Chapter 5 — Part 3 — Dinner

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Miithi sat down at the table as Asëa and Elizabeth carried large bowls of salad up the stairs. Darryl followed them, with a platter of ham and a chicken. Esmeralda had arrived while the others were making dinner, and already was sitting at the table.

“Oh, Esmeralda!” Asëa said. “Have you ever heard of anything like these deaths before? Do you have any ideas what may be causing them, or how we can stop them?”

“Well, I have heard of certain creatures, mainly undead, draining the life force of living beings,” Esmeralda said thoughtfully. “I believe the symptoms are similar to what is currently happening, but I don’t believe I’ve ever heard of life energy being drained without a struggle. As for turning into undead, I’ve only ever heard of that happening after one’s life force has been drained, or when certain Evil forms of Necromantic magic are employed.”

“This probably sounds rather silly,” Asëa said, “but I am afraid I still do not quite understand what undead actually are. Perhaps I just am not understanding you properly, but does undead mean roughly the same as alive? It sounds like it should, but I am not sure. I know those things we fought in the cave were not alive, but the others called them undead. I am sorry, I just am confused.”

“Hmm, I suppose it is an unusual word, if you are not accustomed to it,” Esmeralda said, before glancing around the table. “Would there be any complaints if I gave my explanation in Elven for the moment?” No one complained, not even Boots. “Very well then….” «I am talking about undead. The term refers to the reanimated corpses or spirits of thsoe who have passed away. Sad to say, this is different than reviving someone. A proper revival, such as Good clerics are capable of, restores the subject to life. When creating undead, however, the corpse is reanimated with quite unholy means, and usually the soul is not properly restored to the body, if it is restored at all.»

Asëa looked horrified. «Oh. I did not realize such things were possible. Those poor people! We must figure out some way to stop this!»

“Um…” Elizabeth said timidly. “Perhaps, if there are indeed more deaths tonight, w-we should leave at least one of the bodies intact until nightfall, to see if it still happens. I-if we made sure the body was guarded, I do not think that it would endanger the living townsfolk, a-and if it were carefully observed during the night, we might learn something from it.” She tried to force a smile. “Th-there is also a chance that nothing will happen, r-right?”

Asëa smiled and put an arm around Elizabeth’s shoulder comfortingly. “That is a very good idea. We need more information, after all.”

“Yes,” Elizabeth said, her smile looking slightly less forced. “Esmeralda, now that I think of it…. P-perhaps Asëa and I could take a look at some of your books before we rest for the night? W-we might be able to find something useful….”

“Yes, that would be very helpful, if you have anything like that,” Asëa agreed.

“Well,” Esmeralda said slowly. “I don’t recall off the top of my head if I have any relevant books…. But then again,” she added, turning to Elizabeth, “I’m sure you know that I have far too many books to remember exactly what’s in most of them!” She chuckled merrily. “Yes, feel free to look through my library after dinner.”

“Oh, and while we look through your library, we have some more items we’d like you to look at Esmeralda,” Miithi added.

“Of course, always happy to help!” Esmeralda said, sounding excited.

“How about this, then,” Miithi said. “While the three of us go see what we can find in Esmeralda’s library, Flinn and Boots can stay here to plan a defense for the house, just in case?” Miithi would much rather have slept in the forest, where he would have plenty of warning and a chance to fly away, but if they were going to defend the humans, the house was their best option.

“Yes, that would be good,” Asëa said, smiling at him. “I do hope we do not need to defend the house, but we cannot be too prepared.”

“Yes, that is perfectly fine,” Elizabeth said. “Flinn, perhaps you should focus on making sure that no-one can enter the house? I’m sure that if anyone gets in, the three of you will easily be able to fight them off.”

* * *

“I am not sure where to start,” Elizabeth said, pushing open the door to Esmeralda’s house. “I would advise simply browsing through Esmeralda’s books until you find one that looks promising.”

Esmeralda nodded. “That is probably the best idea. I am afraid organization is not one of my stronger points.”

Miithi nodded, and walked to one large bookshelf. Asëa and Elizabeth each walked to their own shelves. Asëa’s was next to his, but Elizabeth walked to the opposite side of the room.

“All right, I shall take a look at your items now,” Esmeralda said. “Fortunately, I am not nearly so rusty any more. Last time, I had not used the spell in many many years, which is why I was so slow, and why I needed the pearls to focus the magical energies.”

“Oh, yes, thank you,” Asëa said.

