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83 The origins of the Undead

 Dave appeared in the Goddess of Death's cavern.

He impatiently swiped away the unnecessary notification that popped up:

You have accepted the second Legacy Task.

Speak to Death to get more information about your mission.

The goddess of Death was sitting on the edge of the pond with her feet in the water, watching the ripples roll away across the mirrored surface of the black water before disappearing.

She looked up as Dave approached, watching him from behind the veils obscuring her face. Dave stumbled, the power of her gaze was palpable, a nerve-tingling pressure.

Dave remembered a tale about a legendary Japanese sword-master famed for his killing-intent. As the story went, when the master practiced sword kata and his gaze swept across the dojo, mice would drop from the rafters overhead, struck dead just from being at the edge of his deadly gaze.

"Hmph. You are still not ready. Your quest for power is far too slow. You won't be able to slay the cowardly king this way."

Dave didn't understand what the reason was for slaying the king . Deadra's quest was the same as his, a geas laid on him by the Death God's Ring to kill the king.

"You said the Undead King is a traitor to his people, but I do not see it in him."

Death rose to her feet and examined Dave for a long moment. He shivered, feeling the power behind the shadowed veil once again.

"Are you questioning the Word of your goddess?" she asked in a silky voice.

Throat tight, he continued, "I just need to understand. The king did not seem as you described... "

She looked at him again for an uncomfortably long moment. She nodded, "Very well. I will allow you to see."

Abruptly, they were no longer in the cavern. They stood in the void of space, infinite stars shining faintly, un-flickering, in all colors around them. Below their feet was a blue-green sphere swathed in wispy clouds. Conquest, the world.

He struggled to remain calm, unable to look away from the world rotating slowly far below. So very far below.

Heights were not Dave's thing.

There was a lurching sensation, his stomach rolled as the invisible 'floor' they were standing on yanked them straight down toward the planet many times faster than a rocket or an express elevator to hell. His insides jerked again when they came to an abrupt stop.

Below them a walled city was under siege, its impressive white-stone walls under assault. Many thousands of troops sallied from extensive earthworks carrying ladders. Siege engines lobbed boulders wreathed in fire toward the city. The artillery attacks were clearing battlements and slowly pounding the walls to rubble. The city was built around a mountain capped with a white stone castle overlooking the walls and surrounding lands. Built for war, even more strongly fortified than the city walls, the castle looked impregnable.

Without warning their viewpoint zoomed toward the castle and through a stone casement set high in one of the keep towers.

Inside the tower nine individual stood around a table.

A somber-faced man in ornate gold and crimson robes stood at the head of the granite table, the other eight people stood at even intervals along the sides.

One, a giant of a man in Gothic plate-armor, looked toward the man in robes and bowed his head, "Beg pardon, your majesty. This...must we do this? Is there no other way?"

"Deadra..." the king glared at his Knight Defender, fury sweeping across his somber visage. But then he stopped and shook himself, exerting a monarch's iron control over the impulse to lash out at his faithful subject and friend.

Astonished, Dave thought to himself: 'Holy shit! That knight is Deadra!'

"Each of you has lent Us your counsel and wisdom. We see no better alternative to accomplish Our mandate. It is Our duty and Our burden. This is the course We have decided on."

There were two items on the table in front of the king. Those who stood around the table avoided looking at the disturbing objects.

One was an ancient leather bound grimoire. A symbol of leaping black flames was embossed into the dull reddish-brown leather. They had each seen the symbol ripple and undulate, as if the flames were alive.

Next to the book was a dagger. Gold filigree decorated the handle, contrasting with the crudely finished matte-gray blade. There was an almost indiscernible wavering along the serrated edge of the blade, as if the iron teeth were gnawing at reality, sucking like a leech, bleeding away the light and color.

The king looked at the young maiden chained to the top of the ceremonial stone table.

"Eleanor. Daughter. To Our sorrow, this is the only way."

The maiden, her cheeks tracked with tears old and new, piteously begged each of the eight by name to release her.

