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 Wukanje, Adept Karsch,
Enclosed are all available details on the necromancer Rai-Lu Loga.
Suspect Ethnicity: Ton, believed full-blooded
Suspect Sex: Female, believed heterosexual
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 society 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 fully aware of her crime; 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 the King of Sarn’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 poor her fighting abilities are.
I have spoken at length with a number of the locals. Rai-Lu is primarily regarded as civil, intelligent, and friendly, but is known to have a temper. Accounts of her participation in bar brawls, while inconsistent, suggest she is a skilled but reckless fighter. I estimate her power in the arcane is insufficient to resist one full Inquisitor, let alone two Adepts and yourself. I nonetheless recommend that you enlist Knight-Lieutenant Crusa’s platoon of Knotkeepers to participate in the assault.
Concerning his prior friendship with Loga: I believe the Knight-Lieutenant’s failure to report comes from misplaced altruism, not true collusion. 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 the others have Rai-Lu’s affinities. The Knotkeepers’ warded equippage may prove vital, as may their numbers. This will also help reduce the need for area-effect casting within the cavern proper, as you have stated you wish to examine Rai-Lu’s records for other enclaves.
Shadower Osiri informs me that servants are gathering food and gifts at a cave a mile south of the town proper. Colored paper has been hung. We assume some manner of celebration, though its precise nature is unclear. I have arranged a non-magical signal with the Shadower so as to avoid detection, which she will send when the party is fully underway (ideally, after the suspects are drunk.)
The Shadower has not been able to 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 has noted the graves of twenty local families were ransacked–not likely a coincidence. While Osiri believes these may be ignored until their mistress is dealt with, I believe 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, but we must assume it is so. She has three ghouls among her servants, and Osiri strongly suspects their spirits are not so bound by choice.
I will close by saying that I owe you an apology. I include this in my analysis so it may serve warning to future Inquisitors, and that 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 a day’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 have another Scourge of the Shards on our hands. 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. The saber in Divari’s hand felt too light. She brushed her blouse in her kingdom’s colors, tugged at the ties holding up her riding skirts and tucked blond bangs aside. The princess was a beautiful woman with a heart-shaped face and sapphire-blue eyes.
She looked down on the face of a young Ton woman framed just above the butcher’s runoff, her 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 streaming in current like loose-torn veins. Hours underwater had rusted the sword’s steel 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 on while scanning the riverbed. There was too little water to explain the sodden soil rising up each side.
A wall of corpses in white-lacquered lamellar marked with a single red blossom on the shoulder dammed the river ahead, and what trickled through the gaps 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, some sagging from broken staves. Dead marked the muddy banks of the river bed, leaning on subtropical ferns and 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 and what her father called “earthy diction.” His blond hair lay hidden beneath a sturdy kettle-helm. Plates extended down over his ears, protecting the sides of his head; a black bevor covered his chin. He carried a well-oiled, heavily-notched arming sword, 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 his dark plate and stirred his golden surcoat bearing the red javelet of Tresamer. “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 gambesons trimmed blue at the shoulders and hem. The thick padded-linen jackets were knee-length, splotched in battle’s grime. For perhaps fifteen pounds of weight they stopped bludgeoning strikes and weaker cuts, but a skilled swordsman 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.
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. Her 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.” 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?”
Meanwhile Hevrin passed him 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 it was sad to see her time in the haughty continent Ceslon had taken her so far from her ancestors.
“But what about Those Who Fell?” Venor pressed. He vaulted the corpse-dam, and offered Divari his hand. Hevrin sniffed at him and levitated herself over the wall without a word. Divari fought a wince–she tried to ignore the outland perversion of magic that Hevrin used. But Divari followed Tresar ways, casting spells with words given power by long use. A word was reliable and unchanging. Hevrin’s invocation used strong associations and images. 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 was still unsatisfied. “And 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 that just to die here! Why all this bloodshed here on 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 flickering here and there. 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. There were plenty dead from more 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 for her. 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, so shallow now that Divari had to stare to see water above the riverbed’s loose rock and mud.
The Teman dead lay heaviest here, piled around stakes with abundant arrows piled on them in turn. Where she could see skin, the arrow-struck sagged with black postules and open sores, yellowed skin and suppurating sinew, all marks of the knifestail venom Tonnish archers cherished. The leering decay came hours later; it was the venom’s neurotoxic half that killed in thirty seconds or less. Some claimed the victims spent another ten seconds 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 with their archers and mages before committing to melee.
