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The Tender Art of Raising the Dead (Fantasy Short Story)

"Look, I know this looks bad, but I can explain!"
The guard was a massive man. If I didn't know any better, I would've assumed he was descended from a mountain.
"Explain what?" he said. "You were in a graveyard and skeletons were coming out of the ground. There is no possible way you could explain this."
Ah. Good point.
I tugged at the collar of my long robes. Sweat dripped down my back.
"Believe it or not, I'm actually trying to help your town."
"What?" he said. "You just desecrated my mother's tomb."
He pointed at the tomb next to him. A skeletal hand was poked out of the grave and waving around wildly.
I stared at the skeleton. It halted its movements and slowly pushed itself back into the ground.
"So, there's a logical explanation for all of this," I said.
The guard rolled his eyes and stepped closer. His spear was extended and pointed threateningly towards my chest.
"Wait, listen!" I shouted. 
He halted and raised a single eyebrow at me.
"Your town–" I said. "There's been a famine, right?"
There was a second of silence.
"Yes," he said. "What's it to you?"
I gulped. This was always the toughest part.
"I'm a necromancer. I raise the dead, right?"
"You're not really helping your case."
I shook my head rapidly, swinging my arms around at the same time.
"No, you don't get it!" I said. "It's not just dead bodies I can raise. I can raise dead plants, dead animals, even certain types of fungus."
The guard's eyes narrowed.
"Are you suggesting that I let you through to our dead crops for you to work your foul sorcery?"
I shifted my feet.
"Well, I wouldn't call it foul, but you have the gist of it."
The guard still had his spear pointed at my chest. After a few seconds of staring at me, he sighed and put away the weapon.
"I've heard rumors of you. A necromancer traveling across the coast, searching for people in need." He said. "I just wanted to be sure you were the real man."
I crossed my arms and frowned slightly.
"You could've just asked," I muttered.
He raised a single eyebrow.
"Well, the stories described you as a silent rock the size of whale-bear," he said. "You have the physique of a child."
I smiled awkwardly. "Huh, those rumors are pretty wild! A child, c'mon!"
For a second he stared at me. I tried my best to meet his stare. He then nodded.
"Ah, you are a child."
I immediately shot back. "I went through my aging ceremony more than thirteen cycles ago!"
He stared at me, completely deadpan.
"Obviously," he said.
I turned back and rolled my eyes.
"Listen, we gotta know each other's names."
I stuck my hand out for a handshake.
"I go by Dothan," I said.
He gripped my hand with his own.
"Jensta."

I picked up the blackened grain. It crumbled into dust before I could even bring it to my eyes.
"When did it start?"
I heard Jensta sigh behind me.
"It was about a season ago when it was noticed. We quarantined the remaining plants, but it was too late. In just one dawn the whole crop was destroyed."
"That's unusually fast," I muttered. "Even for the worst diseases, it shouldn't take so little time..."
I took a deep breath with my eyes shut. After a few seconds, I released my breath and opened my eyes.
"Jensta," I said. "I will need you to step into the grass, off the crop."
Even though Jensta didn't respond, I felt him moving off the field.
I put my hands together as if to pray. My eyes shut and there was nothing but darkness for a few seconds. Purple started to dance at the edge of my vision, telling me that it had already started.
I felt a cold hand grasp my heart. Sweat built up on the sides of my temples.
I opened my eyes. The formerly blackened crop had turned into a lush sea of green wheat.
The muscles in my leg gave up and I fell to the ground on my knees. I barely managed to catch myself with my hands.
I coughed and blood came flying out. I grimaced at the sight.
Footsteps echoed quietly from behind me.
I coughed a few more times then lifted up a single hand behind me in a stopping motion.
"I'll be fine, it just takes a lot out of me."
There was a beat of silence.
"I don't recall asking you anything," said Jensta.
My jaw dropped open and I turned towards him.
"Why would you say that–"
Another cough. No blood this time, thank the goddess.
I took a few deep breaths. Once I felt some strength return to my limbs, I stood back up. Feeling the blood on the edges of my mouth, I rubbed it with the sleeve of my robe.
"Hey, kid," Jensta slapped me on the back, causing me to wince. "You did well."
I turned back to make a witty comment when a flack of grain in the wind caught my eye. It was black, the same black the dead grain had been. I slowly stepped back towards the field and picked up one of the stalks.
