30 Oct 2014

The Day Before All Hallow’s Eve

Readers! Welcome to the Magical Realm of Alex Stargazer. Mr Stargazer’s book—the Necromancer—will be out tomorrow at Witching Hour. He will now try to convince you to pre-order it. Please nod attentively while he talks—he’s a bit long-winded, is Mr Stargazer, but he has found that you lot do (for some reason; the world is a baffling place) like his ramblings, so here we go...

Okay, Mr Stargazer: What’s It About?

The plot is much too complicated for poor old me to adumbrate. Mr Stargazer is very long-winded, you see; and he always did take KISS far too literally.

Since Mr Stargazer would feed me to a basilisk if I don’t write anything about this (yes, there are basilisks in it) I’m going to say that it has magic (plenty of that), undead (far too many of those), Necromancers (yes, plural), along with elves—cool, sexy, dangerous ones, not garden variety stuff—and ghosts (who’d have thought?) and faeries and dragons and... did I mention the flying zombies? No? Well, it has those too.

Most of all though, the Necromancer is about losing yourself to power—the power to change, the power to be eternal, and the power to kill.

Why Should Buy this Instead of... Fifty Shades?

Well, Fifty Shades doesn’t have flying zombies and talking trees. Also, all the other stuff tends to be written by adults (booooring!) instead of crazy teenagers. Did I mention that? Well, Mr Stargazer is sixteen. But don’t despair! He got the top grade in English. (Quick, change the subject: he’s muttering profanities...)

Anyway... are you listening? I don’t write for nothin’ you know. Mr Stargazer pays me with star dust. Worst employer in the world...

Anything Else?

The Necromancer is available for pre-order on Amazon and Smashwords. And it costs just three quid (five bucks for you Americans) so it’s not like you’d lose much. If you didn’t like it, that is. And you will like it, won’t you?

But I digress. If you like magic, elves,—and even a little romance—buy the Necromancer. You won’t regret it. Here: read an excerpt.


AN INTERVIEW WITH THE NECROMANCER

He enjoys fear, I think. He enjoys it: no man would dare surround himself with the things if that wasn’t the case. Once, he might have thought them macabre; but now, he arranges them in artful circles, as if to mock the Creator’s hand.

Perhaps there’s practicality, too, I think; for what better way to defend against his (no doubt numerous) foes?

And yet, I don’t believe it. We’re too far, here in these mountains forsaken by the he; and no one would be stupid enough to attack him in this Castle of the Damned.

There is a certain grandeur about it, I admit. There is something... majestic, in the way it cradles that giant of a mountain; a child enmeshed by motherly love. It is a tall thing, too: its roofs hang in seemingly impossible angles, daring those who would intrude; its windows are easily taller than Herculean heroes, and its tower—well, let’s just say it might be a very long flight of stairs.

I wonder why he bothers with the gate. Made from what can only be steel—though it drinks the light like the wraiths he undoubtedly has hiding—it is capable of withstanding (with adroit ease) anything a catapult can throw at it. (Not that you could ever get a catapult up here—those ravines would eat you and keep the bones.)

Speaking of bones, he does have a propensity for skeletons. I see them holding bows on the roofs, by the gate, and hidden carelessly behind rocks. Dragethir would have been more practical—flying is a useful ability here besides a drop into nothing—but skeletons did have a knack for defence which no other creature of their kind really possessed.

It’s a good thing I don’t have to fight them; for if I did, my plangent wails would find no solace among these inhuman giants of rock and ice. The wind would laugh as it buried my remains into forgotten memories.

(Assuming, of course, that the Necromancer wouldn’t turn me into his pet.)

I began walking. The wind promised me release from its inhuman embrace, though I was not foolish enough to believe it. Ice crunched under boots hardened by years of use. The cold battled against clothes enured in its merciless grip.

Dusk was falling; night was approaching. Then the dead shall rise.

A smile pulled against an alabaster face. My eyes—bluer than the streams which would gurgle here in summer days—twinkled with irony. The dead have already risen. It is now merely a matter of meeting their creator.

*

With every step, the dead parted. With every thought, their hunger strengthened. With every imagining of grisly ends, they seemed to smile all the wider.

