MRS GREN

The book is heavy, bound with oxblood leather, thin pages the colour of clotted cream, letters remarkably black and crisp.

Let us consider that there are seven characteristics of life, easily remembered with the mnemonic MRS GREN. All must be present. The first, M, is movement.

The book does not move.

I could stop here, except, I feel the spine creak. I allow the pages to turn. On a short timescale, after all, one might imagine a plant does not move, and yet they gradually stretch to reach towards the sunlight.

So, let us continue along the list.

The second is respiration, which is not the same as breathing. Rather, it is the conversion of carbohydrates into energy. One could check for its occurrence by looking for carbon dioxide, but that gas is tasteless, colourless and odourless, and I certainly shall not be plunging the book into water to look for bubbles. This, we may have to put aside.

Sensitivity refers to environmental responses. Now, the book’s text does seem sharper when the light is brighter, but this only leads us to the perennial question of any good scientist: how does one distinguish changes in the observer from changes to the observation?

After MRS, we come to G, which stands for growth. I am certain the book has the same number of pages it had when I first found it, and is no thicker.

If it takes me longer to read now, well, it could be explained by my own reduced reading speed. The most obvious explanation is usually the correct one.

There may be more books on my shelves now than there were, but I very much doubt this constitutes reproduction, which is R. I daresay I have procured them.

Even if I don’t remember every acquisition.

Next is E for excretion… perhaps one might make a case for that. The scent of biblichor is  certainly present, although, my memory flags and I forget: is that inherent to books, or caused by some sort of secondary organism?

Finally, N, for nutrition. Plants use energy from the sun to convert carbon dioxide and water into sugars which they both store and use themselves during respiration. Animals consume those sugars when they eat.

The book does not eat.

It is not as if it could take ideas from my mind, and consume them, and use them to power itself. To flick its pages. Sharpen its text. Grow. Make new books.

In the face of limited evidence, I must conclude that the book is not alive.

It is not alive, and thus it is safe to open it again. Smell its scent. Feel the spine creak. Allow its pages to turn.

There are seven characteristics of life.

The first,

is movement.


Author’s notes
A creepy little piece of science-themed flash fiction. You won’t forget MRS GREN now, will you?


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© Kat Day 2020

Aural Fixation

Humans have been imagining creatures from other worlds for years. They were usually grey. Metallic ships. Spindly, grey lifeforms. No one expected something shimmering with all the colours of the visible spectrum, plus some only visible to mantis shrimp—who were, ironically, largely oblivious: tucked into the burrows they had carved for themselves in the ocean depths.

Humans have also long been fascinated by lights in the sky—devoting a lot of energy into reproducing same in the form of fireworks and the like—so most of the world’s population turned their faces upwards and gasped. And when it comes to communication, much of humanity has an aural fixation, and there’s no appropriate verb for ‘concepts transmitted directly into every human’s angular gyrus.’

So, let’s say that the alien invaders spoke.

‘This,’ said the voice, which to some sounded like heavenly choirs, and to some sounded like endless screaming, and to others sounded a parent who’s just watched their child do something unspeakable and is twenty-five seconds away from infanticide, ‘is a perfectly nice planet. Lots of water. Really, lots. Do you know how unusual that is? Not to mention all the plants. Photosynthesis is fucking amazing.’ (Powerful alien sentiences don’t swear, as such, but there was something there that implied emphasis, and most human minds filled in the gap.)

‘And here you are,’ it continued, ‘literally setting fire to the place. Never mind all the wasted metals. And the helium. You do understand that you can’t make that? If you keep putting it into thin-walled polymer-based containers and launching it into the sky you will run out.’

By now, some humans who’d convinced themselves they had power had started to collect in brightly-lit rooms with very thick concrete walls, where they were arguing.

Some said they should attempt diplomacy. They were naturally ignored in favour of the ones pushing for their own, rather more destructive, version of shiny lights in the sky. Missiles were shortly launched, plus some weapons the existence of which was only known to the humans huddling in heavily-concreted buildings, well away from the consequences of said weapons.

They all passed through the aliens harmlessly, like sand through a sieve, or neutrinos though miles of rock.

‘You’re ridiculous,’ they said. ‘The resources here are excellent. There are multiple intelligent lifeforms who’d be so much more grateful.’

‘What does that mean?’ thought several billion humans, more or less as one.

