Till Death Do Us Join She stuck the spikes back into the coals and waited until the metal was so hot it glowed nearly white at the needle-sharp point, with ripples of bright orange and red running back up the length of the foot-long shaft. She pulled the spike from the coals and dropped it into a special clay jar of oil that had been slow-pressed and triple-filtered in the deep cellars beneath Empath Abbey in Yew, blessed three times by three priests. The metal cooled quickly with a hiss, but the deeply etched runes remained glowing for several moments, long enough for the oil to begin to bubble slightly. Then, the light faded and she fished the spike out of the oil quenching bath. The runes had cooled and disappeared, part of the fabric of the metal now, and the metal itself had changed. It was steel, but imbued with veins of pure, sparkling silver that ran through it like little ripples and rivulets. The spike part was a good foot long and it ended in a simple cross-grip. When held in the fist, the spike protruded between the middle and ring fingers. She had finished the first spike that morning and now, just as the sun was setting, she picked up the complete second spike and held them both in her hands, feeling the weight and balance. She tested the motion through the air and smiled. They were perfectly balanced, sharp, and incredibly strong while still being light weight enough to be nimble and quick. In close quarters she would be deadly with some practice. ** Small clouds of dust puffed up as she took each step, going deeper and deeper into the Yew crypts. The place smelled of mold and dry dust, the faint whiff of decay on the breeze now and then. It smelled like a crypt. A shade suddenly appeared, drifting away from a shadowy corner of the wall. A fireball arched from its spectral arm, but she side-stepped it and ducked forward. The spikes lashed out, first the right and then the left. Two quick thrusts into the very heart of the shadowy figure, each accompanied by a brief flash where the ancient runes of power etched in tiny detail along the length of the spikes flared briefly and were visible. After the second strike, the Shade dissolved with a disembodied wail of anguish and despair. She wasn't sure where she'd sent it, but she knew the Shade had not wanted to go, and that made her smile. The Undead deserved to go wherever her silver spires sent them. And she relished every kill. The sudden shock of power as the magic came briefly to life, the vibration up her arms and into her very soul as the undead dissolved into mist and dust. She was their destroyer, their executioner....their liberator. She stalked through the deep, dark hallways of the crypts, death personified. Finally she came to a large chamber and heard a dry cackle ahead of her that sent a different kind of shiver up her spine. A tall, lanky figure with whisps of brittle grey hair fluttering around a dried and cracked face limped into view. Tattered robes of once fine silk and velvet hung in strips and strands of two dozen different colors, woven together into a kind of tapestry with a dark design. The Liche Lord raised its staff and a baleful green light filled the cavernous mausoleum ahead. "So, you've come to test your mettle," the thing rasped. "Fool woman. I've stood against more than your worth before and drank their cold and salty blood before the moon rose. What makes you think you're any different?" "I don't care if I die," she said with a grim and truthful smile, "as long as I destroy you in the process." She stalked forward, spires held low and at the ready. She noticed the Liche Lord didn't take any chances and he circled away from her, keeping a watchful eye on her weapons. It knew the magic that was written in the metal she'd forged, and he could feel its power from a distance. One strike of the pair and it would mean the end for the Liche Lord. The power that bound those weapons was implacable and old, written in the very bones of the land itself. She smiled again, this time cold and wicked. "Come, fiend. Test your own mettle, if you dare." The Liche Lord growled, raising its arms high. There was a crackle and sizzle in the air around her and suddenly blue flames rose from the floor, licking and caressing her body with unbelievable heat and agony. The flamestrike was the most powerful she'd ever felt and she could smell her hair singing, taste the acrid stink of burnt flesh on her tongue. Then she felt her training take over. Her mind calmed, her breathing slowed, and her body began to resist. It rebelled against the unnatural heat, retreated from the damage and sought to absorb it at the same time. She felt the blisters begin to shrink, the burnt and peeled skin and flesh begin to mend. She was resisting. Her smile deepened. The Liche Lord roared and charged forward, swinging its staff in a fast, tight arc of surprising power and speed. She rolled forward at the last moment, dodging past the charging