Grendel reminisces about his first kill
|Continued from "Grendel Rising Part 3"
Hienriche had given him two thousand marks to acquire a specimen. In the coach on the way through the city streets Grendel, then known only as Peiter, imagined who he might pick. Some degenerate giant or a whimpering excuse of a human being? Maybe they’d have an elf girl. Maybe not. His heart raced with anticipation as Draenos, cloaked in his own disguise, slowed the horses as they arrived at the prison. Peiter raised his hood, covering his face in impenetrable shadows, and slid on his leather gloves. He hoped his excitement wouldn’t show in his voice or hands.
He opened the coach door and stepped out onto the first step. The coach itself was rather plain as those of the Conclave went, who naturally preferred extravagance. The red trim on black wood spoke of no particular department and no sigil of status glowed above it. Any who looked at it would assume it belonged to a mage of low status and not the wealthy alchemist Malchello. Peiter also wanted to appear rather plain, but not poor. He wore a plain leather tunic with the red emblem of the Conclave servants guild embossed on the breast over a black shirt where silver thread formed shimmering patterns. Black gloves of fine leather matched a leather cape and hood, attached by a silver chain. Black silk trousers met knee-high buckled leather boots. Peiter stepped down from the coach and waved to the driver to meet him around back. Draenos urged the horses into action and the coach creaked down the narrow path.
Peiter finally acknowledged the small man waiting for him at the foot of a small staircase with a slow nod. He wore the uniform of a clerk, very drab and functional, and had very little hair. He mostly stared at the ground and wringed his hands together. Peiter was thankful he was not the sort to stammer. He was obviously an Inept, as this was an Inept prison, and probably thought Peiter was as well, considering his visible status as a servant, but even the servant of a mage is a powerful enemy. “Right this way, master,” the small man said. He glanced around, as if to scrutinize the night, “Is your… master not with you?”
“Do not ask foolish questions, clerk…?” Peiter replied, feigning to have forgotten the man’s name. Peiter started up the stairs to the prison as Hienriche would have done. The clerk attempted to catch up with him.
“Svenns, master. My apologies, master.” He attempted to bow and grovel, but it was naturally impossible as Peiter kept walking.
Clerk Svenns double-stepped ahead of Peiter as respectably as he could and led them through the dim hallways of the prison. They purposely avoided the cell blocks and soon Peiter stood in front of the warden’s office. “Warden Mullum’s expecting you, master.”
“Expecting who?” Peiter asked as he suddenly grasped the clerk’s hand and a few silver marks fell into it.
“No one, master,” he replied, smiling. The clerk turned and left the way he came, the money clinking in his hand as he rubbed them together.
Peiter opened the warden’s door and stepped silently inside. A fireplace roared to the left and gave the hunting trophies on the right wall an eerie semblance of life. The snarling warg at the foot of the warden’s desk always put Peiter on edge. It seemed so lifelike. The warden sat behind the huge desk like a bloated spider. This prison was his web and he seemed to know everything that occurred here. Hair seemed to erupt from every place on his head except the top, which glistened with sweat. He wore the best an Inept in his position could afford, which was a grey woolen suit currently popular with the merchant class. “You’ve come alone this time, I see,” Mullum said, his voice wheezing and gravelly.
“My master has other matters to attend to. He requires another… volunteer for his studies,” Peiter replied, careful to keep his hood low. He reached into a pocket in his vest and tossed a leather purse at the warden, who caught it deftly. Warden Mullum pulled the drawstring and poured out the golden coins.
“Only fifteen hundred marks this time,” he said, scratching his bearded chin with thick fingers. “I’m not sure how long I can keep this whole thing quiet from the authorities, you know.” He began scooping the coins messily back into the purse.
“I have, then, a bonus for your continued cooperation, warden, and the personal gratitude of my master,” Peiter replied irritably. He tossed a smaller purse to the warden where it clattered on the desk, “Five hundred marks.”
He hated the negotiation and power struggle of haggling. He longed for the simplicity of his studies. Besides, the closeness of the office was beginning to disturb his senses. The heat, the musty smell of animal fur and the stench of the swollen warden’s body always made him uncomfortable. Peiter greatly preferred cool stone and the sweet perfume of decay. This offensiveness bordered on the Infernal. Peiter was half convinced the warden did it on purpose to put his guests ill at ease. He didn’t see how the warden could enjoy such conditions, but everyone had a social technique.
Mullum sighed. “This will do, then. Follow the guards outside to the isolation block. I’m sure you can find someone there willing to leave.”
Peiter nodded curtly and turned to leave. “One more thing, young master.” Peiter looked over his shoulder. “What exactly does our, ah, benefactor use these inmates for?”
“I believe that is a matter best left to the minds of our betters, don’t you think? Lest they consider larger subjects to study.”
“Well said, young master. It was worth a try. One day I’ll ask your master for an explanation when he cannot afford to pay me so well. What do you think of that?”
“I think that would be interesting to… hear,” Peiter replied.
