Ossuary (A Chuck Wendig Challenge)

Posted: April 5, 2017 in Fantasy, Fiction
Tags: , , , ,

This week’s challenge, a one word title. And yeah, this is a sly tie in to some other stuff I’m working on.

Anyway, read on and leave a comment if the mood strikes you.

Borys stepped, slow and careful, down the stone steps leading into the catacombs. Borys carried his own lantern, the flickering light illuminating the blank eyed stares of skulls, the carefully arranged femurs and tibias of the departed. Rich and poor, saint and sinner dwelled alike down here in the dark. All save the unconsecrated. Those bones were buried down by the crossroads to keep their spirits from finding their way back to torment the living.

Borys entered the chamber he was working in, a desiccated corpse laid out on the granite slab. His tools were already laid out from the previous night, an array of knives and saws, scrapers and chisels. He stared down at the corpse, silent in repose and wondered what kind of life the person had led. Saint or sinner, all the same in the end when it came to it. Bits and pieces to be broken apart, stored in the house of bones until such time they were needed.

He set to work, adjusting the light of the lantern to suit his purpose. He picked up a chisel, designed to break any remaining connecting tissue and set it at the hip. His hand closed around the handle of his hammer, knuckles already aching. He brought the hammer up and—paused. He strained his ears, waiting to hear the noise again. He heard it again. A scrape of metal on stone. A sound of chipping away.

Borys frowned. It would not be the first time a would-be grave robber had attempted to gain entry to the catacombs. Rumors persisted in the nearby towns that the catacombs held a tremendous treasure, the collective offerings and coins of passage accumulated over hundreds of years. The truth, as always, was more boring. What few items were offered Borys used to maintain his sparse existence.

He picked up his lantern, walked toward the source of the sound. His sandals scraped soft on the limestone floor. He caught sight of a flickering light ahead, and shuttered his own lantern as a result. No need to give away his position. Perhaps it was some of the local youth looking for a quiet rendezvous away from prying eyes. He heard a clang, the sound of something heavy and metal striking the ground.

“Gods’ blight on it!” a voice ravaged by hard liquor and harder living declared. “Careful with that chisel Hubert!”

“Easy yourself,” a second voice replied, this one like a wheedling needle burying beneath the skin. “We’re through. That’s the last seal.”

Not a pair of young lover’s then. Borys took a step forward, then stopped. Metal, cold and sharp, pressed against his neck. He felt the sting of his skin parting, heard in the silence a drop of his blood splash on the floor.

“Step forward,” a voice like scales on stone whispered in his ear. “Easy like. I wouldn’t want my hand to slip.”

Borys shuffled forward, still holding both the lantern and the hammer. Standing before an iron bound door were to men. The first was heavy set, a dark hood pulled low over his eyes, but his jutting jaw and protruding fangs marking him as something other more than a pureblood human. The other figure was winnowy and had an air of insubstantiality about them, as if about wind would blow them away. The eyes that stared out of the cadaverous skull were a feverish yellow, and a fine scattering of scales glittered on the figures neck. Borys felt his eyes drawn to the symbols hanging around the two figures’ necks, a flattened M forged in iron.

“Followers of Margedon,” Borys spat, forgetting for a moment the blade held to his neck. Now he knew why they were here, but who had told them?

“Priest here knows who we are,” the voice by his ear whispered again. The blade pressed against his neck a touch harder.

“Leave off,” the whiskey-voiced man said. “We’re almost through. One seal left to go.”

“I wouldn’t do that,” Borys said, afraid to speak up lest he cut his own throat open on the blade.

“I’m sure you wouldn’t, priest,” the voice by his ear hissed. “But then we aren’t you.”

“No, you aren’t. You are what? Corrupted?” Borys resisted the urge to move his head.

“A kin to that,” the sibilant voice replied. “You would think people would remember. But what do we find? One old priest left to guard the portal.”

The big man dislodged the final seal. He worked the chisel into the frame, but before he could the ground shook, dislodging bones with a dry clatter.

“What was that?” the wisp of a grave robber asked, eyes darting around the catacombs.

“Answer him,” the sibilant voice insisted. “Or I bleed you out here.”

Borys smiled. “Did you not heed the warnings? Did you not think a guardian would be put in place?”

“The bones! They’re moving!” The larger grave robber dropped his chisel, tore a short heavy cleaver from his belt.

“What do you mean?”

Borys felt the knife withdraw from his neck, and he took the opportunity to step back and pull out his amulet from within his robe. It glowed with a soft red light, casting hellish glow across the catacomb. The dislodged bones skittered across the stone floor, sending up clouds of dust. As Borys and the grave robbers watched, the bones assembled themselves into a beast like form with several legs, a fanged, skeletal maw, and whipping tail formed from a spinal column.

“Call it back, priest!” the largest of the grave robber growled.

A flickering shadow darted between the alcoves, the red light of Borys’ amulet catching on the blade so recently held to his neck. Twin bright eyes, like stars in the night, blazed out from under the hood. They caught sight of Borys and the figure moved toward him. The guardian intercepted it, bone claws tearing through cloth and flesh. The shadowy figure crashed into an alcove, but pushed itself to its feet, its long knife still in its hand. It tried to take a step forward, but found its progress impeded as skeletal claws reached out, hooked themselves into its clothes, dug into its skin.

“Ahh, get it off,” the shadowy figured screamed before being drawn back into the shadows and out of sight.

The big grave robber charged forward, swinging the cleaver down. It smashed through some of the bones, but became lodged in the rest. He tried to pull the blade free, but the tail of the skeletal guardian punched through the air, spearing the grave robber through the eye.

The final grave robber fled for the stairs leading out of the catacombs, his feet slipping and tripping on the bones under foot. He came to a skidding halt when the bones formed themselves into a wall before him. “No, no, nononononononono.”

Borys watched as the guardian approached, knocked the grave robber down, and closed its jaws against the robber’s skull. He flinched at the sudden crunch of the bone being shattered, but then it was over.

One the last of the desecrators was dead, the bones fell apart, scattering across the floor. Borys sighed and wondered, not for the first time, why whoever had created the guardians in the first place couldn’t have had the common courtesy to make them clean up after themselves.

  1. moteridgerider says:

    Nice little Conanesque tale. I liked the character, Borys – wouldn’t relish his job though!

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