Grave choices: 2

Yay for scheduled postings. Buys me breathing room to hopefully come up with some new material.

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Morning brought it's own aches, pains, and about an hour of me not sure what happened. All I knew was it was too bright, and there were skull shattering noises from the little kitchen area. My voice, when I tried screaming for silence, fell far short of all-powerful commanding. In fact my voice could barely be heard a dozen paces from me. Still, Vik must have heard me struggling because he came back with a glass of something steaming hot and foul tasting and wouldn't let me alone till I drank all of it.

* * *

"You don't have to stay." I had washed, changed, and was hobbling downstairs to open up shop while Vik was walking in front of me; probably so that if I fell it would be on him rather than the whole way down. No answer. We entered my shop from the back door and I started to knot the wards leading back to my rooms when I felt hm pull the tangled energies from me. Normally I don't think he would have been able to while I was in mid-weave, but I was almost spent and I could barely concentrate. Normally I would have snapped at him for trying to shoulder me aside, but if I was so out of it that I couldn't make even a token effort to resist it would probably be for the best if he stayed. Knives and poisoned arrows and such.

"OK, fine. you handle the wards." Vik probably heard the bitter in my voice but if he did he made no comment. I made a quick inspection of the little store, well as quick as my somewhat improving condition allowed anyway. Two rooms with one in front of the other was the theme here. Sure there were candles, the occasional cleared space for chairs and a small table so browsers could inspect the different books and other material if they really wanted, but on the whole it was a small shop. Even with ti being a small place I made sure I had a variety that would satisfy most needs of the non-magical folk, and 'hedge/kitchen' magi that either couldn't get their own materials, or couldn't muster enough strength or focus to empower them. This means my store holds pretty much a little of everything from dried herbs, incense, books on theory, beginner’s guides, minor enchanted items, and all manner of other things I considered 'useful but mostly harmless.' There was that one time I'd gotten a genuine Dresden blasting rod and the money off of that is probably the only reason I could afford what's in my shop right now, but I generally don't sale and trade of genuinely powerful and dangerous material.

Inspection done and store open for business. I took my place behind a cutout in the wall between the main store and the storage room that served as my counter and lookout position for any would-be shoplifters and Vik took his place on a stool on the customer's side of the counter and slightly to the left of me. "Don't you have anything to do today?" He grinned back at me before pulling a well worn and dog-eared book from his robes, midnight blue today instead of the black one from last night, and became the perfect picture of a man ignoring everything around him except the page in front of his face. Judging by the lines of energy radiating around the store centering on him I suspected that was far from true, but if it weren't for that I would have been fooled.

Customers came and went throughout the day; most browsing instead of buying for one reason or another. I nodded to a pair of Elemental Magi that stopped by to brows for 'something the little ones will like'. I could tell they were Elementals by how their garments seemed to flicker and shift according to whichever element they had an affinity for, Air for one and Fire for the other. So far as I've ever been able to tell any sort of effect, like getting burned, soaked, or the like only happens if something comes in direct contact with those robes but I did note the Flame Magi had her companion go through the books and other more combustible objects rather than browsing herself.Strange people, but they made nice small talk and were polite.

Just before they left Miss Crowley came by for her weekly charm replacements. I'm not sure what her story is, because I'd rather not pry too closely, but by her attitudes and her habit of buying different charms, amulets, and other minor gewgews worn as jewelry and sewn into her clothes to ward off fires and things igniting I'd wager either she's just coming into her own as an Elemental Magi just now coming into her powers. I've tried quietly offering pointers to books, scrolls, and little pamphlets about the different schools of magic and a few learn-at-home routines for control, but she'll hear none of it, so I keep my mouth shut about the issue while at the same time tipping people better suited than me to keep an eye on her so she doesn't accidentally hurt anyone. Come to think of it that was probably why the two elementalists were here.

Most days I'd be begging the Gods on high for more customers, but today I was quite content with near non-existent business. Vik had, through the day, made himself at least appear useful by doing inventory off and on throughout the day. I'd like to trust him to not steal from me, pretty much since if he wanted to there wasn't much I could do to stop him what with how out of it I felt. So I closed down early, not a great day at all but my usuals had shown up and nothing got broken. Since I was paid up on this month's rent and I wasn't starved it was the best avaliable option.

