Chapter Thirty-Three – Madness Unleashed
Poppet was frozen with fear. Around her neck, the unnaturally tight grip of finger bones squeezed as the tips began to pierce through her flesh. The smell—it was terrible. Rotting skin and ancient bones wafted a scent to burn her nostrils given her terrifyingly close proximity, and this was further scarring with the creature’s jet black eye-sockets somehow still staring directly into her eyes. His jaw pulled open, and despite the lack of a tongue, or flesh whatsoever, a course voice came as freely as a man still living.
“You’re tiny… like a baby,” he grumbled.
Her eyes stayed staring. This had never happened before, but there was something about him that struck her silent. All she could do was mumble in response. There, balanced on her toes, she remained grappled by a nightmare.
“It feels like it’s about midnight,” he continued. “The perfect time for a snack. And I don’t know about you, but,” he said as he lifted Poppet closer to his face. “I. Eat. Babies.”
“What are you doing?” shouted Renatta’s voice from afar.
“Look!” came Daveon’s voice. “That little girl over there. She’s being attacked by skeletons! It might be demons. We’ve gotta save her.”
Skello dropped Poppet to the ground. His spine cracked as his skull slowly turned to glare at the oncoming duo. With a single, boney finger, he reached up to scratch the inside of his socket—the finger plunging deep into his skull. He finally shrugged, and began to wander towards the darker depth of the cemetery, leaving Poppet and her skeletal companions to deal with the conflict.
“On the other hand, I shouldn’t… I’m watching my weight,” he stated as he continued on.
“Wha—Wait!” screamed Poppet. “What the heck? Are you messing with me? You’re my slave, so come back here right now, and return my pendant. That’s mine!”
But her attention was quickly stolen by Daveon and Renatta who were standing at the ready nearby. They looked to her, and then to the skeletons beside her, confused neither were actually moving. It looked to them like she was under attack, but after they arrived, they saw nothing was actually occurring.
“Who the heck are you two?” she snarled.
“We could ask you the same thing,” Daveon replied. “I thought you were fighting demons over here. Are these skeletons yours?”
“Of course they are, you idiots! They’re my slaves. And if you don’t mind, some guy is getting away with my special necklace. So scram, or I’ll sick my new slaves on you. Got that?”
Renatta looked to the druid. “She is so full of anger, but so small. I wonder if she knows Deena.”
“I’m not joking here!” the girl shouted. “Damn it. He’s gone. Where did he go? I need to track him down and get that back.”
“You’re puppeting people’s corpses?” Daveon asked. “That’s wrong for so many reasons. You must be a wizard, right? Surely you could do better than disturbing the dead. This is grave-robbing to the extreme.”
“I can see you’re both not going to stop annoying me. Cal, Fred. Deal with them,” she hummed, and then strangely enough, started to giggle.
“They are moving, without any muscles!” called out Renatta.
Daveon nodded. “There’s a magical force keeping them together, moving them around. I don’t know how she’s doing it so well without moving at all, but we better be careful. She could be a powerful witch.”
Just then, the skeleton called Cal leapt into action. He moved with impressive speed given his skeletal figure, and soon enough, he was up at Renatta with fingers ready to grip around his victim. She was quick, however. The girl thrust a hand into his ribs. Clearly, a magic was bolstering these corpse’s defences, or that strike would have clearly shattered such old bones to splinters, but he still stuttered his assault. Not singeing her flesh in the slightest, her foot burst into a flaring fury of intense glowing heat. She performed a movement similar to a pirouette, but this dance exploded against her foe’s femur in a sparkling display of flames. The fire burst out like a shock-wave, and on impact, the bone shattered and the skeleton collapsed to the ground. It still moved, however.
It lifted back up. The skeleton struggled to stand, but clearly, these were designed to last.
Beside her, the skeleton Fred was flailing wildly at the back-dodging Daveon. He lunged a whip of vine from his hand, and it wrapped around the scrawny neck of the creature. With a tug, he tried to snap the skull right off the body, but it simply wasn’t enough. He underestimated whatever power was keeping it in a state of unlife.
“You’re both pretty lame for being wizards,” Poppet scoffed as she scoped the area out for any signs of the escaped Skello.
“We don’t want to be caught!” said Daveon. “You’re going to get us all in trouble, you little brat.”
“I do not see anyone around,” Renatta stated.
“We must act in an instant! It is better to act than to die. I am going to think like Eldrian did. These skeletons are way too tough to be punched and kicked, so I am going to get serious. I am tired of being subtle!”
The exotic wizard Renatta brought out both hands stretched to either side, and in her right, a steel ring flared into existence, followed by a trail of flames—her chakram. A spark came to life before her chest. Then, it formed a sparkling cross over her form. In an instant, she pointed her chakram to the sky, and the fire fell over her body in a spiralling twister of roaring heat.
A wave of light came from her feet as she shot herself high into the air. Her body flipped a few times forwards like a circus acrobat, but there were no ropes or swings. She was engulfed in flames, and with one foot jetting downwards, she began careening towards the skeleton on the ground. Nova Striker!
Like a fired harpoon, Renatta collided directly with the upper chest of the skeleton. He and her foot exploded against the ground, simultaneously both shattering and charring most of his body. A wave of heat wafted over the graves around her, and a star-like shape burned itself into the grass around the point of impact. She held the landing position for a moment, and after everything went quiet, she back-flipped back to her initial position with a deep exhale.
