Chapter 1

After all this time, after all I’ve been through; I’m going to die... like this! Cold rain on my back, choking on my own blood, face down in a puddle of it and I am going to die. Almost funny, when I consider how ludicrous it is... but I can hear her stepping closer, for the final blow. I suppose a man might wonder how he'd come to such a grisly end.

I don't.

I remember exactly when it started.


He sighed deeply, running his palms over his lining face and receding hair. Several times his grainy eyes blinked as he listened to the silence, realizing just how deafening it can be. He was draped upon the pew and looked like a sack of fat and bones, or at least felt that he did. There were days, fresh out of seminary school in the greatest damned city on God's green Earth, that he could have bedded the better half of the congregation. Oh, yes, there were days... But, that was a long time ago, and coulds mattered little when he'd not done a damned thing about it.

He lost all of his friends, some of his family and everything he'd once called his own.

He'd done it on a dare.

Pride kept him at it.

Faith helped him see it through to the end, and one day he was a priest. There was confusion and anger and temptation... (And when she's naked and right there! Oh! The what-ifs!) He put a lid on his thought and apologized. His voice, sudden and sharp, in the still air made him wince. The transition period, that time in a young priest's life when he says goodbye to people he's known for most of it, changed his whole world, it seemed, in a day. Really, it is not fair to say he'd “lost” anyone. He knew exactly where he'd left them. In the end, he was alone with the Lord.

The last of the congregation filed out ten minutes ago and took with them their fears and dreams. That was what he dealt in, really: Fears of damnation, dreams of Paradise. Some nights, he felt like a snake oil peddler, preying on the gullible masses with terrifying stories of a Vengeful Creator and a God of Love. With a soft creaking of joints or seat—he wasn’t sure which anymore—the priest rose, pulling the collar away from his throat with one hand and unbuttoning the first two with the other. He ran a hand down his once-handsome face and muttered, “No, I feel like a whore. Fucked all day.” His laughter ended in a drop of blood on the floor, the priest on his knees choking on the death in his lungs.

He hauled himself up on the ornate vestibule. He apologized, again, and wiped the slobber from his mouth. His sunken features fell in sharp relief above the votives. His pale reflection in the brass commemoration before him was skeletal, awful. He smiled at it and nearly shit his pants on the spot. He was afraid to raise his eyes from the dancing flames. He moved without looking, the action was reflexive. Every night he stopped to light a candle in remembrance of his late brother who had “been with God” for three years, to the very damned day. His knuckles whitened at the sides of the votive rack and he confronted the thing in the brass plaque.

A rattling sigh escaped him. There was a part of him that wanted it to be real. He shook his head and smiled at the silly old man he'd become. Beside the first, the priest extinguished the candle he lit long before the first Mass. That one was for the light that faded within him when Adam died. Adam had been his closest friend, his only brother. He asked God “Why?” that night. His faith fled before the silence of the answer.

Upon his lethargy-softened frame, he hung a simple wool coat. His left hand habitually slipped into the pocket to reassure that his Bible, worn and worried as it was, had not deserted him, yet. Thus comforted by that certain sameness, he stepped to the great, oaken doors. He paused a moment, hand out, inches away from the knob that would let the night in. For a moment, a quiet fear stole into his heart and he was unwilling to see the darkness beyond the door.

He chided himself quietly while taking firm grip of the doorknob. “Jumping at shadows,” he muttered, trying to find comfort in the sound of his own voice.

The brass was cold beneath his hand and, whistling in, the autumn wind was colder through his thinning hair. His face tightened against the chill and the pain that throbbed in his shoulder. Weather’s changing, he thought. His shoes made soft scuffing sounds on the stone landing. Gusting past him, a swift breeze whispered through the Cathedral, stirring the cobwebs and sighing in the sibilant language of ghosts and shadows. Glancing back into the warm light, the priest noted the candles were out, the casualties of wind. He did not bother relighting them. He clutched his old Bible to his chest as he stood in the darkness outside waiting for his eyes to adjust.

He pulled the door twice to make sure it was firmly latched and it made that sound like hard wind snapping damp sheets on the clothesline. He nodded and moved into the wan moonlight. Absently rubbing his gut, the priest let the holy work in his hand fall open to the space he hollowed out in his parochial school days. From it, he produced a pack of whatever was cheapest, snapped the Bible shut and dropped it in his voluminous coat pocket.

His hands shook. Damn it all, he thought, it'd been warm this morning! He jerked a smoke from the pack with his lips and a lighter from his pocket with his free hand. Looking at the wind as if he could see it, he stepped back into the lee of the stonework.

In the flare of the Bic, he saw a ghost in the sudden spark. The priest stumbled back, shouting for Christ in his surprise. The Bic chattered to the stranger's feet.

“Careful, Jacob.”

The prematurely aged Father Kelly moved to step away from the wall he had backed partly into, and opened his mouth to ask when he set his heel on the air beyond the edge of the landing. He lurched forward, to more secure footing, and cast a glance back at his near-disastrous fall. His breath came in shaky bursts. “I, uh… will be, thank you.” He recomposed himself with a long pull on his nail and a good, hard glare at the empty street. Many would find nearly falling to what would surely have been a broken leg, if not a neck, quite disconcerting. The priest happened to be one of them, feeling cold sweat on his back and brow and cursing his cowardice. The wind caressed him like a cruel lover, dragging icy talons across his half-hairless pate. His own fingers shakily scratched and tugged at a week's growth.

“Gluttony.” The acoustics of the porch made the stranger’s voice sound subterranean.

“Excuse me,” he demanded, whirling to see the source of his sudden temper. Smoke rolled across his crooked, yellow teeth, between cracked lips.

“One of your sins, is it not?”

“Well…” he considered the cigarette for a moment and the anger wilted into his gut, “I suppose it is.” He shrugged minimally. As if to show just how little the idea concerned him, the priest made quite evident the pleasure his vice afforded him, even though there was none. “Let he who is without sin,” he eventually mumbled.

“I have no stones.”

“Really,” he chuckled. “Rather high opinion of yourself.”

“Your sins are not my sins…”

“Of course not, my son. But surely you do not believe yourself to be without sin, for-”

“I was not finished.”

“Oh... Well, you have my sincere apologies.” A quiet chuckle escaped his thin lips. “You were saying?”

“Your ways are not my ways. Your god… is not my god.”

The priest blinked, shocked almost, at the audacity of this stranger, to blaspheme so blatantly to a man of the cloth. Old habits die hard. “Thou shalt not…”

“Your god has forsaken you,” the stranger interrupted. “You know this to be true, Father Kelly.”

