His New Hoard Chapter 1: Land of the Dead Sponsored by VeronicaFoxx By Draconicon
“You are banished, and we cast you out.”
Those were the last words Draconicon heard before the world imploded around him. People, places, light, darkness, even air condensed about him until there was nothing but emptiness, and then…
He was flying through space.
The black dragon stared into it, watching stars and planets, great monsters and nebulae, even universes themselves go flying past as he was launched across existence. Nothing was close enough for him to grab onto to stop himself, and even if he did, he was propelled by such power that he was more like to tear a chunk off a universe than to halt his progress.
Further, further, further he went, soaring over – or under – the great hole of non-existence at the center of it all, the spiraling Void that pulled all of existence towards the center. It reached for him, but he was too small, too insignificant for its tendrils to hold. He slid through without consequence, without loss.
Well, without further loss.
The constant flux of new details around him distracted him, pulling his mind this way and that, anywhere but what had been done and why. He saw universes just born and ones just fading, ones that warred against each other for supremacy and ones that never knew of each other’s presence. He saw everything in an instant; he absorbed it in a lifetime. Time bent and twisted, at times feeling like he had been thrown away merely a second ago, at others lifetimes before.
In reality, it only took him the temporal equivalent of hours to reach the other end of existence, and he arrived with a bang.
Space and time reasserted themselves as he went flying through a wall of bones, smashing them into yellow-white splinters before hitting the floor beneath. He passed through that, then the basement, before finally coming to a stop in a pile of squishy things that he really didn’t want to think about.
Draconicon didn’t get up, at least not right away. Instead, he stared at the holes above him, his white eyes focusing on the red light that burned through the hole at the top.
He didn’t speak, just stared, taking in the roiling red clouds and the crimson light that played off of their undersides. Here and there, sparks of yellow lightning danced between them, including –
The dragon rolled at the last second, a spear of the lightning impaling the pile of bodies that had cushioned his landing. He panted as they caught fire, an inferno spreading through the corpses in short order and consuming them in record time. In less than a minute, they had been reduced to their bones, and they continued to burn in the magical fires.
Fanning his wings to try and push away the stink, Draconicon rose to his feet. The roof was…low, to put it mildly, and he had to bend over to the point of looking like a hunchback. But at least he was covered from whatever energy storm was going on above.
The far end of existence…well, if it isn’t hell, then it’s doing a good job of imitating it.
Shaking his head, he reached out his hand.
Here’s hoping my magic still works…
He forced his thoughts into his core, reaching for the energy that lay inside every dragon, and it rose to meet him like a familiar lover. The hand of his thoughts coated itself in the dark fire of his power, and he forced it down his arm.
The black flames burst into being, then swirled into a familiar red-orange glow. He smiled. So magic still worked on will and inner power. That was something. And…
He bounced the fireball on his palm a few times, testing the cohesion of the spell, the energy consumption, how well it obeyed when he willed it to rise up and spin about, to flit from him to the other side of the room and back.
All comparable to the limitations and stresses back home.
His smile faded, and he clenched his fist around the fireball until it died.
“They aren’t going to get away with this.”
His hand shook, trembling to the point where he had to reach out and grab it to stop it from shaking too hard. It would not do to let it get out of control. Not now. Not here. Wherever here was.
When it was finally still, Draconicon took a few deep breaths, looking up at the hole in the ceiling again. From what little he’d seen when he had crashed through the different levels, he was probably in someone’s house. A very strange, somewhat creepy house, but definitely a house. If he could find who owned it, that would be a start to figuring out where he was.
He shuffled to the hole in the roof and stuck his arms through the gap. A quick tug dragged him up –
Crack, crack, snap.
And snapped a few of the bones that had managed to wedge themselves in the gaps between his scales. He winced, feeling a bit like someone was pulling needles out of his back in the process, but dragged himself the rest of the way through.
