The mouth of a cave comes into view, the Empress is both relieved and anxious. She’s heard stories of the types of monsters lurking in these woods. It’s her only option though, her silk traveling slippers are soaked through and the rain refuses to let up. Taking a deep breath, she ducks into the cave, hands clasped as she says a silent prayer to the gods that they watch over her and keep her safe. She finds herself a place toward the front of the cave, far enough from the opening that she won’t get rained on, but close enough that she can still see. She resolves to sit and wait for the guards to come and find her, she’s sure they’re looking for her already.

She doesn’t see the curious amber eyes that have been fixed on her since her clumsy entrance. She doesn’t know they belong to a famed enemy of the royal court, or at least, his apprentice.

Lore curses herself silently for not properly warding the cave. No one ever comes here. Still, not warding your workspace is sloppy, and she wonders how long that lecture will be if she can make it back to the house in one piece. Unable to continue her work, she sits and waits for the Empress to leave. She has to leave at some point, right?

She waits far longer than she’d like before realizing the shivering woman at the mouth of the cave will not in fact leave anytime soon. She could just retreat back into the cave and wait out the rain, but part of her is curious and wants to know how the Empress ended up here. She creeps up to the front of the cave, unnoticed until she’s right behind her. The Empress starts when she realizes she’s not alone. Lore, having not thought this through further than making her presence known, just stands there, trying to smile but pulling off more of a grimace. This combined with the dirt and blood from her work, makes her look like some horrifying cave monster. 

“Please don’t hurt me!” The Empress yells, trying to back out of the cave as quickly as she can and stumbling helplessly over her skirts in the process. 

Lore, finally landing on something to say, says, “what would I get out of that?” her intent was to comfort her, but the Empress just looks confused.

“You’re not an evil cave troll?”

“Do I look like a cave troll?”

“Yes, a bit, but I get your point. Still, I demand to know what you’re doing here,” the Empress seems to get her bearings and remember who she is. She stands and tries to brush off her skirts in a hilarious show of futility. 

“Bold question considering you’re the lost one,” Lore says, knowing that she should be showing reverence and begging the ruler not to behead her. Something tells her she has the upper hand though, so she stays as irreverent as ever. She watches the aged woman shiver and almost feels pity. There’s not much she can do to warm her without giving away her profession. 

“I’m not sure you know who I am, child,” The self-important tone makes Lore forget any pity she has for the woman.

“I know who you are, and I suggest you never call me a child again unless your aim is to lose your tongue,” Lore snaps, the Empress is taken aback. Until now, she assumed the girl was irreverent because she thought she was just some noblewoman. 

“Look, neither of us is going to get anywhere if we sit here and bicker back and forth-”

“I’d get quite a bit done if you’d leave me alone,” Lore interrupts. She’s not sure what gives her this edge, it's certainly not common sense. 

“Well I can’t exactly do that, I’m afraid I’m quite unsure of where I am,” the Empress admits, “I’m sure the guards will be here to get me any moment now,” she adds, rushed and unsure of herself. Lore picks up on this. She knew there were rumors of some great plan to get rid of the Empress, but if this is it, it’s quite the hack job. 

“I’m not sure where I come into play in this,” Lore says, trying to get the woman to leave her alone, maybe she can continue to get some work done while she rots here. Maybe when the rain lets up, she’ll try to walk back to the palace and get finished off in the woods. 

“Well, it is quite cold,” The Empress says. 

“Please look outside and tell me how you plan to burn wet wood?” Lore asks. Necromantic fire is an option, but not one she wants to make available. It’s not her fault the Empress wandered in here, and helping the woman who’d want her dead if she knew who she was is not on the top of her agenda today. 

“Well, I suppose I’ll just wait here until the guards come for me,” the Empress sounds rather defeated and settles with her back to the wall and turns her head to face the cave opening. It’s a rather pitiful scene. Lore goes back to her work and does her best to ignore the woman.

When the sun has made its way behind the mountains and it’s too dark for Lore to continue her reading without some sort of light source, she pulls some bread and cheese from her pack and goes to the mouth of the cave. She has no real choice, she could sit in the dark and eat in peace, but she’s always been quite skittish in the dark, especially since she’s met the monsters that can lurk there. She pours water from her drinking skin onto a rag and uses it to wipe the blood and dirt from her hands and face before she eats. The Empress eyes her food hungrily but doesn’t ask for any. Whether it’s pride or sheer pettiness, Lore doesn’t know. 

She makes the first move anyway, “you’re welcome to have some if you like, I’ve brought plenty,” she holds out half of the loaf of bread.

“Is it any good?” The Empress asks, her nose pointed toward the cave ceiling.

“I don’t know lady, eat it or not, it’s no matter to me,” Lore says, endlessly frustrated. She finds herself thankful that she grew up in some backwater town that nobles never looked twice at. She wouldn’t be able to handle this attitude regularly.

“Thank you,” The Empress says meekly and takes the bread from her hands, she shivers as she eats, her clothes still no closer to being dry than they were at midday.

“Promise not to behead me?” Lore asks, preferring to avoid any context until she gets the promise. 

“What, why would I-”

“If I start a fire, will you promise not to behead me?” She asks again.

