by Plague Engine
Molcru finally exited the dense forest, feeling the sun shine upon his skin. At first, his flesh recoiled from the light, but he willed it to stay in place. There was nothing to fear from the sun.
He stood at the tree line, atop a tall hill that gradually descended down the the basin below. The flatlands were bursting with green grass sharp enough to carve exposed flesh from bone. The blue sky was devoid of clouds, and he spied several crows circling above. He would have to watch for them, in case the misguided birds decided to make a poisonous meal of his exposed head. He did not want them to die.
He advanced forward, choosing his lumbering steps slowly, so as not to trip and fall.
He then wondered why he was being so careful. Pain was a far-off, dried-up ghost of a memory.
So, in a rare moment of whimsy, he dived forward and to the side, crashing with a clanging symphony of metal plates into the ground. The hill and gravity took him, and he rolled loudly down its side, arms and legs upturning whole patches of earth where they slammed down.
He reached the bottom of the hill in less than a third of the time that it would have taken him walking, and he lay there at the slope's end for a moment, laughing quietly to himself as he picked clumps of grass and dirt out of his armor, eye sockets, and jaw. He had not indulged his spirit of fun in some time, and he had not truly laughed in years. It felt good to do so now, in the bright, morning sun among the shimmering fields of grass.
His tumbling complete, Molcru stood. He brushed himself off one more time, then began to walk toward the East, the sun smiling upon his rotting brow.
Hours later, Molcru could see the town of Razorbend up ahead. It was small, but busy, and an active nexus of trade for the surrounding region. Several roads met at its center market.
A thin, black tentacle reached out of Molcru's left shoulder and grasped his helmet, unclipping it from its metal clasp and bringing it over to his hand. He pressed the helmet down upon his head until the mechanism in his armor's collar clicked into place, holding the helmet on. It was an unsettling piece of armor. Its T-shaped opening was surrounded by vertical struts that extended downward, resembling the teeth of a skeleton, and a hood of metal plates grew down and outward from its base. It was constructed specifically to obscure light, so that his face could not be seen from inside.
He wore his helmet whenever he entered a populated area. He had learned from his many long years that most mortals treated the undead with revulsion and hatred, and he did not want to draw undue negative attention to himself. With the helmet on, he was usually seen as some sort of colossal humanoid; usually an ogre. People were normally confused when they heard an ogre form complete sentences, but his stature had a way of discouraging any inquiry.
However, he had become somewhat of a popular fixture in the area around Razorbend. The townspeople were extremely suspicious of him when he had first arrived, but did not attack, which surprised Molcru. He rewarded them for their gesture of cautious acceptance by growing a single godhafruit tree in the center of the town square. They had watched him from their windows and from behind cover, sure that he was going to smash something and bring them misery. Instead, he had knelt before a patch of healthy earth, and his right palm had shone with a deep green luster. From the earth, a tiny sprout poked up, then exploded in a rush of wild growth as it became a full-sized tree in a matter of seconds, sending soil flying everywhere. The tree's branches became laden with the luscious, red godhafruit, a prized and rare treat for the people of Razorbend. Then Molcru left, headed toward the forest.
Since then, he had occasionally returned from his new home in the woods to check in upon the town. He would speak briefly with the wary officials of the town, and replenish their crops if they were failing, then leave.
As he approached the town's front gate, he saw a group of young children running toward him, boys and girls, some human, some elven. Once they reached him, they began to climb up the struts of his armor as though he were a metal tree, clinging to the clasps and bars with unsuppressed glee. The added weight did not slow his inexorable tread.
The self-proclaimed leader of the children, a human girl in a red dress, held the rights to the esteemed location of Molcru's left shoulder plate, right next to his head, which was nearly the size of her entire body.
She said, “Mr. Molcru! Did you bring us presents today?”
Molcru said nothing.
“C'mon, please please please!”
Molcru stayed silent.
But as he walked, the grass ahead of him began to change. It twisted and danced, and changed into a rainbow of dazzling colors that stunned the eye. The children squealed and laughed as huge gouts of flowers burst out from the ground, throwing explosions of glittering petals into the air that fluttered down and covered their heads. Alongside the dirt road, several bushes sprouted with vigor, each densely packed with different species of sweet berries. At this, the children could no longer resist, and they jumped from his back, falling upon the fruit with unabashed delight.
The little girl called out, “Thank you, Mr. Molcru!”
Molcru did not turn around, stop, or say anything at all. But under his helmet, the sparse flesh near his skeletal teeth peeled back in a smile. He was fond of the children. They were polite, and always treated him with respect. And they had hard lives. The land around Razorbend was not kind to people or families, so Molcru always went out of his way to bring at least a moment of happiness into their day.
He approached the gate, which was open. Corlei, the gate guard on duty, saw him and raised his hand in greeting. “Molcru, it's good to see you! Enjoy your stay!”