Just like below, the walls were covered with bones. No organs, no bodies, just…bones, all arranged in different patterns. Legs bones were arranged like wheel spokes, mostly straight but with a hint of a curve that suggested a motion around the room, while forearm bones stuck out of the walls like torches. Hip bones acted as supports, while spines seemed to be the bands along the top and bottom of the room that held it all together.
It wasn’t the first time that he’d seen this kind of collection, though it was the first time that he’d seen this level of elaborateness put to it. The wyverns back home had used bone magics with the remains of their prey, but this…this was something much more powerful.
Bones mean necromancy…and even a weak necromancer would be powerful with this set-up…
The dragon took a few steps back from the walls, looking toward the ceiling. This one was a bit higher than the last, but still reachable. He dragged himself through the hole –
And paused in mid-tug, hearing something running above. It was too big to be a pest, unless this particular universe had rats the size of people. Not impossible, really. The many worlds that constituted existence had rules and people aplenty. He just hoped that this wasn’t the case here.
Bracing himself, he sunk his fingers into the skeletal floor and pulled himself up.
The first floor was different from the bottom two. While still ‘decorated’ with bones, it lacked the intimidating appearance of the basement or the bodies of the very bottom floor. What little furniture it had followed the same motif, with a few skeletal feet propping up a table, and a series of woven ribs creating a chair that would support and almost hide whoever sat in it.
But it was the books that were dug into the makeshift shelves around the room that had his attention.
A library. That is something I can use.
Draconicon pulled himself to his feet, walking over to the first shelf. He paused only to release a spell to check for wards or other protections, and found none. Satisfied, he reached for the first bound volume and pulled it down.
Others might have been disgusted by the curved cover of the tome. It was made of a flattened-out, patched-together set of thigh-bone tiles. No flesh, as one might have expected from a necromancer, but just…bone. Very clean bone, for that matter.
He opened it up to see if he could recognize the alphabet. Instead of pages, though, there were…jawbones. No teeth, but jawbones, stretched out and interweaving with one another, carrying marks and runes on the sides that had been carefully inscribed over a long period of time. Draconicon traced the symbols with his claw, muttering under his breath.
Almost similar to Ancient Draconic, but with its own tweaks. Too angular to be the same language, though. Adapted, or new?
But even with the similarities, there was something missing. A different component to it, something that he hadn’t quite puzzled out yet. He cocked his head to the side, trying to figure it out.
“Who…who are you?”
The voice was soft, quiet, almost impossible to hear if one wasn’t paying attention to everything around them. Draconicon shut the book, putting it back where he’d pulled it from, and turned around.
The room hadn’t changed, but his understanding of it had. Someone was here. Someone with…power.
He hadn’t sensed it at first due to the various bone magics around him, but now that he was more focused, he could just make out a hint of something. A magic of preservation, of a surprisingly vibrant life, given the death all around them. It was centered just under the chair, too, something that he hadn’t expected.
Draconicon lifted it by one arm, and found himself staring at a brown-robed mole.
“…Hello,” the dragon said after a moment.
The dragon jumped back, already pulling his magic forward, but rather than attacking him, the mole just…came apart.
He stared at the pile of bones that had literally leaped from the mole’s flesh, a pair of thick glasses landing on top of the skull with pinpoint precision. The empty flesh-sack that had been the mole’s body folded in on itself without its support structure, and he stared at the empty mass of skin.
But it wasn’t over. Even as he stared, the mole’s shadow – dim and faint, but present even in the low red light – lifted itself off the floor. It silently looked at its body, then at him. Flinging its arms out at the bone pile in a clear ‘See what you did?’ gesture, it knelt down and –
Draconicon had to take a deep breath as he watched it shoving the bones, one by one, down the mole’s stretchy, elastic mouth. The foot bones, the leg bones, everything was gradually going back where it belonged.
Yes…that’s…that’s definitely a necromancer.
