So, I neglected to mention it, but I went back and finished the final draft of The Necromancer and the Revenant last week. Since I’ve thrown the title around a few times but not always its nature: it’s my first novel–specifically, an adult high-fantasy revenge novel. If that doesn’t interest you, then my WordPress posts must be appearing in an alternate universe.
Fasting was involved in this final draft, but the ritual sacrifices had to be cancelled due to weather.
Most of my current readers weren’t here last time I posted materials, and those materials were nowhere near the current standard. So it is that I’m posting the first nine pages of The Necromancer and the Revenant right here, right now. This is exactly as much as I can give you without moving into serious spoilers! For any of you who wondered whether I’m as good at writing as I like to tell you–right below is your chance to find out.
Vigil Operational Briefing W-32-Sarn
Grand Inquisitor, Adept Ukanje, Adept Karsch,
Enclosed are all available details on the necromancer Rai-Lu Loga.
Suspect Ethnicity: Ton, believed full-blooded;
Suspect Sex and Stock: Female, believed heterosexual; Warstock
Suspect Height: 6′ 3″
Suspect Age: Estimated mid-twenties; given as 26
Combat training: Hand-to-hand, Ton-Ga spearfighting (conversation fragments suggest Hei Cho’s “Lashing Rain” school); probable sword, dagger training. Shadower Osiri estimates spear, hand-to-hand training were from birth. Subject is assumed low expert level, and clearly not an Adherent.
Arcane Training: Invocation, expertise unclear. Shadower Osiri confirms the subject has raised corpses repeatedly and deliberately. Subject is minimum Adept-level Necromancer. State of raised corpses suggests Physiomancy as well (no visible necrosis/decay). Subject shows signs of physical augmentation via Physiomancy (muscle strength/speed; bone strength.)
Affiliation: believed freelance; possible connection to the Five can never be ignored, but unlikely considering suspect’s isolation.
Estimated Current Threat: Moderate
Estimated Threat Potential: Catastrophic
Source of Alert: Local Informant—Mei-la Sairo, Ton Matriarch
Via personal interview (in my guise as Gelbertus Montke), I have had the opportunity to speak with this necromancer at length. She appears a functioning member of the wilderness village called Pinebell and owns the local bar, Hangman’s Bequest. Considering her crimes, this name indicates a certain flippancy towards the laws of nature. Her visiting family are aware of her necromancy; Shadower Osiri has confirmed as much.
The entire Loga family are guilty of first-degree Collusion With the Dark Arts, and first-degree Conspiracy to Perpetuate Undeath. Despite some discomfort, I recommend we enforce the full legal penalty. I have taken the liberty of filling out the appropriate paperwork for complete purgation; it is prepared for King Euser’s review.
I recommend we move immediately. Rai-Lu has detected Osiri’s presence on several occasions, but been unable to catch her. Further delay places the Shadower in danger, and you are aware how poorly she fights.
I have spoken at length with numerous locals. Rai-Lu is primarily regarded as civil, intelligent, and friendly, but with an explosive temper. While inconsistent, accounts of her participation in bar-brawls–and I must clarify I mean participation, not intevention– suggest she is a skilled but reckless fighter. I estimate her power in the arcane is insufficient to resist a single full Inquisitor, let alone two adepts and yourself. I nonetheless recommend that you enlist Knight-Lieutenant Crusa’s Knotkeepers for the assault.
Concerning his prior friendship with Loga: I believe the Knight-Lieutenant’s failure to report comes purely from misplaced altruism. His past experience in crisis relief and charity has left him too kindly to withstand a Necromancer’s manipulations.
We have not been able to conduct independent observation of the larger Loga family (forty-six suspects observed to the present), and it remains unclear if others are necromancers. At least one other is a mage; surprising, as we believed the Logas independently wealthy but lowborn. I believe the Knotkeepers’ numbers and warded equippage will balance this. They will also help reduce the need for area-effect casting within the cavern, as you have stated you wish to examine Rai-Lu’s records for other enclaves.
Shadower Osiri reports that servants are gathering food and gifts at Rai-Lu’s cave a mile south of Pinebell. Colored paper has been hung. We assume a celebration, though its precise nature is unclear. I have arranged a non-magical signal with the Shadower which she will send when the party is fully underway–ideally, after the suspects are drunk.
