Jarvinen kicked at a pile of rubble in a rare, angry motion that left his foot hurting. Not that he noticed; pain had ceased to be a distraction centuries ago. It didn't matter. No, what really mattered here was the ruin that was once the wall surrounding his house, and the crumbling places in the walls of the house itself. He'd managed to repel this latest attack, but not without taking heavy damage. It would take him weeks to repair this. And next time he might not even be this lucky.
Scowling, Jarvinen stalked back inside. His robes were bloody; he'd have to change them. One of the dragonoids had actually managed to hit him with an arrow, and another had even gotten close enough to slice him with its little sword. Both wounds were healed, leaving not even a scar, but they had left their mark on his clothing. He was honestly more concerned about the damage to his house than himself; his house didn't automatically reconstruct itself like his body did. Even worse, he wasn't physically strong enough to do the rebuilding, himself, so he'd either have to hire workers, or raise them. Hiring them was out of the question, because he'd have to kill them afterwards, to keep his home a secret, and people tended to ask questions when husbands or children or employees didn't come home from a job.
As for raising them... well. There was nothing else he could do. He'd have to lock the focus-child up for a while, and use the power he usually wasted keeping her bound to raise a few of the mercenaries-- or traders, or whatever it was that he'd just recently dispatched-- to do the reconstruction, for him. It was such a pain to have to rebind living things, but he couldn't hold her and a number of undead at the same time. The most he could keep up at one time, even without the girl, was hardly more than ten, and those all weak and mindless; with the girl... he had yet to dare more than three, and that had nearly caused him to lose her. And he was not going to risk that.
Even so... things did not seem to be working the way they were.
Jarvinen paced through the entrance hall to his manor-house. Over the years he'd managed to turn what had simply been the biggest cottage from among a village of cottages into something at least resembling the mansion he'd had to leave behind on Arira. It was still only one story high, but it was extensive, absorbing most of the land that had once held the whole village. It had taken a lot of undead labor, a lot of planning, and a lot of thievery, but it was very nearly comfortable, now. Jarvinen had worked hard to rebuilt what he'd lost, and now it was being threatened.
This was the third such attack in as many years that Jarvinen had only barely been able to repel. Usually, before he'd taken in the focus-child, he'd be able to slaughter anyone who attacked him, and turn the slain against their fellows. Before he'd taken in the focus-child, there had been even fewer attacks, for that matter! Maybe it was just time to move and find somewhere even farther from civilization, though he was loathe to do so after spending so much time on his house here. Still, it wasn't as if he needed to continue robbing caravans and settlements: he had enough furnishings, and he didn't exactly need to eat. Being technically dead had many benefits.
But there was still the girl to feed-- he wasn't about to let a prize like her waste away on him-- and the two living servants that he hadn't bothered to kill yet. And he did like the few books he'd managed to glean from the various raids, and he certainly wouldn't mind more of those. Why should he let a few paltry attacks force him from a comfortable home and lucrative "business"? If you could call theft a "business"; it really was beneath him, but so far, he really hadn't had much of a choice. If he had the power and enough money, he could probably set up a real business to handle his few needs, so all this stealing wouldn't be such a dangerous hassle.
But... he might have had the money, but he didn't have the power. There had to be something he wasn't thinking about, some way to pull all this together.
So Jarvinen did what he always did, lately, when he had a question: he went to the focus-child.
The girl-- if she'd ever had a name, Jarvinen had never bothered to learn it-- was, as usual, in the room he'd given her. It was nearly as opulent as his own, and the girl had the finest clothes and jewelry, anything any girl-child would want, as long as she didn't leave the manor, but despite being dressed richly, she always managed to seem out of place. Jarvinen liked to think he treated her well enough, but she hated him, anyway. He didn't really care, aside from it making the binding on her that much more difficult to hold in place. More than once, he wished that he were a stronger necromancer, but such was not to be, so he'd have to make due with what he had-- or what he could get.
