“Why? What makes them special?” Dee asked in slight surprise.
“Most undead are mindless as far as Mindscape is concerned. You can’t attack their minds and I can’t detect them either. Even the high ranking undead that are clearly intelligent count as mindless for some odd reason. I think there’s something in their nature that hides them, but I’ve never been fully able to explain it. The only exceptions are vampires and those that became undead by their own will, like some high ranking necromancers transforming themselves into liches. I think it's because the undead are born of negative energy.” Moirai explained.
Most undead were not animated corpses of the dead, instead they were physical manifestations of the negative energy as a result of negative feelings and death of several people in a small area. That negative energy could take over a dead body, which led to the common misconception. More often than not though, undead were created when a large amount of negative energy came together, and the body of the undead creature would essentially appear from nowhere. The higher ranked the undead was, the more negative energy was required to create them. Something like a skeletal dragon was rare, but didn’t actually require a corpse of a dragon to be born. There were cases of a particularly malicious and vengeful spirit regaining a new form to exact revenge, though it was unclear if these were just some residual thoughts of the dead person, or had the actual soul lingering after death as well.
Moirai continued. “That makes it hard for me to track the source of the undead. There weren’t enough of them yet to be a real problem, but unless we find the source…” The other two guardians were chosen for their ability in battle and not their ability to track targets, so they were equally useless.
“Well, I’m not sure if I mentioned it, but I’ve received training as a scout. Also, I’ve trained as a templar as you know, and killing undead is kind of our specialty.” Dee pointed out. ‘Well undead and mages.’ She also thought to herself.
“Wait, I’m pretty sure you’re too young to be accepted to the scouts of the templar. How did this happen?” Moirai asked. What wasn’t the girl trained in?
“Well, Captain Sarfina was training me to become one of the scouts, I think. She got one of the elven rangers of Tuatha Dé Danann to train me in preparation. I can’t say I’m fully trained, but it’s better than nothing.” Dee explained a little embarrassed.
“A ranger from the empire of elves and Sidhe? Well that’s a reliable training if I’ve ever heard of one. You did mention the captain was someone with clout among the elves.“ As time passed, Dee had told Moirai some details about Sarfina, though nothing too important.
“So how about it? It’s not like we’ll lose anything if I try.” Dee suggested.
Moirai thought for a moment. “Alright. You can give it a shot. I’ll prepare some forces while you look for the source of the undead. Take this with you.” Moirai tossed Dee a small stone with the Four Winds insignia.
“What’s this?” Dee could’ve used her ability to read magic to figure it out, but it was easier to just ask.
“It’s one of the more useful things the spell slingers have managed to create. Just put a bit of your power into it and think of me. That thing will connect us magically, and allow us to talk over distances.” Moirai gave brief instructions.
“Any chance of being overheard?” Dee asked with some curiosity. She’d heard of communicators like this, and Zabaniya used them on occasion, though never with the children.
“Well it’s not a complete impossibility, so don’t mention any deep dark secrets, but it’s unlikely. Just contact me when you find something.” Moirai reassured her.
“Roger that.” Dee said rather happily. Time to get out of the city a bit.
The site of the fight between Moirai and the undead didn’t really give much in the way of clues. The area was forested, and the fight itself had happened in a clearing surrounded by trees on all sides. Moirai had done a number on the undead, so no hints would be found there. However, it did seem like a staging area of some sort. It was also clear that the undead didn’t walk here. Low level undead weren’t smart or skilled enough to move through the forest without leaving traces of their passing.
‘So they were either raised here, or transported somehow.’ Dee thought to herself. The first option seemed much more likely, which meant that she should be looking for signs of a single being passing through the forest instead of a group of undead.
She didn’t find obvious traces of a necromancer, who in general weren’t exactly woodsmen. That in itself wasn’t too strange though as some undead like wraiths and liches were able to float above the ground. She did however find signs of a powerful undead passing through the woods. Not footprints or anything that obvious, but a touch of death on the nature itself.
Some powerful undead had a clear aura of death around them. This was especially true for those with magical abilities like liches and vampires as the mana from the death element suffused through them. This aura damaged the nature around them. Not in an obvious way, unless the owner of the aura wanted to, but enough to leave a trace. The nature was already healing though, and in a few days the trace would be gone, as the power of life circulated in the forest.
