Sebiar and the adventurers

“The Dark Tower” by Mike Smith

“Sigh… They are far worse than I had expected.”

Sebiar was staring down from the window of her tower into the courtyard where her undead minions were supposed to repair the old wall that surrounded the tower. The tower was an old ruin, mostly collapsed, but the ground-floor and the cellar were still usable and the walls surrounding the tower were mostly crumbled down. Apparently the tower had been used as a storage facility when the village was still lively. Judging by the materials she had found in the abandoned cottages this had been a human village that was overrun by orcs some hundred years ago or so.

At first she was very pleased to find so many valuable resources — most skeletons were still intact with only a couple of bones being shattered or rotten away. The land around here must have never been blessed. For a small village with only a couple dozen people living here this would have been quite normal. In bigger cities you would never find places that have never been blessed by a priest of one god or the other. Humans are always afraid that some necromancer might come along and take advantage of the fact that the magic in these outlands often prevents bodies from decaying, raising an army of undead so that they would have to fight their deceased loved ones or be killed by them.

Which, of course, is mostly what happened here.

But Sebiar was not interested in raising an army. Or sending her undead minions to fight and kill their former friends and family.

For now at least…

Basic undead are the perfect workforce. They require neither food nor drink, they don’t have to sleep, they don’t have to take breaks, they never complain, they do whatever you tell them to do — life is easy with enough formerly human undead.

“I was hoping this experiment would prove more… useful. The problem with humans is that they are pretty weak. And when you take away all of their muscles there really isn’t much strength left. Of course they can still wield a light sword or use a bow, but they just aren’t good at carrying stuff from one place to another. I thought that using orcs would yield some useful minions.”

From behind Sebiar you could hear some weird rattling and clicking noises as if a little kid was playing with a couple of wooden sticks, throwing them into little piles or hitting them on the ground as if it was playing on a drum.

Click Clik Clackk

“I know cricket. They are indeed stronger, just as I had expected. But look at them… They can’t follow the most basic instructions!”

With a dismayed look she watched two orcish skeletons trying to put a stone on top of another one. A human skeleton was trying to instruct them how to raise the stone, but the orcish skeletons would try the weirdest things — one was pressing on the stone as if they were trying to push it deep into the ground, another one was trying to pull one corner as if it was opening a sliding door.

“Sigh… They are absolutely hopeless. I don’t even know what they are trying there. Pick up the stone and put it on top of that other stone shouldn’t be that difficult. Even that human skel looks like it doesn’t understand how they couldn’t do something so simple.”

Clak Click Clack

Sebiar turned around, crossing her arms in front of her and raising an eye brow in amusement.

“What do you mean Skeletons don’t have any means of expressing their emotions? I can understand you, too, cricket, can’t I?”

Sebiar was looking at a small figure clothed in old black robes standing in the door frame at the other end of the room. The hunched posture made it difficult for any normal onlooker to see what was below the hood. The area around the figure seemed darker than the rest of the room, even if it was a beautiful day and the sun was still high on the sky. Most people would have thought the hunched posture and small stature would indicate an old human or maybe a dwarf that had spent a lot of his long life underground in the mines of their folk. The apparent lack of motion would be a bit unsettling for keen observers, but most people of every folk were just too focused on themselves to notice something like this, allowing observers to often wander through the streets of settlements without being interrupted.

Of course Sebiar knew what was below the hood. Cricket was the name she had given the Collector that had been travelling with her for a few years now — a mass of ever-shifting bones, some of them incredibly small and some of them very long, always looking out for new bones to add to their collection. By rearranging the bones Cricket could make sounds that Sebiar had learned to interpret over the course of the last few years.

Most people would be afraid to be so close to a Collector. And they had good reason to be afraid, for Collectors are not known for their hospitality, but for their insatiable desire to find new bones to add to their ever-increasing collection. Seeing one normally means that they want something from you — most likely something that you would like to remain inside your body, while they would like for it to be the next piece that gets added to their body.

Click Clik Clak

“Yes, of course you are special. But it’s not like your chirping is anywhere near human speech. Though it sounds more like a deathwatch beetle lately. Maybe I’ll change your nickname to woody.”

