Book 2 of the Convergence Series

Chapter 1

An attack? At a funeral?!? These were the only thoughts Loren Nightsong had time for before she was forced to dodge the downward blow from a long knife wielded by a muscular figure clothed in nothing but a black loincloth. Her instincts and training took over as she side-stepped the attack and drew her own sword from its scabbard on her back. With a single swing, she stepped through and took the figure at the back of his neck, completely severing the head from the neck. Blood spurted from the gaping cavity as the body fell to the grass beside the bier of her mistress. At a funeral!!!

The procession of Lady Crandall had travelled all morning from Mirin to the Tombs of Othilluke via the standard Travelers Portals, pausing only for routine clearance by the Travelers, as they were transporting a corpse via the Magiports. No one bothered, questioned or harangued them in any way and the clearances were merely a formality. All arrangements had been made in advance and the Travelers, a motley group of greasy-looking gnomes, waved them quickly through at every port. Loren was always surprised at what money could arrange: her advanced training as a Master Swordsman, the relative comfort of Lord Crandall�s family, and the ease at which the body of the late Lady Crandall could move from portal to portal in somber procession to her final resting place.

Somber until now, Loren thought. She quickly surveyed the situation as befitted her role as bodyguard, turning to take in all her surroundings. Five assailants ... well, four now ... the two guards at the gate of the Barrow each engaged with an opponent. The principles ... Lord Crandall is covered behind the bier ... Lancaster is also on the ground but unharmed ... good. Time to move. With long strides, she covered the distance between her and where the Keeper, Seth Blackston, was currently battling two more attackers. Why are they all wearing loin cloths? she asked herself as she moved. Bad tactics.

"Don�t let them in!" Seth shouted as he dodged a slash from a stubby sword. "They�re Necromancers!" One of the attackers laughed out loud, pointed a rune-carved rod at Seth and let loose a blast of white energy. The shock knocked Seth off his feet and the Keeper fell to his back with a cry of pain. Without hesitation, Loren delivered another slashing arc of her curved katana and sliced the dark wizard across the throat, opening his carotid artery. The man gurgled in pain and slumped to the ground, spurting blood.

The unmistakable sound of death-rattle caused her to jerk her head around just in time to see the last guard at the crypt door fall before his attacker�s spell.

Protect the principle, Loren thought as she sprang around to see if the Crandalls were still under cover. But my principle, Lady Crandall, is already dead. Shaking the thought away, she concentrated on the fight. Protect the rest of the family. They are your principles now.

Seth�s second attacker, dressed in an identical black loincloth as his companion, turned to face Loren, bringing his staff to bear. If Loren had had time to roll her eyes, she would have. Instincts and training. With great affectation, she raised her sword as if she would attack with a high slash to the head of her opponent. Falling for the feint, the man raised his staff to block. Loren rotated the sword and connected the flat of the sword with the staff, and she released the katana as if the force of the block had jarred it from her hands. Seeing that his opponent was disarmed, the man stepped in for a hard back-swing from the staff. Just as he committed his weight to the lunge, Loren shuffled quickly forward and, using the man�s momentum against him, struck him under his nose with the heel of her palm. Loren heard the sickening crunch of a shattering nose and felt the flood of blood erupt in her hand. The attacker�s head snapped back and he slumped to the ground, dead.

Loren turned to see if Seth was all right. The fact that he was now kneeling on the ground, a wand in each hand and sending rays of green electric fire at the last two attackers told her he was just fine. The remaining assailants fell quickly under Seth�s barrage and the fight was over.

Silence fell on the funeral procession as the clamor of battle ceased and the patrons looked around in disbelief. Loren could hardly believe it either. Who would attack the funeral procession of Lady Crandall?

Their entourage was small, consisting only of Lord Crandall, his son Lancaster, Loren, Preston--Lord Crandall�s aide--and Keeper Seth. Preston lay on the ground with his hands over his head, weeping loudly. Lancaster knelt in the grass obviously seething and apparently ready to throw another of his angry fits. Lord Crandall stood at his place by his wife�s side as if nothing had happened. His face was rigid and showed no more surprise than if the attack were merely a passing children�s prank. Reconciled that her principles were safe, she took a deep breath and retrieved her sword.

