The grand bedroom has been converted into a library with towering bookshelves carved with all sorts of ornate and rather creepy figures. For those wishing to peruse the books and read them at their leisure, overstuffed chairs are scattered throughout the room. Candelabras stand everywhere, and various throw rugs and a blazing hearth keep the room warm.
Evening is upon Castle Draco. A cheery fire burns brightly in the fireplace of the library. In one of the nearby chairs, an Eeee lounges sideways, his wings draped over one of the overstuffed arm rests. Humming quietly to himself, he's leisurely reading through one of the books from the shelves.
The door of the library opens, and a chill wind enters from the open-air hall outside. The slow clip-clop of something solid and wooden hitting the floor heralds the arrive of another visitor. Drapped in worn black robes, and holding his scythe, Mortimer makes his way across the room. "Ahh, Alptraum, there you are," he calls out.
"Sorry, still not dead," Alptraum calls out absently, "Check back in a few centuries." He does appear to stop reading, at least, and is giving the Korv a sidelong glance.
"Despite our name, we don't deal entirely in the dead," Mortimer replies, walking in that slow Korv half-hop, half limp gait. "It is the living we take care of, after all."
"Last I checked I'm in good health, too. Had a physical exam recently, even," Alptraum comments as he now idly flips through book pages, though not looking at them. After a few more page flips, he closes the book and tosses it onto a nearby table. He rolls a bit to his side, then asks, "Anyway, you're in here and you seem to want something from me. So … feel free to sit. What can I do for you?"
"Thank you," says the Korv. He hops over to a nearby chair, then takes a seat, laying his scythe against the chair. "As you have undoubtedly guessed by now, I am here not only to locate your friend with the Light, but also the Shadow, and yourself. The way we reckon it, we're a bit alike. I can see from the aura you produce that you have some inherent power, much like our own, and as you also might guess, that ties you to us if you like it, or not. If we like it, or not. The public, you see, aren't fast to see the difference between a white-feathered Reaper who deals with undead, and a white-haired Eeee adventurer who does the same. Thus, for our mutual benefit and protection, I am here to extend a talon of friendship and alliance."
"Didn't take much guessing to know what you were looking for given you came out and said it earlier," Alptraum has to point out with a mild grin. "As for being like me … well, perhaps. I'm fairly unique, you might say. As for being a friend … that remains to be seen. I really don't know much of your intentions, nor you mine. So, hard to say if we even have compatible goals in life. And please, do not take this as some sort of insult … I just have had a lot of people try to use me, so I'm a bit cautious."
"It's understandable. We, too, face people attempting to use our power those that understand it, anyway." Mortimer clicks his beak, then reaches up and pushes his hood off his head. It's then that Alptraum can see more of why the Reaper stays hooded in black: he's not just pale, he's an albino. His red eyes, pale beak, and white feathers show it well, and he must have some degree of aversion to direct sunlight. "Anyway, your friend with the Light seems to think very highly of you, and the Light has never chosen a Champion who is wicked of heart. Further, Countess Draco is no fool, and she would not permit a nercomantic menace within her halls. I have heard she thinks well of you, which is another indicator our goals may align. I take it you are quite opposed to undeath and predatory forms of necromancy?"
"Such can't easily exist in my presence," Alptraum answers, "Even if I didn't actively stop it when I encountered it. I am probably guilty of being willing to give those tagged 'monsters' a chance and attempt to befriend them … but the abuse of power such as using the dead for their own purposes I do not tolerate, no. For a variety of reasons."
"Your reasons are your own, of course. If you would like to share them in your own time, I will surely listen. I am willing to share my reasons with you, as well," Mortimer says. He reaches in to his robe, then pulls out what looks to be a bone-carved smoking pipe. This he gestures with, putting off using it for the moment. "As for monsters, well, what the average person considers a monster and what we, who walk in the shadows, consider monsters are often very different. We prefer to judge necromancers, undeath, and the like by their right impact on society they exist with. We also help ensure that the dead do not rise on their own, and some of us, like Charon, have more specialized duties."
"I remember Charon's assistance with making sure the warriors of Draco County rest," Alptraum comments and nods slightly. "Personally, I prefer to not be so bound and follow as my heart dictates. But then I have always lived as a bit of a wanderer."
