Late Autumn, 8th of World’s Sleep, 1534 YG
A large and full moon illuminated the sands, and its light was bright enough to reflect off of Zulmane Tower, a metal structure carved by the intricate use of magic. A silent monolith, the black tower has kept watch over the sands for many years. Small pockets of short palm trees dotted the landscape but there was not much else, aside from a large lake that lay half a mile to the west. Zulmane Tower is the only building standing in this barren desert. It stands straight, with many circular balconies embedded into the top floors. Each floor had its share of multicolored stained glass windows. The top of the tower is crowned by a translucent glass dome.
Zulmane Tower was built by the man who started the order of the Dead Hand Clan, Harakim the Wise. His group of necromancers and sorcerers had built the tower twenty stories high. After a decade and more of hard labor and powerful incantations, it had been finished to house the ones who joined the order of the necromancer. While it was being built, many fled under the belief that the builder was insane for choosing the desert as its location. This allowed other clans of necromancers and wizards to sprout up all over the land of Khaz’nà.
The Dead Hand Clan still resides in the tower, though not all who live therein are necromancers. There are a few wizards, mages, sorcerers, and even a few who do not even perform magic residing within. Mazes of tunnels, built by dwarves, provided a vast mining complex underground in which the inhabitants extract precious ores and gems. The caverns are still under construction, and probably will be for years until the veins run dry. Upon their initial discovery of the caverns, the builders found many of them buried and blocked off. Only Harakim knew the origin of these underground passageways. With his remaining necromancers, he carved out a living in the harsh desert, known as the Sea of Timeless Sands by many. The population at the tower is small, only a few hundred living there. Most of them are human Dead Hand necromancers.
Down in the tunnels lays a necromancer apprentice. His name is Draezon Talon, a human. He was found in the city of Tarpine as an orphan. One of the Dead Hand had taken him under his wing and brought him to the tower. As Draezon became older and stronger, he freely chose to join the order. As an apprentice, he was in charge of chores around the tower, cleaning stables and rooms as well as performing any other trivial tasks that the masters deemed acceptable. It was not easy work, and he rarely seemed to have a break. Other than that, he was required to study from one of the many apprentice tomes and learn spells.
Draezon lay in his cot, fast asleep in a tent near the mines, napping before his excursion into the dark depths of the world. Uncommon to the region, he had vivid blue eyes like cobalt. Long jet black hair covered his head, yet it was not long enough to touch his shoulders. Draezon had the faint scrub of a beard growing, since he had not shaved recently.
Draezon heard footsteps before they reached his tent, and he awoke without a sound, slowly opening his eyes. Draezon gripped his sheets in frustration and waited until the tent flap opened. The fabric whipped out of the way, revealing a dwarf standing with a large double headed axe in his thick hands. His dark gray eyes searched Draezon’s body. This dwarf’s long, blonde beard showed prominently over his dark tunic and leggings. The long strands coming from his moustache were braided, and lay over the rest of his immense beard. His short hair was hidden under a leather cap, something he had donned to keep the filth of the mines away. Draezon recognized the dwarf as his longtime friend, Bordin. His arms were well toned from the long years beating metal into shape and hammering ores from stone. Draezon knew that the dwarf could see him in the dark, for they had an innate ability to see both in light and darkness. The benefits of living many centuries underground.
Bordin breathed deep, inflating his barrel shaped chest. “Draezon,” barked the dwarf. “Time to explore the deep.”
Draezon grunted and stood up out of bed. As he stretched and scratched, he looked to the dwarf. “Where are we going tonight?”
“We are going to the gem and metal ore veins,” replied the dwarf. “Master Negroth is declaring this as the first test of yer capabilities as a necromancer. Ye have to find components for a weapon of yer choice and then craft it.”
Master Negroth was the one who was teaching Draezon in the ways of necromancy. He was also the master who had found Draezon in Tarpine two decades ago. Draezon had not learned any spells yet, but Master Negroth had given him the tome and encouraged an open mind. The necromancer knew he would learn the spells in time, but first he had to craft his weapon of choice. Every necromancer had a weapon, for many undead they summoned would not enter their service. As a necromancer, one would strive for complete knowledge of the shadow and demon planes, as well as control over the dead.