Molcru rumbled, “Thank you, Corlei.” He thudded past the guard, moving toward the town's center.
As he walked down the street, he saw the town go about its usual bustle. Mothers tended to chickens, cows, and children. Men and fathers chopped wood, arranged store display shelves, and hauled boxes of fruits and vegetables from the farms around the town. They were preparing for the beginning of today's market, which would last until sundown. Traders and merchants would enter Razorbend all day, exchanging goods and currency with the townsfolk and sharing news from faraway lands.
Molcru advanced toward a cafe that orbited the central market square. This was where he spent most of his time while he was in town. The front of the cafe had not had any chairs that would support his weight, so he had grown a large wooden one directly from the ground. It was essentially a small, dented tree that had grown into the shape of a large, high-backed throne that would hold Molcru without splintering. It was currently in bloom, its few leafy boughs displaying pure white flowers.
He sat in it, looking out at the business of the market. A smiling waiter approached him. Molcru could smell apprehension coming from the young man; he did not know whether he should take Molcru's order or not.
He evidently decided to take the plunge, however, and said, “What can I get for you, sir?”
Molcru intoned, “A cup of tea would be greatly appreciated, young man. Emerald, if you have it. Two sugars.”
The waiter nodded emphatically. “Yes sir, right away.” He left.
The planeswalker sat there, stone-still, enjoying the noise and activity about him. He was fond of the quiet and solitude of his fortress in the forest, but he sometimes missed civilization. It was good to know that there were still upright people remaining in the world, people that were willing to accept his presence, and even welcome it.
Provided I keep my helmet on, he thought with a tinge of bitterness. There was no way of knowing how the people would react if he revealed himself to them. He assumed, like everywhere else, that he would be driven off, no longer welcome in their town. So the illusion persisted, as he had determined that these small moments of happiness were worth the secrecy.
From across the way, he noticed a figure walking toward the collection of tables and chairs outside the restaurant. It was human, and male. Medium build, with brown hair that stood up at odd angles, as though full of static electricity. He wore circular black glasses and a long, white coat that brushed about his ankles and billowed in the breeze. His shirt was white as well, and his trousers were black, as were his boots.
The man pulled a chair up next to Molcru's throne, and sat down, saying nothing. A slight smile played about his finely sculpted features.
The waiter returned with a cup of steaming green-gold tea and a saucer. He handed it to Molcru, who took the delicate porcelain gently in his enormous steel hands.
The waiter said, “Will that be all, sir?”
“Yes. Thank you.”
“You're very welcome. The owner instructed me not to charge you, and to give you the best tea in the house. Enjoy. Can I get you anything, sir?”
The man in the black glasses looked up with a jerk, as if surfacing from a daydream. “Oh. Ah, yes. Why not. A beer, if you don't mind. Your finest. Put it on his tab.” He pointed a thumb at Molcru.
The waiter, unsure of this, looked cautiously at the armored planeswalker. His helmet dipped slightly in a nod, indicating his approval.
The waiter replied, “Yes, sir. Any special brew?”
The man appeared to be flummoxed by the options for a moment, then said with a grin, “Whatever's on tap and really expensive.”
The waiter raised an eyebrow, but said smoothly, “Yes sir. Coming right up.” He left once more.
After a further moment of silence between them, Molcru grated, “A beer this early in the morning? Do we have special plans for the day, Dexun?”
Dexun shook his head, still smiling. “Nah. Just like beer, is all. What brings you into town, Deadhead?”
Molcru replied, “Nothing in particular. Have an interesting story for you.”
“Yes.” Molcru then related the incident with the young pyromantic planeswalker that had occurred several weeks ago. The waiter returned during the retelling and handed Dexun a glass of brown beer.
Dexun gave a low whistle. “Wow. Kids these days.” He took a sip of the brew and whistled again. “That is damn good beer. Has he done anything since?”
“No. He's 'walked many times since then, but he hasn't used much magic besides.”
“Strange. Well, hopefully he'll stay on his best behavior. He-... Wait. What did he look like, again?”
“Small. Brown hair. Thin face, pale skin. Fifteen or sixteen years of age, I would guess. Poor attitude.”
“Did he say anything about where he was from?”
“Not directly, but he mentioned that his father was a purifier on Borgad. Never heard of the place.”
“I have. Borgad. Yes, I remember that plane. I was there a few years ago, played a loveable vagabond and got taken in for a while by a charitable family. Stern, though. Almost severe, and very religious. A father, mother, and one son. The father was a purifier, a kind of mage they have on Borgad. The plane has had a problem with necromancers and undead for a long time, centuries, from what I'm told. Purifiers are there to cleanse the undead and combat the necromancers, countering their magics with burning light. They're like knights, but with magic instead of swords and armor. Very prestigious, honored families, histories going back generations.”