"Daughter, this necessity grieves Us. I pray that in your spirit has the grace to forgive Us, your father and king, and these others who witness the enactment of Our duty."

He moved quickly, whipping the jagged edge of the dagger across his daughter's throat, ending her pleas for mercy abruptly. Blood jetted through the air in arcing fountains, showering the king's face in red. The King flinched from the pulsing spray, "The Blood is shed."

Determinedly he plunged the dagger into his daughter's heart and using both hands he sawed the dagger down through the ribs toward her belly, splintering through bone.

"The Bones broken." Tears filled his eyes, mixing with the blood spattered on his face.

He pushed his hand into his daughter, past the bloody jagged ends of shattered ribs and ripped her heart from the chest with a hideous wet tearing sound.

The king sobbed. Raising the bloody lump of flesh to eye level he staggered as if struck, "Two hearts riven."

In his hand the heart blackened and quivered wetly, then it beat in unnatural rhythm, writhing and pulsing like a tortured slug.

The still warm figure on the table stirred, disturbing the pool of blood in which it lay. Eyelids blinked up from coal black orbs.

Delicate shoulders flexed and links of iron chain chimed discordantly as they snapped apart. The heavy lengths of metal binding fell away from her body, rattling onto the stone tabletop. Freed, the bloody corpse lurched to its feet, looking down at them from the table in a fury.

All but the king backed away from the table and the Thing standing on it.

"Meddling mortals! My book...you dare?!" the words hissed from the ruined blood-streaked throat.

The king spoke, unable to look directly at the creature's face.

"Our kingdom and Our people are in grave danger, We sacrificed Our only child to summon you and be availed of your Power to save them. The responsibility is Ours alone."

"You summon and bind me with my book to do your bidding like some low creature. Fools! You trifle with Forces and Covenants no mortal can comprehend. You court your Doom and the Dooms of all within your nation. Even were it otherwise, STILL I would not grant you the solace of your desire." She paused to look at each of the nine, eyes blazing furiously. A breeze sprang up in the room, ruffling through hair and rattling papers.

Deadra looked at the creature, growing angrier at each word issuing from the ugly wound. His hand tightened on the hilt of his Great Sword, the blade broad enough to use as a shield and greater in length than even the knight's own impressive height.

"NO mortal will be favored with my Power this day!" The sound issuing from the slashed throat vibrated weirdly as if spoken by multiple unsynchronized voices. Several of the King's council clapped their hands to their ears, one writhed on the floor, foam at his mouth.

"I have no concern for mortal affairs, in the end ALL come to my Domain. Return my Book and Dismiss the summoning! Release me, and be grateful this day your souls were not blasted from the world and ripped away from Time itself."

This was more than Deadra could take, "Wretched demon! You will not speak so to your betters! Fulfill the bargain of the ritual, creature. Grant the favor that my king made sacrifice for!"

"Fools! Be warned, I say it for the second time! Not a feather's weight shall I lend to your designs!"

"Then you are of no use to Us!" said the king. Frustrated he viciously stabbed the dagger into the black heart beating in his hand, piercing all the way into his own flesh. Sorrow, grief and regret battled for primacy on his face, leaving no room for the pain of the wound.

"What have you done!" the creature howled in ten thousand voices of unspeakable horror and despair. The eldritch breeze whipped into a frenzy.

The King looked down, the book was shuddering and jerking on the table, then it stilled. The sanguine cover darkened, becoming deepest black, the true black of the deepest places in the earth, where no light ever shone. When the flame symbol on the cover became a mournful grey skull the king gasped in shock and terror.

"I say it for the third and final time! Fools! By My Name, by My Throne, by My power I call. May the Retribution of all the gods fall on each of you! Your Doom is nigh!"

Dave returned to himself, looking down at the city from high in the clouds.

As far as he could see shadow moved across the lands of the kingdom, as if clouds hid the sun from view. Then it became even darker, like a starless night.

From the palace a soundless explosion of wrongness exploded in a widening ripple, expanding in all directions with no sign of diminishing.