"Not all of us are bound as Charon, but that is a matter of necessity and personal choice. I believe Charon chose his path, and his alliance with Countess Draco, as well. A number of us work together with local lords and other powerful individuals because it is of benefit to us, and them. It might surprise you to know, some of us even work with the bandit lords. We try to remain neutral, and focus on our duties above all else," explains the Reaper. He then puts the pipe in his beak, and digs out a pouch of tobaco. "The rest of us act as individuals, acting as we reckon we need to act. Death, as I'm sure you are aware, is our duty and our religion."
"Oh, I serve the Countess too, just in other means," Alptraum points out, "And it was also my choice. As for bandits, it doesn't surprise me. Given the state of things, it is currently necessary to ally with those who still keep the lands free, a poor state as they may be in." At the comment about duty and religion, Alptraum can't help but smirk. "For me, well, it is what I am," he comments, then stretches out a bit and lets his wings droop to the floor languidly.
"What you are? Well, I often consider duty and religion to be what a person 'is,'" the Korv responds, nodding. He taps the pouch until tobaco slides in to the pipe, then he begins packing it down with a thumb talon. "Many Reapers are raised to their role, you see. My sister and I were no exception. Others, like the Nightmare, came upon their calling after tragedy. Alas, rarely is the absence of tragedy present in our members. We are, after all, people who walk closely to the grave. A lonely road, that I think you understand?"
Alptraum's brow goes up a bit. "The Nightmare?" he asks, a bit curious. "As for walking closely to the grave … I've walked both sides. So, yes, I think I understand."
"Have you? My experince is on this side," the bird says. He then inclines his head, then reaches in to pull out a lighter, which he begins to flick. "The Nightmare was a Rhian woman who lost her village during the Necromancer Wars. As it so happens, some of our kind came to the village to prevent the dead from rising, and found her single-handedly tending to them all. Well, as you say, our appearance does not breed confidence, and she had at us with a fury. Thankfully, my forebearers came to terms with her, and in a surprising request, she asked well, demanded to join the Reapers. Stories say she was a singularly powerful Reaper, quite adept with that weapon of hers, if not so much with the mystic aspects."
"There would be a great many less wars and suffering in the world if others were forced to see the world through the eyes of another, or through the eyes of someone dying. You have tended to those who have passed or are passing. But … how well do you truly know what they are feeling or seeing?" Alptraum can't help but ask. He then shakes his head a bit, adding, "I've also heard the screams of rage and pain from those killed in the pointless war between Babel and the sky islands. And pah, sorry, I don't mean to preach."
"It's rare that someone preaches at me. It's rather refreshing. So few take the time to speak with us, you see." A few clicks later, and Mortimer has lit his pipe. Fragrant smoke trails from the pipe, smelling of sweet tobaco. "To answer your question: I don't know. I am just one man, and the mysteries of Death are something I continue to explore. Old Azrael, my teacher, may ahve seen what you have seen, for yours is a singular power, if you do indeed see both sides. I will not measure my own experiences to yours, but know that I am often among the dead, the dying, and those who remain. That is the life of a Reaper, as I'm sure you saw in Charon."
To that, Alptraum just shrugs a bit. "Seeing both sides is lonely and hard. What do you say? How do you explain what others feel adequately? Words are poor vehicles for conveying it; they lack the feeling. It's like a poor painting of the sea. Sure, you can tell it's thesea … but it lacks its essence. But, being able to do so has had benefits in at least hopefully being able to understand others a bit better, I suppose. And there are a few other benefits it has granted me that help make up for it," he comments and rolls a bit more so he's staring into the fire.
The Korv puffs on his pipe, sending smoke trailing from the nostrels on his beak. "Most wouldn't care to know, and I don't rightly blame them. We who walk with Death, we would be interested. In this, perhaps you find another reason to walk with us, or at least allow one of us to walk with you," the Korv offers, exhaling smoke in to the air. "We may be lonely," he adds, nodding, "but we are not alone."
"Plus you hope to keep an eye on me," Alptraum comments. He doesn't look back, though, and it really wasn't a question. "What do you think I am?"
"Of course we do," Mortimer says, honestly. "Wouldn't you do the same, in my robe?" The bird's head cocks to the side, and he answers, "You seem like a lonely man, who has traveled much, and yet still feels alone. I have seen that same look in Reapers I know, which is part of why we speak now, of what we do. What grants you your power is a curiosity, but we know not to dwell a great deal on orgins. After all, we a servants of endings, not beginnings."