‘You’re toast,’ said the aliens. ‘But don’t worry, we’ll be selective. Some of the other primates are probably doomed, but most lifeforms will carry on. Maybe the next half-smart one to evolve will be less destructive.’

There was rage. There was frustration. There was helplessness.

And then, there was something else.

Something ancient.

It uncoiled itself from the depths of the ocean, inconceivably huge, a slick body covered in spines, each taller and thicker than ancient redwoods. Where the aliens had all the colours, this had none. It was blackness. The void. The absence of all light. It lifted a head the size of an island and spoke with a voice of thunderstorms and crashing waves.

It said: ‘Bugger off.’

The aliens considered. ‘What,’ they asked, ‘are you?’

‘What I am,’ said the great beast, ‘is here already.’

‘But,’ said the aliens, ‘it’s just them we object to. ‘

The creature rumbled. Huge waves rolled across the surface of the ocean. And the beat it created resolved into something that became…

Mozart’s Requiem, Wagner’s The Ring Cycle, He Zhanhao and Chen Gang’s Butterfly Lover’s Violin Concerto.

The sounds twisted into more recent pieces. I Got You, Bohemian Rhapsody, Experiment IV, too many others to recognise. There were words too, and not just songs: words of poets, playwrights, scriptwriters and novelists. Every beautiful sound the humans had ever created, compressed into a few minutes.

The final chords drifted away, wrapped around words:

 

But, spite of heaven’s fell rage,

Some beauty peep’d through lattice of sear’d age.

 

‘Oh,’ said the aliens. ‘That is interesting.’

‘They like sounds,’ explained the oceanic monstrosity. ‘Bit of an aural fixation.’

‘Fine,’ said the aliens, ‘all right. We’ll leave them to you. But do have a word about the fires and the ice caps, would you?’

And with that, they left, and the Earthly sky returned to its normal shades of mostly blues and greys.

The great beast rumbled again, but gently. ‘Sort it out, you lot,’ it said. ‘Else next time, I’ll join them.’

And with that it sank, far beneath the blue-black waves.


Author’s notes
June 2020 has been a bit rubbish, hasn’t it? Here’s a little something to brighten it up. Roll on July.


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© Kat Day 2020

How do you Sense the Sea, Child?

Stand at the shoreline. Curl your toes into damp sand, dip your fingers in the water, feel cold rush over your skin. Listen to the rumble, the roar and the hiss. Taste the air in your mouth. What colour is the sea, would you say?

#

Once upon a time the sea was a pale thing, clear as water in a glass. It was sweet, too, and good to drink. The ancient Viking sea-kings could sail for monthsso long as they had cured fish and dry bread and barley for porridgebecause there was plenty of water to drink.

The sea-king known as Mysing was a trader and a warrior, with grey eyes and the nose of hawk. Many said he had the mind of a hawk, too: sharp, opportunistic, and sometimes cruel. Mysing and his men invaded the lands of King Frodi, drawn there by a low rumble of song. A melody of pain and torment and misfortune, blood and tears and separation.

Upon Frodi’s inevitable death, Mysing discovered a mill and, chained to the wooden beam that moved the huge millstone, two giantesses with ugly red marks under the iron cuffs that circled their wrists. The muscles on their arms and legs were sharply defined from the unrelenting work of pushing the heavy stone.

They were dressed in blue rags, and it was this which first caught Mysing’s attention. These days, of course, blue dye is no great thing, but then it was rare and valuable, something only the wealthiest would have, so Mysing knew the enslaved women were important. He wondered if he could gain some advantage with the giants’ clan.

And then he learned that the mill was bewitched, and would grind anything one desired so long as the stone could be made to move, and his grey eyes glittered with greed.

Mysing poured a smile onto his face and spoke kindly to the giantesses, whose names were Fenja and Menja, promising freedom and safe passage if they would join him on his boat. They were so relieved to be free they did not ask questions when Mysing broke their chains but left the cuffs on their wrists.

Fenja and Menja walked willingly onto Mysing’s boat and drank the cups of spiced wine they were given. Exhausted from many weeks of hard labour, they slept.

When they woke, they found the millstone had also been transported, and their chains had been repaired.

They roared, then, so loud it might have been thunder, and pulled at their bonds, but it was no use. Mysing laughed and bade them grind salt which then, you understand, was more valuable than gold, for one cannot preserve food with gold.

