Heather the Necromancer - Book 6: Chapter 12: Howl from the grave
Book 6: Chapter 12: Howl from the grave
Heather felt her heart race as the ground shook under the weight of the monstrosity. She was momentarily stunned by the creature’s appearance, but now she had to act. The others scattered as Frank ran forward to meet the charge, but Heather chose to slow it down. She called for grasping arms, causing skeleton arms to burst from the ground and grab at the ball of skulls. She saw the limbs reach up, but all they did was snap as the construct ignored them.
Frank rushed in as the ball of skulls kept rolling, the eyes haunting glow locking on him. Heather was about to call out when they collided, and the ball kept right on rolling, crushing Frank into the ground.
“Frank!” Heather yelled and stepped forward as lightning arced from Umtha’s fingers, causing a few skulls to shatter. The creature pivoted and came rolling her way, the eyes fixating on her now. A pack of zombies shuffled past as Quinny sent her minions into battle. They intercepted the ball, but it kept rolling, barely registering that the zombies had been there. Bombs began to explode on the side of the horror as the two goblin engineers lobbed grenades at it. This seemed to have some effect as skulls blasted away, but the damage drew the monster’s attention.
Heather backed into the wall, hoping the ball would not be able to roll over her. However, this notion was quickly dismissed as the orb of skulls rolled into the wall, trapping the two goblin engineers. Heather watched in shock as the ball changed shape, the skulls surging out to swallow the unfortunate goblins. Hundreds of bites tore the poor things to shreds before the ball reformed and began to roll Heather’s way. Webster screamed in her mind to get out of the way as the ball bore down on her, but she raised a hand and fell into her dominate undead ability.
[lvl 10 Necromancer skill: Dominate the dead] You can assume control of any undead not directly under the control of another who is present to resist you. Your level and skill points will determine how many levels worth of undead you can dominate in a single cast. The amount is three levels worth of undead for every level of the caster. You can’t dominate anything whose level is higher than your own unless you have skill points spent on the skill.
“You will obey me!” she shouted and focused on overwhelming the horror. It shuddered for a moment, then rolled even faster, heading straight for her as ghostly arms wrapped around her waist. Breanne yanked Heather into the air just before the deadly ball reached her. She flew into the air and carried her to an upper ledge where hopefully, she would be out of reach. Heather was deposited in one of the alcoves beside a magic symbol, putting her well out of harm’s way.
She watched as Breanne darted down to sweep up Quinny, who was running to avoid being squished by the rolling monstrosity. Umtha arrived at Heather’s side, having already been lifted by Breanne, and asked what they were supposed to do.
“I can’t dominate it,” Heather said as she looked down to see Frank was alive and rising from the loose soil. He looked angry with narrow eyes and hands held wide as if about to rip the ball of skulls to shreds. She wanted to call up to him, but before she could react, the ball of skulls did something new. It came to a stop, and the skull facing Heather and Umtha began to glow with a red light.
“Oh no,” Heather said and folded her arms as the skull was fired out of the orb, screeching with unholy laughter. The skull trailed fire in its wake as it raced on the two women who had nowhere to go. Heather’s plant shield barely came up in time but fell away in flames as it absorbed the blast of the exploding skull. She looked out just in time to see it fire another skull, then another, forcing Heather to step back as she raised shield after shield.
[lvl 6 Flower Singer skill: Barrier of vegetation] You cross your arms, bringing a shield made of giant leaves and flower petals into being. It spreads three meters across and only blocks attacks directly in front of you. This barrier will absorb up to 50 points of damage and will detonate incoming explosive spells. Piercing attacks can breach the shield, and fire-based attacks do 20% extra damage to it.
“The nooks aren’t very deep,” Umtha said as she tried to give Heather some room. “We can’t keep absorbing this attack.”
“I know!” Heather growled as she raised another shield just in time for it to be blasted away.
The rolling horror suddenly made a hissing sound as Frank leaped on it with claws glowing with green light. He used his ghoul powers to tear through skulls like they were paper, sending a hail of fragments falling to the floor. The monstrosity reacted angrily as skulls rose up on spinal columns and bit at him from all sides. Franks’s tough hide resisted some of the damage, but Heather knew it would soon take its toll.