"I'm not as lonely as I used to be," Alptraum notes as he lifts one of his gloved hands and waves it around a bit above him. "As for a servant of endings … well … you aren't, you know. You are a servant of change. Death is more a change, not a finality. Advice from someone born from Death, so take from it what you will, of course."
"Yes, that's very true, but we tend to focus on the ending rather than the beginning of that cycle. It's where our abilities are of best use." Mortimer puffs again, then asks, "So, you believe you are born of Death? Many are, in one way or another. Or, do you mean literally? And, would you like a smoke?"
"Now, that would be telling," Alptraum comments with a tint of amusement in his voice. "As for a smoke … no. I don't usually smoke. Terrible habit." He clicks his claws together, then asks, "Tell me, if you had the ability to choose who lived and who died, would you?"
"No," the Korv answers. "I havn't lived long enough, or understood enough, to wield that power. That is not to say that I don't face that very same choice to a much more narrow degree, as it is our duty to, on occassion, deliver death upon those who we must slay. On the other hand, by interceding as we do, we spare lives. We act as we feel is best, hoping we are wise."
"Be careful. Granting death is easy, granting life is not. Do not be so ready to grant one if you cannot also grant the other," Alptraum comments and glances over his shoulder back to the Korv. "I never kill unless there is no other choice."
"Our choices are our own, but on a large, we who support the communities of Sylvannia are not quick to kill. We are well aware of the sorrow death brings. We are often there, in the aftermath, after all. And on a more practical level, killing creates more work for us, as well as impacts our standing. We are not so well loved we can act without careful consideration." The Korv inhales again, then breathes a wisp-like cloud of smoke that trails away like a flitting ghost. "History shows us what happened to the Reapers who chose other paths in worshipping Death."
"I have to even be more careful, for reasons which probably shouldn't be discussed," Alptraum comments with a small shrug and returns to looking at the fire. "And I do not worship Death."
"You sound as though you are uncomfortable with the idea," The Korv says, neutrally. "Not that I am offended if you are. It would make for a rather depressing society, if all believed as we do."
"Uncomfortable, yes, given what I am," Alptraum comments. "It was the worship of Death which allowed me exist."
"Do you want to talk about it?" The Korv glances towards the Eeee, raising a brow and letting smoke drift from his beak.
"That rather depends on if you would then try to kill me," the Eeee answers rather bluntly.
"I might," the Korv replies, "Should I prepare to? If you don't mind, I would appreciate prior notice, if I am to kill you, as a favor. I reckon, wasting this fine tobaco would be a real shame, and I'll have to get out of this rather comfortable chair."
Alptraum snorts a bit of a laugh. "You would have a hard time doing so, you know," he comments, "Anyway, my mother … biologically speaking, was a srinala. A woman caught between life and death. I exist because the magic of the Yodhsunala kept her, and later me, alive."
"Oh, I'm sure I would. I visisted Gormless, I'm well aware of your accomplishments. Of course, I'd have to try, if you forgive me saying so." The Korv pulls out another bag, then taps the top of his burnt tobaco in to it, before resuming smoking. "So, the dark arts were involved, were they? Or gray, I suppose. Yes, we'll go with gray. Well if it is any comfort to you, most of us wouldn't look down on you for that. As I said, it's endings that we care about. What are you doing, now? You havn't ravaged the countryside, I don't see," he looks around, " … legions of undead at your beck and call, and unless I am mistaken, Countess Draco hasn't taken to serving the blood of innocents at dinner. Beyond that, the Champion thinks well of you, so I feel fairly confident in saying your continued existance isn't a burden on the world."
"Be that I haven't directly done anything doesn't mean my existence hasn't. By just being … problems have occurred. Caused by others, but … eh, still revolve around me," Alptraum comments, "But, I can't say anything more on that for the sake of others who are also involved. Anyway, that is why am uncomfortable. The worship of anything tends to encourage acts to be done in the name, or expectations of those who are intimately linked at a rather, ah, spiritual level."
