Ravel fell ungracefully from the saddle and almost rolled into the shrubs along the thin path. His horse started to panic, it’s hooves stomping the ground near Ravel’s head. Ravel rolled over once more, out of the stampeding horse hooves. Ravel cursed as several branches scratched his exposed forearms. His legs and stomach began to cool, as the mud dampened his clothes and moisture seeped through.
“Everyone okay?” Prynda called.
“No injuries here,” Marcy answered calmly.
“They gotta be quicker than that to get me,” Dervon called back.
“What about Ravel?” Prynda called. “Are you okay, Ravel?”
Ravel remained quiet, wishing they’d shut up and find out what had ambushed them. Talking took up too much precious time and Ravel doubted the enemy would just sit by while they had a chit chat about how they were all feeling.
“I can’t see him, maybe he ran off,” Dervon replied a hint of annoyance in his voice.
Ravel rolled his eyes, but heard the ring of blades being drawn. There was shuffling through the bushes and then the clang of steel meeting steel.
“There are skeleton’s and undead! Watch yourselves there are several archers,” Prynda called.
Why do these guys have to talk so much? Ravel thought with an irritated sigh.
Ravel decided to crawl forward, the branches still grazing his skin as he did so. He froze as he suddenly found himself in front of two bone legs. Ravel glanced up and saw the skeleton’s head tilt down as it spotted him. The skeleton showed no surprise, since it had no face, and promptly swung a bone handled hammer down at him.
Ravel rolled to his left and out of the bushes, muddying his clothes further. He rolled onto his back and placed his hands either side of his head, his elbows pointing into the air. He then launched his legs into the air, rocking his body weight onto his hands. He kicked his right foot into the skeletons right jawline. A resounding crunch was heard as contact was made. Ravel then continued to flip his legs over his head and planted them on the ground.
The skeleton swung at him again, the blow catching him square on the shoulder. Ravel grabbed his shoulder and gritted his teeth after a short yell of pain. Seconds after, Ravel swivelled his stance and kicked the skeleton’s head on the right side. The skull cracked and splintered around the impact of his boot. As he returned to a readied stance Ravel watched as the skull toppled off the spine. The skeleton’s bones clattered to the ground around its own cracked cranium.
“We’re smashing them, no pun intended,” Dervon called from somewhere through the bushes.
“We both know you had every intention of using that pun from the moment you heard we were dealing with skeletons,” Marcy said.
“I’m sorry my minions aren’t challenging enough for you, but I left my army at home today,” a male voice rang out through the forest.
Ravel couldn’t see anything from his current position so he crouched and snuck forward through the underbrush. He spotted Prynda and Marcy first, as they were to his right. Both stood at the ready gazing through the forest to Ravel’s left, a pile of bones at their feet.
Several branches snapped, causing Ravel to wince and pause, as he tried to move to see who the male voice belonged to. It took Ravel a moment to spot the man, hidden in the shadows of the tall tree’s that surrounded them.
The man wore a dark mottled cloak, which shifted in the breeze, blending in with the shuffling leaves around him. A narrow chin was all that could be seen of his face under the shadow of his cowl. His slender shoulders had two animal skulls laying on them, almost like armour. Long strands of white hair, tangled into dreadlocks, emerged from the cloak at the neck. Pale bare hands were relaxed at his side and his fingernails were long and filled with black dirt.
“We are soldiers who hail from the castle, upon orders from his lordship, Lord Valenio,” Prynda’s clear voice spoke. “Name yourself and your reason for being here.”
“I have no reason to introduce myself, and the lord has no power over me,” the man answered.
Ravel noticed a steep incline behind the man, where erosion had carved a cliff from the dirt. A plan formed in Ravel’s mind and he began to skirt the area around the man. He came to the cliff and ran up and jumped, grabbing for the ledge at the top. His boots scrambled on the loose earth of the cliff and he shifted his hands to get a better grip. Dirt crumbled from the ledge and Ravel dipped his head to avoid it getting in his eyes. Ravel manage to get one elbow onto the land above, and from there he pulled himself up.
Ravel squatted in the bushes at the top, listening intently for bits and pieces of the conversation. Prynda was talking again, ordering the man to explain who he was. Ravel shook his head and shuffled forward, trying to figure out if he was behind the man yet.
“You are so persistent,” the man answered casually. “My name has not been spoken in years, so I don’t use it. I am a necromancer and that’s all you need to know. When you crush these skeletons, I can merely create more.”
