Chapter V - "Shadows and Bones"
Clearly, not all Zell were of flesh, blood and life. Some beasts of Taelondria were indeed ‘animated’, but not exactly alive. Far from Kessoshaero, through and beyond the Desert of Marrow, where craggy mountains amidst pools of toxic sand traps abounded... was a phantasmal lair. A dwelling not simply ‘of the dead’, but one which housed the UNdead. Inside this fortress within the core of the rock-face was a cold, dark, and dreary existence. The ‘Zen’th Zell’ (Bone and Ghost dragons) resided within.
Nitrozite’s chambers were akin to that of a dark wizard’s. An ethereal library lined the walls, along with bony metal braziers and candelabra. Blue and amber flames crackled, drifted, and swirled--as if alive, but yet... not. Like the Zen’th Zell themselves.
Nitrozite sat in his spiky throne with a luxuriously commanding repose; back to his subjects. Reaching into a small cabinet of bone nearby his marble work table and arcane shelves, he selected a chalice forged from the claws and spine of an Ys Zell. Pouring from an oddly-shaped, funnel-piped carafe of what seemed to be blue and red blood, he held the drink aloft and sipped at his leisure... as he chanted phrases of evil.
The glowing Zell of dust and doom turned the pages of an old text with sharp, decayed claws. His bony digits wielded ornate rings of varied gemstones. Reading incantations, he continued to whisper; confidently intent to invoke... something wicked. The skeletal, broken remains of an Ys Zell were strewn out upon the marble table before him. As he gazed down at the fragile bones, Nitrozite’s words seemed to permeate deep into the tiny serpentfly’s skeletal corpse!
Scarlassh--a Zen’th Zell servant and executive of Nitrozite’s command--cautiously entered. He did not glow as did his Lich King leader, nor was he nearly as large. One of Scarlassh’s eyes was seriously maimed, raked with four scribbled scrapes all throughout. It was anyone’s guess as to whether the eye still functioned, but his other undead monocle was mostly clean and clear. At Scarlassh’s left and right followed two Zen’th Zell sentries. Lanky and nervous as Scarlassh was, he fearfully indicated a warning to his guards.
“Wait behind. He does not like being interrupted...”
Primarily against his will (but in favor of duty), Scarlassh began the long, arduous dozen paces which led toward Nitrozite’s bone-framed, metallic, marmoreal throne. As he drew closer, his master’s hellish chants (the very ‘SpohsZell’ which he whispered) induced Scarlassh to quiver with dis-ease. Nitrozite murmured: “Plok Cay Zen’th Cyur”. Scarlassh did not truly understand.
Scarlassh slowed as he stepped within mere wingspans of his lord, just at the back of Nitrozite’s imposing throne of luxury. The ethereal Zell of Zen’th ignored all distractions, yet Nitrozite was now aware that some intruder tainted the sanctity of his studies. But, he was too busy chanting spells (‘SpohsZell’) from the pages to break his spectral concentration for insignificant trifles. His hissing hexes did not relent.
“Plok Cay Zen’th Cyur... PLOK CAY ZEN’TH CYUR...”
Scarlassh waited for what seemed an eternity. He physically swallowed and leaned closer, lowering his head and wings, intent to issue a report. Halting him without even a gaze, Nitrozite raised a glowing, skeletal hand.
Nitrozite’s breath broadly drew out syllabic resonance like the very mantras he chanted. Scarlassh froze where he’d planted himself, closing his decayed mouth. Nitrozite returned to sifting through his mysterious tome of magic. The slow, deliberate turning of pages, his echoing chants, and occasional sips of blood from the Ys Zell bone chalice grew maddeningly unnerving. The two sentries which had entered with Scarlassh earlier looked on with hesitation and fear. They remained in the background, knowing better than to intervene. But Scarlassh had a pressing message, and, against any iteration of better judgement, the slash-eyed Zen’th Zell dared to address Nitrozite once more.
Nitrozite slammed the chalice to the marble and it was instantly pulverized. A scattered mess of bone, crystal, and metal debris remained--now amidst a shallow pool of dark blood. Scarlassh cowered and knelt, immediately aware that his very undead existence might now be forfeit. And no Zen’th Zell desired to be eradicated. Very different from a normal doom, no amount of magic could raise nor re-raise anything from eradication. And only this degree of pulverization could assure such an aspect of finality. Nitrozite had eradicated many: an action he did not hesitate to inflict upon those who crossed him.