There was still a few hours before most places closed for the day, so I figured if I was going to walk to try getting some of the stiffness out of my system I might as well take care of a few things. Vik caught up to me before I'd locked up and turned my wards back on. Skip skip skip. Lots of walking through the less-nice parts of the Outer Ring to get to the post office. I apologize but much of my life really is boring. Just checking the mail. Really.

* * *

I eyed the pixie with a mix of depression and annoyance. We use pixies to help get mail and messages sorted. Some out-of-towners find the practice somewhat odd and more than a few have said they don't know how it works, but it does. Go inside, Find a seat, and a little person that could stand on your hand flies up to see what you need. It gets rid of the whole waiting in line problem, at least I've never had to wait more than a few minutes before someone's there to see to my needs.

"Nobody's saying it's your fault." I tried making soothing sounds to the girl-pixie standing on my leg. She's just doing her job, no need to snap the messenger in half over bad news. "I'd just left a standing request that anything from my older sister get ignored." Spark, and no I'm not sure if that’s her name or just one she works under, tilted her head and looked up at me with those too large eyes her kind have. "She's never been happy with my leaving home, and it's gotten worse lately."

"That’s not a good enough reason to just Ignore her." Her wings buzzed faster, I could tell she was aggravated. "She's Family. You don't ignore family. Ever." Say what you want about the wee folk, their sense of duty and family have few equals.

She's maybe six inches tall at most, and could be outweighed by an apple, but something in how she looked at me was unsettling. There are standing policies about proper customer/employee conduct while at work, and those rules have heavy penalties not only for customers tormenting the pixies, but also for customers who get their heads set on fire, just as an example.

"OK. OK. Sorry." I started dictating a reply to my sister. Nobody paid any attention to us since everyone, including Vik, was busy with their own affairs. I'm pretty sure the sound of dozens of buzzing wings and things going on behind the wall separating the customer's area from 'processing' helped keep the general noise level high enough that Spark and I could speak in relative privacy. I still wouldn't compose love letters here, much less dictate one to a pixie to pas on to somebody else to send to somebody on the other end to have it delivered to whomever. Progress might be a great thing, but I do have my limits.

When I finished Spark frowned up at me. "You're going to have to do better than that if you want her to stop being mad at you." Before she buzzed off she lightly punched me in the nose. "I'll see what I can do to make it sound a little less like you want her to go away."

"Thanks little lady. What would I do without you?" I've been getting my mail here for years. Pixies tend to pick specific customers they like working with, and sometime around last year Spark decided I was 'her' customer. Strange I suppose, but she's saved me worlds of grief by making my outgoing mail look a little more presentable.

* * *

"Well that was useless." Vik grumbled as we made our way through the afternoon crowds, avoided getting trampled by horse drawn traffic, and were making our way to the harbor. "I get two bills, mom telling me I've been disowned, and they're transferring Sven cross town." It seemed i wasn't the only one who was somewhat attached to my mail handler. Yea, of all that my mind latched onto the fact 'his' message handler isn't going to be there anymore.

After a moment the rest caught up to me and my expression soured. "....Why?" Three guesses and I'm pretty sure the first two wouldn't be needed.

"It’s not," He wiggled his fingers in an offhand gesture, "what we do." Getting disowned by his own mother. Seriously. What in Archnos's Hall could make anyone that to their child? "I don't want to talk about it. Maybe later, but not right now."

Oh....kay. We shook on it and after a little hunting I found a pushcart vendor that sells these little sausage sandwich things he likes. It won't make up for what happened, but an empty stomach won't help matters any. that and i was hungry. He doesn't want to talk about it, Fine. We will speak on the matter, but not before he's ready. Not unless it's something that could get either of us killed.

Other errands that needed tending to were of the boring and mundane sort; get things from the cleaners, check on a my suppliers, go to the bank to make this week's deposits, that kind of thing. Just because I was faced with a life and death fight in a couple days didn't mean I could shirk my more ordinary responsibilities Yet even during these ordinary moments my mind was playing out the upcoming fight, and it seemed my subconscious didn't like my odds.

* * *

"Name and business?" The pixie asked in a business-like tone. He was maybe a little taller than Spark, and were he human-sized I'm sure he would have been well muscled, but given that all the wee folk tended to be somewhere between beautiful and ethereal that in of itself meant nothing. City guard using pixies as more than message runners was something new, I'd have to ask about that sometime.

