“1 Come, all you of the true faith, and see the false priest.
2 Come and see his promises and his blessings, which are of silver and gold, and his curses, which are of death and pain.
3 See how he strikes his servants; see how he admonishes them for touching the fruits of the earth and the fruits of the harvest.
4 See how he numbers his powers, saying ‘Holy, holy, holy,’ around the thrones of the Immortals.
5 And you will see his iniquity; you will see his plunders of the earth which he so squanders; you will see the way he preys upon the common man.
6 This is the faith of the Immortals. This is their way and their glory.
7 And see their gods, who are petty things that ask for the blessings of silver and gold, and know that those gods are false as well.
8 Hear me, hear me, all you of the true faith: I have seen the Godhead beneath the earth; they that sit in the great womb of the earth and who bears all of its fruits.
9 This is our new covenant, to the Godhead and the Godhead alone, who is the only true divinity, for it has so nourished us all; it has given us every seed and every speck of iron and gold that came from the earth.
10 Speak now as I have spoken, and pray as I have prayed before the Godhead:
11 I pledge myself to the first God, who is named the Godhead, who is named lord of all creation;
12 They who are my protector, my shield, my armor and my safeguard;
13 They who will lead the way of salvation and who numbers the days of men;
14 They who will grant me the power and glory of Paradise.
15 I pledge myself to you, Godhead, lord of lords, king of kings, and bearer of ten-thousand names.
16 You who give all fruits of the earth, who give all riches and bounteous things, you are my master.
17 You who hold the power and the glory of Paradise, you are my lord and my salvation from sin.
18 Say all these things, and you will be freed from the iniquities of the false priests; say all these things and you will be a man of the Sepulcher.”
-The Book of Piety, The Ministry of Prayers 1-18
Tarnye walks a drunk Belyan back to his small apartment on a street corner. He sloppily finds his keys and invites her into the room. It’s quaint, simple; a one-bedroom affair with a bed, a precariously small couch, and a small kitchen, and a door to what Tarnye presumed was a bathroom.
“Apologies, apologies,” he says, “It’s… not safe. Not safe out there.”
She tries to sign a few things to him, but gives up halfway. He’s barely conscious as it stands, and now the poor man has collapsed on the bed, his ruddy face half-covered by the pillow. She makes a little prayer to the saints for his hangover, and makes a sign of benediction before throwing a blanket over his body. She sits at the far end, cramped up against his feet. It’s too late to go back out. She kicks up her feet and quietly
“Her name is ‘Nditan or else Inditan, or else among the Miqa she is called Hni-Ta-Nan. She takes the form of a mongoose with the face of the woman, or a serving-woman in a bloodied dress with many arms and many weapons. She is a great spirit of war and may grant the summoner the ability to speak the language of the hunting beasts, such as mongoose, the wolf and the spider; she may grant the summoner a great hidden arsenal of muskets and pikes and other arms upon which the summoner may call forth at will; she may teach the summoner the manners of metallomancy, also known as the secret language of iron, and the manners in which things may be divined from steel; she may also teach music and may grant the summoner the ability to find one’s way home regardless of the distance one is from it. She may be so summoned by this sign below, and she takes these prices upon the summoner…”
-The Grimoire of Mechera the Fox-Eyed
Up and down and out the house the bedraggled investigators and inquisitors gather round to try and make sense of the crime. First is the door to the temporary headquarters, kicked so heavily that one of the heavy metal hinges was knocked off alongside the cheap deadbolt; the man at the door is dead before he could react, his face caught in the moment that the bullet went through his eye and out the other side into the wall, alongside chunks of his brain. Another guard, this one a woman, comes running to see what had happened only to be speared through the gut, then the chest, then tackled down to the floor where she tried to raise her hand and beg for mercy and had her fingers chopped off for the the attempt. She crawls a few feet more before losing consciousness for the last time.
The guards in the war-room know what’s going on at this point. They ready their muskets and their blades and barricade the door and prepare to defend their position. One is left outside on the stairs having gone for the walk earlier, and he is bashed over the head with something heavy and thrown down the stairs before he could react. Meanwhile, in the war-room, a man strays too close to a window and it is obliterated by the weight of something, glass shards scattered over the floor with great force like seeds at sowing. From there, the investigators guess at some kind of brief use of the man at the window as a human shield – but only a brief use. His pistol is wrested from his hand in the struggle, and he is shot through the chin where he lays and the man who comes to try to aid him is decapitated at the jaw, the chair is knocked off the door by brute force and the door off its hinges. Another gun goes off, the bullet flying into the doorframe before some unknown, terrible force rips its way through the guards and then at last leaving only the lieutenant. A stack of papers is rifled through, scattered on the floor with the glass and something is removed.