Click

“You are right, I got distracted a bit. What I wanted to say was that I can understand all of my skeletal friends and minions. An important trait for a necromancer if you ask me.”

Click Clak

“How about you tell me what to do about these completely useless Orcs instead of complaining about the speed of our mission? Can’t you tell them how to do it? The human skel doesn’t seem to be good enough for that.”

Clik Clik Click

“Even after all these years I can’t really tell the difference between your bones and those of these idiots out there trying to push a stone into the ground. But if you say so, I guess your bones are too precious to be integrated into mere minions.”

Sebiar started walking through the room with its sparse interior. A camping bed on one side of the room with a little stool that holds a stack of papers, a pencil and some ink in case a dream gives her some ideas for new experiments. A chair and a larger table on the other side with messy piles of papers and books on the other side. A couple of clothes for her, thrown into one corner of the room — dressing nicely had become less of an issue since she had been surrounded solely by her undead creations and Cricket.

Every round through the small room, silently judged by Cricket, was darkening her mood further, but she continued her little walk in hope of understanding why the orcish skeletons were even less intelligent than normal. The currently accepted theory about creating undead was that the user’s talent was the most important factor when it came to the intelligence of the undead a necromancer could create. This explains for example why Sebiar was able to create undead skeletons from former humans that were able to follow more elaborate tasks and even direct other undead.

Clik

“I’ve thought of that, too. Most tests are made with humans. If there is just not enough difference between them the differences in the resulting skel’s would be mostly due to the abilities of the -”

Sebiar was interrupted by loud noises from the outside. After a moment she quickly rushed to the window to see what was happening outside — only to find that the orcish skeletons had managed to put the stone on top of the other one. The problem was that they thought it would be enough to put a corner on top of the other stone, which is why the stone fell down the moment they released it, burying one of the orcish skeletons. Other skeletons were approaching to try and pull the former Orc out of his predicament.

Sebiar’s face darkened.

“It has to be the level of intelligence of the base creature. Something like that could never happen with my abilities.”

Clak Clack

“Right, the freshness of the corpse could have an impact, too. What I need is a fresh corpse of a far more intelligent race so that it can teach these idiots how to build a wall if I ever want to secure this place.”

For some time she watched the skeletons as they removed the still intact bones of the orcish skeleton from underneath the fallen stone. What was left was brought to her workshop so that she could later fix it. Meanwhile the human skeleton ordered two other orcish skeletons to replace the one that had been crushed — only to find those two would repeat the same mistake.

Sebiar started grinding her teeth.

When the human skeleton repeated the same thing with three other orcish skeletons she let out a small cry of desperation, threw her hands into the air for a moment and started walking out of her room. Two meters before she would run straight into Cricket he moved a bit back and to the side of the door in a way that resembled a wave moving through water. It was his preferred way to move when there was no need to hide his identity and the speed with which he could move in this fashion was one of his biggest advantages — nobody would expect a small, hunched creature to move this fast. When he would imitate a human or a being of another race he would have to move very slowly and be careful to give the impression that he had legs instead of basically being a column of bones.

She was going through the long corridor towards one of the few rooms she was using. Cricket was following her as was evident by the scratching noises just behind her. A few years back these sounds would freak her out, but today it was normal that he would follow her, silently watching what she was doing. Sebiar had chosen the tower because it offered a lot of rooms she could later use once she had set up everything and the roof was repaired, but for the moment most of them were still as abandoned as when she found her new home.

While going through the corridor at a smart pace she could hear a loud noise again making her chuff and increase her speed even further. She needed to do something else or she would go crazy. She came across the rooms she used to mix potions, ointments and antidotes for herself and poisons that the skeletons should use when hunting for more bones for Cricket or her personal workforce.

“Poisons or potions… a difficult decision… “

A loud noise could be heard from outside again, though this one was far louder than the ones before. Apparently a part of the wall that had already been built just collapsed. A few seconds Sebiar stood in the long corridor, her eyes pointing in the direction from which she had heard the noise as if she could stare through the walls of stone directly at the responsible piles of bones with a look that could kill — again.