It was morbidly fascinating to see one being put back together, he had to admit, though the fact that the mole had essentially killed himself from fear was not something that he expected. Yes, necromancers were something of a fearful bunch, but he had never seen them as anything less than ferocious, often rabid creatures when they were cornered. Not something that did…that.
Eventually, the mole was put back together, opening his eyes. This time, when the pair of them looked at each other, the shadow jumped forward and covered the mole’s mouth, silencing his scream and keeping him from disintegrating. It looked at him meaningfully, gesturing for him to talk.
Well…I do need to know where I am.
“I’m…sorry for scaring you. Is this your home?”
The gagged mole nodded.
“From the looks of things, I did a fair bit of damage. I’ll fix it before I go.”
The dragon rubbed the back of his head, looking at the hole in the ceiling again. Considering the storms that seemed to be rushing by, he probably should fix that before they continued.
Rather than the orange fire, he pulled at the black one again, holding it like a withering black mass in his palm. He flung it towards the gap, instructing his magic to touch and spread, to take on the nature of what it found and keep replicating itself until it filled in the gap.
It wouldn’t be a perfect fix, but at least it would keep the lightning out until the mole could put it back the way he wanted it.
When the gap was closed, he turned back to his host. The shadow had gone back to the ground, and the necromancer was staring at him.
“I…I think…my question should have b-been…W-what are y-you?” the mole whispered.
“I’m a dragon. I…came from a long way away.” He hesitated. “My name is Draconicon.”
“Jaceb.” He nodded. “Do you…always kill yourself if someone sees you?”
“No…not always...J-just most times. J-just…scared.”
“Of being seen?”
“Of…anything. Hurts less to k-kill myself…than let others do it…”
He supposed that was true. Dragons weren’t kind to necromancers, either, and he supposed that most universes weren’t. Here and there, some might have been, but…well, it was a dangerous magic to practice. Even studying it ran the risk of getting committed as one and being punished as if you were practicing it.
“Jaceb. I have a very…dumb question.”
“Where are we?”
“I…W-well, I think w-we’re in…Hell…”
“W-well, I haven’t seen any demons…but it…well…”
He pointed to the roof. The sky had been a pretty persuasive argument, Draconicon had to admit.
“So why are you here?”
The mole gestured around them.
“You’re in Hell for being a necromancer? That’s your answer?”
That didn’t seem right to him, but then again, just because it didn’t match what he knew of Hell from his own realm didn’t mean that it wasn’t right for another. Maybe some universe had a connection to Hell that operated on just using certain types of magic.
Draconicon made his way to the far side of the room, finding a door that was blended into the other bones. He dragged his finger along the sides, working his way down until he found a series of finger-bones that had been woven into a handle. He pushed down, only to find that it refused to bend.
When it still resisted him after a number of attempts, Draconicon squatted down, his robe flaring out around him as he leaned in. The bones were marked with the same inscriptions as the ones that he’d seen on the jawbones, he realized, and as he looked along the rest of the door, he saw similar ones, all scratched in, all incredibly neat and tidy.
“Did you do all of this?” he asked.
“How long have you been here?”
It was astounding. The level of detail on the inscriptions forced any disgust at what he was doing right out of his system. It was always done with a light hand, just enough to hold its shape and sigils against the wear and tear of time. The mole must have been doing this for years, if not decades.
“What do they mean?” he asked.
“W-why do you want to know?”
“Because it’s skillful, for one.” Draconicon shook his head. “And for another, it’ll help me figure out how to get out of here.”
The dragon turned his head, looking back at the mole with one raised eyeridge.
“This is Hell! Y-you can’t get out of Hell. It’s against the rules!”
“Yeah, you know, I’ve never been too fond of rules. Most people make them too stupid to help anyone.” He turned back to the bones. “So, what are these inscriptions?”
“I…they…” The mole rubbed the back of his head. “They’re…names. Names and…and memories.”
Names. That would make sense. A name kept a spirit from forgetting itself, if he remembered his readings. The memories would help with that, too, if the right ones were inscribed. If the spirits were inclined to be helpful with those memories.
