Onson returned to the clan’s base, thoughtful and quiet. As their only necromancer, many of the laws and traditions that applied to others, did not apply to him, including the rule where an outgoing squad could not return until they had completed their mission.
He needed time to think. This entire situation had gotten out of control, and he felt deep in his bones that there was more happening he did not see. Something dangled precariously over an edge with a deep drop, and he couldn’t see what it was. Without someone to question in his particular, special way, he was unable to see the full picture.
Although, he faltered almost imperceptibly in his stride, there were other ways to use his talents to find information. It had been, fuck, a number of years since he had visited them. So many he had forgotten about them until now, as his brain cast about for solutions.
Not all dead things stayed dead. Onson had learned this early on. Necromancers could force a rise, of course, and other creatures existed that hovered in the murky grey area between life and unlife. But sometimes, just sometimes, a dead person would find their way back into the world of the living all by themselves. Not as zombies, ugh, Onson shuddered at the memory of the one time he had to deal with that mess. Just as themselves, only undead. Their body would rise, their brain would remember, and even as their flesh decayed and their bones became brittle and turned to dust, they would retain their living image, and go on. Ghosts, he supposed you could call the ones who no longer held to their physical forms.
His stride had continued after that single blip, only now it pointed him in a new direction. Instead of going directly to report to Deserina, he made his way further into the cave. Beyond all of the neatly carved out rooms. Beyond even the places beyond those. Far past where anyone else would venture.
Reaching a false rock wall–solid to the touch, until he took his small knife, nicked his forearm, and drew an insignia in blood.
On the other side, he took a lantern from a ledge he had carved into the wall, filling it with oil from the airtight jar he had placed here, and lighting it with a match from his pocket.
He turned up the wick as far as it would go, and continued along the thin corridor, his robe swishing against the dry sides.
After some time, he came to another concealed entryway, this one doubly protected: keeping the outside out, and the inside in. He gave the wall his blood in the same way as before, and passed through.
Inside he found two skeletons, slowly cracking into dust. Both were human, one adult and one child.
By now, they had left those skeletons behind, and continued as spirits. As he entered, they were sat at a table, and he paused to listen to them a moment.
“Grandmother, how did we die?”
Grandmother sighed softly. The child had forgotten again. She did so more and more, recently and Grandmother was afraid of what that might mean. She looked at the undead girl, and began the story again.
“A long time ago, lord I can’t tell how long anymore, twas two hundred years last count but that was a long while past. Welladay, I and your mother and your father and you, we were poor but we scratched along. Unfortunately some of how we scratched along was witchcraft. Oh how they hated witches, those hypocritical fools. Confessing on a Sunday so they could go sin again on a Monday. They hated a woman they couldn’t control more than just about anything, so they turned witch-hunting into an art form, my girl. Didn’t matter if you was a witch or nay, they’d burn you anyway. And so it was. Someone decided that we, us who used charms for luck, for keeping empty stomachs from growling, for turning rotten garbage into food, for protection, for pain relief–and this not just for ourselves, neither. Us, who never harmed a one of them. I was never sure but I reckon one of them who was no witch bargained herself for accusing us. The whole family, the women anyway. So they waited until the man was out of the house–kept him drinking someplace to make sure, I reckon–and there they came with their torches lit. They fired the house with us in it, you abed, me and your mother in our chairs, fretting over some sewing needed doing for some neighbour or other. When we tried to get us all out, they showed gun and pitchforks and swords, and pressed us back in again. Your mother got shot by one of those blasted pistols, and burned dead, which was a mercy for her. Me and you, we were either going to get murdered trying to get out, or take the fire.
“Ah, my girl, I still can’t tell you whether I made the right choice there, but I did the best I could. I put us in a protective circle, and I curled you into me, using a charm to keep pain away. I think we died fair peacefully. Why we came back, I couldn’t say, but it’s been an awful long time since we saw the outside of this cave. That necromancer who found us and put us here, long dead for sure, and his replacement, stood by the door there listening–yes I heard you come in–still keeps us here. Maybe one day he’ll free us and we can die like we should have.”
Onson walked forwards, attempting a smile, “I’m sorry madam, I didn’t want to interrupt your tale.
“What is it you want, jailer?”
Onson spread his hands, letting the smile drop, “I heard your story. I’ve never heard it before. And I hear you, that you want to leave this place and go on to whatever should have come after death for you. I can grant you that peace, though I cannot guarantee what might come after.”
“Aye? And for such magnanimous a favour, you want what?”
“Straight to terms, good,” Onson bowed slightly towards Grandmother. “I have need of eyes that cannot be seen, that can travel undetected, and report back to me. There is a specific thing happening that I need to know of, and once the matter is resolved, I will come here and free you both of those unnatural shackles that hold you here.”
Grandmother thought for a few moments, sucking her teeth, “You want me and the girl to spy for you?”
“Indeed. Where to start I have an idea, but I expect you to follow it wherever it leads, and give me regular updates.”
“And when whatever this is, when it’s done, we can go. How long? I want a guarantee of maximum time.”
“If the matter is not resolved within one year, I shall release you regardless. I doubt it will take even half a year, but if you accept that as the maximum it allows for unforeseen possibilities.”
“A year after all the ones before it ain’t so bad, especially with something to do,” she turned to the girl. “Essie, what say you?”
Essie, shying away from Onson, nodded mutely to her Grandmother.
“Make me that pact and sign it in your blood, then,” Grandmother ordered. “Something you can’t break.”
Onson’s eyes flashed briefly with anger, but was gone in a mere second. He bowed again, “I shall draw up the contract and bring it with me tomorrow, to sign in your presence, if this is acceptable to you.”
“Aye. Tomorrow, then. Today, leave us to talk about what we must do and how.”
Onson bowed yet again, about-faced, and draw his insignia again to exit the room.
As he headed back to the main area of the cavern, to finally find Deserina and offer his report, he felt himself getting slightly closer to precarious nature of the things he couldn’t quite grasp. Soon he would have his hands upon them, and use the knowledge to move himself ever forwards and upwards.
With a grim smile, his eyes glinting from inside his cloak, he walked on.