It was already turning black at the edges of the stalk.
"I thought you were supposed to be some kind of hotshot necromancer," said Jensta.
I rolled my eyes.
"It's not my art that's the problem." I rubbed my fingers together. "It seems that something is actively draining all life available from the surrounding area."
I heard Jensta make a choking noise behind me.
"Are you saying what I think you're saying?" He said.
"Indeed," I said. "Another necromancer."
Jensta stepped up next to me and sighed.
"It can never be simple, can it?" he muttered. "Sometimes, I feel as if we are characters in a badly written story."
I turned towards him and tilted my head.
"What do you mean?"
He looked out over the blackened grains. He was silent for a minute. I stared on.
"It's nothing." He said. "Nothing important, anyway."
Jensta turned his head away.
I stared back down at the grain.
"We won't be able to do anything about the grain until we take care of the source."
"I don't suppose you have some kind of magic to track whoever's doing this?"
I nodded.
"Normally, this would be quite a bit harder," I said. "But this guy wasn't expecting me."
I shut my eyes. After a second of this, I opened them. In front of me were white lines symbolizing the residue life left in the area.
My eyes locked onto a large trail leading into the forest. I stepped forward to follow it. As I stepped forward, I stumbled over nothing. My eyes widened as I caught myself just before falling. My breaths turned ragged and short, locking me from moving.
For a few seconds, I remained like that before I moved my legs and nodded to myself. I took a shaky step forward before a voice stopped me.
"What was that?" said Jensta.
I continued to face the forest.
"It's just the aftereffects. Once I recover some more mana, I'll be fine."
I didn't hear a response and stepped forward.

"Is it just me, or is it getting colder?" I said.
I drew my hands around myself. A breath escaped me and my eyes widened as it left as a vapor.
Jensta stepped forward and placed his hand against a tree. After a second, he drew it back and hissed. I took the opportunity to sit down on a large rock.
"It's almost freezing," he said.
"That makes no sense," I said. "It's summer. I've had to deal with enough flies to fill up a small town."
I paused and put my finger to my chin. 
"Well," I pursed my lips. "It would be a pretty small town. Like, mouse-sized or something."
Jensta's eyes darted between the trees.
"We won't be able to go much further if it gets any colder," he said.
"Could you imagine a village of mice?" I put my two hands out parallel. "They would always be in danger from getting crushed."
Jensta drew in a breath and shut his eyes.
"Unless, of course, they lived underground, but then–"
"This is not the time," he said.
My eyes widened before I made a quiet 'oh'. I smiled while my eyes squeezed.
"Yeah, sorry about that," I rubbed my neck as I spoke.
Jensta turned away and looked out towards the tree-line.
"I don't suppose you have some kind of ability to magic up a pair of whale-bear furs?"
"That's conjuring," I shook my head. "I never bothered to learn."
"Well," he turned around. "We'll have to head back to town and get some kind of protection."
I nodded. We were soon on the move, back towards the town.
It had only been a few minutes of walking before I stopped in place.
"Jensta, isn't that the same rock I sat down on?"
Jensta turned towards the rock I was pointing at. He stepped closer and kneeled down.
"That's ridiculous," he dusted the rock off. "Here, I'll mark it so we know."
He pulled a knife out of his boot and carefully marked it with a plus. After that, he turned towards me and nodded.
"Let's go." He said.
We walked for a few more minutes.
So if you have a town full of mice, I thought. They would need barricades and ah nuts there's that rock.
I held my hand up in a stopping motion. Jensta turned towards me. I pointed at the rock to our side. He stepped forward and looked at the rock.
"Well," I heard off to my side. "That's not good."
"Ahhh crud," I muttered.
"You have any clue what exactly is happening here?" said Jensta.
"Magic," I said.
Jensta sighed. "I was hoping for something a bit more detailed."
I smirked and leaned down toward the ground. I pressed my hands to the ground and opened my ears.
After a few seconds of this, I shook my head.
"I thought whoever had done this had attached their soul to the forest," I grimaced. "That's the simplest way to pull off something like this."
Jensta raised his eyebrow. "But?"
"If that had been the case, it would've been easy to disrupt this. A normal soul isn't designed to be attached to a forest." I paused. "But..."
"He's using something different?"
I nodded. "And I have no clue what it could be."
"Ah," said Jensta. "That's not good."
