Smoky clouds of blue sorcery danced above the rectangular, wooden table. The Aélkyn child concentrated, casting the healing spells he’d learned over the course of his youth studies. Sweat trickled down his plump face and his hands trembled as if stricken with the Shaker’s Curse. But for all his effort, nothing worked. It seemed his best friend was beyond conventional healing.
His friend had gone from dying to already dead.
“No,” he whispered, continually slamming slender fists onto the table, strands of black hair slapping at his pale face. The large room with its many tables was pitch black except for the dim light of floating paper lamps he had summoned to the middle. Yet, for every pounding of his fists the lamps strengthened, engulfing the entire room in bright, orange light. “No, no, no… NO!” He flashed a slightly crazed glare at an enormous pile of books behind him, as if accusing them of intentional negligence.
His friend’s unseeing eyes stared at the roof and its wooden beams and rafters, his insides leaking out in several wounds throughout his badly broken body. “I’ll bring you back to life,” the boy said, gritting his teeth. “I promise.”
Behind the pile of tomes lay a single book with laced pages and a velvety purple jacket, larger and massively heavier than the others. It had been dusty when the boy happened upon it earlier that morning, the edges worn from having been passed down in his family for centuries. With its shrouded mysteries and intricate language of the old Aélkyn tongue, the sheer power within had been enough for the boy to break out in hives the moment he laid hands on it. A simple spell had taken care of that, but the fact that he had been affected so harshly, so immediately…
You may rummage the library for whatever purposes you see fit to your studies, but you will not touch this particular volume. Not now. You are not ready.
His father said that six years ago when the boy had been a five-year-old apprentice. He was still an apprentice, of course, but six years had instilled confidence in him. It was this confidence, coupled with his friend’s dire condition, which finally triggered his desperate decision.
If necromancy couldn’t bring his friend back to life nothing could.
But the longer he held his eyes on the book, its ancient languages and outlawed spells, the more curious he became. And wary. Oh, yes, certainly wary.
He bent his frail body around the books and edged his hands close to the tome, sweat now pouring down his face. After an entire afternoon of unsuccessful work, the smell of his high-collared, sweat-stained robe reminded him of a certain flooded graveyard he and his father had foraged years ago while searching for ingredients. He smelled of death. The irony would have forced a smile across his face had the body in front of him been a test subject rather than his best friend.
His hands grasped the book and frantically tossed it onto the table as if afraid it would grow teeth and go for his jugular. A numbing feeling had overcome his body in the short seconds his hands had touched the book, but he’d been ready this time. Looking down at himself he saw no hives. No scars, no nothing. His heart wouldn’t cease pounding at the rate of a Dojí war-drummer, but beyond that he was physically fine.
Now, however, was the most difficult part of his desperate, last-second experiment: deciphering one of the elder tongues. He’d already dabbled in studying all three of the primary elder languages, ancient races who had once ruled all of Teír before the birth of Man and Beast: Eólkyn, Télkyn, and his own people’s language, Aélkyn. But such studies never told him spells that would teach him how to raise the dead.
What if I can’t perform the spell?
A chill swept down as the thought jabbed him like a dagger to the spine. His hands trembled, lingering above the tome, fingers twitching anxiously as he began having second thoughts. But one look at his friend swayed him back to confidence. He was his friend’s last hope. It was necromancy or nothing.
He opened the tome and quickly flipped to the two-hundred-eleventh page. In bold crimson ink quilled upon faded, yellowish parchment was the following spell: Dúm Ras Daae Ún. “On Raising the Once-Dead.” He could make out those words easily enough, but the author’s name was written in a language he had never even seen before.
Drool flowed from his open mouth, dripping down onto his chin before wiping it away with a distracted sweep of his robed forearm. The tome now lay open on the table directly in front of his friend’s body. He clinched his fists, raised them so high that his overly long sleeves fell down past his scrawny elbows, and–
“Just what do you hope to accomplish here?”
A sound from behind startled him and he turned around. The door to his laboratory stood open, a dark silhouette standing in the doorway. Bright light from a sun-filled outside sky seeped around its body, blinding the boy’s eyes. For one dreadful moment the boy thought he had accidentally released an ancient daemon from its crypt, but he quickly recognized the voice just as his eyes readjusted themselves.
His father stepped through the door, slamming it hard behind him.
He strode across the floor until he reached the table where the boy’s friend lay, taking several looks from the table to his son before sighing, digging his gloved hands deep into the pockets of his black leather robe. His hood was down and the sides of his white hair with purple and black streaks flowed down to his shoulders, while the rear was locked in a tail bound by an emerald hair-hold. Amber-colored jewels hung from his oval-shaped ears. A silvery white beard dangled down to his waist. The boy fondly remembered many attempts to climb that beard as an infant. He remembered specifically his father roaring with laughter.
His father wasn’t laughing now.
“I…I,” the boy barely croaked. “I wanted to bring him back to life, father.”
The father rolled his eyes, shaking his head as he leaned over the table to inspect the dead corpse. “Child,” he began before closing his eyes, massaging his forehead as if battling a migraine. “Necromancy is… a touchy subject. You weren’t supposed to have learned about it, yet here you are with a book no boy your age should have in his possession. I told you to leave this particular tome alone, did I not?” He swept up the necromantic book, placing it within his robe. The boy watched, mouth agape, fascinated as his father showed no signs of weakening against the book’s touch. “I suppose much of this is my own fault. Boys are curious creatures. I should know,” he said, flashing the boy a wry smile that lasted no longer than the blink of an eye.
“Can you save him, father?” the boy pleaded as he went to his knees. “I’ll do anything you want me to do! Just please, save him!”
The father’s eyebrow arched as he motioned for the boy to rise. “Stand from the floor, child!” He yelled, grabbing the boy by his slim wrists and dragging him to his feet. “With human creations come human remedies!”
“I… I don’t understand. What do you mean?”
“Necromancy is magic for dead flesh. Real flesh.”
A flood of tears were on the verge of spilling from his large, orange eyes, like juice squeezed from a tangerine. “So, you mean… he’s dead?”
The father massaged his temples once more, taking a deep breath before looking down at his son. He said, softly, “Take him to the Redwood Market and find a human to patch him back together. Your…” The right side of the father’s face twitched as he momentarily closed his eyes. “Your friend isn’t any deader than you or I.”
“Are you sure? What if–”
Without another word, the boy scooped up his best friend and bolted for the door.
Cotton stuffing poured out from the bear’s ripped opening in the stomach, and the right eye fell to the floor and rolled back to the father, stopping at his boots. When he was sure the boy had left he bent over to pick up the black button, closely examining it.
“Humans and their toys,” he muttered impatiently, tossing the button aside before gathering the rest of his borrowed books.
Jeffery T. Ford currently attends class at Indiana University Southeast, where he is majoring in English with a concentration on writing.