While it is certain that Necromancers do deal in the animation of corpses, this is not what gives them their reputation as "Death Mages". Shamans deal with the spirits of the dead daily. No, it is their fascination with, and dependence on Warp based spells that gives Necromancers both their name and their reputation. Warp is poisonous and hideously addictive, and corrupts everything it comes into contact with.
--Dennold the Sage, "Introduction to the Arcane Arts"
Once again I was in the wizard's tower, and the scene unfolded with relentless similarity. Tayma poured out her troubles to the necromancer; he said reassuring things to her, and then cut her throat. I was finally able to move and barreled into the necromancer; my momentum carried us both into and through a paned window, and then we were falling into the darkness...
I woke up with a start, and found myself wrapped in a blanket at the bottom of the sump on Blackwater moor. I was suddenly unnaturally aware that my armor and weapons were exactly where I had left them on the night I expected to die; there was no sign of my pack or supplies. I dressed and armed myself, and was not surprised to see that my blanket had now also disappeared without a trace.
I climbed out of the sump, and my last suspicion that I was in the real world vanished; a thin, gray light glowed from an empty sky. There was no trace of fog, but it made little difference; the light faded to nothingness within a few hundred yards. I turned through a slow circle, hoping to see something familiar, or at least meaningful, and found a single point of light in the distance. I paused long enough to realize that I could no longer see the entrance to my sump, and started walking toward the light.
As I approached I realized that my goal was a small campfire; soon I could see a figure crouched beside it, feeding it a steady diet of twigs and small branches. The fire-tender did not look up at the sound of my approach; I stopped at a reasonable distance and called a greeting.
The tender looked up at me with empty eye sockets in a face of dry white bone; I realized I was dealing with an animated skeleton, and flexed my hands in preparation of drawing my sword. The skeleton just stared, and fed another stick to the fire. I approached warily, then crouched on the far side of the fire; the skeleton did nothing. I warmed my hands briefly at the fire, and the skeleton still did nothing. I shrugged and stood; the skeleton also stood; there was a spear in its hand. I took a step backward; the skeleton jumped over the fire and attacked.
I dove backward, rolled, and came up with my sword in my hands and a fresh (though minor) wound in my side; the skeleton turned to face me, and I shattered it. I looked around, saw another campfire in the distance, and trudged off in that direction.
I soon found myself at starting at another skeleton, which was tending another fire. I held my sword ready, but otherwise followed the same routine as at the first fire. The pattern held; the skeleton did nothing until I started to leave, then attacked; I smashed it with little effort. This time I saw two fires on the horizon: the one I had come from, and the one I would no doubt go to next.
At the third fire I considered saving time by attacking the skeleton from behind, but thought better of it. It was clear I was not in my own world, and suspected that ambush would be a violation of whatever rules were in force. Instead I just circled the fire until I could see a fourth fire in the distance, and continued walking; I heard footsteps behind me, and turned to face the spurned skeleton. I gave it what I had given its fellows, and continued on my way.
At the fourth fire, I walked to a point opposite the tender, saluted with my sword, and took a step backward to a guard stance. The skeleton rose, spun its spear once, and then circled out to put itself between me and the next fire. We engaged, I smashed it, and I continued walking.
I followed that pattern from then on, though occasionally a skeleton would surprise me by getting in a fast first hit, or surviving long enough that I had to hit it twice. I found myself getting tired, and my various wounds were quickly becoming stiff and sore; I wondered if the end of the sequence would come before I was so tired that one of the skeletons managed to kill me.
I lost count. Not that it really mattered, unless you took into account that I was not in the real world, and didn't honestly know WHAT mattered. That thought didn't help my rapidly deteriorating mood as I reduced yet another skeleton to fragments. This one had to have made my tally at least three dozen... but I wasn't sure. And it seemed to be important.
The temptation to just bash the next skeleton in the head from behind was enormous, but I gritted my teeth and circled the fire to my usual place, then gaped in shock when I realized that the cloaked figure at this fire was not a skeleton, but Chalice. I dropped my sword as she stared up at me with blank blue eyes (But weren't Chalice's eyes green?). She stood; I opened my arms to hug her, and she punched me in the face with a strength I had never suspected.
Chalice prodded me back to consciousness with her foot; she was standing over me with my sword in her hands. "What did you do with my dagger, thief?" There was an odd accent in her voice.
