Updated: Mar 4
Necromage Larthen must defy the barrier between life and the Eternity. Can the running boy teach him what he needs to learn? A story of ambition, inspiration and unlikely friendships.
This is a prequel story for my novel 'The Wild God's Gambit' featuring two of the minor characters. It contains no spoilers for that novel. If you enjoy this opening, please join my mailing list and you will be sent the rest of the story.
Larthen shivered and resettled the shoulders of his over-robe. He was sitting at his desk in the Wisemen’s enclave, exactly as he had been when he left his corporeal form behind, except now he had a sore behind, a sorer head and a chill. He dug his fingers into the corners of his eyes, pinching the bridge of his nose. Lights flashed across his vision, just as illusory as any results from his flailing research. The Eternity was real. He had honed his powers enough to reach it with his mind. But, like a man hanging from his fingertips on a cliff edge, he was helpless to see what he’d reached.
Placing his palms on the desk in front of him, he tried to steady his breathing. The chaos scattered before him didn’t help. Open books on necromancy, religion and philosophy spilled their pages, fountaining references to the Eternity in offhand or baroque language. His favourite pen, cast down in frustration, had leaked ink onto his notes. He couldn’t regret spoiling them: scribbles full of imbecilic drivel! His one great success was months in the past – and what was so ground-breaking about a way for his mind to reach into the Eternity if he couldn’t sense anything when he got there?
Two of the moons were high, but other Wisemen were at work throughout the enclave. He could feel their presence more vividly than usual, his magical senses painfully heightened. It was time for some sleep. But if he didn’t find something soon, he would be diverted onto other more ‘useful’ projects. Or Emerald would decide to use him as a conduit to the Eternity and allow other mages to try and unlock what it could offer. And that would not be pleasant. His guts squirmed at the thought of serving as a doorway to other men’s ambitions.
Sleep deprivation was taking its toll and his mind swam as he looked down at his hands, still young and supple after all these decades. He imagined he could see through the taut skin to the skeleton beneath, imagined the bones desiccated and riddled with magic like an animated corpse’s, his blood stilled and his organs blackening as magic replaced the life force within him. Then he imagined shuffling along amongst others of his kind to the tune of Emerald’s command. Or being torn apart by the things he himself had created for Emerald’s purposes. No. Morbid was the last thing he needed to be. Hardly unusual among necromages, but still.
Larthen’s fingertips traced warding symbols: an old muscle memory. The wards were laid deeper now and no malevolent spirit could trouble him, let alone a shambling dead thing. But the fear that he might be – or should be – dead himself sent a bitter chill threading down his spine. Sleep suddenly seemed undesirable.
He sent his mind out again.
His first trip out of his body had been on account of a ghost. Nanny Tulke told him that there was no such thing. That old houses groaned and shifted in the night like old people did. His cousins teased him. Older and wiser, they shook their heads and said he was gone in his wits. So, when the boy climbed through his dark window, shut though it was, Larthen doubted, screwed his eyes closed and counted to ten. But when he opened them, the boy’s face hovered above his, eyes crossed and tongue out. Larthen felt a wash of cold as he jumped up involuntarily, through the boy. He heard cheeky laughter. And then the boy sped away. Angry and delighted, Larthen leapt up and ran, but walls were no impediment to his insubstantial playmate. Desperately, defiant of the notion that it wouldn’t work, he had flung himself out of his body and after the running boy.
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