This time the focus-girl was laying despondently on her back, on the deep red of the bedspread on her bed, staring at the ceiling, when he entered. She sat up quickly, drawing her knees up to her chest and ducking her head nervously, starry eyes right on him. She was one of those dragon-people native to this world, with wings and a tail and everything, and her eyes looked like the sky at night. It was, Jarvinen had to admit, somewhat disconcerting. Not quite as disconcerting as when she was spell-casting and the stars seemed to move or, worse, prophesying, and they disappeared in a whirl of white light-- but still. Disconcerting. In all the years since he'd acquired her, Jarvinen still wasn't quite used to it-- but, her uses as a seer and diviner were worth a little discomfort, and so he responded as always, ignoring the sad, endless gaze and leaping right into the reason he'd come.
"I'm sure you heard this morning's excitement," Jarvinen said, without preamble or even greeting.
"Yes," she whispered, still staring at him.
"I cannot have these people destroying my home," he continued brusquely. "I need more defenses, and I need you to find them for me."
Though it was not phrased as a command, it was, indeed, an order, and the girl knew enough to take it as one, by now. She immediately balled up tighter and looked away from him, staring at the wall for a long moment until the stars in her eyes started to slowly shift, as if her "gaze" was moving to a different part of the "sky". The movement sped up gradually, and Jarvinen waited without bothering to look patient. Sometimes these things took a while, and even if he knew he had to wait, he wanted a plan, and he couldn't start forming a plan without the knowledge only the girl could give him.
This time the knowledge took something like ten minutes, but it felt like longer before the focus-child finally spoke, slowly and distantly, "There are few choices... a mage who is stronger than my Master, casting spells of defense... but he might turn on my Master and take what he was brought to defend.... Hired soldiers, bought with gold, are loyal, but only as far as they are paid... and those which my Master might seek, who would have the morals to not object to my Master's practices, would hardly be trustworthy...."
"Neither option is acceptable," Jarvinen said irritably. "Go on."
Her eyes whirled again, a little faster, to another part of the world. "There is a ring of fire and a gathering of undead, to bring new unlife into the world," she said vaguely after another moment or two. This time, he paid closer attention. Undead things interested him, even if he wasn't the one directly controlling them. "Dragons and eggs, and candidates to take the newly hatched dragons home... my Master might bring home something to protect his home, if he attends... or something of magic... but then, my Master might also bring home a monster...."
"A monster sounds just about perfect, actually," Jarvinen chuckled, voice dry. "Very good, child. I think this is exactly what I was looking for."
The girl's focus suddenly slipped back to the room with a whirl of stars and a blink, and she looked a little nervous, now.
"I will be doing some research, child," Jarvinen continued, "keep me informed of any changes with this 'undead hatching' of yours."
She didn't have another choice. As he swept back out of her room, she murmured, "Yes, my Master...."
To the focus-child's best estimate's, Jarvinen arrived at this Ring of Fire several days before the hatching was supposed to occur. He'd apparently passed the local leader's test-- a "Firelancer", he was called; appropriate, given the flames that gave the mountain its name-- whatever that test might have been, and was now a candidate for this "undead clutch", as it was called. That was, it seemed, the way to bring home one of the offspring: become a candidate, and let the creatures themselves choose.
He'd even gotten himself one of the undead miniature dragons, called "flitters". The Firelancer had a whole nest of eggs in his office, and had been only too pleased to part with one. Jarvinen figured it would be yet another thing to bring home for protection: even small things could tear out eyes, scratch scalps, steal weapons, or just distract. He kept the egg in an inner pocket of his robes while he wandered the volcano's many tunnels, keeping away from places considered "dangerous" and largely keeping to himself. Even if he thought he could take on some of the things the local leader had warned him about, he was supposed to be a harmless and slightly batty old man while he was here.
Not that he was much else, normally, of course, to his occasional annoyance. Nor, he discovered with some chagrin, was the flitter he'd been given. She was less than harmless: she hatched out sweet, and affectionate. That, he expected, would be more than an occasional annoyance, but for now he humored the little thing. Soon enough there would be monsters, once the undead clutch hatched.
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