Claudia thought she and Phren would make more progress before dark than they had. Had sunset always come so early? Whether or not the sun always went down this early or was making an exception to spite their quest didn’t matter. Either way, it meant they would have to find a safe place to sleep and wait for sunrise.
In the darkness, more spirits were visible. There were quite a few around during the day, but at night, Claudia could see more of them, and more of the non-human ones. The ones with antlers and too many eyes, the ones with six legs and two arms. The ones that glowed, the ones that flew, the giant, fish-like ones that walked slowly over the hills. They were everywhere and Claudia had never seen anything so glorious.
Back home on the Montomogen Moors, Claudia only saw ghosts: human spirits. Maybe it was because they were in the wild, now, and in the wild, spirits were the law. There were no written rules, no arrows or language or fires or houses. Just nature and the spirits as they have been since the beginning of time. Or before. Or after. Claudia didn’t really know how old non-spirits were, or if they had all been around since the beginning, like the gods. Were spirits born? Did they have families? Claudia found it hard to believe. But she could imagine them materializing from energy or water or stardust and sort of coming into being.
She would ask one of them, if she ever got the chance, which she doubted. Fear of the unknown and the unnatural was a strong human instinct; while Claudia didn’t have as much of that instinct as her parents, she still stayed away from large legged fishes walking among the hills. Even if they looked like ships sailing against the moon.
In the dark, Phren glowed, though not as bright as a fire. More like fog lit by the moonlight. He was watching the giant fish in the distance as well, his short, angled hair riding on invisible currents. He noticed Claudia watching him and he looked over and smiled. Claudia smiled too and looked away. He posed for her, a hand on his cheek and another on his hip. Claudia laughed quietly.
“There are caves all around us,” she said, looking around. “A cave seems the easiest and safest place to spend the night, don’t you think?”
Phren nodded in agreement.
Claudia surveyed her choice of caves. They were stacked, small and large, like honeycomb. Not as though giant termites had carved them out, but as though the entire hill was a huge piece of volcanic rock and the dirt had washed away from some of its massive holes. At least, that’s what Claudia hoped. She approached the hill and stared up at one of the second-level holes. It would be safer there than on ground level. It would be less likely that an animal would wander in in the middle of the night.
She hoisted her pack into the hole and then clambered up. She slipped several times, muddied her robe, and scratched her knee on the rough stone, but finally she made it inside.
It wasn’t a large cave, but it was large enough to suit their purposes. Claudia could almost stand up in it, and the floor had several feet of flat, dry surface. The cave was dark as cloth until Phren joined her. He acted as a soft beacon, a tame little candle against the terrifying darkness of the unknown. The cave was pretty deep, but Claudia didn’t care to go exploring, especially without a torch.
Claudia leaned her pack against the wall and sat next to it after briefly checking to make sure there were no bugs or animals. She wrapped her arms around her knees and stared at Phren because she was too scared to look at anything else. Seeing spirits all the time was fun mostly, but it also meant that there was always something there in the dark. Normal children might glance at the dark and hope they don’t see any monsters, but Claudia always did see them, because it was more likely than not that there was a spirit around, and especially after the sun had been down for a couple hours.
She didn’t know why they got more active at night. Maybe it’s because the world became still at night. The living weren’t constantly moving around and making noise. But out here, what difference did it make? It was probably just that she noticed them more in the dark. They seemed to be in more corners, in more places you didn’t think they were, because you had to get close to see them. They surprised Claudia more at night, so it seemed like there were more.
Suddenly, something moved in the dark end of the cave. Claudia’s eyes snapped to the darkness, her lips in a tight line. Something scraping, shifting, changing position, waking up.
A breath. A low, thundering voice.
“What are you doing in my cave?” demanded the voice. It wasn’t a question. It was an accusation. Claudia stared into the darkness, but she couldn’t see what was talking. She got to her feet, shaking.
“W-w-we were just looking for shelter for the night, sir, please. We did not know it belonged to someone,” said Claudia, fearfully. She had never heard anything speak to her except humans, but something made her think that this wasn’t a human voice.
“You’re blasted right it belongs to someone,” said the voice, irritably, shifting again.
It was coming towards them. Phren moved slightly in front of Claudia and glowed threateningly brighter. Claudia could finally see what was speaking.
The owner of the voice was tall, much too tall for the cave, and he had to hunch over quite a bit. He was humanoid in features, but also grotesquely different, like he had chosen features he liked from an anthology and put them together. He had four massive horns: two that spiraled above his head and two that curled around his jaw. His face had a deer-like quality, or a bull, or a goat—Claudia couldn’t tell which—but it definitely wasn’t human. The eyes glowed red and angry. The body was dark and muscular, the fingers were long with pointed claw-like fingernails, and the legs bent backwards. It might have been wearing clothes, or it might have just been thick, patterned hair. Claudia couldn’t tell in the shadow.
“It belongs to me,” the being continued, snorting angrily at Claudia. “As do all the caves in this hill! You’re a necromancer, couldn’t you tell?”
Claudia had heard that word before, but not very often. She didn’t quite know what it meant, but she could guess that it had something to do with her ability to see spirits, since this creatures was obviously some kind of spirit.
“I didn’t,” Claudia said quietly.
The goat man eased onto all fours, since standing at such a low angle was awkward. Such a strange creature on all fours should have looked more awkward, but it didn’t. He just looked intimidating, like he might pounce.
“I think you did,” he snapped. “You’re a necromancer, and I know what you lot are like. Going after us demons, as though we are trophies and slaves. I bet you’d chop our heads off and mount them on spikes in your towers if you could!” He lowered his head closer to the ground. “Well, I’m no fool. I hate necromancers and I will not listen as you spew poison and lies. Get out!”
He charged and Claudia had to jump back to avoid his horns.
“Get out!” He charged again.
Claudia grabbed her pack and leapt out of the cave, tripping in the mud and branches at the bottom. She got to her feet, shaky with adrenaline, grabbed her pack and ran.
The goat man had left the cave—Claudia heard him drop to the ground—but she didn’t know if he was chasing her. Not that she cared to look backwards long enough to find out. She didn’t know if Phren was following her, either. All she knew was that she had to get out of there. That if she didn’t, she would die.
A/N: So remember, kids, always purify a cave before you enter it, or a demon will eat your soul. (The one Claudia and Phren encountered wasn’t particularly interested in her soul. He was more interested in scaring her off and going back to sleep. …rotten little necromancers, sleeping in people’s caves…)
This is what I wrote on day 2 of NaNoWriMo. It’s a little rough, but editing is not the point of National Novel Writer’s Month. The point is to churn out 150 pages during the month of November and therein learn how to do some serious writing. You’ll probably see a lot of Necromantic this month (not that you don’t see a lot of it every other month), since I’ve chosen to spend my 150 pages on these vaguely druid necromancers. I’m also giving daily page updates on twitter to keep myself on track. My tweets pop up in the side bar of this website, or you can view them on twitter at https://twitter.com/constbaudelaire, if that sounds interesting to you.
In other news, Necromantic is fully outlined, and unless something changes mid-story (like it usually does), the novel will be a prologue, 45 chapters, and an epilogue. I can’t express how excited I am that it’s finally outlined: the end, all the sad parts, happy parts, stressful parts…it’s just a really good feeling.