One week. Jirmen only asked for one week to rest. Given the trauma and loss, it wasn’t much to request.
Day one was spent sleeping. His body had been completely deprived of all magic, rendering him largely immobile. Every movement felt like stepping in fire. Sleep brought no rest for nightmares tormented him for hours upon hours. Every hour he would snap awake, mouth dried alongside throbbing eyes.
Day two was spent in the pools, where he replenished more of his strength. The mineral water did wonders not just for his magical abilities but for his age. Four hundred and thirty, yet he felt well over a thousand half the time. The soft tingling and warmth it radiated nearly lulled him to slumber more than once.
Day three, he finally returned to his tower in Falmari, the city of which he was the Archmage of. He’d ran the city for well over a hundred years, personally overseeing hundreds of would-be mages. Jirmen spent most of that day checking in on everyone. More for his sanity instead of theirs at this point; he needed to see that not everything had been lost.
Day four, he felt himself slowly returning. A portion of his powers returned, and everything had begun to spin into place. Most of his trusted staff had had been accounted for, including his current apprentice; Methir. The past few days would have been hell without her assistance.
Today was day five, and just as he thought it was going to end on a good - if not boring - note, he found himself staring at a nightmarish sight.
His left claw - which had the middle finger missing - had been slapped to his brown, furred face. The lycon – a race of bipedal canines – nearly sighed in frustration and exasperation for what felt like the twentieth time in five minutes. He kept blinking his blue eyes, almost wishing that he had fallen into a deep slumber once again.
Sadly, this was not the case.
“I think the reports had greatly understated the situation,” an amused hiss came from his left.
There, another bipedal creature known as a shriker stood. She strongly resembled a wingless dragon, although with sharper and spikier features. Purple skin instead of scales upon her. A set of crests instead of horns that had a black fin stretching down to her cheek. Coupled with the bulky, grey bio suit her species was forced to wear above ground, she seemed quite ruthless.
“I couldn’t tell, Methir.” Jirmen shook his head. “Oh, there was a weird light and reports of undead in the area. Neglected to mention an entire city block had gone up!”
Jimren wished he was exaggerating. He had arrived with a few of his guards alongside his apprentice, expecting to flush out a group of Necromancers. Good way to work out his aggression.
Instead he stood on the outskirts of a block that had been completely taken over in a sickly green haze. The brick and stone buildings were cloaked in shadows. Coupled what sounded like screeches, a panic erupted around them. Something that the city guard and Jirmen’s Warlocks – elite magi - had to manage alongside this.
Not to mention the ghostly apparition above them. Jirmen couldn’t quite make out what it was just yet, but it strongly resembled a serpent with scythe-like claws. If it was what he thought, there was not enough alcohol in the world that could prepare him for what was to come.
Jirmen swirled around, his white cloak swishing behind him. Large crowd, not enough Warlocks. Someone was going to be foolish enough to try and rush the barriers to see what was going on. He would have no backup except for Methir going in. Thankfully, he was wise enough to bring some of his strongest to hold down the block. If something went bad, he had no doubts they would be able to hold off until Aur-
Sorrow stabbed him in the gut like a molten blade and nearly doubled over from it. He could feel water well up in his eyes as he stared at the ground. Right…there wouldn’t be any back up. Not anymore.
A comforting claw gently grabbed his shoulder. He glanced over to see Methir offering a comforting smile.
“I’m fine.” Jirmen gripped his silvery, runed staff harder. Pointing the orbed tip at the block, it illuminated like a fog light. “Ready?”
“After what just happened, I’m more than.” Methir grinned optimistically.
Nodding, Jirmen lead the way inside. Shimmering armor formed over his white robes, shielding him from the mist. The runes on it had already activated, signifying its malignancy. He didn’t have to worry about his energy draining anytime soon, but it was Methir he worried about. Powerful in her own right, she still paled before his own. It didn’t help that she wasn’t the type of mention when she was low unless it was dire.
Refocusing, Jirmen let out a bitter snarl and cast a spell to mask their steps. What was left of his tail stood on end. His fur bristled, noting dark objects on the ground before him. His boots echoed with each step.
Sure enough, the object was what he thought it was; a body. A young dragon, eyes glassy and staring to the sky. Wings were unfurled and the wounds indicated he had crashed. Dead for approximately ten minutes, if he had to guess. It always stung to see someone this young dead.
Raising a claw, he summoned what looked like a tiny star and threw it at the body. As it connected, dark flame began to eat away at it. Out of the corner of his eyes, he saw Methir do the same to another body.
“We sure it’s a necromancer?” She questioned.
“It’s not.” Jirmen heard something from up again. Sluggish, like it was dragging something heavy.
“…Are we sure it’s not Azulia?”
“Azulia would have simply shown up if she wanted our attention, or handled it on her own if it was one of her former subjects.” Jirmen motioned for her to step closer to him. “Look up. What does that look like?”
Although he could not see her face through the face mask she now wore, the way her body stood rigid told him everything.
“No…” She whispered. “That’s not possible.”
“I’m hoping it’s a trick too.” Jirmen scowled. “However, we have a more immediate problem.”
He indicated ahead, where three reanimated corpses slouched toward them. They were held together by what felt like a contradiction. The magic used was minimal, but whoever had done it had done it so expertly that a simple reversal wouldn’t work. They had to do it the old-fashioned way from the looks of it.
In a way, he was happy. He had been so defeated these past few days that burning a few Necrolites was sure to bring something resembling a smile to his face again.
“Stand back.” He ordered Methir.
“Stealing all the fun again?” She teased as he slammed his staff into the ground.
“Always.” He felt his muzzle tug.
