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War of the Dead

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The power does it to everyone. It corrupts us all, or at least those of us who embrace it.

Although we dive right in to be swept away by the black waters of necromancy, it’s not easy for us to stay afloat. Our humanity is the coastline, the palm trees, the dry land itself.

You put your humanity side by side with the fact that you’re a wizard of hell, coastline next to infinite expanse of ocean, and you decide being a wizard is more fun. It appeals to you.

You can’t get away from it, so you dive in and swim out in to the ocean to get a bigger taste. To feel it all over your body, instead of just staring at it and dipping your toes in.

The first time you swim in the ocean of the dead, the waters are electric to your soul. They shock you, show you things that you can’t possibly understand but eventually DO come to understand. One day, it just so happens that you might decide you’re tired of swimming, so you try to turn around, but the coast is gone. You don’t swim back. You keep being swept out. To the sharks and an unknown abyss below you. The only place you can go is down, and that leads to a place that no man has been before.

That is my family’s struggle, and they have devised a society and a code over the years. If I have the right person, then the man in front of me has trampled our ideals in to the ground. Our traditions, our laws, our fellowship. In truth, we necromancers are afraid not of the dead, but of each other.

We know that one of us might become too potent somewhere down the line because we stumble across the right demon with the right power, or because we sacrifice a particularly powerful spirit to the underworld. We know that one day, one of us might rise up and try to assert a kingdom of the dead on earth.

The Chomhairle believe this is the man who poses that precise threat. They sent me to find him after we found his diary. When my father learned that his own brother had deserted the coven and handed over a bloodstone to a random child due to a disagreement, he put a death sentence on this man’s head. We couldn’t begin to search for him until he left his bloodstone behind. A trace of his power that we could latch on to, that we could follow.

The man shuffles past me to the urinal with a mumble of “excuse me,” and he shies away from looking me in the eye. He seems tired and drained. This is a good start. It could be him.

I linger by the sink, lather my hands, and rinse them off, hoping that he will finish in time for me to see his face in the mirror. To strike up a ten second, meaningless conversation. Anything. It’s been such a long road here. I’ll take what I can get.

I have to know. I can’t walk out of this place now, even if I’m on the brink of death. I might have to teeter here for awhile. He is so very, very familiar with the spirit world; he might know it more intimately right now in this very moment than I ever will in my lifetime. If this is him, then his guise of deception is stronger than any in our history.

We know some of what he is capable of. But not all.

I hope one minute spent in this bathroom will be the conclusion to the longest wild goose chase in the history of the Chomhairle. If this is him, then I’m initiated as a council member. If it’s not, then I’m at least another hundred years out. My ambitions within the council are nothing in comparison to the thirst for power.

The bathroom is fritzy, five star, and new age. It’s deep in the heart of Soho, of course. A cesspool of youthful rebellion. The green light in this place is too strong. That’s hint number one that I have the right man. Let me go down the list for you.

When he shakes it off, he spends an extra five seconds scratching his testicles, and then he rubs them a bit as he stares at the ad for the after hours swinger’s club in the corner above the urinal. Even if this isn’t the guy, he’s still a pervert, and I’ve decided to sacrifice him if he’s my sixth case of mistaken identity in a year out of simple frustration.

I wash my hands a second time, waiting on him, trying not to be disgusted. He finally zips his fly and moseys over to the sink. So there’s hint number two.

“You spill something on yourself?” He asks me.

I’ve never heard his voice. It sounds different than I expected.

I know how this dangerous sorcerer sees the world. He’s made a mistake, sharing his most intimate confessions with me. He never should have written them down. His ego may be his weakness, if I’m strong enough. Maybe.

This has to be him. I say it in my head a thousand times in a split second.

“Crawfish bisque. Good as hell, but I can’t seem to finish a bowl without spilling it all over my sleeves.” I say, squirting a fresh batch of soap on to the paper towel and scrubbing at my perfectly clean fisticuff.

“Aren’t you a little old to be dining here? I’d think you would be at the Mesa or the Palm.” He says, and he makes a valid point. I do feel out of place here. I’m the only person in the building over the age of twenty five.