The priest laughed, nervously. “Some… some prank, boys. Come out where I can see you.” This has to be a joke, doesn’t it?

The stranger stepped from the shadows. His pale skin was almost luminous in the moonlight; eyes clear and gray like winter skies. The gaping hole he wore for his nose glistened faintly. The hollow voice, not a trick of acoustics as Jacob thought, rang out again. He spoke slowly, and deliberately, like maybe English was not his native tongue, or he wished to be perfectly clear. “This is not a joke, Father Kelly.”

“How… how do you know my name?” Not human. He’s not human.

The pale one motioned towards the sign facing the street that advertised the Mass. The sleeve of his black, satin (pajamas?) shirt billowed in the wind, flapping like the dark wings of some death-bird.

The priest giggled with a sort of desperation in the mirthless sound. “Oh… Y-yes of course.”

The outfit—one that Jacob felt was Oriental in style—had a certain, Monkish severity about it. Jacob was terrified, his sternum ached from his heart striking it over and over again, but he couldn't run. He was mesmerized by the face before him. It was stark white. Neither the pale of sickness nor the translucency of albinism, the stranger's skin looked like bone made flesh. The cartilage had wasted away from (Leprosy?) some horrible disease or had never formed, for there was not a scar on him. A dim flash in the dark distracted him and he saw an object hanging from beneath the low-hemmed shirt. It looked strangely like a crucifix for the blink of an eye that Jacob beheld it. His skittish gaze leapt back to the stranger’s curious eyes.

“And we have been watching you.” He stepped soundlessly closer.

No shoes, Father Kelly thought, amazed at what one notices when terrified. His feet must be freezing. A faint smell tickled his nose. It was a familiar smell, tantalizingly just out of memory’s reach. “Watching?” He took a step backwards, towards the door and a bit farther from the (Monster.) stranger. The odd smell was getting stronger.

The black-robed stranger nodded, once. “…Since your brother’s unfortunate suicide. We understand you were quite close.” The pale creature maintained a quiet, damnably conversational tone.

Jacob stopped, fear consumed by rage. “How dare you,” he whispered, deadly quiet.

“Such things tend to shake one’s faith, do they not?”

“How dare you?”

“Our god is tenacious and does not so carelessly release its Chosen, while yours let him die, Jacob.”

The priest’s mouth hung open, his breath caught in his throat before he could protest. A single tear escaped his right eye. It was as if the black-clad stranger read Jacob's most buried secrets and most hidden emotions in the air. How can he know this? The smell, very strong now, Jacob realized, was the smell of graves: of rot and dank basements, it thrilled the most primal instincts of humanity. He was so confused, so shaken. He took the reek for the breath of Hell whose gates were opening beneath him.

“What are you saying,” Father Kelly demanded, his voice a harsh hiss, and a certain breathy panic began to fill it. It almost seemed as if Jacob sang his demands as a fluting birdsong before his sentence was ended.

“You have been Chosen, Jacob. Our god has deemed you worthy to serve.”

“I don’t… I don’t believe…”

“I know, Jacob, but you will.”

The smell of death was the last thing he knew.


A dream. It’s a dream.


Not yet.

“Jacob, wake up.”

Just let me sleep.

It was too late, however, he could already feel oblivion drifting away as he floated back to reality, to wakefulness, to pain.

“Welcome, Jacob.”

Slowly, head spinning, aching, Jacob sat up. His vision swam, flickering light dazzling his eyes. “Where am I?”

“A monastery.”

He recognized that hollow voice, now. He quaked with an unchecked chill of fear. “You…”

“I,” he interjected, “am Ahzd-Kelsh, Monk.”

It was all happening too fast. Only moments before, it seemed, Jacob had been a shepherd, now to find himself one of the sheep. So many thoughts raced through his frenzied brain. It seemed he was Alice, falling down the rabbit hole, the thing before him playing at the role of Cheshire Cat. The man swallowed, tried to work up saliva enough to speak a full sentence. “A Monk? Devil's... Monk?”

“The Devil, as you perceive it, does not exist. I worship the Dark God. It has many names, as any so ancient will. We, in this time, call it Mhr'Azakel.”

The priest stared blankly at him, not recognizing ‘Murazaykal’ as one of the Infernal Names. The priest could conceive of no “dark god” but the Enemy.

“In time, Jacob, you will understand. Come, the Templar awaits your offering.”

Jacob did not move.

The Monk rose from his low stool, turning away from Jacob towards the rest of the bare chamber. One small flame provided the only light from a table in the far corner. The smell of hot wax wafted through the chilly air. From the chain about the Monk’s waist dangled something like a cross, or a dagger. He sighed, almost regretfully. “Must I motivate you?” His pale fingers gently touched the cross-thing glinting in the wan light. It looked wickedly sharp.

Father Kelly blanched with fear, praying to survive the (Is it day or night?) horrors that were sure to follow. He scrambled to his feet with the scent of the sour sweat of fear rising with him. His body was stiff from lying prone on a hard mattress for what could have been hours, or even days. His head throbbed, his left eye was crusted shut with blood, and his clothes were stiff with some sort of residue dried upon them. His mind ran with hideous possibilities. What has happened to me? What is going to happen to me? Please, God… I don’t want to die. The small prayer was formed of habit, the words representing more irony than faith.

“Go,” spoke the Monk in black silk.

Jacob opened the door, the only break in the cell's monotony, and stumbled out of it into a stone hall lit with torches and cloying with the smells of dust and depravity. He was not alone with his tormentor, he saw. A handful more men, each in the vestments of his religion, were with him. The four others appeared to be Catholic priests, as well. Three appeared as shaken and disturbed as Jacob felt, but one of them was terribly calm. What is this, Father Kelly’s mind demanded to know, but his mouth refused the brain’s commands and made mutiny with its silence. There were more black clad Monks accompanying the other men, each of those creatures with a ‘cross’ similar to his tormentor’s. “Come,” commanded the tallest Monk and was joined by one of the others to lead this strange procession, two by two. Ahzd-Kelsh brought up the rear, alone. Two Monks in an adjoining passage could be heard speaking quietly in a language the likes of which the humans had never heard. They took up behind the procession, following at a fair distance but no less audible for it.

Jacob noted that all the Monks bore that same skeletal visage, voices that seemed to echo up from the Pit, as if they were traits of whatever these creatures were. Each Monk was dressed in the same formal silk, damnably familiar in cast.