Breanne deposited Quinny at their side and then dived on Chandice, pulling her to safety as her devil warrior tried to impede the creature. It lasted only a few moments as Chandice was put in the nook next to Heather. She then flew at the monster, her eyes glowing red as she took a deep breath and let out a terrible wail.
[lvl 22 Banshee skill: Shriek of a thousand souls] Your voice becomes a haunting wail that chills the souls of all who hear it. Ghostly faces appear before you and race out, screaming with you as they pass through your enemies. Does significant soul damage, as well as causing the chill of death effect in any targets struck. It hits all targets in a fifteen-meter long by ten-meter wide cone.
Heather, Chandice, and Umtha covered their ears as the air before Breanne filled with ghostly faces, all screaming along with her. They fanned out in a wave, slicing into the orb of skulls and causing it to ripple as it howled. Heather thought for a moment that the attack was having a decent effect until the orb turned a hundred sets of eyes on Breanne.
A second wail filled the air as bolts of green fire flew from skulls’ mouths. The air was filled with a hail of streaking darts that tore through Breanne, causing her to cry out in pain. She raced for the walls, desperate to escape the attack, but the magic affecting the chamber caused her to bounce off. She could not pass through them or escape the relentless assault as the horrible thing pummeled her.
A wall of bones rose between Breanne and the monstrosity as Heather acted fast to try and save her. The skulls shifted and rippled, biting at Frank before throwing him off and then turning their hateful glare on Heather. She realized it was about to attack her and didn’t know what to do. Skulls began to stream her way again as a wall of blowing winds intercepted their flight.
“I will hold them back for as long as I can,” Umtha said as she channeled the wind that acted like a barrier to the flying skulls. They exploded on impact, the flames and shards of bone blowing away in the gale force winds.
Bolts of fire began to rain down as Chandice, and two imps opened fire on the monster. It responded with a flaming skull, forcing Chandice to wave her wand and summon a glowing shield. The two collided in a spectacular explosion that shattered the shield like glass. She brought up another one barely in time to block the next skull and was stuck in the same chain of defense Heather had been. Umtha was blocking the skulls coming their way still, but how long would that last? Sooner or later, the goblin woman would tire, and then the skulls would find their targets. Heather searched for a way out, desperate to know what to do.
Heather saw the desperation on Quinny’s face as she waved from a nearby nook. It was obvious she didn’t know what to do either. They had to find a way to escape this terrible room or defeat the monster that guarded it. As she panicked to think of a solution, she saw Frank get up again and rush at the terror, only to be rolled over and bitten dozens of times more.
Heather felt anger begin to rise over her fear as her husband suffered under that monster’s attack. She reached out a hand as it vanished into the buffer and grasped at two items. She pulled out the two crowns and, without wasting a moment, put them on her head. The first crown instantly transformed her into the lilithu devil as her skin went pale blue and her eyes glowed red. Then she placed the goblin crown over it, and the two suddenly fused together. A green halo of fire erupted over her horns as she focused her sight on Frank. She appeared behind him in a flash of green light and grabbed onto his battered body. A second flash, and he was up on the ledge with Quinny, where she quickly set him down.
“Heather?” he asked as he looked into her blazing eyes.
“Don’t try to talk,” Heather replied as she cast mend the dead on him and poured essence into it to boost the effect. She saw the bites begin to melt away and something exploded on her back. The skulls began to streak her way, exploding on her back as she struggled to absorb the damage. Chandice and Umtha were still trapped in constant attacks and could do nothing to help. Heather turned her raging gaze on the deadly machine of the necromancers and vanished into the air.
She appeared above with her scythe in hand, the blade burning with red flames. She fell from the sky and plunged the weapon into the skulls as the air filled with pollen. It ignited a moment later, turning the center of the room into a fireball that forced the others to shield their eyes.
“When did she learn how to do that?” Quinny asked as she tried to help Frank up.
“She’s going to go mad again,” Frank said as he desperately looked for a way down to help. “She can’t fight that thing alone.”
