Ryven: The Dead Killer – Short Story (Dark Fantasy)

“He comes from hell, there’s no doubt about it, from the gates of the underworld itself, where all great and terrible monsters come from.” The slack jawed mercenary took a giant swig, gulping down the mead in his clay cup.

The historian grabbed up his maps, keeping them from the clumsy mercenary. Estion had a hard enough time reading the maps of Old Romany without sloshes of mead on them. “You aren’t listening.” But he should have expected that from loose, unowned soldiers. He corrected his glasses. “Ryven is a sell-sword like yourself, just an ordinary man with extraordinary abilities. Not only does he speak to the divine dead but he slaughters them too, keeps them dead. Believe what you’d like but this man will aid me in my journey to seek the truth in Old Romania, in the crypt of Lamia, the serpentine queen of Illyria, wronged by the God of lightning himself through a forced marriage to the king of Umbria.” Estion couldn’t resist distributing a bit of knowledge to the less educated. The tavern was filled with them. “Jupiter, on his high castle in the sky, smote her lover and sent him to hell for unproven crimes. Lamia in all her fury vowed vengeance against the god by killing his daughter, Venus, the goddess of love, and spreading a necrotic plague across Old Romania.”

“Oh, shove it, bookworm. You called me here to summon the dead killer. I didn’t come here for an epic poem.” The mead spilled over when the bearded mercenary slammed his cup down. “If Ryven wanted to help he would already have shown himself, but seeing the likes of you, scrawny and meek like a mouse as you are, I’d imagine you’ll never get to meet him.”

See? That would suggest the man Estion had been seeking was here in this dingy tavern all along. He glanced around and only saw the dusty barmaid, her husband the barkeep, and the three others who didn’t share Ryven’s physical musculature. That was until he saw two glowing eyes peering at him from the shadowy corner, a man he didn’t notice before covered by a cloak. Estion stood and ignored the mercenary at the table.

As he approached Estion discerned that this was indeed the man he was looking for since this dark figure stood seven feet tall. Estion fidgeted with his glasses. “You are Ryven, are you not?” 

There was silence for a moment before a heavy breath cut through the air. “If you need things to stay dead I’m your man.”

Estion gripped his map tight by rolling them in his hand. “Gold. I have gold. My colleagues from the Great Britannia College believe in cordial methods of excavation of the Lamia crypt but I require more expedient means to obtain the treasure of the Lamia Prophecy.”

The large hood came down, exposing the massive gaunt and bony jawline belonging to Ryven. Estion had never stood in the presence of a Faustonian barbarian. His hands, the one that gripped the broad sword at his hilt, were rough like bricks and just as big. The skin that covered his rigid chest and arms were the shade of cinder. With the hood lowered his visage remained unseen in the dark. “Lamia is dead. Her plague is a nuisance to the Romanian coast. You are a scholar and must already understand that whoever takes the Withering Sword will become the plague-bearer, the embodiment of death. And you wish this upon me?”

“I am not asking you to sacrifice yourself. The prophecy does dictate that a man from the depths of the underworld would yield the sword, not a mercenary from Faustus. The sword represents death and you have the power to stave off this dark essence. That place can hardly be described as a hellscape.”

“I would disagree.” Ryven’s large arms shuffled. “But I have lived long and killed many. It means little to me to give into the darkness and become death itself. Many would say I already represent death.”

“So you accept?”

“Perhaps.” The dark man looked past him in contemplation. “What does the death sword mean to you?”

Estion bowed his head, considering the question and the short life of Donica, her golden hair lost to him forever. “It is said that whoever yields the sword controls death itself. There is someone I wish to bring back into this world. Her life was taken to her much too soon. These maps will lead–“

Ryven snatched the maps. “I will expect payment on my return. As for the sword, we shall see if the prophecies are true.”