As they walked, a small door at the end of the passage loomed closer; though none of the five men taking part in this forced march seemed very willing to pass through it; save one. That sometime holy man practically leered in expectation of every passing moment. The thin, smiling priest seemed quite thrilled with his particular place in these proceedings.

Something about the way his small eyes gleamed in the dim light and the cruel curve of his smile were quite familiar to Jacob’s eyes. Father Kelly seized upon the distraction, anything to get his mind away from the terror of his present position. The other man’s name was Father Webb, Jacob recalled, Daniel Elliott Webb. He presided over a small congregation across the bridge. Each time the Bishop held council, Father Webb was the loudest voice, screaming his devotion to Holy Mother Church with such passion and fervor, yet Jacob had always felt his peer held a dark heart and shadowed secret within his breast. Father Kelly let out a small, derisive snort that earned him a furtive glance from his fellows and a narrow-eyed glare from Daniel Webb. The tall Monk shot a quick look back over his shoulder and the men of the cloth were humbled by it. The fear returned to them as the march stopped so the door could be thrown wide. Jacob was certain an unimaginable fate awaited him beyond the portal, and he pressed shut his eyes in grim expectation of what the nearest of futures held in store for him. The faithless man was unceremoniously pushed through the doorway by the disenfranchised and Monks behind him.

A chorus of sounds and chaos of scent assailed him, then, as he stumbled upon a cobblestone walk, eyes snapping open to see the stars reeling above him and the earth suddenly rushing up to meet his face. His fall was halted—rather abruptly—by the steely, gentle grip of Ahzd who hauled Father Kelly to his feet.

“Careful, Jacob,” he chided, his voice torn by the night wind so that it was little more than a whisper, but a bemused one, at that.

The priest couldn't be certain, but the last time he saw the Monk there had been several yards between them. Whatever he was, Ahzd-Kelsh was apparently quick. The conversation in alien tongues at the rear of the procession halted for a moment as the small drama unfolded, but quickly regained its tempo. Jacob nearly chuckled, but his mirth and speech were stolen by the sights before his awe-struck eyes.

He found himself in a nighted courtyard, a stone wall looming above a handful of structures and small plots awaiting planting come Spring. He could see three buildings from his vantage, each one with its purpose. The procession had paused a moment, though Jacob scarcely noticed; he was utterly engrossed in his visual tour of the grounds of this strange new world into which he had been so rudely thrust. At that moment, even the pain of his battered skull had been forgotten. The buildings were all odd somehow, but the strangeness was a subtle one, and Jacob could not find the source of the uneasiness they inspired. To his right lay a… well, a dormitory of sorts. A cursory examination revealed three stories, the top two each bearing ten dark windows along its length and the bottom floor seemed to be as windowless as that of the building he had just exited. Jacob was sure the similarities didn’t end there. The dormitory comparison seemed more correct with each passing moment. On his left lay a long low structure with only tiny slits for windows out of which shone an unhealthy-looking green glow. The squat structure was black as basalt and flat roofed. The wind made tricks with his ears but Jacob was quite certain he could hear the keening wail of anguish within that sinister structure.

With no discernible cue, the procession resumed. Father Kelly jolted back into movement towards the final, imposing work of architecture directly ahead. He was dimly aware that others had joined the march; less so of the chill of fear that shrouded his peers. All his thoughts and senses were consumed by a great, unholy edifice rising like Doom into the night and looming larger with each step taken. It was built of great stone blocks right down to the ground and that may have been what set it apart the most as the rest were constructed of more conventional materials. Or, perhaps, it was the very shape of the temple (What else could it be?) with its strange, organic lines that made it so striking. It may have well been the alien accoutrements, gargoyles the likes of which sane men should never wish to see.

But it was none of these.

Unlike the other structures, that temple, that cathedral, that dreadful thing was most certainly alive… and Jacob knew, more than he had ever truly known anything in his life, that it was hungry. Something broke deep inside him, then, as he was ushered forward. His mind bent and his heart twisted in some unidentifiable way.

Great doors opened wide… and he was eaten.


There was a smell in the air, entering that short, dank entry hall. A scent that tickled Father Kelly’s mind, much the same w`ay it tickled his nostrils.

In his youth, Jacob had been the son of a hog farmer. He knew, even in his most tender years, that life ends. He knew that the living die and he knew this was for the greater good. He knew Man killed animals, his lessers, and ate their flesh.

The walls pulsated. Jacob looked and looked again and there was no doubting it: he was either truly and deeply insane or had been given some really good drugs. Every surface had been worked with such a degree of skill that no seams could be seen and not an inch had escaped the attention of the mad artist whose lunatic vision was surely responsible for such awful beauty. More now that he was actually within it, Jacob's unease grew. The walls, the pulsating walls, they were not stone, nor wood, nor steel. He wanted to touch one, to break the illusion, but the thought of actually doing so sent bile up his gullet.

Jacob’s father forced his son to slaughter the hogs for the dinner table. So much blood, with its rich, metallic smell. The colors were the rainbow of life. Remembering it years later, Jacob would know why men claimed to scrye visions with the innards of beasts.

Jacob took a deep breath, watching the wall quiver, trying not to scream. He breathed in full deep the odor of that passage, and he knew it for what it was. He remembered it, for it was once a familiar smell. The temple spoke in a voice that was not. It tore into his mind and raped his brain, “Come.”

Jacob held the knife with a shaky hand and his father pointed, drawing a line from gullet to ear. The boy didn't move, didn't breathe. Coward. He didn't even hear the hollering, at first.

“Closer,” it bellowed and Jacob's cerebrum caught fire in his head. The priest felt his feet moving forward. Somewhere pain isn't, his brain registered that he did not go alone. Ten shoes hauled themselves across the floor (FLESH!) while their owners wept and tried to hold the worms inside their skulls.

Tears flowed at his father’s hard words, but he did it. The knife was very sharp. He could never, no matter how hard he tried, forget that smell:

Jacob’s own traitorous limbs thrust him out of the passage (THROAT!).

The smell of sacrifice. The smell of flesh and blood.


Jacob’s knees became watery, and he collapsed to them, eyes wet with awe and terror. Confronted with the Templar, the humans were incompetent with revolted wonder and incontinent with twisting fear. Before them it raged, such a hideous jumble of Cyclopean revulsions that no sense could be made of its titanic mass. It was like standing next to a skyscraper, and trying to really see it.

