The problem with necromancers is that they never plan ahead. Death is an omnipresent possibility, with anything beyond it an uncertainty. Necromancers, with their unique ability to make it an impermanent uncertainty, really should be better prepared.
Like most necromancer problems, this one begins with a death. Specifically, my death. There’s a short fall and a sudden stop, accompanied by the crunch of breaking bone and a whole lot of nothingness. Best a delinquent warlock could hope for, right?
Wrong. Because he dragged me back. Didn’t mean to, I suppose, but he should have done a better job regardless. Bringing someone back is all well and good if there’s a flesh suit to return to, but if there’s not you end up with nowhere to go.
“You’re a ghost,” my necromancer had said when I first came shuddering back to almost-life.
“And you’re a fucking moron!” I told him. “Who the hell are you?”
His name is Raleigh, and no one else can see me. And, without my magic, I can’t give myself a body.
Necromancers. Never trust them with the important things.
Raleigh is in his early twenties, and he likes music. He can’t sing, but I suppose he carries a tune better than he brings the dead back to life.
“There’s a festival near the Highlands,” he tells me, tossing clothing from his wardrobe. Underwear passes through my head. I try to throw it back, but it slides across the floor instead.
“Fae country,” I say, watching the underwear inch across the floorboards. “Nothing good happens in fae country.”
“Except the best festival since Burning Man,” Raleigh mutters. “Mages only. It’ll be fun. Maybe someone there can help with the body situation.”
I reach out a spectral hand, twisting my fingers until his socks start to slide off. He flinches, tripping over his feet. “Don’t do that!”
“Fae are worse than necromancers,” I warn him. “Don’t trust them.”
The festival ground is the site of an old fae massacre. I can feel it the moment Raleigh steps off the bus. There’s a faint taste of death in the air. Still, the attendees don’t seem to notice, and I trail dejectedly behind my necromancer as he rambles through lines of tents.
“This place is amazing!” he says, grinning.
“This place wants to suck the flesh from your bones.”
“…kinky,” Raleigh mutters.
“Surely you can feel it!” I snarl, twisting my fingers and catching at his bag. He jerks to a halt, blinking at me. Someone walks through me, and I hiss.
“Chill,” Raleigh instructs. “It’s fine.”
“Says the necromancer defiling this place with his presence!” I snap back. “Nothing good comes from having magic here, Raleigh. Trust me.”
“I do,” he says. “But we just got here, and there’s a band about to play. Come watch, you might even have fun!”
I do not have fun. There are bones in the dirt beneath Raleigh’s feet and hazy tendrils of fog lingering near the ground. Something powerful and hungry wants to wake up.
“Raleigh!” I snap. He ignores me, busy dancing with hedgewitches. “Asshole.”
I leave, but I can’t go far. I tried once, early on. Raleigh’s power keeps me here, lets me maintain my personality. Without him, I’m just another blip of spectral energy.
There are blips all around the festival-goers. Ghosts, or the start of ghosts. They weave and dance, wailing to each other as they leech from the mages. They trickle through each note of music, almost invisible even to me. Sometimes they grow stronger, pulsing and shuddering as they flicker through the crowd. Then they vanish, sinking down into the earth.
Down into the fae boneyard.
The ghosts emerge from the stage, so I follow them. There’s magic in the air, thick and uncomfortable, but no one notices me.
She’s beneath the stage. Fae, young and powerful, drawing blood sigils on the underside of the wood. She’s also wearing orange rubber gloves. It’s startling, more so than the ooze of magic, and I stare at her as she touches the markings. Power flares but she remains oddly unmoved by it.
“Rubber prevents you from being consumed by the spell,” I say, impressed. She doesn’t react. No one ever reacts.
It’s a clever spell, designed to bring back the spirits of the bones below, an army of angry, undead fae. Their flesh won’t come with them though, and not even the fae can keep their powers without a body.
Unless she knows how to reconstruct them.
I frown at her, feeling the harsh edges of her power. She might be able to do it. I could show her how. A short ritual, a small sacrifice, and I could have my skin back.
But she can’t see me. And Raleigh would be gone.
I sigh. “You’re brilliant, but you’re going to kill a lot of mages, one of whom is mine. Can’t let that happen.”
There’s not much I can do. I don’t have powers or magic. I don’t even have a tangible form. But, I can make laundry shuffle across the floor.
I reach out with a finger, carefully twisting it. She flinches, and her gloves jerk from her hands. There’s a moment of stillness before she notices, and then she’s screaming. Fingers scramble for retreating cuffs, but she’s not paying attention to her spellwork. One bare palm brushes against wood, flesh pressing into bloody sigil.
There’s a great wash of pressure, like the crawl of thunder on a still night, and the kerosene stink of burning. She’s gone in an instant, terrified shriek guttering to silence as gloves flutter to the ground beside her charred bones.
The problem with necromancers is that they’re always unprepared. Good thing Raleigh has me to watch his back.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
EJ Sidle is an Australian ex-patriot who currently lives in Scotland. She has a day job that takes up too many hours and likes to spend her free time with her dog, Bullet. EJ also enjoys traveling, playing video games, wasting time on Twitter, and drinking ludicrous volumes of coffee.