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It wasn't often that I knew when someone was going to kill me before I had to keep a knife, arrow, sword, or whatever from shuffling off my mortal coil. This knowledge hit while I was giving a lecture to a group of guards on what my informants had given me about a cult that had made the sewers and cisterns below this place into their lair.
My name is Marrik, son of Nathan, son of Martin. We don't trace our family any further back because normally most people around here don't bother going further back than their grandsire unless they're nobility, and my great-grandsire ended up trying to turn himself into a god by sucking the life out of our world. We don't talk about him much at the dinner table or at family gatherings. Important point, and something that's caused our family no small amount of grief since, but I've gotten a bit sidetracked from the point I was making about having a little warning that somebody was trying to kill me. Of course, since you likely don't have any sort of background information it might help to know why I'd be in this position in the first place.
These lectures tended to cover the undead, preferred servants of necromancers and those that had been generated during the Blighting of my grandfather's time. Most people that would be allowed in front of this many upstanding officers of the peace wouldn't know what I know, and I hadn't made too big a secret of the fact that I knew things that could help should... let's say... a horde of undead swarm up from the sewers followed closely by their black robed pasty faced creators hoping to suck the life out of everything and everyone in a bid to gather more power for themselves. Perhaps I should have been a little more careful about how I went about giving out my knowledge, but these people thrive in a climate where people assume they're just disgruntled kids that might, at worst, kill a few chickens while playing dress up behind their uncle Thad's barn when they think he's asleep.
I knew my life was being threatened because I could feel energy gathering somewhere in the room. Normal Wizards, Witches, and other practitioners of magic wouldn't feel that slow buildup. Most people that don't know what to look for, magically inclined or not, would only feel a slight chill in the air. One of the reasons why people with a clue fear and hate necromancy, it's almost impossible to spot unless it makes something that shambles up to you wanting a piece of your mind to chew on.
There would be only a few moments before the energies released, but I didn't want to stop mid-sentence. I was hoping whoever was trying to kill me didn't realize just how much I knew, and if I was lucky I could diffuse the spell without anyone being wise to what was going on. I trailed off, tried to pick my momentum back up, but the crowd noticed I was distracted. No help for it. My left hand made small gestures, hopefully taken as part of my speech instead of one of those tics I'd picked up while learning. Ask anyone that knows a bit of magic and they'll tell you that words and gestures aren't needed, but help focus the caster's will. The spell's center was a gnarled and twisted clump of energy who's cracks and dips I filled with my will. I could not diffuse it with only moments before it released, but I could spread out the effects and hope the worst anyone would get was a minor cold.
The spell shifted, it's maker realizing at the last moment that something was altering it's makeup. He, for there were no women in the room, couldn't stop, because if he did the energies would fall in on themselves and probably slide back through the person that wove them. Did I forget to mention this spell was supposed to kill it's target? Not something you can afford to have backfire. Maybe I could have traced it back to it's source, but that would have taken too long.
Boom. The spell's energies released in an invisible wave of cold sickness and pain. More than a few people suddenly looked ill, one or two started massaging their temples, and I felt an icicle slam into my gut making me want to vomit before crawling somewhere warm and secluded to sleep for about a month. I felt terrible, as did many others in the room, but I'd survived.
"Questions?" I looked around the room. "Anybody?" No hands raised. Everyone seemed to want out as badly as I did, though it was unlikely any received as much of the curse's effects as myself or the caster. "Alright. Next week I'll have tests ready to see who's been paying attention." I would have chided everyone about not taking things seriously enough, but my heart wasn't in it. Someone had just tried killing me, and I wanted to find them before they got another chance. Thankfully the method used shrank the suspect list from the few thousand that either lived here or were on business, to a few dozen.
Everyone filed out leaving me in an apparently empty room. I wouldn't be able to trace back the spell's origin point, the trails left by the energies decayed quick in the presence of so many people, and I'm sure my tampering didn't help either. With luck whoever had done this was feeling just as queasy as I was. I hoped so, because we were likely headed to the same place later tonight, and I had to find him before he got there or I would be worse than dead.
"Heyadoin?" Vik grinned at me from somewhere in the shadows of his hood. Odd that they would put him on guard duty. Generally they liked people that killed first and never bothered with questions. By this time I'd have normally fought for the right to enter. The heads of my order are firm believers in 'survival of the fittest.'
