((Rp log with minor edits. Argus accidentally acquires a child.))

 

Gomi hates New Kianeng.

 

Too close. Too much. But the Echovald was death and wilds, and so she was stuck camped cheek by jowl in the shiny new crowded city built on the rotting corpse of the old. It was a graveyard. One with a voice.

 

Mama, I can’t swim!
AUGH, MY LEG-
I-I-I don’t have any money. Please.

 

In the press of the slum’s denizens she was entirely unremarkable. Stick thin and ghostly pale, in shabby clothing a size to large, her bare feet made no sound as she wove in and out of the crowd.

 

Some people walked through some other people. They were the ones not there, not really. But Gomi could see them. Gomi could hear them. Sometimes she could even tell the dead from the living.

 

Sometimes.

 

And since hitting puberty, those times were less and less.

 

A man strangled another as his victim stabbed him in the gut. Nobody stopped to look. Neither did Gomi. If they were dead, she’d give herself away, and if they were living, she couldn’t help. Helping was for fools. She found that out the hard way.

 

Nobody helped one another here in the slums. Nobody, living or dead, cared about her. She was Omonigomi- trash and burden, and she knew better than to expect anything from anybody.

 

It was almost night. That made her job easier.

 

Specifically, robbing the rich foreign jackass flashing his wealth all over the market today. If she could pull it off, she could keep the gangs at bay for one more week.

 

And if she didn’t… well.

 

At least she would have some peace. At least she would know if she was living or dead. Sometimes she couldn’t tell if she was a ghost or real, let alone the rest of the world.

 

Electric, uncanny, bright blue eyes slipped back into shadow. Her long black sleeves hid the paper talismans and ribbons she’d attached to her arms, wrapped around them, trying to keep this power under control. But their effectiveness was limited, hence her current problems.

 

A cluster of perfectly normal looking people walked through a wall. She ducked behind a corner, keeping her distance, assessing the mark.

 

The mask hid his eye line- to most it was a simple wooden mask, but the tech inside was far more advanced. A breathing filter to help with the choking scent of filth and trash, helping to isolate specific signatures. He lingers at a stall, fiddling with a ring along his belt, there were a few things hanging there, little rune stones, a bone, some feathers, an odd assortment of bits and bobs.

 

But the ring, it was special. The mark on the rune seemed to match one she drew on her talismans, or similar enough. He paid too much for the apple he bought, flaunting his money, showing little sense.

 

He moves further down the canals, not bothering to look behind him. He knew she was there. Her power was impressive, in raw strength she was a wonder, but that power was like a Jade Tech Reactor, to one like them, she was a bright shining beacon of energy.

 

He clocks an alley leading to one of the safe houses he set up, as well as some approaching ghosts. He tilts his head and grins under the mask, an idea perhaps. As the lost souls pass through him, he grips his head, panting and clutching his ring, before slipping it off the strand. He slides it onto his finger, and seems to calm, seems to be less in pain, taking a deep breath before moving toward the dark alley.

 

She hesitated when she sees people. Ghosts? They make her eyes itch; they could well be. They look armed and dangerous, bloodthirsty in death as they were in life. They could see her if she went too close.

 

They could hurt her too. She found that out the hard way.

 

Maybe they’ll kill him. Make my job easy.

 

He saw them. And-

 

Wait.

 

Wait.

 

Wait. What was that? What just happened?

 

Another necromancer. Tch. Usually they’re scarier than some foppish foreigner. He must be weak. But that ring…

 

He hurt. He was hurting like I hurt. And that ring made it stop, she thought slowly. Dawning realization made her throat dry.

 

The ring has stopped the ghosts from seeing him. It had stopped him from hearing them, too.

 

Her heart stopped.

 

I have to have that ring. I’ll kill him if I have to. If I get that…. I could- I could-

 

Her hands shook. She forced herself to be calm. One thing at a time.

 

First: follow the mark.

He lingered, still fiddling with the ring before reattaching it to his belt. There were in fact seven trinkets on his person, an homage to the test of seven bells, his first lesson in the world of crime. If she was a confident pickpocket, she would have tried already- she had more than enough opportunity, so it was desperation then.

 

Perfect.

 

He turns down the alley, suddenly looking nervous and fidgety in his body language, muttering something under his breath, something about “Whispers…. must.. .hide…” He lets the modulator in his mask do the work, making him sound afraid, like prey.

 

Little by little, the web is weaved, bait too delicious to pass up by a starving beast. He looks around frantically, easily clocking her as still watching, before slipping inside the rundown old house.

 

The area was clear of people, those who knew, stayed away, but she was ignorant, desperate, she wouldn’t care. The dead lingered around the alleyway, perhaps drawn to him, perhaps to her, or perhaps this is simply where they died.

