The following is an excerpt from my third draft of Iron Fist of the Oroqs, the sequel to Wings of Twilight. In it, you meet Terrick the Grey, a Bonelord of Aita, goddess of death.
The ashen snow falling in Celtangate did not faze Terrick. The big man simply pulled a handkerchief from his pouch, covered his nose and mouth, and continued to his destination. As far as he was concerned, it was just something else that happened, no more concerning than if a butterfly crossed his path.
Arriving at his destination, he surveyed the building briefly, a habit he picked up from the war. There was no real danger to him in Celtangate, but most veterans of the Wars of the Witch Queen tended to be a little paranoid. Survivors of that war all carried scars which would never heal. She was defeated, but at a terrible price to the psyches of all who watched their fallen comrades rise from the grave and turn against their former allies. Terrick was forced to destroy no fewer than a dozen of his own friends, still wearing the wounds that killed them.
Rapping soundly on the door, he waited. The ash continued to coat his dark skin, and stuck to his black armor and cloak.
An elf opened the door, squinting in the light. He noticed the ash falling from the sky and cocked an eyebrow. “A harbinger of your arrival?”
“Hardly.” Terrick pushed past the elf who announced his arrival to the other occupant of the house.
“The Bonelord is here.”
Terrick cringed. While the title was technically correct, he hated the appellation. It made him sound like a fearsome beast, when he was but a simple servant of Aita, goddess of death. To most, that branded him a necromancer, or worse. In truth, he recognized only that death was a necessary part of the natural cycle of life. His job was not to bring about death. Rather, it was to help those who lingered or who suffered cross over. To the true faithful of Aita, death was not to be feared, and undead were an abomination to be destroyed. To mourn was a natural result, but to fight death off indefinitely was something at which no one could be successful, not even the Witch Queen.
The elf led Terrick into the bedroom. There two other elves knelt at a bed occupied by an emaciated creature so gaunt, Terrick wouldn’t have believed it was an elf without her family’s assurances. One of the kneeling elves stood as Terrick entered, turned to him and bowed.
“Ah, Bonelord, we appreciate your attention.”
The top of the elf’s head barely reached Terrick’s chest. His build was slight enough that Terrick estimated the elf to be about half his own weight. He supposed the size difference alone was intimidating enough without having to call him “Bonelord.”
Terrick held up his hand, “Please, just Terrick will do. ‘Bonelord’ makes me sound more fearsome than I am.”
The elf looked surprised. “Very well.” He gestured to the elf in the bed. “The healers say there is nothing more they can do. The sickness eats Feralia from within, yet she lingers, suffering. We—” the words caught in his throat. The elf swallowed and continued, “We hoped there was something you could do.”
“I am no healer; I can only end her suffering if that is what she desires.”
The elf gestured for Terrick to attend the bed-ridden elf. Detaching his mace from his belt, he set it on the ground beside him as he knelt alongside Feralia’s head. He pulled off his glove and placed his hand on her forehead, his ebony skin contrasting against the elf’s pale, yellowish-green complexion. So frail she was, her skin felt like paper to his touch. Her dark hair was matted to her head, and she burned with a fever that was almost uncomfortable to Terrick to touch. She turned to meet his eyes.
Terrick strained to hear the whisper that emerged from Feralia’s lips. She spoke in elvish, a language he now regretted never learning.
“She says she’s afraid.” The elf beside him reached and took her hand.
“Feralia is so young, yet look at how this sickness has ravaged her!” The elf behind Terrick sobbed, while the one who opened the door crowded in closer.
Clearing his throat, Terrick decided it was too crowded in the small bedroom. “Leave us.” He looked back at the two standing elves. “I will let the other stay to translate.”
The two elves glanced at each other uncertainly. The one kneeling with Terrick at the bed nodded at them. They left the room, pulling a curtain across the doorway as they left. Feralia whispered something again.
“She says she’s too young to leave this world.”
