Short story: Unfinished Business

Updated: Feb 11, 2020

Photo by Gabriella Fabri from Freeimages

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 the power of the dead.

This is a prequel story for my novel 'Storm in the North' featuring two of the minor characters. It contains no spoilers for that novel. If you enjoy this opening, please join my mailing list and I will auto-send you the whole text.

Unfinished Business

Larthen frowned hard and 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 reaches into the Eternity.

Placing his palms on the desk in front of him, he tried to steady his breathing. Looking at the chaos on his desk didn’t help. Open books spilled their pages, fountaining references to the Eternity in offhand or baroque language. His favourite pen, cast down, had leaked ink onto notes that he couldn’t regret spoiling. Pointless scribbles full of imbecilic drivel. His one great discovery 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? All he could do was blunder around, hoping to happen upon something, anything, in the vast darkness.

He could feel the presence of other Wisemen throughout the enclave more vividly than usual with 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 he would have to explain what he had discovered and then… The best he could hope for was that Emerald would suggest a collaboration. More likely, considering the pressure they were under, Emerald would use him as a conduit to the Eternity and throw as many mages at the project as it took to unlock what it could offer. And that would not be pleasant. His guts squirmed at the thought.

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. He imagined his blood stilled and his organs blackening as the magic replaced the life force within him. He imagined existing purely by his own will. 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. Larthen’s fingertips traced warding symbols – an old muscle memory, responding to his alarm. The wardings 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.

The first time, he had followed 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 leapt practically out of his own skin, felt a wash of cold as he jumped up involuntarily, heard the cheeky laughter for just a moment. 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 flung himself out of his body and after the running boy.

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