For now though, the trace was not too difficult to follow if you knew what you were looking for. Dee followed the trace for hours, only reaching her goal just before nightfall. She reached the edge of several ruins and noticed the presence of more undead. This time of higher rank that just simple skeletons and shambling dead. The ruins didn’t look like the remains of a town but they were too big to be a mansion as well. The buildings had almost completely disappeared, so it was hard to guess their purpose.
“Moirai, can you hear me?” Dee sent a message through the stone.
‘I can hear you. You found something?’ Came her teacher’s voice clear in her mind.
“Yeah, I’m pretty sure I found where the undead are coming from. I’m at some weird ruins south from the city. There are plenty of undead around. I see skeleton warriors and knights, couple of large pieces of flesh that look quite abominable that I don’t recognize, there are several spectral beings I’d guess are ghosts, and I’m pretty sure there’s at least one Wight among them. There’s a few ghouls as well, and I think I can see a tomb giant in the distance.” Dee explained what she could see.
Skeletal warriors and knights were much more dangerous than simple skeletons because they seemed to have some level of battle instincts. They worked as a group and even used battle tactics. Where normal skeletons might have a rusty blade and some rotting armor, these skeletons had actual weapons and armor and some ability to use them. Wights were skeletons with actual intelligence and ability to use either mana or ki. They were the warrior equivalent of liches and were often seen commanding groups of lower ranked undead as generals. Groups of Wights could be extremely dangerous to most beings as their equipment often had magical properties.
‘Ruins. Hold on, where are you exactly? Can you describe the ruins?’ Moirai asked.
“The ruins are surrounded by three small mountains and don’t seem to be the remains of a village. I would guess they might have been a palace of some sort long time ago. I suppose it could a sect of some kind as well. It’s about a day’s journey from the city.” Dee gave some additional information as well as her own speculation.
‘I think we know what you’re talking about now. Sit tight, we can use the stone to track your location, so we’ll find you faster.’ Moirai instructed, cutting the connection.
“Tracking eh? I’m not sure if I’m all that happy with the idea.” Dee mused.
It was morning by the time Dee felt hundreds of people approaching her from the city. She could recognize Moirai from the Mindscape. As they drew closer, she could recognize warriors and mages from the sub-community, led by Moirai and Ngaire. She didn’t see the other guardians, so they must have stayed behind to protect the community.
Moirai didn’t have time to make any questions before Dee gestured towards the ruins and the undead. The ruins were still cast in shadows, and would most likely remain so, as undead didn’t exactly deal well with sunlight, which weakened strong undead and outright killed weaker ones.
“Ah, you were right Ngaire. It really is the ruins of the old temple complex. Oh, those undead seem bothersome. Good job Dee!” Moirai said, observing the ruins.
“Temple complex?” Dee asked. She hadn’t thought of that.
Ngaire replied instead of Moirai. “There used to be a series of temples to the dark gods in this area. The head-priest got a little too depraved in his actions, with live sacrifices and raiding the surroundings. Several communities came together and burnt the whole place down. This was over a thousand years ago I think.”
“So what shall we do about them Ngaire?” Moirai asked for input.
“Well, attacking them straight up would work, especially if Dee really has abilities as a templar. That would come with some losses though. I don’t’ suppose you want to just try blasting them to bits?” Ngaire suggested.
The ranks that noted the power of individuals were not linear, as the power and skill required for each rank grew almost exponentially. While someone like Ngaire or Dee around ranks five and six were still relatively normal, they only equaled something like elite royal guards on many worlds. Rank seven Grand Knights and Grand Magus were already strong enough to turn the tides of wars and ranks eight and nine could annihilate armies.
As a class nine psion, Moirai had this ability as well. Even with the presence of Wights and tomb giants, Moirai could wipe them all out with relative ease. “I’m not sure if I should. The master of these undead has yet to show himself, and it would be kind of bad if he attacked me while I was dealing with the undead here. It might be better if I hide my strength for now. Let’s try to be careful with the attack. Ngaire, you can deal with the Wight and me and Dee can take on the tomb giants. Dee can you give the others some help with the others to avoid losses?”
“Sure thing. Just have them gather for the attack and I’ll give them a boost before we charge in.” Dee replied lightly.