Bordin had accompanied Master Negroth on the trip to Tarpine, the trading hub of the continent, and had remained Draezon’s friend ever since the boy had been found. Because of his dwarven heritage, the young man had caught up to the dwarf in maturity, even though their lives were separated by thirty years. Draezon had known him for over twenty years, giving the slowly aging dwarf a lot of time to switch from a father figure to a friend. Bordin and Draezon had spent most of their time together exploring the tunnels under the tower, searching for new mineral veins.
The racism between humans, dwarves, and elves did not penetrate the tower. Harakim had originally forbidden any show of racism amongst the necromancers so that they remained united. Even the orcs, goblins, and other races weren’t treated like slaves, though there were very few of them in the tower. Elves and dwarves were bitter enemies, and both had mistreated humans over the centuries. These thoughts no longer entered the minds of any of the residents due to the patron’s actions.
Draezon, wanting to finish his task as soon as possible, dressed into his dark green tunic and dark brown trousers completed by a thick leather belt. As he put his ox hide boots on, Bordin waited for him patiently.
“Know any spells?” he asked Draezon.
“Not really,” he replied, sliding on his right boot. “I’m trying to learn the first spell.”
Bordin’s brow furrowed in disappointment as he picked up Draezon’s spell book. He flicked a few pages and found the first spell. “The shadow blast?” Bordin asked. “Seems like a weak spell to me. Aren’t ye supposed to meditate for days before ye begin?”
“It’s not a weak spell,” Draezon said, putting on his last boot and standing. “The dark magic corrodes the victim and tears their skin off. It is like a fireball, only more excruciating in pain. And I know I’m supposed to meditate, but I don’t get anything out of it. No new revelations or greater understandings.”
“Huh! Like ye’ve felt the bite of magic!” Bordin said looking at the book with disgust. He tossed it back to Draezon. “I still trust me axe in any event.”
Bordin pat the weapon on its head and Draezon shook his head, smiling at the dwarf’s aversion to magic. After packing his book and knife into a sack, Draezon stood up. They both walked out of the tent and went to the underground stables. He crinkled his nose as the smell of manure assaulted him, but he could bear it since he had to clean up after the animals many times. The oxen, horses, cattle, and hunting dogs had left many droppings around the area and it seemed that the apprentice in charge of the duty had not done it yet.
Bordin opened the gate and went inside. Draezon heard the shuffling of the dwarf’s feet followed by annoyed grunts as two oxen woke up. Bordin grabbed two harnesses and attached each to an ox, which were then lashed to the cart. Draezon went in and grabbed two of the many pickaxes in the storeroom as well as two sacks for carrying ore. He placed them in the cart and watched as Bordin came out, carrying four torches. The dwarf lit the oil soaked rags with flint, and put one in each sconce of the cart. The third torch was lit and given to Draezon, leaving the last one with Bordin. They nodded to each other and Bordin smacked the oxen on their rumps to get them moving.
“Which cavern are we going to?” asked Draezon.
“I’m hoping to find an adamantine vein around the lower caverns,” Bordin replied with a toothy grin. “There was one around the gem veins if I recall. It’s rare to find one down here and Master Negroth advised using it. I was told it was in the second cavern.”
Adamantine was a rare metal as well as the strongest metal on Khaz’nà. It was rumored to be created by the gods, along with mithril. Mithril was more common than adamantine, but definitely not as strong. It would be easy to mine the ore, but hard to smelt it and then form the weapon from its crude shape.
Draezon looked at the pickaxes in the cart, which now seemed so weak compared to the daunting strength of adamantine. Walls of stone could be cut like butter if one used an adamantine weapon. Was it possible that such a material had been a gift from the dwarven gods of fire and stone? Draezon pushed these daydreams away, and walked with Bordin down the slope from the camp, the light from their torches casting a faint glow on the cavern below. From there they could see the four tunnels enclosed by massive wooden gates, which extended off of the main room. Each gate was as tall as five men. Bordin pointed to the second one on the left, marking it as their destination.
It still amazed Draezon how large the caverns were. Most of it had been carved out by those who lived at Zulmane Tower. The mysterious thing was that there had been an existing system of caverns blocked off by rubble. Within a century it had been cleared, and now a network of tunnels lay at the base of the tower. It was hard to believe that all of the caverns had been molded by hand over the years.