“What are your plans with this army?” Dervon said, faintly.
“Oh, I don’t know,” the necromancer responded. “I thought we’d start with a nice stroll on the beach and see where our relationship goes from there.”
Ravel rolled his eyes. He may have been amused, had the sarcasm come from his ‘side’. It seemed a little bit like betrayal if he began to like the enemy’s attitude. Besides, there was a little too much small talk and chatter for Ravel’s liking. The necromancer had just tried to kill them after all.
“Then I’d thought we would go and visit the pixies in the western forest and eat dinner at Castle Varian. From there we’d plunder and pillage some villages and perhaps take over a kingdom. Who really knows?” the necromancer continued sarcastically.
“Your sarcasm isn’t appreciated. We intend to defeat you, whether you are a smart ass or not,” Dervon said his voice rising in annoyance. “You burnt down the mountain man’s farm and all signs show you don’t plan to stop there.”
“Oh, so smart-assery isn’t a waver to all imminent crimes that I plan to do? How surprising! The world sure has changed since I moved up here.”
Ravel couldn’t help liking the necromancer’s replies, despite that they were dripping with an undeniable sense of dismissal. To the necromancer, they were obviously no threat.
Ravel moved forward towards the necromancer’s wiry voice, making sure he didn’t make a sound. He soon spotted the back of the man’s hood. Prynda, Marcy and Dervon were all standing near the faint horse track and all of them had their weapons readied. They continued trying to get a serious answer from the necromancer but he was unwilling to give one, despite the threats.
“How about another round with my little bone friends?” the necromancer asked suddenly.
The necromancer began to raise his hands towards where Prynda stood. Ravel took this moment to creep forward quietly. Just a little closer and he’d be able to attack without giving the man too much warning. The moment came to pounce as the man’s fingers began to glow, his hood moving as though there were a breeze. Ravel dodged forward and jumped through the underbrush. He fell through the air, his legs lined up to hit the man square in the back of the neck.
It took a moment for Ravel to realise what had happened, when he landed on the ground with a roll. There had been no impact. No crushing sound of the man’s bones beneath his boot. Ravel rose off the mud and twisted back to face the enemy.
The necromancer was lowered to the ground and the hood had fallen to his shoulders. The man locked eyes with Ravel, his dark eyes almost black in colour. The necromancer stood up straight, an amused grin forming on his lips.
He had moved fast, faster than anyone Ravel had ever seen. It was uncanny how he’d dodged Ravel’s attack from behind.
“Now, now. Attacking from behind, with no warning, is hardly fair,” the necromancer said.
Ravel narrowed his eyes and quickly sized up the necromancer. He was younger than Ravel had first thought, the white hair merely coloured to be that way. Despite being still youthful, his skin was pale and wrinkled. Obviously hanging around dead things all the time had taken a toll on his body. He held himself tall and had brilliant posture. He had a golden chain around his neck and his pointed ears were also pierced with fine studs. When his overall analysis of the man was finished, Ravel felt a slight sneer appear on his face.
So he’s just another one of these rich nobles, who want to take over the province, Ravel mused, rolling his shoulders. Everything about him oozes arrogance and the whole reason he’s building an army is probably just for a trivial, personal vendetta.
“Actually, I’m just going for a morning run,” Ravel stated aloud. “Then I thought I should bathe in a waterfall of immortal life and dine with the gryphons to the north. Then I would move on, kill a necromancer, and crush all the fragile skulls of his minions.”
“Since you’re just a pig that has just had a mud bath, I’ll let your embarrassed taunts slide,” the necromancer replied, his grin widening. “I’d suggest getting to that waterfall as soon as possible. It will take some time to clean yourself up.”
Ravel supposed he looked a right mess, with mud covering him from head to toe. It’s hard to be confident when you are covered in a thick layer of filth. Ravel clenched his jaw slightly, but let a smile spread across his face.
“Are you referring to my mud based facial mask? It’s really beneficial, and by the looks of things, you could use some,” Ravel said, reaching up and smearing the mud around his face more.
“Don’t do anything stupid, Ravel,” Dervon said warningly.
“Yes, you should listen to your friend, Ravel. Don’t be stupid, little piggy,” the necromancer taunted. “However, if you choose to come and kill me, I’ll be waiting patiently with my army. Please feel free to drop by, when you are ready.”
The necromancer began to dissipate before him and that taunting grin was the last thing to disappear.