Qarinus: Umbralis, 9:29 Dragon
Dorian had put off coming home as long as he could: he’d taken the long way around from Minrathous. He’d stopped in for a drink with a friend in Vyrantium. He’d paused to thumb his nose at the Circle in Carastes. He’d arrived in Qarinus and taken his sweet time, pausing for a meal at the little seaside cafe, and taking a few hours at the tailor to be certain his new Satinalia robes were fitted just so. And now as the sun began to set, he sighed and headed out of the city and toward home.
It wasn’t really home, even though he’d spent the first half of his life there. Vyrantium had felt like home; then he’d been sent to Minrathous. That was starting to feel home-like, and just maybe he could make a life there. He hadn’t truly wanted to come back to Qarinus for Satinalia or his nameday, but he was to be eighteen, and his parents insisted.
So an hour later, as the last light of day lit the horizon, he arrived at the front door of his ancestral estate. He didn’t knock, just walked in and directed a servant to take his things to his room--assuming it was still his room and not another museum-quality tableau. Perhaps the Pavuses of old had had many children, necessitating all the rooms in the house, but now, with just three of them it seemed excessive. And when Dorian figured in that he and his father both spent the bulk of their time in Minrathous, it was downright silly to have all of this space.
“Good evening mother,” he said as he rounded the corner and entered the wide open formal sitting room. Aquinea lazed on an antique sofa, a wine glass cupped in her hand and a closed book in front of her. “Good book?” he asked.
“Terribly dull.” He was sure she hadn’t even cracked the cover. Everything about her was for show, which was a pity. She and Halward Pavus had been matched because of their potential to produce a powerful mage, and Dorian… he didn’t like to brag, but he was a powerful mage. He rarely saw his mother utilizing what had to be innate talents, and it never seemed right to bring it up. “Lovely of you to join us for your nameday, Dorian,” she said, rising. The book fell to the floor.
Dinner was the usual formal, silent affair; Halward and Aquinea couldn’t even be bothered to pretend to like one another anymore. It was as if the moment he’d left home they’d dropped the charade, and now that he was an adult they couldn’t be bothered to put on the act again. After, as usual, they adjourned to the sitting room once more. A servant had straightened the cushions and put away Aquinea’s unread book.
Someone had also set out a small pile of brightly packaged gifts. “We thought a quiet family celebration would be pleasant, since your nameday is always so overshadowed by Satinalia,” Aquinea told him. “Halward, if you would?” she said with a wave of her hand, and Halward opened up the liquor cabinet.
“Antivan brandy from the mid-Blessed Age,” Halward said, taking the stopper out of the decanter and wafting the scent toward him. He closed his eyes, but did not smile; it would ruin his image as the stern patriarch, after all.
Dorian took a seat in a comfortable chair next to the little table. He took the brandy his father offered him. Aged brandy wasn’t rare in the Pavus house, but this aged was quite special. He picked up the first gift and untied the string around it. He pulled of the lid, and resting on a small silk cushion was a gold amulet: two snakes with emerald eyes on a delicately wrought gold chain. “The Pavus family amulet?” Dorian asked, holding it up.
“You have come of age, son.” Halward’s eyes were dark and serious. “With this, you truly represent the family wherever you go.”
It was a sign: a sign that his past transgressions had been, if not forgiven, at least overlooked. Dorian wasn’t sure if he was relieved or suspicious. He put the amulet around his neck and it nestled in the folds of his deep green brocade robes. “It is a generous gift indeed,” he said at last. “Thank you.”
Halward nodded his acknowledgement, but didn’t smile. Did he look… bemused? Was he foreseeing any number of disappointments Dorian would probably bring down upon the family name?
Dorian pushed aside his cynicism and went for the next gift. He opened the package and stared at the gift. “This is… nice?” he said.