Fire flickered in her eyes. She wasn’t finished.
In one fluid motion, she spun her upper body and released the razor-sharp chakram from her grip. It burned with magical flames as well, and it formed an arching path to the skeleton nearly on top of Daveon. With a booming snap, it cleaved straight through the spine directly beneath his neck, beheading the still-moving skeleton. It made a full circle around the area and Renatta snatched it back up.
“Daveon!” she called out. “Why are you back there? Are you running away?”
He clenched his teeth. “No. You’re right. Everytime we run into these people, it’s like we’re being bullied. They don’t hold back but we do, like they have nothing to lose. But maybe we have nothing to lose either. And you know what? Maybe the spellbreakers aren’t so bad.”
Daveon ran. But it wasn’t away. He sprinted towards the headless skeleton, and part of the way there, his body changed shape. No longer was he a human being. He was a rhinoceros, and the beast was stampeding towards its prey. In an explosive collection, Daveon’s horn crushed the skeleton’s ribcage to the point of it becoming stuck over the animal’s head. Bones continues to clatter to the ground as the rhino continued until the skeleton was nothing more than piecing lining the cemetery ground.
“Yeah!” cheered Renatta.
“No!” shouted Poppet. “How dare you two get in my way. I told you, I need to find my pendant or I can’t make more slaves!”
“You can not be that strong if you were just standing here,” Renatta mocked. “And we do not want you to make more slaves.”
Poppet grinned. With arms over her chest, a devilish spark shone in her eyes. Although a rhinoceros came to a stop nearby, and a girl armed with a weapon and a fiery personality was coming, she held her ground confidently. She then pointed upwards.
“Beautiful night, isn’t it? I love the moon and the stars,” whispered Poppet.
Daveon returned to normal, and his eyes gazed upwards.
“What are you saying? Wait a minute…” he muttered.
“What is it?” Renatta asked.
“The sky is completely clouded over. But I can see the stars.”
Countless sparkles filled the air above them. At first, they looked just like twinkling stars, but they were beneath the clouds—far beneath—and they flared to live one after another.
“Welcome to my Starlight Symphony!” Poppet screamed.
White beams fired down from above them like a meteor shower of stars from the sky. They would have been beautiful, if they weren’t exploding holes in the ground, and whipping mere inches past the panicking wizards. Renatta and Daveon dodged away, and both rose hands up to the air beside one another to form one larger magic barrier in hopes it was enough. A few impacts were directly absorbed, and even though it shook them, the ward held strong.
“Where is she?” asked Renatta, looking frantically around.
Daveon joined, but after a moment he came to the same conclusion she did.
“She’s gone,” he mumbled. “That was her escape.”
The sun’s edge was barely cracking over the horizon. The wandering skeleton, however, didn’t seem to be affected by the snow, nor the chilliness of incredibly early morning. His boney feet brought him to a farm around the borders of the city—far from civilization.
He thankfully found something to wear on the way. It was a robe, with a hood, which covered his skeletal appearance, at least under shade. How did he find such a garment? It was an exchange. The man gave him the robe, and he gave the man the ear of the last victim that didn’t give him their clothing.
Skello leaned on the fence which kept in a dozen or so cattle and horses. One of the cows was nearby, and it stared blankly at the undead man.
“Hello there,” Skello said, despite him being the only one around. “My name’s Skello, I guess. That’s the name I was given. Said so on my gravestone. What’s your name? Mootilda? That’s a beautiful name. Sorry, Mootilda, but my heart’s unavailable. I’ll come back when I’ve gathered a few, and we can share. Like a picnic.”
His voice was slow, deep, and sounded as if he was speaking through sandpaper, but all things considered, it was still good for a man without a throat. A single, surprisingly sharp finger tip tapped up and down against the splintered wood.
A young man stepped up behind him. The poor boy wasn’t able to see the undead’s face from his point of view, so he spoke simply as if he was talking to a stranger.
“Hi, sir,” he said. “Who are you?”
“Ah. I’m your father’s new helper here at the farm. Allow me to lend you… a hand.”
The skeleton’s body turned slowly. It wasn’t until he was fully up to the boy that he could see, and smell, the horror within the robe. The boney hand extended out from inside, and he offered a gift to the young man. It was a warm, still dripping, human hand.
The boy screamed, but he was only allowed the freedom to do so for a few seconds.
Skello made his way over to the house. Despite being alone, he never thought to himself. It was always aloud. But this time, it wasn’t simple thoughts that escaped his skeletal jaw. It was music. He was singing—a song he made up as he walked with a skip in his step.
“Oh I like seeing the tears in their eye,
as they start to cry
when its time for their parents to die.
Oh I like watching their face turn to dread,
as I make them all dead,
but don’t lose your head! Get it?”
With a decapitated face staring into his eye sockets from within his grip, he chuckled, and made his way finally away from the farmhouse. As he faded away to the horizon, the sun came up, but he continued to sing.
“I do like to kill them,
I do like to curse them,
and poison their water supply.
I like to defeat them,
find orphans and eat them,
I do like to make them all die!”
Stay tuned for Chapter Thirty-Four – Learn to Adapt!