Apollo’s chariot ran across the sky but clouds and mist pervaded the landscape of the Romanian ruins. Even the sun couldn’t escape the darkness of this place. Ryven strode over the cracked cobblestone roads and leapt over the fallen pillars from the days of yore. He had no interest in proving Estion wrong but prophecies could be broken the same way the immortal, divine dead could be broken, their decaying bodies decimated with his own hands and mallet, a mallet commonly confused for a broadsword based on the hilt. The scholar was confused in more ways than one.

Ryven unfurled the leather map and pointed a meaty finger to the statue of Jupiter across the icons of city buildings that used to compose the capital city of Illyria. A long forgotten map of a long forgotten time. He recognized the stone feet of the male god where the map said they would be, in the center of a gray and bleak market place. Crumbled building fronts had collapsed onto each other like tumbled toys, desiccated over the course of a hundred years. Jupiter’s broken feet stood out at the top of jagged ruins, standing amputated on a pedestal. How appropriate that the god of lightning would be left asunder on the tomb of an undead goddess.

He spat bitterleaf on the marble, yet grey and dirt covered, statue of Vesta, the goddess of home and hearth. The houses here were collapsed and empty, brooding with the souls of the dead. He could feel them. Undivine souls, forced to walk the earth in endless somnambulism, unseen to most men. A wisp of a spirit was peeking over the edge of a fallen roof.

“Ryven! How much further!” Joskin was yelling from the tree line, invisible except for his shiny cuirass. The other barbarian clansmen stumbled out behind him. They were unprepared as chickens to a den of wolves but he only needed them for fodder.

“Around the dismembered legs.” Ryven usually preferred solitude on his missions but there was something off about the scholar historian. He was too nervous and oblivious to the forces he was dealing with. Never trusting other’s intentions made him question the entire quest, especially one that led him this close to the origins of the plaque that brought the dead back to the living world. If the myths were true this would be the exact location Lamia turned against Jupiter and had slain Venus. The gods united in their rage and sent her to hell where Lamia made a pact with Orcus, the bearded lord of the underworld. This vile alliance brought the necro plague into existence.

The band of savages approached the pedestal, looking about like lost squirrels. Joskin noticed Ryven was moving away, towards the large archway to the west, indicated on the map as the central city palace. Places of death always had a stink of rot about them but these dark ruins smelt of a dark force that only his time in Faustia could have afforded him. There was the scent of bone and brimstone. The scent was more pleasant yet foreboding, like nightshade or a coming rainstorm.

A small clay head nearly tripped him. He picked it up and realized it was in fact the head of Lamia. He spat on it and threw the head towards the pedestal.

“Hey, what was that for?” Shouted Joskin. Suddenly a skeletal arm grabbed his leg and pulled him down into a pile of rock, followed by girlish screams. Several skeletons rose out of the rubble, their desolate graves nothing more than cobblestone and brick. Their Romanian steel cuirasses protected their skeletal frames, making them harder to kill. The telltale signs of a red scarf around the neck revealed them to be ancient praetorians from Rome. These undead soldiers were the last line of defense against the undead hordes that once flooded from the dungeon below. They had met their fate here as the clansmen were about to meet theirs.

A clansmen in a bear sash deflected a sword strike from the gladius-wielding arm that came from the ground. Four more Roman soldiers, ghoulish in their possessed faces, cracked through brick and engaged the men in fierce combat. Rorgun, the half-wit brother of Joskin, ran to the aide of his kin but it was too late. Joskin had his throat cut by the feeble arm that dragged him down. Harrowing screams followed. Men reduced to whimpering girls. Ryven spat.

As expected the appearance of necromatic light flooded Ryven’s vision. Being raised in the dark gave him the advantage. Being reborn in the pits of Faustus, the well-known gateway to hell itself, gave him insight into the great abyss of underworld. To a normal human the creeping Roman soldiers with their hard, mummified skin and exposed skulls, only gave off a sense of animus and decay while Ryven was able to see their invisible strings coming from the earth. Thin, spindly blue threads animated the corpses, emanating deep below. He scanned the destroyed city for the origin of the dark essence and found it in a crevice near the central forum building. The screams of the barbarians filled the air as he stepped towards it. They were known for slaughtering entire villages and he shared no pity for them.

