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trollthumper

Old Bones [IC]

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Friday, April 13th

7:32 PM

Nick Cimitiere was rising from the grave.

Well, that was a really melodramatic way of putting it. It was more like Eric LaCroix was off from his shift, had finally finished dinner, and was getting ready to go out on the town. It had been a longer day than usual at work - one of the urns had broken down, the pastries they'd ordered for start of day hadn't shown up until 10 AM due to a blowout on the delivery truck, and, of course, there'd been the usual attempt at holding up an art gallery. He'd had to duck out on his lunch break to deal with that, and spent so long wrapping it up that he'd arrived back late. His boss was willing to let it slide - he'd earned that, at least - but it hadn't looked good.

Of course, the night brought a whole new set of troubles that made the daytime stuff look petty. With the makeup on and the costume put together, Nick was ready to attend to matters. Before he did the standard patrol, however, he had to check the wires. One of the benefits of moving into the Parkhurst had been more regular access to the scrying pool. It helped let him know if there were any dire emergencies - ones that mundane channels couldn't exactly pick up on - that needed his immediate attention. He sat before the pool, ran his fingers along the edge, and dove in, taking a careful scan over Freedom City.

The first thing that caught his attention, though, was the person walking up the driveway...

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Parkhurst was amply protected against intrusion, but Edge lacked the magically enhanced senses that would have shown him any of that. He'd done his research about where to find the most powerful necromancer around Freedom City with no criminal record (and man, that was a long list! Cemeteries took breaking and entering pretty badly) and simply gone looking for the man, and by great good luck had walked up to Nick Cimiterie's headquarters right when the other man was looking for him. He'd come in costume, blue and gold a little incongruous given the setting, since this was a professional call, popping into being at the foot of the driveway and walking up with a spring in his step. This was a serious matter, but Mark couldn't find it in himself to be too worried about it. He'd find a hero, they'd solve the mystery in Africa, and he'd be back home in time for the midnight movie.

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Nick recognized the blue and gold uniform. He'd never met the dynamic hero in the flesh, but he'd definitely heard tell of all his exploits. He was mildly curious how he'd seen past the glamours over Parkhurst, but realized the best way to find out would be to actually get down there and learn directly from the guy. Well, if the topic came up. Breaking away from the scrying pool, he adjusted his jacket and headed for the front door.

Millie, one of the ghosts of Parkhurst, was waiting for him at the foot of the stairs. "Do we have a guest, Mister Cimitiere?" she asked.

"Pretty sure he's not an intruder," he said. "No need to go on standby." He thought for a second. "But maybe have something ready if he decides to stop in."

"I'll see what I can put together."

He crossed the threshold, feeling the wards tug slightly as he hit the main porch. Once he was down to the drive, he gave Edge a polite nod. "I caught you coming up the drive," he said - he didn't say how, but figured Edge could maybe fill in the blanks. "Don't believe we've met. Nick Cimitiere. What brings you around these parts?"

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"Good evening," said Edge seriously, reaching out to give Nick a solid, professional handshake. When Mark was on, he was on, and for all that his mind was wandering as freely as an unmoored ship, his attention was focused on the mystic before him like a laser. "My name is Edge, I'm a special agent of UNISON, the United Nations International Superhuman Oversight Network. You must be Nick Cimiterie. Mr. Cimiterie, the United Nations needs the services of the best necromancer in Freedom City for a potential humanitarian crisis. May I come in?" he inquired, looking up at the Parkhurst from the front door that they'd walked their way up to while talking. "Or do you prefer to do your business outside?"

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Nick's brain tried to catch up with half of the things Edge had said. He'd heard them perfectly fine the first time; he was just trying to comprehend the phrase "the United Nations needs a necromancer." It was like that image he'd seen on the Internet of an old game that opened with a title card saying the President had been kidnapped by ninjas. But, the more he thought on it, the more it started to come together.

"Come on in," he said. "I'd be a bad host if I made you stand out on the porch while we did our business." He made a complex hand sign as Edge approached the door, temporarily killing the wards long enough for Edge to cross into the house. Edge entered to find a resplendently decorated but still run down mansion - it was a place where decay seemed to be a cultivated home decorating choice. "Do you want something to eat or drink?" Nick said. "Millie's got the kitchen up and running."

