The Gorgon, Warden of Templehof continued leading the ritual from his position in the first dhar while the sixth position, opposite him, so distant that he could scarcely make out her slight frame, was conspicuously given to the new ‘Nightscryer’. Merethyl and Wispern Tod controlled the third and ninth, opposing. They were complimented by Wigalf and Oliver respectively at the fourth and tenth positions.
The Dread Master of Liches hovered in the center of the titanic symbol, a conduit, stoically absorbing raw Shysh into his own physical shell. It was the seventh such performing of this ritual, each at a different location where masses of the Crusade’s routed warriors had been run down by Sylvania’s forces. The spirits of the fallen were beacons in the night to the magical winds of Death. They would normally push the spirits back toward the Abyss, the Astral, the Aethyr, depending on which book you read. But no longer. With the winds harnessed in this way, the dead would haunt these lands until they could be put to proper use.
Not that the Dread Master would allow anyone else to know this. The official story was merely one of fact-finding, which was, in its own way, partially true. One could hardly be expected to follow in the footsteps of Nagash whilst ensconced in a dome, after all. And if it allowed the dead to spread across the face of the world, then the Grimoire Necronium would be all the happier for it.
She drifted in the place between worlds, between time and reality, often mistaking one for the other, often going unnoticed and unseen. The others in the Tower of Sorcery were always surprised when she appeared. But not The Tree…not the one known as Merethyl.
When Igna drifted through the Tree’s branches, the Tree felt her. When she coalesced fully into the world of Man, appearing as an ageless courtier from an Age long past with pitiless black pits for eyes, The Tree would appear as well.
“Did you watch it?” Merethyl teased, as always. A part of Igna remembered what it was like to cluck with the hens of court. They were always clucking. Sometimes pecking. Rarely they even drew blood. That was her favorite. But mostly all they did was cluck.
“You know I cannot leave the Tower any more than your roots,” explained Igna.
“A momentary prison,” sighed the dryad with a brief twitch of an eye. She languidly sprawled across the roots of this particular, nondescript corner of the Tower where the banshee liked to meet. The Tree now grew through the center of most of the Tower’s upper floors. Its roots were omnipresent in the lower floors, its canopy filled the top floor. The tower’s original stairs had been replaced with its many branches. “We were gone for some time. Did you manage to stay out of trouble in our absence?”
Igna smiled darkly and pointed to a bookshelf on the wall. Merethyl’s eyes widened and she bolted uptight immediately, furtively glancing from the books and back. “You did not!” She clapped eagerly and sprung to her feet. Igna drifted behind the dryad who was scanning the shelves hurriedly.
“He’ll be looking for it,” whispered the banshee, “So be quick and I can have it back before he knows it’s gone.”
“Where is it?!” Merethyl began ripping books off the shelf in immediate frustration. “Oh.”
She found a small, utterly unremarkable, blue-covered book coated with less dust than the others. “This?!” She uncoiled the thong that held it closed and pulled it open, it’s spine cracking after long years of neglect.
“Orbi…ka…worlds….sun-der… Yes! This was the one! Oh you should hear Oliver blather on and on about it…”
She spun and leapt to embrace Igna like a sister only to pass straight through her incorporeal form. Undaunted, she skipped toward her Tree, calling over her shoulder, “I won’t forget my end!”
“Nor shall I forget your-” but Merethyl skipped straight into the trunk of her Tree and was gone.
Soon, the dryad thought as she scanned her body for the former Apprentice, Soon I’ll have what He wants and I’LL be his favorite again. Not that stupid dragon!
“You’re a bit early aren’t you,” remarked Oliver from his desk, not bothering to turn around, “I won’t have time for our reading lessons until I can finish this summary for the Dread Master.”
A small, blue book splattered onto the wet ink in front of him, likely marring the rear cover forever. He narrowed his eyes and his red beard bristled with checked anger. He sat up straight and pressed his thumb so hard against his quill that it cracked, ruining that too and depressing his mood further!
“Aren’t you proud of me?” Her petulant, child-like demeanor was a ruse that belied a deep cunning, even a neglected wisdom. Wigalf may have been fooled by it but that’s because Wigalf was a fool. Still, she was unbearably difficult at times.
He turned slowly in his chair to regard her. Her form today, sprightly and lithe, if a bit angular for his taste, betrayed not a drop of blood to his new, vampiric eyes. There was really nothing about her he liked, but he was determined to find a semblance of redemption in the constant disturbance of her tree is in laboratory.
“What is this you’ve brought me? A child’s book? Did you manage to read the whole thing then?”
“It’s a present! Well, for the tree blood…you know….that I asked you for…” She lowered her chin and folder her fingers behind her back, twisting slightly back and forth.
“I told you, only if-” he paused, then immediately spun back around and snatched up the book. The stains on his fingers from the back cover would be worth it if…
“Otiluke’s Treatise on Worlds Asunder! Where did you-?! Never mind. Here,” he opened the desk drawer near his knee, reached in, and tossed a black vial over his shoulder.