“Why so many?”
“…It’s safer for t-them…here…”
He paused, looking back.
“Safe from what? I thought you said there were no demons out there?”
“No demons, but…but other monsters. Lots of monsters…”
He was starting to get a little annoyed at the constant pauses, but without the mole’s help, he was flailing in the dark here. He gestured for him to continue.
“Soul-eaters, flesh-flayers, pain-suckers…Dead-eaters. Lots of t-things. Bodies die, souls live, eaten piece by piece…allowed to grow back, heal…then eaten again…”
The mole shivered.
“Didn’t want t-them to hurt. Made a deal. P-protect each other. Sealed the bones…hid them with each other. Hides me, too.”
A benevolent necromancer. Not something that Draconicon had ever expected to see, but hardly the most surprising thing in the world. With enough contact with that sort of pain on the other side, a necromancer certainly had the potential to have empathy. This was just the first time he’d seen it.
More than that, it warmed him a bit towards the little guy. The fact that he was reaching out to others, despite his fear, and using his power to take responsibility for caring for them…
Taking responsibility was too rare, in his experience. If you cared for something, if something mattered, you did something about it.
“Do you want to get out of here, Jaceb?” he asked.
“I’m serious. Do you want out of Hell?”
“…I…I don’t t-think…”
“I promise you this much. You can leave these places. I didn’t mean to come here, but I didn’t come here because I died, or because I did something wrong.”
It wasn’t a lie. He hadn’t done anything wrong in his eyes. Maybe, maybe in the eyes of his superiors, but not his.
“If I know where we are, I can find a way out. And if you help me, it’ll go a lot quicker.”
“But…but t-the people…t-the souls…”
“I can’t promise you can take them all…but I’ll let you take all you can carry.”
Why? Simple enough answers when one got down to it. The necromancer was obviously powerful enough to stave off the worst of the dimension, which said something to his skill as a mage. The fact that he had so many inscribed bones around told him that Jaceb could probably summon a host of spirits, and the fact that the mole was nearly immortal with his ability to die and come back together like that was beyond useful.
He’d landed with little in the way of a plan except to get out again, but now that he stopped to think about it, he knew that he couldn’t stop there. The minute he left this ‘Hell,’ he would catch the attention of everyone with the capability to jump between the different universes. Both those that were at the far end, who’d cast him out, and those that looked at the more localized regions.
The moment he left, he’d show that he was defying his sentence. When word got around to his superiors, when they heard that he wasn’t just going to lay down and die on the other end of existence, they would start taking steps. Very powerful, very dangerous steps to make sure that he never got back to them.
If he was going to survive that, he’d need help. Jaceb would be very helpful.
That, however, wasn’t a good reason for the mole. So, he did what he always did when he didn’t have a clear idea.
“There’s not enough people that do anything with what they have,” he said. “Someone else with your skill would have probably waged war, enslaved people, or just ignored their power and forgotten that it existed. Buried it so that nobody else ever found out.”
“I don’t know what you did in your world, or how you used your necromancy before you got to Hell, but I can see what you’ve been doing since you got here.”
The dragon traced his fingers along the inscriptions again.
“I don’t know necromancy very well, but I know spellwork, and I know enchanting. This is close enough for me to see what matters to you.
“The way that you took only what you needed from the bones and no more shows me that you respect the dead, that you care to preserve as much of what they were as you can. You don’t want to bend them to your will; you want to give them a chance to be remembered as what they were, not what you want them to be. You aren’t forcing your will on anyone, you’re just making a request and asking them to give you a chance.
“You’re not screaming at them. You’re whispering. You’re putting out the tiniest bit of yourself, telling them that you’re there, that it’s okay to be afraid, but they don’t have to be afraid of you. Yes?”
“Someone like that doesn’t deserve to be in Hell. Someone like that should be out there, trying to keep people from going to Hell.”
Draconicon stood up from the door handle, turning to face the mole properly. He smiled as best he could.