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The decor wasn't Mark's taste at all, rather the opposite, in fact, but he more than understood the idea of heroes, particularly mystic heroes, who chose to live among the signs and trademarks of their art. "Certainly," he agreed, following Nick that way without hesitation. He didn't blink at the strange sights of Parkhurst, and made sure to make appreciative noises at some of the more impressive pieces of necromantic objects d'art. "If you have lemonade?" It wasn't really lemonade weather, but a cool summery drink seemed suitably incongruous given the style of decoration. "I'd have gone to Adrian Eldritch," he added, making sure the necromancer knew he wasn't dealing with another ignorant UN bureaucrat, "but he prefers to be an independent agent."

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"Yeah, Adrian's like that," Nick said. "He says the Master Mage has to show that he's a representative for all the cosmos. Getting down into politics can make that risky. I'm not exactly in his camp, but then again, I'm not carrying his mantle. So..."

Millie entered the room, carrying a drinks tray. At least, that's how it appeared to Nick - he noticed that Millie was indistinct, entering the in-between state most ghosts did when they weren't making an effort to manifest. Which meant that, to Edge's eyes, a drinks tray was just floating into the room, carrying a lemonade in a highball glass and a mug of coffee. "Drinks as requested," she said. "Let me know if you need anything else."

"Thanks, Millie," Nick said. He took the tray from her and, with the grace befitting a veteran coffee shop employee, offered the lemonade to Edge with one hand while picking up the coffee with the other. He took a whiff - French Roast, with half-and-half and a hint of Southern Comfort. Only a hint, though - it wasn't like he was going to go on patrol drunk. Or, as he went back over the nature of Edge's offer, a war zone. He knew this wasn't likely to be happy, but he had to press forward.

"You said there was a humanitarian crisis," he said. "I should probably start with the basics, then. Where, and of what nature?"

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Edge studied the ghost for a moment, taken by surprise at the sight of the unquiet dead before him, but didn't look too disturbed at the specter of a spectre before him. "Thank you, Millie," he said with a little wink at the ghost. "It's good!" he made sure to add after taking a sip, not wanting to seem rude. Focusing on Nick after that, he went on, the driving force of the young man's personality coming through as he spoke.

"I don't know how familiar you are with African geography, so I'll provide some background here. São Tomé and Príncipe is an island state off the coast of southern Africa. They're a former Portuguese colony, they got their independence back in the 1970s. They're better off than some of their neighbors; they've had coups but no real civil wars, and their dictators have been more interested in being in charge than persecuting their citizens. They're not rich, but they're not poor, either, and they have a lot of hopes now that they're finding oiil. They've had elections for about twenty years now, and the opposition party has started actually winning them in the last ten years. They've had some coup attempts over the oil money, but the government's always held up."

He put his hand on the table before him, still drinking the lemonade, and said, "A few weeks ago, an oil prospecting team near the Great Dog Peak, the biggest volcano on Sao Tome, stumbled across something that could tear the country apart. A mass grave, holding what the local doctor counted as at least fifty human beings; men, women, children. No one knows how they got there, and no one knows who they were. The local opposition party is accusing the Portuguese of carrying out a secret massacre before they pulled out, the Portuguese are denying it...if something doesn't happen soon, and if the populace gets sufficiently outraged, the government may have to 'detain' the Portuguese still living on the islands for their own safety. UNISON thinks that'll cause a domino effect; European investors will pull out, the oil money will dry up...and the country will tear itself apart. We need someone who can make the bones speak and tell us who they were and how they died."

For all that he was only nineteen, the sheer power of Edge's personality came through as he spoke, and Nick could sense the urgency in his words, the threat to the peace and stability of a country that had just barely managed to avoid the many crises of the continent. "We need your help."

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It was... interesting, to say the least. Aside from a brief sojourn down Mexico way, Nick hadn't exactly been out of the country in his adventures. Sure, there was the family trip to Italy, where they visited Venice and he tried desperately to drown out the phantom screams coming from Poveglia, but it wasn't like he'd gone out in search of new and stranger shadow lands. But that fed into the next problem - mass graves. Sites of mass slaughter had always gotten to him, even when he came into real necromancy. Getting beyond the sheer number of ghosts, there was this bone-deep miasma that never sat well. It felt like something was waiting, and hungering.

But sites like that were usually the ones that needed to be resolved. As unpleasant as it was for him, it was usually worse for the ghosts bound to the site.

"All right," he said. "When do we set out?"

