The evening after Eve’s exam, I left a letter at the 3rd gate for her, asking her to call on me at the Sevestrian house the next morning after breakfast. She showed up looking sleepy but elated. To celebrate her passing of the exam, I took her to The Baths.
Eve chose a massage with her bath and then to have her henna redone. I followed suit, but instead of henna, I went with a manicure in the red black that’s so popular in Hollowfaust. It looks absolutely ghoulish. I am sure Vicky will disapprove as much as Michael says he likes it. During our treatment, a long, thin, snake-like construct crawled around Eve, though it moved out of the way easily enough when the girl working on her would push it aside.
When I asked, Eve said that the construct was a result of one of the exam questions. Master Bloodsin had tossed a bag of materials on the table and she had to identify the animal, part of the animal, and sex of the animal from the pieces inside. After the identification, she was to construct, animate, discuss why she had chosen the specific items used, how it effected the animation process, and the construct’s temperament. Despite its disturbing appearance, it was rather sweet and gentle. She named it Evan after her dad.
After a light lunch together she told me to meet her at the Third Gate just before night fall and to bring Bannik along. An easy task. I showed up at his hotel room in the First District and told him he was my date for the evening. If he’d had the blood to blush, I’m pretty sure he would have. His gait changed to the awkwardness of someone who is really happy but also really nervous as he walked in arm with me. Points for him: he remembered to walk on the carriage side of the street. As we walked, he pointed out that tonight was a Gray Night. When Luna was dark, the top of the actual hollow faust lit up with some riotous ritual the necromancers performed.
Eve was waiting for us at the gate and she took us deep into the Underfaust. We ended up waiting in a crowd for a lift to the top of the faust. Everyone around us was laden with food. Everything from homemade dishes to bakery boxes filled to the brim. The three of us ended up holding food while the owners of the dishes shuffled children and familiars into the lifts. Once in a lift, Eve swore us both to secrecy.
“It’s been our thousand year old secret and a bit of a prank we play on the populace,” she said. “Gray nights were established as a way for the guilds to put politics aside and have a good time together. That anyone thought our monthly barbecue was sinister delighted the Pilgrims so we’ve kept its nature a secret.”
At the top of the faust, it was exactly as described. A large bonfire was set up in the middle of the festivities. Tables ringed the entire area and groaned under the weight of all the food. Smaller cooking fires had large iron pots filled with soups and stews. Hot coals taken directly from the bonfire were used to smoke large racks of pork and chicken. There was absolutely no organization to the food distribution. Food was placed where ever there was an available space. Extras of anything were carefully wrapped and placed under the tables to be switched out when a plate, box, or dish emptied.
And there wasn’t a start signal. Party goers were already sitting together on large picnic blankets, eating and laughing away. The dragon construct Hareneth landed to one side and was immediately rushed by a mass of children who crawled on him like a playground jungle gym. Eve gave us both amulets that would allow us to see and interact with the ghosts and other ethereal undead on the faust.
As she led us through the crowd, hand after hand would pat her on the head or yank on her sleeve with a congratulations of some kind or another. Eventually a few incredibly pale, red eyed, full blood Suel, later identified as her cousins, gathered around us to help us get to a table for food and then to a blanket. Bannik and I were introduced to her father Evan, his Unfailing Gregory, the stunning half-elf Ivy, and her boyfriend Lucian. Who is the prettiest man I have ever met. And that’s saying something. Borrowing the words of Kylie Evernight, I’m pretty sure that all a Sevestrian woman can birth is eye candy.
While we ate, different masters from guilds stopped by to offer congratulations and also to talk with Bannik. Eve had managed to arrange, even in this crowded atmosphere for several people who might have a clue as to Bannik’s origins to meet and talk with him without overwhelming him with too many people. Many ideas were bandied about, but what wasn’t up for debate was his origin. They all believed Bannik was human, which was something of a shock to him. Eve’s father explained that his memory problems were a textbook example of a trauma induced stress disorder. While it happened on occasion to demi humans such as elves, it was a clear indication of a human mind. Eve thinks that Bannik’s soul was moved from his body into the artificial one though she wasn’t sure if it was something someone did to him or if he did it to himself. A few of the masters were attempting to guess his age based on the materials he was made from rather than his memory. This started a new round of debate over the age of a particular style of sack weaving versus the apparent age of obviously magical materials.
The most fascinating part of the exchange was how they listened to Bannik. Anything he said weighted heavily in their theories. And not once was he treated as a thing. He was just another person here, albeit one with an interesting dilemma. I’m not sure if this made Bannik more or less comfortable. But no one invaded his personal space and everyone asked before examining him.
The oddest part of the night was watching every undead circle by Eve at least once to touch her hair or her shoulder. Some she simply smiled at and others she talked to for a few minutes. Even Hareneth, who would walk the entire area, eliciting delighted squeals of laughter from the children riding him, stopped and very gently touched her on the shoulder. After watching the umpteenth undead act bizarrely around Eve, I broke with my manners and asked her what exactly I was seeing. She suddenly looked sheepish and explained that she was naturally what most necromancers work their entire lives to achieve; an undead master. She said that all undead react this way to her. For unintelligent undead, she often has to command them to return to their master’s service, but intelligent undead find her to be incredibly soothing.
I think she finds them just as soothing.
As the bonfire died down in the early morning light, Eve and her father helped us back to the Third Gate where carriages manned by undead waited to take Gray Night celebrants home. I took one last look over my shoulder at the festivities and saw a familiar looking ghost speaking with one someone. Which is odd. I spoke to a few ghosts that night, she didn’t look like any of them. My dreams that early morning were filled with swirling ghosts, each pulling me further and further away from the one I couldn’t identify, obscuring a clear view.