“Your great aunt Calavia found that on her holiday,” Aquinea said. She didn’t look impressed, but then again she seemed to exist in a state of perpetual boredom. “There are sailors who hunt down these great beasts in the Amaranthine Ocean.” She pursed her lips and wrinkled her nose. “Once the flesh has been sloughed off and… dealt with, they do this engraving on the bones.”
“She thought it fitting since you’ve come out as a Necromancer,” Halward said.
Dorian held the hunk of bone in his hands. It wasn’t terribly heavy, and he did feel the curiosity of the death spirits at the edges of his consciousness. The bone had, however, been engraved with a pair of grinning human skulls. “That was most thoughtful of her,” he said at last. “I shall have to write her a letter of thanks.”
“The family is quite proud,” Aquinea noted. “Open that small box there. With the violet bow, darling.”
“Yes mother.” Dorian undid the silk ribbon and shook the contents into his hand. It was heavy, and wrapped in a matching silken cloth. He peeled back the folds of fabric. “It’s… lovely, thank you,” he said as he held up a small skull carved out of solid amethyst, with diamond eyes.”
“Uncle Quintus was in Nevarra when he heard about your specialty, and asked that we save that for your nameday. He couldn’t recall the exact date, but wishes you well.”
“I will write him, as well,” Dorian said as he examined the solid gemstone skull. Felix would have a good chuckle that one, and it wouldn’t take up much space at his Minrathous quarters.
Minrathous: Pluitanis, 9:32 Dragon
“Apparently they had it commissioned specially in Nevarra.” Dorian and Felix stared at the object before them.
“Is it… is it real?” Felix asked, squinting at it.
“No, just cleverly spelled.” Dorian placed a coin on the table in front of the smiling skull. The jaws opened and a snake slithered out, took the coin in its teeth, and then dropped it through one of the gaping eye sockets. The coin clinked home, the snake slid back in the mouth, and the jaws closed. “ Very cleverly spelled,” Dorian added. “It’s… cute?”
“It’s ridiculous,” Felix said in a flat voice. “Where are you going to put this one?”
Dorian scanned the shelf in his room. A motley collection of skulls and skeletons had begun to grow there, stacked on top of books and positioned some two or three deep as they’d fit. He was sure the house staff just loved dusting his room. “Right here,” he decided, setting the strange thing on his bedside table. A few coins had been left there, and the snake slid out of the jaws, grabbed the coins, and deposited them with another clatter.
“How many proud great aunts or uncles do you even have?” Felix asked, picking up a candlestick holder carved out of veridium. Dorian had jammed a red candle in it, and the wax melting down the sides looked like blobs of blood.
“Too many,” Dorian grumbled.
Minrathous: Frumentum, 9:35 Dragon
“Don’t say it.”
“Early nameday gift?” Felix asked anyway as he choked back laughter.
Dorian shook out the black silk handkerchief. The corners had been embroidered with violet skulls. “The craft is lovely, though I doubt Cousin Cilnia did it herself.” He threw the handkerchief on his bedside table. The snake slithered out of the jaws of that skull and grabbed the kerchief. It ineffectively stuffed it into the eye socket of the skull before withdrawing once more.
“She’s the one who’s not a very good mage, right?”
“One of them.”
Felix settled into a chair and pulled something out of his pocket. “I was out in the market earlier and saw this. It made me think of you,” he said, and handed Dorian a small velvet pouch.
Dorian shook the contents out into his palm. “ Vishante kaffas, ” he snapped and Felix laughed. Dorian nearly threw it at Felix, but then started laughing himself. Felix had taken charcoal and drawn hollow eyes, a triangle nose hole, and a poor interpretation of skeletal teeth on a white rock. “This? This shall have a place of honor,” he declared, and put it on top of the engraved whalebone. The staff had pretty much given up dusting. Some said it was bad luck to disturb the dead. Others just didn’t feel like dusting that many closely packed curios.
Dorian didn’t blame them.
Qarinus: Umbralis, 9:37 Dragon
“It’s a wine goblet.”
“It’s a human skull!”