“We are hardly doing any damage to it,” Quinny argued as they watched Heather begin to blink around the room, always coming out with her scythe swinging to shatter a line of skulls. Despite her wild assault, the monster didn’t seem to be taking much damage. It rolled about, trying to crush her, and fired green bolts when she appeared in the air.
“There has to be a way to kill it,” Frank insisted.
“You have to destroy the skulls,” Breanne said as she limped through the air and collapsed at their side. Even in her undead ghost form, she looked ragged, her body covered in a patchwork of black burns. “The creature feeds on skulls. The more you destroy, the smaller and weaker it gets.”
“That thing must have a thousand skulls,” Quinny pointed out. “And we hardly broke any of them.”
“Once it gets too small, you will be able to see the core,” Breanne coughed. “A green heart that holds it together.”
“The engineer’s bombs were effective,” Quinny said as she looked around for their packs. “Do you think I can throw them if I am not an engineer?”
“I have no idea,” Frank replied as he saw an arc of lightning flash through the air. Umtha shattered a few skulls, but she had taken a terrible risk. In order to use lightning, she had to drop her winds, leaving her exposed. The creature fired back with a barrage of skull missiles, blasting the poor goblin woman from the ledge.
“Umtha!” Frank called as she fell to the floor with a thump and lay there barely moving.
“I can get her,” Breanne offered as she tried to get up.
“No,” Frank said and looked down. “You are badly wounded, and Heather has the things attention.”
“She can’t fight that thing alone,” Breanne said and raised a hand to Frank. “None of us can.”
“Then what are we going to do?” Quinny asked.
Frank nodded as he considered the only option he could think of. He closed his eyes and focused as he drew on the essence pool. His skin began to crackle with electricity and glow with blue light. Quinny stepped back and asked him what he was doing, but he was too focused to hear her. He knew from Heather that the pool could be drawn on to build up power and then used to boost a single skill. When he felt like his body was going to burst, he opened his eyes and used Bloodthirsty Frenzy.
[Lvl 31 Ghoul Brawler skill: Bloodthirsty frenzy][Essence boosted. Effective level 91] You surge with a lust for battle and a supernatural need for combat. Your natural armor and toughness temporarily increase, as does your base damage. All attacks do 1% more damage per level; every time you take damage, the bonus goes up by 1%. You heal for 10% of all damage you do and are temporarily immune to stun, stagger, and snare effects. The effect fades if you take no damage for thirty seconds, you reach 0 health, or your stamina bar depletes.
Frank leaped from the ledge, his body trailing blue light as he crashed into the sphere of skulls. His impact caused the skulls to crater, but the beast quickly recovered those terrible skulls swarming around him and biting. Frank was counting on that swarm of attacks that little damage but kept boosting his effect. He lashed back with claws and teeth, biting through skulls as the sphere began to convulse. His damage was boosted to a hundred and fifty percent in seconds and then over two hundred. The bites kept coming, but his powerful slashes were turning skulls to dust and returning the massively increased damage as health. It was becoming a race to see who could inflict the most damage until he heard Heather call out in a clear voice.
“Howl from the grave!” she shouted as her body floated into the air crackling with blue sparks.
[lvl 1 Necromancer skill: Howl from the grave] [Essence boosted: Effective level 75] Call to the dead that lay nearby to lend their strength to any undead in your area of effect. Black smoke rises from the graves and billows to any nearby friendly undead. Once touched, the undead grows in size and appearance as they produce a howl of heightened power.
Strength, Health, and stamina are boosted by 20 points plus 1 per level of the caster. Combat skills and stats are boosted by 20% plus 1% per level of the caster. Only works in a graveyard, corrupted ground, or cursed area. It affects undead within 10 meters of you who are friendly to you. The effect lasts five minutes plus 10 seconds per grave in the graveyard. During the spell’s effect, the targets are immune to pain and heal 2 health per second.
Black smoke began to billow out of the ground as Frank Realized the truth Heather must have known. This was technically a graveyard, and the raw power of her boosted spell poured into him. He felt his body surge with wild energy as he crushed skulls with his bare hands, a single swipe of his glowing claws shattering dozens of them. He grew larger as he swelled with energy, and the continuous bites of his enemy kept boosting his damage.