As Draezon and Bordin reached the gate to the second tunnel, they both lit the four braziers in front of the wooden walls with their torches. This would let others know they were in the cavern. Once they had situated themselves by the cranks, they set their torches down and rotated their respective wheels, using the levers embedded on the outside. Bordin and Draezon watched as the large gates creaked opened, making sure they kept pace with each other. When they were fully open, the dwarf and human led the oxen inside and released the pressure on each lever by pressing the corresponding knobs on the other side. They picked up their torches and the gates slowly shut behind them, leaving their cart as the only light source.
“I wish they would always have someone at the gate,” Bordin grunted. “It sure makes me tired having to open them all the time.”
“Yes,” said Draezon. “I’d rather have someone there in case something happens.”
“There haven’t been any beasts or collapses down in these caverns for the entire lifespan of the tower,” Bordin said laughing. “We’ll be back by the time everyone is awake.”
Bordin led the cart down the tall and narrow tunnel while Draezon opened his pack and pulled out his spell book. He flipped to the first page of the tome, occasionally glancing up to see if he was keeping pace with the cart. Draezon read through the first few paragraphs quickly; they were all about the history and founding of necromancy, which he didn’t deem important. The paragraphs after those contained a brief description of the shadow blast spell.
The book said, anyone who uses the spell in the correct way, master or apprentice, can manipulate the energy into any shape or form, but the size of the projectile cannot exceed one’s hand. The energy can be manifested at a smaller state, yet it takes concentration. Powerful necromancers can manifest their spell into any shape or size. The stronger the caster, the more shadow energy and the bolt may even make a sound of its own.
Draezon read the next paragraph which stated that all have a mental capacity in which they can cast spells. After that, the next few lines read, to manipulate the shadow, you must accept it. Let it be part of you, and then you can use it. Let the energy flow through you. Spend time meditating in the dark and allowing the shadows to become one with you.
Draezon looked up to see the end of the narrow tunnel. Bordin was already in the small cavern ahead lighting four braziers. The glow it cast kept the chamber full of light, which amazed the man. Draezon walked over to the cart, pulled out his pickaxe, and rested it on his shoulder. He noticed that the room had a few veins of sapphires, rubies, emeralds, and other gems scattered around the area. Someone had partially excavated the gem veins, which allowed the torchlight to play off of their shiny surfaces. It was definitely rare to find so many gems in one chamber. Draezon didn’t even think it was possible for this to happen naturally.
As Draezon scanned the chamber, he noticed that there weren’t any veins of ore. He had expected there to be at least one piece of adamantine embedded in the stone. Draezon had never seen adamantine ore before though, but he expected it to shine like all other metals.
“Where’s the adamantine?” Draezon asked.
Bordin turned around and narrowed his eyes under his thick brow. “Surely ye must be joking,” he said. “It’s right there! And ye call yerself a resident of Zulmane! Ha, boy, ye have a lot to learn about the world.”
Bordin pointed to a dark discoloration in the cavern wall, which was a dull gray. The dwarf hefted his pickaxe and chopped at the discolored spot. For a while it seemed that the burly dwarf wasn’t having any luck, but soon stray shards of stone fell to the ground. Bordin hacked away a few more times until his pickaxe lodged itself in a fissure. Draezon chuckled as he watched the struggling dwarf, whose muscles started to bulge as he pulled with all his might.
“Your pick will-” Draezon started.
“Not break,” Bordin said through a gasp of air. “All our pickaxes are adamantine and extremely strong and valuable. Besides, I’ve been mining before ye were born Draezon; I know when a pick will break. It’s in me blood to know.”
Draezon looked at his pickaxe with newfound respect. He didn’t realize that the dark gray metal was adamantine. It looked exactly like crude steel.
After many moments of struggle, Bordin dislodged a piece of ore twice the size of a human fist. He rubbed the back of his dirty glove across his sweaty forehead and held up the piece of ore. Draezon walked up to see the rock more closely; most of it was dull stone, but he could see a faint gray shine in the light. Oddly, it looked like iron amidst a load of coal, but that was not possible in a normal metal vein. Both were separate minerals, and no amount of natural pressure could cause them to coexist in one vein. The dwarf tossed the lump into the cart, which made a dull thud on impact.