The Shadower cannot infiltrate the cave proper; there are alert wards set all around the entrance and the suspect checks them daily. The forest surrounding the cave contains anywhere from two to five hundred Lesser Undead. Shadower Osiri reports the graves of twenty local families were ransacked. While Osiri believes these may be ignored until their mistress is dealt with, I argue it is best to destroy them first. We do not know if there are Greater Undead hidden among them.
We do not know if Rai-lu has captured souls to bind; we must assume so. She has three ghouls among her servants, and Osiri strongly suspects their spirits are not returned by choice.
I will close with an apology, and include this in my analysis so it may serve warning to future Inquisitors. They may better keep the Vigil knowing it. I believed you were overreacting to Matriarch Sairo’s tip, and accused you of aiding a secular ruler against her rivals. I have never been more horribly mistaken.
Within at most a week’s march of three major towns, a Necromancer has raised as much as a full battalion of the dead. Had you taken my advice, it is likely she would soon have overtaken a population center and we would face another Scourge of the Shards. I pray that Van goes with you, Grand Inquisitor. This iniquitous breed must be extinguished from the face of Canno. You were right to say it: “If the Eye blinks, the Vigil is blind.”
Van’s Grace Keep You,
The Death of House Sairo
“Betrayal begets betrayal, as death begets death, and who seeks vengeance will find it sought against herself.” –Matriarch Chu Sairo’s The Façade of Power
Blood-tendrils crept through water beneath finely blacked boots. Each of the nine visitors hunkered low, fearing sudden quarrels between the shoulders or the arcane’s killing flare. Divari held a classic Tresar talon-sabre with a spiraling cup-hilt and double-edged reverse blade longer than her own arm. It weighed two and a half pounds but felt like forty. Like her guards, she positively broiled in a red-lacquered kembrad–copper wires holding segmented steel plates to padding–over her day-clothes.
For Divari Sidra, Crown Princess of Tresamer, this meant a courtly lashylla: a complicated golden robe embroidered with wilderness images and enhanced by scarlet twinings, jet-black fabrics piled on the neck to create parted “skirts” and lengthen the sleeves, and copious precious metal rings woven throughout.
Captain Venor correctly observed that the thick material would act as further armor. He had forgotten to mention that the sun would kill her instead.
A long, black, concave helm weighed her head down. She knew she should keep the visor closed, but even royalty needed to breathe. She tucked blond bangs aside. The princess looked beautifully out of her depth, with a pale heart-shaped face and sapphire eyes.
She stared down at a young Ton face framed just above the butcher’s runoff, the full features painted with white and black ash. Thick red bands enhanced slanted eyes; gore clouted the corpse’s loosely-held wedgepoint sword and misted away in the red stream, red silk tassels swaying like loose-torn veins. Hours underwater had rusted the sword’s blade hideous orange.
Rust-filled gashes latticed the dead woman’s armor where exposed steel met river-water, platelets stained bloody where a spear-thrust took her belly. The platelets were split apart and driven into the wound, a slit leaking no longer. The warrior was little older than Divari. She shuddered and walked up the riverbed, its waters too shallow to explain the sodden soil at each bank.
A wall of corpses dammed the river ahead, all wearing white-lacquered lamellar marked with a single red blossom on the shoulder. What trickled through gaps between them held little of water. They leaned into the current over broken twenty-four-foot pikes, fingers bound to shafts by death-rigor. White banners with the red blossom stirred in the low breeze, most sagging from broken staves. Dead marked the muddy riverbanks, crushed subtropical ferns, sprawled over stones.
“Holding action,” Venor said, surveying them. “Not sure what they thought they’d accomplish. Just opened their flank for Jasczynks’s shock troops.”
The head of her guard was a hawk-nosed, cavern-cheeked man with a respectable tan. Divari’s father called his diction “earthy.” A sturdy kettle-helm hid his blond hair. Plates over his ears protected the sides of his head; a black bevor covered his chin. He carried a well-oiled, heavily-notched talon-sabre, but the sheer slaughter made him nervous.
He pointed to straggling dead further upriver past the corpse-dam, most fallen face-first with open wounds in the back. The gesture clattered dark plate and stirred the golden surcoat bearing Tresamer’s red Javelet. “Can’t blame them too much. Sairo kept a tight hand. Doubt any of her band were prepared to take over when she went under the scythe.”
