Battle Skull: Muck and Mire 

Thunder rumbled through the cloud choked sky over the wretched land of Draken, a dead, cracked range of rocky planes in the far east of the realm where only the mad set foot. Flashes of lightning cut the black of night, taunting the parched earth with the empty promise of rain. A skull-like structure protruded from the otherwise barren landscape, illuminated intermittently by the flashing lightning. The structure’s gaping jaw was complete with jagged stone teeth, each as large as a man, weathered and fat with moss. Immediately beyond the teeth of what might be considered the lower mandible, rested scattered spider web laden piles of rags, bone, and discarded arms and armor. Deeper still within the skull-like mound’s macabre maw, laid the entry to a staircase leading down deep into the ground. Countless cracked, craggy steps terminated at a dank, dimly lit crypt. Here, Templus, a nefarious mage of the east, dabbled in his necromancy uninhibited by the peering eyes, judgement and laws of “civilization”.

The dark magician stood in the center of the crypt at an altar of ancient stone, certainly saturated with the blood of countless unwilling sacrifices. His hooded head hung low in the meager half-light offered by wall mounted candelabras, their candles’ wicks barley breaching nearly exhausted wax. He hunched close to the altar, his long tail snaking out from beneath his robes, curling about the stone base. Murmured incantations streamed forth from his wart pocked, whiskered snout.

The Necronoss Lantern sat on the altar before Templus, a magic relic from before remembered time. It stood a foot high and possessed a slim curved handle at its top, fashioned from bone. The mummified, grinning face of a cyclopean monster was stretched tight around the lantern’s cylindrical frame. A large red gem rested in its single eye socket. The malevolent mage lifted the lantern out in front of him with one clawed hand, murmuring with fervor. The lantern’s gem began to pulsate, dispersing an unnatural crimson shade about the shadowy crypt. Suddenly, Templus ceased his chanting, filling the crypt with ghostly silence.

The quiet was broken nearly as swiftly as it had begun by Templus’ now booming voice. “Come forth, servant. Come into the light cast by your Absolute Master.” he commanded. A few moments of silence passed and something shuffled in the shadows. Heavy footfalls heralded the emergence of an armored skeletal warrior adorned with a horned helm. Brandishing a mace and shield, Battle Skull stood straight, his exposed spinal column rigidly locked. The Necronoss’ disparate rays crawled over him then united as two focused beams connecting Battle Skull’s vacant eyes to the lantern’s gem.

“It is time to test your capabilities, Battle Skull.” said Templus, firmly clutching the ghastly lantern. “I have need of a gemstone. It is housed inside a skull mounted at the top of an enchanted staff. This staff is currently the possession of a powerful Old One. This ancient creature is called The Mire and it dwells in the swamps of Nogg.” Templus dictated as Battle Skull stood expressionless. “You will retrieve this gemstone for me. Go forth, minion.” said Templus, coldly. With that, the lantern’s gem ceased to radiate, releasing Battle Skull’s gaze.

The crypt began to quake. A casket fashioned from wood and iron, resting atop a rotating shaft of stone, rose from a black well in the floor. The casket door flew open, moved to do so by some unseen force. Battle Skull marched toward the casket, his massive boots kicking up clouds of ancient dust. The warrior lay down in the casket and the lid slammed shut. Flashes of lightning revealed an opening in the roof of the crypt. Templus watched with a beady gaze as the stone pillar rose toward the opening, bringing the casket and Battle Skull to tomb’s surface.

Pale blue light from the raging electrical storm flickered through the gaps between the boards of the casket’s lid, casting shadows on Battle Skull’s face. His eyes were aglow with the residual energy of the Necronoss Lantern.  He thought of nothing but his mission. Battle Skull lay there for a few moments before he heard the ear-piercing screech of iron sliding along stone. A Titan Owl, a monstrous raptor native to the Ragged Woods, had descended through the thick storm clouds and clasped a massive chain attached to the coffin. The creature’s eyes were possessed by the same otherworldly radiance that pulsed in Battle Skull’s own sockets. There was a sense of violent lifting inside the coffin followed by a leveling out. The thunder and lightning carried on their tumultuous conversation as the grim conveyance soared into the stormy sky.