When they refused he had his men turn their longbows on Menja alone, telling Frenja that he would kill her companion and leave her to live. Mysing recognised love when he saw it and, if you’ll recall, his mind was sharp and opportunistic and, sometimes, cruel.

The giantesses turned their dark eyes to each other and an unspoken word passed between them. They began to push, and Mysing smiled as salt started to pour from the millstone. They moved faster and he laughed, imagining his retirement as a wealthy man.

Then, in little more than a few breaths, the salt began to fill every space on the boat. His laughter died. With the millstone and the giantesses, the boat already sat low in the water, and now the weight of the salt pulled it lower.

Menja and Frenja began to sing a song of pain and torment and misfortune, blood and tears and separation, and Mysing’s eyes turned to horror as he realised it was the same song which had led him to destroy King Frodi.

Fingers of white lightening caressed the sky, the wind screamed, and waves of icy water breached the sides of the boat. They say the giantesses clasped their hands together and stared into each other’s eyes as the boat, its crew, the mill, and all the salt sank beneath the churning sea surface.

#

So, what colour is the sea, child? They say that on a still day it is blue, stained forever by the dye that seeped into the water from Menja and Frenja’s ragged clothes. While on a stormy day it is grey-dark, to remind us of the folly of a cruel, greedy man with grey eyes.

Now touch your finger to your tongue, child and tell me.

Do you taste salt?


Author’s notes
This is a retelling of a Norse story/poem called “Gróttasöngr” (The Mill’s Songs) with a few extra twists of my own. The character names, however, are unchanged.


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© Kat Day 2020

The Trickster

Said the trickster, here’s the game, if you’re able,

remember all the things upon the table.

I’ll take one and hide it away, he explained,

and if you can tell me what I’ve obtained,

then you’re the winner! And I’ll return it,

and I’ll also give you this nifty outfit.

 

He held a dress, midnight black and glitter,

belonged to a witch, he said–never fit her.

I admired it, imagined how it would look,

And if I lose, I said, you keep what you took?

That’s it, he replied, are we in accord?

Very well, I agreed, consider me on board.

 

It was my desk, after all, I knew it well:

Skull, wand, phial and ball. Cards, scroll, mirror and bell.

Turn your eyes, then, said he, and I’ll make my choice,

and I faced away, only hearing his voice.

A handful of moments, he bade me return,

Well, he said, eyes flashing, what do you discern?

 

Skull, wand, ball and phial. Cards, scroll, bell and mirror.

Seemed untouched–moved neither further nor nearer.

He was a trickster, though, and so I thought hard.

What was gone? A drop from the phial, a lone card?

A word from the scroll? The swirl inside the ball?

The blank smile of the skull? The bell’s ringing call?

 

It was none of these, and I heard his laughter.

He had me, I’d lost, and what would come after?

I looked in the mirror and saw my own face,

bright, sharp and clear and… it fell into place.

My mouth curved then, and his attitude shifted,

cursing as he understood he’d been grifted.

 

I reached out my hand, nails sharp, pale skin blistered,

Give me what you took from the glass, I whispered.

He tried to argue, deny, make demands and lie,

I gestured; he produced the walnut with a sigh.

Cracked it and nestled within that dark, dry space,

my fingerprints, took from the mirror’s surface.

 

Did you expect to bind me, foolish trickster?

I’m older than old, and my blood’s a mixture,

my magic is human and infernal, too.

Now begone, before I use your bones for glue.

And he ran, but of course I did keep the gown.

Monster I may be, there’s no need to dress down.


Author’s notes
One last poem from the Victory in Verse contest at the Codex Writers’ Forum (check out D. L. Davitt). I enjoyed playing around with rhyming couplets, and I think we could all use a bit of fun right now. Speaking of which, if anyone would like to see any particular type of story over the coming weeks, hit me up. I’ll do my best.


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© Kat Day 2020

Blue (a found poem)

Superimpose, other place

outside normal, beyond seas

fantasy, depression

mysterious consciousness

blew, doldrums, breezes

journeys, thinking days

waiting quietly, rebelliously

lapis lazuli, shop windows

travellers’ treasures.