Merethyl caught it easily and frowned, “Wait a-you had it the whole time?!”
Oliver ignored her rantings and stroked his beard, knowing what this would mean. At long last, the Dread Master would see him for the invaluable asset he was! Maybe then he could finally read from the Grimoire Necronium itself!
“Your supplication leaves much to be desired,” intoned the dracolich menacingly. Oliver, to his credit, lowered himself as completely as he could, his brow touching the floor. “Better, little deadling. I tolerate your presence until you displease me.”
Oliver wanted nothing more than to roll his eyes. Every blood-sucker and walking bones in Sylvania wanted to be groveled unto, but at least had the good sense not to rub it in every single time. Even the Von Carsteins seemed to have better ways to spend their eternity than constantly lording it over their underlings!
But a dragon was a dragon.
“I would never dare to disrupt you,” Oliver tried not to sound pathetic but it was difficult with your face on the floor, “but I have not been able to locate the Dread Master for several days.”
Wispern Tod shifted his bony bulk on his dais. What was once an unadorned rise of stone in a moldy cave serving as his temporary lair had recently been carved by his imaginative magics into a grand chamber befitting one of his magnitude. Oliver had to admit, it was a terrible and beautiful spectacle, especially the bit with the blue fires.
“Do I seem concerned with the movements of such a creature as he? His low ambitions are trivial to me.”
“And yet,” Oliver delicately countered, “even you must consider him a useful ally to keep track of?”
“ALLY?!” The dracolich placed his great front claws upon the edge of the dais and pushed himself upright, plumes of magical energy spilling from his exposed torso. Oliver backpedaled and tried to recover,
“Ah-what I mean is, one never knows when one such as he may have a useful … opportunity! To offer!”
“Speak your business and be gone from my sight!”
Oliver unslung his satchel and withdrew a parcel from within. It was small and rectangular, bound in twine. “He had commissioned me to a… a project. And it’s here. Just here. For him. Oh and,” he reached into the satchel once more and produced a pouch, “I believe it has been said you have a fondness for sapphires, yes? A gesture, you see, the Dread Master is not the only one who is well-connected in the arcane libraries of Castle Drakenhof.”
The lair fell silent for quite some time.
“I am to meet him on the morrow,” Wispern Tod admitted at last, “You will return in seven days to share your… connections. Leave me.”
Oliver hesitated to simply entrust the delivery of the book to the dracolich’s care. The note inside (a fabrication of great daring-do, of course) would explain everything but…he supposed he had no choice. Making as grand a bow as he dared, Oliver all too happily exited the cave and began the trek back to Templehof.
Meanwhile, Wispern Tod mage-handed the book and pouch of sapphires to his dais. He tore the bindings from the parcel with a flick of his claw and incinerated the accompanying parchment within, unread. A book? The deadling risked his immortality for some simple blue book? Perhaps this could be leverage he needed with that damned necromancer to get access to the Grimoire…
Wispern Tod alit upon the ancient stones of one of grandest spires of Castle Drakenhof. It was the only spire large enough for him to do so. He was immediately aware that he was not the only dragon to have been here recently (recent as undead dragons go). The implications of this did not sit well with him – a thought for a later time. A hooded figure emerged into the night from a stairwell nearby. Wispern Tod growled,
“The Dread Master dares to send an underling to my arrival?!”
The deadling seemed unphased by this outrage, which only outraged Wispern Tod further. The little creature pulled back his hood to reveal a twisted visage, taut and mutated no doubt by dabbling overly much in the Chaos energies.
“I am Wigalf, the Dread Master’s-”
“I know what you are, deadling! Send him up immediately,” the massive dracolich’s cacophonous voice shook the weathered masonry. “I will not tarry long once I have what I came for.”
“He is afield. West of Oberstyre, near the edge of the …wall,” Wigalf indicated the dome above them all, “There is a field of butchered crusaders and their mounts. The last ones of any significant number to fail to reach the border.”
“This will be the last ritual,” more of a statement than a question from the dracolich but Wigalf nodded all the same, “And take this rubbish…”
Something tumbled out of the dragon’s empty ribcage and fell at Wigalf’s feet, a blue book he immediately recognized. His faced twisted up even more than it already was. Stooping down to get it with his taloned hands just to make sure he wasn’t imagining things, he recognized the leather thong and bindings immediately.
“How did you- I’ve been looking everywhere for this!”
“I cannot imagine why. My notions have never been so insulted by such drivel. When does the Dread Master propose to conduct his ritual?”
“Tomorrow,” said Wigalf absently, trying to grasp what set of circumstances could have possibly led to Wispern Tod getting access to his personal library. He was still trying to piece it together when the great dracolich left without another word.
Wigalf went to scratch his head but remembered he was bald now and so tapped his lip instead. Perhaps the book was drivel, but the Dread Master wanted it and so he would have it after all. He never would have suspected that the harbinger of his salvation would be Wispern Tod! Moreover, this gift would ensure that the secrets of the Grimoire would only be shared with he, the Dread Master’s most favored acolyte.