The “temple” was a prison, Jacob suddenly knew, a prison for the… thing that was before him. No, not merely a thing. It was far more than that. It was a Thing; something so indescribably horrible deserved the capitalization. In the belly of this unfathomable beast, Father Kelly was a babbling idiot. He held closed his eyes, barricades against the god-spawn that squatted gigantic against the wall, was the wall, the room, the building. The last thing he wanted to do was open his lids, to see that gargantuan blasphemy.

He looked, because the Templar willed it.

Jacob screamed, at last, for he had no will left to stop it.

A voice, howling and whispering, threatening to explode out of Jacob’s mind and crush his skull with force from without, rolled forth. As the twisting coil of its body quivered and, far above, what could have been the insectile face of the Templar stared down it spoke to the five humans cowering in a world where monsters did not exist so short a time ago. Although it’s language was unknown to human ears, all present comprehended its meaning: Feed.

Jacob ran.

Like broken marionettes controlled by clumsy children, the procession's late arrivals gave awkward chase. Smelling graves, Jacob tried to bring life back into his shock-numbed limbs, striving to get his mind clear. He reacted by instinct, equating that smell with pain, and the awful and ungainly, yet damnably determined, movement of the mob tightening like a noose with evil.

The building that was the Beast the demon-Monks called a Templar erupted with a symphony of Hell. It was the sound of a thousand paper-cuts, the dying wail of Time, and the siren’s song of the Night whose voice is sex and whose touch: death. Jacob faltered, collapsing to the floor. Something in the buzzing, shrieking, whispering hiss of its scream did something to him. An electrical storm raged in Jacob’s skull, body flailing against the flesh beneath him. Silent statues lined the walls, medieval armor gleaming.

The ‘men’ approached a bit faster in their spasmethodical way, the shuffling of their shambling audible even over the echoes of the Templar. When the cold vises of corpse hands took hold of him he had not the energy to move nor scream. As he was dragged by the gray-skinned (zombies) beings, a low moan began deep within him. It became a hollow wail as one of the corpses looked to him with its dead eyes, lips peeled away from its rotten teeth and blackened gums in a permanent, grinning rictus. What might have been drool dripped from its cracked lips. As Father Kelly began to cry, sniveling like a child, the vile orifice amidst the Templar’s tentacular mass yawned wide. The grinning ghoul began emitting a bubbling, ratcheting noise, made all the more horrible by the accompanying contortions of its scabrous face.

It was laughing at him.

Hollow speech hissed forth from a Monk of the Dark God Mhr'Azakel. “Bob: enough.” The corpse silenced itself; face slackening as it shoved Jacob unceremoniously into the waiting embrace of the Templar’s lowest set of limbs.

Jacob stared into the gelatinous luminance and realized that he didn't want to run.

Ahzd-Kelsh approached, then, waving his hand towards the rotten slaves who shambled away from the priest. Jacob glanced up from the floor, befouled by the Thing’s excretions, to the dead backing away, the mirthful one with it’s foul, toothsome grin, and one other as it turned away, something horribly familiar about it’s manner and aspect.


His eyes focused on the pale of the Monk’s face with that moist hole where a nose should be. “Ahzd,” he breathed, “does it hurt?” The Monk seemed, at that moment, to be the only one he could trust in the world.

One should always be made to trust his patron.

The Monk smiled paternally as the orifice behind Jacob yawned yet wider, the roaring whisper echo of the Templar’s voice rolling forth from the walls of the building and the halls of the mind: Feed. Ahzd-Kelsh placed a hand upon Jacob’s shoulder and squeezed it gently.

“Not long, Jacob… not long.”

Father Kelly managed a weak smile, swallowing a sob, as he was devoured by the Templar’s perfect ungodliness.

The other clergy, awaiting their new baptism, their new Ordainment, into the church of the dark god Mhr'Azakel, trembled. Two fainted when Jacob screamed within the viscera of the Templar. He screamed only once, even as his blood began to flow and seeped out to further stain the mucous slick cartilage at the monster's base.


Jacob suffered thirteen days of agony, for that is the sacred number of the Patron of Ghouls, the dark god Mhr'Azakel.

He felt his soul withering deep inside his breast. He knew he dreamed, yet could not awaken, and behind every macabre face of his mindscape was the awful knowledge of what he had seen and done. His being burned away, his mind melted in the wake of the touch of a god. Never again could conviction fail this faithless man, for it had been forced upon him. Jacob could not question, could not conceive of questioning the insane murmurings that were the half-understood dreams and commandments of a creature that had spanned oceans of time so vast the human mind cannot contemplate them save through madness. Jacob was a new creature, then.

He had been Touched by the divine hand of the Unlord.

Nothing could ever be the same again.


Jacob did not know where he was, only that the hollow voice of Ahzd was speaking, and might have been for some time. He seemed to remember hearing his own voice break in occasionally, but it seemed a dream, everything did. He simply listened, still so physically wasted by his Ordainment that he had few other options.

“Like the Rite of Manhood each boy was made to struggle through in a simpler time, so must each human who is to become a servitor of our cruel master Mhr'Azakel, Whose Glory Fills the Night, must be reborn... Boys reborn as men, men as Chosen. It is not until the human animal is awakened to the truths of the world, invested with power by the Templar’s touch, and every aspect of their new lives is graced by the hand of Mhr'Azakel, Lord of Graves, that they are truly as Men.

“These people, the once-humans (Once?) who serve our god, have been given a suitable title to reflect their duty, and their position as lessers to our race. We call them “Preasts,” a word that marries the Catholic title of low rank with the term for a base animal, a lesser: a beast. It reflects the respect that they have garnered for themselves over the centuries in the eyes of my people.”

Jacob looked about, moving only his eyes. He recalled little of what had transpired in the belly of the Templar, but had found that he was now filled with purpose, a voracious hunger, and an inner strength unknown to him before. A rancid paste coated the inside of his mouth. Ahzd turned towards the small cooking stove, hickory smoke perfuming the air, and then back with a stoneware mug in hand. Gently the Monk raised Jacob’s head and put the aromatic brew to the man’s lips. So thirsty. Jacob drank eagerly; his parched throat burned as the heated beverage found his stomach gnawing hungrily at itself.

“Slowly, Jacob. You are quite weak; it will take some time to ready you for service to our god.”

Speaking, the Preast found, was more of a challenge than he had anticipated. He squeaked meaningfully. Jacob swallowed several times, attempting with little success to wet his throat enough to speak. He nodded minimally towards the proffered mug, with which Ahzd assisted him once more.

During this first period, most patrons are quite cruel to their charges, as it instills fear and obedience. Ahzd had always found, however, that service comes best through devotion and debt. Ahzd had almost never kept a Preast who did not Step into the Fold. All but one. He winced, recalling that failing and the Inquisitors ministrations afterwards, while gazing at this creature, his newest retainer.