Teman citizen-soldiers lay somewhat sparser than Sairo dead. Their bloodless fists clutched halberds and poleaxes, maces and flails; some had swords as sidearms. They wore black Ceslonian gambesons trimmed blue at shoulders and hems. The thick padded-linen jackets were knee-length, splotched by battle-grime. They softened bludgeoning strikes and thwarted weaker cuts, but skilled swordsmen might cut killing deep, and they availed nothing against thrusts: plenty of holed-through dead proved that.
Scattered plate and mail distinguished slain men-at-arms and knights, the latter with more and finer of it, plate and helms blackened and trimmed with midnight blue, the mail tinted dull brass.
“Strange seeing so many knights in one place,” Divar said. “It shouldn’t be. Father’s introduced me to knights at court, but…”
“Ceslonians belong in Ceslon. It’d be bad if they felt familiar to you, highness,” Venor said.
“But of course, Ceslonian armor is just fine,” Hevrin said, giving Venor and his foreign plate a scalding look. He glared back.
Black, blue and brass against white and red; Temans and Ton alike expected their warriors to wear their leader’s colors into open battle. Those soldiers wealthy enough kept a second set of armor with their own heraldry for ceremonies, duels and tournaments.
“This makes me uneasy,” Venor said. “Temans are keen on pyres. I wouldn’t go to the trouble of burying Ton either, but why’re Jasczynk’s dead still here?”
“Sairo was small, but still a Ton House, and old,” Hevrin said. The thin-faced, brown-eyed woman adjusted golden robes cut in trim Murit style–tight on the arms and waist, loose at the hems. Hems which ended at the knee, replaced by steel shinguards and scarlet silk wrappings. She looks so… temperate, Divari thought, with heretical longing.
Hevrin’s red hair was cropped almost to nothing on her pale scalp; she had been bald on her return from Hanir a few weeks ago. “Besides that, Jasczynk forced them to a last stand. He likely has much burying left to do.” She spoke the Teman duke’s name easily, jumping inflection and all. Divari envied her that.
“Fairly said,” Venor admitted, and turned to Divari. “Usually you win when the other side routs. Teman armor’s tougher, Ton folk are bigger, but at day’s end they’re all warriors and one Ton is close enough to worth one Teman. If the Ton hold, how many Temans to kill eight thousand of ‘em?” Thank you, Captain, Divari wanted to say, I proofread father’s missives and am aware of how wars function. The princess kept silent.
Meanwhile Hevrin passed by, awaiting them at the corpse-dam. She did not walk as Tresar women were supposed to, steps “light and slight”; she planted her feet in great loping strides like a man. Divari liked her well, but the haughty continent Ceslon had undone Hevrin’s respect for their ancestors.
“But what about Those Who Fell?” Venor pressed. He vaulted the corpse-dam, and offered his hand. Hevrin sniffed at him and levitated herself over the wall without a word. Divari fought a wince–she tried to accept Hevrin’s fell outland magic, she really did. But Tresar should cast spells with words given power by long use. Hevrin’s invocation used strong ideas alone. The Wise Women said magic not bound by words was bound only by thought, and thoughts changed so quickly. How could Hevrin trust hers not to betray her?
“Well, sorceress?” Venor repeated at length. “There’s one army broken here, mayhap two. You expect me to believe there’s not one warrior-ghost thinks death’s no reason to stop killing?” Divari shuddered.
“Their absence is notable, but not impossible,” Hevrin’s thin brows pinched her nose tighter with each word. “Still… I admit it’s unlikely enough I’d thought it might as well be.”
“Jasczynk had his own mages, I am sure, and,” Divari paused, tongue curling at the word, “priests. Likely they have put the spirits to rest already,” she finished.
Venor wasn’t satisfied. “Then what pulls a duke, third in line to the throne no less, east and across the Ailing? From Temana it’s two months over open ocean. Ancestors’ Breath, they must’ve braved the ice south of V–” He stuttered, refusing to speak the outland Overgod’s name.
At last he continued lamely, “south of the Cap, else they had to pass north around the Barrens Feral! Death by winter-waters or death by monstrosities, but death either way, and all just to here in Taifen! What did Jasczynk think he’d gain?”
“If father wishes you to know,” Divari said, “I am sure he will tell you.” Venor finally went silent.