Terrick nodded. It was not an uncommon sentiment. He dared not venture a guess how young Feralia was; particularly virulent diseases took their toll in many ways.
“Age has little to do with death, Feralia.” Terrick looked into her eyes. They were glassy and red-rimmed, but Terrick could tell she still had her wits about her. The elf beside him translated quietly.
“Aita calls all to her, eventually. Sometimes, they do not feel it is their time. But ultimately, that is not for us to decide.”
Feralia closed her eyes and nodded. Terrick listened as she spoke at length. Her translator was careful not to talk over her.
“I’ve heard what our afterlife is like, but I wonder: is it true? What if death confines us to oblivion? Never to know again. Never to love. Just nothing. What if I never see my husband again? My brothers and sisters? Never again taste the morning dew on budding roses? Never again smell the hydrangeas in the garden, or hear the laughter of children?”
Terrick moved his hand to Feralia’s shoulder. “I have felt the power of Aita personally. I have heard her words. The gods exist. They exist; therefore, so must our afterlife. I do not know what awaits elves after they die, but I do not believe you face oblivion. Have you lived a good life?”
Again he waited as the elf beside him translated and Feralia answered. Her answers were slow; she fought to summon the strength to form the words.
“I fear how I will be judged. The Mother might reject me. Some of my actions as a youth were not respectful.”
“I do not know what sins you carry,” Terrick thought how best to assuage her fears, “but I know the Earth Mother is compassionate. The folly of youth is a common attribute to all of us. Making mistakes is how we learn. Learning from those mistakes is one way of atoning. Aita and Gaia are very close. They are family.”
Many people were not aware of the familial bonds between the Earth Mother and the Princess of Death. Aita was married to Nethuns, god of the oceans, the son of Gaia. Aita swore an oath to her mother-in-law that those who came from the earth would always return to the earth.
Terrick continued, “I can feel the disease that ravages you. Fighting it will only prolong the pain. I can take away the pain, but you must be ready to pass over into Aita’s embrace. It will be cold at first, but she will return you to the Mother.” Looking deeply into Feralia’s eyes, Terrick placed his hand over her heart. He could feel her ribs through her paper-thin skin. “This I promise you.”
“I am ready.”
Nodding, Terrick bade the elf to re-admit the two he sent outside. Picking up his mace he held it between himself and Feralia and placed her hands on its haft. Closing his eyes, he reached out with his mind. He heard the elves in the room gasp, the usual reaction when the flanged head of his mace transformed into a blood red skull. Calling on the power Aita granted him as one of her Bonelords, he touched Feralia’s mind. He saw her as she was, a beautiful young elf woman. Her skin was the color of fresh clover, and her eyes sparkled like golden topaz. Ebony hair hung in ringlets around her face, and as she smiled at him, the corners of her eyes crinkled. They stood together on an infinitely featureless plain, a place Terrick knew well.
You do not fear this place? Few Terrick brought here smiled at him.
I am with you. I do not fear what you will show me.
It was an unusual answer. Most of the people Terrick brought here were still afraid, and had to be guided by hand.
Why? Terrick wished to know more about this elf.
My family brought you to me. I know they wished only to relieve my suffering. Besides, she reached up and touched his face, our minds are as one. I can feel your suffering. My own is nothing compared to that. You have freed me, and for that, I am grateful. I can find the way on my own now. I hope, in time, you find relief from your pain.
Terrick’s eyes snapped open. Feralia was still; her hands still clutching the mace, now reverted to its more mundane appearance. The elves around him wept. No one ever reached into his mind as he eased their passing. His hands shook as he relaxed Feralia’s grip on his mace and reattached the weapon to his belt.
His pain was his own. He did not speak of it to anyone, and he hoped the words exchanged between him and Feralia remained silent. The elves showed no reaction to him, so he suspected the conversation occurred in his head. The pain of having murdered his wife and children was still his alone to bear.