To Serve Their Turn

Alice felt Twelfth’s unyielding arms scoop her, A Librarian, Nik and Aidra up, and then she was running, carrying the four of them along the road, faster than a horse, faster than a car, clawed feet clacking on the cobblestones.

Behind them, receding into the distance and out of earshot, she heard a bubbling, gurgling laugh, echoing through the trees. It sounded far too much like he’d survived being hit that hard.

– – –

Necromancy is an art that, to an extent, involves the puppeteering of dead flesh, to make it move like it was living. A lesser-known and much-reviled technique (even among necromancers, hardly strangers to bizarre and reprehensible magic) is to use these techniques on still-living flesh, to seize control of the bodies of one’s victims, to contort their limbs and to break their bones. One would have to be downright insane to attempt to puppeteer one’s own body in this manner, and have a near-impossible level of focus to use it if one’s body has been damaged so badly that this is the only option to move.

And so, once he’d finished laughing, Syrk started to stand himself back up. Commanded by the mind, the bones moved amidst the flesh, creaking and popping as the broken edges moved back into place. He stood, rising like a grisly marionette from the forest floor, dark blue blood dripping into the leaf litter. His head flopped forwards, his neck realigned with a crack and his eyes flickered alight again, into a rotten-sodium glow.

The shattered bones of his hands found their places, and he watched the group disappear off into the coiling mists.

The torn and ragged edge of his tongue moistened his lips, and he smiled. “Flight it is, then.”

– – –

Twelfth ran continuously, seeming never to tire as she pelted down the road that wound through the forest. If she craned her neck, Alice could see Red, gliding alongside them, feet disappearing into a cushion of rust-coloured haze that seemed to serve as his form of propulsion. Occasionally, he nervously glanced back into the thinning mist.

“He’s really gonna get back up from how hard Twelfth hit him?” she asked loudly over the wind of their passage, once she felt combobulated enough to do so.

“He’s called Syrk the Deathless,” Red replied dryly, “and you don’t get a name like that by not surviving worse.”

Can’t Aidra see the future?” she yelled.

“Much as it pains me to admit,” came Aidra’s voice, from out of sight somewhere in Twelfth’s grasp, “I’m not infallible.”

“I’m not sure I recognise the name,” said Nik.

“Syrk is… a very dangerous necromancer, and old enemy of Gyran,” Red said. He spoke distractedly, half an eye on the road ahead as they shot along.

“Should we get Gyran to come help?” she asked. “I think I still have that emergency contact thingie around.”

Red grimaced. “Best not. We’ve put some distance in, and once we’re closer to civilisation, he’ll back off.” After a pause, he added a “Probably.”

 

They burst out of the fogbank suddenly, a grey and indistinct vista giving way near-instantly to the full vibrancy of the forest. Clouds moved above them in odd, organic patterns, but they were the odd and organic patterns that they normally moved in. Behind them, the unnatural fog stood like a sheer wall, unmoving beyond the slow swirling beneath its surface. They slowed to a walk, as the fog didn’t seem to be advancing, and Twelfth let the rest of the group down.

“He’s gonna chase us forever, isn’t he?” said A Librarian, resignedly.

“Probably,” said Red. “What is that now, three groups or individuals of ill-intent chasing us?”

“I feel so very popular. Maybe I should make merchandise,” said Alice.

I ran from the White and the Grey, Syrk the Deathless and the Council of STAR, and all I got was this lousy t-shirt.

“You know what, Aidra, yeah.” She turned to Nik. “Anyway, how long till we get to this Aqua Region?”

“Er,” he replied, looking around for a long moment, “we’re still on the Natterjack Road, so it shouldn’t be too much longer?”

Eugh. Don’t you have, like, beasts of burden you can ride, to make long walks like this quicker?”

“Well, this is a short walk, but for longer travels, you could hire an Atmazatl. They’re like… big pale salamanders we put howdahs on so you can ride them?”

“Very big axolotls,” said Aidra, helpfully.

“That sounds adorable!” she exclaimed. “Why didn’t you tell me about those before?”

Nik looked baffled by her outburst. “You didn’t ask?”

– – –

As Syrk floated forwards, he felt the tingling agonies of feeling coming back into his limbs, as the slow-working charms he’d cast knit the flesh back together. The preserving necromancies that infused him meant that he didn’t have to worry about rushing his healing – all the better for him, as he’d never really been any good at it. It wasn’t the prospect of repairing people that excited him, and the Thanatopolis schools where he’d learned the Art weren’t overly concerned with healing, being as they were in the second capital of the Realm of Death Themself. Bones stuck together into a semblance of their original position, and the eye that had been nearly full-dislodged from his head by the blow that Bookbinder had landed on him slowly crawled back up his face, pulled up by the unfraying nerve and twitching muscle. Little bits of life, or a close imitation, were blooming through his battered limbs, and the steady drips of cobalt ichor from his various wounds were starting to slow and scab over. Within a week, he’d be complete, if covered in an absolute mess of scar tissue. He sighed happily. Bookbinders were such excellent pieces of machinery and artifice, of course it would take a Demiurge like Tarlûlaaork to envision such an idea. A slightly better hit would have taken his head clean off, and that would have taken hours to adequately repair, once he’d shrugged off the braindeath.

This little host to divine destruction had friends to protect her, and it was going to be fun to dismantle them.

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