Denethia walked hand in hand with the handsome man who had stolen her heart the first night of the autumn festival. He was dressed in mouse-colored robes, with a comical pointed cap sitting rakishly off-center on his head. A false beard hung from his square chin down to his leanly muscled chest. He carried a fanciful, feather-adorned staff in his other hand, the costume unmistakable as that of a wizard. The garb seemed to suit him well.
Denethia's costume also suited her perfectly — her willowy form wrapped in a white dress, green leaves painstakingly stitched into the hem and neckline by her mother. Her lustrous blonde hair, flowing freely down below her shoulder blades, had flowers and leaves woven in with the golden tresses. A bow and quiver slung over her shoulder, and points made of wax attached to the top of her ears completed the costume. Denethia's friends remarked that one had to look twice to be sure that an elf warrior-maiden did not actually walk amongst them at the festival.
She knew her parents would disapprove of her seeing a man that was ten years or more her senior. The townsfolk whispered amongst themselves whenever the couple passed, as well. None of that mattered to Denethia. Almost from the moment he had introduced himself, her fifteen-year-old heart was his. The previous night of the festival stood out as her most wonderful memory, and this night promised to overshadow even that pinnacle of her life.
She was nervous, of course, walking along nibbling on a sweet with her gorgeous wizard. Darkness was settling over the town, and soon she would be creeping away under the cover of night to discover the wonders between man and woman. Celdin had promised — amid passionate kisses — that he would take her away and remove the mystery surrounding the things boys and girls did off in the shadows when their parents weren't around.
When darkness fully descended, Denethia's heart started to race. Celdin led her ever farther from the flickering torches and bonfires, toward the edge of town and the woods beyond. There amongst the trees, in the light of the full moon, Celdin would make love to her.
As they walked toward the trees, Denethia's nerve nearly failed her. Despite her excitement, and the tingling between her legs, the cold fingers of fear gripped her heart as well. Cloaked in darkness, the woods looked foreboding indeed. She remembered the stories about this night, when the veil between this world and the dark was thin — and that only caused the trees to appear even more sinister in her eyes. The adults all warned their children that this was a night when evil sought to smother the light, and thus the festival had started to counter that black power. Celebration and shared generosity kept the darkness at bay, saving the world from a fate unimaginable.
A squeeze of his hand, and a smile, soothed Denethia's fears. In the face of that smile, and anticipation of what was to come, feelings of love and arousal smothered all thoughts of evil spirits and black magic. She smiled back, and they stepped onto the trail leading into the forest.
It was not the pleasures of the flesh that greeted Denethia in the woods, however, but the cold flesh of the walking dead. The clammy hands covered her mouth before she could scream, and held her tight so she could not run. Terror and the stink of death overwhelmed her, and Denethia slipped into unconsciousness. Her last thought before she fainted was to wonder why Celdin was just standing in front of her, watching the dead take her captive.
Denethia cringed and trembled, her skin covered in gooseflesh. Though the air of the cavern — her prison — was cold, and tinged with the stench of corrupt flesh, it had nothing to do with the chill that permeated her body. Buried now, deep in the bowels of the world, for five years, she barely noticed the mundane chill seeping from the stone any longer.
The frigid bite of the spell's mastery rushed through her, filling her with a perverse mixture of revulsion and accomplishment. She despised her study of Necromancy, the magic of death, but it was only through mastery of those foul spells that she continued to live. Although her life now was one of hopeless despair, Denethia could not face the price of failure. Death would be only the beginning of her eternal torment if the Master decided she was of no use to him.
More disturbing still was the fact that some part of her rejoiced in the power she had just attained. Magic burned brightly in her blood, as it did in all of her line. Her soul sang in exaltation, even as it screamed in torment.
Denethia slumped as the sensation faded, her tangled blonde locks falling to hide her face, and her chin coming to rest on the stained canvas smock she wore. She sucked in short, gasping breaths, trying to draw air into her deprived lungs, having involuntarily held her breath as her body reacted to the mastery of the magic.
