The storm worsened. Its clouds grew darker, choked off all light and brought an early nightfall. Rain became a downpour interspersed with hail, pebbles of ice battering armor and flesh alike. It made little difference to Eric. He felt the cold but not its effects. While the goblins frosted the air with their grumbling, he trudged on through the orange muck, glad he couldn’t smell the patrol’s remains anymore.
Visibility was a problem, in that there was none. He could barely see the ground a dozen steps in front, let alone castle Thrallen and its massive towers. The golem body enhanced his senses, vision especially, but ahead lay nothing but darkness and lightning. He saw no life essence or body heat, enchantment or movement. It was as if the storm itself was a magical construct, but he couldn’t see its energy from inside.
Grizzletongue looked particularly miserable, his gray hair matted over warty skin, wet clothes weighing him down and bony hands clinging to his staff. It was hard to imagine something so small and frail could wield any power, but Eric had seen it in the fight – was even living proof. Or animated proof. He wasn’t sure what he was anymore, with his soul trapped in the golem. He only knew how he felt, pissed at Griz and the goblins for what they’d done and torn by the strength and pleasure the iron body provided.
It felt good to kill!
He knew it shouldn’t, that it was wrong to take a life, but what choice did he have? Without life essence to sustain the golem, it would wither and die, taking his spirit with it. To where, he didn’t know. He was as much a prisoner to his instinct for survival as he was to the magic that bound him. Besides, it wasn’t as if he’d killed innocent children. He wasn’t a murderer. If anything, he’d made the world a safer place by ending that demon and destroying the undead patrol. He’d do it again, too, when he reached the castle. It was a win-win. The world gets rids of a lich and an undead army, and he gets a little stronger in the process.
That’s the kind of hero shit they give medals for, he told himself and held his sword with a tighter grip. And if the lich has a bunch of gold we can use to buy whatever Griz needs to put me back in my body, all the better!
Eric looked down at his iron hand, at the joints and grooves so unlike one of flesh and bone. His body still tingled with death magic and the black flashes of static across its surface. Glad the magic could heal him, since acquiring magic lava from the demon realm might not be possible anymore, he was still angered at how easily his body – the golem – was damaged. If a ghoul could gouge marks in the iron, what could a wyvern do?
“Why did you make me… the golem, I mean, out of iron?” he asked Griz. “Steel is stronger.”
While Eric’s voice easily cut through the storm, the shaman’s sounded weak in the face of its wind.
“Iron holds an enchantment better, master” he replied. “It would have been extremely difficult to weave a glyph into steel, and the outcome might not have been the same.”
“I look like a fucking cauldron.” Eric swung his sword in the air. At least he was growing used to its feel in his hand. “I suppose I should be grateful I have arms and legs.”
“And a head, master!”
Eric looked to see if he was joking. He wasn’t. “Yeah. Well, now that the spell is done, can I evolve the metal into steel? Or something stronger?”
“That was our hope, master,” Griz said. Eric gave him a blank look that stated clearly how he felt about hope. “I am not certain if the transformation will require large quantities of steel or if the essence you consumed will suffice. If material is not required, perhaps a better choice might be star metal. It is very rare, far more pliable than steel and nearly indestructible.”
“What, like adamantium or some shit?” Eric laughed at the idea of turning himself into a robot wolverine. “Ya know, for someone who can just snatch anyone from anywhere and stuff ‘em in a golem, you seem to know fuck all about how the spell works.”
Eric could see blood flush the shaman’s face as heat, but Griz walked on in silence for a long moment before replying.
“It is never an easy thing,” he said as if embarrassed, “weaving a spell with others. And you, master, were an unforeseen circumstance.”
“I’ll take that as a compliment.”
The sound of patrols on either side came rushing toward them, and a horn sounded from ahead in the distance.
Goblins rushed into position, and Griz said, “I think it is safe to say the lich king knows we are coming.”
“Thanks, captain obvious.” Eric held his sword in both hands, ready to strike. “By the way, was there a reason we brought an entire army? Seems all they’re good for is dyin’.”
Griz blasted a skeleton apart with his staff as it emerged from the darkness. “Some are more useful than others, master!”
Dark energy rose from the shattered bones, and Eric pulled it to him with an open palm.
“Nice!” he admitted and cleaved a ghoul in half as it charged him. “Well, tell the crappy ones to hang back or start suckin’ less!”
Goblins tried to flee but were pushed into the dozens of undead, died outright or ducked in time to let those behind suffer the brunt. Skeletal swordsmen, oozing ghouls, even a broken knight in full plate atop a long dead steed, the two patrols crashed into the goblin army without hesitation. Eric let loose a bolt of ebon energy into the face of a half-decayed dog. Its yellow eyes melted beneath the shock before its head burst apart. Crushing more with his sword, he absorbed their magic and used it against those who remained. Even the goblins helped kill a few, by sheer force of numbers and lack of choice.
The sound of horns grew closer, as he slew the last ghoul. He felt the vibrations of heavy footsteps coming toward them from all around. The attack had been a diversion. They were flanked and outnumbered. He even heard the pounding beats of winged creatures in air.
“Son of a bitch,” Eric said. “They’re gonna zerg us.”