“And you managed to live in one of their houses?”
“I'm very charming. Anyway, this kid adored his father. Idolized him and his work, and was convinced of its necessity and benevolence. Told me that he wanted to take up his father's mantle after he was gone, continue the holy work. I didn't learn much past that, though. Don't even remember their names. I don't suppose you learned his?”
“Hm. Still, very strange. It's unlikely, but... I may already know that kid. And I might be able to...”
“Nothing. It's not important in the moment. I'm headed to Ravnica at the end of today. You should come with me.”
“I don't think so, my friend.”
“Why not? I need some supplies, and I'm going to check in with some of the old crew. They miss you, you know. Always wonder where you are whenever I show up. 'Where's Molcru,' they say. And I always say 'Home, like he's been for the past few decades.' You're a planeswalker, Molcru. That means you can walk the planes. Not just this one, mind, but all the other ones. Why stay on Krathia? What's here?”
“Home is here. I have no desire to go elsewhere. Not since our last adventure.”
“I still think you should come with me. If only to see your friends and to let them see you.”
“Noted, but I think I will stay for now.”
Dexun sighed. “Suit yourself. You need anything from there?”
“Some blade polish. My axe needs cleaning. And a vial of drake's stomach acid, if you can find it. I ran out in the middle of an experiment.”
“You and your experiments. Fine, Deadhead, I'll get them. But one of these days you're going to come with me to Ravnica, and you will have fun instead of shutting yourself in that lab of yours.” Dexun stood from his chair, drained his beer, and set the glass on a nearby table.
“Perhaps. Goodbye, Dexun.”
“Goodbye, Molcru. Try not to take things quite so seriously.” He winked, then walked down the street, melding into the gathering crowd.
Molcru carefully lifted the cup of tea to his helmet, trying not to crush the tiny handle with his thumb and forefinger. He poured a sip of the tea into the slit. He couldn't technically drink anything, as his digestive system had rotted out of him ages ago, but the huge mass of biomatter that clung to his old bones could taste the tea as it dribbled down into his chest cavity, and since it was a part of him, he could taste it as well, albeit in a roundabout way. The liquid was lightly sweet, and had a delicate, herbal flavor, with slight elements of fruit and spice. His body told him that it was good tea, and absorbed it, immediately digesting it and distributing the nutrients and water as evenly as possible amongst the myriad members of the colony within. He felt them writhe happily at the gift.
Once he was finished, he set the cup and saucer down at the table nearby, and observed the market once more. He considered purchasing some nicknacks from them, but then acknowledged that he already had a problem with collecting things, and it would probably be best not to indulge his hoarding instincts further. That, and the townspeople most likely wouldn't let him pay for anything anyway, which defeated half the purpose of purchasing in the first place.
As he was thinking this, a shout sounded from near the gate. Molcru's helmet grated on its track as he turned to see the source of the disturbance. As he did, he saw Corlei the gate guard running toward him, sprinting without reserve. He stopped before Molcru's throne and said, panting, “Molcru... Bandits. Outside the gate. I managed to get the children in, but... one of them is hurt. Little Fala. One of them cut her with a sword, we need your help.”
Molcru immediately stood, rising to his full height of more than seven feet. “Lead me to her.”
The guard ran off at nearly full speed, and Molcru kept pace, his thundering footfalls rattling wares from their shelves and sending baskets of fruit rolling down the street.
They reached the huge wooden gate, its doors barred with an iron brace laid across the catch. Molcru could hear and smell the raiders without, hacking at the thick, iron-reinforced gate with axes and hammers. They would get through eventually if not dealt with.
Molcru saw a tiny figure in a red dress lying in an improvised stretcher on the ground at the side of the street. Fala, the one that had thanked him for the berries not an hour ago. She was on her stomach, her back split by a huge gash that ran from her left hip to her right shoulder. Molcru could see that her spine was exposed as he came closer, and it appeared to be split as well. Without immediate medical attention, she would die, and no doctor on Krathia was competent enough to restore her ability to walk.
Fortunately, Molcru thought, I am not a doctor. He rushed to her, kneeling beside her miniscule form. He immediately reached for his mana, while the colony within him churned with rage, producing the secretions that would restore her in defiance of the damage that she had suffered.
He infused the liquids with mana, then channeled them toward his hands. He held them above her, and the glistening silver fluid began to flow from between the steel plates, dripping directly onto the girl's wound. As it gathered, it began to move of its own accord. It reached deep into her body, fusing with her blood and tissue and knitting them together from the inside out. Her spine cracked slightly as the bones realigned and fused together, allowing the spinal cord to knit in place. It took the place of the blood she had lost until she was able to produce enough of her own. The gash grew smaller, the flesh regrowing before the onlookers' eyes until both its sides had fused. The process left not even a scar behind, the only sign that anything had happened was her bloodstained dress.
