The stranger came like rot on the breeze. Swift, silent, and unpleasant without making any lasting impression. He was ultimately forgettable – contextless in all contexts – and that kept him safe.
There were two ways to stay safe that Cyr had come across in her short life: be frightening enough, or forgettable enough, and people would leave you alone. Cyr would never be frightening and even though she was the least striking boy in a crowd, people always seemed to stare. Always cut off speaking when she came into a room.
As was her habit, she fabricated a billion paranoid reasons for this. Maybe they knew she could see spirits. Maybe her intense discomfort with herself was more obvious than she had thought. Maybe her quietness put people off.
More likely, it was because her father was a well-known swordsmith and ridire, and their family had been the protection of a lot of chieftains and the death of a lot of dissenters over the years. Daduin Montemogen wasn’t a cruel man but he was just. He was always employed by some chieftain or another, and he always carried a sword, even to the grocers. He was respected, but not well liked.
As the son of such a man, and one who would inherit his business and title, Cyr made a lot of people nervous. No matter how inherently forgettable and non-threatening she was, it seemed safety through fear was her path.
Except that she wasn’t safe. Not anymore. The man, the apparition, emerging from the foggy forest, approaching the round house was proof of that.
Cyr raised up on her toes to see out the tall window.
“There’s a man coming up the road,” she said.
Daduin came up from behind and looked out the window too. The stranger’s long white hair flowed around him like spirit waters.
“Is he dangerous, do you think?”
Her father’s face was dark with an expression that had become common lately, though Cyr could never figure out what it meant. Her mother made the same face. Cyr feared it was disappointment.
“Oh, no doubt,” he answered, putting his hand on Cyr’s shoulder like a practiced action. “But he’s our guest, nonetheless. Early, too. Much too early. Run and tell your mother, will you? Put some tea on.”
“Yes, Father,” Cyr answered and walked down the circular stone hallway to the center room where the fire was lit.
There were usually a fair amount of students, cousins, or other ridire families visiting. But lately, the house had been empty, save for the three of them. Cyr figured everyone was just busy or off traveling on business, but the isolation brought the dark look back into the parents’ eyes.
“Mother,” Cyr called, crossing to the fire.
Eadoa was sitting and staring into it, as if waiting for it to tell her something. She looked up, the spell broken.
“Someone is here and Father says we are expecting him?”
“Is it the necromancer?” she asked, getting to her feet.
Cyr scratched her eyebrow. “I don’t know who it is. Hels, Mother, you and Father didn’t invite a necromancer, did you?”
Eadoa gave Cyr a halfhearted slap on the wrist.
“Talk like that and Chaos will take your tongue. Set the table for tea.”
Cyr took iron goblets from the cabinet by the fireplace.
She set four on the squat wooden table.
“You’ve always told me how dangerous and dirty and untrustworthy necromancers are. Why would you invite one to dinner?”
Cyr knew that some of the wealthier families on the islands sometimes hired spirit specialists to purify land tainted by bloodshed and other such problems. But choosing a necromancer for such a task was like using a flaming arrow to get rid of a spider. They were overpowered, volatile, would set a lot on fire in the process, and it still was never certain they’d take care of the problem.
Add that to the fact that, as far as Cyr could tell, there were no especially disturbed spiritual goings on in the area. Not that Cyr had ever told her parents about that. Maybe she would let them know about her spiritual talent, if she could ever manage to find a way of phrasing it that would reassure them; she didn’t want them to think there was danger of her sending any army of the dead to kill someone or run off into the wilderness and lose her humanity.
Her mother set down the cast iron stand on the table and set the steaming teapot onto it.
“What if he tries to scam us?” Cyr said, setting out the jar of tea leaves and silver spoons.
Eadoa scoffed quietly to herself and focused on folding the napkins.
“He’s not going to scam us. Not this one.”
Cyr sat at the table and put her hands over her mother’s. Something wasn’t right.
“Please, Mother. Why is he here?”
Eadoa looked up and into her eyes. There was physical quality to their line of sight, so taut and real it could be plucked like a guitar string. She opened her mouth but before she could say anything, the door from the outside opened to Father and the stranger; Father was talking, loud and happy.
“—And you’ll be amazed at how much Cyr has grown. He’s started puberty. His voice is dropping already.”
“A challenging time for everyone,” the necromancer said in a quiet, scraping voice like wind-blown branches. He smiled patiently at Father, then spotted Cyr and the smile dimmed.
“Ah, and there he is. My son. As we live and breathe. Cyr, this is Necron. Innu. You probably don’t remember him, but he helped us through some hard times when you were young.”
Cyr felt Eadoa hand on her shoulder, squeezing protectively.
Innu smiled but his eyes were still as dark and untouched as sea caves.
“Pleased to see you again,” he said with the smallest of bows. Cyr, realizing she was neglecting an etiquette, stood quickly and bowed in reply.
“Cyr, please pour Necron. Innu some tea while Mother and I check on the roast.”
Cyr’s parents disappeared into the kitchen, creating an unwelcome void in the room. For Cyr, at least.
The necromancer gave a sigh and untied his thick brown cloak. He folded it and set it on the bench closest to the fire. Putting more weight on the table than Cyr would expect, the necromancer eased stiffly to sit on the bench, straining and groaning like an old man. An old injury, perhaps. Cyr checked his aura for injury, but her ability with auras was basic and the stranger’s was way too complicated to decipher.