Placing her hands on the rough stone table, carved from the rock by the tireless hands of the undead, Denethia raised her head and opened her brown eyes once again. All around her, the others continued their studies, their faces masks of concentration. They knew as well as she the cost of failure. None of her fellow prisoners acknowledged her as she stood, picked up the scroll before her, and climbed back over the bench behind her.
Walking around the table, her legs and bottom aching from sitting on the hard stone for hours, Denethia made her way toward the Master's desk at the back of the chamber. The sickly green light of the magical globes that chased back the darkness almost seemed to retreat from Celdin, seated at his desk engrossed in his own studies.
He sensed her approach and looked up, hints of a smile twitching his lips. She had to fight the urge to turn away from the piercing stare of his dark green eyes, and yet she had to battle the attraction to him as well.
Denethia bowed her head and held the scroll out in front of her when she reached the Master's desk. The desk that was the Celdin's throne was a masterpiece in granite, covered in intricate carvings depicting death and the undead. Directly in front of her eyes was a carved scene of a skeleton ripping open a pregnant woman's womb to drag out the unborn babe. Her stomach rebelled, and she closed her eyes tight while awaiting the Master's pleasure.
"You have learned the spell," Celdin said. It was not a question, just a confirmation of what he already knew. His deep, cultured voice was the same one that had stolen her heart as a girl, but now it aroused fear in Denethia.
"Yes, Master," she responded, not looking up or opening her eyes.
She could hear his chair sliding back across the stone, and knew he was rising. "Come," he instructed as he took the scroll from her hands.
Denethia followed, her eyes cast downward at the hem of his black satin robe swishing over the dark stone below. The sound of his heels echoed throughout the chamber, a sharp contrast to the sound of his bare-footed slave behind him. When he stopped at an ironbound door, she again closed her eyes and tried to master her fears. The spell he expected her to demonstrate in mere moments was difficult, and the thought of the results made her skin crawl.
The door opened, and a wall of cold air slammed into Denethia. Even colder than the rest of the cavern, it also carried a charnel house stench that brought the taste of bile to her mouth. Celdin proceeded into the room, and she followed without hesitation, knowing the consequences of a pause.
When the Master stopped and turned, she raised her eyes once again. Lying upon the bloodstained limestone bier was a corpse. Stiff and obviously long dead, the body was covered in bruises, and bones pressed against the flesh of the unfortunate victim's throat, evidence the young man's neck had been broken. The body was nude, and somehow that indignity offended Denethia even more than the marks of his violent death.
Sitting next to the corpse was a wooden bowl, which contained all the spell components she would need to cast the spell she had mastered minutes earlier. Picking up the bowl, Denethia took a deep breath of the reeking air, and began the dark ritual.
She traced the final sigil upon the chest of the corpse, her finger coated in the mixture of blood and ash required by the spell. It was all Denethia could do to maintain her composure as she drew the runes on the body, fighting the urge to recoil from the clammy flesh beneath her fingertip.
Putting down the bowl, Denethia chanted the magical phrases that would culminate the spell. Celdin looked at the sigils drawn upon the corpse, and nodded approvingly as his unwilling apprentice intoned the harsh, guttural syllables of the death spell.
Denethia spoke the final word in a loud voice. She was so lost in the gathering power of her magic that the dark nature of the spell lost all meaning before a wave of anticipation. In the face of that power responding to her call, she could not help but feel a sense of triumph.
The corpse lurched as if hit by a great blow to the chest, then began to twitch, arms and legs moving randomly, resembling a puppet with tangled strings. Denethia could feel a connection to the horrific caricature of life. Instinctively, she knew she could command it and sense what was going on around it, even at a great distance. The creature's lurching hurled it from the bier to land at her feet, though the movements of the body were becoming more coordinated by the moment.
"Command it to stand," Celdin ordered.
.... There is more of this story ...