I sat up carefully and shook my head. I realized that this woman, despite her resemblance to Chalice, had auburn hair. "Stormchaser?"
"I thought you were going to rescue me, and instead you stranded me here. There aren't even any RATS here."
I looked at her carefully. I was exhausted, wounded, and on the ground; she held my greatsword as if she were quite used to it; I was clearly at her mercy. I decided I didn't care very much, and leaned forward to prop head on elbows on knees. "I'm sorry. I don't know what you are talking about."
"The day I met you on Blackwater Fang. You used some sort of spell to banish me here, and then you stole the dagger. I can break through to the life-side where the dagger is, but only if I can FIND the dagger. And I can't."
My curiosity got the better of me, and I looked up. "And you summoned me here, to lead you back?"
"I don't know. I just know that I'm not ready for the void yet. There are brawls to fight and wine to drink and love to make. And I have been waiting for CENTURIES for the chance to taste just a small bit of mortality, and YOU STOLE MY DAGGER."
I sighed. "No, I didn't. I gave it to your niece, exactly as I said I would."
"My niece? My niece has the Alicorn? And you know where she is?"
"I know where SHE is. " I answered. "I'm still not sure where I am."
"That doesn't matter. You're still alive, and eventually you will return to your body. And I can follow you. And then..." She threw back her head and laughed with joy. "FREEDOM!" She fell to her knees and threw her arms in the air. "But first we have to get you home." She looked into my eyes. "Any ideas of how to do that?"
I couldn't help smiling as I shook my head. "That's what I was trying to ask you."
"Oh. How did you get here?"
"I have no idea."
Chalice scowled. "What were you doing?"
"I was sleeping. Peacefully." I did my best to leave it at that, but honesty triumphed over wit. "I was having a nightmare, and I woke here."
"Probably you just need to fall asleep here, then. And THAT will be easier if you aren't bleeding..."
That sounded reasonable; I nodded and she helped me get out of my armor, then she shifted to unicorn form and touched her horn to each of my wounds. When she had finished, Chalice shifted back to her elven form and suggested something else that would pass the time AND put me to sleep, eventually.
I knew it was a bad idea, I really did. Sex with strangers is a bad bet; sex with ghosts is a worse bet. On the other hand, there was a naked woman in my lap who had just put three hundred years of pent-up enthusiasm into one kiss, and my ability to be rational about the situation was GONE...
I woke up in the real world, feeling warm and happy and vaguely delirious. In Chalice's room. In Chalice's bed. With my arms around Chalice. Calling the situation a bad idea was comparable to calling a glacier "A bit of ice."
I did my best to get out of bed without disturbing Chalice, made a hopeless attempt to find some clothing, and finally located and lit a candle. I was pulling on my trousers when Chalice looked up and smiled sleepily; her eyes were still blue.
"Stormchaser?" I asked hopelessly.
"Of course," she answered, smiling.
I clenched my teeth and nodded. "Put some clothes on. I'll be right back." Chalice smiled, shrugged, and rolled over to face the wall. I returned a few minutes later with Perrin and Jasmine in tow, and Chalice rolled onto her back and smiled up at us with sleepy blue eyes.
Perrin's voice was a bass growl that I felt in my stomach as much as heard. "I sure hope this was worth it, Boy, because this bit of stupidity is going to haunt you for a LONG time... IF I don't kill you first for GETTING ME OUT OF BED. ARE YOU INSANE?"
Chalice blinked a few times at that and sat up; I tried not to cringe and held my ground. "What color are Chalice's eyes, Perrin?"
Perrin squinted and said, "Blue"; Jasmine said, "Green," from memory. They turned and looked at each other in confusion.
"Perrin, Jasmine, may I present Chalice Stormchaser, Chalice Autumnleaf's aunt. The dead one." I felt an impulse to smile as the realization struck them, but I fought it.
Perrin bounced to the bed on his crutches and sat down; he grabbed Chalice's face in his hands and stared into her eyes; her eyes went wide in surprise and pain. After a moment he looked up at me. "All right, then, how?" he asked.
I shrugged. "I had the tower dream again, and fell out of it into... a spiritwalk, I guess. I think I managed to get lost on the spirit plane. I... Wait a minute." I picked up a candle and quickly examined my torso. "Here. This scar... It's from a wound I just got on the spirit plane, that Stormchaser healed."