He’s bold. He thinks he’s invincible, and I know that this is hint number three. He says the first thing that comes to mind with impunity, and he always has. That explains the four ex wives and the masculine decorations in his town house.

I stare at his eyes in the mirror, and he’s too busy focusing on my pocket. This is hint number four, and this is the best of them all. I know this is the rogue necromancer. His eyes have a green twinkle in the backs of them, something that normal humans can’t see. He feels the stone, burning with ice fire in my pocket. He knows it’s fucking on me, and he’s stood next to me for less than half a minute. That’s because he can’t ignore the pull. It shows.

This is him.

Before he dies, I have to hear his story. I have to know how he uses blood magic without the artifact, even if my own father kills me for it.

I can feel it reaching out for both of us. Begging to be used. It’s not easy to say no, even for me. I’m not surprised that he has become this in such a short period of time. He hasn’t had anyone to hold him in check. Despite the flawless haircut and the twenty year old face, I know I’m staring at a demon in a human’s skin. I reach in to my jacket, and his eyes widen as he realizes the magnitude of this small encounter in a men’s restroom.

The stone is frigid and cold at my touch, but my fingertips delve past it to a pack of gum. When I place a piece in my mouth, I offer the pack forward.

“Freshen your breath? Got a date out there, I’m sure, you being so young and successful and all. I bet she’s even younger than you.” I say with a smirk.

He stammers and tries to speak, and it takes him a long while to gather himself. It’s probably the first time he’s looked unsure in decades.

“It’s alright. Don’t say anything just yet. You know, that diary of yours sure was a fascinating read.” I say, biting in to a fresh explosion of spearmint goodness.

He’s taking his time, searching for the right words. I think part of it is fear, part of it is excitement, and part of it is just complete bewilderment. He can’t believe someone has done it. Maybe he’s been waiting for this day, or maybe he’s been dreading it. More than likely, he’s always considered it an impossibility. He’s conceited enough. No one can do what he has done, or so he thinks.

“You have something that belongs to me. It’s been a long time. I hope you found good use for it, but I’d like to have it back,” He says.

I oblige him and place the frosty construct of eternal youth in his palm.

“How did you continue to perform the ritual without the stone? That’s impossible,” I tell him. I have my own list of questions, and my father wants me to bring him back to our Gaelic homeland alive. I care little for my what my father wants, or his tired old code. I know this man has real answers for me, because he has no limits.

He’s gathering something inside. Something powerful.

If he decides to duel now, I am dead. Guaranteed.

“If you were practicing the art before you found my house and the things I left behind, then you should know by now. Your necropolis is weak,” he says, and he laughs at me.

“Are you disappointed?” I ask him.

He doesn’t respond immediately, but instead, he places his hands flat against the swinging bathroom door. The polished wood glows with a vibrant, undulating energy, until the crease between the door frame and the wood no longer exists. He’s created a containment field of sorts. By sealing off this room from the real world, he’s made it a theater for the macabre. He pulls a thin fragment of white chalk from his blazer pocket and kneels to the travertine.

I watch him sketch a makeshift circle of summoning, but I stand purposely on its circumference, blocking it from being completed in its entirety.

“Move,” he says.

“Tell me how. I’m not here to turn you over to them. I won’t kill you if I don’t have to," I say. I’m bluffing. I hope he doesn’t know it.

“I’m not going to ask you again,” he says.

“I’m not leaving without answers,” I tell him.

The next moment, I see a cold, crimson colored glow erupt around his hands, and my body and mind are incapable of processing the nature of his attack. I feel a shock wave of impact on my chest and forehead.

I feel like the back of my head has melted away from a voltage of death magic, and my blood and brains are leaking out of it. There’s a hard surface against my head. I moan and feel a hot rush of coppery wetness in my mouth. I finally realize that I’m on the floor, sprawled out like a corpse.

I go from standing in the middle of the bathroom to a crumpled mass of broken bones without knowing how to defend the cause of it, and I know I am outmatched.

I have no chance. My mouth is broken. I can’t speak.

I see another glow, blue this time. I feel bones mending, and flesh melting against flesh, coming together. I feel every scrape of my body’s parts against each other. The pain is immense. Worse than anything I’ve felt in my life.