The Four Winds forces gathered for a charge in view of the undead who also started to gather for a battle. They could’ve tried a surprise attack, but the terrain didn’t really allow it, and the power from the battle preparations would’ve warned the enemy anyway. Mages and warriors casting buffs and gathering power was not hard to detect. Just before the Four Winds formation charged, Ngaire gave Dee the signal to do her thing. He wasn’t sure what Dee would be able to do with this many people, but any little bit would help. Blessing this many people took quite a bit of holy power.
Dee concentrated and drew heavily on Lumen’s power, as it was much more suitable for this purpose. “’Blessed Blades’, ‘Champions of the Just’ ‘Regen’” Dee cast several blessing on the whole group of four hundred people.
“What the heck?” Ngaire mumbled as he noted the effects of the spells. Golden flames deadly to undead covered their weapons without affecting the wielders, ‘Champions of the Just’ was an improved version of the spell ‘There is no Darkness’ which protected against the effects of the negative energy of the undead. It also increased the strength of the targets. ‘Regen’ was a simple regenerative spell that lasted for a long time. It wouldn’t heal large wounds or save someone about to die, but it did recover small wounds and helped regenerate lost stamina.
“Don’t just stand there dolts!” Moirai yelled. “Attack!” She knew just as well that three blessings like that required quite a lot of holy power, but she refused to be surprised anymore when it came to Dee.
The battle was rather short and brutal. Even without the added buffs, the Four Winds had strong warriors and skilled mages, and the buffs made things much easier. Ghosts relied on their ability attack enemies with negative energy and avoid physical attacks due to their ethereal nature, but both of those had been negated by the buffs, turning the ghosts into a non-factor in the fight. Ngaire took down the Wight in single combat, while Moirai rather casually dealt with the gigantic skeleton known as a tomb giant. Dee faired almost as well, as holy spells were very effective, even to the point that she didn’t even have to fight the giant in melee. The rest of the undead folded with the big hitters gone.
“Still no sign of whoever was supposed to be their master. Goddess damn it!” Moirai cursed. The Wight could function as a commander, but it had no ability raise other undead.
Her thoughts were interrupted as Dee gave a whistle as a signal for finding something. She was standing near an opening to a tunnel that seemed to be going underground. It was half buried within the largest ruin in the area.
“That seems a bit ominous.” Ngaire muttered.
“And almost certainly trapped. Otherwise the undead wouldn’t have been out here in the open.” Moirai commented.
“Give me a head start. I’ll scout out ahead. I’m good at spotting traps.” Dee said and slipped into the tunnel without waiting for an answer.
“So now she has trap spotting skills as well?” Ngaire asked with a tone that showed he had given up.
“Just go with it. It’s easier that way. If you ask, you might get an answer that will only disturb you more.” Moirai replied with a slight smile.
The tunnel was indeed trapped, though only part of the way. Most of the traps were magical, which Dee had no trouble disarming with ‘Spell Purge’. Kind of easy to strike at spells that were stationary, and didn’t react to the surroundings unless triggered. There were some mechanical traps as well, though a lot less. Some she could purposefully trigger, which resulted in arrows flying out, while others she marked so the other would avoid them.
The traps soon stopped, but there was another problem. “Moirai, I think you’re clear to lead them here now. The tunnel splits to three though.”
Soon Moirai lead the other to the large room with three other tunnels splitting off. “So what now?” Dee asked.
“Give me your best guess. Which is the most unlikely tunnel to lead to our target?” Moirai asked.
“That one.” Dee pointed to the tunnel on the right. “It heads back towards the surface. I’d guess it’s an escape route. It also shows no signs of use.”
Moirai gave a small gesture, and a small group of warriors started up the tunnel, slowly searching for traps. “And next?”
“The left one. The dust suggests lack of use, although I can’t be certain. Someone definitely used the middle one recently though.”
Moirai gave another gesture and Ngaire led the rest to the left tunnel. That left Dee and Moirai to go into the middle tunnel. “Interesting split.” Dee commented.
“You seem to be able to handle yourself and spot traps. Besides, you’re safest with me. And I’m the best person to deal with the enemy.” Moirai said simply.
Their plan ended up being rather short lived though. After ten minutes of walking they came into another split, though this time with only two tunnels. “Well this is rather suggestive.” Dee commented wryly.