Miithi looked back to his bookshelf. Half the books were upside down, or backwards, so it was slow going. None of the books on the first row had anything to do with Necromancy. He had more luck on the next row, and found a book written in common, though it was not terribly useful. One section, more alarmist than anything, gave several warnings about how to detect necromancers. “If your community ever suffers strange deaths that leave nought but dried up, dessicated corpses, that is a sure sign that there is a necromancer afoot! If there are visible wounds, the deaths are most likely caused by his filthy, unholy creations – his skeletons hung together by the blackest magic, his rotting, shambling zombies, his decayed, putrefied corpses made to walk by the forces of Evil, his thinking yet unliving progeny of the dark arts! These creatures feed on the life energy of living beings, leaving them mere husks after they finish feeding. If you see no visible wounds, then the deaths are surely caused by the necromancer himself, as he sucks the victim’s life force out, wrenching the spirit from its rightful place in a living body, the soul from its rightful rest, before fashioning soul and body alike into yet more vile creations!” Well, that was not anything he did not already suspect. “Hmm, according to this book, the deaths are most likely to be caused by a necromancer’s spell, rather than any undead creature,” he said, as he set the book aside to read through later, and moved on to the next shelf.

“That does not surprise me. The reanimated corpses that we have seen are so aggressive that I doubt any undead would be capable of leaving no mark on the body,” Esmeralda said, before her tone became cold and steely. “With the exception of liches, of course. Those foul creatures represent the darkest emotions in wizards’ hearts, and would be cold and calculating enough to leave the corpses otherwise unharmed.”

“So it would seem the deaths are caused by energy drain of some kind then,” Miithi said, “not just undead in general. Which can only mean that we either have an intelligent undead on our hands, or a necromancer who suddenly decided he needed to start killing the young men of Tinnsville….”

“Yes, that does seem to be a reasonable guess…” Esmeralda said.

“Esmeralda, I believe I’ve found a Dwarven songbook!” Elizabeth said some moments later. “Might I borrow it for the night?”

“Dwarven songbook?” Esmeralda said slowly. “Huh, I don’t remember having any of those. Yes, of course you can borrow it.” She muttered quietly, but still loud enough for them all to hear, “Hmm, I’m starting to acquire so many books that I don’t remember what half of them are, apparently….”

“Hmm? Did you say something about detail, Miithi?” Esmeralda asked. Miithi had not realized she could hear him.

“Oh, that first book was very vague, and I was hoping to find something that would at least give me an idea of how powerful a necromancer would have to be to commit such crimes…. But then i guess books on necromancy are often quite vague for reasons such as these….”

“That’s because it’s written in Common!” Esmeralda said disapprovingly. “No serious wizard would write a book about necromancy in the Common tongue! Tell me now, do you read Draconic? Infernal? Abyssal? Those are the languages that I would expect a proper text on necromancy to be written in. Let’s see, I know I have at least one here somewhere….” She shuffled several papers and books, finally puling a aged tome out from under Rune. “Ah, here we go! Shall I give you a translation?”

“That would work well, although I’m really just interested how powerful of a spell we might be dealing with here…” Miithi said.

Suddenly, Asëa pulled what looked like a packet of bark off the shelf. It had several lines on it, but no writing that Miithi could see. Asëa stared at it for a moment, before tucking it into her vest. A moment later, she pulled it out again, and turned to Esmeralda. “Um, Esmeralda? This book is written in Druidic. We… we druids do not allow non-druids to learn our language. I am afraid that I… I would like to take this. I would not be comfortable leaving it with anyone who is not a druid. I would be happy to translate it for you and re-write it in Common, or Elven, but I cannot allow you to keep the original if I translate it. Where exactly did you find it?”

Esmeralda pouted as she looked up from the book she was reading. “But… really…? Must you…?” She stepped closer, and glanced at the book. “Ah, yes, that book. I was given that by an elven traveler, he said that he did not know precisely what it was. I have actually been unable to make any sense of the book. Although I would love to decipher it, I would love at least as much to know what it says…. Very well, I suppose if it’s a matter of druidic law, you may take it, but please do provide me with a translation.”

“Yes, I am afraid I must,” Asëa said. “I will translate it as quickly as I can. May I borrow a pen and some paper? I can start now: it seems Miithi has already found a useful book, and I do not see anything else useful on this shelf.”

“Yes, yes, of course,” Esmeralda said. “I know I have some… somewhere… around… here… Ah! Here are my scroll scribing supplies. You can start with these while I keep searching for more paper and ink.”

