“No one knows where The Tower comes from. Made from glossy cobblestone, windowless, and massively tall the Tower appears, seemingly at random, on different planes at different times. Its door only opens to those it deems worth of its knowledge. Upon your first entry, you’re greeted with a lectern holding one of the oldest books found within The Tower and book cannot be removed from the lectern. This is The Tower Guestbook. While one might expect a normal guest book to contain a record of all those who have visited, this book records their history, intentions, and most importantly, their spells.”
Onyx, bending over the latest wrapped corpse on her slab, tried to straighten up for a stretch and cursed with hissing breath as her back muscles spammed.
What was it her mother had said, the last time she’d seen her alive? “You’re too young to be this old, dear.” More and more, she thought it to her self now too. Onyx, a dwarf, had stopped paying much attention to counting the years since before her two-hundredth birthday and was still a long way from her three-hundredth, but more and more often these days, her body protested like one fifty or a hundred years older than she was.
The cramp eased, but did not vanish. With a sigh, Onyx reached for the tangled bit of wood and string she kept on the work table, muttered words and made a gesture, and called an unseen servant. “This one’s done. Take him to the Waiting Crypt, lay him in empty space in the fifth row.” A moment later, the corpse floated up from the slab and down the hall as if being cradled by unseen arms.
“Does the work pain you, Death-Speaker?”
There was no visible source for the ethereal whisper, but Onyx knew the spirit of Haddak, the body now floating down the stairs to the cool caves below had been watching her the whole time. “I enjoy the work,” she said, arcing backwards to stretch the cramp out. “More and more, however, I’m finding working with the forces of life and death is not so dissimilar from working in a lead mine all your life: it eats at you slowly.”
“And you do it all alone?”
“I’m not alone,” Onyx said, a bit too sharply. “You’re here, for one.” She straightened again with a sigh, and the sharp edge faded. “Even if you are passing on soon.”
“My sister will come soon then?”
“She will or she won’t. I sent the message. I’ve reason to believe she got it. That’s all I can do.”
The ghost signed, and the lantern flames overhead flickered. “I want to wait for her. But I’m getting tired.” His voice had gained thin, stretched quality.
“You’ve been through a rough time,” Onyx said, trying to sound soothing, remembering the way Haddak’s body had looked when she found it: claw marks and gnawed flesh and a ragged hole where the throat had been. “You don’t have to stay. If she comes, I promise to pass on your message.” It was basically the same message she had heard dozens of times from those unexpectedly leaving friends or family behind: I love you and I’m sorry.
“I guess that’s okay…”
“Think about it. I’m taking a break.” She walked over to a door opposite the one to the crypts, pausing to wash her hands in the basin adjacent and dry them on a clean cloth before emerging into the tunnel connecting the mortuary to her living quarters.
“Thank you for taking care of me,” Haddak whispered.
She reached the door to the entrance of the hill, opened it, then when the gust of air from outside was more chill than she expected, doubled back to take a cloak from a spike in the wall. The sky was the blue-grey of dusk with a thin line of pink and orange haze still hovering over the southeast.
“It’s wonderful you take care of others the way you do.” Her mother’s words crept into her head again. “But who will take care of you? Or at least, who will take care of your work when you’re gone?” At the time, Onyx had shrugged it off as a mother’s worries with little actual substance. If her mother had been truly worried for her well-being, she might have tried to speak with her daughter more than once every few decades. But over the years, as her body protested more and more often, the worry was creeping over her too.
What would she leave behind when it was her time to die?
Onyx blinked. Then she scowled, blinked harder and rubbed her eyes. It did nothing to change the view suddenly before her. Against the blue grey of the sky was a black pillar which had not been there seconds earlier. As her eyes adjusted and her darkvision faded in, she could just make out unbroken stone walls and a single door, faint witch-light shimmering around the lintel. Her initial startle shifted to wonder. Not fear; a lifetime hanging around crypts, many much less well kept than hers, had instilled her with a fair gut instinct for supernatural danger and it wasn’t present here. Somehow, she knew that this was here for her.
Moments later, she was pulling open the heavy door, motes of light hovering behind her shoulder to illuminate the way. Warmth and the smell of old books wafted out to her. Her vision shifted again to take in the light of dozens of magical lanterns hanging at varying heights from the ceiling. Before her, on a lectern, lit by an unseen source from above, was an open book. As she watched, a quill pen rose from the lectern and moved toward her as if being offered by an invisible hand…
Onyx and her suite of unique necromancy spells are my contribution to this volume. I wanted to explore a version of D&D necromancy that need not be automatically associated evil, inspired by the folklore of ghosts and spirits and the kind of person who would work to see justice and peace brought to the souls of the dead.