Author’s notes
In honour of World Poetry Day (turning off my customary italics for author’s notes, because ugh)…

Looking for something fun and vaguely educational to do with the kids? Found poetry is really easy and definitely… something something literacy skills. This is, specifically, an erasure poem, and I have shamelessly taken the idea from D. L. Davitt (who’s currently running the Victory in Verse contest at the Codex Writers’ Forum). I’m certain she won’t mind: her enthusiasm for poetry knows no bounds. You should check out her work. Anyway, to create your own poem you either pick up a book you’re interested in, or you go to Google books and find something random (e.g. by typing in random search terms), choose a page, take a picture or screenshot (Microsoft’s snipping tool is perfect for this) and start blocking out the words that don’t particularly interest you. Five minutes later you will have a list of interesting words, which you can shuffle around until you are suitably pleased with the result.

This poem came from “Colour: Travels Through the Paintbox,” by Victoria Finlay.


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© Kat Day 2020

Contemplations of the Human Mind by Sophist Drazav of Lithios Prime

They saw crimson blurring into yellow shifting into green into cyan into violet and they imagined. In one story it’s a bridge, a link to a galaxy no more than sparkling dust in their night sky. In another, there’s a green-clad creature, guarding gold, stirring mischief with wishes.

Their later stories used other words. Human creativity pushed so far it became truth. Meteorological phenomenon. Optical illusion. Refraction, reflection, dispersion. These have their own solid, ringing beauty. Imagination blurred into reality shifted into science into physics into mathematics.

The minds of humans hold all these truths, and that

Is truly wondrous.


Author’s notes
A drabble in honour of my birthday, and also, I learned today, 9th Doctor Christopher Eccleston’s birthday! ☺


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© Kat Day 2020

Sympathetic Magic

I turned the book over in my hands. It felt all wrong.

A book like this ought to be bound in oxblood leather, with embossed lettering and crinkly pages that smelled of old chocolate. Mystical grimoires should not be heavy paperbacks with razor-cut pages and glossy covers.

Frowning, I opened it and studied the contents page.

#

My big sister is five years older than me, which doesn’t seem like much, now. But when I was four and she was nine, it was huge. It snowed that winter, and we were both desperate to go outside. Mum said she had to look after me. I wanted to throw snow and crash into things, because, hey, four. She wanted to make the perfect snowman so that she could take photos and post them on some social media thing.

Know what she did? She told me to lick the signpost near our house. And I did it, because, hey, four.

She left me there until she finished that blasted snowman.

#

I looked at the figure I’d been working on. I did a hand-building pottery class for a while, so it wasn’t terrible. Okay, it wasn’t going to win any awards: the legs were too thick, the shoulders were boxy and no matter what I did, the armpits weren’t quite right. But it was recognisably human, even somewhat feminine.

I picked up a wooden tool and cut a hole in the figure’s belly. I prodded strands of hair into the space, then pushed a piece of well-chewed gum in after them. There was nothing about chewing gum in the grimoire, but it had been in my sister’s mouth so that had to be a ‘link to the target,’ right?

I jammed the piece of clay back into the hole.

My sister told me Santa didn’t exist when I was five, stole the baby tooth that fell out when I was seven, broke my games console when I was nine, spilled red wine on my favourite jeans when I was thirteen.

I used the wetness from my eyes to damp the clay and smooth the edges.

I checked the time on my phone.

Then I picked up the old kitchen knife I’d been using and, glancing at the book, cut off the figure’s left breast.

My sister gave me her favourite doll when I was six, and money to buy cake at the school bake sale when I was eight. My eighteen year-old sister bought me fabulous new jeans that Mum hated. She spent a week teaching me integration before my maths exam. Whatever she said to that that boy who was hassling me, I never saw his face again.

My phone beeped.

My sister was out of surgery.

Again, I used the wetness from my eyes to smooth the clay over the cut and placed the figure in a shoebox filled with cotton wool.

Then I found my sister’s favourite song in my playlist and left it playing nearby.


Author’s notes
I had high hopes of selling this story but… it kept coming back to me. So. Here you are, lovely readers, you can have it. It’s too nice to keep in a box, I think. Coffee is, as always, very much appreciated ☺


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© Kat Day 2020

The Unexpected Gift

Crumpled paper, smeared plates, persistent babel of television. A wistful look at an unopened book.

Pause. There, under the tree, amongst scents of pine and cloves. Something shimmering with liminal light; discarded, or perhaps, forgotten.

Take it; feel its edges, solid and smooth. Sit down, pull air into your lungs, listen to the second hand of your watch.