My fingers rubbed against my temples.
"These kinds of space-time shenanigans should be impossible without the usage of a soul." I kicked a rock. "Nothing else is capable of generating that kind of power."
Jensta paused. He put his fingers to his chin. I turned towards him and tilted my head in confusion.
He looked towards me.
"How do we know that this is actually happening?"
My eyes widened before I burst out laughing. Jensta narrowed his eyes. I smirked and avoided his gaze.
"How do we know we aren't just brains floating in space?" I shrugged. "Who knows?"
Jensta rolled his eyes.
"That's not what I'm asking," he said. "How do we know we can trust our senses as of now?"
I stopped laughing and turned towards him slowly.
"You're suggesting this is some sort of illusion?
He nodded. 
"We know our senses are unreliable," His eyes searched the forest. "Is it so strange that they may be deceived?"
"Normally I would object on principle," I grimaced. "Unfortunately, it looks like I'll have to make an exception."
"Look," said Jensta. "If we are deceived, can you break this illusion?"
I placed two fingers to my chin. After a second, I sighed.
"I suppose if I can figure out where the magic is coming from," I said. "We might have a shot."
Jensta nodded.
I smiled and cringed slightly. A book strapped to my backpack seemed to grow heavier as I spoke.
"In retrospect," I paused. 
I could feel Jensta's eyes drilling into my head.
"Yeah, starting to wish I had paid more attention to other fields of magic," I said.
Jensta stared at me.
"Me as well," he said.
My smile tightened and I turned away. Leaning down, I swept aside some branches. Deciding to make myself comfortable, I placed my backpack on the ground and sat next to it. I was about to pull out my knitting materials when a voice interrupted me.
"So that's it?" said Jensta. "You're done?"
I frowned.
"The idea will come to me," I said. "It always does."
"Oh, it will?" He snorted. "And how long will that take? Hope I haven't died of starvation by then."
I stood up rapidly. Fuming, I marched over to him and poked a finger into his chest.
"What exactly do you want me to do!?"
He flinched slightly at my raised voice but otherwise stood still.
"I want to get out of here, that's what I want."
"Well, I told you! I'll figure it out–"
"I saw your shoulders tense," he said. "You have a solution, you just don't want to use it."
My breath caught in my throat. Denials tried to slip out, but they froze in my mouth. Something told me that they would be no good.
I sighed. It was already too late. This split-second hesitation had given him everything he needed to know.
"In theory, I could set off a kind of magical bomb to wreck the entire enchantment."
"And?"
I bit my lip nervously.
"Odds are, even a small blast would be enough to shut the whole thing down."
Jensta narrowed his eyes. "So why aren't you doing it?"
I breathed in slowly and stared him down.
"I would if I could.
"Be clear." His speech growled a little at the end.
"I..." I grasped for words. "I just can't."
He made a tsk! noise with his tongue and turned around in a huff.
"I'll try to find a way out of here."
I reached out my hand to try to stop him, then stopped, and lowered it back down. His back faded into the distance as I stared on.

I kicked a pebble. It smacked against a tree then fell to the ground. I sighed and lowered myself to the ground. I rubbed my temples then sighed.
"Always gotta do something like this, don't I?" I muttered.
I leaned my body back, staring at the now red sky.
"Well, I should probably just figure out how to break this enchantment already."
My spellbook seemed to call to me from my back. I idly reached behind me and pulled it out. I stared down at it blankly. It was a thin, pathetic thing. I hadn't any need for something heavier, as I wasn't a magician.
Magic Chalk was strapped to the side. I continued to eye it. All I would have to do is pump energy into the ground. It would naturally attract itself to one of the circles involved in this spell and boom, problem solved.
I sighed and placed it to the side. If there were no other solutions, I'd fall back on that.
"Remember what master taught me," I said. "I need to play to my strengths."
I slapped my palm against my head.
"The only problem with playing to my strengths right now is that it's probably gonna kill me."
Items crashed against the ground as I dug through my backpack for anything of use. Writing utensils, needles and thread...
My phylactery, a simple jar with a gentle light. Its dim glow reminded me of little 'me' there even was at this point.
"This really isn't gonna work," I muttered.
My eyes widened and I slammed my hand against my head.
"Just send out a probe, knucklehead!"
I put my items away and placed my hands on the ground. Slowly, information about the life near me filtered in, bit by bit.