The lieutenant’s corpse is dragged out of the basement by two of the investigators. His shirt and coat have been thrown to the floor. His chest is covered in cuts and burns. The characteristic marks of torture. His neck is bruised yellow and purple from being strangled. Bloody boot prints track out of the basement and across the floor and through the pooling blood again and out the back door and into the street. They keep going for a few blocks before they reach a local well where the blood is diluted by water and a bucket that seemed to belong to nobody in particular sat half empty after the washing.
“Is it them?” Asks one of the junior inquisitors as he walks into the wrecked room, stepping over a corpse to reach his superior.
Danza shakes her head, and cringes, rubbing her wounded shoulder.
“That’s four sets of prints. Even with the other witch we saw with her this doesn’t make sense. We could assume she got others, but torturing someone for no reason…”
She shakes her head again.
“This is retaliation by someone else. Someone sadistic.”
The younger inquisitor cocks her head in confusion.
“How do you mean?”
Danza approaches the table.
“They opened this file of intelligence reports first. They didn’t need to interrogate the lieutenant. In fact, I don’t think they did. This is sort of attack… I’d say it’s personal, but it doesn’t add up to it being something so simple. This was coordinated, planned, and I’d have to say that at least some sorcery was involved. So we’re looking at a well-put-together team with good tactics on both an individual and group level.”
“A criminal outfit?”
“Of course. But the problem is what sort of criminal outfit, why they attacked and whether it pertains to us. It could be that Ana and Edam hired them. Or it could be totally unrelated to them and instead tied to criminal elements in Blackwood. I’m betting on the latter. Judging by the fact that she dropped a piece of valuable goldenware to distract me, it seems like Ana is trying to steal to survive.”
“And she wouldn’t have the money,” completes the other inquisitor.
“Precisely. So we see this sudden plan of attack, and we see at the end this outburst of… rage? They already probably had everything they would have needed out of the maps and drawers that they ransacked. So why the torture?”
“Something occult?” Suggests the other inquisitor, “A witch, perhaps?”
“It could be. It very well could be. But stranger things have happened – it could be that one of them was provoked by something the lieutenant said; or else we’re looking at a rogue element in the group. Or just sadism, as I said before.”
The younger inquisitor nodded.
“Is it our jurisdiction?”
“Does that word even mean anything anymore?” Asks Danza, sighing, “It’s too many dead for us to not look into. Another step into the mire.”
Hideous. The stack of wood and canvas is hideous, squat and damp and sprawling like a beast with stilt legs on the tundra. A crude theater had been assembled around it without explanation as to why or what had stopped the excavation. Some had tried to desert, and where they once had scores of men, they now have a scant forty peasants who huddle around the weak fires that can barely beat back the oncoming cold. Their masters pay no mind. They seem almost frantic in their construction, and when a man falls at work they lay there unburied. The frost would make a poor grave anyways. One could hardly dig three feet before it becomes too difficult to work through,
The pile grows. The theater, as crude as it is, is complete, a thin wall of canvas stretched as tall as two men and wide enough to make a small landscape. Behind it they send men with torches, and the pile begins to smoke, and then begins to blaze, and then the men are sent away. This fire is not for warmth.
The smoke rises in a black plume into the sky, and the tarp is lit from behind. Shadows and soot creep across with strange sympathy and play like dancers. Bit by bit the shadows collect and the smoke and the soot start to take shape, more and more solid, more and more real, more and more like a walking shadow on the canvas theater. It crawls, clambers to its feet in silhouette, far taller than any human form, vast arms like tree branches and fingertips stretching downward like tangled roots. A bulbous head lolls back and forth in pantomime until its great white eyes open, not quite upon the shadow and not quite upon the canvas.
“Kneel,” says the shade, and the audience does, one by one, fall to their knees in reverence. One lone lord struggles to stand against the weight of the word. He is blue-blooded, strong and youthful and vigorous. The shade’s eyes narrow to pinpricks of rage.
“Insect,” it says. Bright green sparks spill forth out of the canvas and down into the ground, and before he can even speak he falls to the earth. He struggles to stand again before even more crushing weight falls on him, and his chest is pinned to the hard and frost-bitten earth. It continues without mercy, and there is a terrible crack as his chest caves and his ribs splinter out, dark porphyric blood pulsing into the ground. His jaw is cracked open by some invisible force, and his tongue and mouth are forced into the dirt.
“Long have I listened, and seen, and waited,” says the shade, “And I would like now to speak without interruption or dissent. Let me teach you now as I have before.”
It cocked its head.
