Prologue to Necromancy

Well folks, Necromancy, the sequel to Alchemy, is officially underway – and here is the first installment. Tell me what you think! (News updates & apologies for the months of silence coming soon).

* * * * * * *
A low wind whispered across the disturbed surface of the Last Sea, drawing the heavy fog swirling into its wake like the ripples left behind by a water-snake. The night was almost white with mist, blocking vision and hushing noise.
It was, thought Kriegan O’shn, captain of the fishing trawler Merspin, a Kuneth of a night to be out at sea.
“Take the depth,” he murmured to the mate. No sense risking running onto a shoal in this fog. They called the depth to him from the prow – deep, and too deep to anchor.
“Drop all sail,” Kriegan ordered. “Set lights fore and aft.”
He had been at sea in fog like this before, perhaps a handful of times since he was a boy. The sense of unreality it brought had not lessened: he was strongly tempted to believe the world had vanished, that nothing existed anymore besides the water, the mist, and his boat.
A pale glint over the side caught his attention. Kriegan stepped to the rail and leaned over, peering closely at the restless darkness that cradled his ship. Something looked disturbingly like a skeletal human hand had stirred against the surface from below.
“What the Kuneth,” he muttered. It was probably just a piece of sea-whitened wood.
“Man overboard!” called the mate from amidships. Abandoning all thought of the strange bit of driftwood, Kriegan ran to the mate’s side just as one of the crew was saying,
“Poor chap’s dead already!” then, after a pause, “E’s not one of ours, anyhow.”
Kriegan removed his hat, mimicking the other men. Both statements were true: the waterlogged face of the dead man drifting by the side of the Merspin was the face of a stranger.
“Captain!” one of the other crew cried hoarsely, pointing into the water beyond the corpse.
Kriegan stared. Four more corpses, all in different states of decay, were floating partly within sight. He thought one of them had just surfaced.
He made his way slowly to the prow, walked the opposite side and back up to the tiller. His sailors were all staring into the foggy sea in horror: it was as if they had sailed into a graveyard with no digger. Dead men floated placidly in the water around his boat on every side. Most were little more than skeletons. Even more were rising silently from the black depths as he looked, until the sea was brimming with corpses. They moved oddly in the lapping water.
“Trouble not the living with your victims,” Kriegan muttered, addressing the sea. Even as he spoke the air crackled gently, as if with distant lightning. The shades of each dead man leapt suddenly out of nothing, each hovering over its body. Kriegan reached for the tiller to keep from falling as his knees gave out in shock. The shade of the mustached sailor hovering off the port side was gazing blankly right at him. His crew had stumbled back from the rail with involuntary cries at the apparitions’ coming.
After a moment Kriegan realized that the shades’ attention was not on his boat or crew. They were all facing north-north-east, and after a few minutes they began to drift actively in that direction. They did not walk through the air – most of them seemed to fade below the waist, and did not appear to have feet – nor did they appear blown by some unearthly wind; they simply moved, each at his own pace, incorporeal arms swinging freely at their sides. Unlike their corpses, their bodies and clothes looked as perfectly intact as they had been at the moment of death. All around the ship, shades were moving northwards through the fog. More appeared, following the first Kriegan had seen, a ghastly pilgrimage that continued as far as they could see and farther. The fog, which he now realized had been gradually thinning, rolled away and lifted in a sudden gust of east wind, revealing a now-moonless night bright with endless stars.
For a moment Kriegan felt completely disoriented; his ship appeared not at sea, but in the middle of the crowd. Shades, rushing north-north-east, covered the surface of the water. Faster and faster they rushed as more and more appeared like bubbles over the water, like the Last Sea was surrendering the memory of every life it had ever claimed.
The silent, expressionless host swept past the Merspin for the better part of the night, abandoning eternal vigil over their remains for whatever thing had called them forth. When they had gone, their corpses sank beneath the waves once again.

Not until gulls cried with the first rays of sun did Kriegan and his crew hear or make a sound; they had not moved from their places since the shades appeared. Now, as dawn warmed them, they began silently to go about their work, unable to look in each other’s faces, not knowing what it was they had seen.


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