“This is your trial acolyte”
The words were still ringing in Helen’s ears because the significance of the statement was that she had to do this particular task for the Curate alone. There was no heading to the tavern to recruit her friends to help her. No grabbing Caric Trublade her warrior friend or asking Nathaniel the apprentice mage to back her up. She couldn’t even ask Lavina her cut purse friend since they were little girls to back her up. This was her trial, so she had to go alone. That said it wasn’t entirely a disappointment to get away from the Curate. He had a tendency to like fertility rites over anything else. Unfortunately for him she was not a priestess yet so she was off limits, but that didn’t stop him from panting all over her.
Her friend Caric would probably tell her it was understandable given that she was quite fetching. She never really considered herself beautiful despite her near perfect hour glass figure which was slightly muscled due to her practice with her mace and chain mail armor. Caric would add then that was another thing that made her attractive – she was a beauty but didn’t realize it or couldn’t acknowledge it. All she ever saw when she looked into her looking glass was her long brown hair and pouting lips under her deep brown eyes. Too her she looked like most of the girls in the city, but for some reason she was he best representative of them all to the men in her life.
She was not as interested in men as they were in her however. Her devotion was to the goddess Alyssa – Mistress of Light. The Temple to Alyssa had been like a second home to her for many years and it didn’t surprise anyone when she became an acolyte on her sixteenth birthday. For the last two years she has devoted herself to training both of spirit, mind and body. She studied the book of Alyssa even more fervently, she was after a year awarded with her holy symbol – a six pointed star – which she soon learned to use to banish the undead. She also learned that morning prayer could give her the powers of the goddess. She could heal small wounds with a touch, read magic scrolls and books through guidance and as all clerics of Alyssa could – create light to see even in the darkest of places. She could pray for a lot of small things and they would be granted but the larger miracles still were a challenge.
Then there was learning to handle the weight of armor and the mace – her three foot long steel rod with a heavy six sided weight on the end. No shield as she needed to keep her other hand free to hold her holy symbol when needed. The physical training had been daunting as there were long hours practicing martial combat while using her spells and then long runs to build up her stamina which were further complicated by the fact they were only allowed to wear their sandals and under clothes regardless of weather. Thankfully bathing twice a day for purity sake was mandatory and the hot sauna baths of the temple were a true pleasure. About a month ago though all of the training became voluntary and she and her fellows became officially acolytes of Alyssa.
It was a cause for celebration with her three friends but then the Curate said those words: “This is your trial acolyte” then Helen knew her life was about to take another turn. The trial was a pilgrimage to a cave to remove a necromancer who was plying his dark arts in near a local village. She was not allowed to take anything but what she could carry in a rucksack on her back and what she could wear. It had been a two day journey along the main road east and then a short walk to the village in question. The villagers were pleased to see her and quickly showed her the path to the cave. They also reported that over the last year several young women and older girls had disappeared and that other local villages reported the same. Helen frowned and then began following the trail.
There was a change in terrain from the evergreen forest to a more grey atmosphere that told her she was getting close to the cave. The evergreens now had a grey color and there was a smell of death in the air. Then she saw it, the mouth of the cave. Looking back on it she would remember that she was probably too young to truly appreciate how much danger she was in. The Curate had effectively sent her to her death as he would send all the acolytes on death quests because his theology was one of miracle. That is, if any of them survived it was a miracle and so an act of the gods. Helen simply did not know this so when she spotted the two skeletons with shield and sword she felt they must be weak and a test of her ability to turn the undead. However, she did not like the thought of making them flee as it would actually make them difficult to hunt down. She wanted them dead and completely out of the picture and turning them would not do that. No. It was going to have to be the mace.
Holding her holy symbol in her left hand and drawing her mace with her right, she charged right at the two skeletons. Her plan was to use the mace and then, if necessary her holy symbol if things went poorly. The skeletons sprang to action as soon as she was right in front of them holding up shields and raising their swords. The one to the right never had a chance as her mace came down forcefully on its skull and smashed it like a pumpkin, causing the whole skeleton to collapse in a heap. The skeleton that was left did not of course run in fear. The point of using the undead is that fear is not part of their makeup.