I don’t even realize how shattered my body is until he puts it back together in reverse order, when I feel my bones break and re-break to accommodate each other until the spell is complete. When the incantation is over, I gasp inside the circle of chalk, and I want to beg him for mercy, but that would be a mistake. A fatal one.

Although my body feels whole again, he has me contained within the summoning circle, enchained by the an impromptu force of binding. I can’t move anything except my lips. I have a voice again.

Although he is directly responsible for my affliction, I manage to whisper a “Thank you,” for mending the damage. He ignores me and lowers the frigid stone to my forehead. In his other hand is a blood stained kris.

I feel the edge of the snaking, curved blade bite downward in to my wrist. He’s draining some of my blood.

I feel the hold on me weaken considerably when he waves his hand over my face. He is being somewhat merciful.

“Marbh kala,” He says. I know that hissing tongue. The old language. I find myself amazed that he knows the words, as I have learned them from my father and the tomes of the coven.

My body begins to levitate in to the air, and blood flows freely from my wrist like a crimson waterfall. It collects in a pool below me at the center of the circle. He slashes my other wrist, and my carotid as well. I’m draining at a rate that tells me I won’t survive.

She appears in what seems to be no time at all, but I’m unable to trust my own senses, as delirium is seizing them for its own agenda, one by one. I can’t focus any longer. I hear her voice, and then his. I think he has summoned her from the dinner table in to the restroom to cover his bases. She doesn’t know what’s happening. She’s losing her mind by the second, when she was on a perfectly normal date only moments ago.

I hear a loud “NO,” and a throaty, wet gargle. He suspends her body in the air beside my own, and then he starts a chant. I think she’s already dead.

The hissing accelerates in to a flood of syllables and archaic sounding phrases that I wouldn’t understand even if I was completely awake and aware. He speaks it more fluently than my father ever has.

As I watch her blood spill in to the lake on the floor, joining my own, I realize that this man is beyond anything we’ve ever done or accomplished. He makes me think that real power is found within the self, within a single identity of self-discovery and learning, and not within a circle of conceited death magi who have clung to the same spells and traditions that have limited their progress for centuries.

Her eyes are empty, blank seas of hazel. As he waits for her to stop bleeding out, I realize that I have stopped bleeding myself, and shouldn’t be alive. He’s keeping me breathing when my veins are as dry as death valley, and again, he shows me something that I did not think possible. I am content to float and observe, and I realize that even if these are my last moments, I don’t deserve them. I don’t deserve any of the dark gifts that he has put so prominently on display before me in this private niche of the nether realm.

I breathe, and there is no air. I don’t need to breathe. I am alive in my deadness, augmented in a stasis of a ritual that I have never witnessed before. His objective is beyond me. I can only observe.

He stops chanting. The spell is complete.

The blood on the floor seems to hum with a possessed life of its own as it separates. Eventually, two puddles of scarlet rest at either border of the circle, and one hums with an emerald taint to it. I can feel traces of it in my mind. It is foreign. The glowing blood is not my blood. It is hers.

The pool begins to rise, like a spire of flowing vitae, commanded by the necropotence of a true master. It takes on a savage, bestial outline, but it is not an animal that exists on the earth. It is some screeching demon spirit, summoned to exist within a temporary liquid body.

“ARDMHAISTIR,” The blood creature speaks. The thick, rich burden of Gaelic pulls down the words. He has trained demons to speak in words created by the human mind, and I only await the next event in which he will impress the depth of his power upon me. I am watching, and I think the word he has spoken means “thank you,” or “master,” but I’m not sure.

“Glac eisean,” He says. I know what these words mean. My father said these words to the spirit of my mother when I was stalled in her womb.

I was lodged head first. The cause of her pain, suffering, and eventual death at the violent hands of child birth. Before she could be swept away in to the nether, he summoned her spirit.

He asked her how he could go on without her love to keep him tethered to a mortal life. She held one response. Glac eisean.

Take him.

I was meant to die like a human being, but I was a son of one who lords over death like it is their personal playground. That makes him a diabolical father, and an excellent necromancer.

The demon blood figure obeys his command.

