It was in the final room of the final tower of the final kingdom that I was to lay eyes upon her once again. It had been months, but felt like years, day after day of sluggish and gruesome war. With the power gifted to me, a commoner of low stature, I had slaughtered villages, laid waste to cities and their armies, and forced every king and queen to bend knee before rending them to their rightful place beneath me.
They would kiss my hands, beg, plead, offer their bodies and minds to me- entire armies of concubines and vast riches- but yet none offered reprieve for my people.
The agony would not go unpunished.
The first king that I had conquered, King Hermias, waited for me now before the door. He raised a blood soaked skeletal hand to a salute as I approached, hopping over armored bodies and still squirting heads as I did. The corroded, scratched, and beaten golden armor that he once wore proudly fit loosely on now decaying skin.
He opened his mouth to say something, dead teeth clattering to the floor as the nub of his tongue wagged wildy.
I held up my hand, “Understood, Hermy. Is this the last holdout?” I gestured towards the door.
He put his hand down, flesh dripping from it in flakes, and nodded confirmation.
“Good. Good.” I ran my hand along the ornate wooden door. It was etched with images of knights and godly women battling creatures of the night. It was a heroic tale of love and triumph. I laughed mockingly, “Can you believe this shit? They think they can win?! Even now?”
I reached for the golden door handle, a searing pain blasting my hand back as I touched the cool metal. I pulled it to my chest, uttering words of healing, clearing the burns instantly, “A holy ward? Not unusual. I suppose I’d be disappointed if they hadn’t tried.” I waved my hand dismissively, not needing a verbal chant to dispel such a low level spell. The door glowed purple, a thin ethereum of magic bursting like glass.
Dusting my hands, I addressed the hall, talking to myself and the bodies beneath me, “Suppose I should take her seriously. Arise, creatures, and do my bidding!”
The knights, some headless, some without arms or legs, began to shudder and rise to crawling, standing, or rolling positions. They had fought valiantly in life, killing many of my undead horde, and I hoped for them to serve me well in death. The commander of the knights, known as Rhianaceus, took his place beside Hermy. I cupped his chin and stared into the pits of his eyes, a long gash had decimated his face, revealing pink clumps of brain matter still squirming from nervous shock.
“I want you to lead the charge, Rhianaceus. Kill all who oppose me, but leave her alive.”
The creature nodded, slowly and with great effort.
I patted his shoulder, “Good boy.” Turning, I counted twenty new thralls in fighting condition and between fifteen and thirty operating on my magic alone. Far down the hall, the clattering of bone signified reinforcements were imminent.
A loud crash shook me from my victorious stupor- something behind the door had fallen.
I felt an involuntary smile, “No point in suspense, only results.” Taking a few steps back from the door, I instructed Rhianaceus, “Open the door and kill.”
He grunted, or at least croaked, something similar. Pale, broken hands clasped cold metal, pulling the handle with supernatural strength and shattering the locking mechanism. The oaken door squealed as my thralls rushed in and halted. Beyond, as I observed over the shoulders of the undead, was a lone woman praying at an altar. She was clothed in white robes, clinging to unholy curves, kneeling on a stone step bathed in sunlight.
She was alone.
“Stand down and leave us.” I ordered, my minions shambled out, “Guard the corridor.” I instructed, my eyes not leaving her while I listened to the cacophony of clattering and moans as they took sentry.
“Hmm. Privacy.” I mumbled to myself, turning and closing the doors. The lock was shattered, but at least unwanted eyes and ears weren’t privy to my conversation.
I marched to the altar, bending knee and clasping my hands together in prayer beside the priestess.
“Lord, I wish for strength to do as I must and courage to brave even the darkest corners of this world.” I glanced sideways, mid-prayer, to watch the priestess. Her lips moved silently, fervently, “And I thank you for the gift of power over life and death. Let me use it wisely and according to your will. Amen.”
She sighed, “You done, Nkosi?”
I smiled solemnly, “I am. Are you?”
“Not quite.” She continued her prayer, silently.
I waited for quite some time, growing bored as my legs began to shake and fall asleep. I sat on the step, watching her pray.
“You know, I liked you more when we were little.” Her lips, soft and red, stopped moving, “And poor~”
“Is that so?”
