Archaeological Research at Base Camp
Osoth’s hoven assistants, wearing rune-encrusted black robes quite different from their ordinary and comfortable coveralls, placed twenty-eight skulls in a triangle, seven on a side. Osoth personally drew diagrams in claw-lines on the smooth concrete floor of the ancient naret gymnasium: a nine-sided polygon to protect the revenants from unwanted external influences; a spidery thing of swooping arcs and grey candles at its points to grant them extra vigor.
The hovens scattered, or stood in the unnecessary protective diagram in one corner to watch, as they desired. Osoth spoke words in a language that Jaraswat’s methods could never penetrate, words that fell on the skulls like a rain of mercury. The skulls leapt and clattered, and rose into the air.
Osoth, confident in his might as dragon and necromancer, reached into the diagram to touch first one skull, then another, casting the The Spilling of the Speech to learn the ancient naret tongues. I got a running commentary through the venstroma.
“Once you lived, then you were dead, and now you’re back for a bit!” he proclaimed, then frowned at the untraditional familiarity of his words. “Declare your names and offices, and state your stories!”
The skull at the point of the triangle rose and did him homage. Candle-light clung to it, outlining the form of an old naret: a small and svelte and sinuous body, elongated arms and mid-limbs and legs and the mantle spread between them, a bluntly-pointed head, a short thick tail ending in a beak. He wore a burial-sash with proud enamelled emblems. “I was Ko Wao Koḵų Wenġ, Grand Preceptor of the ǅako-Snaᵰ District. In my life I caused to be erected no fewer than eight hundred ẗọķổ monuments, and I saved a virgin from a soul-destroying ritual error concerning euphony. I died from an injection of gnᶏ, I wear the signs of sublimity! Yet where is the palace of my soul, in which I shall dwell delightedly forever? I do not resurrect in the presence of Gargu the Whell-God. Instead I seem to be in the gymnasium of the Lesser Pondwhistle Athletic Society, if these signs are correct, fourteen years after my death. It has not even been cleaned recently.”
Osoth nodded. “Thank you, Ko Wao Koḵų Wenġ. Your complaints will be addressed in due time. Next!”
The second was Kna Deku Sḩve, an itinerant salesman of ribbons and jewelry, killed by brigands and rather upset about it. The third was a youth struck by lightning when flying in a thunderstorm on a dare, demanding the afterlife treasures due for suicidal bravery. And so on.
«Don’t you have command over the spirits you raise? These seem to think they have command over you,» I teased.
«It is much the same with you and your subjects,» he replied.
Mr. Norb thumped on the door of the gymnasium with a shovel. “Osoth? Sorry to interrupt your necromanticizing, but we gotta problem. Vaareng took a big bite outta Mirinxan.”
«As with you and yours,» I answered.
He turned back to the demanding dead. “Spirits! Do any of you know how this town, Lesser Pondwhistle as it may be called, came to be rendered uninhabited?”
The spirits moaned unhappily. “Uninhabited? What malice is this?” — “I have a wife and offspring in Lesser Pondwhistle!” — “Oh, fear not, Preceptor, for your wife’s infidelities mean that the offspring are not yours, and the wife barely yours either.” — “My relatives, my friends, my town! What became of it?”
Osoth shushed them with a stormy flap of his wings. “So none of you know what became of it, or what became of the other towns and cities and people of this world?”
They did not. Clues were scanty. The best: the gymnasium had posters on its walls that dated to the year after the last one of the twenty-eight had died. Lesser Pondwhistle had been a vigorous and growing minor metropolis then, and the world had showed no signs of ending.
“But apparently it did end, or at least the narets’ part of it.” He dismissed the twenty-eight abruptly, without providing even one of them with an afterlife palace, and went to see about his battling drakes. Again.