Stupid creatures, I think; they know not what life means. Their master’s rule is absolute. (Or so I hope.)

I would have knocked, but I was spared the triviality; the door invited me in. The Necromancer knew I was coming. Of course he did: he knew everything. He was the master of these dead forests and lifeless rocks. That was part of his curse. He was the master of those who wielded no thought—he was, in a sense, master of nothing.

The castle wasn’t fully complete yet: there was a wall halfway through the right corridor, which lead to the pit. The Necromancer had strategic sense. No point in building the least vulnerable parts first.

Granite lay underneath; it was fashioned into large bricks, with a white cement in between. They were aligned perfectly (the dead were good at that), though they were ever so slightly curved upwards—it was more comfortable that way. Who says Necromancers don’t live the high life?

The doors promised entry to places unseen; the ceiling was made from a dark winter wood, and had engravings of deer... and other, less natural beasts. I wouldn’t hazard a guess as to how good the craftsman must have been. The Necromancer’s tastes are stunningly well-developed; and the fear of death has spectacular purchasing power.

“Necromancer, where art thou? Your home is too vast for poor me to comprehend.”

“I’m in the throne room. And don’t be so theatrical—I’m the Lord of Histrionics here.”

I smiled. He sure did have a sense of humour. Narcissistic, too; even kings did not meet in their throne rooms for such personal matters.

The door—made from a single oak that must have taken a half dozen undead to carry—opened silently.

Black granite—cut to perfection—comprised the floor; rough granite the roof; and dark rimmed windows shone cold light onto the throne. It was a beautiful thing: a base of (you guessed it) granite held a carving of ancient trees. Gargoyles—posing as if to scare away admirers, though redundant in the face of his awesome power—gripped elegantly curved armrests.

When he rose, I saw enamelled red and gold on the backrest. It was an almost... modest feature. Who hid their gold? (Hint: those who have more than they can ever find use for.)

The Necromancer himself, of course, was the real pièce d’resistance. Robes of the night’s dark hand enmeshed unblemished skin; writer’s hands held an artefact of war; and hair forged of wrathful shadows graced crystal blue eyes. He has the stark beauty of Winter, I think; he is the envy of lustful men, and the terror in tremulous hearts.

I do not lie to you: he inspired desire. And I preferred the fairer sex.

“Not looking too shabby for a hundred and eleven, eh?”

“Indeed.”

“Oh, don’t be a bore. You don’t want me to get bored. I might feed you the Dragethir—they enjoy their snacks, the big hungry bastards.”

This provoked a laugh. Even the wielders of unlife must have some from time to time. Raising all those undead is a tedious business.

The stronger ones are more fun.

Can you read my mind?

No, you are merely transparent. Come.

“Do you have less... vainglorious quarters?” I asked, reverting to speech.

“Naturally. This place does get a bit overwhelming.”

I followed him. We passed the main door (the only point of entrance—the stairs led up the tower) and then did the same with several smaller ones. Eventually, we stopped. Telekinesis was the Necromancer’s choice of opening doors; undoubtedly, pure physical means would have been indecorous for one of his power.

“You go first; I think you’d like exploring this room.”

“I don’t want the lion behind me.”

“The lion can jump you anytime he wants. Besides, if I let you go after, you’d have to close the door. And that’s not as easy as it looks.”

The door was indeed made from steel. It was difficult to notice everything in such constant darkness; a feature which the Necromancer probably felt added to the atmosphere. As if it wasn’t disturbing enough.

This time, he closed it with his hands.

A metallic smash. A ringing of unyielding steel against indefatigable stone. The Necromancer had used too much force—accidentally, it seemed. He is not in full control of his body, I realised. I knew why: he was Lichtr. A lich. And a recently transformed one at that.

It would have been a weakness, if it wasn’t such a damn strength.

*

I can see why the Necromancer wants me to explore, I think; for these books—with their minimalist covers of gold on black—would surely tempt those who have lived for as long as I.

But he does not know me. Four hundred years of tenacious life has taught me this: tempt the devil and he shall come. Enter a realm of darkest magic, and their seductive promises shall forever fester in your heart.

The rest of the room was beautiful too. Shelves of dark wood—now plated in silver by the light of a full moon—lay on a stone floor decorated by Northern warriors fighting deathly figures. They weren’t winning.

