The Orb of Desecration

The whispers clambered over each other. A collection of long-lost voices that roiled and rose to a cacophonous, multitudinous scream.

The sourceless scream rang through the cavernous chamber. ‘Get OUT!’

Baran looked up. His wide, armoured frame was outlined by a soft light which emanated from the centre of the tomb. The large man yelled out a response to the voices.

‘We heard you the first time!’

Baran hefted his shield, barely deflecting the bony claws of a looming skeletal behemoth. His broad, flat blade swung in an arc. Shattered bones exploded to the granite floor, skittering out beyond the circle of torchlight.

A reedy voice came from behind Baran. ‘Damned thing is stuck.’

Baran pushed aside another skeletal blow and replied, ‘Well, get it un-stuck Derad. That’s what you’re here for, ain’t you?’

Derad scoffed. The thin man was swathed in near-black clothes. His hooded cloak was drawn up and a pouch of intricate thieving tools lay open at his feet. Derad muttered as he worked. ‘Un-stuck he says. Brickhead wouldn’t know his damned foot from his shoe.’

‘What was that?’ Baran yelled over his shoulder, his sword crashing through bone once more as the skeletal creature leapt towards him. The man’s blow caused the creature to reel back, several ribs jutting angrily from its side.

‘Nothing, nothing,’ came Derad’s meek reply, followed by a lower muttering.

Baran ducked the creature’s next swing, surging upwards and thrusting his sword towards its neck. The blade slid cleanly through a spinal joint, severing the behemoth’s skull. The remaining bones clattered to the floor. The skull skittered beside them, trying to bite at Baran’s toes. His armoured boot came down hard, crushing it. 

The stone chamber stilled, save for Baran’s heavy breathing and Derad’s soft tinkering. Pale blue light spilled into the space from atop a small plinth, mingling with the orange torchlight. The plinth sat on a raised dais in the chamber’s centre and held a glowing, crystalline orb.

‘Lira, how’s our benefactor?’ 

Baran’s question was directed at a woman crouched beside the plinth. The woman pushed back her hood. Long dark hair, tied into a tight tail, framed strong, serious features and slightly pointed ears. 

She looked down at a young, unconscious priest—her hand moving to his cheek. This fledgling from the nearby monastery had accompanied them as a witness. The monastery, having commissioned the small group of mercenaries to clear out this particularly nasty tomb, had held out on providing a more seasoned holy practitioner to assist them.

The orb pulsed with baleful, blue-grey light. Each pulse brought forth a soft wave of nausea that the three mercenaries had quickly gotten used to.

Lira’s voice was smooth. Melodious. Her words flowed like mead down a soldier’s throat. ‘His colour does not bode well. I’ve stopped the bleeding, but this place drains the life from him. The poor thing hasn’t spent much time around artefacts like these, it seems.’ She pushed the hair back from the young face that she held. Baran huffed.

‘Wish you’d treat my delicate features like that,’ he said, shooting her a grin. ‘Told’em the lad shouldn’t have come. Priests never listen. Think they know everything ‘bout the dead.’

Lira clicked her tongue and returned his smile. ‘You shouldn’t be so hard on him for being eager, Baran. Promised rewards make fools of many. As you well know.’

Baran’s face reddened. The large warrior cleared his throat, steadying himself. ‘Right. Give him ‘ere then. Derad can handle the glowing thing.’

The chamber shuddered suddenly. Lira and Baran looked straight at Derad, who now held the blue-grey orb in one hand. Derad grinned sheepishly. A large section of the ceiling fell, crushing the young priest. The explosion of gore covered both Lira and Baran as they jumped backwards.

Another falling chunk of granite destroyed the plinth, Derad barely managing to snatch his torch and dodge out of its way. The trio darted towards the large entrance of the chamber. Derad ran low to the ground, surging around each piece of stone as it fell. Lira, as if she saw where they would fall ahead of her, vaulted over the larger chunks with ease. Baran held his shield above his head, grunting in pain as he was pelted by fist-sized pieces.

