The Case of The Fleeing Necromancer (Part IV)
In the distance lay the town of Dark Gate. Whether that is as ominous as it sounds depends entirely on your point of view. Over a thousand years ago there was a war between two ancient empires, the Baklunish and the Suel. The Suel called down a magical apocalypse called the Invoked Devastation upon the Baklunish. In response the Baklunish survivors did some vast elemental magical summoning called the Rain of Colorless Fire. Both civilizations died in the events destined to be known as the Twin Cataclysms, leaving two wastelands behind: The Dry Steppes and the Sea of Dust. The Sea of Dust, the corpse of the Suel Empire, lay beyond the town of Dark Gate.
For centuries adventurers and kings sought a direct way into the Sea of Dust. Protected by the inhospitable and imposing Hellfurnace Mountains, the vast magical graveyard beyond was mythical in its power to arouse both fear and greed. Many ancient Suel migrated before the radiant but colorless death from the skies. The groups that survived were protected by mages of power and strength and they fled in haste. One group of such migrants were destined to be the founders of Hollowfaust, but there were others. One such group was accompanied by the mage of power, Slerotin. He either discovered or forged a passage under the mountain, that was rediscovered in the Yeomanry somewhere around 50 years ago.
At the entry to this Passage of Slerotin arose the town of Dark Gate. A boom town based on the traffic into and out of the Sea of Dust, it barely had laws. The Yeomanry wanted the riches but did not desire to regulate it. As such Dark Gate was a city unto itself. The Sheriff of Dark Gate was corrupt and easily bought, the prices inflated and the inns dangerous. Paladins mixed uncomfortably with thieves, as parties with both desired to go to the Sea of Dust for their own reasons. No one cared much for reasons in Dark Gate; greed or redemption, it did not matter. What mattered was the coin to buy someone’s care and interest.
We rode side by side toward town. We had waited and relaxed our chase so we could find him here rather than overtake him on the road and lose him if he escaped. Our quarry, Earnest Billock, as far as I was concerned, was wanted for the attempted murder of and necromancer and impersonating a Hollowfaust retainer. There was another vital reason we wait to catch him in Dark Gate. I asked Jeremy, “The law here still the same?”
He nodded, “We have an agreement with the Yeomanry. We can hunt and arrest those wanted in Hollowfaust into Dark Gate. We can interrogate and… if need be, execute if extradition is not possible.”
“Good,” I said, “That will make this easier.”
“Billock is a minor player," he said as he held up a hand to stifle my objection, “I don’t mean his crimes are minor. I mean he is the blade of the knife, not the handle and most certainly not the hand holding it.”
I nodded in understanding as we passed into the town. Inns and bars lined the area past the loosely patrolled town gate. It had grown since my last visit. Parts of the town looked more permanent. It was possible that after 50 years Dark Gate was seeking stability and a permanent role in the country that governed it in name and taxes.
The guard at the gate lazily looked up at us to question business and the other security at some town gates. “Your business here…" He started as he turned to look at us and then saw the wide brimmed hat and scarf on Jeremy that marked a Hollowfauster and stopped. He could only manage, “Hollowfaust.”
Jeremy looked down from his horse, “Is Norton still sheriff?”
The man nodded, “At the Jail.”
Jeremy touched his hand to the brim of his hat and inclined it in thanks.
As we rode to the Jail we passed places for supplies at inflated boom town prices. We passed places to sell the treasures from the Sea of Dust. We passed places that catered to every need and want. On the street vendors sold magic tokens and lies while children performed songs to the gods that purported to bring safety, for just a copper. As we dismounted at the jail a young child ran up to Jeremy.
“Mister!!!” He yelled, “Is that… is that…” He panted as he caught up. “Is that… it is, a real Hollowfaust breathing Scarf?! Do you know what that magic is worth here? They keep you breathing in the dust storms beyond… of course Fausters use them for getting through the Hellfurnaces. And…” he looked at Jeremy’s clothing and put a hand near it; just enough to feel the coolness in the air around it, and gasped. “ Fharlanghn limping into town after a decade walkabout… That’s coldweave! Not magic but keeps you cool. Where did you buy this mister?”