As Asëa started translating, Esmeralda returned to the book she was reading. “Hmm, let me see… Ah, here we are,” she said, glancing at Miithi. “There is a section on ‘energy drain’, and it seems to fit the description of the corpses that have been popping up. Let’s see… It says that there are a few spells, the weakest of which is Enervation, which can cause this effect. Unfortunately, it does not specify precisely how powerful the spell is, which is to be expected. It does, however, describe Enervation as a black Ray, which is useful to know. It would clearly require proper aim, if none of you are familiar with Rays. Additionally, it says that certain undead, and a handful of other creatures, are also known to produce similar effects. There is some idle speculation that because the ability to drain a creature’s life force is mainly found amongst the denizens of the Lower Planes and amongst necromancers, necromancy might somehow be connected to the Lower Planes. Hmm, it also says that the physical signs of the energy drain are usually slightly more noticeable in the area that was affected. It obviously notes that most undead will leave physical injuries in addition to the energy drain, but a few leave no other visible signs of damage. Ah, here we are: it says that many undead which cause energy drain will cause their victims to arise shortly thereafter as the same type of undead. It also notes that similar effects have been noted when inexperienced necromancers first learn to drain energy. However, it’s mentioned that this is not a practical way to create undead, because the undead such created are often unusually aggressive towards their creators. Note that I believe it means relatively inexperienced necromancers — this effect surely can’t be too easy to master! It says more, but I believe that’s all that is relevant to our current situation.”

“Any indication of what types of creatures wouldn’t leave traces?” Miithi asked. “I would assume anything incorporeal, but anything else? I’d like to narrow our potential list down as much as possible. I guess we should keep a look out for black rays from now on though….”

“Yes, any incorporeal creatures would leave no mark, of course,” Esmeralda said, thinking. “Liches would also be able to exercise that level of self-restraint. However, this particular book does not give any specifics, and I doubt that the particular type of undead we have seen is capable of such restraint.”

“So then whatever it is, it is not creating more of itself, but rather, minions for it to control? Or at least to terrorize the town with…” Miithi said.

“Yes, that is one possible interpretation,” Esmeralda said.

Some time later, Elizabeth stepped back from her shelf, flipping through a book slowly. “Hmm, this looks promising.” Her countenance slowly changed to one of faint horror,and she held the book out, displaying an illustration of what appeared to be a strange undead creature, with skeletons and zombies behind it. “Esmeralda, does n-not this appear to be the same type of und-dead that we h-have been plagued by?” The page bore the title, “Wight.”

“Yes, that does appear similar to what we have seen,” Esmeralda said.

Elizabeth kept reading, and Miithi realized the book’s title was in a language he did not recognize, despite the Common title to the illustration. Elizabeth’s complexion grew progressively paler as she read, and her speech grew steadily slower. ”’Wights are vicious creatures, kept animated by pure hatred. They are exceedingly violent, not content to rest until all living things have been slain, preferably reanimated as the wight’s horrid progeny. Because their victims arise as wights in a matter of seconds, a single wight…” she paused nervously. “A single wight… is easily capable of slaying an entire town, if left unchecked. This type of attack would be especially traumatizing for a mortal population, as wights are still… vaguely… recognizable… even after… death.” She finished feebly, her face almost pure white. She was visibly trembling, and the book tumbled to the floor. “My… god… My dear god… I… I… I never…” she moaned, before she, too, collapsed to the floor, covering her face.

Asëa set her pen aside and stuffed the bark manuscript into her vest, before hurrying to Elizabeths side. She sank to her knees, gathering the human girl into a hug. “There, see? It is not just after you,” she said. “It… it will kill anyone, anything. If we leave, we may condemn the people of this town to a slow death. We must stay, to try and stop this before it is too late.” Though her tone had started soothing, she sounded outraged as she finished.

Elizabeth seemed to grow even paler. “P-p-p-perhaps this w-would be a g-good time t-t-t-to return h-home…. M-may I b-borrow your n-necrom-mancy t-text, Esm-meralda? I m-might be able t-to find s-something that will help….”

“If would rather, I can take over the research from here,” Miithi said. “I would like to see what else that book has to say anyway. What language is it written in?”

Esmeralda handed Elizabeth the book she had been reading earlier, and picked up the one that had so disturbed Elizabeth. “This is in Celestial, from the look of it,” she said, glancing at Miithi. “Can you read it?”

“Unfortunately, no. I haven’t run into many celestial writings in the past, so I’d never gotten around to learning it,” Miithi said. Elizabeth seemed to be full of surprises. Ignan and Celestial?

“Oh, that is unfortunate, then…” Esmeralda said, flipping through the book.

“I wonder… can Boots use that spell that lets him understand languages to read languages?” Asëa asked

“Oh! Of course. Comprehend Languages!” Esmeralda said, putting her hand to her head. “I really should learn that at some point. It’s a pity that I would be unable to learn it from your friend — his spells are Divine, correct?”

“Esmeralda, I-I think I will ret-turn home now,” Elizabeth said. “You wish to c-come t-too, Asëa?”

“Yes, yes, of course,” Asëa said. “Can I borrow some paper and a pen and ink, Esmeralda? That way I can finish translating this for you tonight.”

“Oh, of course, dearie,” Esmeralda said, and Asëa helped Elizabeth to her feet. After retrieving a pen and vial of ink and stack of paper, Asëa led Elizabeth to the door.

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