The Lich is an unparalleled existence born from anguished souls fused to a skeleton. Their innate mana capacity and control is equivalent to even the strongest human mages. They usually dwell in decrepit castles, isolated from the world.
One Lich, Doevm, was sitting on his grand throne. The blue flames that served as his eyes went left to right, scanning the book in his skeletal hands. This was his usual routine. Without human desires he was free to study magic at every hour of every day for the rest of his immortal life.
His eyes stopped and looked up. Echoing off his stone walls were footsteps from an intruder. His golden crown and many magic rings reflected the light emanating from the magic crystals set in the weathered ceiling. Under his black robe was his bones and nothing else. This dim room was where Doevm liked to spend his spare time and either read or cultivate. He longed for one thing and one thing only.
"I suppose it's time to fight," Doevm said as the intruder walked in. Everyone in the land knew the identity of the intruder. He was the famous hero. His legendary dragon bone and mithril armor clinked against the sheath of his holy sword. The hero removed his helmet. Underneath was a boy of the age of twenty. His many scars did not make his figure ugly. In fact, they highlighted his chiseled bone structure. His bright blue eyes stared at his opponent, and his blue hair stood on end. He took the sword off his belt.
"I'm sorry I kept you waiting. Now to beat the crap out of you." The hero cracked his knuckles.
Doevm shook his head: "Arthur…do you always have to crack your knuckles like that? Don't you know how much that scares me?"
Arthur scratched the back of his head: "I'm sorry, old habits." He threw his sword in its sheath to the floor and got ready for their weekly sparring session. Doevm got up from his throne and mirrored Arthur's fighting stance. "I see you've been practicing." Arthur smiled and ran forward.
The two exchanged blows - that was according to Arthur. According to Doevm it was a one-sided beat-down. Doevm had no stamina as an Undead but he could still take damage. Even though Arthur was holding back, each punch felt was able to crack bone. With Doevm's light body he was able to dodge but was never able to land a hit. The hero was like a phantom. Doevm stretched his bony fist out and only met blue hair. In return, he heard all his bones creaking. After five minutes, Arthur stopped the spar. He hadn't sweat a single drop.
"You're at your limit. Go heal up," Arthur said. Doevm sat down, crossed his legs and pulled out his mana. Dark ribbons of magic flooded from around the castle and covered his damaged bones. When the magic dispersed, the bones were back to their original state. Arthur shook his head: "I would usually tell you to push past your limits but it's strange fighting an Undead. You can't gain muscle mass, go faster, or be better. Technique is the only thing you can learn, so why are you learning martial arts?"
"I can go faster and hit stronger." Doevm huffed. "It would just be too easy. I learned how to enhance my body long ago by stealing magic from the war monks." The other party's stare invalidated his excuse. "Because…" Doevm looked away and mumbled, "I think it's cool."
"Say that again?" Arthur leaned in closer and put a hand to his ear.
Doevm was grateful to be an Undead or else Arthur would see him blush. He glared at him with the flames in his eyes: "Because it's awesome ok! Are you happy now?"
"No." Arthur sat next to his friend. "When we first met years ago, you could have killed me and my party. You almost did."
"Well duh." Doevm pouted. "You guys broke into my home and started killing my minions for no reason! You didn't even knock."
"I already told you that I'm sorry," Arthur apologized for the thousandth time. "But the villagers a mile from here mislead us. They told us you were abducting people to make Undead. They were nervous because you were practicing your magic so close to their village."
"I've been here for over a thousand years." Doevm waved his hands. "Those villagers showed up and tried to force me out of my home. Besides that, I don't do that kind of thing anymore. I don't like human souls, they're so complicated. They have desires and needs. Monsters souls are so much better because they are so pure. I tried to explain that to the villagers when they gathered in front of my castle with pitchforks. I would have killed them if it wasn't for you agreeing teaching me martial arts."
Arthur sighed: "That's my point. You clearly are strong in magic but insist on sparring. Why work on something if it doesn't make you stronger? I am not even the best teacher out there. I can only teach you the basics of hand-to-hand combat! I can't even explain how I swing my sword without relying on sound effects."
"Ever heard of a hobby? I have loved martial arts for so long. When I read about heroes like you doing cool moves and techniques, it's like another world. I've practiced magic for so long that I'm bored of it. I have practically learned every type of magic in this world." He gestured to the massive bookshelves all around them. "I have conducted experiments, learned math, science, various cultures, and languages all in my pursuit of more magic. Now that my journey is finished, I'm bored. I want to do cool flips and stuff!"
"But how? You're just a skeleton." Arthur shoved his arm straight through Doevm's empty ribcage. "Let me be honest. You have all the techniques I taught you down to a fine point. You're already a master of the basics."
"Then how come I have not hit you once?" Doevm huffed.
"You have no skin. You're at a wall you can't overcome. To improve, you need muscles, tendons, and a nervous system." Arthur pinched his own skin. "I'm sorry, I think this is all I can do for you. Even though I want to move to the more advanced moves, I am ending our weekly sparring sessions here." He picked up his sword and walked to the doorway. "Truly, I'm sorry. I would have liked to fight alongside a warrior like you."
"Are you off to fight the demon king?" Doevm asked. "After all this time, you're finally going to fulfill the prophecy?"
"It's my destiny." Arthur shrugged and got up. He walked over to the doorway. "What can you do about it? This might be the last time I see you. If anything, it was both weird and fun. Goodbye."