 

All she knows, is that when her hand touches that door, a sensation will run through her body, for just a split second. The flash, so vivid she could see them, of the eyes of a snake -or a demon- peer down at her. Like she was a tasty rat.

 

No sound comes from the door if she approaches. There’s no where to go, he has to be in there.

Get. That. Ring.

 

Dodge the ghosts. Keep close to the wall. She stops at the door.

 

….Something was off about this though. Or was it? Idiot lost rich boy, getting scared….

 

Something hateful flickered to life in her.

 

Fucking rich bastards. I bet he’s never been hungry. Hurting. Walking around like there’s no danger. No. Wait. Are these my emotions, or the ghosts?

 

She couldn’t tell. It didn’t matter. Gomi was used to insanity; she forced herself to remember the ring.

 

The ring. Silence the voices. Once and for all.

 

She touched the doorknob-

 

-and jerked back as if scalded.

 

What the fuck kind of….. of presence was that?? A cold sweat broke out over her. Gomi seemed to teleport away from the door to the nearest shadow, she moved so fast, and froze, silent, still.

 

Nothing. For minutes.

 

Eventually she got the courage to touch it again.

 

Nothing. No eyes. No watching.

 

….Just the dead, she told herself.

Seeing and hearing and feeling things that weren’t there, that no one else could, warped her perceptions enough that she discarded the gut feeling, and the memory-feel of those horrible snake eyes.

 

She had to get that ring.

 

One hand drew a dagger barely worthy of the name. The other opened the door and stepped inside.

The house was run down and ragged, nearly empty, some boxes here and there, maybe a bedroll that looked torn to shreds. But most strikingly missing from this room… was the man.

 

The door slammed behind her, bones seeming to crawl out of the walls to keep it latched in place. She was trapped- she fell for an obvious trap in a city she had been in since she was born. Embarrassing.

 

Wait…was that her feeling, her embarrassment ….or someone else’s? …its so hard to think in here its too…. Quiet.

 

The voices… the screaming…its- muted, like someone is muffling her ears with their hands. Was this a moment… of peace?

 

The moment swiftly passes as she blinks, and suddenly, sitting in a lavish armchair, one leg crossed over the other, hands steepled, was the masked man.

 

“Disappointing…”

 

He speaks, the modulation giving an echo and eerie menace to his words.

 

“I come all the way down here, thinking another necromancer was moving in on my turf, only to find… a fledgling, with absolutely no training… glowing with power like an unstable jadetech reactor.” He slowly stands, that menace, that sensation she felt at the door returns, as now looking at him straight on, reveals his unsettling glowing green eyes barely hidden under the mask.

 

“Brave… but foolish to step here, into a snake’s burrow…”

 

He chuckles, the sound bouncing off the walls. “This what you are looking for?” He holds out the ring, taunting her, egging her on. He wanted her to try.

 

She whirled, street reflexes not enough to save her, as the door slammed and locked itself with bony hands.

 

Every nerve in her body screamed danger- but the sudden silence made her freeze in shock, not run in terror.

 

Was- was this… peace?

 

Nothing. No one but her and her own thoughts. No voices. No feelings. Those freakish blue eyes were huge in that thin pale face-

 

-and it’s gone.

 

No!

 

She nearly screams with frustration and rage. And then suddenly, she isn’t alone.

 

Gomi has a heartbeat, maybe two, of realizing exactly how bad her error is before he speaks.

 

The bony hands hold the door. The snake coils in front of her, green eyes pinpricks of light and necromantic power in the gloom.

 

And then.

 

He holds out the ring.

 

I don’t have to kill him. I just have to get the ring and not die. Then I can run, and nobody knows the city like it’s rats.

 

Her face twisted. Most of it is hidden by hood and a scrap of black cloth, but there’s a flickering fire in the blue eyes, and sudden indescribable rage.

 

He was holding it like it was nothing, like she was nothing, like it wasn’t priceless to her and he knew nothing of how she needed it, and the urge to wipe the smirk from his tone was absolutely overpowering.

 

Half feral and defiant, the little rat bared her teeth at him and drew a second dagger.

 

“Fine,” she hissed.

 

And Gomi cut one of the seals off each of her arms.

 

There’s a surge of power, and the voices around them both intensify. People have died in this house, some badly, some he had killed- she could feel them, hearseetastesmell thier last moments, and she drew thier hate to her as licks of power began to leech around the other seals, a cold blueish fog.

 

She darted at him and struck for the throat.

He adjusts his stance, taking one not unlike the monks she had seen wandering the upper streets. He felt her power soar, his own staying calm and restrained, he closed his hand around the ring, forming it into a fist.