Jeremy looked at him as he unwrapped the scarf from his face, “My tailor.”
“Your tailor must have connections to get the material for this stuff.” He said as he ran his hand in awe above, while not touching, the coldweave. “It’s almost impossible to get this stuff outside of Hollowfaust.”
“I would think it totally impossible.”
“Well you di…” The boy looked up from the coldweave. There was something about his look and bearing that would always reveal Jeremy for what he was if was not actively trying to hide it. He was a Master Necromancer of Hollowfaust. And once you saw it, it was very hard to forget it. The boy took a step back. “Oh… sorry sir. I didn’t mean to offend.” He took a few step backwards before turning on his heels and running away.
“Huh…” Jeremy grunted taking off his wide brimmed hat and banging it against his knee to remove the dust of the road. “He didn’t mention the hat. I’ve always liked our hats.”
I shook my head and opened the door to the jail. The sheriff’s office, which was the first room beyond the door, was pure luxury for a boom town. Exotic woods and aromatics greeted the eye and ear. Obvious ancient Suel treasures decorated the walls. Even the two staff organizing paperwork and cleaning the room were dressed in a Suel fashion, loose clothing and pantaloons with their long hair tied back. The entire places had the Suel look. Of course it would, when you take a dead man’s clothes you look slightly like a dead man: Which is never a good thing when the dead man’s relatives show up.
We passed by the two young girls cleaning. It was always young girls here. Another reason I despised Norton Catering, Sheriff of Dark Gate. He abused his power, surrounded himself with people as if they were objects and candy. And disposed of them like a spoiled child did with his toys when he heard a newer model was popular.
He stiffened as we approached and spoke loudly as if his words would change our presence here. “I want no trouble with Faust… You hear me Moonrise?
We did stop, amused but not deterred. “Earnest Billock, then.”
He was shocked, “Billock? What do you want with him?”
Jeremy held out his badge, “Justice. As per the treaty between the Yeomanry and Hollowfaust I invoke our rights to pursue, interrogate or administer final forfeiture to all fugitives wanted by Hollowfaust after a presentation of the facts to the local authority.”
Norton stood up angrily and moved across the room, “Damn treaty… I don’t care what your charge…”
I stepped between him and my master. Taking a step toward Norton caused him to reverse course quickly and stumble into an end table. “Attempted murder of a necromancer and… impersonating an unfailing.”
Norton gained his feet and stood up straight, visibly shaken. “Stupid bastard. Mercy on his soul, though…” He went back to his desk. "Billock is usually in the Drifters Hope, a dive near the tunnel. Has rooms and food. This time of day he’ll be there… was training people this morning so he might be sleeping before lunch.”
We turned to leave and Norton yelled after us, “You boys gonna clean up the mess, right?”
Jeremy looked back, “I’m a Necromancer, sheriff, waste not want not; besides our messes can shamble out of town after us.”
As we left I said, “Nice touch.”
“You think so?”
“Ominous, unnerving… hints at don’t follow us; solid choice.”
It was not long before the Drifters Hope was before us. And it was indeed a dive. We entered and went up to the bartender. “Billock.” Jeremy said quickly flashing his badge. It was obvious he wanted the next part over quickly.
The bartender gulped, “Don’t want no trouble here.”
“Then find a new place to work. But Billock… please and now.”
“Room 5, upstairs, but he’s sleeping and does not take kindly to being disturbed.”
“I don’t take kindly to attempted murder,” I said, “Rooms adjacent empty right now?”
“Far as I know yes.
I threw some gold on the counter. He drooled at the sum, “For your troubles, to keep those rooms empty for the next hour and… for the door.”
We headed up the stairs to room five. Jeremy checked the door for traps then he and I nodded to each other. In one motion I tore the door from its hinges and advanced into the room. I heard him casting behind me and knew what it was, wall of force on the now empty door opening, modified to also fill the translucent space in with darkness that also prevented the escape of light or sound. He threw a small pouch with an alchemical compound at the window that blackened it and sealed it shut. I pinned Billock to the bed with the door as Jeremy advanced and jumped onto the middle of the door. He landed cross legged around the area of Billock’s chest, which woke him with a gasp. Jeremy cast a cantrip that caused the candles to flair to life.