Tree, tree, mushroom...
After a few minutes, I spotted it.
It was like a blot of purple on an otherwise bright painting. It was small, very small. Smaller than any normal human soul had a right to be, but it was there.
I grit my teeth. I knew this man.
"Regus," I looked directly ahead of me. "Let's stop these silly games."
Footsteps echoed behind me.
"Ah, apprentice number one!" He said. "It's been so long since our last–"
"We met less than a week ago."
I heard the man stiffen. I fingered the spell in my pocket, slowly packing energy into it.
"Yeah," I laughed happily. "You say the same thing every single time, no matter the form."
Teeth were grinding behind me.
"You were responsible for the destruction of my other selves, were you?" He sneered. "If you think you'll get away with such a thing, I'm afraid that you're sadly mistaken."
I put a finger to my lip.
"More verbose than usual," I said. "Most of the other ones were silent, like the original."
A laugh bubbled up behind me. It started out slowly, then grew until he sounded as if he was clutching his chest.
I frowned. This was unexpected.
"Oh, oh my!" he said. "You don't know, do you?"
A gulp went down my throat. Only a bit more mana and the spell would activate.
I attempted to retain my rapidly deteriorating confidence as I spoke.
"Know what?"
"You've only faced off against those glorified batteries, haven't you?" he said. "Only a thousandth of the original, nothing more than a glorified cow!"
My eyes widened and my voice got caught in my throat. I choked it down. I slowly turned around.
He was wearing the same robes I had. Unlike me, his hood was fully pulled up, protecting his face.
"And how much are you?
"I shouldn't grant the opponent information," he said. "But I'll make an exception for my number one apprentice."
He grinned
"Enough to grind you to dust."
My senses screamed at me and I dived to the side. A blast slammed into a tree, sending shavings flying through the air.
I rolled to a stop and raised my hand. The spell activated and mana pumped through my body, strengthening it beyond normal human capabilities.
A dagger slipped out of my robe and I rushed forward, the wind flying past my cheeks.
I stabbed, only for him to dodge to the side.
He made a clicking noise with his tongue in disappointment.
"I thought I taught you better," he said. "Body enhancement isn't your strength, boy!
He stepped forward and punched me in the gut. Stars exploded in my eyes and I went flying through the air. My back collided with a tree and I fell to the ground.
I gasped for air desperately. 
He shook his head.
"You can't even be honest with yourself," he sighed. "But I suppose you've always been that way."
He stepped up to me and kneeled down. I shot him a glare. He sighed.
"Even now, you could still stop this," he said. "We used to work together for a common goal, remember?"
He reached his hand out to me.
"Stop this foolishness, old friend."
My eyes were shut.
Then I reached out and bit his fingers. Hard.
He drew them back and grasped them in pain.
"You little–"
I reached out with my dagger. He attempted to dodge. The dagger just barely shaved him.
He stood away from me panting, a hateful stare directed towards me.
I grinned.
"Not happening, teach!"
He didn't say a word, instead raising his palm in my direction. A ball of light suddenly appeared. After less than a second, it flew at me like an arrow. My legs shot into action, but I could tell they would be too slow.
I shut my eyes, anticipating the end.
Nothing?
I slowly opened them back up to find a figure surrounded by a cloud of dust. The dust cleared away and I was able to make the person out.
"Jensta!"
"The illusion was dispelled as soon as you started fighting with this guy," he said without turning to face me. "So, you wanna take this guy out?"
"Oh, please," Regus laughed. "This kid's already exhausted his Resua. He can't even move, much less cast a spell."
Jensta simply pulled out his spear and stood firm, squatting his legs.
I tried to call up a spell, but I didn't have enough life energy to do anything. I grit my teeth and tried to stand up.
Regus shot off another light spell. Jensta dodged to the left, letting the spell land in a bush behind us.
I slowly managed to get up and gripped my dagger. I still had a few seconds left of body enhancement.
My legs smashed against the ground. Regus' eyes widened for a split second before attempting to move to the side. His hands blurred as he punched at me. My dagger moved up, to face his hand. His eyes widened again and he froze, just managing to avoid the dagger to the hand.
I thrust forward, into his chest. The dagger sunk in with a sickening squelch. I let go without a word.
He slowly stepped back, clutching his chest in obvious pain. As he did that, I stared at my hands. The faint blue lines signaling the mana pumping through them began to fade. I grimaced.