 

Blocking her attack was simple, a rotation of the arm to knock her strike away was easier than she had imagined. She was malnourished, starving, running purely on her power to stay alive. He could feel it eating at her as hungrily as her own stomach. As he knocks her weapon to the side he thrusts his fist forward, striking her in the center of her chest. She nearly felt her ribs crack as he struck, sending just a minor spike of necrotic power into the strike, aiming to knock her back.

 

“Sloppy!”

 

He speaks firmly, keeping his defensive stance. Whoever he was he was no weakling rich boy, he was a fighter, a trained master of his craft.

 

He follows up his strike with a swift slam of his foot, the floor chilling and icing over as the creeping frost strikes at her legs, and a panicing dread creeps further. He speaks a word, in Canthan… it only had one meaning:

 

Cower.

He wasn’t there. Instead something horrible and painful exploded pain into her chest, and Gomi choked back agony. Her knife met empty air.

 

How was he so fucking fast? Who was this guy?

 

She assumed he was a snake. But he might be a dragon- or a devil, judging by the mask. Enma himself, holding unholy court in this run down place of death.

 

And yet, she didn’t back down. Breathing hurt, but anger kept her focused through the pain. Who the fuck was he, to tell her sloppy? As if she fucking cared, as if he knew anything, as if-

 

Cower.

 

She snarled like a rabid animal and danced away, leaping onto an old chair and table to keep out of the cold power.

 

Her reply in Canthan was graphic and anatomically impossible. “You don’t scare me,” she added. That was more than mildly suicidal, but she didn’t seem to care.

 

What was death, anyways? What was life? Was this life even worth defending? She was tired. She was so tired. Dying held no threat to her. At least it would be quiet then.

 

”Give me the ring!” Gomi snarled, and leaped at him agian. She’s barely five feet, less than a hundred pounds with being malnourished, but the wild look in her eyes and the power coming off her like an unstable reactor gave her strength. The ghosts in the walls watched, the corpses on the floor grabbing at both of them.

 

Stronger. She needed more power. Ruthless, even cruel, she ripped off another seal and yanked the residual life force of the ghosts around her to fuel her attack. Her daggers went for his hands.

 

He’d give her the ring one way or another.

Her dagger swept low, aiming for his hands, the ghosts wailed and rattled around them as she drained their power. The whole damn place did.

 

And then….nothing. The ghosts paused, their power cutting off, and then their forms swirled together, forming into a stream of ethereal energy. And she watched, in horror and confusion, as his left arm moved, a sweeping motion, pulling them all into his palm.

 

“I’m sorry, were they distracting you?”

 

He caught the attack, letting her stab into his hand but also keeping her right there, right in front of him, with his own magic. Blood hit the ground. His green eyes sharply stare into hers. No matter how she pulled, she couldn’t get her hand back.

 

“How have you survived this long? Your own power is eating you alive…” He shifts his stance, turning sharply and pulling her along with him, before letting her hand go at just the right moment, throwing her into the pile of empty boxes.

 

As she lays there, amongst the boxes, he holds his left hand out again, the ring now swirling with the ghostly energy. “Reckless desperation will not win this fight…”

 

He holds up his stabbed hand, flicking it to sling the dagger from it, letting it fly across the room at her, but clattering at her feet. He holds his hand out, letting her watch as he uses the ghosts power to heal his hand.

 

“Whats your next move, I wonder?”

He took it. He took it without flinching, without caring, and then tossed her away from him like rubbish. Like her name. The boxes fell on her. She struggled upright, red blood sheeting down her face, scrap of cloth serving as a mask covering her mouth askew, hood off. The blood is from a cut in her nearly bald head; the shave job is poorly done and a little patchy.

 

…Her natural hair color is white, a shade off from his own.

 

How in Grenth’s own fucking name did he just-? He was toying with her, and Gomi hated it and him and this and herself and everything in equal measure, helpless fury chewing at her control.

 

”Your own power is eating you alive,” he said, and something in her, fragile and pushed to the limit by years of hardship and the torment of the ghosts… snapped.

 

I’ve never taken off more than four before. But I won’t need the seals if I have the ring.

 

“Then fucking kill me, you coward,” she managed, spitting crimson, pink-toothed and snarling like a wild thing. Gomi picked up her dagger and cut another seal off her left arm, then her right. The ragged ribbon and the symbols clumsily made into it around her arms was looser now. Power rose in tempo with her heartbeat, eclipsing the hurt.

 

She’s broken a wrist. Gomi takes the dagger with her other hand. The throbbing pain was power, was fury, was hate, and everything boiled over all at once.

 

”You don’t know what it’s like! The living, the dead- I can’t tell where they start and end! I feel everything and see everything all the time and you’re not even FUCKING USING IT! I don’t even know what’s real anymore!” she roared, and her own blood swirled around her like a nimbus of power, augmented by the nexus of necromantic energy at her heart, only half sealed now. She was the center of a terrible tempest.