I stopped shy of the intersection in the tunnels he stood at. Vik was good and he was fast. Thankfully he was generally friendly. "I thought tonight was George's night, what happened?"
Vik drew a finger across his throat and made a squicking sound. "Dire Cat on the way back from Thule." I winced reflexively at the news. Dire Cats meant Druids, which meant that George was probably now a tree on the side of some road between here and there. "Say, you don't look too good."
For the record I felt like Death had used my head for a kickball and my body for a punching bag. "Somebody tried a ten thousand plagues on me." Vik's turn to wince. "See anybody else that looks in as bad a shape as me let me know OK?" I felt safe with Vik. Sure I couldn't trust him with all of my secrets and I wasn't sure if he was in for the same reasons I was, but he was one of the few dependable and honest people in this little group.
"Gotcha." He made a gesture before motioning me across. The stench that hit on this side of the wards was different than the general stink of the rest of the sewers. I was glad for the glow-ball in hand because more lights had gone out, leaving the arched walkways and crawlspaces into darkness. This place, all of it, was built to channel sewage and runoff away from Newport. Most people would be surprised at just how much room is in a sewer. People have to come down for repairs and maintenance after all. Where I was walking went well into the older sections that had served the city that Newport had been built on top of. Most of it was still used, but there was the occasional abandoned and walled off section. This is where my 'friends' would meet.
In case it wasn't already clear I'm a necromancer. Yes I know, icky, vile, unclean, and all that. Groovy now can we move on to my side of things? I'm not a great and good person that could serve as a shining example to measure by, but I'm doing the best I can. Years I spent working my way as far as I had, mostly to learn what I could and report to people that could possibly use that knowledge to save a few lives. I stopped a barge load of grain from being tainted. Once I helped find a child that had somehow made his way down here. The local guard tolerates me because I report to them regularly, and I know if they suspect I've turned on them they have a pain elemental that's been promised my Shade to use as a plaything if I misbehave. What I hadn't counted on when I got past the tests of loyalty and intelligence was that I was quite talented at this. It's different from weaving Life into a spell, summons, or whathaveyou, and it Costs, but I have Power and Knowledge. If I don't get my face rotted off I'll use both to try making my corner of the world a little brighter.
Enough of the preachy. Back to the smelly dark 'abandoned' sewers. Ahead I saw a collection of rooms, possibly dug out of rubble or with walls so eroded that they only looked that way. Central meeting hall with skulls, black candles, big huge banners dedicated to Gods of Decay and Suffering. Were I inclined I could go into detail, but it's a big room where everyone in our order would gather for announcements, meetings, duels, and sometimes to sit in judgment of anyone that got under our 'great' leader's skin. I took a right into a room mostly packed with scrolls, books, and a pair of black robed cultists acting as archivers. I deposited a loosely bound collection of papers about three centuries old containing the rights to summon some hoary Old One. On top of these I deposited a stack of papers translating the first stack and written by myself.
"Hello Min." The shorter of the two people nodded to me but said nothing. I personally think her tongue got removed or something. Nobody's heard her speak. Ever. "The translation Mordred asked me for, and I included a stack of notes so he can save himself the trouble." Min tilted her head to one side questioningly. "The ritual as described won't work. Pages Three, Nine, Thirty Seven, and Forty Two contradict each-other. Plus you'd need to kill a whole city's worth of people to power the thing." Min nodded once then put both stack somewhere in the overall pile. "I also want to borrow Kai's Grimorie if it's in the stacks." Another nod and, after a few moments of searching, a grimy feeling black leather bound book was put in my hands. Min held up two fingers then seven. Fine. Two weeks and it needed to be back, plenty of time.
Yet another reason necromancers generally aren't liked. Druids, Rangers, and pretty much every other magical discipline draws their energies from either Life, or the Elements. Necromancers gain power by drawing from things that die. Animals and plants work, but people seem to give the most oomph. I've found something of a loophole in this system that lets me get by without the mess. Every part of your body is slowly dying and at the same time renewing itself. I've figured out a way to tap into that continual dying to fuel my magic. Actually Kraemer found that out just before the Blighting, but I seem to be about the only one to have revisited his notes in the past decade.
