Tenebroum had built the grotesqueries as shock troops and cannon fodder originally. They were a mixed group of hairy, misshapen things that resembled nothing too much as a herd of spiders made from the cast-off parts of farm animals, with just enough pieces of human left in the mix to easily bind a true soul to them.

They were hideous things that were the exact opposite of beauty, but the Lich found its own sort of appreciation in those dull-eyed nightmare visages. Some of them contained legitimate experiments in new joint designs that might someday be used in some of its main warrior types, and others had alchemical bombs sewn into their guts so they could be violently detonated at the right moment. Most of them had but one purpose, though. To charge the enemy lines and terrify the superstitious humans before its marching waves of death washed over them.

That’s not what they were doing today, though. Today, they were scent hounds, stampeding through the tunnels beneath Constantinal, searching for the now-defeated city’s last defender, and they were howling as they went, desecrating every shrine and holy sight as they went.

The Lich gazed on in contentment from the confines of one of its new bodies in the ruins of the grand chapel that it had just leveled in an attempt to force the slippery spirit of the city to face it, but so far, it had refused to fight with the Lich directly. That was smarter than the darkness would have expected from such a prideful godling, but it could no longer stop the Lich. These games could only slow it down for a few days or a week.

Already, the bulk of its army was marching to points further north and east where new cities awaited their chance to be turned into graveyards, and already, all of its elite troops were gone. It did not need strength to find the hiding place where the city's guardian. It only needed numbers.

Even as the drudges of the recently dead began their nightly labors of moving the city’s forging equipment and the remaining corpses from the walls deep into the catacombs so that this place could be reborn as a new fortified laboratory, the grotesqueries roamed ever wider looking for some new hiding place to defile.

It was only hours later when one of them was struck down in a single clean blow that gave no hints to who might have vanquished it, that Tenebroum started walking toward that point deep beneath the palace. It was possible that a mortal yet lived, but it was far more likely that the city’s guardian spirit had finally been forced to act, and that was exactly what it had been waiting for.


It walked through dank, lightless tunnels, hopeful that it would finally face a challenge. Though Tenebroum did not enjoy being bound to a single body, this one was comfortable enough. It was a gilded afraid with only two arms and two legs, but all of the joints had been improved to allow an inhuman range of motion, and each arm split at the elbow, giving it an additional set of hands to wield its shadow blades or cast spells.

That wasn’t the only oddity on the overwise conventional form, though. The whole thing was made up of increasingly interesting sets of design choices that it had been working on for years. The crown that it wore contained a whole ring of eyes, removing all possible blind spots, and there had been an additional mouth stitched into the esophagus, just above the reinforced clavicle that the breastplate was riveted to so that it could cast those spells even as it spoke, or cast two at once if it needed it.

It sincerely hoped that it would get to try out some of these new capabilities tonight as its metallic footsteps echoed through the halls of the ossuaries. Eventually, it discovered the vivisected remains of its servant outside of an only barely detectable secret door.

Not sure what traps might await it, Tenebroum had but to think it, and the piles of bones that had been neatly stored behind it sprang to life. They joined together effortlessly like links of a macabre chain to create a skeleton that was too inhumanly large for any mortal creature, but that didn’t matter to it.

Together, its temporary giant reached around where the Lich’s golden body stood on an island of stability and placing one man-sized hand on each side of the door, it ripped the thing off the wall completely, revealing an ornate, mosaic-encrusted chapel that was done in blue tile and silver ornaments.

The Lich let the bones fall to the floor in a chaotic pile, and it walked forward into the hidden temple. It was likely a trap, but the Lich would be happy to fight the godling in its place of power, so long as it could finally snap its neck and consume its soul.


The place was empty, though. Statues that would no doubt come to life and try to kill it ringed the outer walls, but Tenebroum was unconcerned. Only a single candle on the altar lit the room, and as the Lich approached it, it flickered.

“I will drag your city down brick by brick if you do not reveal yourself,” The Lich shouted. “Or maybe you want to stay behind and see what it is I do to your reanimated corpse?”

The Lich vomited out a stream of pure shadows from its second mouth in an attempt to extinguish the flame, but though it danced and guttered, it did not go out.

“You think that power can overcome every challenge before you,” a disembodied voice rang out from somewhere in the dark. “This is the folly of youth and why it will never overcome technique and mastery.”

“So old age is what’s made you fearful, then?” The Lich called out as it looked for its opponent, who still remained frustratingly elusive.

The other flames on the candelabra began to light. It was almost as if the Lich had struck a nerve, and it pressed the point. “Thirty thousand lives lost, and the unconquered city is in ruin, all because you refuse to face me.”

The candles all flared to life in unison as the voice called out once again, “I know what you are, just as surely as I know what battlefields are hopeless. You are the one that chose to face me here. Remember that!”

Even as the godling spoke, the statues all began to stir as Tenebroum expected, and it sighed as its four shadowed sabers materialized in its hands. The story has been stolen; if detected on Amazon, report the violation.

When it was three-on-one, the Lich easily beheaded all three opponents, though that didn’t stop them from continuing to fight blindingly. When that number increased to six and then eight on one it fought with a bit more finesse and defensiveness. With four blades, it could be almost everywhere at once, and though its enemies notched and pitted blades held against its arcing dark magics, their stone limbs were still vulnerable, and they lost those without much difficulty.

It was a dizzying assault that was nearly overwhelming, even for it and the spirits of great sword masters that it had enslaved in each of its limbs. That wasn’t a problem either, though. With a few chanted words, the piles of bone just outside the room assembled themselves and charged into the room to aid their master.