Onyx, Death-Speaker: Necromancy
Onyx once had a clan name, a normal, loving family and a moral upbringing in the normal dwarven tradition. She never exactly lost those things, nor her love for those things, she merely drifted apart from them, all because in her youth, Onyx realized she could speak to ghosts. Her family were keepers of the clan crypt and so accustomed to growing up among the realities and occasional messiness of death, but Onyx showed unusual zeal for the work. Her family and friends were horrified when they caught her one day animating a skeleton: in her defense, young Onyx protested “he loved to dance! He told me how missed it, and I thought it would be nice!”
As an adult, Onyx understands now that most dwarves don’t share her understanding of death and she’s made her peace with that. She operates outside the clans, living in a warren of caves turned catacombs, and caring for the dead who have no one else to care for them. Among the dwarves (who still warily accept her as one of theirs, if at a distance), she commands both fear and respect. Her affinity for death (which she leans into by wearing dark clothes and bone jewelry) gives many the creeps. She does magic that many good-fearing folk might hunt her down for, but she has helped solve murders, put names to nameless corpses and once saved a village from raiders by calling up the spirits of its greatest warriors to defend it. Her temper may sometimes get the better of her: in fits of righteous anger, she’ll use her powers to take the harm caused by others and turn it back on them in frightening ways. However, she has a clear moral code: she won’t kill without just cause, she tries to respect the wishes of the dead, and she will not permit the cycle of mortality to be circumvented. Asking the dead for favors is fine, rescuing a soul from the edge of death is fine, but seeking to avoid death altogether is asking for trouble.
Death Speaker’s Ghost Sense
Class: Bard, Cleric, Druid, Sorcerer, Warlock, Wizard
Casting Time: 1 action
Range: Self (30-foot radius)
Duration: 1 minute
For the duration, you are able to sense the presence and location of incorporeal undead within 30 feet of you, including those in the ethereal plane. You can hear and speak to them and they can hear and speak to you, though you must share a common language to understand each other.
At 11th level, you can also see incorporeal undead that are in the ethereal plane or invisible within 30 feet of you.
As a kid, I would sing to myself as I worked around the crypt. A lot of it was nonsense syllables, or I thought it was, but sometimes I’d get a funny feeling. And then one day, though there was nobody else in the room, I got one of those funny feelings and then another voice started singing back to me. I should have been scared, but she sounded so sad, and when I said “who’s there?”, she had the same name as a young mother we had just laid to rest.
Most ghosts pass on their own after a while…they’re mourning their loss too, after all. They need time to grieve; they’ll often go easier given a sympathetic ear.-Onyx, Death-Speaker
8th level necromancy
Class: Cleric, Warlock, Wizard
Casting Time: 1 action
Range: 15 Feet
Components: V, S, M (A vial of holy or unholy water mixed with ectoplasm and the powder of crushed black pearls worth at least 250 gp, which the spell consumes; a silver reliquary set with a ruby worth at least 500 gp, as a spell focus)
Duration: Concentration, up to 10 minutes
You attempt to force a creature’s soul from its body. Choose a creature within range that you can see, who must make a Constitution saving throw, a Wisdom saving throw and a Charisma saving throw. If it fails two or more of the saving throws, its body immediately falls unconcious and its incorporeal spirit appears above it. Their spirit has the statistics of a ghost but retains its current hit points and ability scores. It is held in place as per the spell spectral grasp. The spirit is conscious and can interact with people and things, but because of the shock and pain of being ripped from the body, they have disadvantage on all attack rolls, ability checks and saving throws for the duration of the spell.
When the spell ends, the spirit returns to its body if the body is still alive; the creature regains consciousness and suffers 1 point of Exhaustion. If the spirit is killed while outside the body, the body also does. If the body is dead, the spirit passes into the relevant afterlife unless some other effect prevents it from doing so.
“They tracked the bumbling necromancer to his basement lair and after a tussle, brought him to me. Young, inexperienced fool he was, head full of the wrong ideas, and on a path to do terrible deeds, but the paladin of the group convinced me he might be reformed. While the paladin him down and the rogue held a knife to his throat, I pulled his shade out, gave it a good hard shake, and we had a very productive conversation about his choices in life and where they would lead him if he didn’t forswear his current master.”– Onyx, Death-Speaker