Hello, readers mine! Here’s the revised form of The Necromancer and the Reaping Spear‘s second chapter. This one didn’t require a whole lot of changes, but I did spruce up some lines here and there. No erotica in this chapter given the characters involved–yes, that means I did consider it–but I hope perhaps some juicy worldbuilding might entice people of differing appetites.
As before, I encourage you to read Making Points, Mental Health, and the Necromancer’s Vengeance Series (northbornsword.blog) before committing your money to this series.
With that done, if you’re intrigued by the series after reading the chapter below and want to make sure I’m able to keep writing it, please pick up the first book at Smashwords: Smashwords – The Necromancer and the Revenant: Resurrected Edition – a book by Caerllyn McCurdy.
Now then, back to Urzen in his planar throne room as he receives an unanticipated guest…
“Learning that does not change your plans is pointless. Planning without action is ornamental. Action without planning is at best a last resort, and at worst, folly that must surely end in evil. Learn, plan, act: none of these means anything without the others.” -Count Albrecht Durer, Stoßdärer knight, general, and military theorist
Faint primal impulses flooded Urzen. They called him to stand. To clench his fists. To bellow, stalk, hunt until he found prey worth the killing! These desires were not his. Neither were they anathema to him. Such deep drives could as easily foster love as extinguish it. The same ardor of artistry that spawned a legendary sculptor made its home in the heart of the armorer, and the bowyer, and the swordsmith.
Knowing this, Urzen sighed. The sigh reverberated from the hazy impression of his face out through the drifting fog of his body. He drew his scattered essences back together and called upon the power of his plane. It spun tighter around him and rebounded out once more as glinting multicolor light anointing the walls. A veiling aura not to keep the visitor out, but to conceal the martial stirring his own aura cast wherever he marched.
And march he did—heralded by the echoing war-cries of a thousand foregone wars. Blood and fire unfolded into Urzen’s throne room. The glittering walls warped. Plane met plane with lusty luminescence against a burning eve’s sweep of shattering banner-staves and tumbling butchery beneath a blood-red moon.
First as a shadow in the smoke and embers rising from that spectral sea of slaughter. Now a glassy silhouette. Now a surging bulwark of divine sinew stepping into the utmost heart of the Plane of Flesh: a titan girded upon the immortal brawn of his limbs by black plate armor. Gouges and hammer-blow deformations covered the glinting night-steel, and bled crimson power. Over it he wore a white surcoat wreathed in fire, continually charring and reforming. A golden shark, twisted and fanged, supplied his sallet-helm’s crest, and spirits matching it swam through the air around his waist.
Firmly did his right fist clasp upon his zweihänder, that wrathful blade twice over the length of the tallest mortal warrior’s pike and known in Shieldtongue as Sireless Glory. His power wrapped it, and often those ruby currents leapt high into spikes along the wicked undulating edges. Today he carried his stark-visored helm in one arm’s crook. Thus he showed a face so mangled and scarified that only the cheek and jaw bones retained a memory of heroic form. Dire gashes and rends exposed his teeth, yellowed and cracked unto jaggedness, sharpened to points.
Charred flesh turned his face’s center black. From coal-splintered hollows it gouted flames and boiling blood. Where his eyes should be yawned a single awful chasm, spilling his power forth. For such was the irrevocable wound that marked him. The war-god of the Helsic Trinity. The father of the Iron Breed. Bloody Stahrich.
Urzen stared at him, not bothering to hide his exhaustion.
“Was für Begrußung ist dieser Ruhe?” Stahrich laughed. He strode forward. To a mortal’s ear his booming voice, with its serrated under-growl and war-drum echoes, would be nigh deafening. Urzen found it no better than divinely boisterous.
“Do you mind if we don’t use Hafensprache today?” Urzen asked. He rubbed his temples. “I’m a little too tired to parse it.”
Stahrich nodded and cocked his fearsome head. “Hmph. When you will it so. Na… come on,” the war-god said. He did not pause. He voiced neither warning nor a request for permission. He strode forward and took Urzen by one arm. The planelord’s entire limb vanished inside that mammoth gauntlet. “We shall go for a walk.” Stahrich set his helm on his head. “You need to go for a walk.”
“I’d rather not,” Urzen said.
“Ja, that is why we go,” Stahrich said. “Am I not the warden of the wounded as well as martial of the host? I have seen this bleakness more than death itself.”
Urzen held his peace. No one gained anything by arguing with Stahrich once he chose his course. Thus he walked alongside the clangorous armored hulk. He soon surrendered the cause for lost and took a small leap, flapping his ten wings to keep pace with the titan.
“Where are we walking to?” Urzen asked.
Stahrich shrugged. The gesture shifted his plate with a rustling boom. The phantom sharks took to chasing each other around his shoulders. “Macht es—I apologize, does it make a difference? Movement is the first need. We will know where when we arrive.”