Book in hand I found a place by the main entryway to wait. Hopefully I could catch whoever put the whammy on me and find someway of keeping them quiet. So I stood there pretending to read. I chose Kai because it was all basic cantrips and minor tricks that everyone has to learn when they get brought in. I didn't have to wait long before my target showed up. Pity he was on the wrong side of the door I was watching, and he had two broad shouldered armed and armored Death Knights flanking him. For those that don't know Death Knights are to Necromancers what Rangers are to Druids. They focus their magic into aiding with more traditional combat. One I might have been able to take if I had a large store of energy saved up and I had a few moments to prepare for. Two of them in a straight fight. No. Two of them that had caught me flat footed and, if I tried resisting could expect help from about twenty or so trained men and women capable of ripping my soul from my body then puppeting both around at will? Do I even need to say it?
"Marrik if you will come with us.' Two more Death Knights walked into the doorway, smashing any hope I had for talking my way out of this into tiny quivering pieces. "Now."
"Have you anything to say in your defense?" My accuser, now my would-be executioner if I couldn't find a way out of this, paced around me. I couldn't have fought my way out, not surrounded as I was. Still, there was a way out of this if they didn't decide to just put a knife in me. "Well, traitor?" He looked ashen, drawn in, and his voice was weak and raspy. Hopefully his condition would play into my favor..
I gathered myself for a handful of heartbeats because it wouldn't do to sound half dead and broken. Yes I spread the curse's effects out, but the man I was facing down was something of an overachiever. "They only have your word against mine. Everyone here knows my cover story as a scholar and advisor with no skill to speak of." My voice was horse, but steady. It would have to be enough. "I'm not well liked by many of you, but this man not only tried to blow my cover, but he also tried to murder me in full view of the very people we're hiding from."
Low murmurs and whispers went through the audience. Our leader and his two lieutenants waited with an apparent emotionless calm. They tolerated me because they saw reason in many of my ideas concerning moderation, trying to get away from the 'traditional' attire and hangouts of their order, and if it weren't for the fact that they wanted to finish the work my great-grandsire started I might have remained loyal to the spirit as well as words of the oath I gave when I joined since from what i knew the less icky branches of magic had a real problem with the higher ups not listening to the younger generations.
"Furthermore," I tried to continue while I had momentum, mostly so I wouldn't double over in a fit of coughing. "Furthermore my accuser ran the very real risk of being captured and interrogated if he had revealed himself. It was only by my diffusing of his curse, which also diffused the point of origin, that my accuser stands here before everyone." Shallow breath, pause. "As it stands he has endangered both of us by planting the seeds of suspicion in their ranks, which will cause everyone, myself included, to be closely watched. In short my accuser has risked exposing all of us." More whispers broken by a call for silence.
"These accusations the two of you have leveled at each other are most grave." Our leader, a solidly built fellow that I'm sure has been around since my grandsire's time no matter how young he appears, addressed the 'hall'. "In keeping with our order's laws and customs this dispute will be settled through a contest of spirit." Translation: we try killing each other in a one on one fight and the person left standing gets to go on with their life. The loser could, in theory, contest the ruling to our patron deity and could, again in theory, return as a wraith so they can re-balance matters. Oh and if that happened the loser gets possession of the winner's body so they can go back to doing the 'good' work they were before. It wasn't a sure thing, the gods of Death and Suffering never being known for helping those too weak to take care of their own affairs, but it added a notch or five of uneasiness to what was about to happen.
Our duel would be in three days, another part of our laws that worked in my favor. My opponent, let's call him Scruffy since I never did bother learning his name, or the names of most of the other members in fact, was in rough shape, but I'm sure he had be in raw power. Sure the whole plague curse would have drained him, but for people like him one more homeless beggar taken off the streets could fix that. He'll make sure he's got as much power as he can hold when he fights me, but with three days I can do a few things to even the field.
Vik walked with me after we were ordered to scatter. "What you said was true?" I nodded, not really wanting to speak. "I can't wrap my head around that one. Sure most of 'em don't like you, but in public?" I shrugged and soldiered on. I'd be fine with a day of rest, but until then I'd be weak and miserable, not to mention vulnerable in case Scruffy decided to toss a little coin around to make sure I wouldn't show up.
So we walked in silence the rest of the way to my place. It wasn't much, a small shop in a not-so-great part of Spice Row with my apartment sitting on the second floor. It cost more than I think it should to rent, but it was home. I don't remember disarming my wards so Vik could help me through, nor do I remember much else except the feel of soft sheets and a warm bed.