Warden Mullum boomed with laughter and went to counting his bribe. Peiter wasn’t sure what was so funny, but it wasn’t a great concern. He closed the office door behind him and spied two guards silhouetted in a nearby passage. We walked to them and palmed their own token bribes into their hands. Each guard wore the same blue and heavily pocketed uniform. Batons hung chained from their belts. One was bald, the other had a military haircut. Peiter didn’t know their names, though they were always the ones to escort Peiter and Hienriche. No words were exchanged between them and they walked silently through the passages.
Soon, they came to the solitary confinement block and they passed through three checkpoints. The block was at the bottom of a pit, with the cells arranged in a square. Above, a balcony where guards could keep an eye on the cells and fire crossbows if needed. Starlight filtered in above them, but none shone down here. This were also the only cells with magical silence and locking spells. Each door was made of thick iron and had a slot for food on the bottom and one on top to look through. Two blue glyphs near the handle controlled the magical effects and the guards would have the keys.
These were the only arcane contrivances in the prison, as it was only designed to hold ordinary Inept prisoners. Peiter had heard what a real Conclave prison was like and that if he was not careful, he'd be thrown in one like other failed necromancers. If he was lucky, Hienriche had said, he'd be killed and recovered by the Brotherhood first.
Pieter went to the first cell to his left and looked through the top slot. As he did, an overhead magelight activated. A thin form lay curled up in the corner. He stirred at the light, but made no other move. He was too thin. Peiter shut the slot. “What was he imprisoned for?” he asked, to no one in particular.
“Stole valuables from his boss,” said the bald one from behind him.
Peiter nodded and moved onto the next one. This one held a bulky and tattooed man with a thick beard that glared at him from the back of the cell. When Peiter turned away and asked of his crime, the guard informed him that he’d killed two men in a brawl and one of the militia that had come to stop him. When Peiter turned back, the inmate was at the door, shouting and pounding on it, though no one could hear him but himself.
The next four were all petty criminals and completely uninterested Peiter. He realized he wanted a killer; someone who had killed for pleasure, but would not be insanely violent. Peiter found him, finally, on the fifth. He was thin, his cheeks were sunken and the skin on his neck drooped, but he looked strong. Tattooed tears fell from his eyes and his hair was wild. He sat in a meditative pose and regarded him like a snake would a bird. When asked, the guard said he had butchered a family up north of the town. Without provocation, the guard added that he was in this cell because he was a homosexual and would harass the other inmates.
“I’ll take him. Bring him out so I may question him,” Peiter ordered. Hienriche often asked questions of those he took from the prison, though they were often strange and Peiter did not understand them. He had a few of his own.
One of the heavily muscled guards stepped up beside Peiter and disabled the silence spell with a silver key. He opened the top slot and ordered the inmate to stand against the wall with his hands behind his back. Peiter took a few steps back to let the men do their work. The guard touched a different key to the other glyph and the door clicked. The bald guard opened the door while the other stood ready with his baton and manacles. He went inside first and his partner followed.
The inmate offered no resistance as the guard placed the manacles around his wrists and then his ankles. Holding his writs, the guard shoved him from the cell. The inmate regarded him coldly.
"What's your name, prisoner?" Peiter asked.
The wild-haired man mumbled something. Peiter leaned forward and asked him to repeat himself. The inmate's teeth snapped in front of his face. The skin on his nose was only saved by quick reflexes. The man sent a foul glob of spittle at Peiter's feet and laughed manically. The guards chuckled to themselves, knowing vaguely what would happen to the inmate, and one jabbed his baton into the inmate's back while the other struck the back of his knees, dropping him to the ground. The prisoner glared up at him, a satisfied smirk on his face.
Peiter held his hand up to the prisoner's face and exerted a mental grip over his skull. It was a very minor telekinetic enchantment he'd cast shortly before he arrived. The arrogance seemed to melt from the man's face as he realized he faced someone more powerful than a mere servant. Peiter leaned down and whispered in his ear, "If we will forego introductions, know only that I am your nightmare." The man's wild hair shook and his eyes spun in his head as he tried to wrestle from Peiter's invisible grip.
He cried out, "Conclave demon!"
Peiter smiled and released the prisoner from his influence. "Bring him to the usual place," he said, simply, to the guards.
The two guards locked their arms around the inmate's. "No! No!" he screamed and went limp. The sadistic guards, who Peiter imagined would have been in this place for crimes if their lives had gone only slightly differently, dragged him along out of the cell block.
Peiter followed several paces behind so he could savor the echoes and reverberations of his howling. He screamed about innocence, fair trails and unjust execution. It was a mad, rambling mess and the guards just laughed to themselves.
They wound through dim corridors barely illuminated by starlight and a few where he followed only the sound of footsteps in the dark. Peiter had to restrain that deep animal part of him that feared the dark and thought every sound was an ambush. A mental reminder that his magics were darker still brought some security and a simple arcane word written in the air with his finger brought back sight. Every necromancer and any mage who wasn’t a fool knew the spell for darksight. Starlight and the Band of Androma was almost never enough for those of a nocturnal bent.
They avoided the common cell blocks, but Peiter knew that some of the other inmates must have heard the lamentations echoing and moving through their space. Hienriche had chosen four other subjects that had wailed like this one in the past few months. And we always went to the prison's shower room. It was a mere courtesy to the Warden. Easier for his crew to clean up.