Jacob licked his cracked lips and tried again, with some success. He croaked and vomited.

Ahzd was quick to roll him. There was tea there, yes, but there was also the Templar's seed, and worms.

“Remember,” it had commanded.

“I remember,” Jacob tried to whisper. A single tear escaped his bloodshot eyes to trace the angry red of a fresh scar down his face. Jacob’s eyelids moved relentlessly towards one another, regardless of his most fervent willing and heartfelt wishing.

In the darkened theater of Jacob’s tattered soul, Memory played out its movie.

Afloat in the stomach, or womb, or intestines of that giant, awful Thing, Jacob could not scream. He could not breathe! He thrashed and was held fast. He parted his lips, but was silenced; mouth and throat filled.

And, he was not alone.

Something else reached out, blurry in the vile fluids of the damnable beast that had devoured him.

“Jacob,” it called.

“Jacob,” again.

“Jacob, open your eyes.”

“See me.” Command or request, Jacob dared not ask while he suddenly found his eyes seeing clearly in the repellent fluids, and he looked into the heart of a god. Oh, how he screamed, vomiting out the invading tendril. Two of the other clergy fainted at that sound: the sound of a heart breaking, of a soul burning, of the Ordainment of Father Jacob Kelly into the dark flock of the death god Mhr'Azakel.

“Jacob, wake up!”

A slap, one that really hurt, and Jacob opened his tearing eyes and closed his screaming mouth. His face was pale, almost as white as the Necronite before him. A single knock sounded and a hooded Monk came into the chamber, which Jacob finally noticed was larger than the first one into which he had woken a lifetime ago. On some level, Father Kelly was aware with no small amount of relief that this room was not permeated by the smell (meat) that had been so cloying in the... temple, and that a window, though both solitary and of small size, provided a glimpse out towards the familiar twinkling lights of the skyline he’d known for more than a decade as home.

Ahzd looked to the second figure and bowed gracefully, moving a large pot from the stove top. The aromatic scents from the stew drifted through the small room and Jacob’s stomach roared with hunger.

“Kaer,” greeted Ahzd the other. He pronounced it Care. “He is still having visions of the god.”

“He must be kept quiet, he is weak.” It spoke much like Ahzd, but with a lighter, perhaps feminine, tone.

“I know, Kaer, I know…” he nodded, a look of thoughtfulness about him.

The other robed figure moved to the bedside and sat slowly upon it, pulling down the hood with finely boned hands. She smiled quietly at Jacob. He managed a weak smile in return, an unnoticed smear of saliva on his chin. “I am Kaer-Kelsh, Monk.”

“I… I am Father Kelly,” he whispered hoarsely. She frowned at him, damn near scowled at him!

Jacob must have looked as confused as he felt, for Ahzd stepped closer and placed a hand upon Kaer’s shoulder. “He has only just awakened, moments ago.”

She shook her head and sighed, a forlorn sound like a lonely wind in an abandoned house. She did not pull away from the other Monk, as Jacob half-expected her to. Indeed, she seemed to relish his touch, the corners of her mouth curling. She looked up to Ahzd, her eyes with an edge to them that bordered on both concern and sheer paranoia.

As Jacob looked at her eyes—pulling himself carefully to a sitting position beside her—he remembered his mother’s, so very clearly. They had spoken of soul-deep compassion tempered hard by the trials of life. Kaer had eyes just like that. Strong woman, he thought.

As her hair fell, long and black, away from her neck, Jacob could see a small mark there, like a brand, in the shape of that “cross” all the Monks seemed to wear.

She seemed to have felt his gaze, practically flinching and turning her body away from them both. “He must learn, quickly. The Council is watching us all the time.” Her voice quavered, shot through with a cool loathing, the tone one might reserve for an oppressor. She raised her slender arms and hugged herself then, as if suddenly chilled. “They are always watching, all of us, all of the time…”

He stepped to her and she let him slip his arms around her and hold her about the torso. “It is just you and I, my love. We are joined until Oblivion.”

Kaer turned in his embrace and Ahzd’s lips found hers. Time stopped for them, making the whole world a lifeless stage upon which they were the stars… just shining.

Jacob looked away then, embarrassed to be watching such intimacy. He felt like some strange voyeur, having never known the like of the bond between them.

“We are a nation, a church, of two, Kaer.” Shadows could have whispered louder.

Jacob heard her quietly respond, voice strained and a bit huskier than it had been when she had spoken of him. “You must not say such things,” she murmured. “You must not even think them…” She broke off, either unwilling, or unable to say more.

“I do not believe that the Council is as all-knowing as many take it to be. They are no more than we, no less…”

Kaer’s eyes flashed with fear as her gaze locked with Ahzd’s own. “Have you ever seen a Grand Inquisitor, Ahzd? Have you?!”

“Once… from a distance. They are fearsome, yes, but they are not gods…”

“Close enough! I have seen an Inquisitor flay a man with a look! You do not understand the power they wield…”

“Any more than you do, Kaer. Who can understand those fleshless fiends but themselves, eh? But you jump at shadows, woman. I cannot understand why you feel the need to fear the storm on the horizon while there are wolves at the door.”

“Wolves I can fight! The Council of Bones has reason to...”

The middle-aged man’s pulse began to quicken, inexplicably. It was as if a presence drew near, not unlike what he felt near the thing that they called a Templar, that strange sense of something ancient and powerful. But this was… different. The Templar had inspired some sort of righteous awe. This was more like a creeping, all-encompassing dread.

Jacob watched Ahzd closely as the other cocked his head to listen intently. Reverberations of footfalls preceded them up the corridor. Some sort of procession seemed to be taking place. There sounded to be at least a dozen pairs of shod feet pounding up the hall. When it seemed that the party was passing them by, Ahzd’s tense frame began to relax and Kaer stopped backing away from the door. Jacob’s sense of unease, however, had not dissipated in the slightest. When the heavy knocks sounded, the man nearly jumped out of his skin.

Kaer whirled around to tend the preparing of a meal. Ahzd none-too-gently laid Jacob back down and placed a finger to his thin, moist lips, pale as all the rest of him. The Monk then quickly spun and uttered a surprisingly relaxed “Enter freely. Our doors know no locks.”

