A Metacosm Chronicles serial

The path the Golden Paladin’s troops had been traveling across for the last day and a half was a wide road of hard-packed dirt, which wound through flatlands of sparse, scrubby trees and high grass. Somewhere just before the third necromantic marker staff, the sides of the road had risen as though it had been cut through a small hill. The staves’ presence alone was enough to heighten tension among the troops, and now being funneled into a chokepoint, they marched silently, ready to spring into action.

Hesa and the Golden Paladin had already had an emergency meeting inside the wagon and distributed orders to their army. This was an obvious ambush.

A choking green fog rose from nowhere just as the last group crossed the threshold of the embankments on either side of the road. The troops executed their orders immediately, the pounding of thousands of feet breaking the tense silence like a sudden thunderstorm. They barely had time to do so, as the enemy rushed in from all sides seemingly out of the fog. Skeletal soldiers engaged the Golden Paladin’s troops on the ground on both sides of the road, trapping them into the narrow space in between embankments, with skeletal archers taking position at the top of the embankments. Chaos immediately erupted as the two forces clashed, the world becoming a closed-in space of frantic motion accompanied by an oppressive din. Metal clanging, shouting, spells firing, the thunks and thwocks of arrows piercing the air or bouncing off the wagons — all intertwining and echoing.

The Golden Paladin took his place on the wagon as the highest point he could reasonably, safely get to to keep an eye on the flow of battle. As much as he itched to take his sword and dive in, he knew he was better suited to this role, no matter how it rankled. Hesa was beside him, her head and hands scanning, likely reading the Weave to find a source or weakness for the undead soldiers.

They had a time limit.

No matter how many times the bones of the skeletal soldiers were knocked apart, blown up, sliced or crushed, they would reform. And worse, it became quickly apparent that there was some other force at play here, as the Golden Paladin noticed unusual fatigue and unexpected mistakes among his well-trained crew.

“Lady,” he said to Hesa, part warning and part question.

“Yes,” she responded tightly. “It’s poison, the fog. I’m tracing its source.”

The Golden Paladin’s eyes darted, taking in the general flow of battle and instantaneously analyzing its patterns through long practice. A sense of dread settled in the pit of his stomach; the undead were pushing inward. In addition to reforming, they also were continuously pouring in from either side, seemingly endless. He shouted orders to shore up a faltering front here, to rescue a fallen soldier there, but the undeniable fact was that the ambush had been successful. His fist tightened on his sword grip until it hurt.

Beside him Hesa murmured: “Just … need to find … connection … thread … it’s almost — got you.”

With a triumphant gesture, magic that even the Golden Paladin could feel burst from Hesa, and the fog dissipated.

But the skeletons remained.

Hesa met his gaze. Though her skintone was snow-white to begin with, she almost seemed to pale further as she said to his unasked question: “I can’t. It would take me too long. There’s nothing nearby, which means it’s referred magic.”

“The staves?” he asked.

“We’d have to send scouts to destroy each one, and we have no idea how many there are and where they’re placed. Just one or two won’t weaken a spell matrix this powerful.”

The Golden Paladin gritted his teeth. Was he really going to have to use Alpha here? Undead were unnatural to the order of the metacosm, and so always had to be supported directly by the Weave. Alpha could eat that magic and unmake them.

No — revealing their trump card to Merlin, who was certainly watching, would condemn their efforts to failure before they’d even begun. There was no possible way Merlin knew about Alpha, and the Golden Paladin needed to keep it that way.

Think, damn it, the Golden Paladin berated himself silently in helpless fury. What are my options? What other tools do we have?!

…Me, the thought dawned on him with clarity. I was altered directly by the Creator. There must be something I can do, something endemic to me, to counteract things that are not natural. I refuse to believe I was sent here to fail so easily. He turned his mind to the place inside where a thin thread of light connecting him to the Creator waited, watching. You, who made me this way and offered no instruction, what can I do here?!

Trust yourself, came the answer. They are not natural. So, as one of the Creator’s hands, erase them.

With the confidence born of desperation, the Golden Paladin drew the thread of the Creator’s power — something he’d previously avoided out of fear and awe — to him. It manifested into the physical realm as a thin golden light (he dimly heard Hesa’s surprised intake of breath) which he wrapped around his own throat. Its touch sparked burning pain which spread from the point of contact, but he grimaced through it.

I am the Creator’s tool, he thought deliriously. Lend me your power, and I will cleanse the metacosm of the things that are anathema to it, in your name.


The word that emerged from the Golden Paladin’s throat was not in his voice — nor was it truly language at all. It was a command.

A sudden deafening racket of clattering overtook the sounds of battle, as each skeletal soldier fell apart at once. The Golden Paladin hurriedly released his grip on the burning power, then doubled over in a coughing fit that brought tears to his eyes. His throat felt raw. Hesa and Tiann’a were instantly at his side, fretting. He waved them away, wiped his mouth as the fit subsided, and straightened shakily.

Raising his gaze to check on the state of his troops, he stopped in surprise. Every soldier had turned to stare in his direction. In a wave, they each took a knee.

He looked at Hesa questioningly. She smiled and bowed slightly.

“Well done, my Lord,” she whispered.

The Golden Paladin had to clear his throat a couple times before he could talk — out of embarrassment, not because of the lingering strain to his voice.

Enough of that!” He shouted. “Leaders, squad updates! Anyone with empty hands, find a wounded and load them on a wagon! Scouts, find us a place to camp! Go!

Merlin’s ambush may have looked to be successful at first, but he clearly underestimates the Golden Paladin! He must be pissed! 

You know what… why don’t we check on him?

We enter the lush study of a mage who clearly thinks too highly of himself. The details aren’t important. There are a lot of artifacts and books and glowy things. All high-and-mighty evil mages are the same at their core, and their environment is a reflection of that.

Two men are watching a person-sized mirror, gilded and ornate, whose image is focused on an armored and winged figure radiating such strong golden light that only his silhouette is visible. The light washes through the room predatorily.

One, wearing a sick ochre-colored robe, is shaking with silent laughter. Suddenly he throws his head back and releases the keening howls of someone who has lost his entire shit. This is Maa’Resh, and if you’d have been here a moment earlier, you’d have heard the audible sound of the last thread of his connection to shared reality snapping.

The other, the kind of generic old man you’d see literally anywhere, is wearing a plain brown robe. This is Merlin. He is indeed pissed. A certain type of person might even compare him to a cow and a flat rock. He’s a dangerous type of still — the type that speaks of muscles clenched from head to foot, that promises death to an unrelated person or object in the search of an iota of release.

Merlin jerks an arm in a mini temper tantrum, and the mirror shatters. Maa’Resh wheels to look at him with one crazy, wide eye, and hisses, “You’re fucked.

Before Merlin can focus his rage on Maa’Resh, the laughing mage disappears, leaving behind only the echoes of his mocking giggles.

N.A. Soleil is a portmanteau pseudonym of the two authors' names.

You can read previous Metacosm Chronicles stories in past issues of Tumbleweird.