When they arrived there, one of the guards opened the heavy door, while other kept the struggling man from escaping. The inmate, confused as to why they were here or unsure where he was, by the small of him, quieted down, but still fought feebly against his captors. The room was windowless, but a few dying magelights flickered in alcoves in the grey-tiled walls and ceiling, which harshly echoed their every sound. The smell of mildew, dried sweat and old blood permeated the cool air. A half dozen metal pillars sprouted from the floor and were tipped with a primitive showerhead. It was easy to imagine a prison in one of the backwater prisons that wouldn't bother with proper plumbing.
Peiter watched from just inside the door as the guards attached the prisoner's manacles to a metal ring around the nearest pillar. The guards made certain the inmate was secure, then turned to leave. The bald one shook Peiter's hand to which he passed him a key, which he pocketed, as Peiter passed him a few more marks.
The two guards shut the door behind them and there was a hollow thud as it locked. Peiter knew they waited just down the corridor, playing some betting game, he was sure.
"Do you know I am now?" Peiter asked man who glared at him, hateful and fearful of the man whose face he couldn't see and yet could purchase him with impunity.
"Yur not Conclave. Yur the one that took Yuri and Shunn and some others. I heard them screamin'. Like me," he replied.
"Don't worry about them. They're gainfully employed," Peiter said, smiling slightly.
"I dun believe you. They be dead. Must be."
Peiter touched his heart. "You wound me. They do, in fact, have a greater purpose than this place, but you are right, - " he stepped much closer to his captive listener " - they are quite dead.
"Now, I really would like to know your name."
Despair filled the shaggy man's face and he cried, "No... no...... no. You can't be one of them. They aren't real."
"One of who?" Peiter asked innocently.
"Deathcasters." He spit on the floor. It was bad luck among the Inepts to mention the necromancers.
"Not yet, but soon." Peiter's heart raced. He reveled in the feeling of life flowing through him. Next it would be from his companion.
"No, no... You can't kill me like this. Please." The inmate tried to kick and spit at him.
Peiter attempted to sooth the raving man, "Please, if you just tell me your name, this will be all over."
"Why?" he demanded, yelling. "So you ca' take my soul? I won't let you!"
Peiter put his hands out at his sides. "So I can release you from your bonds."
The man laughed madly and fell to knees or as far as the manacles let him fall. He muttered to himself; apparently debating with himself on the merits of my offer. "...take my soul... Lets me go... Just my name... They called Fairy the Frigger... Fairy rhymes with ... " The rant dissolved into more giggling.
"What does Fairy rhyme with?" Peiter said gently, but his patience was wearing very thin.
"My name!" he screamed, foaming spittle spraying as he laughed.
"Enough of this. I don't really need your name," Peiter said, not caring if Fairy heard. "It was a mere convenience."
He backed a few strides away and took an iron dagger from his belt. There was nothing special about it. Peiter dropped it to the floor and kicked it over to Fairy who eyed it suspiciously. Peiter made a few quick gestures and muttered a few words. The manacle's lock snapped open and Fairy fell the rest of the way to the cold floor. He flexed his shoulders while his eyes flickered from the knife to Peiter and back. He continued to mutter in a low voice to himself.
Peiter turned his back to the wild man and appeared to pray. He heard the dagger's blade slide off the tiles and the soft padding of Fairy's bare feet behind him.
Suddenly, there was pressure against his back as the dagger slid through his cloak and tunic, but glanced harmlessly off the protective magic he'd cast on himself. Peiter grinned to himself. This man was a murderer. He would be perfect.
Fairy had aimed for Peiter's back in a two-handed downward stab. Fairy had expected the blade to slid into his victim easily, but it turned and caught on the black cloak. Peiter spun, ripping the dagger from Fairy's hands. It clattered off into the corner of the shower room. Fairy scrambled on all fours after it.
Peiter watched him go and removed his left glove. This part of his plan required finesse and dexterity. He wove a shadowy pattern in the air and spoke a resonating Word of power. Fairy had nearly grasped the blade when the black pattern in front Peiter tore apart and the Word ripping into his body.
Fairy shrieked has pain exploded through him. He felt as if he were being flayed and impaled by a hundred swords. His muscles convulsed and locked. In a fetal position, he quivered and screamed until there was no breath in his lungs, but the pain did not relent. It rose and fell in waves, but never did it cease. Time lost meaning to the thing some called Fairy. There was only the pain.
Peiter strode slowly towards the howling, gasping Fairy. His hand felt as if he held the man's nervous system like a harp. He twisted his wrist, or plucked his fingers, to play the requiem of his suffering. What a glorious sound has he raised the pain to a crescendo or tapped out the delicate notes of his whimperings.
Peiter maintained the spell until he could no longer hold his concentration. He released his mental grip on the spell and shuddered as the dregs of black magic coursed through him. Fairy similarly shook and sobbed through the waning pain.
The dagger was within easy reach of Fairy's hand, but he not notice or take it. Peiter stepped closer, catiously, and kicked it away from him. He withdrew his own dagger and held it loosely at his side. A single cross-grip and hilt, decorated with silver skulls. A wavy blade extended two hand spans. A groove down the center of the blade was designed to store magic or, more practically, poison.
