by Josiah Davis
Power. It was what I sought—and what I had achieved. Years of intense training, of humiliation under my…master—I shuddered at the word—had finally come to fruition. I had power far beyond anything I had ever thought possible. I gave a mirthful grimace, the closest to a smile my cracked lips had formed in months, as I thought of the irony of the moment. Power, and yet it wasn’t truly mine…or was it?
I rose from my treetop perch, slowly stretching my legs, feeling the taut muscles contract and expand as normal blood flow resumed. Drawing Bloodweep from my back, I held the bow out in front of me with my lone, living arm, the weight of the wood perfectly balanced and familiar. I gazed down my right side, looking at the limb that I treasured beyond all elseand despised in equal measure. The rotted flesh had remained in stasis, thankfully not decomposing further. The arm radiated strength and might, giving off a faint black aura of energy to those who looked closely enough. Such…power, and yet it was nothing I could have achieved by natural means.
I leapt down from the tree, landing without a sound on the cold, hard earth below. Gazing into the clearing, I steeled myself for what was to come; though in truth, I had never felt more ready. Two years. Two years it had been since I was cast away. No, since I was set free. My master- the taste of that word still bitter on my lips- had denied me further training, telling me that I was not ready to learn more. I had trained with him for over a decade, confident when I first began my work that I could surpass him. And yet, no matter how much progress I made, it was never enough. He always stood above me, his skill entire leagues ahead of mine. He told me my ability had increased tremendously, but I was not ready to learn all he had to offer until I had traveled and experienced the world on my own. Experience the world. I had done as he wanted, ventured forth and seen what the world had to offer. Though somehow, I don’t think killing an undead archer lord and taking his arm for my own was what he meant.
I thought back to the moment those many months ago when I had heard tale of Rivonor, a famed warrior of old, rising once again to haunt the crypts beneath Kardolind. The work of some Lich or another; that part didn’t matter to me. I quickly found a group of greedy-eyed adventurers, their lust for treasure dripping from their worthless countenances. None of the miserable group possessed even a modicum of true strength. Their Warlock seemed content to go about his daily life in drudgery, apparently ignorant to the good-hearted nature of the rest of the group. Their Priest was even worse: as far as I could tell, the man couldn’t cast a single healing spell to save his life, or rather I should say, the lives of his party members. Their Paladin was a useless example of purity, and would sooner apologize and mend the armor of a man he struck down than finish him. The rag tag ensemble was completed by a Wizard, whose spell book seemingly consisted of a single spell, and even that he casted poorly. If the fools and I had any hope of eradicating Rivonor, it would rest near entirely upon my shoulders.
We had cut through the denizens of the crypt with ease, though not to any credit of the weak band. Upon first glance, it appeared as if the undead were merely fleeing from our swath of destruction, but I knew it was something more. They were drawing us in, guiding us. As the arrogant fools of the party confidently strode through an unusually large stone archway, I held back, knowing that preparation, not bravosi, was the true precursor to victory. Their reckless laughter was cut short as they took full stock of the death trap they had leisurely entered. All of the reanimated corpses that had fled from our assault had regrouped in the chamber, which seemed to be the throne room of the crypt. Scores of the undead lined the walls of the room, all heavily armed with sword and shield or bow.
Sighing in frustration, I knew the time had come for me to show this group the true measure of the warrior that had graced them with his presence. I stepped forward into the room, drew Bloodweep from my back, and let the grim work of a true artist begin. All actions slowed around me as my focus set in and my mind fell into the familiar pattern, drilled into me from years of training: set, draw, aim, release, set, draw, aim, release. On and on the rain of death continued, the shafts flying from my bow with the calm, practiced precision of a surgeon. Arrows sang as they lanced through the air, shearing the undead bodies into splintering fragments. Bone shards and dust exploded all throughout the room as the piercing bolts of death struck unerringly true.
I gave pause as my first quiver ran dry, stopping to take measure of what life still remained. The dust slowly cleared and the entire worthless rabble I had journeyed with turned to gawk at me, awestruck. Every member of the corpse horde had been splintered and destroyed. Their dry, cracked remains were strewn about the floor, littering the room with debris. As the dust fully settled, I finally caught sight of him, the entire reason I had gone on this worthlessly trivial expedition. Rivonor rose from the cold stone throne, standing tall and proud, despite the cracked and rotted flesh that covered his body. Without a word, he pulled his bow off of his back, set and nocked an arrow with blinding deftness, and let fly. The speed! I thought to myself, blown away with the level of strength he exhibited. And unlike Bloodweep, which was a composite bow meant for pure draw speed, he was wielding an absolutely massive greatbow; the huge, carved wooden shaft had to have been at least six and a half feet long! The strength to draw that bow, and the agility; this man has true power. The arrow streaked in…and flew far wide of anyone in the group. I was taken aback. How can he have such strength, but shoot so poorly? He drew again, the muscles in his draw arm visible as he pulled back the string to full tautness and released, all in less than half a second. Once more, his arrow flew far from his mark, or any mark for that matter, as it clattered harmlessly against the stone wall. Slowly, the truth began to dawn on me. His body possesses all of the strength it used to, but he no longer has the mind of a true archer. Grinning inwardly, I knew that my prize was now within sight. I ordered the group to charge and the feeble minded fools immediately followed the commands of one they knew was their better.
