A vague silhouette appeared. The man moved wearily, slowed and hunched by his age and responsibilities. He wore a thick but worn cloak, charcoal grey, almost indistinguishable from the fog around him. The man leaned heavily upon a short oak cane, lined almost as deeply as his tired visage. He stopped near one of the larger grave markers and placed a wrinkled, trembling hand upon it. The man’s long, grey-white beard gently brushed the granite tombstone as he peered down upon it. His eyes, pupils and whites alike, were a dark grey, matching his sombre garb. He took a deep tremulous breath, and closed his eyes, turning his senses inward. Feelings of sorrow and despair washed over him. He concentrated on these emotions and embraced them. His grief and misery engulfed him. His mind centred on a name, Hanna. He muttered the name over and again, immersing himself more and more fully into utter despair. Finally, he opened his eyes.
Although one would have thought it impossible, the fog had thickened, yet the old man could see more clearly. He was no longer amidst the gravestones; instead pale, translucent shapes wandered aimlessly past him. The ghosts paid him little heed for they could sense that he was not of their world. Only one of the shapes turned toward him. Recognising the old Necromancer, the spirit moved unhurriedly in his direction.
“Hanna,” said the grey man.
“Master Marhault, I am glad you are here,” returned the spectre, though neither her tone nor her expression revealed any sign of such an emotion. Her voice echoed and faded as if she were speaking to him from across a great distance.
“I have sensed something stirring far away.”
“As have we all,” the wraith gestured ambiguously to the others around her as she spoke. “We are afraid.” Again, neither her pale face nor her eerie tone revealed any trace of feeling. “The demon spirits are heading south, obeying some irresistible compulsion, answering some inaudible call. It is the Conjurer’s doing.”
“But what will he do?”
“He yearns to return. I fear he has discovered a way…”
“Impossible!” The old man experienced a sudden flash of anger and terror. His vision began to blur, and he felt his contact with the world of the dead slipping away. He quickly recovered, letting the anger pass through him, and again he filled himself with pure misery and despair. His vision cleared, focusing again on the spirit before him.
“And yet, he has done it, or nearly so…” the apparition’s voice trailed off.
The Necromancer felt himself tiring, and knew he could not stay any longer. He nodded to the dead woman, who merely drifted past him, her eyes distant. He slowly allowed his overwhelming emotions to seep from him. The world began to blur again, and he closed his eyes. As he returned to his normal state of emotionlessness, he reopened his eyes. The phantoms were no longer visible, and granite tombstones, cracked and decaying, again surrounded him. He took a long deep breath of the moist air, gathering his strength. Then he removed his hand from the stone, leaned on his cane, and hobbled back the way he had come.
The shape of a large structure manifested itself out of the fog ahead of him. He looked up at the monastery, Lament, stronghold of House Despair, as he continued to walk toward it. Suddenly, a faint tremor of fear struck through him, like a cold splinter. He stopped and gazed to the south, beyond the Valley of Tears, toward the ruins of Lethe. He shivered slightly, and turned back toward the monastery, stepping up to the door.
As he approached, the massive oaken double-door, more than twice his height, opened inward before him. A servant stood by each of the doors and sealed the entrance behind the Master. The old man began to shuffle his way up the long staircase leading to the next floor. His breath was ragged and his legs ached before he was halfway up. A young man, dressed in the same charcoal grey clothes and cloak, ran down the steps to the old man. Placing his arm around the Master’s waist and placing the Necromancer’s arm around his shoulder, the youth helped his exhausted senior up the rest of the steps.
“Take me to the Long Room.”
The youth said nothing, but helped the old man down the winding hallway. They entered the cold discussion room, furnished only by a long pine table and matching chairs. The novice eased the Master into the chair at the head of the table.
“Now gather the others. Tell them we have urgent need of discussion.”
The novice nodded and quickly walked out of the room. The old man watched him go, envying his nimble movements, but only for a moment. It was not his place to feel envy, for he was Marhault the Grey, Master of House Despair. His emotions were sorrow, solitude, grief and fear. Envy belonged to House Lust, and was not welcome here. Marhault had settled himself and recovered some of his strength by the time the elders of his order had all arrived and seated themselves at the table. Patiently, they looked toward the Master.
“I have spoken with Hanna, and we can doubt it no longer. It would seem Daimin will soon return to our world,” spoke Marhault gravely.
“We cannot oppose the Conjurer’s minions,” stated another old Necromancer flatly.
“Not alone. Perhaps not even with the help of the other Houses,” agreed the Master.
“It would be difficult to rally them,” said another man. His voice was muffled slightly by the tarnished bronze mask he wore. The mask was forged in an expression of eternal anguish. Marhault considered his disciple for a moment before replying.
“Nevertheless, we must rally them. We must make them listen and understand. We must also seek help across the Silent Sea. We will need the strength of the Fled.” The Master paused a moment to allow his followers to consider his words. “Each stronghold must be visited.”
He leaned back in his chair to await the volunteers.
“I will travel to the Hall of Ecstasy,” said the masked man after a few moments.
“I will travel to the White Tower,” said Lucia, Marhault’s daughter, gazing evenly at her father.
He admired her beautiful young face, with her creamy white skin, long black hair and grey eyes. Feeling sadness creep into his heart, he looked back to the table and lowered his gaze.
“I will travel to Haven.”
Lucia’s eyes snapped away from her father and glared at the speaker. All heads turned toward the voice. Abron, son of Hanna, looked up from the table slowly. His grey eyes met the Master’s gaze evenly. Again, Marhault made no sign, simply turning his head back to the table. Abron impassively lowered his gaze, as four of the other grey monks volunteered to journey to the strongholds of each of the other Houses. When it was done, Marhault addressed them all solemnly.
“You must all stay in contact with me and the other emissaries, using our ghost allies as our intermediaries and messengers—for as long as possible. Lament will surely be the first target of Daimin’s minions,” Marhault spoke gravely, looking again at Lucia. Her eyes rested on him mournfully, understanding at once his implication. “You must not fail,” Marhault continued, “Daimin seeks to destroy this world and the next to sake his desire for vengeance.”
Marhault fell silent and lowered his gaze. He kept his eyes downcast as all rose and silently returned to their cells. The volunteers readied their travel packs, calmly preparing for their urgent missions.