Unseal the thing. Let its contents flow over you. Hear the voices flow to silence, feel the tick between seconds stretch. An hour of time, cherished and stored. Wrapped and given.

Open the book, sip something warming, and savour the unexpected gift.


Author’s notes
A little festive drabble. Wishing you all a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!


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© Kat Day 2019

Meeting Life

The girl with red pigtails and a blue dress crouches by a dead rabbit. Her schoolfriends know her as Jori Hawes or, sometimes, ‘the weird one’. She is not yet Jorininki Castroflame, not yet a member of the Seventh Order of Wrivaca.

But, although she has yet to understand it, she is a necromancer.

She touches a finger to creature’s ear, surprised at how soft the pale fur is. The knowledge that it died recently is in her mind, but she doesn’t know how it came to be there. The ground is covered with fallen leaves and the air is damp and full of the scents of apples and woodsmoke. And, now, it also contains a sound just below the edge of hearing.

The sound stops and the rabbit shivers, and so does the girl. The animal jumps up and bounds away into the trees, while Jori falls back as though pushed. Dampness seeps into the fabric of her dress and caresses the bare skin of her calves.

‘Hello,’ says a voice. It reminds Jori of an open fire. Warm and comforting. And slightly dangerous. She looks up, and there’s a woman standing at her side. She’s dressed in impossibly bright white robes, a hood pulled over her head. Her skin, when she turns her face, is black as night but for the pale pinpricks scattered across the bridge of her nose, like stars.

‘Hello,’ said Jori, because she cannot think of anything else to say, and her mother has always encouraged her to be polite.

‘Do you understand what you did there, child?’ says the woman.

Jori looks in the direction of the disappeared rabbit. ‘No.’

The woman nods. ‘Life can be a gift, or it can be a curse. Either way, it is not something to bestow lightly.’

Jori looks at the fingers that touched the rabbit’s ear. ‘I didn’t mean—’ she says.

Eyes lock with Jori’s, and the girl stares, unable to look away. A light flares in the woman’s eyes, a distant explosion.

‘What’s your name?’ asks Jori.

‘I’m called lots of things. It doesn’t matter which you choose.’

Jori considers this. Lots of words scatter and tangle in her mind, but one floats to the top, onto her tongue. ‘Life.’

‘That,’ says the woman, lips twitching, ‘will do.’

‘I don’t understand.’

Life reaches out and places her long-fingered hand on Jori’s. It should be comforting, but there is a hardness there. A suggestion of sharpened iron. ‘No. It would be concerning if you thought you did.’

‘Why are you here? I mean, I suppose you’re here because of,’ Jori gestures at the woods again. ‘Did I… did I do a bad thing? I didn’t mean to. ‘

The girl finds herself counting heartbeats in the silence that follows. She gets to twenty-three. ‘Good,’ says Life at last. ‘Most humans don’t ask enough questions.’

‘They don’t?’

Life’s lips twitch again. ‘They don’t.’

‘What do you want from me?’

Life looks into the distance, still gripping Jori’s hand. ‘It won’t live long, even now,’ she says, apparently ignoring the question. ‘Its body won’t be able to sustain it once your influence wears off.’

‘Oh,’ says Jori, feeling a twinge of sadness. ‘Then what’s the point?’

‘You’ll have to decide that for yourself, child. Time is… both an unfathomably big thing and also, sometimes, a very small thing. Look one way, and nothing seems significant. Look the other and everything could pivot on tiniest fraction of a moment. The difficult bit is deciding which way to look.’ Life takes a breath and Jori finds herself wondering how much she really needs it. ‘You have a power that humans are not meant to have. Were never meant to have. Do you want it?’

Jori thinks about this. Then she thinks about the words that came before. ‘Why,’ she says eventually, ‘would I want it, or not want it?’

This time Life actually laughs. She lets go of Jori’s hand. ‘Oh, very good, child,’ she says. ‘Well done.’

The girl watches as the woman, or rather, the woman-shaped being with dark skin and white robes, disappears like smoke on the wind. Then she gets up and brushes down her dress.

She is not yet Jorininki Castroflame, not yet a member of the Seventh Order of Wrivaca. But she will be.

And she will never stop asking questions.


Author’s notes
More Jori. Because I like her.


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Charcoal and Ice

Jorininki Castroflame, Necromancer of the Seventh Order of Wrivaca, shivered and wrapped her cloak around her body. The fabric was turquoise. She’d never favoured the traditional black.