“Earnest…” he said, “We need to talk about how bad you’ve been.”
The man exploded in rage, “Whoever in the nine hell’s you are… I swear…” He saw the Hollowfaust garb and went pale. Then he allowed an arrogant smile to cross his face, “You can’t touch me… I…”
I punched him squarely in the face, now that Jeremy’s weight held him down and I could remove one of my hands. “It seems I can.”
He accidentally swallowed a mouthful of blood and teeth then couched until he spit them back up. “Oh he will make you suffer… I have immunity…”
“Immunity from the consequences of attempting to kill a necromancer, harassing her… and… and realize that although my friend is far more concerned about you attempting to kill a necromancer, he also cannot get over you masquerading as an unfailing.”
He looked from Jeremy to me. “I was employed… by a member of the Sovereign Council. You can’t do anything to me.”
Jeremy smiled, “No matter what Asaru has asked you to do… there are laws even members of the council are subject to.”
I did not let my surprise show. Not that I was surprised at the fact, indeed it had been something we danced around for days. Only a guild master had the authority to assign the assignments so precisely, and to appoint a false unfailing and cover up for years the absence of a necromancer. It required the participation or willfull ignorance of the head of your own guild. It was the ultimate betrayal. No it was not that it was Asaru, it was hearing it out loud that shocked me. However where I hit my shock, Billock could not.
“You know?” he asked horrified.
“Indeed,” said Jeremy. “And the other guild masters who sent us suspect. So where does that put your protection at this moment?”
“He told me to take care of her,” he stammered, “He said it didn’t have to be killing but she had to never come back to Hollowfaust. It had to make her hate doing her job and feel alone and isolated… forgotten by her city.”
I pushed harder on the door.
“I don’t know what you want from me,” he yelled, “He didn’t tell me why. He just said she could not be allowed to have the future she had. That it was inconvenient for him to have her around or have the pets given so much worth. I swear… I don’t know anything else.”
I relaxed my hold on the door. At that moment Jeremy jumped off of it. “I believe you…” he started. But my relieving of pressure and his sudden lack of weight made the door a weapon for our prey. And experienced fighter he knew when he had a moments advantage. Bringing his knees up he forced the door back on me, knocking me backward a step. Jeremy read the change in position instinctively and moved to put me between them. Billock rolled off the bed and to the floor, grabbed a war hammer he had under the bed and rolled to his feet in one move.
Jeremy began to cast a spell. I yelled, “Stop. He’s mine!”
My master stopped and moved to a chair in the corner of the room. I looked at Billock, “Make it good.”
He was confused as I advanced toward him. “Make what good? Stay where you are… I swear…”
I came within perfect reach of the war hammer. “The one uncontested shot you are going to get.”
He licked his lips and swung with all his might. He was experienced and accurate. I felt my neck snap and the right side of my skull crush. But the unfailing are immune to such critically incapacitating or fatal damage. I felt the magic immediately snap my bones, sinews and muscles back into place as if the damage were no more than a hard slap.
Reaching out I took the war hammer from my stunned opponent. “You’ve been to Hollowfaust, but you never seen the unfailing fight. Your expression says that."
He moved to run and I used his war hammer to destroy his left kneecap. He fell to the ground screaming.
Jeremy stood up. “I’ll be outside. We don’t need him. Earnest Billock. You are found guilty of attempted murder of a necromancer and impersonating an unfailing and as your status In Hollowfaust was visitor the penalty is final forfeiture."
Billock crawled to his good knee, “This isn’t Hollowfaust…”
“By our treaty with the Yeomanry we are permitted to hunt and punish criminals in Dark Gate.”
He looked helplessly between the two of us. “I’ll give you anything you…”
I ended his insulting offer with a twist of his neck. He fell to the ground heavily, no longer a problem. We were silent for a moment until Jeremy spoke as he took out a dagger. “Well, I suppose we are going to need the face for later…”
As we climbed onto our horses everyone avoided looking at us. Not because they did not want to see us, but because they were trying not to notice the shambling figure that led our new pack mule and followed behind us. It was not so much his gait that unnerved them but the full black hood with only eye slits that vaguely hinted at horror beneath.