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"I can take you there right now," Mark offered, having learned from previous experience that people didn't like it when you catapulted them across the Atlantic Ocean. He'd memorized the coordinates of the dig site just for this sort of occasion. "But we could do it outside, if you need time to prepare?" he offered. He had at most an intellectual understanding of that, but he supposed most magic people needed to bring their gear along. In his experience, it was pretty easy to just reach out and do stuff with magic, but he didn't do the complicated things like Nick did.

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"Hold on one second," Nick said. He darted up to his room, and began to comb through his ritual tools. Packs of cigarettes, bottles of whiskey and vodka, sweet cakes and candy bars, bandages and gauze, candles and holy water. Offerings for the dead, treatment for their wounds, and purgative agents for any lingering influences. It was always a grab bag, but when it worked, you couldn't fault it.

He headed back downstairs, messenger bag at the ready, and stood before Edge. "All right, got my supplies," he said. "Will we be going directly to the site? Or do we need to clear up the matter with the locals first?"

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"Directly there," replied Mark, "one of the advantages of dealing with the UN. Here we go!" And then reality suddenly went strange all around them. While Nick was more attuned to necromancy than your typical forms of magic, but even he could sense the brush of sheer power in the moment it took Mark to wave his hand, everything around them to shimmer, and suddenly they were elsewhere.

It was a clear night in Sao Tome when the two heroes arrived, Pico Cao Grande a raised volcanic finger of the Earth clutching at a star-dappled sky overhead, the equatorial night steamy around the men fresh from Freedom City. From the roadbed they were standing on, Edge pointed down to the United Nations camp down below in the gully beneath the raised embankment. "Here we are." He didn't seem concerned by their abrupt arrival, and from the way the guard at the gate waved, evidently he'd seen this trick before too. "Down this way. The initial investigators didn't leave the bones where they found them, but we've tried to preserve the site otherwise."

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The humidity was the first thing that hit Nick, and it hit him like a freight train. Not like it was anything new - he remembered summer nights in Savannah, when you were more likely to swim down the street than walk down it. The night was abuzz with life he'd never heard in the states, and it was quite a change from the tranquility of the Parkhurst. He'd teleported a few times before, and this was one of the things he liked least about it - the dissonance. The Pale Horse might be slow by comparison, but at least you knew what was happening while you got there.

Still, if there was one thing he knew how to do, it was adjust. He made his way down to the camp, following Edge. "All right," he said. "I'll see if I can get anything from the grave. If not, well... maybe I can take a look at the samples. I'm no CSI, but in this line of work... well, let's just say you learn how to read a body real quick."

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Edge led them through the camp, mostly quiet this late at night, to the body tent, where through a translator he introduced Nick to Paolo Salazar, the local doctor who'd been part of the initial expedition. As it turned out, UNISON's best efforts hadn't been very successful: Nick was confronted not with a legion of skeletons but with a great, if carefully sorted, pile of bones. "The grave turned up underneath a bulldozer," said the doctor, his eyes focused on his work as he went. "By the time they were found, it was too late to do anything but get them out so they could not be crushed! We have been sorting them, but as you can see..." He gestured to row after row of bones and teeth, laid out neatly enough but with little organization. "There are so many!" These were old bones, Nick could tell right away, decades at least, but the necromantic magic left on them at death was powerful enough to hint even at the edge of the tent.

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Nick took a step towards the piles. This has quickly become a great deal more complex - even if you could call something like a mass grave "simple." "Mr. Salazar," Nick said, "I try to keep up to date on world theology, but I admit, I'm a bit rusty in some areas. Does Sao Tome and Principe have any prominent magical traditions? Animist faiths with a strong shamanic role? Practices that the locals would single out as 'witchcraft'?"

He pulled on a pair of latex gloves and began to sort through the bones, holding them up before the faint lighting in the tent, looking for any prominent signs of distress or damage - ones that hadn't been caused by a bulldozer, that is. "Because these bones were used in necromancy, and I'm trying to find where and when the practitioner might have come from."

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Salazar's eyes widened at the translated question, and he fired back a rapid-fire response that made the UNISON translator wince before giving back the speech to Nick and Edge. "He...Sao Tome is a civilized nation that does not practice sorcery. Not every African nation has shamans and witch doctors ready to leap out of the jungle and cast spells on Western tourists. Sir." Before the rupture could worsen, Mark stepped in smoothly.

"Dr. Salazar, Nick and I are both from the United States, and Nick is one of the most powerful practioners of magic there. Neither of us are judging Sao Tome; we're here to try and figure out what happened to these people. And if someone using magic did it, we need to figure out if it was someone local or an outsider."