"Are you okay?" Seth asked her with a grave look of concern.

Loren looked down and noticed her black blouse was covered in blood. She chuckled slightly. "It is not mine," she replied as she wiped the blood off her hands and onto the legs of her loose trousers. Lancaster had commented when he encountered her this morning that she looked like a peasant farmer and was in no situation to accompany them. Lord Crandall had intervened and reminded his son of Lady Crandall�s insistence before she died that Loren be present.

"Loren is a stalwart," she had said in her few lucid moments before her death, "and a member of our family. She saved the lives of all of us in the Square that day and she must be honored for it. Perhaps you could find it in your heart to marry her, my son."

Loren nearly choked when the Lady had said this and Lancaster turned a peculiar shade of green. He muttered something that sounded like, "delirious," and strode out of the room. However, Lancaster had allowed Loren�s participation in the procession on the condition that she maintain the dignity and decorum of the courtesies.

As if. Does he think I was born in a cave? Does he even remember I am his cousin? She doubted the fact that their fathers were brothers ever crossed his mind. She was sure he only saw her as a servant.

Returning to the present, Loren cleaned the blood from her sword as her training demanded and sheathed it across her back in the elven fashion. Though it was not the light elven broadsword she had trained with, she wore her katana across her back to better suit her feminine size and fighting style. She was a Master Swordsman, after all, and had spent years developing a manner of swordplay unique to her and dominating in any combat situation. That was what Master Zun had instilled in each of his pupils. Not just control of a fight, but complete and overwhelming supremacy.

Seth looked at the bodies surrounding Lady Crandall�s casket. His eyes fell on the last one Loren had killed. "He was not killed with a sword," he said. "You... you killed him with one... How did..." He gaped at her open-mouthed, impressed. Quickly recovering, he added. "If you�re sure you are unharmed ..."

Loren nodded and went to check on Lord Crandall. The man had taken the hem of his cloak and was dabbing at the spatters of blood on the gossamer coverlet. He looked as if he were in a daze, not wholly focused on the present. Taking more liberty than was customary for a servant, she placed her hand on his shoulder and shook him gently. "Uncle," she called softly, trying to bring him out of his shock. "It is okay."

Lord Crandall looked at her, his eyes regaining focus and then turning to horror as he took in her appearance. "Loren ..."

"I am fine, Lord Crandall. The blood is not mine."

A shout pulled Lord Crandall�s attention away from the bodyguard. Lancaster Crandall stood shaking his fists in a mild tantrum. He quickly gathered his bearing and straightened up, striding quickly to the fallen attackers. He planted the toe of one boot under the shoulder of one of the dead man and rolled the corpse onto his back. His eyes grew wide as he recognized the attacker.

"Oh, bloody hells," he whispered slowly. He turned to his father. "It�s Jason Mendenhov."

Quickly, Lord Crandall and Preston joined him. Preston clutched at his young master�s shoulder, muttering a series of Oh-no�s under his breath. Lancaster shoved his valet�s hands away, irritated at the blathering weakness of the man.

Loren noticed the young Crandall give her a quick, sidelong glance as if to judge her reaction to this new revelation, apparently satisfied at her control. Loren, of course, recognized the name, at least the surname Mendenhov. It was a name most people knew, at least in Mirin. The Mendenhov Business Organization, as it was officially named, vastly understated the true nature of their operations. They were a criminal syndicate with links in every underground service and several legitimate ventures. Their activities were widely known, even by the magistrates of Mirin, but, as is usual with such powerful criminal elements, the law often overlooked the illegal aspects, for a fee, of course.

Seth joined Preston and Lancaster at the body. "Those marks on his chest," he said bending and examining the designs further. "Those are necromantic tattoos. Powerful--"

His explanation was cut off by the sudden arrival of a score of more armed men converging on the scene. Seth immediately stepped forward and raised his hands. "It is over, brothers, though two of us have fallen at the doors." He gestured toward the dead guards.

Immediately, six Keepers broke away from the main group to care for their comrades while the rest established a perimeter to secure the area. Two brothers took up positions at the door to replace those that had fallen.