Draezon nodded and quickly went to work at the adamantine vein. Bordin joined in, hacking at the gray ore in the wall. Draezon drove his pick into the smooth section of the wall while Bordin continued with his dented section. As he hacked away, he began to notice how easily the pick chipped at the stone. After two more hits in the same general area, small pebble sized ore dotted the ground. Draezon’s face soon became gray as well from the flying chips of stone.
Draezon continued to work at the vein, dislodging larger pieces of the precious ore. After obtaining a small pile he would bring all the ore to the cart in the sacks they brought. Both he and Bordin continued this process, stopping for breaks occasionally. A few hours passed, and Draezon soon realized that the cart was half full. Most of it was stone though, which was worthless.
After a long battle with the vein, Bordin judged that they had enough ore to create a decent weapon. Bordin smiled and pat Draezon on the shoulder with his blackened gloves.
“I am exhausted,” Draezon said rubbing his aching and possibly blistered hands. “I’ll just hack out a few gems to go along with my weapon.”
“Pick ye some good gems lad, and remember, get a lot of it. We have some of the best jewelers, but there’s a lot of work that goes into creating the right shape.”
Draezon went over to the ruby vein, which was very small compared to the other veins; only a few gems could be retrieved from it. Draezon carefully chipped at the shiny stone with his pickaxe until he eventually retrieved a fist sized hunk of ruby. He smiled as the light from the braziers flickered on its surface, and then went over to the sapphire vein. Draezon readied his pick and began to chip at the blue vein.
Oddly enough, he heard a crack before his pick struck the stone. Draezon heard a second one moments afterwards, and then silence. He looked over to Bordin who was looking over the ore in the cart, not making a sound. Draezon looked up as the sound startled him once more and saw two fingers suspended in the air. They were black and many times longer than Draezon’s. A large pop resounded in his ears as two more fingers joined the others.
Draezon looked back at Bordin again who had noticed nothing. A hand followed the fingers, and Draezon saw a dark red, heavily clouded sky through the hole. He backed up, pulled out his knife, and held his pick in front of him defensively.
Suddenly, the very fabric of the plane split open and a deafening roar ensued. The loud, guttural sound made Draezon’s spine tingle. Both of the oxen ran back towards the wooden gate, trailing the cart and loose pieces of ore behind them. Bordin finally looked over with a cry of “what now?” and saw what the man was witnessing, a large clawed foot stepping through. A massive form pulled itself through the rift in the air, which was sealed after its passing. It defied all laws of nature but Draezon didn’t care, he was backing up in awe. He gazed upon the massive creature in front of him, at a loss for words.
The beast was black and had a large red mane covering its neck. The hair extended all the way down to end at a peak in the middle of its back. A large face resembling that of a mountain cat and wolf at the same time stared at Draezon. The twenty foot tall beast had four completely red eyes and a large maw full of dagger sized teeth. A long tail with a large barb twisted menacingly behind the creature.
“Toruo demon!” Bordin gasped, finally gazing upon the beast.
The toruo demon looked at the dwarf and laughed in a deep and sinister voice. It took one step and the earth shook from the impact. “What do we have here?!” the beast roared. “A feast to welcome my arrival!”
Draezon looked to Bordin who nodded shakily. The dwarf pulled out his double headed axe and swung it at the toruo demon’s leg with all his might, and yet the beast received only a small cut. Laughing, the demon casually smacked Bordin back with surprising speed, knocking the wind from his lungs. Angered, Draezon ran up and stabbed his pick into the toruo demon’s foot. Instead of penetrating the flesh of the thing, the pick skittered across, scratching its skin. The toruo kicked the pick away with ease, knocking it from the necromancer’s grasp. Draezon sliced his knife along the back of its foot, trying to ignore the fact that they weren’t hurting the demon. The toruo demon growled in frustration when he drew blood.
Draezon went to retrieve his pick and found Bordin standing up next to him. The demon looked at them hungrily and held his hands together up above his head. A giant fireball formed in the demon’s hands, a swirling mass of writhing fire. Draezon vaguely remembered reading that some demons possessed the innate ability to conjure magical fire, but still the sight was more frightening than intriguing.