The windows were in the form of a triangular ark; a style perpetuated by ancient fortresses of the north. (They were deemed too overwhelming for lords these days.) I could see little more—I had not nearly the same capabilities of sight as he.

I had started to notice a chill. And I wasn’t talking about the one of death. (That would forever remain indelible.)

“Is a fire in order?”

“Yes,” I admitted without preamble. He may be dead, but he still remembers the plight of the living. Maybe he can be saved. I doubted it, but one could only hope. Certainly, he will not be salvageable once his magic truly eats into his soul, I think.

The Necromancer walked towards the fireplace. He attempted smooth elegance, but succeeded only in appearing unnatural. Once, he might have rivalled the most magnanimous of monarchs; but now death had inculcated a sense of... other. No amount of good looks could change the fact that his heart no longer beat.

A flash of blue. A taste of ionised air.

The fire was lit.

“I would have used fire, but you know…”

“That your kind no longer has that ability? Yes, of course I know. You are not the only Necromancer I have met; one finds many in four hundred years.”

He raised an eyebrow. “Four hundred? And capable of only telepathy and that dream power of yours?”

“Who says I was not merely being polite?”

“Oh please. Whatever you are, you must be very powerful to have lived so long; and clearly if that power could translate into fire… you’d have burned us all down by now.”

A clever one, I thought. I have met only one other like that, and he didn’t build his castle so big. Or maybe this one just has a bigger ego.

“Necromancer, we did not discuss about interviewing me. We talked about interviewing you.

“Indeed. Let me begin by telling you by name: Neshvetal.” He smiled, ever so thinly. The orange glare of those flickering flames held no sway over the coldness that lay in his eyes.

“It is a harsh name,” I say.

“I had a smoother name, once; and I despise it now, for it fooled those who should have known better.” No fruit could temper the bitterness in his voice.

“You have talked about… your loss. In your dreams.”

“I don’t remember.”

“Perhaps not. Few do. Dreams are like that.”

“I shall have none now that I am Lichtr.”

“Everyone dreams, Neshvetal. Every time you gaze off into the distance; every time you see not the world around you, but something… different. Strange. But somehow beautiful.”

“You see beauty. I see death.”

“There is beauty in death.”

“She wasn’t pretty when I found her.”

“Tell me more.”

Again that bitter smile.

“Would you enjoy a drink?”

“You have drink out here? And for that matter, can you even taste it.”

“A little,” he replied; “and I have everything out here. I have my own flying footmen.”

Ah, the Dragethir. I have never seen a Necromancer with as many and as large. He has truly mastered their creation.

I wondered if he was lying about the drink. Liches weren’t supposed to taste anything. Then again: he was recently turned. And he was probably even more powerful than Anathós, who was rumoured to have enjoyed drinking the blood of his victims before Raising them. (One wonders if vampirism and Necromancy can coexist. I couldn’t say. I’ve only ever met two vamps. And they didn’t exactly want to chat.)

“Here’s the Amarús. I think it’s ten years old.”

He poured me the drink in the crystal he brought along. Its dark brown veneer made warm fusion with fire light; and if the Necromancer hadn’t been with me, I would have felt cosy.

“It tastes as good as it looks,” I complemented.

“There is... a mellow taste to it. I am reminded of those yellow things—what were they called? Fudge, ah yes!”

So he wasn’t lying, I realise. And the world of the living still has a place within.

“Did you know about the baby?”

He froze.

“Of course I did.”

“Do you know if he still lives?”

“My wraiths have been trying to find out. It seems so. Though it’s a she.”

“Do you want to see her?”

“I am dead now. Fathering is an instinct long gone.”

A hundred and eleven, I think, and still not a perfect liar. And such a classic giveaway, too: a twitch of a mouth.

“Would you live again for Araya?”

“Who wouldn’t? But even I—greatest of all Necromancers—have not the power to bring her back.”

“You’re very modest.”

“Do you know of any other Necromancers?”

“Fair point.”

“She died fighting, you know. The silvers tried lying to me... but they were a little too afraid of joining the dead to pull it off.”

“Do you keep them around?”