creature in a flash of speed. And, as she rolled by, her left hand flashed out, one of the shining spikes arcing through the air to land with a solid thump between the shoulder blades of the Liche Lord, but this time there was no flash, no surge of magic. Now, the Liche Lord smiled. "It seems your magic has no power here, worm." She darted to the left and lashed out with her right hand, scoring a hit in the Liche Lord's hand. This time there was a flash of light and the Liche Lord's hand went instantly numb, causing it to drop its staff with a startled grunt. While the thing stood and stared at its staff like a snake, looking at its now truly dead hand, and then back to the staff, shocked and uncertain what to do next. When it bent to retrieve the staff with its one remaining hand, she inched around to the its back, reached out, and touched the hilt of her other spike still sticking out of the Liche Lord's back. As soon as her fingers touched the hilt, the undead creature jerked. There was a flash from her weapon and a sudden jolt of power flowed up her arm as the Liche Lord collapsed in a limp heap. The rags that had clothed it fell to dust and the flesh peeled away from stark white bones like ashes floating over a campfire. The bones slowly cracked and dissolved into a fine dust that lifted on the faint breeze in the depths of the crypt. The magic had done its work. She was panting, sweating, and exhilarated. The magic knew her now, she could feel that. It responded to her will, moved as she asked it to and whenever she decided. It had held back when she drove the first spike home, waiting as she'd commanded, until after the second spike had found its mark. Then, at the slightest touch, it had moved and destroyed the Liche Lord She was ready. ** Deep in the hidden darkness of Deceit dungeon there was a rustle of wind and the sound of very light, very careful footsteps. She had already passed the Poison Elementals spinning in their clouds of baleful green toxins, past the watchdog Liches as the shuffled in their endless shamble up and down the empty halls. She slipped by even the Liche Lord and its charmed pet, a massive silver serpent with bright amber venom dripping from fangs two hands long and sharp enough to pierce plate steel. The hidden doorway was right where the scrolls said it would be. She carefully squeezed behind the pedestal of an ancient statuary monument to some long-forgotten King of Dagger Isle, and found herself in a dark tunnel chiseled from the roots of the mountain. A dim flicker ahead spoke of torchlight, though she could scarcely believe her eyes. Who would dare bear a light this deep into such a dark and evil place? But as she inched her way silently down the ancient corridor, the light grew stronger in her potion-enhanced vision, and there was no denying the fact that there was at least one torch burning around the corner ahead. She paused and rinsed the night-sight potion out of her eyes, allowing her vision to slowly acclimate to the dim, flickering light ahead. She held up her hand and waived it in front of her face, able to see the light clearly through the limb she knew was there. The ring she'd paid so dearly for still kept her invisible. She drew her silver spikes and smiled as they seemed to float in mid-air. So it seemed the magic of the ring extended only so far, which was good to know. She replaced the weapons in their sheaths, crossing her studded and barbed leather chest plate, handles down and points up for a quick draw, if needed. She had spent seven years training with them, first in the fighting pits of Jhelom with cold steel replicas of her Silver Spires after selling herself to a trainer. He intended to use her as a sparring mate, but she killed her first three opponents with her wooden sword. So he'd made her a head-liner and bet heavily against her to die when pitted against a seasoned veteran of the arena for her first fight. The veteran was good and got several deep cuts in the first round. In the second he broke her nose and cracked three ribs, but never managed to get a cut. But the starting bell of the third and final round was still ringing when she had driven her spikes through the big man's eyes, and then through his heart. He stared at her when she stepped back, surprised, then fell slowly to his knees, then onto his side. As his life's blood ran into the sand of the fighting pit he'd smiled a strangely peaceful smile, closed his eyes, and died. The crowd was stunned to silence at first, then it had roared with noise she'd never forgotten. For years she had lived drunkenly on that noise alone, relishing in the throbbing pulse of a crowd chanting her name, throwing coins at her feet as tribute for the bets they'd won. She had grown wealthy, and she had grown deadly. By the time she bought out her contract with her employer two years later, she was killing multiple opponents in the first round. Very rarely did anyone take bets on