He said aloud, "Do you wish to be free? Will you work under my employ?" It was a useless question at this point; Peiter could take him at any time. However, he agreed with Master Hienriche that, whenever practical, the victim should be given the illusion of choice so he can reap the fruit of his folly.
Peiter's voice seemed to rouse Fairy from whatever internal Hell he had hid in and searched for the knife with his hand. With a howl of hate he tried to rise in order to renew his attack on Peiter, but he staggered as his muscles cramped; a side effect of the seizures. Peiter could see the feral look in his eyes, the spittle dripping from his snarling mouth and blood on his fingertips where they had dug into his palms moments before.
Fairy leapt at Peiter, but the necromancer was ready. He sidestepped and sliced with his dagger. The inmate was fast and he still knocked Peiter to the floor, but the dagger's edge caught Fairy's arm. Peiter rolled away and spoke a subtle curse against those whose flesh he'd cut.
Fairy recovered and jumped to his feet. He took a single step before his feet faltered and he swayed. Fairy felt as if he was spinning and his head ached like he'd been in a long fist fight. A sickly cold crept into his bones and the blood drained from his face. He could only stare, slack jawed as his vision swirled and his stomach turned over. He fell to his knees and retched, over and over. The strength left his muscles and the world stopped making sense.
Peiter stood and was pleased to see the sickness surge through Fairy's body. The magical disease always acted quickly and was fortunately not contagious or deadly in the short term. Fairy vomited as much as he could and was wracked with heaving before finally collapsing on his back, moaning and clutching his head. He looked nearly white.
Satisfied that the inmate was incapacitated, Peiter dragged him back to the pillar and resecured the manacles. He dropped to one knee in front of Fairy and gripped the man's lined face, strings of acrid vomit and spit hanging from his chin, to force him to look at him. Fairy's eyes rolled in their sockets, but finally locked onto Peiter's.
"Will you serve me and be released from your suffering?" he asked again.
"Yes," Fairy replied, sobbing. "Just make it stop. Pu... Pul..." Another internal spasm gripped his body and he fell slack against the chain as tears and saliva flowed freely from him.
"As you wish," Peiter said, smiling. Peiter gripped his dagger tight and with three strokes he cut the sickly inmate's jugular veins on either side of his neck and a final thrust between his ribs to his heart. Fairy had only time to gasp and flinch before it was over. Blood spilled down his neck in a torrent and his skin became paler still. Peiter felt the man's heart beat twice around the blade before it shuddered to a stop.
Peiter withdrew his dagger and held it up before reverently. He thanked Nagash and his Master for this gift. As the pooling blood spread under his boot, he sheathed his dagger and reached into a vest pocket. Peiter withdrew a small surigal knife, razor sharp, capped with a hunk of dark cork. From a larger pocket, he took a small, flat, wooden case, which he opened and placed on the dry tiles behind him.
Peiter opened fairy's mouth and pulled his tongue out as far he could. The organ was swollen from Fairy's fever and bloody saliva flowed steadily around it. Peiter swiftly cut through the man's tongue, trying to get as much as he could. Peiter wasn't sure what made him pick this piece of flesh to take; maybe it was out of some small respect of his refusal to give his real name.
He placed the organ into the plain box and sealed it with a small latch. He spoke a few arcane syllables that would keep the tissue moist and fresh until Peiter could properly treat and preserve it. His trophy. His first real kill as a necromancer. He'd seen other's die, even held the knife under Hienriche's tutelage, but this... This was his alone.
Peiter stood and banged on the door in the agreed upon way. In a few moments, the lock snapped open and the door swung wide. The two guards looked at the body, the blood, and evidence of a violent death. Their heads swiveled between the scene to Peiter, who stood off to the side, passive and still cloaked in shadows. He understood their anxiety. They had heard the screaming and worried for their sanity. Or perhaps they just disliked the job. They were paid well at every step, so Peiter cared little if they were uncomfortable.
The bald one had come in with a large leather body bag. It was laid out on the nearest dry tiles from the body and, with some small effort, they heaved the inmate's corpse into the bag. They quickly sealed the bag with the numerous embedded clasps, lifted it up to waist height and followed Peiter as they left the shower room. The secure side entrance wasn't far and the coach waited for him. The two men dropped the sloshing bag on one of the wide seats inside and Peiter passed each a substantial amount. Peiter stepped up into the carriage and tapped the panel behind him to let Draenos know they were ready to leave.
Peiter felt the coach pull away and a wave of exaltation washed over him. He'd never felt more alive. He placed his hand over the small trophy box in his vest, but had to resist the urge to look at it. He'd taken life for himself, for his Master and for the Order. He'd taken what was rightfully his to take from the living and when he transcended this weak vessel to dwell among those dark beings of the River, these tokens would sustain him.