“Indeed. You take the left one and stay out of sight. I know how stealthy you can be. Signal me immediately if you detect someone.” Moirai wasn’t exactly happy with letting Dee go alone, but she had confidence in her disciple’s ability to avoid attention.
It didn’t take long for Moirai to reach the end of her path. In a fairly small circular room she found a dark elf man drawing a magical circle on the ground. The man was wearing black and green robes, which carried the symbol of the Spider Cult. The man had his back towards Moirai, but raised his head as if hearing Moirai’s approach. Moirai wasn’t exactly hiding, so no surprise there.
“Guardian. You got here a bit faster than I thought.” The man said with a calm voice.
“We have a rather proficient scout. I’m not too happy to find an acolyte of the Great Mother here.” Moirai replied.
“I’m sure. Though you don’t have to worry, I won’t be bothering you much longer.” The man replied with a small smile. The man was rather handsome with his clean and dark looks.
“Surely you don’t think I’ll allow you to leave. Even if you are from the Spider Cult, I doubt they’d bother retaliating over the loss of a single acolyte. Especially when he is causing problems in an area he has no business in.” Moirai displayed more confidence than she was feeling. It would be really bad if the Cult got angry at the Four Winds.
“Well now that depends on the circumstances, doesn’t it? There are acolytes and then there are acolytes that matter. Besides, you’re barking slightly at the wrong tree. I’m not the one you really want. I’m just a facilitator. Besides, I have a legit reason for being here, so the cult would be more interested than you think.” The man pulled out a purple and black swirling mass of energy.
“Essence of Undeath?” Moirai asked with a raised eyebrow.
“Very good. And someone with your strength should know the significance.” The man said with another smile.
The man’s words had a dual meaning. The Essence of Undeath was a rather rare magical material that was sometimes created as a byproduct when a powerful undead was born naturally. Naturally in the sense that it was not created by a necromancer, but was born out of the collection of negative energy. This byproduct was rather rare and somewhat random in its appearance. Thus it could not be created intentionally.
The other meaning was something that few people knew. Death Lords of the Cult weren’t something created from any random acolyte, but required several steps before the all-important kiss of death. These steps gave power to the acolytes and were something that showed their worthiness as future Death Lords. One of the steps was to absorb the essence held by the man, along with some other ingredients. Someone taking this step was already rather far along the process.
Some puzzle pieces started dropping into place in Moirai’s mind. “I see. One of the communities inside the city found the essence before you, and you wanted to take it back.”
The man laughed. “Close but not at all like that.”
Moirai’s mind ground to a halt. “Eh?”
“I did order the attacks, but I had no business with the city myself. The owner of this essence did. I simply provided my assistance in trade. The attacks were two part revenge and one part about retrieving an item my client wanted from one of the communities. So you weren’t entirely wrong.” The man volunteered the information.
“Well, aren’t you helpful all the sudden.” Moirai pointed out.
“There’s no reason for me not to be. I can cut my way out of here, but I’d rather not. My business here is done, and I have nothing against you. So I might as well show some good will as a sign of good faith.” Suddenly two greenish ethereal forms appeared next to the man.
Moirai Drew a sharp breath. “Hexwraiths!” She hissed. This was a problem. Not because she was in danger of losing, but because she was unable to kill these high level ethereal beings.
Wraiths had this annoying quality where they became immune to attacks that didn’t carry a strong holy or magical force. This could be magical spells, magical items, holy weapons or holy spells, but the higher the level of the wraith, the more powerful magic was required to hurt them. As a psion Moirai had no mana, and she didn’t have any holy power either. She did carry a magical blade just for dealing with annoying ethereal enemies, but it wasn’t strong enough to kill wraiths of this level. She could force their bodies to scatter for a short while, but she couldn’t kill them.
The man continued. “My master also gifted me a Grim Rider, but I don’t think either of us wants me to summon that one. Besides, don’t you have bigger worries? I said I traded with someone, and obviously meant the powerful undead responsible for spawning this essence. He is the one you want, and I don’t think you have time to waste with me here.”
The man tilted his head a bit. “Judging by the flow of mana, someone already ran into him. I hope that person wasn’t important to you, or is someone capable of dealing with a greater lich.”
Moirai cursed, turning towards the entrance. Dee went to the other tunnel!
“Until we meet again.” The man waved at Moirai, as the magical formation below his feet lit up and summoning magic called him away from this place.