“So the job is just to clean up some skeletons that have taken over a graveyard?”
“Someone didn’t do their due diligence with the burial rites.”
“Say, Miss Yun, do you know where skeletons come from?”
Yun wanted so desperately to say ‘from inside a person’s body.’
“… An unrited corpse may be infused with stray necromantic energy and simply get up.”
“Is stray necromantic energy that common?”
“Less than it used to be.” Yun sighed, polishing the lantern on her staff. “Mostly stemming from one incident. A long time ago.”
Adelaide whistled a dropping note as she watched the skeletons wandering aimlessly around the graveyard. When undisturbed, they almost looked natural, like it was just right for a walking skeleton to be a feature of a graveyard.
“Isn’t this usually a job for beginner adventurers?”
“I can’t take on much harder than this, personally. Sorry if that’s disappointing.” She was half telling the truth. This was the kind of job to fall through the cracks, seeing as it wasn’t administered through the guild. Plus, not everybody liked seeing human remains being puppeteered by stray spirits. Zombies were worse, though; the smell stayed with you for days.
Yun pulled a dagger out of a belt attached to her hip and gave it a small flourish.
“I was under the impression you were a caster,” Adelaide looked confused.
“It’s complicated. Just follow my lead.”
Yun took a moment to breathe, closing her eyes and letting the weave of corrupted fate appear before her, frayed and tattered lines glowing with malice and sorrow, binding poor souls in an ensnaring web. The ends of the strings, predictably, pulled deep into the earth, likely from where they had risen.
Waiting, like a spider sensing the vibrations on the web, Yun pounced suddenly, stabbing her dagger straight through a passing skeleton’s spinal column, from where it suddenly collapsed into an unmoving pile. Some runes engraved into the blade emitted a soft and gentle light. Adelaide gave a small whistle of appreciation.
The cleaning proceeded like this, until only a handful of skeletons remained, idly standing around a large tomb, likely belonging to some noble family. Still, there was something that wasn’t quite right. The skeletons had been severed from fate, releasing them from their control, but the errant strings remained, tangling ominously like a nest of snakes. Adelaide shivered, as a chill ran down her spine.
“Good intuition.” Yun said, taking out her staff and setting it down. Despite having twists and curves, it stood perfectly balanced, without a moment of hesitation. She snapped and a fire sprang to life inside the lantern, a soft golden line drawing a perfect circle on the ground with the staff at its center.
“This is my effective area. Stay inside it when possible.” She continued.
“What is it?”
“I don’t know. Something that shouldn’t be here.”
The remaining skeletons snapped to attention, a new intent burning in their eyesockets. More skeletons began climbing out of the ground, far outnumbering the previously shambling mob.
Yun looked over Adelaide. Skeletons on their own posed little threat to someone wearing decent armor. None of them were armed, either, which meant she had the range advantage as well. However the greatest danger now was whatever was directing the skeletons.
“Lock down the movement of the skeletons you can see. Hopefully we can draw the controller out.” Adelaide nodded as Yun readied her dagger once more and the two sprang into action.
Even when the scattering blow of bones crashed against her, Adelaide found that they hit glancingly, leaving her with minimal harm. Even if skeletons were considered creatures for newer adventurers to deal with, a swarm this big would be enough to overwhelm even a well-experienced party.
Nevertheless, the scene played out far more like a dance than a battle, with Yun ensuring they were never separated by more than two body lengths. If a skeleton came between them, it was quickly dispatched. Despite not having fought together before, Adelaide caught on quickly and Yun had enough experience to adjust her own movements accordingly. Even sword swings felt like they were connecting properly.
“I thought you said you weren’t good in a fight?”
“I’d be dead if you weren’t pulling your weight.”
While she did feel some truth in that statement, Adelaide found herself wondering once more what exactly the nature of her traveling companion’s history was.
Yun felt the pull of exhaustion weighing down on her. While she never had nearly the stamina of her companions, it had also been a couple years since she was at the height of her ability. Taking odd jobs here and there doesn’t exactly compare to the rigor of the Final Journey.
Luckily, the end was in sight. The corrupted strings began to move as something unearthed itself from the dirt. Her heart dropped upon seeing it.
“What is that?” Adelaide asked.
“Just my luck.”
The creature pulled itself out of the dirt, appearing as a bouquet of skulls supported by a twisted amalgamation of miscellaneous skeletal remains. The hollow laughter echoed out, backed by the chattering of teeth hitting teeth.