Salazar looked a little mollified by Mark's sincerity, and finally replied, "Well, there are some traditions imported from Africa...there were no native people here when the Portuguese arrived, all the Africans you see were brought here as slaves or laborers. I have heard there are some like that in the cities." He crossed his arms and went on, "And, well, the first Portuguese settlers were of an unusual sort. I have heard that the old Inquisition would bring prisoners here and leave them in remote places, to live or die as fate provided. Prisoners it was no longer safe to keep in Europe."

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Nick grimaced as he was subjected to Salazar's barrage. It's not like he had meant it that way, but... well, he could see why it could've been interpreted that way. "I'm sorry, Doctor," he said, trying very desperately to clean up his mess. "I know I'm ignorant in these matters. But something... well, wrong happened here. I was just trying to understand the demographics of Sao Tome so I could narrow down who'd be responsible for this mess."

He took a second look at the bones. "Inquisition would make sense," he said. "Bones are a mix of male and female. The pelvises give that away. Skulls - where they're whole - tend towards Caucasoid. No kids, thank God for small favors. Judging by the residual magic, either they all died at the hands of something powerful... or they were used in something big after they were already gone."

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Nick's words seemed to mollify the locals, for all that the bones themselves were still a mystery. "Can you look into their eyes? See the last thing they saw, maybe?" Mark had sobered noticeably when surrounded by all the skeletons, memories of the past in his mind as he respectfully, delicately picked it up and gazed into its open eye sockets. It reminds me of Erin's homeworld, he thought. Those poor people. "If you need to do a magical ritual or something, I can clear out everyone else," he commented quietly, gently replacing the skull as if having thought better of it. "I know that may not be something you want everyone watching."

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"Uh, yeah," Nick said, looking around. "There's something I can do. Not exactly looking into their eyes, but still. It'll give me something, at least. Though..." He looked around at the rest of the staff. "It is a bit creepy, so yeah, you may want to get everyone out of here. Just in case."

Once the others were gone, Nick reached out and picked up the skull. He looked over to Edge, then opened his mouth. He'd done this a hundred times before - letting the Moirae speak through him, spitting up half-remembered fragments of dead history and tying together the severed threads of all things. He reached for the essence of death and history, soaked into the old bone, and tried to call it to the surface, in the hopes that the Fates might recognize it and paint a bigger picture.

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Nick gazed backwards into a scene of horror.

The Inquisitors prayed to their god and clutched their blessed blades tightly to their breast as the wizard chanted; the golden-masked fiend in his black robes playing with the bodies of the dead like so much candlewax. There was a ship beached nearby, a big old galleon like something from the Age of Sail, up on the white island sands with the familiar shape of the volcano behind them. The dead Inquisitors on the ground, the blasted hole in the side of the ship, the wizard with the broken chains still around his wrists, the shriveled and dessicated corpses of what must have been Portuguese colonists, men women and children all, told a grim tale.

As one, with a prayer to the Blessed Virgin on their lips, the dozen surviving Inquisitors rose and charged into the fray against the cackling wizard. It was a grim struggle of faith and steel against what looked to be potent magics, men falling left and right, dying for the chance to slash and cut at the mighty necromancer. Finally, a single blade cut deep and the wizard's mask, and head, flew from a body already transforming itself to ash. Staggering, the last living Inquistor, his face half-blackened from a near-miss by a scorching spell, picked up the mask and hurled it as far out to sea as he could before slumping exhaustedly to the ground alongside so many of the dead.

The scenes came quickly after that; more Inquisitors came and buried the dead in a rough cemetery, burning the ashes of the dead wizard to deny him even the resurrection. That last living Inquistor made his home here, building a rude hut nearby the wooden headstones of the martyred dead, and as he breathed his last, his beard white and his body aged, his eyes snapped open and gazed directly into Nick's: feiticeiro da morte!

"

And that was when Nick realized magic was beginning to seep out of the bones...

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Nick broke from his trance. Visions from the Moirae weren't usually that detailed, but the necromancy soaked into the bones must have boosted the signal immensely. "They were colonists," he said. "Portugese. The Inquisition was carrying a necromancer off to face justice - not sure if it was to here or some other colony. The ship ran aground, and by the time they caught up with him, he was turning the colonists into a... project. They were dead when they got there - either he'd killed them and was working on stage two, or they'd been travelling with him, died in the wreck, and he decided to use what was available. The Inquisitors managed to kill the guy - a lot of them died in the charge. There's a relic of his in the ocean - a golden mask, maybe the focus for his work. The Inquisitor said something as he died - 'feiticerio da morte.' Now, I know 'da morte', but --"

Nick paused as the bone jumped in his hands. Well, "jumped" would be the wrong word; he could feel energy surging into it, like power running through a steel cable. Almost by reflex, he forced his own power into it, as if trying to pour resistance into the current. He turned to Edge. "Get everyone else out of here," he said. "The bones are stirring."