It hovers through the air slowly, like an eel of liquid, until it splits off in to three lesser streams. It halts at my open wrists and my slashed throat, and then it rockets through my veins with the authority of the one who holds the circle.

The return of blood to my body and the completion of the ritual bring me strength. When my hands and head stop twitching, I find that I can move my arms and legs. I sweep my legs over the precipice of the circle and step to the floor of the bathroom on feet, as if getting out of a bed of air.

“What did you do to me?” I ask him. The answer is something that scares me, but it is also something that I have to know.

“The youth ritual, without a stone. Now you see the type of sacrifice that you require. Each time, every drop must be replaced. A new soul. The most expensive and taxing necromantic ritual of them all, except for one.” He says.

I turn my head to look in to the mirror, and indeed, my face is as young as his own. I am no longer in my late thirties, but twenty something again.

“I’ve tried so many times. Even with the bloodstone. I am nothing, compared to you,” I tell him.

“One day, I thought someone might show up and show me that stone. I had no idea it would be a member of that old man’s family. I never knew there were others. It was only a challenge. My life was once so simple, so mundane, so terrible that I wanted to die. How many of us are there?” He asks.

“Twenty three, including me. If they knew what I know now, they would send their best. I am nothing. They think you a fledgling, toying with powers that are beyond your control. But you have mastered death beyond anything that I have ever seen. They are no match for you,” I tell him.

“Necropotence is not studied. It is not learned. You practice it, and you sacrifice. You sacrifice, again and again and again. You will destroy so much life in the search for a method to extend it,” He tells me, and his expression is somber.

“I have been tasked with destroying you by my father. If I return to him and this task is not complete, he will kill me himself,” I say.

“Do you have more of a chance against him, or me?” He says.

“Him,” I say, and my cheeks flush scarlet. I am ashamed that the head of the coven, who is also my father, is so weak compared to this mastermind.

“Do you want to know why I wrote that diary?” He asks.

“The same reason that you left a death certificate with your memoirs of your human life. To taunt those with a sense of justice,” I tell him.

“You’re not the first to read it. There was one rogue detective that they suspended because he was cracking up, finding about some of the things I had done. He never took the stone. He tried to use the law.”

“How many years did you get out of him?” I ask.

“None. The time went to Sasha,” He says.

“Your dog? Still around?” I ask.

“Not much of a dog anymore. More like a hell hound. But yes. I’m very fond of her,” He says.

“Then why the trail, if it’s not conceit? If you feel you are not above anyone else?” I ask.

“Power. Has your father ever spoken of the Cogath dar Marbh?” He asks.

I feel sick. In this moment, I know what he desires. The legendary aspiration of any necromancer. The war of the dead.

“Please, no. Not me,” I tell him.

“I left the trail to find someone who has stood within a circle because I need two of us to complete it. I’ve waited all this time, doing nothing. You will not leave this room until you’ve completed the ritual with me,” He says.

“No. I can’t. Why would you want to unleash…” He cuts me off.

“Yes. It has to be you. Someone who has felt the touch of the nether,” He says.

“How do you know the legend?” I whisper, fear in my eyes.

“You may have spoken to the dead. Your father, too. But you have not listened to them. You haven’t asked them what they want.” He says.

“We don’t serve them. They serve us,” I tell him, but I know my words will be hollow and empty when they sink in to his brain. The tone in his voice terrifies me. He seems so drunk with power.

“The dead have given me the gift of eternity, and I have commanded them for long enough. It is time to give them what they desire.” He says. His eyes are on fire like a madman, and I know I can’t stop him. He’s so god damn ambitious that he’ll stop at nothing to bring the dead back to earth.

“You are already the most powerful lord of the dead. Why submit yourself to the cogath? You don’t need the power. You are uncontested,” I say, but then I think of my father and his blind conceit, and I think that this man will certainly be the death of my old man, and relatively soon.

“You don’t understand, little Chomhairle. They’ve told me ever since I first saw them in my attic that I was their man. That I would bring them back to roam the world, like the loyal subjects that they are. That I would become a lich — a living embodiment of power, merged with death. Do you know how long I’ve waited? It’s not about me anymore. It’s about them,” He says, licking his lips and snapping his fingers together. I can’t move. My legs are stone.