A purple-white wave of pure magic launched itself at the Necrolites. Everything in its path was thrown to the side or collected as it increased in velocity, slamming into the corpses. He could hear their bones shattering as a scream escaped their maws. Jirmen’s eyes narrowed; it sounded like pain.
Another Necrolite, which had come up from the alley to his right, was burned with a bolt of electricity.
“Dunno how we missed that one,” Methir’s claws stopped glowing. “Maybe we’re getting older.”
“You’re not even sixty yet. You got another hundred before you start complaining.” Jirmen muttered, investigating the corpse. “Tell me, what did this one try and do?”
“Uh…reach out?” Methir seemed puzzled by his question. “I mean, isn’t that how they attack?”
“Yes, but…” Jirmen held his staff to the corpse. “Dammit.”
“They aren’t Necrolites.” Jirmen examined the body closer. “Necrolites are dead bodies that don’t have a soul; these do.”
“So they’re watching their own bodies rot.” Methir shivered, tail snapping like a whip on the ground. Jirmen confirmed solemnly. “Can we release them, then?”
“Once we get to the source, yes. I don’t have the magic to spare for a separation ritual if we are to fight. This is one of the most complex fusions I have seen, and I think we can finally confirm what we are up against.”
“Reaper?” Methir asked uneasily.
“Reaper.” Jirmen answered gloomily.
Jirmen didn’t really want to admit it, but the evidence was clear. He felt his claw curled as his stomach twisted into knots. One week; that’s all he wanted. One week to grieve and recover.
“Master?” Methir asked quietly.
“We’re not going to be able to take it on directly.” Jirmen announced. “I’m too weak for that.”
“Then what can we do?”
“I’m working on it.”
Opening his claw again, he created an orb of light. Spectral steps illuminated the way before them, leading into a brick building across the way. It should, in theory, lead them straight to the reaper.
The door creaked open as a heater hissed steam at them. Sometimes, he forgot the outside world was being forced to utilize non-magical technology. Most of it noisy with no fluidity to it. Others were downright pointless, such as the time someone tried to create ‘diet water’.
Shaking his head, he ran his eyes over the bodies that lay crumpled at the bottom of the stairwell. Some hung over the sides. They tried to leave in a hurry, it looked like. It must have been a powerful reaper to cause the mist to move so fast.
Each step on the stairs filled him with more and more dread. It was impossible to kill a reaper; at least, not in this plane of existence. It was a long, complicated process that he hoped he wouldn’t have to do. Perhaps the reaper was not the cause of this, and was instead here to investigate. As backwards as that theory was, he found himself deluding the thought of a fight.
Best he could do was hope was to banish it back to the spirit realm. Let the other reapers deal with the rogue. They were supposed to be guardians, to maintain a balance in the world. Yet, as he found out over the past few years, they weren’t infallible. Much like ‘mortals’, they had their vices.
“Should I take the third floor just in case?” Methir stepped around the body of a smaller dragon. Maybe what…eleven?
“No.” Jirmen said a bit too quickly. The orb had begun to fade, as if it were unable to track it properly anymore.
She noticed. “You sure?”
“We’re the only two here. I’m not having you run into the reaper and not know what to do.”
More corpses awaited them at the second floor. Jirmen could feel their souls crying out from inside their shells. The green haze intensified, swirling around like a thick blanket. Light travelled less than five meters. Shadows gave the illusion of creatures stalking. An odd scent filled the air; rotten yet with some flowery odor – another contradiction.
Third floor held nothing except more Necrolites. Something he noticed, however, was that they didn’t attack them. Instead, they turned their vacant gaze to watch movements. Garbled speech, but the confusion was clear. Maybe, just maybe, there would be a way to reverse the damage here. They haven’t been dead long, and magic was a fickle thing.
Perhaps he was an old fool, projecting hope when there was none.
The fourth floor caused the steps to appear once again. Only, this time they faded halfway down the hall. They both didn’t need it anymore as right where it ended, a massive explosion had taken out three apartments. The mist restricted vision to about three meters ahead of them.
Stepping into the rubble, Jirmen saw the bodies were different here. The side that was facing the explosion was skeletonized, leaving their insides to stain the ground. His fangs bared, he searched the environment. It was close, but he couldn’t tell where.
The middle apartment is where he felt the crushing weight. Crouching lower to avoid debris, a tapestry fell before him; its colorful message faded with the words ‘Happy Hatchday, Kyrik!’ All around were strewn about gifts; mostly toys. A stuffed animal lay with its cotton spilling out. Near it, a white skull-like mask. He’d guess this Kyrik must have been in the seven to nine age range. Ten at most.
“Look,” Methir pointed forward.
In the thickest parts of the mist, he saw three shapes. Two were draconic, standing on shaky legs. The other was a small ball, a glowing bright-green light flickering from it. It was the reaper, of that Jirmen was certain.
“Stay behind me,” Jirmen gripped his staff with both claws this time. Each step was light, ready to leap or sprint at any notice. At his approach, the two draconic shapes moved closer to the ball. He could see them clearer now; male and female.
His eyes drifted down, widening at the sight before him. A dragon no older than ten, curled into a ball. His eyes were shut, trembling in his mocha scales stained with blood. Looking at the draconic shapes, Jirmen saw resemblance to the hatchling; his parents. They were horrifically burned, held together by an unknown spectral fabric. Lingering parental instinct protected the hatchling from Jirmen.
The movement caused the dragon to leap up and stare at them with wide, frightened peridot eyes. Lower jaw trembling, posture low with back raised. Spines flared up in terror. Horror dawned upon Jirmen when he realized that the light - and the source of this destruction - came from this frightened little whelp who was more scared of them than they of him.