 

The dagger suddenly became as long as a sword, the blood congealing along the blade and going for his head.

He doesn’t dodge.

 

He doesn’t flinch.

 

He grabs the extending bloody blade, by the blade itself. Before his power washes over her, the blood liquefying once again, splattering on the floor.

 

Then it begins to boil, burning her insides and then starts to burn less. And less and less until the pain itself starts to subside. She can feel her wrist start to feel better, and the wound on her head closes and scabs over.

 

He barely moved, and yet, she was healing, and it clearly wasn’t her power. He takes a few steps back, taking a deep breath, shaking his head “Untrained, undisciplined, uncared for…” he mutters.

 

He turns towards her, looking down at her, before slowly squatting, coming down to her level. “Are you finished?” He says with the tone of a parent dealing with a tantrum. “You cant win, and you are far too interesting to kill…” He shrugs, sighing as he turns his back to her “What am I to do with you.”

 

His back was wide open, begging her to strike, he didn’t disarm her. He healed her, she could fight!

 

But….would it be the same, would it be just as futile?

 

Even if she got him, he could heal himself- one stab isn’t going to be enough, and he countered her strongest attack with little effort.

 

“What will you do?”

Almost.

 

As if almost has ever been good enough.

 

And then the pain comes.

 

She drops and writhes, for a moment, the dagger clattering as her own blood won’t respond to her body, and for a moment there’s a flash of…

 

…Relief?

 

Oh. So this is how dying feels.

 

But. No. As she curls into a fetal position on instinct… it fades; it doesn’t get worse, and leaves in its wake… healing scars?

 

Wait. What?

 

Now confused and angry, Gomi stood, unsteady but not unwilling to fight in the slightest. What the fuck was he talking about, and why the fuck did he even care?

 

Mercy on his part is a weakness. I should take it. She could feel her power eating at her, the restless ghosts of Cantha chewing at her edges. She’d lost half her seals, after all. She has to have that ring.

 

It’s like forcing fire hose pressure through a garden hose opening. Something somewhere is going to give… and her stopgaps are clever, but not enough.

 

“Die without it or die trying to get it,” she said grimly, picking herself up. Anger still made her eyes flash blue in the gloom. “Doesn’t matter.”

He chuckles a little, and with a small hiss, and a click, he removes his mask, setting it on his hip. He turns to face her, those piercing green eyes now on full display.

 

“There is a third option, if you’re smart enough to consider it.” He holds out the ring, keeping it still this time. “The ring is a temporary measure, just like your talismans, but with the bound souls of the dead around here, it has been made stronger.”

 

He tosses the ring to her, smirking a devilish grin before rubbing his chin in thought “You’re a necromancer, and thief, without proper training in either, running on pure instinct, and that can help you survive… but never more than that.”

 

He draws a pistol, long barrel, revolver, teaming with his magic as he levels it just off from her head. “If I wanted to kill you, I would have popped your head off an hour ago when you started following me.”

 

Then he does a little flourish before holstering it. “That seems a waste of potential, so how about this…” He offers out his hand “You take my hand, and attempt to drain me, I, will do the same.” He smirks. “If you win, you get to keep the ring, and likely take whatever you want off my body, and you will live another day…”

 

His face softens for a moment. “If I win, you come with me, and become my apprentice. I’ll train your magic, your fighting, reading, writing, all of it…” He watches her reactions. “You will be mine, and I will make you… My successor.”

Gomi flinched away from him, a tell-tale twitch of her pitiful existence, when he tosses the ring on the floor between them.

 

…What?

 

She looks down at it, greed and hope warring with the animal instinct of trap. What’s a drain? She looked up again in time to see the gun, and her power flares- but. No. He holsters it.

 

The words about her talismans make her angry again; it was pulling fucking teeth to figure those out.

 

His eyes glow in the dark, just like hers. But they were green. He wasn’t Canthan, and he was cocky as fuck, but he could heal, and he could use the ghosts better than she could, and he didn’t need the fucking ring.

 

Besides. What else was there but survival? The question showed in her face as a flicker of confusion. Death was the only other option she had. And she refused to die quietly.

 

Was he trying to play her somehow? Confusion fades to suspicion. Nobody made offers like this or said nice things about her. Potential?? If she’d had any of that she wouldn’t be here. Why was he lying?

 

Does he really think I’m that stupid?

 

Gomi didn’t believe any that for a single second. Nobody in thier right mind would give an offer like that. It had to be some kind of trap, either because he wanted something worse from her or just got his kicks from messing with people.

 

Things like that were daydreams and fairytales, and she’d outgrown both so fast they were only words to her. Nobody cares about her.

 

She was Gomi.

 

He’s not going to give it to me. I can’t match him in a fight like I am. But maybe if I get close… I could catch him off guard. Get past his defenses, before he can react.