The result was chaos, but it was a well-orchestrated chaos. Individually, the skeletons stood no chance against the stone constructs, but that wasn’t their role. They were there to distract the things just enough for them to slay them, which was exactly what happened next.

Tenebroum lost itself in the dance of the blades. It moved from opponent to opponent for the next several minutes and shattered the heart of each of the warriors, rendering them into nothing more than gravel that collapsed to the floor. Each death came with the loss of several skeletal warriors, but then, that was what pawns were for.

“So much for your vaunted skill,” the Lich taunted. “Nothing can match an unending supply of bodies, and as soon as you are dead, you will join my side as just another piece.”

“I would rather cease to exist,” the voice rang out again. This time, as it did so, the patterns on all of the colorful tiles flickered briefly and began to dance.

Tenebroum had some hint of what was about to happen next and turned its gaze to the door, but it was already gone. The tiles were moving now, each of them, in a complex puzzle that made shapes appear and disappear almost at random. It was an architectural kaleidoscope, and for the first time in months, it felt a twinge of worry rising up inside it.

Some of the symbols that appeared and disappeared on the flickering tiles were just random noise, but others were more meaningful. Religious and arcane symbols appeared and disappeared with concerning frequency.

“You are not the first terror that has swept across this land, and once you are sealed away, my city and the people of the land will rebuild,” the sourceless voice declared. This time, as it spoke, it appeared in a shifting gap between the titles. For a moment, the Lich was almost certain it was just a painting or fresco, but then it moved, lashing out quickly with a spear and slaying three of its dwindling skeletons with a single blow.

Tenebroum moved to follow up, but the opening was already gone. It had been replaced by endless ripping geometric designs and bright blue tiles. It barely had time to get its guard up in all four directions before another blow struck out, followed by another and another.

The thing it was fighting was the city, and as a consequence, it was the tiled chapel. It was everywhere at once. So even as the Lich parried with two of its hands, it started to attack the walls with its other weapons, trying to find a weak spot.

The thin layer of glazed ceramic shattered easily enough, but each mark was erased in moments as new tiles slid into view to replace the old ones. “You are foolish, even for a hellspawn,” the godling chastised as it continued to rain down blows on the Lich from all directions. “You have already lost, and you do not even understand how.”

The Lich ignored the words and dispelled the blades in two of its hands so it could pound through the wall to the tunnel it knew lay beyond. I would leave and regroup to try again now that it better understood what it was up against.

There was no hallway beyond the stones, though. Instead, there was an infinite yawning void that extended forever into the star-filled distance. Its mind swam with questions, but it said nothing. It would not show weakness in the face of an adversary.

“There’s no way out,” its adversary said to hammer home the point more than another blow ever could. “You have stepped into my inner sanctum, and as long as the city above still stands, you will never leave it.”

Tenebroum thought the claim was ridiculous. It was the darkness, so the dark could never bind it. It reached out, looking to pierce the illusion and find the way out, but that darkness stretched forever, or at least, nearly so. There was simply nothing out there to find.

It wasn’t until it reached out to one of the stars in desperation that it could see the truth. Each star was another version of the tiny island it stood on in this void, replicated forever in all directions. For a moment, a twinge of hopelessness went through the Lich as it realized it faced a magic it truly did not understand.

That was when its opponent struck. Even as Tenebroum’s guard lowered slightly, a lancing blow came out of nowhere. Piercing all the way through both sides of its cuirass in a single powerful strike meant to pierce its heart.

It did not have one of those, of course. There were a few places on the Lich’s gleaming golden body that could truly harm it, but the heart was not one of them. In fact, the heart was a trap it had built long ago, though it had never planned to use it.

As the godling’s shining saber pierced Tenebroum’s golden breastplate and shattered the glass, the ooze that had been trapped inside it lurched along the blade in its bid to escape. Against a normal opponent, the purpose would be to let the evil little creation devour the blade and disarm a troublesome opponent.

In this case, though, the blade was not a physical object. It was an extension of the spirit’s own essence. That was why it moved so quickly and surely. So, the thing that was getting devoured was not its opponent's weapon but its opponent.

The godling screamed in pain, and its spear vanished, but it was too late. The darkness had a taste for it now. Even as it stepped back into the maze of its tiles and vanished, the Lich could see its spirit flowing back along the ever-shifting pathways.

“If you hadn’t gone for a killing blow, you might have been able to keep me here for decades or centuries,” it taunted, “But now you can never escape me.”

Then the Lich struck, striking right through the heart of a symbol and into the spirit lurking there, just beyond. With the first blow, the patterns slowed noticeably, but with the third, they came entirely to a stop.

“It was a clever little puzzle box you built,” Teneborum chastised it, “But for all your talk of wisdom and patience couldn’t save you from pressing the advantage, could it?”

There was no one left to respond to its taunts, though. Its opponent was gone, and one by one, all the candles in this Byzantine cathedral winked out until it was once more in the dark where it belonged.

Now that the city's god was dead the title faded to dull azure nothingness and began to fall off the walls and vaulted ceilings in pieces. It would have loved to study what it was that had happened here, but it was gone now, and all that remained in its place was a dilapidated grave of another dead god.

“I will devour this one slowly,” the Lich told itself as it left the room. There were many secrets to be picked from the tattered remnants of the screaming, shredded thing that it still held trapped at the center of the whirling maelstrom in its heart.