Loren noticed that even in the midst of the chaos of the aftermath, the care for the dead was handled with great attention and dignity. The dead Keepers were carried away from the crowd and laid reverently upon the grass, clothes and armor straightened and arms placed ceremoniously in their hands.

The attackers, however, were not given such treatment. They remained where they were, untouched except for a quick spell by Seth to staunch the oozing blood from the head and neck of the body bearing Loren�s handiwork. "The grass does not need their blood," Seth said when he had finished his spell.

One of the perimeter guards shouted a brisk Attennn-tion! and Loren saw the Brothers straighten their backs and raise their hands in salute as a short and burley dwarf strode briskly toward the procession. He was clad in identical armor to the rest of the Keepers but wore a red cloak to signify his rank. Unlike most dwarfs, his hair and beard were neatly trimmed and bore no adornment or braid. His bright eyes quickly took in the results of the fight and he addressed Seth directly. "Brother Seth, put a staunch on that blood," he said curtly in a grim and brusque voice.

"Already done, Sir." Loren noticed that even Seth stood at attention to this dwarf in spite of him being a whole head and shoulders taller than his captain.

The captain nodded his approval. He walked around the casket and looked at the fallen attackers. "And how did he die, magic?" he asked indicating the last one that Loren had defeated.

"No, sir," Seth answered and pointed at Loren. "She struck the man with a single blow."

The captain jerked his head around and gave the bodyguard an appraising look. He grunted, either in approval or disapproval, Loren could not tell which. He squatted and looked closely at the bare torso of the dead man. "Necromancer markings," he muttered.

"Excuse me," Lancaster said to the dwarf. "But I know him. His name is Jason Mendenhov. He is the nephew of Lord Mendenhov of Mirin. You have heard of him, I�m sure."

"I�ve heard of him, Master Crandall. And of your family, too." The dwarf regained his normal but stunted height. Turning to Lord Crandall, he introduced himself. "I am Captain Margon of the Keepers of the Dead. I apologize for the insult these pieces of filth have perpetrated upon your family and your courtesies. We continue to have run-ins with these so-called True Necromancers, but never have they attempted anything so bold... or so offensive."

"True Necro--" Preston gasped. "You don�t mean-- Oh, goodness..."

"Well put, sir," replied Captain Margon. "It seems that your friend here fell into the wrong religion." The dwarf spat. "Necromancers. Bastards one and all. Bringing the dead back to an abominable... But I forget my manners." He turned to Seth and took on an air of solemnity. "Brother Seth, continue with the courtesies and place the remains of this great lady to her final resting place."

Loren smiled inwardly, recognizing the dwarf as a man of action and not of ceremony. He was clearly a soldier first and an arranger of funerals second. And judging from his regard of the Necromancers, he had seen his fair share of their workings.

"Very good, sir," Seth replied. "But might I say that we should act quickly. We don�t need these two--"

The captain cut him off. "I will see to it. You see to your responsibilities, brother."

"Yes, sir." Seth gestured for everyone to regain their positions and he escorted the family and Loren into the crypt.

As they first approached the broad, oaken gates of the Great Barrow IX, the barrow wherein the Crandall family had buried its dead since the commissioning of the Tombs, Loren had remarked on the beauty of the day and of the courtesies. The sun was high in the cloudless sky, giving the grass and hills of the Plains of Othilluke a brilliance she thought could only be achieved in paintings. The Barrow itself, a low but wide earthen mound with a single entrance decorated with ornate doors, proffered an assortment of colorful wildflowers that wafted gently in the breeze.

The kind of day she would have loved, reflected Loren as she looked down at her mistress� funeral bier. The enclosed and gilded casket rested upon folds of silver cloth, charmed to float several inches off the ground, and was draped in shimmering veils of gossamer now flecked in blood. The bier responded to the slightest touch and made the movement of the deceased much easier and far more elegant.

Dressed in formal blacks befitting his high station, Master Lancaster Crandall, Lady and Lord Crandall�s only son, took the customary place at his mother�s head. Lord Crandall walked silently at the deceased�s right hand, and at the feet of Lady Crandall walked Preston, Lord Crandall�s undistinguished and less-than-elegant aide. In spite of the fact that he held a rather high station and had served the Crandall family for over thirty-five years, Preston never developed the affinity for dress and style the way Lord and Master Crandall had. Lady Crandall often remarked that all her parties and tables would be the essence of perfection if Preston would not disgrace them with his tattered waistcoats, rumpled trousers or scuffed shoes. Though, she always made these comments with a bemused smile on her lips. A weak and timid man in conversation, Preston�s head for business and intrigues helped create the Crandall financial empire what it was.