“I am the one who sat at the throne at the mouth of the sea; I am the great cartographer of ruin; the son and daughter of the plagued earth; mother of grandeur, father of gold and silver. I am the one who set the stars to wander and cracked the sky from firmament to the mountain peaks and drove great canals into the earth where my many children came and went. I set this temple in its place, and stand before you now an earthbound spirit, a shadow of the divine who took the stones and put them in this place. I, stone-singer, sea-breaker, sat in the throne of the temple asleep and dead and dreaming, and you woke me with the sounds of metal and strange alchemy. Now, students you all are, tell me why you have done this, and tell me who I am.”
“The prime issue we face with these men that you have sent is not that they are not effective. They have proven themselves time and again to be skilled in the art of making men into ghosts, as our enemy might say. The issue I take is with the suitability of their methods for the tasks we face. Yes, they do kill the Sondi by the dozens, burn their supplies, assassinate their leaders. This is all true. But the problem is their zeal. In all cases, they seem to prefer no survivors, but this is plainly not an optimal use of our resources. By my reckoning, the sick, wounded man who retreats from battle costs the Sondi almost twice as much as a dead man. The man we capture, if treated well and given the opportunity to give us information, will cost the Sondi three times more than a dead man.
Not only this, massacres – and these are massacres, please do not go to the effort of attempting to explain these acts as something else, I have seen the killing myself, I have so seen the aftermath – only seem to encourage the zeal of every Sondi freeman and peasant to resist us, and they by far outnumber the soldiers. An army with guns and steel we can fight, but we cannot occupy a land full to bursting with vengeful widows, orphans and brethren, nor can we convert the dead to the rightful religion, nor can we convince them to work the land for sugar, for tobacco, for even their own grain. Already I have seen these men go starving not for the lack of food but for protest of our cause. I will not hand over a desolate, barren land devoid of common farmers and devoid of subjects to my superiors. Reign your riders in.”
Deep in the place where the mangal gives way to the pines and swamps a goatherd strays from the path. A jackal has been giving him far too much trouble as of late, and it has slipped his traps one too many times. The bloodhound that was loaned to him sniffs the air and whines as they tread through the unsteady, damp ground and tangled roots. The dryer season was getting on now but here things were still quite wet from an out-of-season storm, forcing him to step around puddles to keep his boots from getting soaked through. He crests a small boulder that juts out of the earth, and spies his quarry. He beckons his hound to stay and stay quiet, though it growls a little, before loading the powder and shot into his arquebus and lighting the long string match, smoke pluming from the old gun. He shuts one eye to aim, and fires.
The jackal does not make a sound as it falls, or if it does it cannot be heard over the gunshot. As the smoke clears, the hunter can see that the shot landed true through the heart of the animal, dead or dying before it even hit the ground. He nods, and approaches to collect the thing, hefting it over his shoulder with his gun. The pelt would be a decent recompense for the lost goat. His bloodhound lazily saunters over and he takes a step back towards the path.
Something crackles beneath his feet – not underbrush. He lifts up his foot to see a faded splotch of colorful red paint, and old, rotten wood and lacquer. Though the fragments are faded, unclear, he could make out the shape of an eye-socket; a calm face painted with bright cheeks. A war-mask. He recognizes it well. Before the missionaries came he had a few of the local towns and retinues memorized. Soldiers tended to style the masks in different ways depending on where they were from, so that they could be returned to the right village for burial. After the war, most of the masks were discarded, burnt, destroyed in vast piles as proof of conversion. This one was made south of here.
He shakes his head. The Church would rather him not think of such things, and so he would not think of such things. He was not willing to take his things and leave, or face the potentiality of a double penalty for any crime he committed against the Church, and so he converted with the invaders. He had spent most of his life as a hunter and a goatherd and figured he would well enjoy it over whatever dismal prison he might be thrown into, and taking the long circuitous route out of Ãbẽ sounded like a dismal affair. Incuriosity about matters of the spirit had served him well enough when he followed the teachings of Kenin; incuriosity would serve him under the Saints.
The hunter pauses for a moment as he looks up and notices a thin, makeshift hut, worn and weathered by years of disuse, nearly hidden by the underbrush and the pines. People didn’t live out here – not that he knew of, and he knew this area quite well. And for a moment, curiosity took him. He had been forced out by the war, and perhaps some things had changed. As he approached, his bloodhound loped alongside, and there was another crunching noise beneath his foot. He looked down again, seeing yet another mask. More were scattered on the ground, like seeds in a divet, upturned colorful faces in the dirt, grinning and snarling spirits and the parodic faces of famous sages and heroes looking at the sky. His bloodhound balks and whines, stopping suddenly.
“Come on,” he says quietly, “Just a poacher, you mutt.”