 

“…Anything off you I want?” She asked warily.

 

“Anything. I’ve got a fully loaded gun, a torch for channeling magic, money, plenty to take…” He chuckles, taking a step back.

 

“Or perhaps a drain is too advanced for you? I saw your look. Ah yes… Maybe a battle of aura…” He grins, watching the ring clatter to the floor. “You remove the other half of your talismans, let yourself feel what your best is, what your peak is now…”

 

He moves his sleeve up, his left arm covered in bandages, it radiated power just like she did. He begins to unwrap it, letting her see the price of power- the price of the ill prepared, and her fate should she never learn control. The shriveled old limb now on full display, he wiggles his fingers, flexing and retracting them slowly.

 

“This room is protected, no one else will get hurt by this little game…” He opens his arms. “Send all your power at me, do your very best!”

 

He grins widely- that serpentine glare, daring her to prove herself, challenging her to try. Daring her to let loose.

What the fuck is wrong with his ARM??

 

…Did his control-?

 

No. Stop. He’s trying to psyche you out. Don’t let him get in your head.

 

She bristled. Draining sounded easy. It was just taking, after all- and besides, she didn’t intend to actually let him get her.

 

Taking off her charms….

 

He said this place was protected, but- how did she know he was telling the truth? Her eyes narrowed, then flicked to the windows. They hadn’t been quiet. If guards were coming, she knew he was lying.

 

But there was nothing outside at all. Just the night and New Kaineng.

 

….I know it’s a play. But that arm…

 

She shook herself.

 

It was now or never.

 

Gomi waked forward, rolling up her sleeves. Her arms are covered in those seals, and some are even written on her skin in faded ink, attempts to control and mute her own destructive force. It gathers around her.

 

Send all your power at me.

 

The seals on her arms begin to smoke.

 

And then the bones holding the door shut begin to rattle. She feels his control of them, his summoning, and blasts through it, sheer brute force yanking them away. They reach for him-

 

-and in the surge of power that follows, she dives for the ring.

 

And the window.

He had to admit, the didn’t quite expect the snatch and grab mid stride. She was delightfully clever. In any other match up this would have worked beautifully.

 

But he was Argus, The Phantom, Enma- bogeyman to the underworld, faster than her, stronger than he had tried to run from him before. So… it was time for the first lesson.

 

You don’t know shit about real power.

 

She does indeed snatch up the ring, but before she can fully turn to dart for the window, his hand is grasping the back of her hood. He pulls back, catching her neck in it as he throws her directly into the chair he had been sitting in.

 

“Where do you think you’re going?!” The voice that came from him was chilling, the shadows wreathing around his as he activated his Reapers cloak.

 

A shadow form overlaps with his own, a massive scythe forms in his hand, as black wings of pure death rise from his back. The shadows spread out over the room, covering the exit, then the room itself, throwing her into pitch darkness, where the only light, were those bright, terrible green eyes.

 

“Do you think this is a game, kid?! You think we get to have this power and just run rampant?! Do you realize that we drain everything around us without restraint? You think I’m going to just let you-!”

There was a pause, his massive display of power, overwhelming. He didn’t need talismans, he didn’t need the ring, he was just…strong. Stronger than her, and he wasn’t about to let her walk. Or run.

 

“You think I’m going to let the spitting image of myself even younger than you, just throw their life away?”

 

The power fades and the light returns- though even more boney hands grip the door tightly shut now.

 

He squats before her, holding out his non shriveled hand “I do understand, far better than you realize. I clung to that ring for years, since I was eight.” He kept his position, not moving any closer. “I was alone, afraid, and a man who I would not wish anyone to meet took me in, and made me one of the most feared people in the criminal underworld.”

 

“But the dead taught me control, they taught me to use my power, they knew best.” He holds out his hand to her. “Put on the ring, and take my hand… let me help you, or better yet… let me give you the tools, to help yourself.”

She had a moment to think, Oh. He’s mad. I really am dead now. as he approached.

 

She closed her eyes and shrank back. She couldn’t seem to stop the reaction, even as she hated herself for it: always a fucking coward, Gomi, even at the end.

 

But nothing happened.

 

He just… yelled at her, yelled at her about her powers. Only half of it registered a she braced herself for pain that never came, and then, carefully, almost unwillingly, cracked open an eye.

 

…He wasn’t going to kill her?

 

His power wreathed him like a shroud, but it didn’t touch her. And he didn’t move his extended hand away.

 

He couldn’t be serious.

 

….Right?

 

Slowly dawning confusion replaced the defiance and fear as she opened her eyes a little further.

 

“You… You’re lying. Nobody helps people like me,” she said. The power in her was starting to throb again without the seals, without the use- building and building. Was this the drain he talked about…? “Why do you care about my life? I’m trash.”