"Marrik Broom. Sergeant Will Thatcher left word that he wanted to speak with me at some point today."
The pixie saluted, I kid you not on that, and flew off through a teeny hole near the ceiling, probably put there for that express purpose. With it gone I noted that the furnishings, papers, and the things one expects to find in a clerk's room were, well, human sized and obviously the little one couldn't very well use a pen nearly as big as it was. Vik seemed to give the room a thoughtful glance over, "Think he's a temp?"

"Maybe he stepped out and the little guy's filling in." Could be any number of things really. It could even be that they simply hadn't replaced the furnishings with something appropriately scaled, or the little ones do much of the drudge work and the human paper pushers copy records down and oversee things.

Will Thatcher, Sergeant in Newport's city gard and arguably my current employer, was less than impressive when he eventually showed. His eyes were sunk in and had dark circles under them, which suggested lack of sleep. His clothes were rumpled, hair unkempt, and he had apparently neglected to shave this morning. "I don't know who you are," He glowered at Vik, "So get out. This has nothing to do with you." Vik exchanged glances with me but with an uncommon lack of complaint headed for the door. Will had seen me with Vik a few times, but I kept my friend away from this assignment. Maybe it was paranoid of me, but I couldn't let myself trust anyone else from my order, no matter how nice they seemed.

"No offense boss but you look terrible."

Will snorted before opening one of the clerk's desk drawers and sliding a small stack of papers my way. "See what you can make of that." I started skimming through to get the general shape before looking at details. "Murders. All the victims lived alone." I raised a hand to make sure he wouldn't interrupt me while i flipped between papers. "No obvious connections. Some wealthy, some living off handouts." I then looked at a series of photos. There's talk of pictures so detailed you could read the shopping list in a person's hands, but the best I'd ever seen were grainy things that obscured much of the detail.

What I saw here still managed to make my stomach turn. "Plague." No details. Even remembering the mere photos made me ill. Don't get me wrong. In my studies I had to work with dead and not-quite-living bodies, but that didn't make me immune to things like this. "I take it the bodies have been burned, have called for a sweep by specialists to see if this has spread, and you're giving the Council a good enough appearance that everything's in hand so they won't breath down your neck?" He nodded. "So," I sat the papers down and eyed him. "Why did you want to show me?"

He pushed the papers back at me then thumbed to a note somewhere in the middle. It was more a transcribed conversation than a note. Something of a disagreement between officers on the cause. Will championing, and getting a good deal of support for, the idea that our unfriendly secretive coven of sewer dwelling necromancers were trying to exert their influence. It made a great deal of sense given we hadn't gotten any news of anywhere that does regular trade with us suddenly falling ill to anything, and tales of death and war always are the fastest to travel. Many others, including Will's commanding officer thought they were just a series of natural, albeit horrible, deaths. For all I know they could be natural, except for the fact that no disease I know of works in the span of a single day, kills a single person out of a crowd, and not leave a dozen or more of their closest friends and associates sick or dying.

"You seem to know what you're talking about when it's this kind of thing. Ideas?"

If this was a test run, or even if it wasn't I felt obligated to try stopping it. My role as an advisor to Newport's Finest was mostly so I could try pointing at something and saying whatever ill I've done in the course of my studies had gone to doing something to balance things like this out. Unfortunately much of what could be useful, such as explaining that these deaths were caused by a form of magic that was almost impossible to detect directly unless you were trained and skilled in necromancy, would also require I 'out' myself to one of the very people that not only had motivation but also legal right and authority to kill me on the spot.

"Will. This is going to take awhile, and I would feel more comfortable if you met me at my place. I can better explain what I think's going on there." Well it was true. Hard for me to explain myself if I couldn't openly explain myself. "Bring a few people with you. I know it sound strange but I'd rather you not come alone. One hour. OK?"

Will was understandably confused looking, but he nodded. "One hour."

* * *

"I should kill you." Will sat in my reading chair as I paced about waiting for his reaction. His tone was thoughtful, "Even with the good you have done I should kill you and make sure you haven't somehow tampered with my better judgment." At this point I feel obligated to note that he made no move to get up, call for help that he had waiting downstairs, or any number of things that I would have guessed. Scratch that. I was talking to him here probably because out of everyone I had worked with he seemed the most inclined to listen before acting.