The pain smacked me in the head like a sack of bricks. I fell to the ground clutching my head. One of my hands moved up to my mouth in an attempt to block the vomit itching its way up my throat.
Jensta ran up to me and clutched my shoulders. I tried to listen to him, but the ringing in my ears overpowered any attempt to focus.
After a few seconds, it finally faded and I could make out his voice.
"If you're dying, can I have your stuff?
"Nice to see you care–" I gasped as another wave of pain hit me.
"I can't believe it," Regus muttered. "You're already completely exhausted. I thought it was a trick earlier, but you're already this diminished."
Jensta turned around, instantly on guard. I grimaced. Regus still had the dagger impaled in his stomach.
"You haven't taken in any Resua at all, have you?" said Regus. "Not even from plants or trees."
His eyes sharpened. "You're barely a flicker of a flicker. There's almost nothing left in you."
"Well, considering that everyone else went insane doing that, I figured it was–" I clutched my chest in pain and groaned. "–ill-advised."
He shook his head. "Insane, maybe. But at least they're not dying."
Jensta's initially neutral mouth slowly turned into a deep frown.
"What's he talking about?" he said.
"He thinks I'm dying," I clutched my chest. "Which is technically true, but we're all dying, right?"
Regus sneered. "He has less than a year. Probably less with that stunt he just pulled."
Jensta shook his head. "That's not really what I'm concerned about."
My jaw dropped open.
"I'm on verge of death and, what–" I had somehow gained the energy to stand up and wave my arms around. "–you aren't the slightest bit concerned?!"
"I'm more worried about your relationship with this individual."
I raised my hand to object, then paused. I furrowed my eyebrows.
"Huh," I said. "That actually makes sense."
"So, explanations?"
I rolled my eyes.
"I was his apprentice," I said. "Day of my initiation, I would've been forced to kill someone. I chose not to, and here we are today."
Jensta narrowed his eyes.
"I get the feeling that there's a great deal of context missing in that.
Regus cut in.
"Yes, and you'd be correct. However," he paused. "You'll be dead in a minute, so it doesn't matter."
Jensta barely had time to blink before a flash of light blinded him.
A dull thud entered my ears as I looked away from the light. A second later, I looked ahead and saw Jensta's body on the ground.
"Ah, nuts," I muttered to myself.
"And after having defeated all the batteries, the brave apprentice finally falls to a magnificently dressed and good looking–"
"Magnificently dressed?"
He paused and looked over at me.
"This is kind of a moment for me here," he said. "Can you please not ruin it?"
I put my arms up in an exaggerated shrug.
"Look, I'm just saying," I said. "Dark cloak is suuuper cliché."
Regus' eye twitched at my comment.
"You're wearing a frock," he said. "I don't think you have much ground to stand on."
"That is true," I raised my finger. "However!"
Regus waved his hands in a 'continue speaking' motion.
"I don't think fashion makes much of a difference when you're dead."
"I'm not gonna die, boy," he said. "In case you haven't noticed, you're the one on the ground, and the other guy has a knife in his chest."
I put a finger to my lips.
"Well, that would be the case if not for the mana shield I slapped onto his front about twenty seconds ago," I said.
His hands instinctively reached for something in his pocket. "Really, your attempts to stall are rather pitiful–"
He fell to the ground clutching his chest.
"Jensta, grab my knife and stab whatever's in his left pocket!"
His hands blurred as they reached for my knife. He reached for Regus' pocket and pulled out a fancy-looking pocket watch. Jensta looked at the embroidery before tossing the whole thing in the air and slicing at it.
White flashed across my vision as the pocket watch cracked and shattered. Smoke floated up in the air.
"The dagger is enchanted," I gasped for breath. "It can cut through magical bindings."
Jensta narrowed his eyes.
"Wait, couldn't you have used that to dispel the illusion in the forest?"
For a second everything was quiet.
My eyes slowly widened.
"Wait, could I have–" I pressed my fingers to my temples. "No, maybe? I..."
I trailed off.
Jensta shrugged.
"So," I sighed. "Guess this is goodbye, huh?"
"No."
"Huh?"
I stared at him in shock.
He nodded, seemingly to himself.
"Someone needs to keep you out of trouble."
I didn't say anything.
Then I grinned.
"Jensta," I said. "I think this'll be the start of a beautiful friendship."

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