Baran was the last to exit the chamber, one final shard of the ceiling falling in his path just before he reached the entryway. He crashed into it, leading with his shoulder. Baran spun, falling to the floor of a dark hallway—his sword lost amongst the rubble. Two faces slowly came into view above him as he lay, trying to catch his breath. One face grinned wickedly. The other was half-covered in bits of the young priest.

‘Hit your head, Baran? You’re covered in blood…almost lost you in there. Shame about ol’ slicey. I loved that sword.’ Derad chuckled to himself before turning and catching sight of Lira. The thief jumped back, almost tripping over his own cloak. ‘Not you too, Lira. You almost made it back before me, there’s no way you got hit.’ Derad looked around, noticing the final absence. The humour left his voice. ‘Where’s our little priest gone?’

Lira shot him a glare, gesturing to the bloody remains that covered her and Baran.

Derad’s groan echoed down the pitch-dark hall. ‘Not again! I had half a Crescent on that one surviving, damn it. Moons take you, Baran.’

Derad pulled a small palm-sized bag from his cloak and dropped it on Baran’s chest. He strode past the bloodied pair, rounding a soft bend in the stone hallway. Lira helped Baran to his feet as their companion’s torchlight slowly faded. A sudden flash of blue-grey light lit the space, followed closely by a yelp of surprise.

Baran and Lira rushed to follow, catching sight of Derad as he slowly rose to his feet. The thief rubbed his backside—the orb he’d been holding floated before them. Tendrils of glowing light eased from the walls like smoke. Moving along the floor, the tendrils met at a point directly below the orb before flowing up to meet it.

As the light grew in intensity, a whisper of voices sighed into the space. A collective, languorous sound.

‘It has been quite some time since this stone has tasted a fresh soul. Young, at that.’ 

The trio stood frozen. Baran gripped his shield. The voices came again.

‘Worry not. We need not take more from you. As long as you leave us, and the orb, in peace. It tethers us. Keeps us alive, in a way.’ 

The voices sighed once more, an utterance that sent chills through the trio.

Baran’s throat had become suddenly dry. ‘Apologies, good sirs…or ladies…or neither—whatever you are. But we ain’t able to leave the orb. People in our profession are only as good as their word.’

Twin knives flashed into Derad’s hands, his torch falling to the floor. An ethereal spear appeared in Lira’s, seemingly from nowhere. The voices began to laugh. Low at first, but then higher—the sound warping into something inhuman. Stone shook. So did the trio. The voices coalesced once more, barely contained.

‘Very well. Try your best.’

Tendrils of light shot out from the orb, disappearing into the walls. Derad moved first, snatching the artefact from the air as the light faded from it. A skeletal hand burst through the floor, grabbing the back of his cloak. His knife moved quickly to sever the fabric. The trio surged forward. Another mad dash into darkness.

The hallway rumbled. More limbs, more bodies—none with flesh remaining—moved to intercept them. Shield levelled, and weapons striking outwards, the three mercenaries barely slowed. As the trio rounded a final corner they caught sight of the entrance—a wall of light leading to a lightly wooded clearing.

Doubling their effort, chests heaving and limbs burning, the trio pushed on. The tomb seemed to match their intensity, the floor cracking and beginning to fall away. Lira leapt past a newly opened chasm. Derad moved to do the same, but the stone beneath his feet sank away. The light from the entrance was replaced with pure, pitch darkness as he began to plummet. Baran caught hold of Derad’s cloak as he cleared the gap, wrenching the thin man from his fall.

Light met the group as they tumbled from the mouth of the ruins. The tomb continued to sink. One final, horrid, collective scream pushed into their heads. Baran, Lira, and Derad fell to solid earth, just shy of the vast hole the tomb had left. Clean, crisp air filled their lungs. The light of a setting sun stained the sky in wondrous shades of deep red.

The companions panted heavily, laughing between breaths with the rush of their escape. Derad suddenly started, hands rushing to his pockets. Slowly the trio looked over to the newly formed chasm.

The orb teetered at its edge.

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