There were many more people capable of necromancy – and other, less narratively relevant forms of magic – than were advertising their services in The Black Pages, and more still that were practising the art with any sort of meaning. Magic was widespread and mostly unused, the necessary suspension of belief and untoward intention required to perform the most basic feats escaping the general public. It was probably better this way.
Not everyone who knew about magic could practice it. Nor could everyone who wanted to be a necromancer successfully raise the dead.
Herman Nulty refused to accept the reality of his predicament. He had thus far been incapable of bringing even small birds back to life, yet here he was: a stone circle, candles, a burning picture of innocence, and all the intent to raise his long-dead father from the grave.
It wasn’t working.
“Rise, damn it!”
The ground shuddered in response. He had never witnessed a successful necromantic ritual. He assumed this was normal.
“Rise, I said. Rise!”
Dirt exploded out of the way of a skeletal fist. Herman watched the rest of the arm push its way out, followed by a skeleton in a black suit, with a plum tie hanging loosely around its neck. The skeleton’s clothing was loose, a belt holding trousers up, shoes barely clinging on. His father had been a trim man. There was nothing of him here but the bones.
“Dad?” Herman asked tentatively. “Is that you?” The skeleton did not respond. Herman raised a hand, and the skeleton mimicked him. It had no eyes – no light for eyes, even, like he thought might happen if he failed to bring them back. It had no organs. The suit was rotted through in places. “Say something,” Herman intoned.
The skeleton’s mouth wagged voicelessly.
Even in death, his father was a source of anger for him. Herman punched at it in a temper, and the bones shattered. It wasn’t quite like getting hit by a car. It would be more accurate to say that the bones of Herman’s father attempted to redecorate the graveyard with explosive force and only the very dust that formed its old bones to work with. Herman coughed through the calcium cloud as the remnants of his father’s suit – shreds – fell to the ground.
“What the heck?” he yelled, before hacking up a calcium-phlegm ball. “What sort of necromancy is that?”
Herman had inherited many things from his father. The capacity for magic, for one, and a temper that could only be tamed through sheer and utter destruction. With the bones exploded beyond recognition, there was nothing else to aim his fury at. He swallowed it, held it inside, tried to stop it wrecking the whole graveyard – his superstition outweighing his anger, in spite of his earlier intentions – and recoiled in pain.
His arms were bleeding.
It took him a few minutes to realise why, and that didn’t help. Sharp spikes were pressing through his skin. Spikes made from bone. His arms shook as he tried to make sense of what was happening, which only made the jarring of bone against flesh more intense.
The sensation spread down to his hands, until his hands had turned to claws of bone and blood. The spikes continued to extend from his arms, until they more closely resembled rose thorns.
Like his father, Herman had been a trim and slight man. His arms were ruining the illusion, bone ripping muscles and fat, skin and veins apart, until everything hung limply from the shoulders done. He was screaming, though he couldn’t remember when he’d started, and the pain in his arms was gone.
He realised, with some considerable willpower, he could move his arms, even flex his fingers and bend his elbows if he wanted to. He was still bleeding from the shoulders, and he thought about blocking off the veins with bone. It worked, to a degree, though the pain remained.
Silence returned to the graveyard.
He walked with slow and determined steps, careful not to accidentally destroy his legs while he walked, or stab himself with the thorns along his arms. “This isn’t necromancy,” he said to himself, and he wasn’t wrong. He stopped at another grave. He didn’t know this person. He tried to will the skeleton to rise, and it felt like it was working. At the same time, though, his arms became less mobile. Whatever the limits of his powers, he thought he had discovered them.
He really needed to keep his legs, now.
He left the skeleton half-out of the grave and allowed his arms to move again. With a tug of inhuman strength, he reefed the bones from the earth, holding them up – and together – with a sort of cruel determination. The same magic that gave his arms mobility also gave them power, though he wasn’t sure he long he could keep it up. Magic had its limits.
Herman held the bones in his claw, and willed them to dust. It was less dramatic than when his father’s skeleton had spontaneously exploded, and he was sure his temperament and the force of the magic he had thrown into it had had something to do with that, but he was, mildly, successful. The bones fell apart in shards, rather than dust, cracking under pressure.
The ordeal left Herman’s own arms limp, and the rest of his body weak. He collapsed to the ground, sweating and panting for breath.
“So that’s that,” he said to himself. “No blood, no muscle, no skin, no soul. Just bones.” He looked at his claws and his spiky, thorny arms, stained red by his own blood. “I could make this work. Maybe. If someone’s looking for a living weapon. Or a freak show. Or to break a few bones.”
His mind was awash with possibilities.
He was almost over the idea that he was inept as a necromancer. He had almost accepted that he looked like a monster. He had almost retained his sanity. Almost.