Ahzd’s jaw muscles flexed beneath his skin and Jacob blanched with revulsion and fear as a pair of wahrghulls flanked the door with their finger-blades chiming. The beasts were roughly two or three men. Assembled from promising 'drones, the creatures bristled with weaponry and were sporadically armored. Their arms were twisting knots of glistening muscle, jointed in all the wrong places. Below dead eyes, their mouths were meat grinders: a pair of steel rollers bristling with teeth and attached to a chain drive. The Inquisitors’ guard had been fitted with what were known as pacifying spikes: long steel probes thrust deep into the monsters’ brains keeping the engineered aggression of the wahrghulls in check. Removing the spikes was rather like slapping a rabid animal in that only the crazy brave would take such a chance with his life.

The first of them was young, an apprentice, perhaps. It still retained a great deal of its flesh. The second was a full Inquisitor. It towered over its charge, all leather and steel. Jacob’s mind recoiled at the sight. The Inquisitor strode across the small chamber in what seemed to be a single, disjointed, step. Kaer spun to face it with breath caught in her throat and a cooking knife gripped firmly in her hand. Through a hideous, blackened respirator, the Inquisitor growled. Kaer dropped the blade to the chopping block, a quiet sound escaping her lips. For a moment, the knife rocked, as if unsure whether or not its work was done.

Ahzd began to protest, face creasing into an angry scowl at the mistreatment of his life-mate until heavy footfalls advanced into the chamber. It was very much like a dream, to see the Monk turn that slowly. Jacob’s own gaze followed his patron’s to the source of his fading frown. Jacob reeled; his head dropped suddenly back to his pillow with eyes rolling about like a pair of shiny marbles in his head. By the time his senses came back to him, the conversation had already begun. “…is gaining strength even as we speak,” spoke the hollow tones of Ahzd-Kelsh. “’Tis far too soon to judge.”

“It would be considered a favor, should one allow us to know when to judge.” Any ‘favor’ asked by the Inquisitors was known to be law. They were also terribly difficult creatures to understand, much of the time, as most had a respirator of some sort breathing for them after their lungs had wasted away. This one’s voice, however, seemed to issue from the air around him, disembodied and thoroughly hideous. The price of power is great, indeed.

“Anything you might ask of me,” the Monk replied, an edge making a weapon of Ahzd’s voice.

“We,” it began, gazing out from where it floated inside some metal parody of man—it was a corpse in a walking coffin, “are quite grateful. When will this one be ready for examination?”

“Very soon”

The youngest, the apprentice, nearly spoke up, but the hulking containment suit raised a hand in a silencing gesture into the air before it, exhaling a green cloud that began gathering on the ceiling. “It was an unsatisfactory specimen. The training has already begun for the rest. Do not fail again, Ahzd-Kelsh.”

“Indeed, I will not, my lord.”

“The one that is Kaer-Kelsh shall begin its training. The one that is Ahzd-Kelsh shall come with us. It is our most sincere wish that things should resolve this way. The Council would be most pleased.” Its respirator belched and hissed; green blasted from the ports. Upon the breastplate of the armor in which it existed was a runic symbol. Ahzd studied it for a moment.

He spoke almost hesitantly, almost shakily. The former bold brassiness had fled from his voice, “We would be pleased to do this thing for you, Inquisitor Bishop Strawn-Hyge.”

At the name, Kaer’s head snapped up from where it had sunk in resignation or relief, a spike of fear stabbing through her heart and making her eyes wide and bright. Jacob was ignorant of any significance of these titles or names, but he was not so dense so as not to realize the fiend breathing green was something terrible.

“Ahzd, you must not go,” Kaer demanded, the wet sound of tears in her voice.

Ahzd winced, and quickly spat, “Silence, woman!”

“We find this… interesting.” The metal suit took a step forward. A dark faceplate gazed at her. Kaer found her own face staring back, until the other side of the glass was suddenly filled with the green-lit, fleshless face of the living-corpse inside. She wanted to scream, Jacob was sure. He knew, at least, he wanted to. He also knew that if those metal corpse things spoke of themselves as we one more time he would scream.

Kaer reeled, hands moving to her utterly silent mouth, her throat. “Please do not oppose us, sister. We would be grateful for your cooperation in this matter.” Kaer dropped to her knees, eyes widening and fingers clawing at her neck, as if she were fighting desperately and in vain for air.

“Miss…?” Jacob sat up, slowly. “Miss, are you… do you need help?”

“Interdict,” the eldest spoke with its disembodied voice. The apprentice stepped aside and allowed its tutor’s obscenely jointed body past. Thorns or talons ripped into the meat of Jacob’s upper arm. What was once human in him screamed and fainted dead away when the mild poison kissed his heart. It turned on Ahzd, opening wide its engulfing maw and clawing hands. The last sound Jacob heard as the creature spun away in a blur after attacking in the blink of an eye was the bone-chipping sound of its laughter.

Ahzd would someday tell Jacob of how the Inquisitor overpowered him with alien claw and insect limb. He would paint pictures of words and mimic sounds depicting hideous sciences and mutilations, the flapping black leather of its gown, and how it had once been the creature’s skin an age ago. Ahzd-Kelsh eventually even told his Preast of what he could remember of the inquest that followed.

Ahzd was spirited away, arms twisted maliciously behind him. Kaer was released as the Grand Inquisitor turned away. Oddly enough, there were no witnesses save the gasping woman and the awakening Preast. She had collapsed to the floor and could do nothing, save lay there and gasp for what little breath Necronites required. Jacob rolled from the bed to her side and did his level best to cradle and comfort her, but she recovered rather quickly, as her sort do, and shoved the Preast away. Jacob did not fail to be impressed by such brute strength hidden in her small frame.

As he was taken, Ahzd saw only the hallway, heard only the mechanical, satanical Inquisitors. He closed his eyes and opened up his soul. He prayed to His Malefic Majesty, the Corpse-God Mhr'Azakel, Whose Glory is Eternal.

Chapter 2

She sleeps atop me for the first time in, I think, weeks. It is difficult to be certain of the passage of time when one is a fugitive. I know it is a foolish thing we do, to be so careless. Jacob should soon be returning with the package and then we must go. But for now… Ah, now I lie with my love and listen intently to the night sounds. Like a thief, sleep steals my thoughts from me. I awake with a start, unsure why. Kaer lies beside me now, but she, too, is awake and listening.

The door ceases to be, its space was filled with leather and steel and an expanding green cloud.

Why…in the Dark One’s name why did we cross the Council of Bones?

Off the bed, we leap naked to our feet, dropping like one and his reflection into the battle stance. I remember now… We defied them for Jacob.