The flight to the swampy expanses of Nogg was brief, though the journey’s length was of little consequence to Battle Skull in his trance-like state. Suddenly, the Titan released the thick iron chain from its gigantic, gnarled talons. The casket plummeted toward the bog below, its freefall rapidly cut short by violent impact with some unnamed patch of swampland.

The casket door flew open; Battle Skull jumped out, his boots sinking into the dense moist muck. Despite its nondescript appearance, the location at which the owl had dropped its cargo was not arbitrary. Battle Skull’s query, The Mire, was close by. The supernatural warrior bounded forward, possessed by the commands of his master.

A thick fog hung low over the swampland. The green, uneven landscape looked like a blanket of muddy vegetation draped over the muscled back of some gigantic subterranean creature. The intimidating terrain did not slow Battle Skull. All manner of swamp dwelling creatures scurried and slithered out of his furious path.

The seemingly endless mud and green was soon broken by the appearance of ruined monolithic statues. These ghostly stone images, slowly being devoured by the swampland, depicted ancient deities. The old gods were great in stature, had fleshless skulls for heads and their bodies appeared to be macabre hybrid compositions of plant life, flesh and bone. The statues embodied the glories and devotions of some long dead kingdom. Battle Skull trudged through the undergrowth, surrounded by these dreadful carvings.

After a short time, there appeared a ruined temple. Its roof and walls had been battered by the ages and were now strangled by vines and overgrowth. Still, despite its decrepit condition, one could imagine the temple’s former grandeur. However, Battle Skull had no mind for flights of fancy. He entered through the remains of an archway, concerned solely with his objective.

At the center of the temple, Battle Skull beheld a haunting creature with an expressionless skull for a face and vine-like tendrils bursting forth from its exposed rib cage. This creature appeared to be a living example of the strange entities the statues outside the temple depicted. Battle Skull knew this was The Mire. In the grasp of the creature’s horrible tendrils was some poor soul. The hapless victim was small in stature with a body not unlike a man’s but a bearded, impish face with a short snout and pointed ears. He appeared to be of the Weavley race of the far western planes. A simple, peaceful race, made up of family oriented farmers and tradesfolk. This poor fellow had clearly broken from a traditional path and ventured well beyond the boundaries of his village. This had surely been a noble decision at its inception but was now doubtless a source of regret. The victim appeared to be being drained of all his life energy. The Mire was feeding on him, absorbing the Weavley’s life force through the tendrils it had tangled him within.

Something stirred inside Battle Skull as he witnessed this unarmed, innocent creature losing his life. Some vague sensation and what might have been memories of another life flickered in Battle Skull’s spirit. This fluttering emotion was quickly stamped out and his focus returned tenfold. Battle Skull gazed, his eyes darted to the staff the grotesque Mire held in its hand. The staff had a long wooden shaft with the skull of some primordial beast resting at its top. Within that skull was the object Templus desired.

Battle Skull drew back his mace. With a twist of its handle, its spikes doubled in length. Wasting no time, Battle Skull hurled the pointed weapon. It sliced through the Mire’s tendrils with ease. The severed limbs dropped to the floor, the lifeless Weavley still in their clutches.

The Mire’s face was incapable of expression, however its eyes glowed with the ferocity of a scorned deity as it reeled from Battle Skull’s sudden attack. Battle Skull sprang toward the creature, his shield before him. His mace, lodged in the temple wall, released itself and returned to his gloved hand in mid-air. Battle Skull raked the spiked weapon across the Mire’s face, kicking up a cloud of bone fragments and teeth. The monstrosity lost its balance for a moment then recovered. Battle Skull landed in a crouch, poised to make his next advance. The Mire bent back as if taking an enormous breath and with a roar a sea of fresh tendrils burst forth from within its jagged rib cage. Battle Skull charged but was swiftly engulfed by the wave of vines. His arms and legs were bound and he was pinned to the temple floor by the Mire’s considerable strength. The creature tightened its tendrils around his limbs, perhaps assuming they could be easily shattered. Much to the Mire’s disappointment, Battle Skull’s bones were not as brittle as they may have appeared, no mere physical force could break them.