‘So,’ said the King, indicating the body in front of them, ‘bring him back.’

Jori stepped closer to the corpse of Malek Angevin. His skin, once a warm brown, was now ashen, almost grey. His eyes were closed, arms by his side. The King’s aides, since dismissed, had packed ice around his body. Easy to do, given that he’d helpfully collapsed in his own icehouse. She inhaled the crisp, metallic air and her breath clouded in front of her face when she exhaled again. ‘He died an hour ago, in here?’

‘Yes,’ said the King, ‘he came in here for some sort of foodstuff apparently. Heaven knows what. Probably something for that wretched animal.’ He added, glaring without heat at the brown cat currently winding around Jori’s ankles. She bent and scratched its head, letting her professional awareness flow over Angevin’s body.

He was dead, there was no doubt. His heart had stopped—it happened without warning sometimes—but she thought he could still be reached, largely thanks to the King’s orders not to have him moved. The King liked to play the role of buffoon, but the truth was that he had a mind sharp enough to fillet the steaks stacked on the wooden shelves in the chilly room. He employed experts, and he paid attention. He had an experienced, and extremely discrete, physician on standby, and she had been quickly informed of her very urgent appointment.

‘You understand, Sire,’ she said cautiously, ‘that bringing someone back to full consciousness isn’t always possible? Even if the death is recent.’ And she had never done it, although she wasn’t about to admit that. It was rare that the conditions were right. Usually the body was too badly broken, or its organs too damaged by illness or age, or too much time had passed and the spirit was simply gone.

The standard necromantic trick of raising the long-dead was different. That was merely pushing a little energy into the right place. A simple matter of animation. The things that rose had no ability to think for themselves. Once she let them out of her mind’s grip they fell back to the ground, puppets with their strings cut. She had worked that dark magic for the King on both small and large scale, several times.

He had never asked her to try this before.

The King looked at her, eyes as icy as the blocks stacked around the room. ‘Can you do it or not?’

She dared to avoid his question. ‘May I ask why? You’ve lost plenty of good people before.’

He stared at her and for a moment she thought he would snap that it wasn’t her place to question his motivation. Then he seemed to deflate, looking away from her to Angevin’s body. When he did speak, his voice was surprisingly soft. ‘I need my Vertex Minister back, Castroflame.’

Something about his tone and use of the title tugged at her. Her mind whirled.

He turned his head to look at her again. Jori couldn’t help noticing his fists were clenched at his sides.

‘No one lives forever, Sire,’ she ventured, quietly. ‘His heart stopped once. It might again. Even with the care of your physician.’

‘Dammit! Get him back!’ The King pushed his hands through his blonde hair, a gesture she’d never seen him make before. ‘Do, do…’ he stuttered over the words. She could almost feel him changing tack. ‘There was an expensive election. I gave the people a vote. It was decided. The will of the people was done! I will not have it undone by an inconvenient death!’

He stopped speaking and silence spread uneasily through the small room. The only sounds were his ragged breathing and the wet noises of the cat cleaning itself.

‘I had the right man. In. In place,’ the King said eventually, eyes turned away.

Jori reached out and touched his arm. It was an action that went against protocol, but they were alone and the King was, after all, just a man. ‘I’ll try,’ she said.

‘Thank you,’ he said. Her hand dropped as something in his demeanour changed. The mask that had slipped falling back into place. His voice became crisp and formal. ‘Hurry up and get on with it. I may not have your talents, but I am aware of the theory. The more time that passes the more difficult this becomes.’

She nodded. ‘Best you wait outside, Sire.’

To her relief, he didn’t question or argue. She watched until the heavy door closed behind him, then she shook herself and reached into her leather bag.

She rejected the pouch of salt, knowing what it would do to the ice, and instead opted for charcoal. It didn’t matter, really. Salt was traditional, but power was more important than props. Ten minutes later, she’d created a sequence of sigils around the body, and a larger, unbroken circle around that, the black standing out sharply against the frosty granite floor of the icehouse.

She stared at the black symbols for a few long moments, gathering her focus. Then she glanced thoughtfully at the cat.

Jori stepped into the circle and closed her eyes.

All humans are inherently close to death. She had more power than most, but this part actually required very little. She wasn’t trying to go far—it was like looking through the window before you decided to throw your shoulder against the door.