Despite Scarlassh’s concerns, Nitrozite meticulously closed his book with a single claw, and carefully placed the leathery tome of magic upon the marble workbench. The wizardly wraith slightly tilted his throne toward his accursed intruder. His deep, scaly vocal tones pierced Scarlassh like poisonous claws.
“I was reading...”
Nitrozite’s visage and body were obscured by his position.
“Uhhh... hh... ah... apologies, my lo--”
Scarlassh’s babbling brays were cut short as Nitrozite proceeded with his maniacal incantation. Without further guidance from the antiquated tome, his voice echoed: “Plok Cay Zen’th Cyur” once more. Snaps of sparks and twirling swirls of bony dust gathered about the Ys Zell’s remains! The ghostly phantasm absorbed its decayed energies as the corpse dissolved into dry soot! Nitrozite glowed brighter--his eyes and limbs throbbing with increased energy.
“NEVER interrupt what you do not understand. EVER.”
“Nae, never! Nn--Never! Forgive me, my liege!”
Nitrozite clutched the book and rotated his throne full about, revealing a shadowy, ethereal specter of a Zell. His eyes: empty sockets which glowed of red, purple and amber. There were signs of tattered clothing and sinew all about the crenulations of his bone-work, but, merely memories.
“Now... what is it, Scarlassh?”
“It... it was a Ttt-TRAP, liege!”
Scarlassh had a propensity to stammer and stutter. But not simply when he was in the presence of Nitrozite. He stumbled with his Spohs in front of Casscadia... Thalagost... Vilophage: any and all.
Nitrozite disliked defeat--especially when it was delivered in spite of outnumbered foes. He’d sent five to face one. Victory should have been nearly guaranteed. The odds were stacked in favor--not against!
“Failure. Expected, of course. Written all OVER you, fool!”
Nitrozite launched the manual of magic at Scarlassh. It connected with visceral power, and several pages whipped and darted asunder, eventually floating to the stony ground of the desert mountain lair. Scarlassh cowered deeper, stung by both failure, and the heavy, leather-bound manuscript.
“My Lord, but, but it... iiiiit was Titan! TITAN!! He... you... know that... he is-- too... too--”
“Too strong! Too... too Vas for... for ALL of us! We lost Undreath and... and--we--”
Impatient with the laborious explanation (rife with pregnant pauses), Nitrozite snarled and looked away. He shut his glowing eyes. Visions abounded. Nitrozite began contemplating the battle via his own internal senses of deduction. He envisioned his army stalking Titan, but instead, the azure legend of strength took the initiative. All the while, Scarlassh stammered on, describing the destructive command Titan reigned over their inferior band of bony thugs. The azure Zell was certainly a force with which to be reckoned. Muscular and nearly as large as Nitrozite himself, Titan may have been the only Zell who could rival him--physically, that is.
Nitrozite postulated every strike, every monumental wing slap, every raking of claws. Imagery of the brawny hero smashing through and laying waste to his Zen’th Zell allies seemed... logical. Titan was aptly named.
“...Vi--Vilophage was sss--struck down, severed into two! Even Thalagost fell! Nitrozite, the two si... sisters also intervened! We were unable to retrieve it, barely escaping!”
The ghost of ethereal bone was especially displeased to hear of the two oceanic sisters having their curious claws involved. He couldn’t be certain exactly how they had interfered, but he made a mental note--with desires to exact revenge when the Time was correct. Scarlassh blathered on, but it was short-lived.
“Nitrozite... Nitrozite! What will--”
Nitrozite spread his twelve claws wide, exhaled with displeasure, re-opened his eyes, and leaned far back into his throne. He selected a fresh chalice from the cabinet of bone, and poured himself yet another dragon blood’s drink. As he sucked at the thick crimson and indigo liquid, he cast a devious stare at his one-eyed servant. He truly hoped for a glimmer of intelligence. Perhaps one day, but Nae--not now--not this Starseve.
“Hmm--truly an incredible warrior. Cunning. Brave. Unique! We shall send... congratulations.”
Nitrozite heartily drank, casually accessed a technical panel, and continued working. He quickly studied the pages of one work, and summarily cross-referenced others. He scribbled notes and perused scrolls and tomes.
Scarlassh was confused--bewildered beyond his normal state-of-existence. Expecting death, the ghastly Zen’th balked, glancing to his bone dragon assistants--each of whom offered no solace nor understanding. Scarlassh finally (and erroneously) shifted his attention back to Nitrozite.