Peiter recalled the lessons of Deathdwell: only necromancers held sway over death itself. Only they could defeat it. The Conclave could not boast of immortality or the manipulation of life. Certainly, the White Wizards could heal wounds and cure disease, but what sense was there in devotion to repairing the weakened who merely remain weak? Necromancy improved the human body as well as healed. Indeed, it was control over all aspects of life, which extended into the after-life. Peiter felt certain there was no comparison between the Order's scope and the Conclave's short-sightedness.
Soon enough, the carriage arrived at its destination. Peiter knew they were near the city limits at an ancient graveyard. From what he knew in his research, it had been used by the city's founders hundreds of years ago, but it was now long abandoned when the city center shifted to a wealthier ward. There were a few large crypts for wealthy individuals and it had been in one of these that he'd prepared for this night.
Peiter opened the carriage door and he heard Draenos jump down from the driver's seat. "Let me help ye with ye burden, young master?" he said to Peiter. The scarred old man was still strong enough to help him with the body, though Peiter hadn't expected him to volunteer. Still, Peiter wished Hienriche had let him borrow one of the undead servants, but the elder Necromancer had refused, saying that it would be good for him to bear the hardship of his first kill as if he acted alone.
"If you like, Draenos, but are you surd you can?" Peiter replied.
"I may not be one o' them deadites you an the Master order about, but I helped him with his first, long ago. T'was my duty then and I'll be proud to help the next Master with his," he answered.
"That's... noble. Now, help with the legs, will you?"
The two of them lifted the body bag out of the coach cabin and carried it into the graveyard beyond. A cool mist hung to the grass in the early morning hours and dark trees loomed overhead as if curious about the evil goings-on. A warg's baleful howl gave Peiter pause and he glanced around, looking for its yellow eyes in the dark. He hoped it was too far away to bother him and his work.
They followed a stone paved path past the rows of neglected gravestones. Soon, the central crypts came into view through the tangled mist and underbrush. They hunched, crowded, on a small rise like huge mawed carrion birds. Most were constructed with the local blue-grey stone in a classical style that featured overlapping panels and slats and a steep roof with ornate overhangings. Some of the panels had barely legible engravings detailing the names of those beneath, others had crumbled under the weight of time, others still had featured funeral prayers to the False Gods and had been vandalized or deliberately smashed. Eroded stone statues of eagles and cranes looked down, still watchful, from various points and alcoves. A cold-iron gate blocked the stairs down, but it had already been dealt with and a slight push sent it creaking open.
The two men descended down the marble steps, avoiding any vines or loose stone. They came to a large stone door. Peiter had closed it and magically sealed it when he left last after finishing the preliminary work. It had only been a temporary measure. Anyone who tugged on the inset handle would determine it was locked and the jammed when the key didn't work, but some strong enough or with a large enough prybar could have done it. What reason anyone could have to want entry, beyond his own, Peiter couldn't imagine.
Peiter spoke the arcane password and they rested the body on the steps. Peiter took hold of the handle and tugged hard on it using his weight. It slid on its hinges with relative ease and with a deep, but slight grinding sound. Cool, musty air flowed out, though it was not quite as choking as when he'd broken the seal the first time. Hienriche had demanded Peiter find his own private place to conduct rituals, at least until the time was right to construct a shrine of his own in the manor. Peiter let the door open enough for them to pass through before leaning against it to stop it. Without a word, they picked the body bag up and carried it inside.
Peiter spoke a simple word of magic and a few torches ignited around the square room. Numerous alcoves around the perimeter held two stone coffins each, though one at the back also held a single wooden cage. Stone eagles and cranes decorated the wall space in between them. Beneath the sculptures, detailed plaques listed names of the deceased and others held the elaborate funeral rites of the False Gods. None of these had been corrupted, though Peiter felt he'd already desecrated the tomb by dedicating it an alter to Nagash. A huge sarcophagus at the center of the crypt now served as that alter.
It was taller than the others and wide enough for two corpses to rest comfortably. When Peiter had first examined it, the base depicted battle scenes with the local ogre tribes, long gone now, and construction, presumably the founding of the town above. The ornate lid was engraved with the living likeness of its occupant, Baron Kristof Hirkennon it read, holding a bastard sword over his breast.
Now, a large ring of coal dust and arcane writing, the Necromancer's Proclamation, enclosed the sarcophagus. Three sigils, which were the Three Names of Nagash, the Necromancer, the Undertaker, and the River Master, were written and entangled with the Circle at the south, north-western and eastern edges. A clay jug sat off to one side, which Peiter had previously filled with water from a stream near the graveyard.
Peiter and Draenos carefully stepped over the Circle and the symbols along its edge. They placed the body bag on the stone lid. "I'll collect the coach bags for ye, Master," Draenos said, breathing hard from the exertion.
Peiter nodded his agreement and set about his own work. Draenos stepped out of the circle and slipped out of the crypt. The young necromancer stood where the head should be and quickly undid the metal clasps keeping the bag's leather flap closed, trying to will his fingers not to shake. He pushed that flap aside and finished of the few inner clasps left. As soon as Peiter threw the inner flap open, a thick torrent of congealing blood flowed out and over the edge of the sarcophagus. A wave of warm, humid air, heavy with with the metallic smell of the blood and the raw animal scent of the body itself, which had yet to cool much inside the body bag. Fairy's body, Peiter reminded himself, though Necromancers were taught to disassociate the corpse's living name, which is useful for rituals, with the corpse itself, which was now just meat.