“Wow!” Quinny said as Frank roared in a frenzy that echoed from the walls. What was more impressive was Heather had used her guise of undeath to turn herself into an undead first. She now surged with power as well, her scythe tearing burning canyons across the creature’s body. It began to shrink as it lost skulls to maintain its size, but it still attacked with deadly precision. It released a cloud of yellow gas meant to sicken the living, but to Frank and Heather, it did nothing. It fired flaming skulls at Heather while trying to roll over and bite Frank. Heather blinked away, and every bite only made Frank stronger. His slashes were destroying skulls at a shocking rate and healing himself in the process. Boosted as he was, the monster was now in a death spiral, rapidly being dismantled by the two monsters.
Black tendrils of smoke reached up to touch Breanne and Quinny, imbuing them with the same unholy power. Quinny grew half again in size and jumped down, lending her punching and clawing hands to the battle. Breanne lingered above, allowing the healing to work, but when she felt whole enough, she too attacked, wailing with a screech that shattered bones like glass.
Webster did his best to protect Umtha, tapping at her shoulder to wake her up. The walls shook as the battle raged on, the monster now resorting to more desperate tactics. It formed arms like appendages of skulls and spines, using these to club at Quinny, Frank, and Heather. It pelted Breanne with blasts of green flame again and fired exploding skulls in all directions. Still, it was expending skulls in all its attacks, and Frank was only getting stronger. Out of the group, he was doing the most damage, and before long, he was as big as the necrofidiax.
Now the battle was waning as the monster rapidly began to lose ground. Frank was hammering the beast with blows that shattered dozens of skulls, and the others were chipping away. The creature lashed out in all directions, biting and blasting in a wild rage as it wounded them all. Heather took an exploding skull to the face and was thrown into the wall to slump to the floor beside Umtha.
“Owwwww,” she groaned as she reeled in the concussion of the explosion and hitting the wall. She fell to her rear and nearly shrieked when Webster landed in her lap and began rapidly tapping her.
“Are you injured too?” Heather moaned as she looked over to see the motionless goblin woman. “Oh, right,” She said while rolling over to touch Umtha with a heal. She was about to cast the spell when something warm washed over her and made her skin tingle. She lifted her hands to see that she was glowing with soft light, and to her surprise, so was Umtha. Looking around the room, she noticed that Frank was also glowing with the light that seemed to be soothing away the pain. Burns and bruises began to melt away, and she felt remarkably safe as Umtha lifted her head.
“Are we alive?” Umtha coughed.
“Yes,” Heather said in surprise and looked around. “I don’t know how it’s happening, but I think somebody is healing us.”
“This isn’t you?” Umtha asked.
“No, I have nothing to do with this,” Heather replied as she waved her glowing hands. “It’s affecting Frank as well.”
Umtha willed her character sheet open and went to status effects to squint at the list. She looked for anything that was out of place and found an effect she had never seen before.
“A mother’s protection?” she said.
“Mother’s protection?” Heather repeated as she tried to remember where she had heard that before. Her eyes widened when she remembered, and she turned to Umtha in shock. “It’s Gwen!” Heather said in joy. “She must have a way to know we are being injured. She is protecting us from her castle.”
“The Queen is doing this?” Umtha asked as she looked over the description. “It heals very quickly,” Umtha said as she stood up. “But why is it affecting me?
“It must work for you and Frank because we’re married,” Heather replied and got up to see Frank hammering away at a ball of skulls now greatly reduced in size. Heather could see a green light coming from inside now as the skulls began to lose density, and she could see the core.
“What is that green light in the center?” Heather asked as she struggled to see it through the battle.
“Breanne said it was a heart that controlled the beast,” Umthat replied and lifted a hand. “I will use my lightning to help.”
“No, wait,” Heather said and held up a hand. “I want to try something now that it’s weaker.” Knowing that there was a heart made Heather wonder how it worked. She focused, drawing on essence to boost her power. The monster was a quarter of its original size and shrinking rapidly with every blow. As much as she wanted to win this fight, this was a war machine of the necromancers, and she didn’t want to destroy it just yet. There might be something to learn from this construction that would be important to the mystery surrounding her.