So saying, Stahrich flicked Sireless Glory upward. It sliced a bloody spatial tear before the god. Through it he marched. Through it the planelord followed him.
“Now that I’m following, would you please release my arm?” Urzen asked.
“This I will do,” Stahrich answered. The steel vise went loose.
They passed into an airy expanse split by thousands upon thousands of up-creeping tendrils. They seemed at first glance like a kelp forest. Yet there was no water in this plane, only thriving sporacular haze. Red-orange luminescence drifted along the multitudinous stalks from somewhere far below. Fronds with irregular flaps and secondary tendrils sprouted in chaotic spirals all along the twisting lengths.
These masses had a presence. An aura! A ragged thing, little sharper than the haze they cast. Aura nonetheless. Muzzy contentment: to grow, and multiply, as long as there was multiplying to do. Their spores filled the plane with grainy musk. It would’ve caused frightful sneezing to a mortal nose. They held no deeper danger than this.
“Is this what I think it is?” Urzen asked. “Wasn’t there some mage or other during the Age of Splendors… what was their name… Bajanur, that was them! From Hanir, I think.”
“You would know better than I,” Stahrich said. As he walked across the emptiness between the tendrils, ghostly tower shields flared out beneath his feet. They disappeared when he passed. Each time, the spore-clouds seemed to hesitate before closing back in.
“And you wore a great coat back then,” Urzen said. He smiled and shook his head. “Yes, that’s right. A black shroud of a greatcoat, with those epaulets, and that officer’s cap, and it was adorned all about with—”
“It rests easier with me to forget that uniform,” Stahrich interrupted. “Its likeness has been hideous to me for many centuries.”
“Why?” Urzen asked. “You liked it well enough then. And Sireless Glory was a behemoth of a rifle. Large even in proportion with you, and that absurd bayonet—”
“Enough,” Stahrich intoned. “I have not forgotten that either. Black great coats and officer’s caps with dread sigils upon them were poisoned by the knowing of another world.”
“Ah,” Urzen said. “I suppose you would know something about other worlds. You must have a presence on a great many of them.” He could not keep the bitterness from his voice.
“I do not,” Stahrich said. “Other war-gods walk those worlds when those worlds have gods at all. I would not challenge them if I could. There is no worth in fighting for dominion over battles I do not understand. War is a beast of plasma. The forces that give its form and soul are unique to each world. I assume it would be much the same for passion and art.”
“You still get to look,” Urzen said.
“Ja,” Stahrich said, “there is no denying this.” He looked down upon the planelord. Fiercer grew the red glow of his eyeless sight through his grim helm’s visor. “I suppose it is a matter of philosophy as to whether it is better to imagine the wide universe, and please yourself with the dream of it, or to see it as slivers and pieces. Tempting, but unfulfilling.”
“Like the corpse of an empire in the sands of time?” Urzen suggested.
“I would say it is more like a master’s painting, burned long ago. Only the smallest tufts are seen when the smoke carrying its colors grows thick enough that by chance they resume fragments of the former whole,” Stahrich said.
Urzen absorbed this. In the end he could but laugh and shake his head. “We’ve spent too many years having these talks,” he said.
“This is unfortunate,” Stahrich said. “There is no end to them in sight.” He shouldered Sireless Glory with a clatter of metal on metal. “Since we are talking, why do you not tell me of what ails you? If some mortal has made an unright demand, I will seek to intercede.”
“No,” Urzen said, “it’s nothing such as that. I’m wondering whether…” He trailed off.
For his part Stahrich never pressed him. The war-god swept his doughty essence before him by the mighty arc of his sword, and again sheared a passage through the planes.
“It has always struck me as a folly, or worse. The planes of demons are numbered as well as named,” he said. “Numbers have finality to them. The feel of comprehending a quantity is mistaken for comprehending what it quantifies. It gives to the mortals the impression that there are no other planes touching Canno. There is a wider lattice for them to walk. They do not know it.”
Their wanderings traversed a series of narrow tan ramparts overlooking air-reddened iron canyons that spread out over a bumpy landscape. With a hot wind and sand-fleck stings came the faint press of a fond longing: the wistfulness of a place that served well and was laid to rest when its keepers moved on, or laid themselves to rest as well. Faded mounds and porous angles scattered themselves across the desert surround. In the canyon depths, and carved from them, nestled clay buildings—faintly translucent so that the golden rays from a hundred quirking sky-crescents turned them within and without into swift-shifting hues of ochre, amber, and cuprous-dappled brass.
“I don’t think it’s folly,” Urzen said. “Not in the traditional sense. It’s… you gods, you’re always shaping their thoughts by implication. The deceptive force and intent of a lie, but with none of a lie’s chance for backlash. They’d never prove a charge against the Pantheon.”