Battle Skull struggled against the vines. Though he had no muscles to speak of, his strength was supernaturally supplied and formidable. He yanked several of the fibrous vines out at their roots inside the Mire’s chest cavity. The monster roared and generated more vines to take the place of those that were lost. Suddenly, a group of bog toads crawled off the Mire’s back and scurried along the vines toward the struggling Battle Skull. The muscled, wart encrusted predators snapped their razor sharp jaws and flicked their deadly, poison-laden tongues as they crawled along the vines.  Battle Skull still stoic, struggled to free himself. He targeted several of the toads as they drew nearer with their salivating bloodlust. He fired beams of energy from his eyes and vaporized several toads. The toads were too numerous and they began to overwhelm Battle Skull. The red gem that hung around Battle Skull’s waste began to hum and glow at his command. A bog toad was priming to sink its teeth into Battle Skull’s face when the gem unleashed its force electrocuting all of monstrous amphibians. The Mire’s minions fell lifeless from its vines and from Battle Skull.

The Mire roared with fury, rattling the fragile stones in the walls and ceiling of the ruin. The creature lifted Battle Skull, still entangled in tendrils, from the floor and brought him to a macabre throne covered in carvings depicting grim scenes of ceremonial sacrifice. The throne had a grotesque sculpture of some otherworldly monstrosity’s head resting atop it. The Mire slammed Battle Skull into the seat. Vines burst forth from beneath the temple floor and bound Battle Skull’s arms and legs to the throne. The Mire stared into the eyes of the sculpture resting at the top of the throne, projecting a green energy beam from its eyes to the eyes of the sculpted beast. The sculpture’s eyes pulsed with a ghostly green. A flow of steaming, glowing sludge poured from the sculpture’s mouth and smothered Battle Skull. The Mire cackled with a sinister delight, fully expecting Battle Skull to be dissolved by the bubbling liquid. Battle Skull’s red eyes glowed beneath the deluge, he sat still and unaffected. The Mire was again visibly disturbed by this undesired result.

Mustering all of his strength, Battle Skull tore himself free from the restrictive vines around his arms and legs and, still dripping with slime, lunged at The Mire. The Mire drove its staff into the floor with both hands. Beams of energy flew forth from the eyes of the skull at the top of the staff. Battle Skull repelled them with his shield. When he was close enough, Battle Skull slammed the staff’s skull aside with his shield breaking it apart. Fragments of the skull scattered through the air revealing Templus’ desired gem. It was firmly embedded in a base at the top of the staff. The Mire looked toward the stone for a moment, shocked at what had occurred. As the creature glanced, Battle Skull swung his mace and decapitated it. The Mire’s head spun through the air, the glowing energy of unnatural life fading from its eyes. The Mire’s body swayed to and fro before collapsing to the ground. The corpse quickly decomposed, reducing to a pile of vines and bones as a multitude of glowing orbs rose from it and dissipated into the air. Battle Skull stood and wiped the last globs of slime from his armor. He lifted the monster’s shattered staff and plucked the gemstone from its nest and stored it in one of the wraps around his boot. He glanced at the Weavley’s lifeless body but felt his fleeting concern swiftly crushed by a command to leave the scene. He ran out of the temple ruins and returned to where the Owl had dropped him in the casket. No sooner had he entered the casket and the door had slammed shut, that the Owl descended through the thick cloud cover, took hold of the massive chain attached to the casket and lifted Battle Skull up into the sky.

Soon, Battle Skull stood before his master, Templus. Battle Skull placed the recently acquired gemstone on Templus’ alter and kneeled. “You have done well, slave.” uttered Templus. “This item will allow me to move forward with my plan to decimate Kade and his army of abominations.” Templus continued. Battle Skull knelt in silence, his eyes aglow. Templus commanded Battle Skull to rise. “You have defeated an Old One. You are as powerful as I had hoped.” said Templus. “The time will soon be at hand for you to play your part in a far grander undertaking. Rest now, minion. I will call on you shortly.” With this, Battle Skull returned to the shadowy corners of the crypt he called home. He stood stoically on an ancient, cracked platform like a decorative suit of armor. Thoughts flashed across his mind. For a moment, he saw the dead Weavley. Something moved within his spirit but was swiftly defused. The crimson glow of Battle Skull’s eyes faded into the murky shadows of the crypt.

THE END

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