“I think that you could do a lot. And if you’re willing to help me, I’m willing to take you somewhere to make the best use of your talents.”
It was a rambling, barely-there offer. A speech that was based on on-the-spot observations and was little more than a stream-of-consciousness blather and blither towards the mole. If he had done that with anyone else, he would have been ashamed of himself.
But for Jaceb, it seemed to be working.
The necromancer worked at his robes nervously, pulling at the edge of the rough brown cloth. A medallion with a book on it flashed just below his robes, a few little whimpers escaping him.
Draconicon didn’t press the issue, seeing the conflict on the necromancer’s face. Instead, he just sat down by the door, folding his legs together. He had been with enough students facing a major decision to know when to push and when to hold back. Now was the time to hold back and let the temptation work its magic.
He wouldn’t be so conflicted if he didn’t want it. All I need to do is let him make the decision. I’ve shown him the door, and now he has to choose to open it.
He looked back at the wall, at the bone door that kept him inside.
Literally, in this case.
The minutes ticked by as the dragon forced himself to stay calm, to hold still and not push the mole. He looked at the door, then to Jaceb, and then at the door again. It was hardly a subtle signal. He wanted out. Even without the deal, he needed to see where they were, what was going on. If he couldn’t even get out of the house…
For the first time, he was aware of something else. A strange…suppression around him. What anger tried to rise up was pushed back down, almost like it wasn’t allowed.
Draconicon stood up, making way for the mole by the door. Jaceb leaned into the doorway and whispered, almost looking like he was breathing something out over the inscription. No sooner had the mole closed his mouth than the handle dropped, clicking as the lock came undone.
The other bones shifted, changing position to apply pressure to different parts of the doorway to pop itself free. The various names and words along the bones glimmered with a dull blue light, ghostly and flickering before fading away.
“I’ll j-just…g-grab my skull…”
“Your actual skull, or…”
“S-sorry. Another person’s…long…story…”
“Another time, then.”
The dragon was about to ask ‘for what’ before stepping through the doorway, and then, he understood.
Whether it was a spell of emotional suppression or Hell itself spiked them higher, or a combination of the two, Draconicon was left seething and snorting in rage as soon as he stepped outside. He fell to his knees, his claws scraping through the red earth beneath him, grabbing for anything of substance.
In his ‘flight’ across existence, his anger and hurt had been distracted by the many things that he’d seen. In the house of bone, whatever he felt had been suppressed by the spells inscribed on the skeletal structure.
Now, it was all he could feel.
They robbed me…
He growled, the roar of a feral dragon barely suppressed. His entire body felt like it was vibrating, as if he was but a moment away from exploding.
The ground beneath his hands started to catch fire, the black flames of his magic running out from him in lines and waves. Every breath made them grow, rising from lines to walls, from waves to miniature tsunamis with him at the center.
They took my school…
An image of a mountainside, the slopes carved into living chambers and classrooms for hundreds of dragons. Fire shaped into living statues adorned the outer walls while golems walked among the halls.
They took my students…
The silent wall of faces burned in his mind, his graduates and his new novices alike staring blankly as he was sentenced.
They took everything…
“You are banished, and we cast you out.”
The faces of the elder dragons, the god-like rulers of his universe, filled his mind again. They looked down on him, saw what he had done against them, and found him wanting. Found him reprehensible.
In the center of the red realm of Hell, in the center of fire, surrounded by the rings of ice, darkness, and madness, the black dragon threw back his head and screamed his rage to the edges of the universe and beyond.
He would take it back…or he would make them pay. One way or another, he would have what was his. He would not forget what they’d done.
This is the first chapter of a hopefully VERY long-running series that I plan to write about Draconicon. In this case, Drac has been banished from his home plane by what are essentially the mage-gods of the dragons, for unspecified reasons. He's getting booted across the universe after having everything important in his life taken from him, and...well, frankly, he's not too happy about it. This is the start of his journey back.