Stahrich nodded. He neither denied it nor took offense. “But perhaps, in turn, they will learn to say things without saying them,” he said. “Is there cause for us to speak around each other this way? Or is it perhaps that I am not the one you speak around?”
Urzen sighed, and went silent again. He held that silence all the way through the approach to an enormous bowl held above the shifting sands by the plateau it was carved from. The long-vanished masons had worried the upholding plateau’s upper margins into the elegant fingers of four enormous hands, and skillfully blended each rocky wrist such that it grew rougher and more creviced until it melded back into the natural escarpment.
Inside the bowl rose eight sets of benches and seats. These further split into many small groups facing each other, though at different heights, some reached by ladders and the others by winding stairs. Urzen imagined that this was some peculiar breed of age-graven forum. Whether true or not, it pushed him to confess. Though a cold, choking pull rose up through him, the muting terror of the retribution Stahrich might unleash, Urzen told himself that for this one moment he would make his gossamer into iron.
“None of us asked for any of it,” he said. His tails whipped long whistling arcs through the air with a whiplash pivot to face the war-god. “Not the summonings. Not the Pact. Not the gods. We never asked to be bound to Canno or its peoples. I don’t remember whether we did ask for anything. I just know that we didn’t ask for this.”
“It would have been many ages ago,” Stahrich agreed. “Are you sure it is not that now you have felt what you agreed to, now that it is become real, you wish it taken back?”
“Does it matter?” Urzen asked. “If we accepted under false pretenses, if we made a bargain we’d never have considered had we learned its true burden, should we be held responsible over those who deceived us?”
“You should not,” Stahrich said, “but you are. That is power.”
Boldened by the war-god’s calmness and angered by his candor, Urzen said, “And that’s why Kiresa is shattered. The most powerful beings on Canno said that she should be a slave for humans. So that’s what she made herself. Because that is your power.”
Stahrich stopped and turned slowly. “She… a slave for…” The war-god radiated no wrath, only a tickling pierce of a sensation. His black armor rattled as he shook his head and said, “Do we speak of Kiresa Virneh, the Lady of the Amber Lash, High Seductress of the Seventh Plane and survivor of the Loar War?” Even as Urzen opened his mouth to answer, Stahrich interrupted. “Sicher nicht. We speak of Kiresa, the perfect consort who exists only in Urzen’s mind. Bloodlust and scorn, boy, grow up.“
Urzen flinched, stricken speechless.
“Are you upset that she died because it is the end of her joy? I think rather you are sulking because you cannot pine over her now that she is gone,” Stahrich said.
“And what about you?!” Urzen said, soaring up and raising his voice to the war-god’s visor. “How many times have you watched a party of adventurers, good people trying to do good, die horribly against some cheating evil? How many times, and you do nothing?”
“Too many,” Stahrich said.
“Then do something about it!” Urzen growled. Opalescent fire streamed from his wings and shuddered beneath his skin. He gritted his teeth at the war-god’s visor.
“I am as discontented as you,” Stahrich said.
Urzen’s fury surged. “What does that matter if you don’t act on it?” he demanded. “The whole point of discontent is to spur you to do something!”
“To act against the Pantheon is not a thing lightly done, nor is there any room for error,” Stahrich said. “An offensive against the gods themselves cannot be reversed once begun. For now, know that I agree. The situation of Cannoan warfare—”
“Oh, enough about Cannoan warfare,” Urzen snapped. “Small wonder that you rest so easy when that’s the only thing you’ll consider.”
“That is my sphere, and I will look to it,” Stahrich said. “I will consider what you have said. But I will not hear further spite from you unless you find a way to look to yours.”
Urzen glided back and settled to the stonework in morose quiet. “It’s not that easy for us,” he said at last. “Damn it all, you’re the god. You have the real power. How are we to make change at our level if you won’t make it at yours? You can prevent your peers from watching where you tread. If we try that, if we try to put the Pantheon’s touch apart from our essence…”
Stahrich nodded. “Ja. I know this. Do you know that every demon of the Seventh surely looks to you and says, ‘He is the Planelord. He has the real power. How are we to make change when he will not?” His wounded visage glowered down upon Urzen. “I think you do know this. Will you do something with it?” The war-god rolled his shoulders and pivoted.
Once more they proceeded in silence. Once more Stahrich slashed his dread sword through the air before him. This time their course took them into sparkling veils spun out between gleaming quartz towers with parapets of gentle curves and divots that, in turn, flowed into the many ovals and capering lower platforms of a calm, empty cityscape.
Down it dove, reaching the limits of Urzen’s sight. Through fifty levels of weaving bridges with lateral geodes and lustrous red-brown wood for their walkways, to verdant forests with leaves and fronds and blossoms in every shade of red, orange, and blue as well as green. This realm needed no sun to light it. Innumerable globes, glasses and ceramics and cloth bands shrouding the unseen fonts that poured out glows like moon-kissed clouds: such were the luminous blooms that dangled on silken nets woven between the towers.