her anymore because she was such a sure thing, and the fight promoters had been getting increasingly creative with her opponents. When she barely survived a bout with an Ogre Lord, she knew it was time to leave the business and pursue her training elsewhere. She spent several years in Buc's Den, working her way up through the ranks of two different pirate clans. She became an independent contract killer and ended up filling contracts for both clans when a turf war erupted between them. Word got out she was playing both sides, though, and they had put out their own hits on her. That's when the entire standing leadership of both clans showed up floating in Buc's Harbor, face down with two holes piercing the back of their skulls. The message was clear. She was off the books and all contracts were cancelled since there was no one left to pay them. That's when she'd melted down her steel spikes and taken up her real weapons of choice, the Silver Spires. She began working her way through every crypt and graveyard in the land, training herself to resist the powers and magic of the Undead. She had killed every known kind of undead creature from a rambling skeleton to an Ancient Liche and they had all been training, preparation building to this final moment, this final battle. She took a deep, slow breath through her nose to steady herself. The air was cool, but not stale as she'd expected. Still there was the ever-familiar smell of dry, dusty rot that seemed to permeate every crypt ever chiseled or dug in the land. The smell of the grave, it seemed, never changed. She moved cautiously around the corner and blinked at the sudden light of the single torch. Far ahead, at another bend downward in the hallway she saw another torch on the wall. She walked calmly, carefully, hands resting always on the hilts of her weapons, ready to draw in a moment. The power of the ring of invisibility still held, but she began to wonder how long. The thing was ancient and, as far as she was aware, the last of its kind in the realm. As she passed the second torch she looked ahead and down the long, sloping corridor. In the far distance she saw two points of light flickering, a torch on either side of a dark, open doorway. She could just make out the walls of the corridor as it sloped downward, and there was nothing between her and the door. She moved quickly, quietly and soon she crouched next to the stone arch, her breathing coming in slow, carefully controlled and timed breaths. She had to be careful now. She could hear the sound of her quarry just beyond the arc of light that spilled into the room from the doorway. There was the scratching sound of a pen on old parchment, then the turning of a page. A voice whispered, apparently only half aware of its own three part dialogue. There was no question, this was the fiend she'd been hunting. It was the Dark Lord himself. The monster that had murdered her family then burnt their farmhouse and village. All as some dark rite to invoke the power of the dead. Only she had survived that night, crouched alone and weeping on a shadowy hillside to the north, three dead rabbits tied to her belt. She had watched as her father knelt in the courtyard of their Stead, tears streaming down his face in the torchlight. He didn't know she was out there, couldn't. But he'd called for her anyway. "Daughter, you run! You live! And you find this bastard one day!" His last words before the Dark Lord removed his heart. In the fire of her childhood home she had heard strange and dark sounds as the Dark Lord stood in the center of the flames, untouched, a wicked smile on his face. In that moment she had sealed herself to this fate and set her feet on a path that would lead her finally to the Dark Lord's own doorstep. She took a deep breath and stepped over the threshold. The ring still hid her, so she slipped up behind the Dark Lord, her hands gripping the hilts of her Silver Spires so hard that her arms began to tremble. Her target was writing in a very old book with a long, smoothly trimmed goose feather pen. Suddenly he stopped writing and she froze, two arm-lengths away and just too far for a lunging strike to have a prayer of landing before the Dark Lord turned. The Dark Lord lifted his nose and sniffed ever so delicately at the air, then he smiled a slow, cold smile as he turned his black gaze almost directly on her invisible shape. "It's been a long time," he crooned, "since I've had the pleasure of entertaining a... lady..." The way he emphasized the last word made her skin crawl. "You know, now that I'm aware of your presence I can actually hear your heartbeat." He smiled. "There, it's beating faster now. Did I frighten you?" The Dark Lord's eyes were scanning right over her now, repeatedly, searching for any flicker of motion. It was now or never, she decided, so she took another very slow, careful breath, but at the end she closed her mouth and her teeth clicked together. The black, empty