I nodded, “Yes. It is. You were so much more- reasonable- back then.”
She smiled, “And you weren’t quite so vicious as a child.”
“Pfft.” I chuckled, “We were both kids.”
Silence settled, she twiddled her thumbs.
“Did your mother die? Is that what made you do this?”
I set my frown in stone, “Justice. Justice is what made me do this.”
“Justice doesn’t take the lives of many.”
“Oh fuck off!” I shouted, emotion bubbling up like a river. I took a deep breath, “Sorry. I shouldn’t yell, but your church killed many in the name of justice long before I did. You just happen to be on the receiving end this time.”
“You never answered my question.”
“I don’t think I need to. You know the answer.”
“I do. Was she killed?”
“Yes. Same as father, by children of the church.”
She frowned, I could see her closed eyes twitching, “I’m so sorry Nkosi. You didn’t deserve that.”
“Neither did they.”
I started pacing around the room. It was a huge, circular chamber with a skylight of brilliant yellow glass above. The sunlight cascaded over her like a waterfall, splashing out across the floor in soft hues of color. There were paintings lining the wall, an easel with a half finished painting of two children stood against the far side. I approached it, observing the strikes and swaths of expertly applied paint.
“Did you paint this?”
Suddenly, she was beside me, eyes still closed in prayer, “Yes. Yes I did. Do you recognize the children in the picture? Maybe the stream they play beside?”
I stared closer, realization sparking, “I do. It’s us. By that little stream cutting through Farebrook where we lived.” My heart softened, painfully, “Yes- I remember. This was right in front of the shack where I lived, down from the monastery.”
“It is. And I’d come visit you each day I could, often sneaking away from the Priests, remember Junyerd? The old man? Oh how he’d yell when he found out!”
I laughed, “Oh yeah! He’d chase me out of the monastery kitchen with a broom for stealing bread!”
She chuckled, a sound like broken glass and music, “Yeah! But I’d always sneak you and your mom a few loaves-”
“Y-yeah.” She would. A full basket of food whenever she could. She’d leave them on the front steps of our shack, never taking credit when my mother asked, always claiming it was the gods’ will to provide for us.
“I wonder what happened to old Junyerd. He wasn’t my favorite Priest- but he did raise me.”
“I-I killed the bastard. When he burned my mother at the stake for witchcraft. He was the first of my thralls.” I remembered the face of her old master the day I murdered him. He never expected me. Never saw it coming until the knife was already plunged deep into his chest. It was the day after I died, resurrecting with new powers. I set his zombified corpse against the rest of the monastery, tearing the nuns and monks to pieces with the very same knife that I had used on him.
She frowned, “I know what you did, Nkosi. I’ve seen it through my visions.”
“Then you know he earned his fate.”
“I-I cannot argue, but the magic that your mother- that you wield- it is not sanctified. It should not be practiced.”
I furrowed my brow, my chest filling with rocks, “Does it please you to think of her cries as she burned? She resurrected a fucking kitten, Eleanor, a fucking kitten! So they burned her? Would it make you happy if they had burned me as well?” I sneered, half spitting the words like poison.
Eleanor took a long time to answer, standing there next to my huffing chest, “I-If I had known what you would do-”
“You would have what?!” I cut her off, “You would have killed me like my mother? Burned me?”
I reached for her, but she ducked away.
“Nkosi….I’m so sorry for what you’ve become-”
“But you’re not sorry for what the church did to me?”
“-and what you’ve become is what we vanquished in all our bravest fantasies-”
“You offer no apology for it? They killed me, Eleanor! They killed us!”
“-I admit you do not deserve what befell you-”
“They burned her in front of me! Throwing me into a pit in the wilderness to die!”
“-but the world does not deserve what you befell it-”
“And when I did finally die, do you know what I saw?”
“-so many innocents, dead, by your hands-”
“Power. Unrelenting. Unstoppable power over life and death.”
“-by the hands that I held until the Priests took me away-”
“And I claimed that power.”
“-I wish that I had never let go. Perhaps then something would be different-”
“I used that power.”
“-Perhaps things would have been different with you, with your mom, with us-”
“I took the world by storm. Killing and using each and every foul creature that dared take the breath of life from our creator!”
“-perhaps I would have kept my eyes, hiding my visions and prophecies for only us to use-”
“They kneel before me, even now, my loyal property!”
