|The Armageddon Scrolls
Author: Solomon Sia PM
Epic-Fantasy-Deathly Powers. Haunted by a chilling secret that threatens to unravel the One Republic, a resurrected Prince Charming fights to save his nation. At the same time, Vincent stands at a crossroads that will change the fate of the entire world: The necromancer must choose to abandon his father's legacy, or embrace the darkness forever.Rated: Fiction T - English - Adventure/Horror - Chapters: 25 - Words: 81,685 - Reviews: 109 - Favs: 13 - Follows: 12 - Updated: 06-13-13 - Published: 06-02-12 - id: 3028279
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
Chapter 14 – Blood Debt
Vincent bade Illexmann farewell and told Eva to stay safe while he was gone. The Lijk had advised him to leave Eva behind, promising to keep her safe. Even if Vincent had brought her along, there was no way a zombie dragon would be able to fit in the Chk'lid tunnels, where the insect princess doubtless dwelled. The necromancer's magic sped him on his journey, and within the span of two hours he was at one of the myriad entrances of the Chk'lid hive.
"They're just like giant ants," said Vincent, stopping a safe distance away to observe his targets. "They make my skin crawl."
Chk'lid workers scuttled to and fro tirelessly, following invisible trails that led them to and from the hive's entrance. Vincent's assessment was surprisingly accurate. The nightmarish six legged scuttlers had pinched, elongated bodies supported by spindly, hairy limbs. A shiny black carapace covered their bodies from head to abdomen like natural armour, and large compound eyes and segmented feelers received information from the outside world.
Mysterious evolutionary pressures had allowed them to grow until they were nearly the size of a human. Due to their crawling posture, however, their heads came only up to Vincent's knee level. An innate revulsion, mixed with horrified fascination, grew in Vincent's chest as he watched the alien creatures about their duty. It was like hearing a minor note played discordantly, or the touch of a pithing needle at the back of one's neck, only the feeling was amplified a hundredfold.
"I'll take demons over bugs any day," whispered Vincent.
"Aha!" exclaimed Will. "Look at that one! That's what I'm talking about."
Will, lacking any appendages, pointed with his tongue at one of the Chk'lids that had just emerged. This new Chk'lid was larger than its brethren, and, if such a thing was possible, evoked even greater feelings of disgust from Vincent.
"That's a soldier, that is," said Will knowledgeably, with the satisfied air of a professor of entomology. "Watch it crawl in slow motion. It's pretty badass. Look, it crawls all over the place. Look at that giant armoured head. You won't see many things getting past that armoured head. And see those huge jaws? They'll slice a man in half as easily as you'll snap a twig."
"I seem to recall them," said Vincent, shuddering at the memory. "The cave where I healed the … bug princess was full of them."
"Na," said Will dismissively. "Those you saw were all stone dead. These soldiers are the jackpot, Vincent. The Ghost Council was smart enough to try to enslave them. Mindless killing machines that know no fear and feel no pain? They're like the undead, but different. Now imagine what it would be like to have an army of these under your command."
"You do realise that I know absolutely nothing about these…bugs," remarked Vincent. "Should I just be striding in?"
"Walk, brother," advised Will. "I'll brief you as we go along."
"How do you know so much about bugs anyway?" asked Vincent.
"It's my business to know," replied Will with a self satisfied air.
Keeping his misgivings to himself, Vincent began his approach on the cave.
"The Chk'lids observe an immutable hierarchy," explained Will on the move. "Each and every one of these insects, worker or soldier, is given life by a Queen, who exercises absolute control over her subjects. Come to think about it, it's a rather strong parallel between necromancers and their undead."
"Can we speed this lesson up?" asked Vincent. The necromancer, a master of death, was starting to realise that there were things in the world he did fear, such as things that were human sized and had six legs. Several had already sensed his presence and were moving to investigate.
"Well," continued Will, "the creature you saved nearly two weeks ago was a Chk'lid princess, easily distinguished by the slenderness of her body and the presence of wings. Unlike her mindless subjects, princesses possess powerful intellects that rival our own. In fact, I am one of the advocates of the theory that Chk'lid royalty are even capable of psychic displays of power."
"Are you kidding me?" asked Vincent. The necromancer suppressed an involuntary shudder.
"Mind control, telekinesis, psychic shock," slobbered Will nonchalantly, as though he was reading off a laundry list. "Of course, none of this has ever been proven, but still, an intriguing possibility!"
"And we're going alone into the ant tunnels to find this telekinetic bug princess and tell her that she owes me her life and thus should pledge several thousand of her soldiers to my service?" asked Vincent.
"Exactly!" exclaimed Will. "Isn't it just genius?"
"I wish I had brought Eva," whispered Vincent fervently.
Blissfully unaware of Vincent's discomfort, Will continued his monologue, elaborating on the origin, history, and special characteristics of the fascinating insect world they were about to enter.