A scream tore the night air. Man or beast, one could not be certain. A dark form moved with preternatural silence between shadowed structures and paid the wailing no mind. Were there anyone watching, that person might have seen him use his cross as a key to cellar doors set angled next to the monastery. But, there were no observers, and from beyond the high, stone wall the noise of a lone traveler’s aging car covered the sound of the doors slipping back into place. The black-clad being might never have passed for all the notice taken of him.

Seen from the street, the grounds filled half a block. A high wall kept the few curious out and secrets in, and offered some protection to the three buildings and a small garden contained within. It seemed almost quaint. Below, however, it was a different world.

Ahzd moved quickly and quietly through the catacombs far beneath the surface. Above, now, were the sewers and subways, below only Mhr'Azakel’s chosen could safely dwell. Were the outside world to learn of the extensive network of honeycombed earth hidden here, in darkness, the Necronites would be hunted as monsters, once again. This was unspoken law and the cause of the Monk’s silent sojourn deep into the bowels of the sprawling tunnels. He set out to follow the overhead conduits that would branch down from the storefront on the street near the temple grounds maintained by the Teknicians’ creations into the subterranean world. At the other end would lay the lair of the sadistic Engineers.

The Monk shuddered. The Engineers, Ahzd-Kelsh had decided, were what would happen once Mary Shelly’s macabre creation made more of its own kind. Not once in his five decades had Ahzd enjoyed facing those fiends.

He added some swiftness to his stride, knowing well that the evening was growing over-ripe in the world above, slowly bruising into nightfall. The vaulted stone around him offered little in the way of comfort or warmth. He could feel it drawing nearer with every step: the heart of the labyrinth in which waits the treasure and its horrific guardian.

The air grew thick and damp. The first signs that he was not alone here made themselves evident as he rounded the final turn of the twisting path to the well of souls. Far above, the Templar ingested corpses and shat them out down here, imbued with a kind of animation. Ahzd cast the beam from his light upwards along the chitinous tails or tentacles descending from on high much further than the Monk’s feeble electric torch could illuminate.

In the temple chamber far above, drones were busy toiling, feeding corpses to the hungry Templar. The necrodrones worked with ceaseless energy, untaxable reserves. Ahzd knew they had already toiled half the day away, and would continue on all through the night, for the dead never require rest.

Ahzd paused on his way to the warrens to see this morbid crop be harvested. Here, too, the walking dead toiled without complaint. Gently, drones placed the moaning and weeping “larva” onto soft blankets that were then wrapped about them. Larva seemed an oddly fitting term for these waxen creatures whose soft flesh would crumble before the slightest violence, but the Monk did not care for it.

These things had once been alive, vibrant even… but now were meat puppets given an unholy half-life by the raging blasphemy three hundred feet above his head. His mouth curled, as if a kind of sourness had entered it, and he continued his trek.

Beyond the birthing chamber, he found the descending cables and followed them through a hand-carved opening, coming at last to the natural caverns. Fitful light cast dancing shadows before and aft as the Kelshan holy man extinguished his electric torch in favor of the long burning flares that now illuminated his path. A single drone shambled down the corridor, bearing a bulging sack of flares. It replaced each one as the flame died, working with the efficiency of a machine. Titanic chambers yawned on either side of him with a natural beauty that could still the most insensitive of hearts, but Ahzd did not pause to admire them. He had seen them far too often to be moved, rather like one entering his own house yet again and scarcely seeing his surroundings.

A cascade of new sounds drifted on damp air with a limestone tang to the Monk. He could hear the Engineers now, and wished he could not. Ahzd had harbored a certain fear of the fiends, always had. The Monk of the Unholy Lord Mhr'Azakel was a well-read man. He knew all too well of the dangers one faced when giving such intelligence and power to those created only to serve. In how many tales of human imagination had the creations risen up, to unmake those whose hands had shaped them? The Gi felt that no risk existed here, unheeding of the history of the humans and the races that had been before.

Were the mistakes of Nod to be repeated again and again? Ahzd scowled, remembering how the mighty Gi had so disdainfully disregarded his warnings. The mighty, powerful, and all-knowing Gi… No. No, it was not the time for bitter sarcasm, but for the business at hand, and the business at hand required him to barter with the chilling Engineers, to step into their subterranean world of terrors.

With no small amount of trepidation, the Monk raised the steel ring high and let it fall to the striking plate. Before even the first echo had faded, well-greased gears turned and the door opened, seemingly of its own accord. The formerly muted sounds of the monsters working their craft took on a loathsomely clear tone when the aperture was cleared.

The Engineers did not raise their heads from their work. The larva on the table before them wept, begged them to stop. It still retained some of the mind it had in life, not yet realizing it was now a soulless husk, the primal clay from which the morbid curiosities surrounding it would shape any number of insane wonders. Only after laying open the sobbing larva from chin to sex and splitting its ribs, which were pried open like two macabre doors set to guard the soft insides from harm, did one of the Engineers turn to face the Monk. The larva, forced to watch this process, if not feel it, began to moan, sadly and softly.

Ahzd almost felt pity for the waxen thing that had once been a young and pretty girl. Lashed as it was to the steel table, instruments of torture or surgery on all sides, it could almost have been a darkly erotic scene. The messy and brutally precise work of the tormentors, however, held any thought of passion effectively at bay, even if their very presence did not.

The Engineer muttered, spat, and clicked at the Monk, speaking a language of the Engineers’ own devising. With years of troubled effort, Ahzd-Kelsh had learned the rudiments of that unnerving speech, all the more difficult for he had not nearly the vocal apparatus to speak it.

“No, I have not been to see the Teknicians,” he replied, then paused to listen to more of the insane gibberings of the thing before him.

Ahzd chanced a look back to the others and the wailing larva before them. The Engineers emitted a pleased sound as they extracted the Templar’s egg from the piteous thing that lay, now slack-jawed, on the gurney. Most often, the larvae lost all pretenses of the life they knew at this point. Slowly, the knowledge dawned upon them. This was not a nightmare. This was not an hallucination. This was often the point at which the larvae became either shockingly insane or utterly subservient. It was the time they became fit for an existence of utter servitude, in one way or another. The current subject had apparently opted for the former.

It strained mightily at the restraints, succeeding only in splitting its soft, waxen flesh. An Engineer pushed a heated probe deep into the larva’s skull, temporarily ceasing its every activity.

The Engineers carefully, methodically measured the egg, recorded its former placement within the larva, and split its shell to dutifully examine its contents. They then placed the hideous thing into the crackling maw of a waiting incinerator, jabbing at its chitinous shell with cruel steel barbs until it was thoroughly reduced to ash.