As he entered the depths of the cracked opening he found a longer tunnel within. The screams died away as he progressed. The blue strings were becoming stronger. A shuffling of rumble came to his ears. He removed his mallet. Three Roman soldiers came out of the walls, pulling the veins of dead trees with them. His mallet found the skull of the first ancient soldier, smashing it to pieces as the enchanted mallet sprayed blue flame from his fingertips, severing the strings permanently. Another leapt over the dead with its sword in a forward stab. Ryven easily side stepped and brought down the skeletal ghoul. He then executed a move towards the last soldier with a smile on his face. He held the mallet aloft and bolted forward with all his might and performed and smashed the chest of the last ghoul into the dark ceiling, shattering its chest and necrotic strings.

At the end of the tunnel was a wide cavern. It was an ancient place that instantly filled Ryven with a sense of forsaken remembrance. This grotto was a ritual altar to the ancient dark gods that the pagans worshipped in the times of the ancestors by a peoples that didn’t understand the demonic forces they were meddling with. At the base of the altar were the bones of the sacrificed, the bones of children and the elderly, a group often abandoned for the lack of value provided to the small pagan communities.

Cracked rock plastered the far wall. Within the crack, almost breaching its way out was the Wither Sword. Blue wisps floated in the air, pulsing towards the sword, pointing like a finger. Ryven had been a death-bringer for so long that it didn’t matter to him whether he would become the embodiment of death. It seemed fitting.

He reached his hand towards it. The wall itself appeared to rumble. The sword was hilted in the representation of a scarab monstrosity, its tendrils curved around the pummel. A creature from the depths of the unknown. He gripped the unknown with a tight hand and pulled, dropping the mallet in his other hand. The wall trembled and shattered at his blue hand touch. A dark essence surged through his veins as he felt the screams of thousands upon thousands of lost souls. Dead soldiers. Undead picts. Wondering draugrs. Enslaved pagans. They howled all at once through a tunnel of angry red light. This had to be the prophecy he was meant to fulfill. But suddenly the voices became silent and the grotto cave was gone.

He stood on a plateau of fire and brimstone. Veins of lava spun webbing through the hellscape valley below. Before him sat the goddess that plagued the world above. A gem on the guard of the sword started glowing red, a gem he hadn’t noticed before. She stood taller than even the tallest statue, feminine in form in a red robe. Her fingers were outstretched with the untethered blue tendrils. The face she wore was also like a Romanesque statue, gray and weathered but lustrous like porcelain. She spoke with biting words. “Pathetic cretin, how dare you sever the bonds to my earthly vassals. I will see that Orcus punishes you for this disturbance.”

Mighty hands reached out but Ryven held the Wither Sword tightly and swung at Lamias massive fingers, cutting several off at the knuckle. She howled and arched back. “What creature are you? No mere mortal can resist the prophecy. How dare you defy me, the goddess of death, with my own sword?”

Ryven suspected that Estion was wrong about the prophecy but only now knew the extent. Gods often sought the help of mortal men to cross the earthen plane without distressing the mortal populace. Humans had a tendency to cause havoc amongst themselves when faced with the deific magic of other planes. Lamia wanted to do things her way, using walking corpses instead. If Estion was ignorant of these ancient powers who was leading him? Who was he really retrieving the sword for?

“I come from the depths of Faustus, the city of the ancient draugr and warrior tombs. My birthplace has afforded me god-vision and a long dead bloodline that allows me to speak to my ancestors and the dead of other forlorn places. I’ve come to end this plague.”

“Ah, and if you do you’ll become another harbinger of hell, of death itself. What say you to that?” The female marble face showed a smile, a delight of confidence.

Ryven slashed at the ground, spraying the blood of Lamia on the dirt. “Prophecy means nothing to me. Oaths, even from the natural order, demands to be broken. Even a god, even an undead god,” he smirked, “can be slain.”