Leading the procession was Keeper Seth. The Keepers of the Dead were a small order of priests and wizards who ensured that the deceased were transported and entombed with proper dignity. Though most people didn�t talk about it, they also made certain the dead remained dead. From some of the rumors that had been floating around, keeping the dead had become more and more difficult. And judging from the way Seth carried himself in a fight, he had seen more than one skirmish of his own.

Loren suddenly remembered Seth was wounded in the fight, hit by a blast from the Necromancer�s spell rod. If he was hurt badly, his bearing did not reveal it. He carried himself with an air of dignity and reverence, but Loren could see the cold hardness of the fighter underneath. She could respect this Keeper, she thought.

Deceivingly small on the surface, the Barrow sloped sharply down and opened into a vast hallway with carved passageways and alcoves branching off in every direction. The tombs were dark but well kept. The floors were even brickwork and the walls were finely bricked with pillars of intricate carvings every few yards.

Seth led the procession to the left, and Loren looked into several great rooms filled with sarcophagi. No one spoke as the procession moved through the passages of the dead, as was the custom. But Loren could not help but be in awe of the vast chambers and passages that made up the maze of the crypts.

No, maze is not the right word, Loren thought as she walked realizing that each chamber was proportionally spaced and each passage was arranged evenly and symmetrically. There was a definite method and order to the arrangement of rooms.

Seth continued to lead the group through a series of turns and passages until they entered a chamber about fifty feet wide and a hundred feet long. The chamber was filled with rows and rows of stone sarcophagi, many of which were engraved with family crests, names and effigies of the entombed. The procession stopped at a prepared sarcophagus about halfway down the second aisle. There, with a muttered word and gesture from the Keeper Seth, Lady Crandall�s casket magically slid into the open stone chest.

"Dear friends and loved ones of Lady Katherine Crandall," Seth began in eulogy. "We lay her to rest among her ancestors. May we find comfort and solace in the knowledge of the peace and eternal slumber she has earned. We are bettered from our association with her and, though saddened by our loss, find reconciliation in her living memory. May we always remember her. If there are any words anyone wishes to share before we seal her rest ..."

Lancaster bowed his head and looks at his dead mother's coffin. "Goodbye, Mother." He offered no token to rest with the departed nor did he offer some gesture of affection. Loren had assumed that a son truly grieving for a dead parent would do something. But she shook that thought away.

Preston fought to control sobs and lost. Any words he uttered were lost amid the wails.

Not wanting to show undue or unnecessary affection for her employer, Loren merely bowed to Lady Crandall and whispered her farewell in her heart. She gave a quick glance to Lord Crandall, not wanting to be more demonstrative that was fitting, but he seemed to pay her no mind.

Lord Crandall merely stepped forward, placed one hand on the casket in farewell, then backed away, nodding to Seth that they were finished.

The courtesies complete, Seth led them out of the Barrow and back to the monastery. As they exited the Barrow, Loren noticed the signs of battle had been completely removed and the corpses taken away. Even the blood-stained grass had been washed and cleaned so that nothing remained to suggest that a deadly fight had ensued here only minutes earlier. The efficiency of the Keepers impressed Loren�s military side. As opponents, their organization would be quite formidable. If all of these True Necromancers were like the three she had fought, then the Keepers would have them quaking in their loin cloths.

"Jason Mendenhov ... a Necromancer ..." Lancaster muttered under his breath. This seemed to hold some significance for him, but Loren did not know what it might be. She knew little of the Necromancers. Only that they were a cult and were banned by the Dragon Council. To even be a member of the clan was punishable by death. It seemed odd to her that someone from a Great Family would associate with such a vulgar group.

There is one in every family, I suppose, she thought, wondering if she was "the one" in hers.

Click here to suggest a title for Book 2 of the Arcane Convergence Series and change Loren Nightsong's name.

 

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