“You’re a Necromancer.”
“I have ethics. I also have taste.” Dorian wrinkled his nose as he examined the ‘wine goblet’. It was clearly an upside down human skull. Other bone had been used to create the stem, and the base was forged from silverite.
“It’s a very thoughtful gift.”
“Have you looked at this mother?” Dorian gestured at the ‘goblet’ on the table. “What in the Void was Uncle Faustus thinking?”
“That you are a talented Necromancer and would appreciate it,” Aquinea said with a shrug. No, she clearly wasn’t seeing this for what it was. “Look at your other gifts, dear.”
“I’d wager every one of them has something to do with a skull,” Dorian said, rolling his eyes.
“Not every one. Your father found a lovely vintage brandy for you to take back to Minrathous and share with your friends.”
Dorian sighed and went about opening the few gifts his mother had laid out. The articulated skeleton that could walk a few paces before sitting down was cute, but Cousin Aulus seemed under the impression that Dorian was perpetually ten years of age. The skull-shaped glass inkwell was different, and would be useful, though Dorian wasn’t sure that was the image he wanted to cultivate when he had his own offices. Still, with a crow feather quill it could be effective.
The skull-shaped candle was perfectly tacky, especially when his mother touched the wick with a lick of flame from her fingertips. The wax began to melt quickly, and was bright red as it dribbled down the sides of the skull. Dorian blew out the flame.
Dorian appreciated the volcanic aurum set of buttons, but they were forged into skulls with ruby eyes. “For the next set of robes you have tailored,” his mother said. “You have an appointment with the tailor tomorrow, by the way. Magister Iovinus is having a party for Satinalia and he’s been requesting that we bring you for years now. He’s always wanted to meet a Necromancer.”
Minrathous: Matrinalis, 9:44 Dragon
The apartment was largely how Halward had left it, and Dorian recognized everything from the last time he’d been here only a few weeks before. His mother stood at the doorway, dressed in black silk. It was for show, as always, but it wouldn’t do to show up in Minrathous not long after her husband’s death wearing anything other than mourning garb.
“You’ll be quite happy here, darling,” she said, looking around the rooms. To the best of Dorian’s knowledge she’d never been here before now. She’d always ruled the Qarinus estate, caring little for politics and intrigue. “Come, I have something to show you.”
Dorian sighed. He wanted nothing more than to be left alone, to fall into a dreamless sleep and take time to grieve and think. But he followed her anyway, because if she was playing the dutiful mourning wife, he had to play the dutiful son seeing to his mourning mother’s whims.
Aquinea led him into the study. Someone had tidied his father’s papers, and Dorian would be expected to read through them and take up where Halward had left off with his Magisterial duties. He’d been in here a few times before, but he didn’t remember the large, dark wooden curio cabinet. “I had it crafted by a woodworker just outside of the Arlathan forest,” she told Dorian. “When Halward passed--”
“Was murdered,” Dorian interrupted.
“Yes, well. I had it shipped directly here rather than home,” she continued, barely batting an eye. “Open it.”
He did as she bid. The cabinet was backed with a mirror and lined with shelves. Every skull gift, no matter how ridiculous, had been collected and placed in the cabinet. Even the stupid bleeding candle, and the rock Felix had drawn.
Dorian didn’t know if he should laugh or cry. He cleared his throat. “Thank you, mother,” he said after a moment. “This was… most thoughtful.”
She seemed pleased, and he supposed that’s what mattered. “You’re welcome, darling. I do need to be going, but please let me know if you need anything.”
They both knew he wouldn’t, but it made her feel better to say it, and him feel better to agree, so he did. Once she’d left he sat down on the edge of his father’s desk and stared at the strange and morbid collection and decided he needed to laugh. It felt good to let it out, to think of the ridiculous and tacky things people had decided he simply had to have just because of his specialization.
He supposed that was one good thing about being a Necromancer: no one had to wonder what to get him for gifts.