“Poisons!”, she exclaimed, turning on her heels towards the room that reeked of alchmical substances that would make most humans retch instantly.

“Go tell them to stop. I don’t want to be disturbed for a few hours.”

The scratching grew more distant, indicating that Cricket was going to the skeletons to tell them to do something else. As Sebiar had not given him any instructions to relay he would probably send them to the woods to hunt for some animal bones. He was always complaining that she would not let him hunt a few humans from the caravan, which was one of the many aspects of Cricket that Sebiar found fascinating. Most of the time he was far more paranoid than she could ever be — and as a necromancer in a world full of gods who apparently have told their followers that being resurrected as a mindless tool is bad, being paranoid is one of the key ingredients to a very long life — but whenever he saw a human he couldn’t stop chirping about how he wanted to add their bones to his collection.

But for some time they would have to be extremely careful not to draw any attention. Otherwise someone would come to investigate. And after they investigated, these people would then send other people to clear the area of the evil undead — which would include not only Cricket, but also Sebiar as the master mind behind this scheme. That’s why she had forbidden all skeletons, including Cricket, to attack any humans.

It took Sebiar some time to calm down and concentrate on her work. Her thoughts were still occupied by the problems of getting the orcish skeletons to work in a way that would repair the area instead of destroying even the remnants. She would have to find an intelligent creature. A creature that was capable of reasoning far beyond that of average humans so that the resulting skeleton would be able to command parts of her workforce for her. Then she could focus on the important research she wanted to conduct about magical items or rituals that would help her to control an ever-increasing number of undead creatures, which would in turn help her find clues to her ultimate goal. The goal that every necromancer strives for.

Sebiar wanted to become a Lich.

It was not about the power to kill basically every living thing — though that would be nice, too — it was about being able to live as long as she wants to discover as many things as she wants. She wanted to have endless time to learn about nature, to create new potions and poisons, to invent new rituals, to see every corner of the world, to see new creatures evolve or be created, to see empires rise and fall — she wanted to experience everything.

For a few hours Sebiar was able to focus completely on her work. At the end she was looking at a red liquid in a small glass vial, not even enough to fill a thimble, with a poison that could certainly kill a couple bears or something similar in size. Pleased with herself and the results of her hard work she smiled and admired the blood-red colour for a while — when an incredibly loud noise like an explosion pulled her out of her trance. The shock was so intense that she let go of the glass vial. The blood-like liquid spread across the floor as if someone was just stabbed — it looked like far more blood than should have been possible with this small amount of liquid. For a moment she was fascinated again, before anger started to rise up in her.

Click Clik Clack Clack

“I thought so. But what would make them come here? I’ve told everyone not to attack any humans. They shouldn’t even know we are here!”

… Click

For a second Sebiar was staring at Cricket in disbelief.

“… Elves are not humans…? Are you kidding me? You decided to go kill some random elves on the trade route nearby? Do you realize that those were most likely diplomats? There are no elven villages nearby and they wouldn’t trade with such small settlements!”

… Clack

“Sorry won’t cut it! … Sigh… Good, you killed all of them and mentioned to put the blame on orcs by using some of the skels, but that is still far too risky! Okay, I need to calm down. Okay, first: never do that again! You know exactly how to interpret my words and are not one of those brainless idiots that take everything literally.”

Clak

“This is not the time to remind me of the fact that you are technically braineless, too! … Second: How many? What do they want?”

A second explosion, this time closer to the tower, roared through the air.

Clak Clack

“Great… Okay, you know the drill. We have multiple of your smaller bones hidden around the village, they won’t find all of them. I have a couple on me, too. You go fight them with the normal skels. But before you attack we will try to find out what they want. Maybe we can avert the catastrophe and figure something out. I will cast the few illusional spells that I know to create a double. Agreed?”

Clack

“Great! Now go great our guests.”

Sebiar and Cricket went in different directions — one for the main entrance, one for the hidden passage to the old cellar. On her way Sebiar murmured some incantations to create different kinds of illusions. Even being a genius is not enough to perfectly master multiple schools of magic, which is why she had to create sound and image different from each other.