 

It’s the closest thing to honest her tone has come: whether it’s because of the hopelessness of her situation or the hopelessness of fighting him was unknown.

The cloak slowly flaked off, like old skin, like ash from a fire, leaving only him, with a soft smile on his face. “You are not trash, you are recycle.” He chuckles, shaking his head.

 

“Sorry, I have a little friend who enjoys books, she enjoys puns.” He laughs, keeping his hand out, unmoving and unwaivering. “People shun or attack what they fear, and they fear what they don’t know.” He tilts his head, looking at her more closely. “But a better question… have you asked for help?”

 

He gives her a knowing look. “You seem to have that misplaced arrogance, that since you’ve been on your own so long, you don’t need anyone’s help, even if it would turn your who world right around for the better…”

 

He shakes his head “I’m glad I outgrew that….mostly.”

 

He motions to the ring “Put it on, let the calm settle, it will be easier to have a civil discussion.” He stays put, not letting her rabbit, not coming any closer.

 

“As for why I care, because as much as you might think all these fancy clothes seems to tell you one thing…” He pulls down his collar, showing scars and brands, runs and more doing down his chest, and along his neck.

 

Shackles. Only a metal collar could make those marks, they were old and faded, but they were unmistakable.

 

“I care…because I was you….”

That seemed hard to believe. People like him were power and privilege, good clothes and plenty of food and people paying deference.

 

But the scars didn’t lie.

 

“…Asking for help is asking to be used or taken advantage of at best,” she said after a moment. “I tried to get someone to teach me once. They wanted my organs for the black market.”

 

She looked at the ring agian, then him, slowly. Considering.

 

Then Gomi snatches it so fast it seems to disappear from his palm and reappear in her white knuckled fist. She shoved it on like she was afraid it might vanish.

“Ah yes, You want to know why?” He smiles as she snatches the ring.

 

The feeling of the ring is…bliss. The voices silence, her power pulls back, flows as easily as her own blood. There is no turmoil within her, only peace. It takes a moment to adjust, it didn’t grant full control, but it was a start.

 

“There is an old wives tale, dating back centuries, that Necromancers had a special organ in our bodies that allowed us to live, with all this death magic.” He laughs and shakes his head “Its utter bullshit, but it does explain why they always want the organs…”

 

He sits cross legged on the floor in front of her, in an almost meditative pose. “You are right, asking the wrong person for help is asking for trouble, or accepting it without hearing them out is also a bad idea.” He reaches into his bag, taking out the apple from before, and offering it up “With the ring on, it shouldn’t wither like most fruit does in your hand.” Argus watched her.

 

“Now then, introductions. I am Argus Gravewhisper, in the Underworld I am called, The Phantom. Sometimes, they call me Enma here in Cantha.”

Gomi nearly cries from relief.

 

Silence. Peace. Quiet.

 

Thank god. Oh thank god.

 

Then he spoke.

 

She recoils, yanking back the hand that was reaching carefully for the apple, and flattening herself against the chair to get as far away as possible.

 

He wasn’t the only boogeyman of the underworld, but also…. holy fuck. Enma was a name whispered only in the darkest shadows of the night. She was super, super fucking dead.

 

And he did not seem to be joking.

 

She stared.

He has this, casual demeanor, a stranger, a new face- and he is revealing his most closely guarded secrets, his name, his title. If she was going to be his apprentice, she would need to know these things.

 

“But don’t go telling anyone, need to keep a low profile these days.” he chuckles, her expression was priceless, someone who truly understood the gravity of their situation.

 

“But you see the advantage of not many people having a physical description of someone with that moniker. Makes me seem so much more….spooky..” He grins, taking out a second apple she…didn’t see him steal. He takes a bite of it, still holding out the other one.

 

“Eat, your power may not let you starve to death, but I wont have my Apprentice pushing that…”

Her blue eyes narrowed. It was kinda smart. Really smart, if she was generous, but Gomi tried to beat that deadly trait out of herself much earlier.

 

Will I offend him if I don’t take the apple?

 

She decided poison would be quicker than if he got mad at her, and carefully took the apple, clutching it to her. Her hands are covered in those battered seals, grubby and worn and hurt. Up close, she looks on the bleeding edge of keeling over. She probably needs thirty more pounds at least to get to ‘skinny’.

 

A wraith of a girl.

 

Slowly, she brought the apple up, and began to eat.

 

Apprentice… does he need a dogsboy?

He takes a few bites of his own, letting her enjoy the food. “Call me sentimental, but I have a soft spot for the outcasts and downtrodden, my people.” He chuckles, pulling his long white locks into a loose ponytail, binding it with a red string.

 

“So, I’ll explain what the deal is. You’ll come with me. I give you room and board, which means food, a bath, a bed to sleep in.” He takes another bite, mulling over how to explain it. “See, I’m intending to retire from the game, but you don’t just…leave.. the power vacuums I would cause would do serious damage.”