He rose, saying, “She will make a complete recovery, but she will be unconscious for several hours. Bed rest and lots of fluids for two days.”
A woman came over from the gathering crowd and flung herself upon her daughter, weeping uncontrollably and saying, “Thank you, oh gods, thank you for saving her. How can I repay you?”
He said, “Take good care of her. That would be sufficient payment.” He turned toward the guard and said, “How many of them are there?”
“Six or seven. Big. Leather armor, axes, swords, and hammers.”
“I see. I shall return. Seal the gate behind me.”
Molcru lifted the heavy iron bar as though it were made of straw, then pushed the gate with one arm, which shoved back the raiders on the other side and opened it wide enough for him to step quickly through. He pushed it back behind him, and heard a clank as it was sealed once more.
The raiders were stabilizing themselves after being shoved off-balance. Molcru immediately analyzed them.
They were not special. Violent, stupid barbarians, from what he could see. He had put dozens of their kind out of other people's misery in the past. This would be a simple affair.
They backed away several feet upon seeing him. He was a foot taller than the tallest of them, and weighed nearly as much as all of them put together.
Molcru rasped in dead tones, his voice filling the air ominously, “Which of you harmed the girl?”
The raider in front, the biggest, smirked and lifted his long sword. It was streaked with fresh blood. “Little one shouldn't have tried to stop us.”
Molcru boomed, “You are first.” He lunged forward, before any of them could react, and grabbed the leader by the neck and upper shoulders with one hand. Molcru gripped him tight, feeling several ribs and the collarbone crack under the pressure, and lifted him bodily from the ground, holding him above his helmeted head. The man began to scream.
Molcru's voice thundered over him in a release of rage.
He released the contagion that had been boiling beneath his armor the second he had beheld the fallen girl. It exploded from between his plates in the form of a hideous black cloud that descended upon the screaming raider.
It set upon his flesh, peeling back his skin and exposing the muscle and sinew beneath. His eyeballs burst under the pressure of the sudden proliferation of bacteria from beneath their surface, releasing a flow of corrosive fluid that ate the flesh of his face with terrifying speed. His screams became louder as his internal organs began to liquefy, spilling out from newly-cut holes in his skin in a rush of foul-smelling red and black filth that pooled on the ground beneath him. Finally, the top of his skull ruptured in a sudden explosion of pressure, sending bone chips and red, gelatinous brain matter flying in all directions. The screams ceased.
Molcru tossed the wasting corpse aside and turned upon the remaining raiders, who were white-faced and horrified by what they had seen. They turned toward their horses, which were staked some yards away, screaming in abject terror.
The planeswalker's chest heaved with the force of his fury. He brought his hands up, gathering his mana, then released it and brought his hands down forcefully as he roared, “PERISH.”
As his fists came down, the very earth beneath the raiders suddenly rumbled, then exploded upward as huge masses of grasping black tentacles emerged from the depths below, whipping about and lashing around their legs and arms. All of them were gripped by the thick, ropelike masses. They struggled against their bonds fruitlessly.
Molcru raised his right hand, then clenched it into a fist.
As he did, the tentacles wrapped around the men coiled and wrenched, tearing all their limbs from their bodies at once with sonorous, splitting cracks and blooms of blood that sailed into the air. They screamed against their agony, and Molcru let them, relishing the sound. He let them hang, supported in the air by the tentacles and bleeding massively for minutes before he decided to end it. At his direction, the tendrils slid beneath the skin of the unfortunate men, entering through eye sockets, nostrils, and freshly ripped holes in their torsos. Once they were coiled and wound sufficiently around the bones of the still-breathing criminals, Molcru bid them give one last pull, and as they did, Molcru gave a final, wordless roar of pure, earth-rattling fury.
Their bodies came apart as though they were knitted socks unwinding, each bone snapped, separated and plucked from beneath their flesh and pulled underground. The screams ended as they came undone, becoming nothing more than piteous piles of unrecognizable flesh, viscera, and bone. The tentacles gathered them up and pulled them down beneath the earth, never to be seen or heard from again.
The undead planeswalker, breathing deeply not for himself, but for the microorganisms beneath his armor, turned about and knocked on the gate, reasserting calm over his emotions once more. He said simply, “They are gone.”
The gate opened, and Corlei greeted him, not having heard what had gone on outside the walls. He said, “Thank you, Molcru, come in, please.”
Molcru stepped through the gate, seeing that life had more or less resumed in the short time he was absent. Fala and her mother had gone, presumably to their home. The market was starting back up, as though it had never stopped. These people were too determined to let a simple attack get in the way of their dealings. Several passers-by gave him warm smiles or thank-yous for his service and kindness.
Corlei asked, “Did you give them a thrashing for what they did?”
Molcru replied simply and quetly, as was usual for him.