My pacing stopped when I addressed him. "You have no proof that any help I have offered was more than some sort of scam to gain your trust and give me access to things I wouldn't have otherwise." The thought process behind this was to not give him reasons why he should trust me, which would probably get him thinking on reasons why he shouldn't. Instead I wanted him to focus on why I should be trusted and worked with instead of killed or put in chains.

A small smile flickered across his face then was gone. "If their goal was to get someone inside that could twist the knife they've failed utterly." He watched me carefully, but continued to make no hostile seeming moves. "You've not only refused to be folded into our ranks, but refuse to abuse your position as a consultant to do more than go into the publicly avaliable areas of our holdings. Heavily monitored areas where anything you do would be seen, recorded, and put on record if we ever thought you might have been a problem."

This really should have terrified me, since at a shout, or even the wrong word said whenever someone called up to check on us would send armed men and experienced magi swarming in to put an end to things. Our conversation felt more like a game than anything else though, because I almost felt that Will had already accepted this new reality and was using this time to try finding new ways of putting me to work. That could have been wrong of course, but even if this was little more than a formality the fact I had finally started talking to someone was a relief I wouldn't deprive myself of.

I laughed at Will's counter-argument. "You have no idea what information I've fed is fact and what's made up just to put you on a false trail. Your mind could have already been scrambled to the point where I don't have to go any deeper in the gard than I have. My coven's leaders might already have men on the inside while I maintain the illusion of being a reasonably well off seller of minor baubles to give me money and connections to do pretty much whatever I wish."

"You're far from the only person we consult with, and you've given us enough to go on several times to keep this city from being consumed by Death. If your goal was to spread misery and decay so your 'people'," Sarcasm on that word, heavy heavy sarcasm, "could grow in power then you're an abject failure."

Point, but I wasn't quite done playing devil's advocate. "Maybe I was helpful those times so that more could be gained later."

Will's turn to laugh. "We've worked together for close to five years now. I can't see you keeping a set of lies straight that long. Plus even with a general burn on sight order on anything even smelling like necromancy you aren't the only 'expert' on the matter, and unless you can make me believe that you've been manipulating a centuries old Drow cleric this conversation's gone on quite long enough." He got to his feet and offered a hand. "You might be a complete madman for what you're doing, but I'll vouch for you."

"Thanks." It's hard to put into words how much his vote of confidence meant to me. Sure I'm probably stone crazy for taking the path I have, but with my help some good has come of it, maybe enough to balance out what I had to do to get as far inside as I had. "You can get everyone else in here to give you a once over. I want it on the record, or at least have other people know, that I'm not puppeting you around."

He looked at me questioningly, "Are you sure about that? I might be able to get a few people to agree with me, but no. I'd be lucky if they don't kill the both of us and while we're waiting in chains for that pleasant future your associates get to go about doing whatever they like." His voice was calm and his words thoughtful. "We might be able to bring you out in the open, but not right now. You come to me, and only me, with anything you have on this one. Alright?"

I nodded once and he left. After a slow count to twenty when I was sure he was gone I spoke into my apparently empty apartment. "I do not know how you got past my wards, but I know you're there." Sure I might die inside of a few moments by an assassin sent to confirm I really was a traitor to the rest of the coven, but I was going to do my best to keep a brave face.

A heavily shadowed corner started to move. I don't mean something in the shadows moved enough that i could tell something was there. I mean the shadow itself started to move then I heard Vik's voice. "I'm going with the Sergeant here. You're out of your skull crazy. They've been looking for a good excuse to stomp you flat and you've gone and done this for how long now?"

I crossed my arms over my chest and looked at him. Black robes, cowl down, and a pair of long knives, almost swords really, hanging on his belt along with a few odd trinkets I couldn't immediately find a use for. "Almost five years now." Silence from my friend and potential executioner at the news that I’d been working against our order's stated goals almost as soon as I'd joined. We stood like that for what felt like a long time. Vik seemed relaxed, but i"ve seen him use those knives to cut men and manimals to ribbons, to say nothing of the kind of spell work he could try against me. Even though he was in my home uninvited, and as a result deprived of much of his power, I was fairly sure he could kill me if he wanted. "Are you going to kill me?" No sense being anything other than blunt.

The shadows around Vik lengthened and contracted almost as if they were breathing. "No." He walked to the door, turned to me, and smiled. "See you around." Without another word he was gone. I shuddered and felt far less safe than I had this morning. My wards needed to be relain in a pattern different enough from what I had been using that Vik might not guess at how to unmake them. That would take time and energy. Thankfully I felt better than I had even at lunch time, which was good considering how complex a task this would be.