Helen barely parried it sword blow with her mace but the tip of it caught her cheek and left a shallow two inch cut. She then slammed her body into the shield pushing it backward and then a sideways swipe with her mace crushed in its rib cage and the enchantment that held it together fell apart. Helen caught her breath and then looked to the mouth of the cave. It lead downward into darkness. She felt the blood trickle down her cheek so she placed her hand over the cut.
She felt the cut close and soon you couldn’t even tell she had been cut there. She turned and began walking into the dark cave.
Light sprang from her fingertips and formed a small glowing orb over her head. She could see in front of her but it was the same cave leading downward into blackness. She headed down and she had gone maybe 100 feet and she found the cave floor had leveled off but it also had started to show evidence of carving in an effort to make the cave passage wider and smoother. Eventually this turned into a ten foot wide corridor that was a couple feet over her head. She walked on with Alyssa’s light still burning overhead and she soon found a double door blocking her way. The doors were made of wood and unadorned held together with iron bands and with iron hinges. There was no lock she could see so perhaps barred from the inside. Much to her surprise, the doors pushed inward and that is when a lump formed in her throat.
In front of here was a small cavern. It had been carved out and the walls, floor and ceiling were smooth grey granite. Two pillars were in the center stretching twenty feet upward holing the flat ceiling up and flanking an altar on a raised dais of about five steps. The altar was also of the same grey stone carved out to form a basic four legged table but was adorned with grotesque pictures of skulls and twisted beings doing unspeakable acts of murder and rape. Helen could feel here skin being covered with bumps and her breath was short as she gazed upon it. More disturbing was the tops and sides of the altar looked to be stained with dried blood.
Curiously, there was no sign of any person or other creature in the cavern but she realized she could not see the other side behind the altar so she circled around the altar. As she rounded the pillar on the right from where she came in she saw a straw bed covered with furs on the ground and near to it was a flickering fire that was mostly embers. A pile of wood was stacked against the far wall and a spit for roasting meat stretched across the fire. On it was something that nearly made Helen vomit. It was a leg, a female human leg blackened by fire. In the bed were two figures entwined like lovers but in appearance sleeping. As she approached Alyssa’s light began to illuminate more of the scene and she stopped fearful that it would wake the sleepers.
What she could now see was indeed a male and female human form lying naked in each others embrace. The man looked like a normal human male. He was thin and tall of frame and she could see his face and it was scared by burns and his red hair was stringy like he hadn’t bathed in weeks. The man was altogether repulsive with scars and sores over his body. She couldn’t see the woman’s face but she was well shaped with nice curves and long black hair. There was something wrong with her skin; it had the ashen grey pallor of death. Then the realization hit her and fear welled up inside her heart. A zombie. The man began to stir and she stood like a stone as he rose from his bed standing before her; his slight but tall frame was slightly bent. Why she didn’t just kill him with her mace at that moment was fear but she knew also she would need to master it or she would die today.
The man spoke, his voice weak and cracking, “Well, how convenient. I was going to have to resign myself to finding another woman to make my lover while I consumed Bella here, now that I have cooked the last of poor Lesa, but in walks a lovely creature that will do just nicely.”
The man began to speak an enchantment. Helen knew it was a spell and she also knew she didn’t want to find out what it did. Looking back on it she would freely confess to herself that she didn’t know what moved her from her fear to action. Self-preservation perhaps. She moved forward raising her mace above her head. As she neared him though something caught her foot and when she looked down a grey hand had grabbed her and she looked into the face of zombie Bella. She was beautiful in death and her face showed no expression. Helen pushed her holy symbol toward the creature.
“May Alyssa’s Light cleanse the wicked.”
A look of fear spread over the zombie’s lovely face as the symbol glowed with light and she released Helen and rolled away from her and then stood her naked grey body revealed. It then fled into the darkness. Helen turned back to the man and knew that the zombie would not be held at bay for long. It would return and by that time she needed to have this necromancer dead.