Cyr moved the necromancer’s cup to his new seat.
“Do you prefer your tea strong or weak?”
“The stronger the better.” He smiled again. Cyr noticed the twigs in his hair. There was even a cobweb.
Cyr scooted him his tea.
“Thank you.” He reached his long white fingers out of his robe and pulled the tea closer. “It’s been a long journey. Loooooong walk.”
Cyr filled the remaining three cups and took one for herself to sit down across from the necromancer.
“Where did you travel from?”
“Oh, nowhere specific,” the necromancer said. “Though, I have been working near the cliffs of late.” He sipped his tea and sighed. “Ahh. Splendid. Your father tells me you have been seeing apparitions.”
Cyr visibly jerked.
“Was he mistaken?”
“No, I guess not,” Cyr answered. “I just…I didn’t know he knew. I haven’t told anyone.”
Innu nodded. “These things have a tendency to out themselves.” Sip. “What kind of things do you see?”
“Ghosts, sometimes.” It felt like a dirty topic. Cyr glanced at the kitchen to make sure her parents weren’t listening. “And the light around people?”
“Fascinating.” He crossed his legs with another of his haunting smiles. “I’m not much of an aura-reader, myself. I don’t have much application for it in my professional life. Can you interpret them yet?”
“Not very well. And I can’t see them clearly unless I concentrate. Hard.”
“That’ll improve with practice. So, Cyr.” Innu leaned forward over the table. “Tell me, how many spirits are in this room and how do they present themselves?”
Cyr examined the dark corners and the walls that ghosts liked to hide in when they came around. She looked back to Innu and his splotchy aura. The necromancer wasn’t giving any hints.
“I can’t see any,” she confessed.
The smile grew and Innu rapped his knuckles on the table.
“Good, because there aren’t any. That was a test. You would be surprised how many potentials will point to spirits in all the places there aren’t, just to impress.” He sipped his tea. “Then again, you wouldn’t. The amount of children pursuing apprenticeship in necromancy is pitiful.”
Cyr couldn’t help but feel proud of his success with the test. “Have you had many apprentices?”
“Stone gods, no,” Innu replied, then laughed at a private joke. “You’ll be my first. But I have worked with spirits for many years, so you needn’t worry.”
The ease that had been creeping up into Cyr’s stomach slipped and fell. Far.
“Well, necromantic talent is scarce and even those who have it often don’t care to develop—“
“No, about me being your apprentice. I’m not. I don’t even know you.”
The smile was gone. The dark center of his aura began to bleed red.
“Didn’t,” his voice was quiet, uncertain, “didn’t your parents tell you?”
The kitchen door opened and Cyr’s father emerged with the roast and potatoes, followed closely by her mother with the plates.
“I hope you’re hungry, Necron. Innu,” announced Daduin.
“Please, just Innu is fine.” The red dimmed to a manageable pink, puling at the corners. “That pheasant smells as good as new life, but you did not need to feed me.”
“Nonsense,” said Daduin. Eadoa didn’t look at Cyr as she set the table. “It’s the least we can do for our savior.”
Innu cleared his throat, uncomfortably. The pink began to fester. “Talking of which, I was under the impression young Cyr was aware of his apprenticeship.”
Cyr’s parents looked at each other. Innu eased between them.
“Was he not the one who asked to be trained?”
They didn’t answer. Cyr couldn’t take it anymore.
“Could someone please let me know what’s going on?”
Innu broke first. “I was told that you had abilities and that you wanted to travel with me, to learn necromancy. As my apprentice.”
Cyr threw down her fork. “No. I can’t believe this! First, you know I see spirits, which thank you for telling me by the way, and now you’re sending me off to become a necromancer, without even telling me?” She looked into their faces, begging them to correct her and say she was overexaggerating.”What happened to ‘necromancers are dangerous and immoral’? Why do you want me to be one all of a sudden?”
“Innu, I swear, we never said such things,” twittered Father.
Innu held up a hand. “Not even necromancers like necromancers. It’s quite all right.”
“Why are you sending me away?”
She recalled the looks of the townspeople, fearful and repulsed. Their empty house. No guests, no friends, no work for Father.
“Are you ashamed of me?”
“Of course not,” said Mother, full of shame. “We just…” She looked to Daduin for help, but he had already shut off. “We just…we don’t know how to help you.”
“But I don’t need any help.”
Another glance at the shadow of her father.
Eadoa clasped her hands, looking very small. Her voice was even smaller.
“It’s what’s best for everyone.”
“Have I been causing problems? I’ve helped you sell our swords in town. I’ve stayed up all night to watch the furnace. I’ve trained in the art of ridire. I…I’ve been the perfect son. I’m supposed to—you can’t take my inheritance away from me.”
“No one’s taking anything away,” Daduin returned. “It’s only temporary. And then, when things have blown over—“
“Blown over? What’re you—“
“Your talents,” Innu butted in. “As you well know, necromancers don’t make many friends.”
“You leave tomorrow morning,” said Daduin. “That’s the end of it.”
Cyr was silent. There was nothing more to say, only pained looks to give.
Food was pushed around plates, but no one ate. Inside Cyr’s head, the idea grew like a tumor: she hadn’t done anything wrong.
A/N: Part 1 of Necromantic is only a few chapters from being done, and in celebration, I wanted to share a bit more of what I’ve been working on with you. I’m very excited for where this story is going. I hope you enjoyed this first chapter!