Strings from her lifeless, severed stone hands reached out again this time blue wisps came from the cut tendons. They swirled towards Ryven. With a strong grip he struck as he spun, slicing through the ghostly threads. He followed up with a leap which placed him on the fingerless hand of Lamia. She drew back and opened her gaping mouth, lifting the hand high above. He only saw blackness and ghostly wisps reaching out from the gaping abyss. With the sword in hand he couldn’t be consumed by any spirit, even Lamia herself. As the screams of the spirit reached his ear he dove headfirst towards them, sword in hands hand braced.

The great throat boomed. He sliced into the roof of her mouth as the serpentine tongue wrapped around his waist. Continuing to slice Ryven realized he was literally in the mouth of the monster he had hunted so long. Viscera fluid spilled from the cut wound. Deeper in the throat screamed the long tortured vaporous spirits, trapped and controlled by the goddess. Poor, faithful worshippers and followers who never knew the evil they prayed to.

The blade pierced her divine flesh easily, the red ember on its hilt shining brighter. The power was immeasurable as it poured out and heated the enchanted metal. He had no words, no righteous indignation and no screeches of triumph. He simply dug down and carved until the throat was in shreds. This was what he was made to do. To slay God’s and goddesses that treated the world cruelly. This wasn’t vengeance. This was the way things were.

Ryven’s body flooded down from internal fluids back onto the plateau in a river of godly viscera. The blue lit cave before him still shimmered. In walked a figure. The silhouette took shape as the giant body fell face down in a gurgling smack. Ryven prepared his blade again for the newcomer. “I have felled a monstrous divine. I won’t hesitate to fell another.”

“You will do no such thing. I think you will thank me. For it was I who led you here.”  The scholar’s map was recognizable. At first glance Estion appeared in the same garb but his demeanor was changed. Gone was the hunched over bookish stature of Estion. Ryven wondered if this ever the man that sent him on the quest.

“The prophecy was mine and mine alone. Your oath was always to me whether you knew it or not.” An unfamiliar face. A familiar voice. He would know that dire expectation of obedience in front of any man.

“Ocrus, lord of hell and damnation. You allow your strumpet on a short leash. You shouldn’t express wrath over the end of your wife’s reign of terror.”

With a mighty rend Orcus pulled away the flesh that concealed him, peeling away the face first. Flecks of muscle fell away from the human puppet. Orcus the Mad smiled through the laceration exposing his own continence. “Quite right. She let the bitterness of lost love get the better of her. Only silence could prevent her oath from being broken. Silence through death.”

“The pair of you are the same, using resurrection magic is no different than taking over a human. Isn’t that breaking your oath to the gods above?”

“The gods are the ones who sentenced Lamia to death. She has been poisoning the world and taking more than her share. Even divine warriors had been struck down and corrupted. But Lamias death was foretold long ago. You are the prophecy. Now fulfill your destiny and do my work.”

He looked at his hand and felt the untold power. But despite all the talk of fate he didn’t waver in his actions. He sheathed the sword. “I am not your plague bearer. I am only the strong enough to wield its might. My destiny is my own and the dead still wonder the earth.” The chain of fate had been broken. Smoke came from the charred corpse that started to smell of gunfire and rot. Lamia wouldn’t return to the world of the living or the dead. A new realm would take her soul, where ever that would be. He pulled at his sword strap, shivering at the thought. “I will find my own way unless you wish to challenge the divinity of this sword.”

For a moment Orcus stared from a peeled-away face, anger building. “There are many more monsters in the world. You will face them alone. Defying the gods will only yield misery and pain.”

“Pain and misery are a part of who I am. When my body falls and my time is at an end you can have me. But until then I am a free man. I will fulfill the prophecy and be a bringer of death but not the way you anticipated.” Ryven gripped the handle tight and walked by Orcus who appeared to scoff. Death wasn’t such a bad moniker. After all it was already who he was.

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