eyes of the Dark Lord snapped immediately onto her and he smiled deeper. "Gotcha." He whispered. She cried out as sudden pain lanced through her heart, causing her back to arch and lift her up onto her toes. Somehow she stood like that, suspended uncomfortably in mid-air, agony coursing through her veins like liquid fire. Her arms had spasmed outward, still gripping her weapons that now hung uselessly in her paralyzed state. Her invisibility slowly melted away, absorbed back into the ring that fizzled, popped, and crumbled into dust. "A trinket from a bygone era," the Dark Lord said in an oily voice. "You, on the other hand, are quite a surprise, in any age. To what do I owe the pleasure?" She found her mouth freed and she could talk. "Pleasure! You will regret letting me live, Dark Lord. You will taste your own death this day, I swear it by the Light and Truth. I will end your life." The Dark Lord threw his head back and laughed loudly enough to rattle dust from the stones overhead. "Look at where you are! I am the spider, my dear, and you are my fly. I've caught you, now I will devour you slowly, at my own leisure. And I promise you will feel every agonizing moment, and long before I allow you to escape into the sweet cold nothingness of death, you will beg me for it. You will weep ashes before I am done with you." Rage had peeled the Dark Lord's lips back from his teeth in a near snarl by the end, and he paused to regain his composure. "Forgive me," he said finally, "I am somewhat excitable at times. Please, call me by my chosen name. I am Mordecai, the Necromancer." She ground her teeth and spat at him. "Enough!" She cried. "If you're going to kill me, go ahead and get it over with! Just stop trying to bore me to death!" Mordecai smiled again. "I remember you, you know. Huddled there on that hillside, three rabbits on your belt. You were a Daddy's girl, at least until I showed up. I needed him. He was very special to me, a very special man in a very unlikely place. But I needed him. There is power in some lives, the life of a king or a priest, or a great warrior. There was a special power in your father that I needed. A power you don't have, I'm sorry to say." Mordecai stood, and suddenly he was behind her, moving faster than her eye could follow. His cold, clammy breath on her ear was barely a whisper. "I'm not going to kill you. I'm going to break you first." Suddenly the Dark Lord gripped the sides of her head in his hands and some new dark magic sank into her, tearing her mind to shreds as she screamed a silent, breathless wail. Whatever she was in that moment was snuffed out, extinguished, and destroyed. The shattered remnants of that scared, angry, self-righteous girl ground together and reformed, collided, and coalesced into something else. Something slightly twisted, but very powerful. Mordecai stepped back, a wicked smile twisting his lips. "There, that's better. Now, you will stay...uncorrupted...for me. My undead bride, waiting for my return." He reached out and stroked her cheek, and much to her horror...she enjoyed it. Not only did it feel good, it felt so good trembles of pleasure rippled down her lower back and all the way to her toes. She smiled and let out a little sigh. But somewhere deep within her, in a dark corner of her mind, a little girl wailed and hammered against the invisible bars of her prison. She was caught there, the last sliver of her true self, struggling in vain to break free. Mordecai had done it intentionally, leaving that last corner of her true self to watch and suffer as he led her through a life of pain, misery, and death. "Come, my bride, and let us visit our wrath on the world. You won't be needing those any longer." With a casual flick of his hand, Mordecai cast a curse on her Silver Spires and they drooped slowly towards the floor like hot wax candles. The tips of the weapons melted and dripped away, and then the shaft, and as the melted metal neared her hands she began to twitch and spasm, trying her best to force her fingers apart. But she couldn't drop the weapons, no matter how she tried. Then, the melted metal ran over her fingers, and she arched back once more, screaming silently into the darkness as the deepest, darkest cold she'd ever felt seared through her nerves, crawling up her arms from her hands. Tears streamed down her face and froze when they dripped onto her arms. The pain and cold was unbearable, and she could feel it pulsing now in her veins, growing closer to her heart with every beat. Mordecai leaned close and whispered in her ear, "Do not fear, my love. You're only dying. The first time is always the most difficult...and the most painful." The cold reached her heart there was a brief moment of pain so intense it made her lose her sense of time and self. Then, slowly, darkness closed over her. The last memory she had was the dry sound of the Dark Lord Mordecai, the Necromancer, laughing softly over her as she died.