From what I've read and heard thrown about by more traditional magi my wards follow similar rules and. Sure the only thing I can do without somehow killing something is create entropy, disorder, and a general breakdown in things while drawing that newly 'liberated' energy to me, but once I have something to fuel my constructs what I do is little different than what a generalist wizard can do with a little retouching here and there to account for differences in power sources. It's unfortunate most traditional necromancers, especially the ones smart enough to have left their spells behind for others to learn embraced the 'dark and dreadful' motif. So no calling down lightning or fire for me, but even with no real way to pull down the elements, summon up constructs of my will to fight for me, or such I'm far from a one trick pony. Maybe when I get a little bit better grounding on theory I can do more than reflexive defensive casting without having to follow somebody else's formula.

Hours went into deconstructing my existing wards, mostly because I wanted to try recycling some the stored energy. Not sure how many even from my order bother, but since I'm dependent on drawing from external sources for all but the most basic or violent of actions I'm not going to waste what's there. It was late, well past when most normal sane people would be asleep, but considering what might slip in I went ahead with building new wards.

Sleep, then I would have to have a long drawn out discussion with Sergeant Thatcher on these murders.

* * *

As far as dreams went this one was quite nice really. Me at Forrester's pub listening to the general chatter and soaking in the atmosphere. Sure it didn't revolve around a fetching lady willing to do indecent things, but with everything that was going on in my life my libido was low on the priority list. Knowing you're dreaming isn't tied to magic, and I've never really found a use for it outside of giving my mind time to relax and possibly to go over things I might have missed while awake. This was purely a time-out from the different troubles that threatened to swallow me and I bloody well was goingto enjoy it.

Which is why I was somewhat surprised to find Spark at a stool beside mine in all her dark skinned too beautiful glory. One moment nothing, blink, and there she was human sized and lacking wings but still most definitely the same person. Perhaps my mind wanted to indulge, but I tried banishing the dream-girl. She laughed and brushed strands of salmon pink hair out of her eyes. "Don't bother Marrik."
Strange, but away you go.

Nothing. Still there. still looking at me with golden yellow cat eyes. "you're real. I'm real. Everything else," We were suddenly in the empty recieving area of the post office, "is negotiable."

I noted that as we transitioned from There to Here Spark had gone from her usual belted tunic and cap to heavy plate armor which made me raise an eyebrow. "I didn't think your kind could do something as complex as a sending." Breath. Don't let your mind drift. It could, for all I knew, be some kind of ultra-subtle trap. I didn't know anyone who could put a mindlock on anyone, or even probe surface thoughts, but mind invading pixies? These little things, when not being put to work by people tended to, most didn't really seem to bother with more than the simple things in life.

She patted a seat near, but not next to, her. "They're starting to replace us with spirits." Her tone was level and her expression carefully neutral, but the look in her eyes sold it for me. "Not even real spirits either. Things pulled together and made. Perverse things that won't need to eat, sleep, feel. Just do what they're told and..." Her outer calm cracked for a slit second. I grabbed her hand and gave it a gentle squeeze. "Some of us are being transferred to other places, like city guard, or to be live in help."

"I'm here lady." I sat there holding her hand in mine. "What can I do?"

"Find my brother. they wont tell me where he's being shipped and they're keeping us apart." Her eyes were pleading and the calm in her voice was starting to break. "I didn't know where else to go. Everyone's keeping us in the dark and I think they're going to try selling the rest of us off soon."
Shadow blinded idiots.

"Listen to me very carefully. I'm going to give you my address and I want you to fly here but do not try coming in until I say it's safe. There are some pretty heavy wards around my home and I don't know how big a bump you could take." My voice sounded a touch too rough in my own ears, but even though our relationship has always been strictly professional I felt what was happening, if she's got the right of it, was a deliberate insult to her and all the other wee folk. "Bring what you can." I was almost going to add 'and tell anyone who doesn't have anywhere else to go to come with you' but sudden visions of my home and shop filled with hundreds of upset pixies reminded me just how potentially bad an idea that would be.

The dream started breaking down around us and when I woke I knew there would likely be no more sleep that night. No help for it. Friend in trouble, and if this was a trap then I was probably about to be attacked. Either way rise and shine and all that.
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