"Wait!" Doevm stood up. He looked to the floor as if he was a little hesitant. After a bit, he took a package out of his pocket dimension and handed it over. "Take this with you. I-I don't need it anymore." Arthur stared at the small brown package. It was so small compared to his massive hand. He could have sworn it was moving but it was so slight that he thought it was his imagination. He unwrapped the package and nearly fell from the shock. He nearly dropped the chunk of meat. By taking a couple deep breaths and leaning on a wall for support, he managed to somewhat calm down.
"What kind of a sick joke is this?" he asked as he held out the 'gift'. Its beat was faint. It was so small and delicate. It was Doevm's heart.
"It's my plan." Doevm said. "I decided being a Lich is not suitable for me anymore. I strive, I learn, I grow, but it's all meaningless. Undeath is meaningless. Even if I learn everything there is to know, what is the point? After I learned practically all the magic in the world, I felt nothing but emptiness. I detested human souls because of how complicated they were. Now I see those complications have meaning. Your race has emotions that place a value on living. I cannot want to be human; I can only decide to be so. In order to be human, I need to reincarnate."
"You don't know that will happen." Arthur said, tears streaming down his face. "You don't know what will happen after you die. I cannot accept this." He tried to push the heart back into Doevm's hands, but the Lich teleported a few feet back.
"Yes you will accept it. Without it, you will die." A magic circle appeared on the ground. Transparent people formed out of thin air. Each one shared qualities and characteristics of Arthur. "These are the past heroes. From my centuries of life, I have noticed something: each hero and demon king are the same. Your species and language might vary, but your souls are always the same. You both reincarnate in a never-ending story. Every time you two battle, the hero sacrifices himself to kill the demon king. You are not the first hero I have talked to."
Arthur looked at Doevm's illusions and shook his hand: "I won't be defined by the past. I can change the present. You don't have to give me your power. Without this, you'll disintegrate. You know my power is to eat souls, right?"
"I know I'll die." Doevm said. "Everything eventually dies. If you use my heart to fight the demon king, you will live past the fight, but you will still die. Then you will reincarnate just as everything else. This is part of my knowledge acquired through my undead life. Don't worry about my soul, it will be fine. I have analyzed your power and devised a spell to counter it. After you use your power, you will only gain a portion of my magic. It will form a temporary bond between your soul and my own. When you reincarnate, I will reincarnate to the species matching yours. I will have my memories and will seek you out. This way, I will die, but it's just changing a body."
"But I can't do it." Arthur said. "Fight with me. I don't want to just use you."
"This is not my destiny." Doevm said. "With my power, I could destroy the demon king right now, however that would be pointless. The demon king will revive again. You will revive again. This is a cycle that cannot be broken. I'm just giving you more time to live. I will die no matter what. I'm just deciding when."
"Why me?" Arthur asked. "With your eternal life, you can learn every weapon and fighting technique. Why did you choose someone as incompetent as me? I can't even hold back enough to spar with you properly."
"I chose you because you're not scared of me." Doevm chuckled. "You're not the first person I asked to teach me. I asked hundreds of people across several species. They either laughed at me or ran away. The few people who did train me only wanted my knowledge on magic. I could easily use a spell to temporarily live as a human and learn how to fight. I even considered doing it until you showed up. While you were, to be honest, one of the worst teachers I've ever had, it was fun talking with you. I looked forward to your weekly accomplishments. Remember that time you slew the mighty King Slime? I could hardly contain my laughter."
"Fine I get your point." Arthur said. "But I have one condition."
"Placing a condition to receive a gift?" Doevm laughed. "What is it?"
"In your next life, fight me without magic, and I'll do the same."
"You won't remember this promise," Doevm growled. "But I accept. For ten years, you have helped me without compensation. I told you I would pay you back. I have little emotions, but I will not accept owing a human. Now go win the battle and forget about me." He stretched out his skeletal hand. A blue flame floated in his palm which he threw on his rug. The flames spread everywhere, setting everything on fire. Doevm sighed.
"What are you doing?" Arthur backed away from the flames. "This library is your life's work."
"I know," Doevm said. "However, with my life's work, one can gain enough power to obliterate the world. It's too dangerous to leave it. Now go. I need to destroy everything here, even my corpse. Absorb the heart when you get outside." Arthur cursed and ran out. Doevm looked at his grand castle. He had spent over a thousand years here. He knew every nook and crack. He even knew the number of blades of grass around it. 'Not one book can survive,' he thought. 'Humans would be sentimental right now. I wonder what that would feel like?' He used mana to spread the flames everywhere. When everything was lit, he spread the fire to himself. While flames weren't usually able to burn through bone, this one was a dragon's breath. Doevm had pried it from the jaws of the mightiest dragon in the world. As the flames ate away at his body, he felt no panic. In this undead life, he had experienced far scarier things than death. He accepted death, at least, for this lifetime. The flames in his eyes gradually merged with the flames around him. As his melting body collapsed, he took one last look at his beloved home. 'There is no going back now. It's all gone.' Outside the castle, Arthur held the heart like he would hold his own baby. Its faint beat stopped.
"I'll remember you, Doevm, my friend. I will never forget you, even in the next life." He swore to himself as he absorbed the heart. He felt his mana soar to ten times his original. It coursed through him, chilling his body so much that he couldn't feel the flames behind him. 'So, this is how Doevm felt: numb. You lived like this for centuries?' He calmed his mana down, and he felt the flames behind him again. He unsheathed his sword and marched towards the demon king's lair.