And for all its abandonment, its aura enveloped the planelord with the warmth of home and hearth, and a floral scent not of perfume but of a clean and docile meadow in spring.
Stahrich cleared his throat. “I will be the one to stay in the air, now. It does not sit well with me to sully this haven with my sabatons nor my bloodied hand.”
Urzen nodded. He alighted upon a balcony framed by reliefs etched in lapis-lazuli. Though crisp-chiseled, the unknown sculptor used no hard angles. Their style turned even the sharpest of the strange and wonderful beings it depicted into whimsical creatures, and friendly. An immense serpent formed by what looked like glassine shards and light-rays that split into many smaller tails and frills. Insectoid beings crafted from plates with but the impression of wings and faces of geared joints and wiring. Creatures whose bodies were winding arrays of gaseous bladders which split off on the ventral side into a secondary, smaller row with a spade-like shape shielded by articulating plates, and just two limbs, yet four-jointed and with seven digits: no matter how alien, the sculptor made them charming to look upon.
These and others, as many as forty in total, appeared together in every scene of communion and friendship Urzen could imagine as he walked and drank in the reliefs. From these scenes he felt a faint, clinging regret, yet also love—the emotions of the sculptor who in some elder age made them in the memory of friends now gone. Even when the reliefs depicted squabbles, or some among the fantastical races who seemed more standoffish and stubborn for their distance from the groups of the others, the sculptor’s gentle shaping gave a sense of curmudgeonly cheer.
And, looking on them, Urzen found it possible to admit the truth to himself at last.
“The reason that I’ve been acting as I have,” he said to Stahrich, as the war-god walked on the air outside the vibrant gallery, “isn’t that I miss Kiresa. Though, I do.” He closed his eyes and folded his stained-glass wings in around himself. “But, in truth… in truth, now that she’s shattered, now that I know I’ll never see her again… now I have to accept that the mistakes I made were forever.” He chuckled, and silver tears rimmed his eyes. “I’m utter dross, am I not, for a demon of love and passion?”
“There is no arguing that point,” Stahrich said. “But I think you have just started to be worth something in it.”
Urzen could only laugh and nod. He waded through his own memory even as he waded through the soothing kiss of the gentle plane against his spirit.
Onward in silence for hours, or perhaps days, or weeks. There was no need to ignore time here. Here, time and all its loss and weight were no heavier than the hand of another, palm to palm in apology. Their path brought them to a speckled moonstone gallery looking out upon a calming sunset glow, a band that was both sky and horizon.
“Is this what the outer edge of the lattice looks like everywhere, do you suppose?” Urzen asked.
“An endless barrier of warmth and safety?” Stahrich asked. “I am sure it could if that was the desired thing. Planes are separate spaces. They have no natural shared shape.”
“Nor connections… yes, I remember learning that from someone. Only the connections, and the shapes, that we choose for them to share. ‘A universe not held in one great hollow sphere, but an infinity of little asymmetries. When each of us yearns enough, we reach out to clasp one another.’ I wish I could remember who said that,” Urzen said. He took a calming breath even though he need not breathe. “Their soul must have been beautiful.”
Stahrich nodded. The war-god said no more in answer. They gazed at the planar lattice’s broad embrace and drank their fill of the sacred city.
“It’s time we returned,” Urzen said, though he regretted the words instantly. “I thank you, Stahrich. You were right. Movement was the first need.”
“It always is,” Stahrich said.
Urzen took one last look at the bittersweet reliefs. Even as he took to the air, he let his form and his mind and senses spread throughout the plane. He drank in its reverie and its abiding love for just a few moments longer. Then, feeling for all the world as though he’d parted from a lover, or a lover who could’ve been, he drew in on himself.
“I’m ready to return to the Seventh,” he said.
Stahrich took a last look of his own. “Would that I could have felt this place as you did, and not taint by that feeling,” the war-god said. Then he shook his head. “Fah. There is no helping that.” He did not swipe Sireless Glory this time. He held the zweihänder before him in salute. Then he turned one wavy edge downward and cut slowly into the space before him. His bloody might cast no light, nor did fire accompany it. The portal shear opened.
Then it exploded out around them. An unbidden emptiness encased Urzen. Whistling pale glints and a cold without wind nor touch closed in upon him. He tried to fly away, but there was no substance for flight. He reached for the Seventh’s power, but he could not feel it. He shouted to Stahrich, but no sound emerged. He hurled his power against the emptiness, and in return, the emptiness swallowed him hole.
When he could again see himself, and Stahrich, and a realm about them, it was not lust, nor focus, nor warmth and light that met him. Before he saw or heard or smelled any of it, he knew in his inmost self the nature of the domain they were entered upon.
This was a dead plane.