 

He glances around the safehouse, noting some repairs it needed before focusing on her again.

 

“In return, you will learn under me, primarily and officially how to control, and properly use your power, mastering it.” He finishes off the flesh of the apple, flickering his energy over his hand a moment, the apple core withering to dust.

 

“You will be my charge, and I will be your teacher, and together we will work with some friends of mine, a Guild more commonly called The Vanguard.”

….Her eyes narrowed agian.

 

“Seems like too good of a deal for me. What’s in it for you?” Gomi asked. She paused.

 

“I won’t fuck you, old man. Might as well kill me.”

There is a long pause, before he cackles, a full, genuine belly laugh, nearly falling over.

 

“Oh…oh I needed that laugh, oh… gods that was hilarious. ” He wipes his eyes and shakes his head “Not anywhere near there dear, I think Im old enough to be your father, young as Id have to be to marvel that on a continent only opened up the last couple years.”

 

He centers himself, taking a deep breath “You don’t trust easy, that’s good. ” He grins, there was that snake again, even a genuine smile seems almost sinister. “I don’t want your body, your organs, or your soul. What I want is someone worthy to be my legacy.”

 

He gets serious a moment. “I was trained to be what I am, from the age of six. Youare considerably older, so the moral issues are lessened.” He flexes his shriveled hand. “Whats in it for me, is ensuring the old ways of our kind, the Necromancers, don’t die out- and I get to build you from the ground up, into a successor.” He smiles, meeting her eyes. “Call it a long term investment.”

 

She watched him for a moment.

 

He seemed… genuine. Terrifying; king of the underworld indeed, a snake in the grass- and strong.

 

They didn’t bother him. The voices. The ghosts.

 

“Trust gets you killed.” She hesitates. “I’m not a spiritualist. If I try to control a ghost, they end up taking me over. I can’t do what you think.”

“Of course not, you’ve never been trained, trying to tether a spirit without knowing how…is a terrible idea.” He scratches his head, adjusting his hair. “I used to think the same thing, but with maturity, its a necessary part of life. Working with the guild, instead of with other criminals, does tend to help that.” He fiddles with a coin, letting it roll over his fingers.

 

“And you don’t know what I think you can do, but again, without being taught, you can’t even quiet the voices without a charm like that ring.”

 

“I’m not offering you a peaceful, or easy life, Ive risked my life more in the last few years with the guild, then I have my whole career in crime, the order of Whispers…which you’d have no idea what that is, long story short, I was an information broker in the conflicts against the dragons.”

But then what did he mean, “old style”, if not spiritualist…? Non-Canthan style necromancy?

 

If he did all that, and he’s still alive, even with that arm… he has to know what he’s doing.

 

The most dangerous emotion of all stirred within her and glinted in her eyes. Curiosity.

 

And if he knew how weak she was, but wanted to teach her anyways, well, that was his flaw, wasn’t it? I could… learn everything I can before he figures out how bad I am- before he tries to get rid of me. I’ll still be better off than I was…

 

Gomi had long since finished the apple, core and all. She wiped her hands on her pants.

 

“…What do I call you? Phantom, Gravewhisper, moksa-nim?”

 

That was the Canthan honorific for someone in charge- but with more ‘pastor/spiritual leader’ vibes to it.

“Teacher, or what ever will be preferred, at least in public.” He nods, starting to rewrap his arm. The bandages having some manner of script on them, not dissimilar to her talismans.

 

“Its not like you have much to lose, at the very least you’ll get a bath, food, and somewhere to sleep.” He chuckles, tying his bandage off. “I warn you though, I’m a harsh teacher. At least I will be once we move passed the basics.”

 

Her grins, flexing his shriveled, now wrapped arm “This, is the price of the true old ways. I used it without the proper set up, in an emergency.” He rotates his shoulder “Worth it, but, I might be stuck like this, and I’ve come to peace with that.”

She snorted quietly. As if he could be harsher than what she knew already. Besides… he wasn’t wrong about having nothing to lose.

 

She felt like she was on the edge of a precipice.

 

“…Okay, Teacher,” she said. She stood -carefully, slowly, in case sudden moves were a bad idea- and looked at him.

 

“Omonigomi.”

 

It meant, literally, burdensome trash. There was also vibes of worthless piece of shit.

 

“Gomi. For most things.”

He slowly stands, hearing the name brought a brief expression of absolute rage. That’s not just something she calls herself, that’s a name someone gave her, drilled in her head. He collects himself, taking a deep breath.

 

“We will have to do something about that…” he notes to himself before holding out his hand, nodding slowly. “Its a deal then, welcome to the team.” he kept his hand out, he word was one thing, but a handshake was as good as a contract, at least to start.