Wherever the wave passed through them, every man, woman, child and beast fell like puppets with cut strings. Every growing plant rotted. Every structure and building decayed.

In its wake cold winds spun up from dank low places, building to elemental force then howling out into the new darkness, harbingers of chaos and destruction.

Then the ground shook, yawning sinkholes appeared, crevices marched in zig zags across large swathes of land. The entire realm rumbled and groaned as if in agony.

Then it sunk, gaining speed it moved deeper, away from Dave's hovering position, suctioning air and water after it and disappearing from sight into darkness, leaving just a void.

Light and earth returned, covering over the void, leaving not a scar or sign of the cataclysm that had taken place. The world resumed as if the entire nation had never existed. Forests, mountains and plains stretched peacefully to the horizons below Dave.

"Their desecration was punished and they were removed from the world," said Death

"You are still in her body, the king's daughter?"

"I am imprisoned in it, here in the mortal realms."

"How so?" said Dave

"The summoning forced me to take an avatar on this plane," she gestured to herself. "Stabbing the revenant heart should have ended the ritual. Normally, ending such a ritual renders the summoned powerless in this world and banishes it back from whence it came. But I am not a daemon or an Outsider, I do not reside in the Infernal realms, nor am I a Dweller in the Abyss or the Void. My Power cannot be taken from me and I cannot be banished from this world. Now I am trapped in this weak body, I cannot return to my celestial form in the Realms of the Gods.

Dave stroked his beard thinking, "But if you get the book back you can return to your own body."

"Yes, I must have the book to break the binding and release myself from this avatar. But I don't even know where the book is, it hides itself from my gaze. It protects the king from what Power I still have."

"I don't have a lot of options," Dave said unhappily.

"You have my ring, with the Ring of the Death god the book may acknowledge you are Death's chosen, and reveal itself to you. The alternative is you kill the king, find the book and bring it back to me."

Dave wanted to complete his legacy quest, but the Undead king was powerful, his level above 700, which made him an Unholy tier world-boss. Dave would not be fighting him anytime soon.

'I can just 'sell' the expansion. Kill myself in exchange for cash and a high position in one of the guilds.

'But without the Legacy there would be no more Mr. Skeletal, no adventures, no discoveries. I would become just another no-name guild flunky.'

She handed him a small round object made of brass, "This will reveal the Book when you are close to it."

Dave looked.

Death's 'Finder Widget.' It looks like an old compass, but doesn't have any markings. It has one function, and it's not to indicate which direction north is.

(Unique)

Player-bound

Dave pocketed the compass, he wasn't going to need it anytime soon.

The goddess of Death made a shooing motion, "We are done. Do not fail me!"

"Wait! What about the challenge for th-"

Dave appeared back in the temple.

Congratulations for successfully completing the first Challenge of your Second Task!

+100,000 EXP

Level-Up!

Attention:

Ring of the Death God's second ability has been unsealed!

[Life Cleaver]

"Whaa...?! Oh yeahhh!! No pain or almost-dying necessary this time!"

It was about time something came easy! He couldn't wait to find out what the ring's [Life Cleaver] ability did. It had to be something juicy.

Just as he was going to check, his phone started ringing IRL. Dave didn't have a link to his phone from the capsule.

When he finally untangled from his capsule and looked, he recognized the number. Lone Arrow.

Hoping he wouldn't regret it, he hit the 'accept' key.

"Eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee Daveyyyyyyyyyy!"

The high pitched squeal spiked into his ear and kicked off a headache. He winced and looked at the phone to see if it was broken. Shaking his head, he put it back to his ear to hear Lone monologuing in all high notes.

"...lookie look on the forums! Hurry, hurry, hurry! Now, now, now! Wait, wait, wait! Before you do that, send me the last hour of your video-feed from our raid-zone quest, pleeeeeeeease. I really, really, reallyyyyyyyy need it, please-and-thank-yewwwwww!"

Purple-Top sounds like a chipmunk on meth.

As soon as Dave logged into the forums he saw why.

"AHHHHHH, SH-"