Fairy's body looked exactly as Peiter expected; dirty and clumped hair stuck to the white skin of his face. His eyes and mouth lay open and his blood left sticky, flaking splotches on his pale skin. The wounds in his chest and neck were swollen and split, unable to scab properly. Peiter gazed down into his eyes and found them empty. Surely, Fairy's spirit drifted on the River's cold water, leaving this husk free for a better use. "You may be empty, but I will fill you back up. Maybe then, I won't feel so empty," Peiter mumbled to no one in particular.
Peiter stepped out of the Circle and went to the cage at the back. As he approached, two large eyes reflected the torchlight. Every ritual, especially the sanctification of a proper alter, required some sacrifice. Peiter had caught this cat on the Manor property and he'd kept it just for this purpose. He'd even fed it scraps from the supper table. The black cat hissed at him as he approached. So much for the trust they'd built up the last week, Peiter thought. It didn't matter anyhow; Peiter preferred the company of the dead. A nagging memory of a golden haired dog nagged at his mind, but he pushed it out of his mind.
He rested his hand over the cage and recited a minor sleeping spell. It wouldn't do to chase the animal around the room or have it escape entirely. The cat immediately calmed and curled up into a deep slumber. Peiter unlatched the cage door and took the cat by the scruff of its neck. It was still fast asleep and hung limp as he carefully withdrew it. He stepped back into the circle and held the small animal at arm's length over empty clay jug as he kneeled down.
Peiter withdrew his ceremonial dagger with his free hand. Carefully, he positioned the blade against its throat. With a single quick slice, he opened the creature's neck wide, nearly severing its head. Blood gushed out and the cat, unsurprisingly awoken, thrashed for a few moments, splashing droplets about, before becoming still.
Peiter felt it was critical to end the life of a nonhuman sacrifice as quickly as possible. Nagash cared little for the suffering of animals; it is the life force, the simple anointing act that He demanded, or so Peiter interpreted from his tutelage under Hienriche. Besides, the torture of animals didn't appeal to him for reasons he didn't quite understand.
Peiter collected as much blood as he was able into the clay jug, then laid it belly up in front of him. He meditated for a few moments, holding his breath, as he heard Draenos walk back down the steps. The old man walked in carrying a sack which Peiter knew contained the rest of the supplies he needed, which he placed at the edge of the Circle. The older man made a conscious effort not to look at his gory surroundings. Peiter nodded to him and Draenos withdrew, shutting the stone door behind him. This ritual was not for the uninitiated, though Peiter was grateful for his help. Draenos likely had no interest in watching.
Focusing his attention on the small corpse in front of him, he used the tip of his dagger to methodically dissect the cat's body. Nagash demanded that sacrifices be split and the sections be donated to each of his names.
With practiced ease and a little magic to crack the brain case, Peiter had four neat piles of feline organs. The brain, heart, lungs, sex organs, lower jaw and front paws he placed gently over the Name of the Necromancer, as undead embody a devouring of the mind, the cessation of living systems, the annihilation of the will to procreate, and the physical tool of spiritual destruction. The stomach, liver, kidneys and skin, which he made an effort to keep in one piece, he arranged at the Name of the Undertaker, for one recognizes that the skin is a shell to enclose the organs and it is irrelevant if they are either preserved or destroyed, but not required to exist after death. The eyes, back paws, tail, bladder, large muscles and tongue he placed over the Name of the River Master, for they symbolized the truth, a will to persist after death, the payment of flesh and the confession of secrets. Lastly, he arranged the intestines, bones and other unused viscera around the inside perimeter of the Circle in the arcane language of demons, which he must honor. He took the jar of blood and, using a thick brush from his vest, splashed the thick fluid around the Circle, the alter and Names especially. Peiter looked around and, satisfied with his work, smashed the jug on the floor.
Peiter stood behind the alter and, after whispering a short prayer to Nagash for his pity, focused on his inner magical reserves. He closed his eyes and reached out to grasp as much ambient heat in the room as he could with his mind. Using his hands to weave an arcane net, he drew that heat into himself. When he could hold no more he channeled the energy to create a violent wind near the ceiling, further cooling the tomb and extinguishing the torches. Peiter felt ice form on his cheeks and his fingers threatened to go numb.
At first, Peiter could see nothing, his darkvision spell having expired long ago. However, he found did not need it as the Circle and the glyphs around the perimeter began to glow a strong phosphorescent blue. The cat's blood, frozen in the chill air, glowed dimly, a sign Nagash accepted the sacrifice.
Peiter sorted quickly through the pack of supplies and removed a tied bundle of candles. He placed, beginning with the south, six of the black candles, made of human fat and ash, equally around the interior of the Circle. He stood at the southern glyph and raised his hands.
Peiter hesitated. His heart pounded, causing his hands to shake. He tried to quell his doubts, his worries about what failure would result in. The young necromancer stood like a statue for several minutes, willing himself to calm. Calm, serene, as the corpse before him, but unlike it, he held Power. The Power. It was his to wield if he embraced the calm... the singular inevitably... Of death itself. Slowly, his mind crystallized, his hands stilled and he felt the chill of the tomb no more.