She floated into the air, her body, ring, and staff glowing brightly with blue energy. Frank smashed a hole in the creature allowing Heather to see a green skull of metal with magical symbols. She focused her will and blinked before it, then commanded it to yield as she used her dominate undead boosted with essence.
Dozens of the skulls turned to fixate on her, their eyes blazing with green fire. Light blazed from between the skulls as the heart reacted to her command. The green gem on her crown flared with the same light as the creature struggled to resist the order, but something remarkable happened. The halo of green fire above Heather’s head appeared around the necrofidiax as if ensnaring the creature to her will. Suddenly the fires in the eyes went out, and the monster came to an immediate halt, standing perfectly still as if awaiting her command. Heather breathed a sigh of relief as the others backed away slowly, not quite sure if she had full control.
“I think I have it dominated,” Heather said and turned to see Frank fall to one knee, the use of essence finally taking its toll. Heather rushed to his side to prop him up, taking a hand as he suddenly glowed brightly. Blue electricity flashed between the two as Heather drew the essence out of him and back into her.
“What?” Heather said as Frank began to shrink to his normal size, his eyes wide as he remained conscious.
“What did you just do? Why am I still awake?” he asked in surprise.
“I didn’t do anything,” Heather insisted. “I just wanted to help you before you collapsed.”
“But you pulled it out somehow,” Frank insisted. “I felt it going.”
“Do you know how you did it?” Umtha asked as she staggered over, still a little weak from the battle.
“I wish I had an answer,” Heather said and looked at a hand. “Too many things just happen without us understanding how or why.”
“Umm, hello,” Chandice called from above as she waved. “I am sorry to interrupt your conversation, but if the fight is over, can somebody please get me down.”
“I will get her, Breanne remarked and flew up to carry the shaken woman to the ground. She joined the group as they stood before the ensnared monster and stared at Frank as if something were wrong.
“That sounded very confusing. Do you mind my asking what I am missing?” Chandice asked as Heather had Frank open his character sheet.
“Frank used Heather’s essence to boost his power,” Quinny said. “But whenever he or Umtha do that, they pass out when the power is exhausted.”
“I’m sorry,” Chandice said with a raised hand. “What is essence again?”
Heather paused to explain the mysterious stat and how she seemed to be the only one who had it. They suspected it might be something all chosen had, or it could be unique. Chandice offered a new idea that it might be a reward given by the visitors. There were rumors the visitors did grant unique gifts to exceptional players, and the message boards had been full of debate. She suggested Heather might have earned one in her previous life and forgotten about it in whatever caused her memory loss. Heather wanted to agree with that if not for the necromancer notes and Hathlisora’s letter. It suggested the necromancers gifted Heather this ability for some purpose, and she would remember when it was needed. She asked Frank if he saw anything odd in his active effects, and he said there was no trace of his use of essence.
“So why was I able to keep him awake just by touching him?” Heather asked as she paced a few steps.
“It has to be that ring,” Breanne said as she pointed to Heather’s hand. “It gave you control over the power from the moment you put it on.”
Heather held up the hand with the blue crystal ring that matched the shaft of her scythe. It was clear these objects were meant to be together, but she wasn’t sure why. All she knew was that items like this were scattered about, waiting for her to find them. Each one was a piece of the puzzle, and thus far, none had brought any clarity. However, the ring was a bit different from the others. It wasn’t hidden for Heather to find; it was lost in that world where the darkness felt alive. She would never have gotten it back if not for her bone champion. Did that mean whoever was planning her steps knew she would play a necromancer?
She put the thought away and asked Frank if he had any other unusual effects. He confirmed that he had the mother’s protection buff and that it was rapidly restoring his stamina. Heather explained to the others how this was a blessing Gwen could give her children, which apparently included those by marriage. Chandice was amazed that somebody so far away was protecting and healing the three of them. She remarked that she wished she was Gwen’s daughter too and asked if the Queen wanted to adopt more children.
“I am not sure she can,” Heather replied as she sent her scythe back into the buffer. She reached up to take the crown off and changed back to her normal self before sending the pair of them into the buffer as well.
“So what do we do with the monster?” Frank asked as he looked a the ball of skulls that stood motionless as it waited for orders.
“I want to know how they made this,” Heather said. “If that thing could take on all of us and nearly win, think of how dangerous four or more of them could be.”