Divari now saw the battle’s full shape. The air hung thick with smoke and death-stench. Splintered tree-stumps and riven trunks lay heavy. Defiant fires flickered. Many corpses were corroded, or choked on swollen tongues, burned or blackened with every hair standing out and muscles still twitching: acid, poison gas, fire and lightning. Plenty lay dead from mundane causes—if death in battle could be mundane!—arrows and quarrels, spears and swords and the plummet of mace or warhammer.
Venor charted the massacre’s course. The Ton Matriarch, Mei-la Sairo, drew up her army on one side of the river at what should’ve been the only ford for miles. Sharpened-stake thickets filled the high point. The water ran thin as a veil above the riverbed’s loose rock and mud.
Here the Temans died thickest–piled around stakes and themselves piled with abundant arrows. The arrow-struck’s exposed skin sagged with black postules and open sores, yellowed skin and suppurating sinew: Tonnish archers cherished knifestail venom. The leering decay took hours; the venom’s neurotoxic rush killed in thirty seconds. Some claimed the victims spent another ten wholly alert but paralyzed, feeling their bodies fail.
The Sairos drew up about thirty yards back from the ford, inside the treeline and behind it on the clear-cut hill. Clearly they hoped to bleed the Temans from afar first.
It was a good plan, Venor explained, except that the Ton lacked mages and often forgot the enemy’s or could not counter them. The dead clustered inside the smouldering wood were archers and skirmishers with javelins in addition to the thick-shafted, eight-foot war spears of the Ton, wearing only helms and lamellar vests over their thin robes.
“The river runs dry just as Jasczynk’s folk enter range, they attack the whole line instead of clogging the ford, the skirmishers are overrun before they can retreat behind the heavy infantry,” Venor said, and shrugged. “Story as old as war herself.”
Divari spotted a green-robed Teman mage charred across his front, split by debris and impaled on a thin, broken sapling. Red muscle peeked through peeling black around a wide green eye; a few sable hairs remained to his blistered scalp.
Venor digressed for a few minutes to speak of the Loar War. He scoffed over arrogant Ton spell-slingers bleeding the Gift thin against the Gaunt Ones. Divari eyed the dead Teman.
“Anyhow,” Venor continued, pointing to a mound miles away upriver, “we see how well it worked. Jasczynk’s casters dam the river and what gets through isn’t enough to clean away corpses. I wonder, though, why Sairo stopped here. It’s mayhap three days’ march to her own lands and her fortress.”
“I suspect she hoped to fight somewhere with no arcane current,” Hevrin said. “Magic is drawn to sapient minds, Captain Venor. A place like this, wild since times unknown, should’ve been perfect. Unfortunately for Matriarch Sairo, we are at most twenty miles from the Kedrul Basin. Which,” she said at Venor’s dour look, “is perhaps Canno’s strongest nexus. The Teman mages’ numbers were likely enough to pull it across the distance.”
“Outland magics,” Venor grumbled.
“Outland arcane theory,” Hevrin countered, “Which, in contrast to our own, exists.”
The dam behind them splashed and clattered, a tumble of slain at one side pushed free by pooling water. Far away on the other side of the river sat Teman ballistae and catapults, abandoned. They concerned Divari as much as missing battle-ghosts: good war-engines took skilled engineers to make and operate, and were valuable in their own right.
The white ranks were charred and split in dozens of places just past the trees, but for the most part they were fallen neatly in lines with Temans piled before or mixed in where formations broke and swarmed together. Divari made out the Sairo position’s shape from their slain. A center line five ranks deep, with short wings of six ranks to either side and a smaller group around the center hill atop which the last, largest Sairo standard fluttered.
“I wager Sairo thought to take the Temans when they were coming out of the woods off the ford,” Venor said. “That way they’ve broken formation to run around the trees, and the woods make it harder for the Teman engines to lay shots on her folk. The Temans broke through too quickly, is all. Better to hold further back than have her own army charge in disorganized. Again, a good plan, but too much hinged on holding the ford.” Warriors, like morning fog, faded before noon, Divari thought. Would Tonnish warstock appreciate a Tresar woman’s eulogy? Likely not.
“Hevrin,” she said.
“Yes, your Highness?”
“Would you be so kind as to release the river up there?” She pointed to the distant boulders. “It’s the Soloven, with its origin in Tresamer. Outland magics should not imprison ancestral waters.” Hevrin smirked at the irony. “Please?”