"The Chk'lids are actually a rather advanced species, and their achievements would have been better appreciated had we established better contact with them. They've developed their own form of agriculture, three-dimensional city building, mining and even metallurgy. Their social system might even be considered a utopian model, for there is only one mind to satisfy and thousands of bodies that work in unison solely for her benefit. In fact-"
"Will!" said Vincent sharply, interrupting his demon brother. The necromancer had completely halted his advance. Three Chk'lid workers were moving towards the frozen human purposefully. "I think they're going to try to touch me. I'm not going to let them touch me."
"Well," mused Will. "Technically you should let them feeler you up. Ideally these mindless workers will relay your scent via a highly developed communication system among each other, where the princess will surely notice. It might even save you a trip underground."
"I'm not going to let them touch me," said Vincent emphatically.
"Oh come now, Vincent," cajoled Will. "There's nothing to fear. Hey, stop that, Vincent! What the hell do you think you are doing?"
The necromancer had summoned a thin bubble of corrosive magic that surrounded his body. Anything that came within two feet of the necromancer would burn.
"I'm not afraid. I just don't want them touching me," said Vincent.
"You can't do that!" exclaimed Will in a panic. "The workers will sense danger…"
The approaching Chk'lids shied away immediately from the necromancer's destructive magic. They backed away hastily, retreating towards the hive's recesses.
"Their knowledge of danger will spread…" said Will, his voice faltering.
As the fleeing Chk'lids ran, their feelers touched those of their brethren, communicating the danger. Each Chk'lid touched this way reacted as if stung by a bee, scurrying about wildly as more and more of the giant insects fell under the mindless spell of terror.
"The world goes to hell…" said Will hopelessly, realising the futility of his words in the face of the chaos Vincent had caused.
Vincent, still maintaining his bubble of corrosive melody, stood awestruck at the epicentre of an expanding cascade of living, skittering dominoes. A few Chk'lids even ran into the corrosive melody in their senseless panic, and the acrid stench of their burning bodies only served to fuel the whirl of nightmarish confusion.
Just when the necromancer thought that things could not get any worse, they did. Scores of huge Chk'lid soldiers poured out of the hive entrance. On the warpath, they charged straight towards the source of the danger that threatened their home.
Vincent wasn't afraid of fully armoured knights on horses.
Vincent was afraid of Chk'lids.
"What do I do now, Will?" asked Vincent, swallowing nervously.
"Tell me, Vincent," said Will in a voice filled with pain and exasperation. "Why…the shiv… do you even bother asking for advice?"
"Stop messing around, Will, this is serious!" cried Vincent.
"I was serious, until you did something monumentally stupid!" replied Will.
"You're the expert on Chk'lids! I never wanted anything to do with them in the first place!"
"Alright. Alright okay alright," said Will. "We'll resort to Plan B."
"And that is?" asked Vincent, raising an eyebrow.
"Keep killing them until they stop coming."
It turned out that, after several gruelling minutes of battle, that Plan B was not very effective.
"They don't stop coming!" shouted Vincent in frustration.
Beams of iridescent energy streaked from the necromancer's palms towards the burgeoning numbers of insect warriors, wounding and killing them outright as they charged. The ground was littered with the bodies of dead and dying Chk'lids, and the stench of acidic blood and ozone mingled to create a truly horrendous gastronomic sensation.
Despite his discomfort at being on the receiving end of such an attack, Vincent was starting to develop a reserved admiration for the Chk'lid soldiers. He, like Will had planned, was also starting to see the advantages of an army. The necromancer smirked grimly. He wasn't sure how much longer he would be able to hold out.
"See what I mean?" declared Will. "They make perfect soldiers. Woah, watch out! Some of them have come from another entrance and have gotten behind you."
The necromancer whirled around to realise that he was completely surrounded by a forest of massive, snapping jaws.
"I really wish Eva was here," said Vincent, out loud this time. "Will, Plan B is terrible!"
Will stuck out his tongue in response. "That's why I recommended Plan A. But at least things worked out in the end. They've stopped attacking."
The demon familiar spoke the truth, for the Chk'lid soldiers were no longer advancing. Instead, they formed themselves into a rigid wall of immovable chitin armour around the necromancer.
"Now we wait for their leader," said Will.
They did not have long to wait. A new type of Chk'lid pushed its way past the guards.
"There she is," said Will unnecessarily.
The Chk'lid princess was slimmer than her subjects, lending her segmented body traces of gracefulness both in stillness and in motion. Her jaws and feelers were delicate, and even the lustrous ebony sheen of her body stood out among the dull black of her bodyguards. Most telling of all, however, was a pair of iridescent wings that sprouted from her back. The gossamer filaments sparkled in the sun like vampire skin.
Necromancer and Chk'lid princess stared at each other for some moments. Then both began speaking simultaneously.
The princess chittered something incomprehensible at Vincent in the Royal Chk'lid tongue.
"Ah, you're the bug whose life I saved?" asked Vincent. "Your hospitality is most becoming."
"Bloody necromancer," said the Chk'lid, in perfect, albeit slightly accented, human speech. "What the hell are you doing here? Looking for death?"