He grabs the dog’s leash and tries to pull it along, but the dog refuses. He sighs, and continues without her. She always was a stubborn dog. Within ten feet of the hut, he makes out what the hound had smelt from further away. The faint stench of lime, vinegar, bark and rotten piss had filled the air. The smell of a tannery. Off to one side was a small midden of leathery scraps, discarded and rotten remains of what looked like hard-tack, and bones. On the door was a faint sigil in a tarry black-red paint that suggested the shape of a rearing horse. He recognizes it faintly, and shudders, looking down at the masks once more, and at the bones.
All bones that would be hard to work with. Hard to carve, being too large or too small to be used easily by a reasonable hunter. A white-yellow shard of a broken jaw stood out from the pile, teeth pried out and leaving only empty sockets that had filled in with dirt and refuse. Not the jaw of an animal.
He was not meant to find this. He steps back, and picks up his pace as he returns to the trail. Best to remain incurious, and keep to the goats.
“Sadism: a word referring to a fixation upon the act of inflicting pain. Derived from the Warlord Sadi, who ruled along the River Teper sometime before the reign of the Horned Lords and killed over a million of his subjects.”
Dzhate paces back and forth in her room, her head pounding like a drum. She sighs and then sits for a moment.
She considers running. Fleeing is familiar to her. It’s an option; an open door. Her hands twitch and shake.
She steadies them and then herself. Moral rectitude, just a little rectitude, a spine – yes, that is what she needs, a spine, just for once in her life. She had taken the shortcut into the woods, thinking it would be less treacherous and dangerous than the other way. Now wolves were going to follow her out of the woods and into the city. It was her job to fix her mess.
There are moments when she misses her parents. This is one of them.
“I have worked with corpses all my life, and so have instructed into this book of sorcery all the natural options that may extend from refinement of the human body’s remnants. The first thing a sorcerer interested in the art of necrourgy must realize is that nearly anything that may be done to an animal may also be done to a person’s corpse. Human skin may be stretched and tanned. Human bone may be carved and warped. Sinews may be preserved and woven or used for sewing. Eyes may be preserved in brine for a time and the brains may be employed in the aid of tanning. The muscle and the soft flesh are most difficult to preserve, but they can be rendered of fat into a sort of lard which may be used to make soap or wax. All of these processes are things by which the sorcerer cannot be squeamish or cowardly, or else this will taint the process of refinement.
All of this, of course, is in service of the prime aim of necrourgy, which is to preserve and store mana over a long period. There are other methods to achieve this goal, to which necrourgy is the most effective and most inexpensive, but one must consider the other methods for a project if one is to be thorough. The first and least expensive is the use of brass; though less famous than quicksilver for this property, brass may hold charges of mana for some short time. However, in a charged condition brass is quite liable to tear itself apart for reasons best left to other scholars. Quicksilver is more suitable for long-term storage, but has other natural issues in its storage, as it is both somewhat poisonous and quite heavy for its volume. There are also the concerns of the public; while most sorcerers are in one fashion or another well-acquainted with the sight of death on account of being in the business of medicine or warfare, the common man is not so accustomed to the sight of corpses. Despite insistence to the contrary – that it is only the bones of martyrs which are so suited to the use in necrourgy – I would argue that the primary reluctance to necrourgy from within the Church of the Sepulcher is a matter of public appearances. Holy men of a charitable and virtuous fashion would lose their appeal and glamour if their chief enforcers were decked in bones and human skin.
Indeed, in general one will find that the chief challenge of necrourgy after the base skill of refinement is understood is the proper and safe acquisition of the base materials of the process. I have no qualms with grave-robbing. I have only once in my career had a cadaver complain about my attempts at practicing my craft, and that was because the body I had recovered was in fact mistaken as dead when in actuality she was merely asleep. Their relatives, on the other hand, have made several issues with my practice. I broadly disagree with this sentiment. In life, a man may be many things, good and evil, kind and wicked, of great value at some times and of little value at others. In death, there should be no greater honor than to be made useful again; for old bones and dried flesh and skin to be given life in mana and power in death. The world at large seems to disagree with me on this matter. To this end, it is best to find the bodies of the dispossessed, unwanted, homeless and criminal. The hanging trees, gallows and gutters all produce the same sorts of raw materials, and whatever life they squandered or lost by circumstance may be made whole again through the practice of necrourgy.
Without further dallying, I shall now instruct you on a simple project for beginners: firstly, find the corpse of a thief, and remove its hand…”
Necrourgy, by Tshyagar Dunyir
A flail hidden behind the cupboard; a pistol under the pillow; an uneasy dinner. Little is spoken aloud and less is said. What else is there to say?