Perrin kept a hand clamped on Chalice's jaw while Jasmine examined the wound; there were purple marks on Chalice's temples where Perrin's other hand had held her. "It's fresh," she said. "Cut and healing are both within the last couple of hours, and it has the feel of unicorn healing."
Perrin nodded and looked at me again. "Then what?"
I described the trail of skeletons and fires. "Every one of them had his back to me, and it would have been easy to start smashing them from behind... but that didn't feel right, and I would have taken HER head off if I had."
Perrin let go of Chalice's face. "So what's your story, girl? Why shouldn't I blast you out of that body you've stolen, and send you to the void where you belong?"
Chalice's eyes went wide, and she trembled. "Please. Please don't send me away. I will relinquish the body, and not return unless I am invited. I can help you; I can help her, my niece; I am much more of a warrior than she is. And I can make the full power of the Alicorn available."
Perrin nodded. "Then go. Give Autumnleaf her body back, and don't return unless summoned." Chalice nodded and went limp, then sat up and shook her head. When she opened her eyes again, they were green and hopelessly puzzled. Perrin took her head gently in his hands and kissed her forehead. "Quill has some things to explain to you, I think," he said. "Good night." He grabbed his crutches, levered himself to his feet, and he and Jasmine left.
I waited; Chalice just sat there looking dazed. Eventually I worked up the nerve to sit on the foot of the bed; I reached for Chalice's hand tentatively. Suddenly she sat up straight, then rolled over to rummage in her things on the floor beside the bed, then sat up holding the Alicorn dagger. It occurred to me that I should probably be afraid, but then I saw the wonder in Chalice's eyes.
"It talks!" she said excitedly. "I mean, she... I can hear her! Chalice Stormchaser is in the dagger!"
"Really." I tried to keep the apprehension out of my voice; I could imagine several things that Stormchaser might tell her, and many of them would do me no good at all. "What does she have to say?" Chalice just shook her head and said nothing in reply. She crossed her legs in front of herself, and then just sat there, staring at the dagger that she held in her lap. Occasionally she touched one of the bruises that Perrin's fingers had left on her temples and her jaw. I watched her, and worried.
I wondered just how much damage been done. Certainly my credibility with Stragus, and probably Philo and Ghost, would be shaken by this, if they learned of it. And my friendship with Chalice... She could accuse me of rape, if she wanted to. It wouldn't really be fair, or accurate, but it was possible. She could just refuse to forgive my stupidity, and that would be bad enough...
"That might be the most unhappy face I have ever seen," Chalice said softly. I looked up, and realized that the dagger was wrapped in the corner of the blanket; she was no longer holding it. She stared at me for a long time, then finally said, "Did you enjoy yourself?"
"What? Um... Well... Yes, I guess I did. Does it make a difference?"
Chalice shrugged. "I don't know. You didn't mean to hurt me, and you didn't hurt me, really. And there is no one to whom I would wish happiness more than you, Quill. And yet I still feel betrayed." She shrugged. "Let's make sure it doesn't happen again, though."
"It won't. Not as long as I can remember what color your eyes are supposed to be." Chalice grinned softly at that, and I went on. "CAN it happen again? Can she just take you over like that?"
Chalice nodded. "Any time she wants to, if I am touching the dagger."
"Then we throw the dagger in the river."
She shook her head. "No, she is on her best behavior; she is afraid of Perrin, and promises she won't do it unless I call on her. But she did say that I should call on her if I ever have any more trouble with Stragus."
I thought about that, and smiled. "That could be interesting." I stood and turned to leave; Chalice picked up the dagger and put it beside the bed.
"She says to tell you good night, Quill."
"Well, good night to Stormchaser, then. And to Autumnleaf." I left, and closed the door behind me.
Brindle was waiting for me on my pillow, glaring at me suspiciously. I chuckled, then offered her the side of my hand, and she bit it, hard. I smiled and shook my head; Brindle wrapped herself in her tail and began to purr; I chuckled again, and got into bed.
I should have slept like a dead thing, all things considered. I didn't. My sleep was haunted by the image of the girl Tayma, lying dead on the floor of the necromancer's room with her throat cut. Her dead eyes managed to hold me and stare right through me; I was VERY glad of the dawn.