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Edge was already moving as Nick spoke, the hero-turned-UNISON-agent flashing back and forth around the camp in swirls of black dots like drops of ink, catching the UNISON staff before they could panic and blinking away with them en masse to a safe zone up the mountain, watching in horror as a giant boney mass rose above the camp out of the collection tent, a terrible humanoid shape a good fifty-sixty feet tall! Within seconds, he blinked back to the now-deserted camp alongside Nick, watching as the huge creature took shape. Blotting out the stars above, the gigantic skeleton-assembly stood sixty feet tall at least, its arms and legs and limbs made of the bones of all the dead colonists in a massive amalgam of bony horrors.

"Well, I know this is bad," said Mark reassuringly to Nick, even as he tried to think of a solution that didn't involve just shattering this thing to as many small pieces as possible. That seems awfully mean, but it doesn't look very friendly... "But you're a really powerful necromancer, you can handle this, right? My friend once ripped the head off a zombie dinosaur, and she's just badass, not even magic! You can handle this!"

It pointed a finger made of dozens of fingers and arms at Nick and boomed in a terrible black voice. "feiticeiro quebra de morte! feiticeiro quebra de morte! em nome do Pai, do Filho e do Espírito Santo!" The great boney creature whipped back an arm and formed the bones and earth that made up its flesh into a giant sword and swung it, clearly targeting Nick rather than Edge, the massive blade cutting the air just a few feet from the necromancer that it dwarfed.

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Nick was very used to skeletons. He was somewhat less used to necromancers putting them together into new and horrible configurations, but he'd seen his share of those (they kept coming back to centipedes, for some reason). And every so often, he had to fight some gigantic, undead aberration like this. Still didn't make it any less encouraging when a skeletal behemoth brought a sword almost as tall as you were down on your head. Then again, what the beast had in size it made up for in slowness, meaning the necromancer easily stepped around the blade.

"Ah, the old favorites," Nick said. The rising had disturbed some of the ectoplasm that had been bound up in the bones; with a little bit of crafting, they formed hideous talons that looked like they could cut diamond. "You ever see the things the Grue make? Half spirit, half flesh, all screaming. Your little marionette isn't much compared to that." He took a swipe at the thing's leg bones, hoping a lucky blow might cut the construct off at the knees.

"I mean, assuming there's someone in there, and you're not just some necromantic answering service..."

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"...shields up!" declared Edge as the sword came down again. This time, though, it hit something in between. The fallen pieces of the camp, tents and personal effects and other things all around them, abruptly rearranged themselves at Edge's mental command, forming" into a massive cube around the two men like a concrete bunker. In fact, on closer inspection, that was exactly what it was. The sword hit the bunker with a boom, the hastily-erected concrete structure shaking beneath the impact, but standing unbroken despite all that.

"destruir o trabalhador de magia morte em nome do Senhor Jesus! Salve as ilhas!

"It seems really mad about something," said Edge, looking at Nick with a baffled expression on his face. "I don't know how long these walls are going to stand up to that pounding, but at least he's going after us and not after the rest of the camp...man, I wish I'd grabbed one of the Portuguese speakers. Is it talking about Jesus?"

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Yeah, I definitely recognize "Jesus" in there, and - oh. Oh, hell. It's not the necromancer, it's the Inquisitor. No wonder he's angry; he goes off to his rightful reward, then he feels another necromancer tampering his bones. There's really only one way to solve this...

Nick stepped away from the bone construct, spreading his hands wide. The hardened ectoplasm grew soft and ran down his hands in rivulets, sublimating before it hit the ground. Soon, his hands were bare, and his arms were open in a gesture of peace.

"I'm not a binder," he said. He didn't know if the priest understood English at all, but it was a risk he had to take. It was either that or call up the tongue of a dead man, and he didn't want to give this guy any more reason to hate him. "Not a slaver, nor a defiler, nor an agent of desecration. I am a resolver of the ways of the dead. I have met and conferred with Azrael, who guides the lost to the gates of Heaven. I help lead the forgotten to rest... and I would like to help you."

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