This would have been a particularly excellent moment for Scarlassh to have acknowledged his master’s order, performed an about-face... and exited. Scarlassh, however, did not.
“I... but, Nitrozite, why wou--”
Nitrozite slammed his ivory fist on the marble, instantly halting the chatter. He whispered a hiss:
“Was I... unclear? Confusing?”
Scarlassh froze. It was at this moment that Scarlassh knew--he should have left. A sense of deep foreboding filled the air. Lit fires blew, whipping wax and sparks all about! Loose objects trembled, falling left and right, while others slid asunder. The ghostly braziers and Transylvanian candelabra littering Nitrozite’s chambers throbbed with red and purple illumination! A rumbling of shifting stones echoed everywhere.
Sudden swarms! Throngs of grey and brown undead Ys Zell appeared out of seemingly nowhere. The zombified creatures chaotically seethed and buzzed overhead and in all directions.
“Execute my decree or you will lie next to your fallen brethren!!”
Scarlassh and the Zen’th Zell sentries hastily retreated, dodging the infestation of locusts with each step. The three knew their orders, no matter how odd Nitrozite’s directive seemed. They would deliver the congratulatory message to their enemies at Kessoshaero. Whatever such trifles as this would achieve remained to be seen, but the three Zen’th Zell had no intentions of further aggravating their master.
Still settled into his throne, Nitrozite turned to face the archaic workbench once again. The swarm of Ys Zell had nearly dissipated, and a calm but eerie ambiance returned to the shadowy laboratory. The ghostly demon of the dead was finally left alone to his studies and incantations... or was he?
Nitrozite’s second in-command was a ghastly witch of cunning evil. Casscadia lurked in the dank shadows whenever evil was present. She wore a tattered cloak and hood of black, and the remains of Casscadia’s body were slathered in a viscous and deadly-scaled purple. She slipped into frame like a shadow scheming to become more than merely the absence of light...
Nitrozite was immediately aware of her approach--even without line-of-sight. The evil wraith possessed a level of intuition which defied logic, and tapped into the extra-sensory. His studies were many, and Nitrozite’s powers grew stronger with each passing Starseve.
“They do not understand, Casscadia. They cannot Jee beyond a single, pitiful Skyseve in this--existence.”
“They do not seek change, your greatness! But... I am surprised. Why would you wish to revert to your former ‘fleshed’ self? I find our powers to be doubled in our deathly form!”
Casscadia’s question was anything but non-sequitur. It was true: Zen’th Zell seemed to possess extended strength and endurance when compared to their living counterparts. But this was solely via the unholy graces of feeding upon and deracinating the recently perished souls of the living. Still, there was something more about their state of existence which Nitrozite knew, but Casscadia did not. Something he was not revealing.
The skeletal wraith ran his claws over the many chronicles he’d previously organized, continuing his research. He drank a hefty swig of blood from his chalice, and ruminated as he lamented. Nitrozite’s experiments and careful analysis of the tomes he’d collected over the Epochs had served him well. They provided edification in ways which few Zen’th could truly comprehend. Much like humans... they did not understand.
“We ARE powerful. But this state of transition is... incomplete. I sense it... I feel it. You do not know what I Jee.”
Casscadia was instinctively intrigued. She too had studied well and learned much as the Epochs had passed. Nitrozite was also unaware of what she knew, or, perhaps it was better described as what she did not reveal. And so, the deceptive witch followed suit, also pouring herself a coagulated drink.
“Perhaps one Moonsday, you shall teach me. But for now, I have a new plan, liege. One which Titan could NEVER survive!”
Nitrozite stopped. Intelligence and cunning were traits which Scarlassh rarely offered, but Casscadia seemed to embody both more and more with each cycle of Taelondria’s two moons. With a devious curiousity and a smirk, the phantasm of bone looked up from his devices.
“We approach the wrong way, lord. The path is not direct... but circular: a way of STEALTH!”
With conviction and revenge upon his lips, Nitrozite sneered, revealing a bed of stiletto-shaped, serrated teeth. The hollow sockets he had in lieu of eyes pulsed and throbbed.
Shadows flickered as the wind blew, and the demonic candelabra burned onward into the night. Their collective laughter echoed throughout the stony halls of Nitrozite’s skeletal, craggy demesne.