Adelaide immediately reinforced her stance, watching for any openings, but the creature simply turned and began to swing its many arms at Yun. While it was distracted, she attempted to strike a blow with her sword, shattering a segment of bone, only for some to fly off the ground to hastily replace them.
“What’s going on?!”
“It’s prioritizing threats.” Yun explained, putting all her focus in dodging the erratic movements of the creature. “It knows you can’t hurt it.”
“What do we do?”
“Catch.” The dagger flew through the air in a perfect arc, landing perfectly in Adelaide’s hand before she could even register it had been thrown.
“Miss Yun! That was extremely dangerous!”
“I had faith.” She said, right before being hit by a large swing that sent her flying.
Well shit, Yun thought, her vision reeling from the hit she just sustained. She could hear Adelaide shouting after her, clearly concerned. There were other things that were more important here, given that she had now painted a target on her companion’s back.
She went down the list, diagnosing her own status. Nothing broken, too seriously at any rate. Her mana had taken the brunt of the hit, she had always been good at this kind of magic, and only this kind. The creature was strong though. She hadn’t expected to use this much energy this quickly.
Yun sighed, closing her eyes to watch the strings. Adelaide was pressed, she was clearly outmatched. Still, she had taken minimal damage until now, allowing her to continue fighting at near full capacity. Good.
Adelaide raised the dagger forward, bolstering her own position and preparing for the next hit. The unmistakable rush of reserved energy flooded into her veins.
And into Yun’s as well. Perfect. With one motion, Yun tugged at Adelaide’s string, playing a soft melody audible only to her.
Something clicked and Adelaide rushed forward, ducking under the wide sweeps to press both blades deep into the spine of the skeletal abomination. A bright flash of light rang out, like the ringing in one’s ears after an explosion. A ghastly wail pierced their ears. And then it was all over. No more moving skeletons.
“Miss Yun, we did it!”
“Ugh.” Yun was bleeding from her mouth and her nose. Which led to the unpleasant feeling of tasting, smelling, and swallowing blood at the same time. Like a two lane road of blood coming up and down. She hated nosebleeds.
“Are you okay?”
“Mostly. Just drained.”
“What was all that about?”
“Stray necromantic energy.”
“It’s a little more complicated, but that’s the short version. I think.” She shakily rose from the ground.
“And the long version?”
“We don’t have a lot of great ways of knowing.” Yun stepped over to the remains of the skeleton creature. “Unless.”
“What are you looking for?”
“You ask a lot of questions.”
“You don’t give a lot of great answers.”
“Hm. Fair- AHA!” Yun pulled out a perfectly smooth, purple orb. “I knew I could trust you.”
Adelaide just stared.
“If you’re lucky, a creature like this may drop some remnant of their power.” She paused. “I am not lucky.”
“Doesn’t work on me.”
Yun polished the orb and gave it a shake like one might jostle a children’s toy they were particularly upset with.
“HEY HEY HEY HEY HEY. STOP THAT.” A voice like a disturbed animal waking from hibernation rang out.
Adelaide’s eyes widened.
“Hello there. You have a name?”
“MAYBE. FOR ME. NOT FOR YOU.”
Yun looked unamused and started shaking again.
“OKAY OKAY. YOU’RE GONNA SEPARATE MY SOUL AT THIS RATE. SHEESH LADY.”
“YOU SPEAK TO SYKORA, KING OF THE UNDEAD, LOYAL GENERAL OF DEMON LORD CARR.” Laughter rang out across the now-quiet graveyard.
“Long time ago, huh.” Yun started counting backwards the number of years that must have passed.
“Wait, there were multiple Demon Kings?”
“It’s a title. Like any other, it’s passed down. The procession is what makes it unique-”
“TELL ME LITTLE GIRL. HOW LONG HAS IT BEEN SINCE THE TIME OF LORD CARR.” Sykora was clearly interested, hearing the distance and the years in Yun’s voice.
“I SEE. SO LONG IT HAS TAKEN TO REGAIN MY POWER. I AM TOO LATE FOR YOU MY LORD…”
“AND WHO IS THE CURRENT DEMON KING?”
“The throne stands empty. Demon Lord Gou was felled six years ago.”
“AND SO THE DEMONS SLEEP ONCE MORE.”
“The Rift is still open, though.”
The shock implied a jaw being dropped, though no such apparatus existed for the orb.
“We can speak more later, Sykora. For now I’d like to leave this graveyard.”