“-I know what I need to do.” Tears were streaming down her face now, crystal blue and shimmering in the dancing sunlight. Clouds were gathering, casting swaying shadows across the drawing room, the chapel.
“As do I, Eleanor.”
“But I do not know if I have the strength to do it-”
I took a few steps away from her, pulling air to me, “But I d0~”
She whirled towards me, knocking the easel and painting to the ground with a mighty crash, and flames rose in circles across the floor. I jumped above a wall of fire, pushing wind beneath me even as the inferno sucked the oxygen from the air. Landing, I spun and tossed a ball of black light into the skylight. Shards of glass rained down on us, plunging into our shoulders and arms as we ducked away, the cool winter air fought the heat.
“THERE WILL BE NO MIDNIGHT SOUL!” I howled. Creatures began climbing from the floor, bursting out as if from a grave. I knew the truth though, felt it as my energy drained, that the abominations of flesh and bone bubbling from below were not of this world, but from another plane of existence entirely.
One that I had already extinguished.
She danced beneath their blows, slamming their chests with holy fire while spinning with the elegance of a gypsy dancer between them. One spat a green glob of something at her- singeing and melting parts of her robes. She tore the tangled bits off, freeing her movement as she threw a bombardment of energy my way.
I ducked behind one of my abominations, it disintegrated as her magic undid the bonds holding it together.
“IT DOESN’T HAVE TO BE THIS WAY, NKOSI!” She shouted over the groaning of my still rising army.
“IT DOES! IT ALREADY HAS!” I shouted back, draining the blood from a bulbous frog-like creature over the fire. As the blood coagulated onto the flames they turned blue, then purple, then extinguished altogether. It created a chain reaction, irreversible, crawling and smothering the fire, rushing towards its source, my dearest Eleanor, with the speed of a plague.
I watched as it touched her, tearing into her skin and arms, turning them to bloodied, shredded stumps as she screamed in agony.
Music- like broken glass and a mother’s cry- I thought.
She fell to a heap on the floor, my creatures swarming around her, dousing her in acids and poisons. Her cries died to a whimper.
“Enough!” I shouted, I felt my control of the beasts wavering, struggling to keep control, “Step back.” They did as I commanded, slowly, “Begone!” I waved my hand, feeling the steady drip of crimson from my nostrils. The energy used was energy wasted- never to return again.
The creatures, one by one, began the monotonous march out of the tower.
She lay there, broken, battered, a blue and red heap of cloth and once beautiful physique. I stooped down beside her, pulling her still rising chest, shuddering breaths, to me.
I muttered words of healing, just enough to keep her alive, not enough to renew her fight.
“Can you hear me, Eleanor?”
She opened her eyes, but there was nothing there, just empty sockets and pooling tears, “I can, Nkosi.”
I smiled, running my free hand through her hair and down her cheek, “I’m sorry things had to end this way. I truly am.”
She smiled weakly, “I-I know, Nkosi. I know.”
“If it's any consolation, I will not raise you as my thrall. You will rest atop the most peaceful mountains in the most beautiful meadows of wildflowers.”
She took a shuddering breath, “No.” She let out a long exhale, I could feel it was one of her last, “Bury me by the stream. I want to go there- one more time.”
I felt my chest well up with the impossibility of regret. I had done this before. I felt it. Died and returned with vengeful fire. She and I had fought in countless worlds, her winning sometimes, me others.
I always thought myself lucky when she was the one holding my corpse.
“Sure, Eleanor-” I cried through thick tears, melding and blending with the blood on my face, “Let’s go there now-”
She coughed, giggling so weakly, “Is the big, scary necromancer crying over me? I never thought that-I-” she took one last, deep, guttural, wet breath, “-I-lo-”
And she was gone.
I pressed my lips to hers.
“I love you too, Eleanor.” I ran my hands down her face, closing her empty eyes, “Until we meet again, my love.”
I collapsed beside her. The war for control waning and dying within me. I could hear the creatures, free from their master's control, howling in pain as they dissolved in the hall. My mother was gone. Every kingdom between me and the church had fallen. Mine.
Eleanor has been killed by my hand. I turned my head, eyes locked to her beautiful face.
My eyelids, so heavy, fell.