His hands weaved the Name of the Necromancer in the air and he intoned, "Nagash have pity on this wicked Necromancer. Nagash bestow His favor upon him. May he always be in Your debt." As he finished, the Name ignited in bright blue flame.
Peiter moved to the north-west, to the Name of the Undertaker, and intoned as he traced the Name, "Fill me with Darkness, Great Necromancer, so I may fill this shell with your child. Fill me with Darkness, Last Undertaker, so I may send more souls to Thee." Again, Nagash was pleased and the Name ignited as before. Confidence filled his mind and he felt the power growing in the room and within him.
Peiter moved to the east, to the Name of the River Master, but facing the body this time, and intoned with all his strength as his fingers moved, "Bring your black essence to me. Bring your sublime mind into mine. I pay this with my soul and servitude. I bring another servant into your fold!" Peiter felt the Name behind him ignite as the others. He felt the pull of the Negative Energy without the Circle reach its peak. The six black candles suddenly lit with a long blue flame. An unnatural black light spread from them to engulf everything within the Circle. In moments, only the blue flames of Nagash's favor, the sacrificial blood and the stark flesh of the corpse, a pale white, could be seen. Dark power surged through Peiter's veins and mind. It was all his to channel. He concentrated on maintaining his grip on it.
He approached the body; from the east, its head was closest. He withdrew his dagger and, with a few small strokes, cut his private Name into the corpse's upper chest. It did not matter that it was upside down; it was a mental exercise more than anything. This body, this shell that was once a man, a man that he killed... Was his. His property. And, by extension, Nagash's, but Peiter was gladly sworn to act in His name.
Peiter made sure the body eyes were wide open and he held his head in both hands. In the ancient tongue of Nagash, he chanted the Phrase of Unlife six times. With each repetition, Peiter felt the dark energies flow through his mind to his hands and into the skull of that cold corpse. Peiter embraced the feelings of sorrow, of loss, the sickening feeling of impending mortality that accompanied channeling this much Negative Energy, but he did not let them deter him. Instead, he sipped from the cold chalice of despair and moved on.
Finally, regrettably, there was nothing left to channel from within the Circle. Only the dregs, the ambient evil produced by the acts he committed, remained to his senses, though his sensitivity to it would fade. The black light had vanished, having been absorbed and channeled by Peiter. He released the corpse’s head, frozen handprints white against pale grey and splotched red. He stepped around, behind the alter and reached for the jug of water. He noticed that a layer of ice had formed on the surface, which shattered as he lifted it. He poured its contents along the full length of the body, from the toes to its head, and said, "Nagash have pity. Nagash be praised. Nagash be exalted and keep my soul in gratitude."
As the last word was spoken, the corpse shook violently and the mouth worked silently. Noisome black bile rose from its mouth and flowed down its cheeks. It turned its head from side to side and its hands slapped against the alter. This lasted mere moments before it became still once more.
As the body animated, the arcane fires of the Names died and the ethereal blue glow of the Circle faded. Only the candles remained lit, but they became ordinary flames. The shadows danced around the edge of the Circle and in the alcoves, celebrating Peiter's triumph.
"Rise," Peiter ordered, taking a step back. The corpse of the despicable Fairy jerkily moved to sit and then to stand in from of Peiter. Its eyes stared at nothing and the nearly frozen blood dripped in thick rivulets from its back. Peiter smiled, greatly pleased at his success. With a little effort, he could feel the zombie's presence in the back of his mind. It would remain loyal, though still quite stupid, until Peiter consciously released it or it was destroyed. He looked forward to Hienriche's approval.
"Stay," he told it and turned. Peiter went about the room collecting that various cat organs. He bundled as much of it has he could within the skin and placed it on the Name of the River Master, the glyph now permanently seared into the floor by the ritual. Suddenly, there was a heavy bump behind him. "Stay still," Peiter ordered, slightly irritated at the interruption. Wielding a simple spell, he sent a stream of flames to incinerate the remains of the cat, which burned brightly for a few moments and then collapsed inward into ash.
There was another heavy grinding thud, like stone on stone. That damned zombie was leaning against the lid of the sarcophagus, wasn't it? Peiter spun around to move the zombie someplace where it would get in less trouble. Before he could open his mouth to give an order, there was a great grinding sound as the stone lid began slowly sliding and the zombie stood statue still.
A skeletal hand rose up from the cold interior and gripped the lip of the heavy lid to push it the rest of the way. Peiter stared on in amazement. A few possibilities crossed his mind. Was this the tomb's guardian? He doubted that as, if this was the Baron named on the tomb, he would not have been subject to any necromantic magic as there were very few necromancers in his time. Besides, it was against their religion, as Peiter understood it, and if it were a guardian, it would have arisen as soon as he began work on the alter. The only reasonable conclusion Peiter could come to was that he'd conducted the animation ritual incorrectly.