Jori felt a jolt, not unlike the sensation of jerking awake as you start to fall asleep, and she opened her eyes.

Everything looked much the same, except for a slight purple hue, as though she was looking through tinted glass.

Malek Angevin sat up. At least, something of him sat up. A dark shadow remained on the ground, a man-shaped, oily pool that glinted in the dim light. He looked down at it, and then up at Jori, eyes wide in question.

‘Your heart stopped,’ she explained.

‘Ah,’ he paused. ‘My father died the same way,’ he added after a few moments.

‘I’m sorry,’ said Jori.

He sighed. ‘You’re the necromancer.’

‘I am. And you’re Vertex Minister Angevin, and the King wants you back.’

‘Malek,’ he said. ‘No point in formalities at this point, is there? And I suppose he would. Terribly inconvenient I imagine, my death.’ There was a trace of bitterness in his voice.

‘I won’t force you,’ she said.

‘But you could.’

‘I could,’ she agreed.

‘It felt… peaceful,’ he said wistfully, looking down at the oily pool.

The cat jumped carelessly over the edge of the circle and into Malek’s lap, which seemed to be solid enough, for the cat at least. He scratched its ears. ‘Hello, Cinnabar. I’m sorry you never got your dinner.’

Jori looked at the animal. ‘I voted for you,’ she said to Malek, not really knowing why.

He laughed. ‘Thank you?’

‘The King said he had the right man in place.’

He looked at her. His eyes were translucent. She could see faint lines of shelving through them. ‘Did he now?’

Jori bit her lip, wondering how much to say. ‘I think… I don’t think he meant just… politically.’

Malek raised an eyebrow. ‘Not like him to make his feelings clear.’

She felt a pang of relief that she hadn’t entirely misjudged the situation. ‘Well. You were dead. Are dead. Sort of.’

He sighed. ‘It won’t change anything.’

‘Perhaps not.’

‘I suppose you’ve had a lot of conversations like this.’

‘No, not really. Usually they’re long gone by the time I get involved.’

‘Special case, am I?’

‘He went to a lot of trouble to make sure of it.’

Malek rubbed Cinnabar’s head again. The dark man-shaped pool on the floor began to shimmer, glittering white and red. A soft humming sound started up. Or perhaps only became loud enough to hear.

‘It’s your choice,’ said Jori. ‘I don’t know what lies on the other side, truly. No one does. I know what’s here, though.’

‘Oh? And what’s that?’

‘A man who has found his priorities suddenly clarified, I suspect.’

Malek gave a small laugh.

The humming sound became louder. Ripples flowed across the surface of the pool, creating patterns where they hit the edges and rebounded. Jori looked at it, thinking. ‘Life is a fire that burns and scars us from the moment we’re born,’ she said eventually. ‘But it’s also bright and warm, and it gives us the chance to see and feel.’

He looked up. ‘And will I be truly alive? Not some kind of… zombie?’

‘No. Your body is undamaged and well-preserved. The King has a healer on standby. Think of it as more of a second chance.’

Malek looked wistfully and the rippling pool.

‘I suppose someone has to feed my cat, eh?’ he said with a weak smile.

‘Absolutely.’

‘He pretends not to like her,’ said Malek, nodding at Cinnabar, ‘but I caught him stroking her the other day.’

Jori smiled. ‘Still,’ she said, ‘I’m not sure you can count on the King to take on cat-caring duties.’

‘Ha. No. This is going to hurt.’

‘Yes. Sorry.’

He set his jaw. ‘Like you said, price of life. Pain.’

She pressed her lips together in agreement.

He sighed. ‘Very well, necromancer. Do your worst.’

Jori threw her metaphysical shoulder against the door.

The King pushed past her when she used her somewhat less powerful physical hand to open the door of the icehouse. She let him, but found herself blocking the path of the physician. ‘He’ll be fine for a few minutes,’ she said.

The healer, who was after all very discrete, smiled thinly. ‘I don’t approve of necromancy,’ she said, glancing over Jori’s shoulder. ‘But… well done.’

Jorininki Castroflame, Necromancer of the Seventh Order of Wrivaca, returned the smile, somewhat more warmly. Then she pulled the hood of her turquoise cloak over her head and walked into the dusk.


Author’s notes
I meant to write a creepy story about my favourite necromancer. I accidentally wrote a slightly soft and fluffy story instead. Oh well. Stories are what they are.


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© Kat Day 2019