When she was in her hiding place in the cellar she looked at her illusion and let it speak to see whether anything was obviously wrong.

“Let’s hope that they are the usual Kill everything that moves!-type of adventuring party.”, the copy muttered with her arms crossed before her body, a slightly raised eye brow and a small smile on her face.

“Perfect. That should work for those cretins.”, the original muttered with the same expression and posture, before she closed her eyes to concentrate and re-create the same illusion besides the waiting Cricket before the main entrance door. It was important to check herself whether the illusion was good before using it — Cricket wasn’t the best at judging human facial expressions.

Luckily re-creation is a fast and easy process when you have just created an exact mental template that you can re-assemble somewhere else. Most wizards focusing on illusions would have problems with this process, but as a necromancer Sebiar was used to placing wards everywhere and mentally checking their status even from the other end of the house. It was not as impressive as Cricket’s abilities to make every pile of bones in a one mile radius that he had touched at some point an extension of his own perception, but it was good enough for such a trick. She adjusted the clothes a bit so that they wouldn’t look as tattered as her real clothes, but it was no problem to do this on the fly.

Through her illusion Sebiar could already hear the sound of swords and axes clashing with each other from the other side of the door. The adventurers are very close.

Click Click Click Clak

“I don’t care about your weird fetishes. Take the collarbones when we are done with them, if that what makes you happy. But only if we need to kill them. First we try to talk. If that doesn’t work we will use them as replacement for the skels they have already destroyed. Ready?”

Click

“Great. Let’s go!”

The illusion was extending her hand, while Cricket was using a few small bones to open the big double doors. His strength was impressing as always — and depressing because she just couldn’t get him to help with fortifying the place.

After stepping outside the illusion shouted a loud order for the skeletons to stop fighting before looking at the adventurers. Cricket was standing besides her, waiting for his chance to kill every living creature in his field of view. A few moments of silence where Sebiar could take a look at the heavily breathing party of adventurers through her illusion’s eyes. They were a standard party — someone wielding a big axe and no armor, someone wielding a normal sword and normal armor, someone with a bow in the back and someone with a staff besides the one with the bow. Normal weapons, which were utterly useless against magically fortified skeletons. The guy with the staff was obviously responsible for the explosions, but judging by the fact that the tower was still intact they were either looking for something in there or he had used up all of his magic already.

Obviously they were no match for Sebiar and her undead workforce, let alone Cricket — none of the orcish skeletons were destroyed by them, but both of their melee fighters already had several wounds and the archer didn’t have a lot of arrows left in his quiver. Judging their abilities and coming to the conclusion that they are a beginning party looking for some quick fortune, Sebiar took a few seconds to think about a few statements that might seem a bit more grandiose than her normal way of speaking.

“Great adventurers, what quirk of fate might have been responsible that ye seeketh me out here in this abandoned village?”

The adventurers looked at each other, slightly confused at the fact that someone was trying to talk to them instead of simply killing them, before the wizard tried to talk to her in a way that imitated hers — though it was slightly overdone in Sebiar’s opinion.

“Greateth necromanceress of the dark! We are here as mortal heroes of the human race! To defend our homes, our wives, our children from the evil that you are doing upon the earth that we walk upon is our mission of utmost importance! We will not rest until you and everyone of your kind is slain! We will not rest until the world has been cleansed of foul magic! We will not rest -”

“Okay, enough of this. Why are you here?”, Sebiar’s illusion exclaimed as she couldn’t take this farce anymore.

The adventurers were obviously dumbstruck by this change of attitude. The wizard was the fist to regain his speech.

“We, ehm, we…. As I said, we will not rest until-”

“Yeah, I’ve got that part. I am evil and you want to kill me. Have you ever thought about the fact that you are killing people? Isn’t that far more evil than me using bones from orcs I’ve found lying around to build myself a home so that I can live alone?”

“Ehm… But we are heroes of the human-”

“For your god’s sake, let’s skip this. I didn’t do anything evil. This village was overrun, nobody is living here or anywhere nearby and using the bones lying around here makes it easy for me to hunt my food and build my home. Can you please just go back and leave me alone?”