“I mean, I don’t see why I would. But if a promise is what you need to do it, I promise,”

Before the Empress can blink, there’s a small orb of blue fire in the palm of the strange woman’s hand. Her eyes widen. She’s only heard stories of what necromancers can do, she’s never seen necromantic fire in person. She pushes herself as flat against the wall as she can. Lore just blows the flame onto a small pile of rocks in the middle of the cave floor. It continues to burn and the Empress is amazed despite herself. 

“Please don’t hurt me,” She says again, almost replaying their interaction earlier. 

“Oh! You think I’m Ilyon,” Lore laughs.

“Ilyon is the last necromancer,” The Empress says, confused.

“Shows what you know, I’m Lore, his apprentice,”

It takes a few minutes for this to sink in, and Lore kicks herself for not making the Empress promise an extensive list of protections for herself and her tutor.

“He’s teaching more of you?” She asks, a horrified look on her face as she comes to terms with this idea.

“Yes, I know this seems jarring. I promise we’re not out to hurt the Imperial Order directly. We have other plans that don’t exactly pertain to you,” Lore says, trying to avoid details. 

“Oh what do I care, I know why I’m here,” The Empress cries out, tears welling in her eyes.

“Why are you here?” Lore asks, feigning ignorance for more information.

“Well, I have no real line of succession, my husband died childless and so now I rule. Our bloodline has ended. It’s easy to be rid of an old Empress. Just send her on a trip and blame it on some sort of highway robbery,” she’s almost sobbing now, Lore isn’t sure what to do, she’s never been the best at any human interaction, thus her spending most of her time in a cave and with the dead. 

“Why can’t you just go back?” Lore asks, finding herself almost angry for this lady she was sure she hated ten minutes ago. 

“Oh they’d surely kill me, I had to move mountains to prove I was a sound ruler when my husband died. I don’t have that in me anymore, I’m much better off just dying here,” 

“That’s a bit melodramatic, isn’t it, Your Majesty?” Lore asks, finding her use of the title both inappropriate and funny.

“Oh, you can call me Bridget, I don’t think I’m the Ruler here anymore,” Lore never knew the Empress’s given name, she finds it beautiful and strong. She’s not sure if it suits the Empress, but she thinks it could with the right sort of help. 

“Well, I’m moving mountains too, you know?” Lore says, “A bit more literally than you are, come on, I’ll show you,” She’s unsure why she feels safe showing this woman her life project. This woman would have her killed if she had the power here. Still, the humanity she sees in her is both baffling and pitiful. Lore doesn’t feel any more in danger than if she were here alone. They both stand and Lore lights another small fire in her palm to light the way. 

The corridor they end up in is dark and damp, dripping from some unknown water source. Bridget gasps, a perfectly carved, gigantic hand is right in front of her.

“This is what I’ve been working on for the past five years,” Lore says, proudly. Bridget is completely confused.

“Is necromancy sculpture-heavy?” She asks, unsure of what else this would be. Lore finds herself laughing at this notion.

“No, this is the old god of the forest, he’s been sleeping for a few thousand years. We apprentices have been tasked with using our necromancy to wake them. This one specifically, I need to find a way to unbury before I can wake him”

“Why apprentices? Shouldn’t they have more skilled necromancers do this?”

“I wondered that myself, the conclusion I’ve come to is that we’re disposable enough for the gods to kill us when they wake up if they’re angry. I’m quite literally moving a mountain just to prove myself useful to Ilyon, and even if I succeed, I could still die,” Lore says, suddenly very aware of how much of her future relies on someone else. She doesn’t like to think of it that way; she can’t let herself think of it that way.

“How is necromancy helping you to clear out the rock surrounding him?” Bridget asks, her fear dissipated and replaced mostly with curiosity. 

“That’s actually what I’ve been working on for five years. I’ve been studying what texts I can find on the use of necromantic energy to move really heavy things. Thus far I’ve had no luck. If I were better at reanimation I could just make an army of the undead do it, but I’m more of a summoner, and ghosts don’t do much besides judge you,”

“Why is this your life’s work then? It feels insanely futile. They gave you the wrong kind of assignment for your strengths, it’s like they set you up for failure,” Bridget says. She doesn’t seem to find this statement to be all that enlightening, but Lore does. It suddenly dawns on her exactly what Ilyon is doing.

“Well, I’m an idiot,” Lore says, packing up her books and various spell items. She can’t quite bring herself to be angry, she doesn’t know who to be angry at. Ilyon was just doing what he needed to survive, even if it meant killing young people with an aptitude for necromancy. It’s obvious when you look at it from that angle. Of course he’s the last necromancer if he’s killing off all of the new ones he can find.

“Where are you going?” Bridget asks, suddenly panicking that the only person she knows that probably won’t murder her out here is leaving. 

“I don’t know, I think I might try to find another necromancer apprentice to help me,” her voice makes the statement sound more like a question, “I don’t know,” she says again, “I think I’ve just wasted too much time and energy here.”

“What am I supposed to do?” Bridget asks.

“Can you walk?”

“If I had different shoes,” She replies. Lore throws a spare pair of hiking boots from her pack to the woman.

“Alright, come with me if you can keep up,” Lore and Bridget step out of the cave and into the pitch-black forest, they each take a deep breath, and resolve to find a new path for their lives. 

January 19, 2023 01:22

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U Jain
12:04 Jan 26, 2023

The concept of necromancer is new to me. Loved it.


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Mark Schafer
19:48 Jan 23, 2023

I loved this story and want more! Where do they go? Does the ex-queen become a necromancer? I would read that book lol.


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