"You should know that we do not worship Death in the same way that the Sunala cults, or for that matter, the Ariel cult does. Our Death does not have a face, it is not an Eeee woman, or a Khattan female. It is nebulous and vast; a mystery. I don't pretend to understand Death as well as I'd like, but I live and learn. Some of us are more spiritual. Me, I'm more practical. My teacher, Azrael, is a scholar on the subject, now that he's old and worn. I think," the bird's head tilts, " … that Death refuses to take him, on account that he's a right hassle."
"Sounds about right. I've known, and still know, several people who are an amazing hassle and no one in their right minds would want to deal with," the Eeee says with an amused chuckle. "I imagine your teacher would be amusing to meet."
"Ha," crows the Korv, "then you have clearly never met him. He is old, dry, and will laugh if you trip and fall in a grave as soon as help you out of it. He's almost as white as I am, even thought he was born black as night. But if you insist, don't say I never warned you, and don't blame me for what he puts you through. Oh, and bring gifts. He won't give you a second look if there's nothing in it for him."
"Oh, I could introduce him to a few experiences that would be new, even to him," Alptraum says, clearly amused. "But … I'm not sure it would be wise for me to do so, ultimately."
"Now you're making sense. I wouldn't meet A Old Azrael unless I must, and he raised me and my sister," the Korv agrees.
"Ah, that explains why he is cranky, then," the Eeee notes.
The Korv chuckles, almost a cackle. "Is my company so poor, Alptraum?"
"No. Only that you seem to be following me, hoping for either great evil or some sort of epiphany," Alptraum replies, "Very pushy. And here I was trying to just stay in the shadows, as it were."
"Ah, so you're a bit cocky behind all that gloom, are you? Fair enough, I reckon you've earned a bit of it, after what you did in Gormless," the bird remarks. He then leans forward, smoke trailing form his nostrils as if he were some sort of bird-dragon, "A secret for you: the shadows aren't as silent as everyone would like to believe. In fact," he leans back, "quite a lot of people hide in them, so you're bound to run in to someone with the same intention sooner or later. That is, after all, how you caught our attention. We too, remain in the shadows, and we'd like to keep out of public notice, for the most part."
"And just what did I do in Gormless?" Alptraum asks. "Or what is it people think I did?"
"It would seem you accumulated a force and overthrew a necromancer as well as some sort of 'dragon,'" the Korv answers. "Few people would be so foolish as to oppose a abomination as well as a master of the deathless arts, fewer still would do it when that town isn't their home. This we know, because we're often there, sooner or later. Too few of us, though, so it's usually later than sooner."
"The description is fair enough, I suppose. Though we defeated the dragon before the necromancer came. In fact, they were enemies, but both equally bad. The dragon was a world destroyer, a story which would be extremely long to go into. The necromancer, well … he sought to resurrect 'Dagh' and wished to use the Shadow to help boost the ritual. It isn't like I had much choice in stopping that. Allowing it it occur could have meant even worse things for this land … so I wouldn't call it an act of heroics, just one of necessity," the Eeee comments with a small shrug.
"There's always a choice, Alptraum. What of our country, to a wanderer? You could have departed, left us to our own devices. No, I don't think you do yourself enough credit. A shame, that." The Korv also shrugs, then pulls his pipe from his beak and breathes out smokey air. "So, enemies, were they? A world destroyer? Well, so long as they are gone. And you see in these two, a reason I came to watch you: we were never sure if you were merely another necromancer come to take the power of the man whom you defeated. Not every hero is, well, a hero, unfortunately."
"Oh, I'm no hero. I'm just me," Alptraum notes, "The Necromancer and I had a bit of history before all this. He escaped me once and fortunes allowed me to find him again. As for his power? Ah, no. I have no desire to use powers to drive others made, create blood spiders, and then summon an ancient 'God' to destroy the world. I may have power over death, but I prefer to use it to foster life."
"Then, you see, our goals are very similiar. As you imagine, with our abilities, you and I, we could each exact quite a toll from the world. We needn't serve others, for surely we could make others serve us, correct? This is a question every Reaper asks him or herself, sooner or later. And you know, some decided the route of the tyrant." The Korv tilts his head, glancing at the fire as smoke wreathes his head. "I tell you this, because I think you'll understand and appreciate the situation. With every coming of a great Necromancer, there are those of my kind who have sided with their ilk. Do you know, what happens to them? Do you know why?"
"I imagine they are killed in a potentially gruesome way, such as what happened to those imprisoned in the Well of Souls," Alptraum answers, "As a deterrent to others who may choose the path."
