each other and their leaders. Before them were dozens of enemies, walking and living, brandishing weapons and armour. This called to them. This was their nature. They hesitated because they were dead. They were already dead and this made them doubt.
Something clicked. Almost as one every skull in the graveyard lurked back and stared at the greenskins with ancient, hateful glares.
Like a wave the orcs from the start bellowed and shouted their warcries, building their battle fervour as they took a few strides into the cemetery.
Skeletons marched forward in the silence of graves as their steps glade over dirt. Their instincts were still honed and unblunted from time, and with deathly grace they formed a thick line against the greenskin nemesis.
Geiger met his comrades-in-undeath, taking his last command once more and formed them into a snout that charged like a slow avalanche, colliding with the first orcs. Shields went up, bludgeoning them as their weapons struck their shields like anvils.
Above the din of battle and above the living and dead alike, Haugr-eldr did observed the fight that took place below him. When the time was right he would revive his soldiers time and time again.
Geiger was only pleased that his plan worked. After this battle the orcs would be gone once more. After this he could rest again.
After this he would be betrayed.
– by Kier Sparey
© Copyright Kier Sparey 2016