He wracked his brain, looking for mistakes. How could this have happened? Icy fear gripped his heart as the skeletal figure stood, joints creaking and dust crumbling from the bones. It wore a tarnished breastplate, the embossed eagle and the symbol of the False Gods, a circle with three radial lines, were clean and reflected the candlelight. Tattered chainmail, some rusted away, hung from its shoulders and hips. It carried a huge bastard sword in one hand, the blade nearly black with age, in front of its face. Dried bits of scalp, long strands of hair still attached, clung to the skull and empty eye sockets seemed to regard him nonetheless.
"What is this place? Where it Katyana?" it asked, opening its jaw. Its voice sounded distant and fleeting.
"Are you Baron Hirkennon?" Peiter asked in amazement. It was intelligent. Corporeal undead never retain any knowledge of their body's lives because it no longer that person at all, but a thing of Negative Energy. The only exception he knew of was the binding of a ghost to a body, but it was nothing like this. Not animation.
"Of course. Is this a hospital? I must see Katyana!" the corpse said, beginning to step over the lip of the coffin. Peiter's mind raced and suddenly recalled that, rarely, a person's despicable actions may be enough to keep them from the River. How could this be? The Baron was ancient, more than a millennia dead and, by all accounts Peiter cared to read in here, a hero. He may have lingered in the River, waiting for Katyana perhaps, but he'd never have been able to come back without help. Not in this form. Not this late.
"She isn't here," Peiter replied, dryly. "Who was she? Do you know how you got here?"
"My wife!" the Baron bellowed. "You cannot keep her from me!" The skeleton stepped out of the coffin, pushing the zombie, who stumbled clumsily, out of the way. "You will tell me where she is, my love. Tell me!" he cried as Peiter backed away.
"She is dead," Peiter said truthfully, simply. "I do not know why she was not with you."
Red points of light, like fanned coals, ignited in the skull's eye sockets. Its bones rattled with growing rage. Baron Hirkennon moved to level his sword at him.
Peiter had never seen an undead display such emotion and it terrified him. He prayed for calm as his mind reached out instinctively. He found the knot of Negative Energy within its skull but when he made the effort to grasp it slipped away. Peiter's heart sank as he noticed the blade of the sword glow with a subtle golden light. The damnedable thing was enchanted to protect its user. He found no pleasure in the irony. Instead, he did the only thing left to him: he ran.
With deliberate effort, the Baron swung at him, cursing at him. The tip of the blade caught his shoulder, stinging sharply, but Peiter was fairly certain it glanced off the leather. He hoped the advantage of mobility over the skeleton would protect him long enough to do ... something.
Peiter looked at his witless zombie as he passed and ordered, "Take his sword!" The armored skeleton, its joints creaking, stalked after him and cursed in frustration at its stiff limbs. The zombie, on the other hand, simply groped for the Baron's sword and gripped the blade in its hand.
"Back away, fiend!" the Baron cried. He wrenched the sword away, cutting away most of the zombie's fingers, and with a single powerful swipe, chopped off the arm at the shoulder. The remnants of blood dripped from the wound, but did not faze the zombie at all. It swung its other arm and knocked the sword from the Baron's icy grip, who roared in unearthly rage.
Free from magical protection, Peiter again reached out to the skeleton's mind. As the two undead wrestled for the sword, Peiter attempted to gain control of the Baron. He caught the knot of awareness in his grip and squeezed. Peiter saw the skeleton freeze. "Undead, you are mine," he commanded, "I am Peiter of Hienriche and the power of Nagash compels you. The power of Nagash compels you to obey."
The Baron's skull betrayed no emotion but he felt Peiter in his mind and his words of command, now being chanted, registered in him. "Undead? How could I be something so... Foul?" he muttered to himself. He collapsed in a rattle of bones and chainmail.
Peiter felt the Baron's mind submit and before he could react, began to spontaneously dissipate. Peiter clawed at the remnants, but they slipped away from his mind and into the ether. The bones lost their connection to one another and the lights in his sockets faded to nothing. Soon, Peiter felt only the zombie and a diffuse aura of energy in the crypt.
The zombie held the sword limp in its good arm. Peiter took it away and placed it next to the supply pack, resolving to study this incident further. He tidied the rest of the ancient corpse into the empty animal cage and spent several more hours making sure the alter was restored and repaired. He also sewed the zombie's arm back on as a temporary measure. He would return when he could to do more.
On his way out, he caught Draenos sleeping at the reins. Peiter woke him, but understood that he'd taken many hours more than he should have. In fact, the sun was beginning to lighten the sky and a hazy white fog could be seen approaching from the road. They rode back the estate in silence.
When Peiter explained the events of the night, Hienriche flew into a rage and admonished him for an error he must have made during the casting. That Peiter argued that he had made no mistake did nothing to dissuade his teacher's anger. He barred Peiter from any further participation in reanimation rituals expect during classes at Deathdwell. It was still several months until his Binding. Peiter's debates with Hienriche about the incident only served to heap further punishment on him and grow the seed of doubt in his mind. He then argued only with himself over whether an error occurred.
Now, Grendel was certain of it. Something extraordinary had happened that night and it was not his mistake. The memory of that vivid dream and the strange events in the dungeon both disturbed him. He felt certain there was some connection that Hienriche did not or would not see.