Ahzd was momentarily mesmerized by the clockwork actions of the grotesque Engineers; so much so, that he did not immediately realize he was being addressed. He apologized profusely for his inattentiveness knowing well the fickle nature of the fiends, and asked that the thing before him to repeat itself.

It filled him with loathing to behave in such a manner to what were, simply put, slave labor. However, angering the Engineers, and, thus, the Teknicians that were technically the masters of the monsters in whose midst Ahzd had thrust himself, would have been extraordinarily unwise on the Monk’s part. After all, everyone knew Horde Machen had the ear of the Hyge.

Ahzd listened closely to the whirring and clicks. He nodded slowly. “Yes, I have come to procure a unit. Has Bob been repaired, yet?” It hissed and clicked to a counterpart, which moved away, to the back of the Engineers’ morbid workshop.

The chamber, hollowed by the actions of Earth’s churnings, was quite large, with high ceilings. More than thirty feet wide and double that in length, every inch was scoured, polished and gleaming with a cleanliness that should not be found this far beneath the surface world. Shelves had been carved into both stalactites and stalagmites. Cages lined the walls, within were a menagerie that defied both sanity and reason. Some of the wretched bastards within looked as if Picasso might have designed the seeming randomness of their patchwork construction. But, like Picasso, a strange, scarcely definable symmetry governed their forms.

The Monk watched as the Engineer, who he believed had named itself Dr. Jest after the master torturer in Moorcock’s Elric saga, tapped its distorted digits against a huge, steel door as it passed. Behind the gate, the wahrghulls stirred a bit. Even from a good ten paces, Ahzd heard the darkly musical chiming of the “enhancements” given them.

Ahzd had once had the occasion to examine the beasts rather closely, and remembered the lessons taught very clearly. The wahrghulls were impressive in their calculated unnaturalness. Each of them loomed huge, not one of them under six and a half feet tall, nor, it seemed, well more than half that wide. Their skin had the look and sheen of leather where the muscles, grafted from possibly three other once-living creatures, did not bulge so impossibly large that fleshy coverings could not contain them. With a certain patterned randomness, steel spikes jutted from their bodies, branches of cruel metal off the plates bolted to their skeletons for strength. Indeed, was it not for this bracing of bones, the layers of inhumanly strong muscles would tear the wahrghulls’ bodies apart. Each arm ended in a hand onto which armored gloves had been sewn and each hand in fingers into which long blades had been grafted. The whole of them was designed to inspire terror, to inflict pain, and to kill. Somehow, the dark scientists of the Necrotic Lord Mhr'Azakel had found a way to rewire the beasts’ pleasure centers. The only action, the only stimulus, from which the wahrghulls could derive pleasure, was violence. This homicidal need was reflected in the moist pale of their eyes that spoke volumes of bloodlust and sagas of murder. No sane creature longed to come face to face with them more than once.

At long last, from some hidden alcove out of sight behind the myriad cages returned Dr. Jest with a necrodrone in tow. Ahzd almost smiled. For some inexplicable reason, he had some sort of affectionate feelings for the rotten thing that shambled two paces behind the Engineer, grinning like a loon. Some men had a beloved pet. Ahzd had a favorite corpse. The Engineer clicked and squealed at Ahzd who simply nodded in reply. “Come, Bob,” he stated and the mirthful carcass did as commanded and followed two paces behind the Monk, shuffling dutifully and, occasionally, giggling. Dead Bob, as Ahzd called it, was unique among drones. It had some rudiments of personality, and continued to retain those rudiments much to the Engineers’ chagrin. It mattered not how many times they stirred the creature’s brains with probe and hook. Bob had thus far retained its gleeful sense of duty through four lobotomies; standard procedure for drones was one. Ahzd liked Bob because the drone represented something special. It had retained enough free will and intelligence to function without supervision. The Monk favored Dead Bob because it had somehow not given up everything they had tried to take from it.

Ahzd moved quickly away from Frankenstein’s laboratory where the Dr. Jest and its malefic companions were readying the larva for the first stages of becoming a wahrghull. With a silent swiftness, punctuated only by the shuffling and chuckling behind him, the Kelshan Monk slipped by the toiling drones, hauling away more larvae, idly wondering why so many were being harvested. He stepped up and out into the night, full dark now.

The air was crisp and clean, a harvest moon hanging fatly overhead. He glanced to the temple spire, to the mammoth clock inscribed upon it. Damned Engineers… he had less than an hour to fulfill his task. He loped to the garage lying behind the tower and against the outer wall where it could not be easily seen and from where an instant exit was available. He had the drone haul out one of the carriages. Normally, the carriages are pulled by two horses, but the sheer brute strength of the drone was well up to the task. Ahzd approached from the barn with a pair of black stallions, pointing at the drone he said, “Hide.”

Ever obedient, Bob clambered into the coach. The Necronites had learned that most animals responded badly to the walking dead, even Facers, those designed to mimic life in nearly every respect.

Ahzd raised his hood, mounted the black enameled stagecoach after bridling the beasts, and directed them to the hidden gate next to the carriage house. The Monk worked the chain to raise the outer door and set the catch. After leading the stallions out he reached a hand inside to release the chain, jerking his hand out again moments before the wall section fell back into place with a bang that could be heard across the grounds. Content that none had observed his exit, Ahzd took the reins once again and goaded his team into a gallop. The Monk glanced at the clock tower one last time, seeing that time grew shorter, he took a whip in hand and snapped it in the air, driving the horses into a yet more frenzied pace.

Only the moon, riding low in the sky, provided any illumination beyond the scattering of stars across the infinite reaches of darkness. It was a tumultuous ride; chill autumn winds tore at the lone driver whose only companions were the thunderous rattle of horse and carriage and the corpse chuckling wickedly in the back. The few cars on the lonely back roads that passed gave ample room to the carriage.

The Necronites had gone to great lengths to establish themselves as a simple folk, a small religious cult akin to the Amish of rural America. Unlike those simple people, however, they did not encourage visitors, create wares to sell, or take prying eyes lightly. Most who had come too close for their secretive comfort either vanished or took sudden disinterest in them. Some were even allowed to rejoin their society, in a manner of speaking. Remade into soulless Facers, infiltration units, these crafty walking dead used the influence they had in life to silence inquiries or remove obstacles. All Facers were given deep understanding of the arcane processes whose strange fruit were necrodrones, and the ease of task to remake any Facer into something far less attractive and free-willed.

The End

(for the moment)