The conflict was over in mere seconds. Rivonor, though possessing strength and power in his body, was no more than a mindless husk, an empty shell of his former glory. The Paladin landed a devastating mace strike upon his rotting hip, and the joint shattered, exploding in bones and decayed flesh. The undead Ranger fell to the ground, still alive, but helpless, and unable to rise once more to his feet. A loud cheer echoed across the stone floor as the group celebrated their “victory” over the reanimated corpse. As a true testament to their cowardice, however, none of the party were willing to even attempt to deliver the final blow. Each took a wide berth around the flailing, helpless body of Rivonor as they predictably split up and began searching for treasure amidst the rubble. Their looks of avarice disgusted me and I cringed inwardly as I watched them claw desperately through the debris for anything of worth like wild animals. Now. Now was the moment I had waited patiently for, the entire reason I had put up with these wretches. I reached back into my second quiver, and my body fell into the pattern of death once more. Set, draw, aim, release.
The Wizard’s head snapped forward as the first shaft lanced through his skull, ending his life instantly. Another arrow was already flying before any of the party knew that something was amiss. The next two were equally helpless against the face of true skill; my second shot tore through the exposed throat of the Paladin, silencing any defensive wards he was attempting to raise. I stared down the helpless Priest next, my stony resolve unwavering despite his desperate pleas for mercy. The third shaft pierced his head between the eyes, rocking his skull backwards. I watched his eyes go dull as his last breath escaped his lungs. Finally, I turned to the Warlock, arrow already set and drawn. I caught the faintest hint of a whisper crossing his lips, but too late. My bolt flew from the string and I smiled as I watched it land squarely in his chest, ripping the life from his body…and then suddenly burst into flame. I stood watching in shock, and then felt a blinding pain sear across my right arm. Realization set in. Those words he was murmuring, it was a spell! My right arm erupted in flame as the backlash from his fire shield took full effect. I watched in horror as the skin began to crackle and melt, the pain freezing me in place.
Finally, I jolted into action, agonizing pain tearing through my entire body. I attempted to roll to the ground in a feeble effort to quell the flames eating my flesh, but only succeeded in falling forward to my knees, my dexterity crippled from the wounding blaze. I writhed on the ground in horrendous pain, feeling bits of bone and sharp stone dig into my body, further exacerbating my torment. Finally, after minutes of this agony, my efforts paid off and the flames were staunched against the rough dirty floor. Shaking and groaning I rolled to my side and looked in open horror at the smoldering husk of my arm. The burned limb bubbled and cracked, the slightest movement at all causing ash to freely fall. I’ll never use this limb again I thought in horror. My mind began to race with the repercussions of this, though I knew the truth; I would never be able to fire a bow. I couldn’t let this sacrifice be wasted though. I was here for a reason.
Now I was alone, and free to accomplish what I had come for. I strode weakly towards the writhing body on the floor, the helpless undead apparently able to feel pain in his reanimated state, judging from the agonized expression etched into his visage. Such power, and yet all wasted. I had come here to learn of his strength, but now I realized that plan had been in vain. This worthless creature had the strength of Rivonor, but no idea how to control it all. Frustrated, I turned and began gathering salvageable arrows, when my peripheral settled on something. His arm. I immediately dismissed that thought. Can that power be mine? Is it possible to seize the strength of one so mighty and make it my own? It was impossible- ridiculous to even think. And yet…his arm had given him the incredible draw speed and power I had marveled at earlier. Slowly, my mind began thinking of the possibilities. The power to wield a bow like an ancient lord of battle. My resolve strengthened, and I made up my mind. Searching around the room, I finally settled on a sharp, serrated axe that looked closer to a hacksaw than a true weapon. As I grabbed the tool and felt its weight in my grasp, the undead’s eyes seemed to grow wider in terror. Ah, so you can think freely. Poor beast. This won’t be pleasant.
I emerged from the crypts some time later, blood and gore covering my torso, and a large burlap sack slung over my back. Dozens of townsfolk swarmed me as I walked down the street, buffeting my every step. I roughly shouldered my way through the throng, cursing inwardly at the hideous pain that wracked my body from the contact to my seared arm. However, my stride remained unbroken; I didn’t have time for those peons. My path now clear, I strode through the city, outwardly confident and stern, but inwardly apprehensive about what I was going to do. Kicking open the door of the apothecary, I strode through the front of the store towards the back, where I knew the city’s only black market surgeon worked. I dropped the coarse sack on his table, smirking at his shocked expression as a rotted arm fell onto his already bloodstained operating table.
“I have a job for you.”