“You need two. You thought you were the only necromancer alive on earth, so you left the stone. To see if someone would dabble in the art and become a novice, so you could sacrifice them in the ritual.” It all makes sense to me now. It’s not his ego. It’s not the power.

He only wants to complete the one ritual that has never been completed. Cogath dar Marbh.

The shackles blast out of the bathroom floor, sending fragments of travertine shrapnel around the room. Wet, tightened strands of pulsing, veiny matter coil around my wrists and ankles. They’re like blood vessel tentacles, trying to drag me in to the black pit under us that they sprang from.

His face is changing. The walls of this room have melted away. We are in a tempest of the nether. Under lightning strikes and hissing shades, I see the bones in his visage. I see the human-turned-demon for what he really is, and despite the terror that amounts within me, I am awestricken. The bones in his face, illuminated snowy and pale by arcs of lightning —- they are beautiful to me. I want to become what he is now, standing in front of me.

He rakes the kris across his chest violently, shedding blood on to an island of dead rock where we stand, suspended in the nether.

His necropotence is too strong for the demon to resist. It obeys him, a gargantuan mass of black flame and swirling, gaseous chaos. The voice booms in my ears, sounding nothing of the earth or any spirit I have spoken with in my lifetime.

Here, on the home turf of the dead, they are not forced to communicate with us in our manmade languages and tongues. We hear them, and we understand.

He tells the demon that we are about to be at war, and to deliver a message to the spirits to gather at the soft places.

For their invasion.

Before he departs, the demon tells him that he can’t complete the ritual without two necromancers.

He grows angry, and points at me.

The demon shakes its head and fades away in to nothingness. He screams with rage, drawing the kris once more. He sends another shock wave of green force, knocking me to the ground, although it doesn’t break my bones this time. The curved blade is vicious against my throat.

“ONE OF THEM!? ONE OF FUCKING THEM!?” He repeats it over and over, delirious, slashing at my hands and forearms as I try to stop the point of the weapon from sinking in to my eye.

“Please, stop. What are you…” I stammer. The blade is so sharp, so painful.

“You were dead three months before you came from her womb. Your father performed a ritual and gave you the breath of the spirit before you were ever born. When you came in to the world, barely breathing, a shriveled fetus corpse, he bargained with the underworld. They took your mother’s life instead of yours,” He says.

And then I realize it. I realize that I’m not human, and that I have never held power over this man, or any other.

I realize that I am of the dead, and his indomitable power over me stems from the precise fact that he is a necromancer.

I laugh at him.

When he finally gathers himself, I realize that he stares at me with a sort of longing, and I know that he respects me, as I am a dead spirit with a human body.

I will be part of his kingdom on the earth. I will stop at nothing to fulfill his dreams.

His clenches his fist tightly, and in the middle of this summoning circle, he slowly reconstructs the bathroom until everything is back in place and the seal on the door is broken.

He restores me to what I was before I walked in to this sanctum of eternity, except that I am now a twenty something spirit, walking among the patrons of the restaurant, a chameleon of the underworld.

When we hit the sidewalk, the night air is luscious and graceful with my skin. The point of the blade in my back is not.

“Take me to your father,” He says.

And I begin walking. Eventually, a feral and twisted animal joins us, with eyes like hellfire. Sasha.

Held hostage by the greatest praetor of Hades and his pet, I quicken my step, and I know the war of the dead has been stalled for one more evening. I also know his patience is infinite.

It is my war now, although I am only a foot soldier of the lost. I will not rest until the murderer who traded my miserable life for my mother’s receives justice. Then, I will find the other twenty two of them, and punish them for being weak, if he doesn’t do it first.

For I was dead before I was brought in to the world, and that means he is not my father. Only a manipulator of spirits. I am now with the one.

One who serves me and the rest of his kingdom ever so faithfully. A warlord of skeletons, cadavers, blood, and bone. A bringer of salvation, with enough necropotence to bring our dreams to fruition.

I am with my true master now, and he will never cease his efforts.

Not until the last of the living are gone from the face of the earth.

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