The Summons

Craig slipped unnoticed from the tunnels into the bedroom he had left from their assigned suite in the tower. The small room was empty, as Craig had expected, they had had no way of knowing how long the search would take so there was little value in anyone waiting on his return. He reached behind him and slowly guided the tunnel door closed. Softly, gently, almost noiselessly.

He wondered, as the door shut, how Captain Abeth had made out. Craig had found a nest of necromancers in the underground but that didn’t rule out there being more in the tower’s upper floors. There were six he knew of, three he had found and three Samuel stalked; there could always be more.

He moved to the door that led to the main chamber and stopped. In his eagerness to share his discovery, he had almost charged out into the large room, blindly and with no thought. He had gone for a bit, anything could have happened in that time. His companions could be gone, there could be an army of walking corpses waiting for him beyond that door. He was too old to be making such a rookie mistake. Craig smiled, shook his head, and placed an ear to the door.

He could make out the sound of talking, feminine voices; Esther and Shan would be his guess. The voices were familiar to him, he listened as they discussed life within Shatterook and how it compared to life within Norasburg’s tower. The conversation sounded relaxed and friendly, Craig listened long enough to be sure there were no strange voices before he opened the door and stepped through.

Esther and Shan were seated on the floor a few steps away from where Craig emerged. Thomas lay on his back, hands under his head, his body within arm’s length of his wife. The two women stopped their conversation and turned their heads toward him, the larger man never moved.

“Abeth hasn’t returned yet?” Craig asked. There was no sign of the other soldier in the room.

“You’re the first to return,” Esther replied.

That seemed odd to Craig. There was less ground to cover in the upper level of the tower, the captain should have been back before him; even if there were more necromancers to be found. Find them, get a rough count, return; that was all he was sent to do.

“Did you find anything?” Shan interrupted his thoughts.

“Yep,” Craig replied. “Right where you expected it. The residential level right above the archives. At least three necromancers have taken up residence. It would be easy enough to dispatch them. We’d just need to catch up with the ones Samuel is tracking and the Lady’s living help is gone.”

“Assuming Abeth hasn’t found more,” Esther added.

“True,” Craig replied, “but I doubt there’d be so many as to make things that much more difficult for us.”

“We’d need to split up,” Shan said. “We won’t want to set off any alarms. We would want to hit every group in the tower and get out before the Lady’s forces could rally against us.”

“Agreed,” Craig responded. “Once we’re out in the courtyard the archers will be able to provide cover. We’ll just need to get free of the tower first.”

“We can use the private passage,” Shan said, “there’s a door into the main hall. We can bypass all the guards and wait for all of us to gather. We’ll have to push our was past the door guards but that shouldn’t be too difficult.”

“What about the Lady herself?” Craig asked. “What sort of threat does she pose?”

“She had a lot of power at one point,” Esther answered, “or so the myth goes. She destroyed a nation with her magic, two cities swallowed by the desert sands. That’s a lot of power. But that was centuries ago, there has been no hint of her for so long that she was almost forgotten. The land she inhabits has been a wasteland for a long time and she has never made any improvements to it. Everything is still in ruin. That suggests she might have significantly less power than she did. She could either destroy us in the blink of an eye or watch us impotently as we leave, or anything in between. We can’t predict.”

“It’s probably best we avoid her,” Shan offered. “We know her influence can’t affect the world beyond her land. She needs the necromancers for that. We kill the necromancers and escape her land, preferably without running into her. She is effectively harmless trapped in the wasteland.”

“Which just leaves us the problem of keeping new necromancers from joining her,” Esther finished.

“It won’t take much to convince the ruling class to increase the size of our militia on the borders, to build some more outposts and increase the amount of horseflesh in each fort,” Craig smiled. “The nobility have a lot more to lose if she frees herself than anyone else. The poor will always be poor, it doesn’t matter who the ruling class is. Only the wealthy have anything more to lose.”

“I should be able to convince Light Koarl to contribute,” Shan added. “We’ve already been attacked once so the threat is known and real.”
“Where is Abeth?” Craig wondered aloud.

There was a knock on the chamber’s main door. The single rap against the wood of the door brought all of those gathered to their feet, including the previously slumbering Thomas. They glanced at each other in surprise before Craig walked over to the door and opened it.

“Prince Stefan,” Craig nodded at the former man. He stepped aside and gestured for the tower’s former ruler to enter.

“The Lady,” the deep disembodied voice announced, “desires an audience with your Illuminance.” He bowed slightly toward Shan.

“Of course,” Shan responded.


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