“I don’t like being reminded of past things. The future is what I want to see; I want to taste the sweetness of possibility, and to possess the knowledge... that I will be lord.”

“I don’t think Araya would have wanted you lord. You’ve twisted her memory into ambition; and now your own lies are fooling you.”

Blackness surrounded me. Snarling faces of utter hatred barred teeth of a thousand lost souls’ pitiful wails. Ice seduced my soul; death promised release in the servitude of evil.

“They say the wraiths devour souls,” said the Necromancer. “I think they really devour your mind, and leave your soul here to fulfil my wants.”

“I speak the truth, Necromancer,” I replied. Of course I feared the creatures—I knew the one closest saw his sister raped, and wanted me to feel that—but somehow I knew the Necromancer had taken enough criticism in his long life to rise to a little bait.

I am a prescient being; and rarely am I wrong. Though if I am, now sure is a bad time to die. (Isn’t it always?)

“Get rid of them, Neshvetal. Or put out the fire. No point wasting wood.”

He laughed, and the creatures vanished.

“It seems you can predict the actions of even the most fickle beings.”

“You are fickle, yes; but predictable, too.”

“I never could tell what Araya was thinking.”

“And that, my dear man, is the source of all this madness.”

“Begone, oh silly fool.”

“I have a better idea. Come with me.”

I never moved a muscle in that fateful time. Dreams are subtle in their awesome power.

*

We stood on the highest peak, on the coldest lake, and in the grip of most inclement howling storms.

There was no sun. There was no moon. There was only the perpetual light of imagined possibilities; a veil from which fear and wonder sprung as equal partners.

“Where are we? And for that matter, how the hell did we get here?” asked Neshvetal.

“I think you know.”

“Dreams.”

“It seems you’ve managed to learn something over all these years.”

Iridescent fire burst from dead hands. They caressed with teeth that could never bite.

“You do not control the dream; the dream controls you.”

“Wise fallaciloquence from the one who controls the dream, oh Master.” Yes, sarcasm was a favourite of his. And he was definitely mad: only lunatics don’t fear for their mind.

We gazed across the peak. It was a pointless exercise. Impenetrable mist obscured what could only be infinity. It was the arbitrator of existence; the incarnation of being; and the bequeather of knowledge.

I almost did not notice when it began to part. But it was there: in the eddies of wind; in the slowly approaching light; in the feel of a presence.

What a fantastic memory, I think. How perfectly he recalls those eyes of gold—and that unblemished shade of peach that is her skin! How truly she smiles; how utterly believable it all is!

“Neras.” She spoke little, but said much. No word could match for disapproval or longing; no utterance could convey the million contradictory emotions of a being like her.

“Araya, dear, do tell me more. I haven’t heard you in a while. Dying is so inconvenient, isn’t it?”

“I see you’ve kept your sense of humour. I can almost envision falling in love with you again. In fact... I still love you. I really do. But I hate what you’ve become.”

“I killed only the criminals. The rapists, the murderers... the monsters.”

“So that you can make them the monsters they could never become?

“Don’t answer me. You think you are right now, and maybe you are; but in time, you shall forget me. You shall not remember how I reprobated murder. How I always believed the ends do not justify the means.

“It shall consume you, Destres.”

It was with his truest of names that we left the dream world.

*

“And so the interview is over,” says he, while pouring himself another glass of Amarús. (I don’t why he bothered: the whole bottle couldn’t make him drunk.)

“Indeed, oh Lover,” I replied.

“You know too much for your own good, you know,” he says, before proceeding to down another glass.

“In all the ages that I have lived—in all the crimes I have seen, all the destruction that has been wrought upon this fateful continent—danger found me when I knew least.

“You do not know how very doomed the path you walk is, Neshvetal. No Necromancer has ever retained full sanity; no wielder of the dark arts could be called a hero and not a villain. Are you arrogant enough to think you will be different?”

“Perhaps I want to be bad. To wreak havoc and fear among those who did the same to me. Perhaps I am tired of being that hero.”

“Or maybe you’re no better than those Wraiths.”

“Leave, oh Master of Dreams,” he commanded.

And so I did. I would meet him again, that I was sure of. Question is: would he be on the side of the light, or the dark?

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