Divari instantly wanted to strike herself. She should not beg of her vassals. But Hevrin bowed deeply before she sent herself hurtling through the air: Mageflight. Divari’s school, The Sisters of the Yelba Aflame, had no incantation for it.
The princess picked her way over the slain. Here both sides lay scattered, many grappling in a last embrace. Sairos leaned on fallen trees or behind them clutching bow and arrow, waiting to loose one last flight.
“Would you look at this?” Venor coughed. A Ton warrior hung on his knees against his spear, stopped from falling further by his lamellar’s bracing skirts. The grim-set lips made him seem a sculpture. His helmet’s bowl hid his eyes. Death made even this warrior’s warm brown skin pallid.
Embedded below his collarbone was a sword caught by its guard on the spear’s haft. The spear drove through the outside front of a Teman knight’s cuirass where the armor curved less, point piercing the backplate. “I’d heard rumors, but ancestor’s breath!”
“Double strike,” another guard said. “A bad business.” Everyone nodded; too often even trained warriors both attacked, thus both died because neither protected themselves. The field held many such mutual slayings.
Divari peered under the warrior’s helmet. She should’ve expected the woman she found. Other people are not mine, she reminded herself.
“Right through.” This guard sounded strangled. “How’d she pierce steel with steel?”
“It’s sapphire-steel,” Venor said, crouching to eye the exposed spearhead. Its blade was crystalline blue with darker shades sifted throughout. All sapphire-steel work had a unique pattern; this one spiked and leapt throughout the blade, sprinkled by dark specks.
“So it is,” another guardsman said. “That explains it.”
“Only part,” Venor said. “His Majesty graced me with the chance to test a sapphire talon-sabre once. Got just deep through the breastplate just enough it might’ve drawn blood. But to pierce clean and drive the haft through besides?” He shook his head. “Ton women aren’t human.”
“Still, what kind of man kills a woman?” another asked. Divari lifted the knight’s visor. She knew what she’d see: a middle-aged Teman woman with sun-worn skin and a single ice-blue eye. The other, and the black brow above, were ruined by a deep, old scar.
Divari shook her head and lead her party uphill over the corpse-ranks and to the banner. The Ton here wore ornate white armor inlaid with black-trimmed scarlet steel, blossoms stippled by engravers’ chisels to have fine texture and striations. Gold and silver adorned their weapons and the sword-scabbards weighing their hips, and rubies fastened their helmets. Every blade was sapphire-steel, and Teman corpses surrounded the thin ring.
“The Matriarch’s Scarlet Guard,” Divari said. “Father said they were among the best heavy infantry on Canno.”
A straight line of corpses stood out. Divari guessed that these few Ton died early in the battle. A broad hole dripping blood and laced with viscera marked each body in the line, the first through a skull’s open ruin framed by helm-fragments, sinking a few inches lower on each. The ballista bolt responsible drove in at that grand Sairo banner’s foot, surrounded by a great splatter of blood and gore-pulp. Inside the splatter bloomed a Ton warrior’s outline, itself filled with a dense red splash.
“There it is,” Venor breathed. “The bolt spikes Sairo early, and there’s none other to take command. Of course her Guard try to protect her corpse rather seek vengeance, leastwise ’til it’s too late.”
A gold pocketwatch, outside faces set with rubies carved into a single blossom per side, hung by a long black chain from a splinter in the bolt. The shaft stood taller than Divari herself, and thick as her thigh at the base. She pulled the pocketwatch loose and eyed its cracked face. 2:72 in the afternoon. The exact instant of Mei-la’s death. The idea of a Queen—for surely a Matriarch of the Ton was a Queen by any measure—cut down on the field like a common peasant made Divari pallid.
Divari felt stinging in her right hand and saw blood trickle from her palm. When did that happen? She shrugged the thought away. There were too many sharp things about; she must’ve snagged her hand on battle-refuse while distracted.
Hevrin landed beside her. The restored river, at last, foamed apart the carrion-dam far below.
“The Sairo encampment’s just the other side, now,” Venor said. “I see the tops of the tents. Jasczynk’s got to be down there. Bet he’s making a grand display of the Sairo woman.”
Divari swallowed hard and nodded. She stepped past the banner, looked out over the Sairo encampment, and…
…and everything below those ellipses? You’ll have to read the book to find out!
(I’d hope this time I don’t even have to ask this, but: if you love this story as much as I do, then please leave a like, share it wherever and with whoever you can, and consider supporting me on Patreon!)