The man had not stopped chanting during her fight with the zombie and so it was as Helen turned back toward him she could feel the spell coming over her. She prayed to the goddess to preserve her. For a moment, there was a struggle of wills. Her mage friend Nathaniel would have labeled it a charm spell. As she gazed at the necromancer her opinions of him were conflicted. She saw him as a lover and then an enemy. Her will fought these feelings and then she broke free of the spell and as he looked at her with a startled look on his face, she crushed in his head with a hard blow from her mace. The body fell and twitched for a few moments afterward. She looked at the blood on the head of her mace and pondered a curious thing. It was first man she had ever killed and she felt no remorse or even sorrow. She felt good about killing this repulsive evil man.
Shoving her meditation aside, she turned to hear the rushed footsteps of the zombie that had been the woman Bella. As it came into the light, Helen readied herself. The zombie shuffled toward her, her naked body probably as lovely as it had been in life only now with the pallor of death. Turning it would only make it flee again, but Helen kept her holy symbol ready. If the fight went badly, she wanted the option to make it flee. Zombies are harder to beat than skeletons as they have the flesh to hold their bones together. The issue is to destroy the enchantment that animates them. The fresher the body, the stronger the enchantment would be. Bella has been freshly killed right before being enchanted, that was certain based on her appearance, so she was going to be tough to kill without help. Helen’s hope was that armor and mace would be better than fingernails and teeth. She also had something up her sleeve – literally thanks to her friend Lavina – that would tilt the odds in her favor.
The zombie approached her slowly and cautiously. Zombies have enough intelligence to know when they have been bested before. Helen dropped her holy symbol and raised her mace and open hand. Then with a fierceness that startled Helen, the zombie abruptly attacked with a growl and hands thrust forward with extending finger nails like claws. Helen despite her surprise reacted quickly stepping aside and then striking the zombie’s torso as it passed. It lost its balance and fell on it side. Helen reacted by flicking her left wrist which placed a closed vial of holy water in her hand. As the zombie struggled to get to its feet, she smashed the vial right between its large bare breasts. The holy water splashed across the front part of its torso. The zombie roared in agony and it seemed paralyzed momentarily. That was enough as Helen grabbed it by the ankle and swung it into the fire. The flames roared to life with blue flame. The zombie screamed in a female voice of terror and then was completely silent as the enchantment that gave it life was burned away. There was a sizzling sound and then the smell of burning flesh began to fill the room.
In her report to the Curate, priests and priestesses, Helen revealed that a search of the room found a pile of bones in one corner that was probably used to make the necromancers skeleton guardians and a chest in the another corner along with a table filled with dark books and alchemy supplies. Inside the chest was the journal of the necromancer along with other books of the dark arts. His words indicated a life where he longed for the pretty women of the village. He became enraged when they mocked him and made fun of him; so he turned to the dark arts. Once he had understood the basics of necromancy he remembered the old altar in the cave. After studying it for a while, he recognized it had the power to animate the dead for long periods of time. Thus began his crimes. He poisoned every girl after using his charm spell on them to get them to follow him to the cave. He would then use the altar to reanimate them. He would use their bodies to gratify his lusts for as long as it took for him to run out of food. Then he would find a new girl and use the old one for food. He made a list of their names and it took an entire page of his journal. There were fifteen of them including Bella and Lesa.
She reported that she took holy water from her pack and anointed the altar with it which produced an effect of steam and sizzling. Then she put the necromancer and his zombie lover on the altar and covered them in the dark art books and set it on fire. She left with it blazing behind her but also reported that she wasn’t sure if she solved the problem. The Curate and others nodded and indicated that now the immediate problem was solved, they would make a team to handle he more long term problem of the pagan altar. She turned he journal over to the Curate and they dismissed her.
Th Curate named Helen an adept the next day and after a night of prayer, she stole away to the tavern where she found her friends. She had quite the tale to tell.