"She speaks our language," whispered Will.
"Isn't that truly convenient?" whispered Vincent back.
Out loud to the princess, Vincent said: "Your human is very good…for a bug. You must have had very perverted…I mean, persistent…tutors."
"What do you want, necromancer?" asked the Chk'lid princess caustically.
("Truly, truly, truly convenient," whispered Will.)
"Last time we met, we were in no state to exchange pleasantries," said Vincent. "So we don't know each other's names. My name is Vincent Nightingale, lord of the Deathly March."
"I am Princess Irri," replied the Chk'lid princess. "Lord of the soldiers who are about to rip you to pieces, now that I'm here."
Vincent felt his body tense in sudden anger. Perhaps the annihilation of nine tenths of the princess's bodyguard would put her in her place.
"Don't even think about it, bro," said Will firmly, sensing Vincent's thoughts. "This is a diplomatic mission."
"Browbeating is an accepted form of diplomacy," said Vincent.
"Bro, you can't win now that the princess is here," said Will enigmatically. "Remember, be diplomatic. Smile."
Vincent forced himself to relax, letting his hands fall limply to his sides. He pasted a one-use-only smile on his face.
"Do you remember the time I healed you, Princess Irri?" asked Vincent. "Not more than two weeks ago, in the chamber of skulls. You were so close to death. You feared to die, and I saved your life."
Princess Irri stared at Vincent and shook her head slightly.
"I remember. So?"
Vincent goggled at the Chk'lid princess, and hastily reattached his dropped smile. "Don't you feel that you owe me a debt? A favour, perhaps, in exchange for saving your life?"
The princess snorted in reply. "The Chk'lids recognize no debts. Everything exists to serve my sisters, the Queen and me. You have only done what is right and natural, why should you be rewarded?"
Vincent could feel his temporary smile melting at the princess's words.
"You didn't tell me she'd be such a bitch," he whispered to Will.
"I didn't know she'd be such a bitch," replied Will apologetically.
The princess stared at Vincent with deep suspicion, as Vincent appeared to be whispering a growth on his shoulder, which happened to be whispering back. "Now you have gone against the hive, and by extension, against me. It is only right and natural that you die."
"Actually I was wondering if you would provide us with several thousand Chk'lid soldiers to help us in our war on the surface," blurted Vincent.
Princess Irri's head quivered from side to side. It seemed to be the Chk'lid equivalent of rolling one's eyes. "Human humour," she sneered.
"We have to fight our way out now, I think," said Vincent.
The pair was saved from certain confrontation by the appearance of another character. The dense barrier of spindly legs and armoured bodies parted, giving way to a man who approached the commotion with purposeful steps.
Vincent's eyes widened in recognition. "It's you! Soldier from the skull chamber. The bug lover. You're the one who begged me to save the princess's life. Perfect. You can help sort this out."
The soldier was a tall, youthful man with piercing grey eyes and rugged good looks. He wore a threadbare uniform that looked as if it had not been replaced for several years. He bowed low before the necromancer.
"It is an honour to meet you again, benefactor," said the soldier.
"What is the meaning of this, Adam?" snarled the princess. "You shall bow to no one except me."
Adam, for that was the soldier's name, straightened and chittered something in the Royal tongue in reply. The soldier placed a hand reassuringly on Princess Irri's back, which seemed to mollify her considerably.
Turning to the necromancer, Adam said: "Vincent. I did not think our paths would ever cross again, and never so soon. I am Captain Adam Loving, human advisor to the princess. We are forever in your debt for having saved Princess Irri's life."
A concerned look flashed across the soldier's eyes as he took in the devastated surroundings and the tension in the atmosphere. "I hope everything is well with you."
"It's been fun. Finally, I've found someone just as unworthy of being saved as I am," said Vincent sarcastically. "I came asking for help, and these bugs have done nothing but try to kill me."
Adam looked troubled. "This could be a problem. You see, the Chk'lids have no experience dealing with equals, and hence have no concept of debt or gratitude."
"Well that's the surprise of the century," said Vincent.
Adam listened attentively as Vincent told him about all that was transpiring on the surface, and how the necromancer needed an army desperately.
"Please, let me do the talking," begged Adam. A rapid conversation in the Royal tongue between Adam and Princess Irri ensued, during which Vincent and Will waited nervously.
At last Adam looked up at the pair.
"The princess has agreed that in exchange for past services, you are allowed to escape with your life," the soldier declared apologetically.
"What?" blurted Vincent in a voice chock full of contempt and disbelief.
"However, such leniency comes with a condition," continued Adam.
If Vincent had been sceptical before, he was downright incredulous now.
"In exchange for Princess Irri's graciousness, you will be her guide to the surface world, tasked with ensuring her safety as she travels across a land which may at times be dangerous, especially during this war."
Vincent opened his mouth to speak, but only a tiny croak of protest managed to emerge.
"Naturally, the princess will go everywhere accompanied by myself, as well as her full bodyguard."
Adam took a deep breath.
"Sixty thousand Chk'lid soldiers."