The expression on his face sent her six feet away and tensed, shoulders hunched, eyes wary, in the space of a heartbeat.

 

But it… faded? Or didn’t seem to be a her. Not entirely. She didn’t understand what he meant, but once his face was neutral and he was holding out his hand (and only then) did she approach again.

 

Her hand is thin and dirty.

 

“…” WAS she welcome?? She had no idea. Confusing man. She released it quickly and backed up out of arms reach by habit.

 

“So… what now?”

“First, we’re getting some bao for the road, then… we have a boat to catch.” He flick his hand, the bones on the door fall apart.

 

“It’ll be a long ride, a good opportunity for you to sleep. I’ll have some explaining to do once we arrive to the Guild Hall…” he motions for her to follow “There is a lovely little bao cart on the docks, I never can visit without stopping by.”

Well, I guess if he’s trying to bribe me with food, that’s a good sign.

 

“Is that where you-… we stay?” She asked, hesitantly.

“Yes, its also where my colleagues operate. I secured a little nook for myself. ” He leads her out of the little house, four people dressed in black stand guard outside. With a wave of his hand they walk from the alley in different directions, spreading out in the city.

 

He leads her toward the docks, slipping on his mask before they leave the alley. “Once we get you linked up to the teleport crystal system, we can head to my actual home, bit more roomy…”

She starts, moving behind him, defensive-

 

But no. They’re his as well.

 

His nice clothes and confidence make a stark contrast to her; she slinks behind him like a wary little shadow. Gomi just nods. Wherever she ended up staying was probably improved from the alleys, and even if she had complaints, she wasn’t going to voice them.

They smell the buns long before they see them, and her stomach cramps in longing pretty much immediately.

He could almost hear them, his own not nearly as loud, but something about those steamed pork buns called to his stomach. He pauses at his favorite stall, ordering two large orders, five bao each, positively stuffed with different meats.

 

He hands her one of the boxes, and motions her to continue following, setting the gold coin on the counter, and another in the tip jar. He leads her to a rather impressive ship, built for speed and comfort, his crew saluting and hurrying to prepare to set sail.

 

He brings her into the captains quarters, waving vaguely to the bed. “Sit, eat, have a nap, you’ve had a very long day… and it’ll only get longer.” He sits at his desk, popping the box open and taking out the first bun.

She sits. She eats. Gomi does not, however, nap; that’s way too vulnerable. Instead Gomi makes herself taste and enjoy every bite.

 

They’re hot and delicious, steamy… she very rarely has food like this. It’s a simple pleasure.

 

She looks rather out of place next to him, in this small but nicely appointed quarters.

 

Was this his cabin? She looked around, cautious but curious.

He also takes his time eating, one thing he learned growing up like the two of them did, was to savor the food. He seemed to relax a bit, smiling softly, having removed the lower half of his mask, it seemed this thing he wore was more than just to cover his face.

 

“When we arrive, you may be…. prodded, for information, if not by the Captain, by our security officer Dasha.” He makes a face. “She can be…abrasive, but she is only concerned with the security of the hall, and the safety of its people.”

 

He holds up a finger. “That is another note: this is a group of highly trained, highly decorated fighters of the war with the dragons. Do not steal from them.”

Gomi froze. Wait. She was meeting them immediately??

 

Highly trained, highly decorated warriors…

 

She looked down at herself.

 

Trash.

 

But there’s… no help for it I guess. I have nothing else.

 

“….Yes, Teacher.”

 

I’m going to embarrass him. Then he’ll be mad…

“They’re also about the friendliest bunch of knuckleheads you’ll meet.” He chuckles, polishing off a bun. “The Captain is a bit…prickly about new people, but i will explain, and so long as you don’t go around picking fights or stealing, you’ll be just fine.”

 

The crew called out, as the ship begins to move, pulling out of port. “I’m glad you understand. They come from all walks of life, all manner of backgrounds, we even have a healthy little group of Necromancers, each different, each with a different flavor of our power.”

 

He turns to look at her, being serious for a moment. “I am not training you, to become me, you will never be me, you do not need to be me.” He smiles, taking another bite of his food. “I am training you to be a better you, harness your unique power, and set you on the path.”

“….”

 

That sounded like a bunch of self help bullshit. But she wasn’t going to say so to the fucking Phantom.

 

Instead she just nods, quiet. She’s been very quiet since they got on the boat.

They kept the rest of the ride quiet, handing over glasses of water, looking pointedly at them to make sure they drank it. It was a quiet several hours of a boat ride, until the arrived at the same harbor he left from.

 

He lead her to the small boat, not unlike the river boats that helped people traverse the city. And as he has done countless times, he slipped into the guild hall, his apprentice in tow, to start their new life.

Author Cael
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