The Horn of the Dead lay before her, as twisted as her grin. Melenis lifted a finger and traced a path along the bony ribs lining the ancient artifact. The horn's bell, a great black mouth, opened as a mangled skull, screaming. Blood rubies adorned the bloated twisting surface like scabs. Nothing about the artifact was beautiful or desirable. In the dark of the treasury, surrounded by heaps of gold, jewels and artifacts, the Horn seemed as misplaced as an insult in a love letter-as misplaced as Melenis.
Melenis grinned, thinking of the relative ease with which she'd entered the Azrac's most guarded treasure vault. She cradled a fist-sized jewel. This could be mine, she thought. I could take it all.
Melenis dropped the jewel, turning back to the horrible thing of bones. It brought a smile to her face. Her eyes slanted upward near the edges as she took in the artifact again. Such a simple tool, one which would rend the fabric of the mortal world asunder. One blast and the dead would rise. With endless appetite they would consume every living thing, until….
Melenis stopped her thoughts; stepping back she craned her neck to examine the shape of the object. A truly wicked tool, she thought, while running her hand along the obscene curves in its form. Yet, who would create such a thing? The question bounced about her mind as she re-examined the symbols upon its surface. Etched into each facet of the rubies were runes of death magic. Evil upon evil, every inch of the thing stunk of wickedness.
A doubt gnawed as the back of her skull. The thing is almost too evil.
Melenis grinned at the notion.
The Undead have not the breath with which to blow it. Followers of the Undead sacrifice their breath to join the darkest ranks. And why would the Undead create a weapon that would give them insane power, yet not give themselves the power to use it?
Melenis pulled her had away from the horn. This is no creation of theirs. No. This is a weapon by which mortals may damn themselves. Something that will bring judgment upon the wicked and force them to pray for deliverance.
Melenis pondered the implications again. She knew the truth behind the Horn, and suddenly her mission had lost its savor. I will not be their instrument, she thought, tightening her fists.
Heavy iron struck wood, and the door to the treasure vault shook. Muffled shouts echoed through the chamber. Dust from sturdy ceiling beams showered the piles of treasure as the room shook to life. Melenis pulled the rags around her face and body tight, and pulled a hooded cloak over her delicate Elven features. They must not know who does this.
She turned to the horn again, then let out a groan. She stepped away into the shadows. Her lower body disappeared as she stepped further.
The vault door swung wide. A thousand shouts pointed at the inky black cloud surrounding the Horn of the Dead. The earth trembled. A wall of earth rose between the guardsmen and the artifact. Arrows hummed into the air, disappearing in the smoky black. Melenis screamed. The earth crackled again, and broke the Azrac guards. Some were buried, others impaled upon jagged rocky teeth. Curses sounded, invoking the name of Yaka.
Melenis wrapped her cloak about her, turning back to the horn. She inhaled deeply and held the breath in her mouth, then through her teeth she hissed. Putting her lips upon the horn, a low tremolo sounded. The Azracs paused, paralyzed in disbelief.
Melenis stepped back into the shadows and disappeared.
One of the Azrac guards twitched. Reaching up, it pulled the large section of stone from its torso. Without a breath or moan, the dead thing stretched its arms out toward the living Azracs. Weapons clattered upon the stone floor. Fleeing footsteps followed - and prayers.
by Ray Bingham, Triumph Studios