It was a good plan, Venor explained, except that the Ton had few mages and often forgot those of the enemy, 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 like they’re supposed to, 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. And yet the few they had drew blood, Divari thought, eying the dead Teman.
“Anyhow,” Venor continued, pointing to a mound miles away upriver, “we can see how well it worked. Jasczynk’s casters dam the river up there and what gets through isn’t enough to clean away corpses. What I don’t understand is 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, where no one has lived for time 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 the strongest nexus on Canno. Likely the current felt dead to Sairo’s mages, but the Teman mages’ numbers were enough to pull it across the distance and create a pool here.”
“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 shape of the Sairo position 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.” Eight thousand warriors, gone like fog under the sun, Divari thought. How many of their enemies?
“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. I will not have our ancestral water held prisoner by outland magics.” Hevrin raised an eyebrow and smirked at the irony. “Please?” Divari instantly wanted to strike herself. She should not beg of her vassals. But the woman’s bow was deep and long-held before she sent herself hurtling through the air. Mage-flight was no trial for the invoker; Divari’s own school, The Sisters of the Yelba Aflame, had no incantation for it.
She picked her way over the slain. Here the Teman dead lay scattered, many grappling with Sairo fallen in a last embrace. Sairos leaned on fallen trees or lay behind them clutching bow and arrow, still waiting to loose one last flight.
“Would you look at this?” Venor coughed. A Ton warrior hung on his knees against the spear in his hands, stopped from falling over further by the “skirts” of his lamellar around him. The grim-set lips and final pallor made him look almost like sculpture with his eyes hidden by his helmet’s bowl.
A sword embedded below his collarbone was caught by its guard on the spear’s haft, helping hold him upright. The spear drove diagonally through the outside front of a Teman knight’s cuirass where the armor curved less, point stuck in the ground on the other side. “I’d heard rumors, but ancestor’s breath!”
“Double hit,” another guard said. “A bad business.” Everyone nodded; too often even trained warriors attacked at the same time, and both died because neither protected themselves. This was far from the only mutual slaying on the field.
Divari stepped close and peered under the lip of the Ton warrior’s helmet. Not a man, but a woman. She should not have been surprised. Other people are not mine, she reminded herself.
“Right through,” one of her other guards said, sounding strangled. “You can’t pierce steel with steel. It’s just not possible.”
“It’s sapphire-steel,” Venor said, leaning down to eye the spearhead’s exposed edge. Its blade was crystalline blue, with darker shades of the same sifted throughout. Every sapphire-steel piece had a unique pattern; this one spiked and leapt back and forth through the blade, sprinkled by dark specks.
“So it is,” another guardsman said. “That explains it.”
“Only part,” Venor said. “I was given the chance to test a sword of it once. I got just deep enough through the breastplate 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, but wanted them to see it too. The sun-worn skin of a middle-aged Teman woman greeted her, and a single ice-blue eye. The other, and the blond brow above it, were ruined by a deep, old scar.
Divari shook her head and lead her party over the corpse-ranks, up the hill, and to the banner. The Ton here wore ornate white armor inlaid with black-trimmed scarlet steel, blossoms carefully stippled by engravers’ chisels to have fine texture and striations. Gold and silver adorned their weapons and the sword-scabbards at 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.” And then he sold them to death.
A straight line of corpses showed the place the spear-ring had first collapsed. Despite Teman and Sairo corpses jumbled elsewhere, Divari knew 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 the open ruin of a skull with fragments of helm still behind it, sinking a few inches lower on each. The ballista bolt responsible drove in beneath the foot of a great Sairo banner, surrounded by a great splatter of blood and gore-pulp. Inside the splatter was 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 than join the battle proper, leastwise ’til it’s too late. Much good it did, eh?”
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. It must be the exact instant of Mei-la’s death. The idea of a Queen—for call herself what she was, a Matriarch of the Ton was a Queen to any other land—cut down on the field like a common peasant made her pallid.
Divari felt stinging in her right hand, and, looking at it, saw blood trickling 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 one piece of battle-refuse while distracted by others.
Hevrin landed beside her. The restored river drove into the carrion-dam behind them and foamed it apart.
“The Sairo encampment is just the other side of this hill,” Venor said. “I see the tops of the tents. Jasczynk’s got to be down there. Given this bloodbath, he’s probably making some grand display of the Sairo woman’s corpse.”
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!)