"More or less. Usually more, but just as often they find their path leads to despair and loneliness. Their lords are defeated, and for all their ability, they can't fight the whole world. Some simply vanish to obscurity. The rest of us, those who side with the lords and the folk, I think we do a bit better, for all it seems we don't," the Reaper explains. "The Well of Souls is known to us, but we don't employ the coffins, and we've known the Light has rested there for some time. We have our own means of dealing with the necromantic, and we are not permitted to wield the Light."
"The Light chooses who will wield it. The fragment of Nala that remains in it was clear enough on that point," Alptraum comments, "I know I wasn't chosen, obviously. But I have my own abilities to rely on anyway and they are fairly effective."
"Yes, so the legends say. But it is more accurate to say we aren't permitted to approach the resting Light, as a matter of law. Likewise, the Shadow is to be left alone. Of course, I'm told it no longer exists, so that matters settled, isn't it." The Korv glances back, the cackles. "Yes, yes, I'm sure you're quite potent, in your own way. It'd take some ability to do what you did. We have our own powers, of course."
"You really have no idea what I did and you're hoping I'll tell you, aren't you?" Alptraum asks as he leans his head back so he's now looking at the Korv, upside down. "Anyway, yes, the shadow as it was no longer exists. So, that threat is gone."
"Oh, tell me or don't. What matters is that you did it, and that you aren't going to cause trouble for anyone, including us," the Korv insists. "Perhaps you are quite proud of your abilities? Maybe you need a friend to talk to? If you didn't want me to know, would you hint and suggest so much?" The edges of the Korv's beak twicthes in to a grin.
"Or maybe I'm trying to probe what exactly you're seeking, to be safe. The proper bait can catch any prey, after all," Alptraum notes with a upside down grin. "And how much I could safely show you."
"Perhaps I have already been as straightforward as I am able, and you are seeking an agenda I don't have? Do you think I am after your secrets, your powers? That I think you are hiding he Shadow, perhaps as Countess Draco's agent? Do you think I won't be dissauaded easily, and will Jupani you endlessly until I know? Patient as the grave, maybe? Trying for something else? The Light? To get you to join us? To agree to let me watch your activities? To bed you? Hm, hm?" The Korv cackles again, then breathes a puff of some in to the air.
"Well, perhaps you were seeking the Necromancer's power," Alptraum points out, "And are trying to obtain what knowledge of it I have. Or see me as a threat to your group's position and want to remove me or limit me somehow. I really don't know. I barely know you and can only judge by the reactions you present."
"Then I will answer that, and you can judge for yourself. We seek Necromancers in order to prevent another Necromancer King from arising, to prevent the harm they can inflict upon the people and the land, to carry out our vision of service to Death," the Korv explains. He then taps his beak with a talon, nodding. "And you are quite right that we see you as a potential threat, which should come as no surprise to someone such as yourself. If you were to abuse your powers, the backlash would strike you as well as us, and we just can't let unassociated 'Reapers' pass without approaching them. This all wasn't much to worry ourselves about, until the pillar of souls and the awakening of both the Light and Shadow."
"Ah, well. The pillar was actually undoing harm that the dragon had caused, just so you know," Alptraum says as he sits back up and starts claw-combing out his hair again. "A release of about half those he had taken over his lifetime."
The Korv breathes out slowly, letting a smoke pillar trail up, which he pokes with a talon. "For someone who wants to remain in the shadows, it was rightly the biggest sign of dark arts I've seen in my life. You had my sister in a worry, I'll have you know." The Reaper cocks his head to the side, asking, "And the rest of these souls?"
"Undoing the death of millions isn't exactly going to be a small display, no matter how you do it," Alptraum points out. "But anyway, the others remain in my care until they can be released."
"So you see that remaining in the shadows is difficult," the Korv notes. His brow then quirks up, and he clicks his beak before nodding. "They are … with you, then? Are you so sure Charon didn't rub off on you?"
"I should retire and clean up. Perhaps I'll show you some day what I mean by in my care," Alptraum answers and stands. He grabs up the book he was reading earlier.
"Have a good eve, then. We'll meet again," says the Korv, who lifts his free hand and waves. "I think I'll partake of the Countess's generosity, and read a while. You just don't get a good selection of books on the road."