“I am not so certain this is a good idea,” Breanne said. “This is exactly the kind of thing that turned the people against the necromancers. If somebody discovers this or any research you are doing on it, they might run to tell the world what is going on.”
“Maybe she’s right,” Chandice agreed. “You have a wonderful home here and a family to build. Do you really want to risk that by opening pandora’s box?””
Heather understood their point of view but took a moment to calmly explain herself. Despite all her wishes to avoid these sorts of things, they kept showing up. Her only real defense against the dangers of the past was to understand them, so she knew what to avoid. The past she couldn’t remember wasn’t going to stay away just because she refused to open the box. It was going to show up when she least expected it and put them all in danger unless she could understand it.
“I see your point,” Chandice agreed and looked around. “But why hide this hear? A creation this deadly is wasted on some empty cave. Shouldn’t this be protecting something?”
Heather realized Chandice was right and had to look around the room to get her bearings. What was this room for, and why was this thing guarding it? There didn’t appear to be any treasure, but she asked Frank to tunnel into the soft sandy floor just in case. He dug a pit in minutes, revealing that nothing was hidden underneath. That meant the importance had to do with the magical symbols, but they just appeared to be decoration. She asked Chandice to test a nearby symbol, so the woman waved her wand and determined they were magical, not just lights. She tried to ascertain the purpose of the symbols, but her detection would only say they were channels.
“What does that mean?” Quinny asked.
“They act as a sort of flow of magic,” Chandice replied. “But to where or why I can’t say. Maybe to this room, or the monster or who knows.”
“This is meant for her,” Umtha insisted. “She will understand it when she needs to.”
“Don’t you think she has enough on her shoulders?” Chandice asked and then held up a hand. “I am sorry if I made that sound harsh. I don’t really know all of you that well, but from an outsider’s point of view, it appears that Heather is under a tremendous amount of pressure.”
“She is under terrible pressure,” Breanne agreed. “And things like this monster keep showing up out of the blue.”
“I am not trying to put her under more pressure,” Umtha argued. “She made it clear I was pushing too hard, and I promised to take as much off her shoulders as I could. But I didn’t set these events in motion, nor did I leave these things for her to find.”
“But somebody did,” Quinny said.
“More mysteries to figure out,” Heather sighed and turned back to the necrofidiax. She wanted to glean something from this situation, so she started where it seemed most appropriate. “Can you speak?”
The monster didn’t move or make a sound, and the empty eye sockets almost made it appear to be dead. Heather stepped closer and put a hand on a skull as Breanne urged her to be careful.
“Alright, can you show me why you are here?” she pressed, only to have the creature not react.
“Do you think it might be able to talk?” Chandice asked.
“I have no idea what it can do,” Heather said as she ran a hand over the skulls. “To even suggest you could blend undead with a golem is a concept I hadn’t even dreamed of. This thing could be the key to what the necromancers were working on, or at least show me where their areas of research were going.”
“She really is very good at being a necromancer,” Breanne scoffed.
“I hate to say I agree,” Quinny said. “It’s like you have the perfect mind for it.”
“I don’t know if I have the perfect mind,” Heather replied as she stepped back. “But I like puzzles, and this whole room feels like one.”
“I know you want to keep messing with this, but we need to get out,” Frank interrupted. “Remember the water trap is refilling, and when it finishes, that waterfall will flow through the cave instead. The door opened the moment the fight ended, and we need to hurry, or we will have to find a way to swim that river.”
Heather remembered the cave they traveled through to get here and realized Frank was right. Breanne suggested she could carry them out one at a time in her spectral form, but Heather decided it was better to leave now. They could come back tomorrow and poke around for a bit, but Heather wanted to test something before they went.
“I want you to hide in the ground and stay their until I call you,” she said and smiled as the creature broke apart, the skulls fulling away like a tower of blocks crumbling. The green heart sank right away under the mass of skulls that quickly borrowed into the soil and vanished.
“Will it heal back to what it was?” Quinny asked as she looked at the ground warily.
“I am willing to bet none of us knows that,” Breanne answered.
“No,” Heather said as she smiled slightly. “But I intend to find out.”