“Ehmm… Ehm… I… don’t think we can do this. We are supposed to kill this small dragon and destroy everything evil we find on our way there.”

“Small dragon? Did you just say Small dragon?”

“Ehmmm… yes…?”

“Could you stop with the Ehmms, please? Anyway, I haven’t encountered a dragon. Tell you what: I am going to kill it for you if you make sure that everyone from your village leaves me alone. How about that?”

Cricket moved his upper part slightly, as if he was throwing a confused glance at Sebiar’s illusion, while the adventurers couldn’t say anything for nearly a minute.

“You.. would kill the dragon? And you only want to be left alone?”

“Exactly! I am going to kill, you can tell the people in your village you did it or whatever you want and get the reward. Just make sure that you tell them they shouldn’t come here. You searched everything and there was nothing valuable here, just a bunch of rocks and lots of unusable fields. Evil magic and all that. How does that sound?”

“That… sounds too good to be true. What’s the catch?”

“No catch.”

“Why would we trust you.”

“You are still alive.”, Sebiar’s illusion said, while moving her arms in a fashion that included all the skeletons around the adventurers.

“Who is that besides you?”

Until now they hadn’t been paying attention to Cricket, but now that it looked like they could leave this place alive they were trying to get more information.

“My assistant. He had a horrible accident, which is why he is weaing the robe like that. You don’t want to look at his face, trust me. And sadly he can’t speak anymore.”

“It’s all a bit suspicious. You are building an army of undead and we are supposed to believe you that you are not going to do anything?”

“Does this look like an army to you? Most of these skeletons have hammers and chisels that are used to repair these walls — most of which have been destroyed by you again — and only a couple of them have a bow and arrows that they use to hunt my food. I need quite a few skeletons to hunt something. They are just too noisy.”

“But how can we know that you don’t have something valuable with you?”

“Are you really that desperate for treasure? I don’t have anything. I have a few ingredients for rituals that I need to perform to keep these undead under control, and a few herbs in case I get sick. Look at the roof of this tower — does that really look like there are riches to be found here?”

The adventurers were collectively looking at the top of the tower — leaving them completely open to any kind of attack. Assured of her assessment that these were just beginners that wouldn’t pose any reasonable threat in the near future Sebiar continued.

“Look, I am really just looking for a nice place to live alone. I like being alone. Really. I am going to kill that dragon if you give me the direction. What do you have to lose? If the dragon still attacks you know that it killed me any my undead minions. That means you have one thing less to worry about. And if I kill it you also have one thing less to worry about. And the dragon must have attacked your village at some point or you wouldn’t be searching it. But I haven’t attacked you, have I?”

“That… is a good argument.”

“See? So, what do you say: do we have a deal?”

“… Okay. We agree to your deal.”

Beginners that they are the adventurers smiled and put away their weapons, coming closer to tell Sebiar the details about where to find the dragon. A skeleton came closer, too.

“Sorry, just a precaution. Do you have a map that would tell me where I could find the dragon? If so, please give it to that skel.”

After some uncertain glances at each other the wizard pulled out a case that is normally used for maps and handed it to the skeleton.

“You can find it a bit north in a cavern. It’s a small red dragon that has been laying waste to our fields for the past few months. An elf mentioned that this one is rather small. Normally they are far bigger when they can breathe fire.”

“Good. I’ll take care of it. I wish you a safe trip home.”

Still confused the adventuring party slowly started to depart — turning their backs on Sebiar’s illusion and Cricket, who started to move slowly and silently as if going for the attack. But Sebiar signalled him to remain still and let them go. After a while of standing there the adventurers were out of reach.

Click Clack Clack Click

“Yeah, those were some nice collarbones, but they will be far more useful now that they boast in their little village what great adventurers they are. You put a tracker on them?”

Clack

“As expected. Very good. Now we will know when they come the next time to lay waste to our work. And we have something far more valuable!”, Sebiar’s illusion said with a big smile on her face.

“What do you think a dragon’s collarbone looks like?”

Click

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