Inu let his eyes fall open, his cheek against the ground where he was curled up under his wool blanket. A wool blanket probably wasn’t the most practical covering he could use. The wool quickly soaked up the dew of morning and it took all day to dry it out again. But it was heavy, it was warm, and it was the last thing he had from his parents. And it was usually dry by sunset, anyway.
With a hand to his back, Inu heaved into a sitting position, stretched and began folding his blanket. He would have to remember to let it air out before unfolding it for the night.
Where’s the boy?
The boy! The boy! Where’s the boy?
What kind of family sends their boy away?
Inu let the ghosts talk while he quietly packed up his makeshift camp. He tied the folded blanket onto the top of his shoulder bag and took a carrot out of the front pocket for his breakfast. He had to admit, it was sad that the king was sending his son away. That father could say what he liked about it being for Cyril’s “own good,” but nothing would persuade Inu that the family wasn’t more important to him than “Cyril’s own good.” If Cyril’s wellbeing was truly the only motivation for kicking him out, the king had enough money to hire a stay-in necromancer. There were plenty of them creeping around, looking for any job that will pay.
Inu forcefully broke the carrot in half and began chewing one side. There were plenty of necromancers in flowing purple robes, living in stone castles with indoor fireplaces. Whether they got their money by playing on the fear of their neighbors or of some other shoddy form of magic, it was clear that if a necromancer wanted to make a name for themselves, they could. Not all lands were as willing to fight back as the Montomogen Moors. Inu smiled and wiped his fingers on his robe. If he had made a wrong move last night with the grocer, he didn’t know what the grocer was more likely to do: run off or skewer him on a pitchfork. That little, tomato-shaped man: a head shorter than Inu, but with about fifteen times more pluck.
He took out his wineskin and laughed. Yes, that farmer would have whacked his head off. Inu took a few gulps of water, wiped his mouth on his sleeve, and then slowly got to his feet. Stars, did he ache today! Inu made a mental note to buy some ginger before he and his new apprentice set off for the highlands.
Apprentice…the word felt weird on Inu’s tongue before he had even said it. The word carried so many insinuations with it; it demanded things, expected things. And it was sour: a waxy gloss over a rotting corpse. Inu’s life had been a succession of steps away from his own apprenticeship—away from his old master—and even thinking of taking on an apprentice made him feel like his master had won: that he was, indeed, still part of the system and that in sixty years, Inu would become the copy of his master, no matter how much he rebelled at this age. Even as Inu fought to distance himself from that life, deep down he felt that it was inevitable.
You are not Garnet, said the ghost that had been with Inu the longest: it wouldn’t be long now before she was strong enough to move into her next life. She had been with him from the very beginning. He had smuggled her out of Garnet’s tower when he was sixteen, his first sheltered ghost.
You are not Garnet, she repeated, more firmly. Garnet was cruel and shallow-minded. You are kind and brave. You have saved all of us from disintegrating and blowing away like smoke. You are a hero.
Nice guy. Good morals.
Inu smiled. He knew he was fortunate to have found such kind ghosts; he wasn’t naïve: he knew not all spirits were kind, not even all ghosts. But he had not ended up sheltering a hostile spirit yet. Maybe the willingness to be rescued by a lowly human showed a certain degree of openmindedness and agreeability.
Inu wasn’t super-human; he relied on the ghosts he lived with to support him and to soothe his anxious mind—probably too much, if he was honest with himself. He needed their approval, since he didn’t get it from the living. He worried; people generally thought he was overconfident, that he didn’t know what the future held, he didn’t know whether he would live ‘til next month and that he didn’t rightly care. His lifestyle was contrary to that of everyone he had ever met, so, people assumed, that since he was living such a rebellious life, he must be pretty confident and happy with himself.
But that wasn’t the case. The only thing that kept Inu going was that he wholeheartedly believed in what he was doing, or rather what he was trying to do. He had seen ghosts and other spirits used as energy, as farm animals, as slaves, and as experiments. From his fifteenth birthday, he had been convinced that spirits deserved to be free, whether they were dangerous or not; whether they interfered in the work of living humans or not. He believed that so strongly it sometimes made him sick, and now at thirty years old, he still held to that. Letting spirits choose their own destinies was the only thing Inu cared about and right now, at this point in his life, the best way Inu could think of to achieve that end was to energize wounded spirits enough so that they would not be partially attached to the earth, halfway between one life and the next.
But he worried. Stones, he worried. What if this wasn’t the right way to set spirits free? What if he was harming them? What if he should be doing something else? What if he should be trying to stop necromancers from enslaving spirits? What if Garnet had thought all of this as a young necromancer, too, and Inu would grow calloused, greedy and paranoid? Drawing pentagrams and keeping imps “for his own protection”? If that happened, Inu would drag these twenty ghosts down with him. They would be his first slaves. And they wouldn’t be able to rebel. Inu knew too many spells that had been drilled into him so hard that he would never be able to forget. If he were to turn to paranoia and slavery, he would cover himself from every side. He would be untouchable.
Getting an apprentice felt like taking a step closer to that. Necromancers take on apprentices; it’s the natural progression. It’s expected. On the other hand, even though Inu didn’t follow orthodox necromantic procedures, he still wanted to pass on his knowledge and also to know there is at least one properly trained necromancer out there who could carry on his work when he died. With the way he lived now, there was no telling when Inu would die. Anything could happen in the highlands and summer was coming to an end. The barren season was only a few months away and it would be nice to have a human companion when the days turned dark.
Inu stood and stretched his back, earning a series of pops that would have been rude in human company. He took his mother’s bone comb from the front pocket and began brushing the leaves, bark pieces and probably tree bugs out of his hair. He was meeting King Montomogen today, again. He needed to look competent.
“A pressed cloak says more on first glance than a book’s-worth of knowledge,” Garnet had told him. “If you want people to take you seriously, look serious.”
Inu frowned; he was doing exactly what Garnet had groomed him to do—he was going to treat the king the way Garnet had taught him to handle clients.
Inu wasn’t going to straighten himself any further. He wasn’t going to present himself as a necromancer. He would present himself as what he was: a wanderer who happened to know a lot about spirits.
A/N: I hate to break it to you, hungry ghost, but spirits don’t eat. Sorry.
I’m not so sure about this heavily exposition-style writing, but for this early stage in the story, it’s important. The Necromantic world is still relatively shallow and I’m trying to deepen it.
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