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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© Kat Day 2019

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

Proud

Jorininki Castroflame, Necromancer of the Seventh Order of Wrivaca, pinched the bridge of her nose and turned over the page in the grimoire she was studying. It was bound in human skin. It smelled funky.

She muttered words to herself, trying to fix them in her memory. She left careful pauses, of course— it wouldn’t do to accidentally summon the undead hordes— but she had to know her spells. There would be a battle tomorrow, and Lord Alstaz would expect things to work.

The words slid away from her, slippery as freshwater eels. A ball of black anxiety settled in her stomach.

The magical garnet of Ifera set in the heavy gold bracelet on her left wrist glowed red and emitted a cheerful chiming sound. Jorininki sighed and tapped it.

A voice spoke. ‘Jori, is that you? Can you hear me? Hello?’

‘Hi, Dad.’

‘Can you hear me?’

‘Yes, Dad, I can hear you. Are you okay?’

‘Oh, that’s good. We’re fine. How are you?’

‘I’m fine. Look, Dad, I’m kind of busy here… big thing tomorrow, you know. Is it urgent? Can I call you back tomorrow evening for a proper chat?’ That is, she thought to herself, if Lord Alstaz hasn’t thrown me into his dungeons because the undead hordes turned out to be three tatty skeletons with missing bits and a couple of zombie rabbits.

‘Yes of course, darling. But before you go. Um,’ her father paused.

‘What is it?’

‘I know you’re busy, I expect you’re working. You work so hard. Very important stuff. I know I couldn’t do it.’

‘Dad, you have no idea what I do.’

‘No, no, I know. Protecting a kingdom. It’s a lot of responsibility. I can’t imagine. Me, I’ve been a farmer my whole life. I don’t know anything about politics—’

‘Dad, I really am busy…’

‘Yes, yes, of course. Anyway. Look. We were at your aunt’s funeral on Tuesday.’

‘I know. I’m sorry I couldn’t make it.’

‘No, it’s fine. Everyone understands. They all asked after you. It just made me think, you know, it does, doesn’t it? A funeral. Everyone saying things they couldn’t say, you know, before.’

‘Mmm-hm,’ said Jorininki, turning the page back on the grimoire.

‘Well, I just wanted to tell you that we’re very proud of you, Jori. Very proud. You’ve achieved so much. You work so hard. We love you very much, your Mum and me. That’s all, really.’

Jorininki pushed the heavy book away before the tear could splash onto the yellowing paper. ‘Oh, Dad.’

‘I don’t say it enough, I know that. I wasn’t brought up to talk about these things. It’s different these days. Anyway. I just wanted you to know that even if I don’t say it all the time, I do love you.’

‘I love you too, Dad.’

‘That’s good, that’s good. Well, bye, bye, sweetheart. Don’t work too hard. You need your sleep.’

‘I’ll do my best.’

‘All right then. I’ll talk to you tomorrow?’

‘I promise.’

‘Bye, bye.’

‘Bye, bye.’

Jorininki Castroflame, Necromancer of the Seventh Order of Wrivaca, smiled as the red light of the magical garnet of Ifera blinked out.

Then she wiped her eyes and pulled the grimoire back towards her, the words now seeming that much easier to remember.


Author’s notes
It’s a trope of fantasy fiction that the parents of heroes and bad guys are dead. This piece came about after I wondered: what if the evil necromancer still has a Mum and Dad, who like to chat to their daughter every now and then? (And what about grandparents, that’s what I always want to know — maybe that’s for another day.)


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If you like my work, you can support my writing by buying me a coffee at ko-fi.com.
© Kat Day 2019