Ill Met in the Necropolis: Part IV

William T. Thrasher
Ill Met in the Necropolis: Part IV

Continued from Ill Met in the Necropolis: Part III

The moment of impending violence shattered with the sound of tearing wood and a roar like the fires of Tartarus. The remains of the coffin lid rained down on the assembled thieves in a shower of rotting splinters. Each suspecting trickery but too shaken by the possibility of darkest necromancy, Phokas, Timon, and Vold saw each other’s faces illuminated in sickly green as they turned to face the open grave and whatever horror now emerged.

Riding a column of green fire, a husk-like parody of the human form rose from the grave. No longer driven by muscles and contained by supple skin, the funereal thing’s limbs swung madly in the air, giving the grave-born horror the appearance of a grotesque marionette worked by a puppeteer with more ambition than skill. What remained of the ghoulish figure’s burial robes trailed down into the grave like the tendrils of a great sea nettle, and its mold-stained wisps of silver hair whipped around its sunken face like a nimbus of lightning. From the set of its bones and the flesh hanging like a pair of dry wineskins from its chest, it was clear the animate corpse had been a woman in life, though any trace of feminine beauty or matronly homeliness was lost to tight, parchment skin and the gnawing of grave worms.

As the sickly emerald fire dwindled into two glowing motes flickering in hollow eyes sockets, the thief and the grave robbers returned to their senses. United in adversity and terror, they closed ranks as the floating corpse raised its arm, uncurled an accusing yellow-nailed finger at the trio of trespassers.

With a sound like tearing parchment, the corpse’s jaw fell open with all the grace and smoothness of a trapdoor on rusted hinges, releasing a puff of dust, grave beetles, and single white moth. Leathery tongue working behind cracked teeth, the thing spoke with the dry, shrill voice of the dead.

“Thought you could rob from old Zosime, did you?”

Expecting a curse rather than a conversation, the three living interlopers gave no reply, instead raising shovel, torch, and sword against the attack that must surely come.

“Bah! Grave robbers, cultists, necrophiles, and heroes!  Day and night, invading this necropolis for one damned foolish reason or another, tramping about disturbing the sweet silence of the grave with their digging and fighting and chanting.  My tired soul can stand no more. No, you are not the first to wake me, but you will be the last!

Always one to use words when a sword was called for, Timon gave a showman’s bow and spoke. “Good madam, if we have offended . . .” The grave robber’s words were cut short as the taste of ash and old salt flooded his mouth, his tongue and throat drying into uselessness.

Oh, shut up! I’ve had to listen to your prattle for the last hour, and my desiccated ears will suffer no more of your purple mutterings.”

Instinctively, Phokas leapt to the defense of his ally. Gripping his charm in one hand and his shovel in the other, Phokas swung at Zosime’s old bones with every ounce of brutish muscle behind the attack.

The green embers in Zosime’s eyes flared, and before the shovel could make contact with her ghastly form, its head rusted away into a shower of red flakes and its handle fell to rot. Phokas looked to his palm to find the charm likewise crumbled into entropic ruin. Old superstitions and childhood fears left him paralyzed.

Volg and Timon, with the survival instincts of a true thieves, turned and ran. Their flight did not go unnoticed.

Intoning a rune in a language not meant for living tongues, Zosime worked her mad and wrathful will. Skeletal hands burst forth from the packed soil of the necropolis, gripping legs and ankles and pinning man and dwarf to the spot.

“No, I’m not done with any of your.” Her knuckles cracking with each arcane gesture, Zosime cast luminous tendrils of eldritch power.

The bones of soldiers, tradesmen, and slaves rose from the earth, taking hold of the three living interlopers and marching them to the edge of Zosime’s yawning grave.

“Mercy, mercy!” Phokas croaked, the edges of his eyes stained with tears of panic.

“Mercy? Did the fates show mercy when they filled my head with visions during life? Did the people of Kos show mercy when they pelted me with rotten fruit and stones for prophesying the coming Titanomachy? Did the priests show mercy when they buried me without oboli to pay the Ferryman, leaving me to sleep away the centuries as a moldering corpse? Would any of you show mercy once my coffin was opened and my bones laid bare? Nay. As the living are unmerciful, I will show you the dead are equally unforgiving.”

Return next week for Ill Met in the Necropolis: Part V