Hey! It looks like you're new here. You might want to check out the introduction.

No Prompt! Have Fun! · Original Short Story ·
Organised by RogerDodger
Word limit 2000–8000
Show rules for this event
The Necromancer's Wife
The sun was setting as Peter walked into the graveyard to visit his dead wife.

Bright autumn leaves swirled around granite headstones and rustled across close-trimmed grass, slowly browning in the long, hard autumn nights. They cast blocky shadows in the fading light, cutting the path into jagged chunks of light and darkness.

Peter strolled through the orderly memorials, eyes skimming over half-corroded names and dates. He liked graveyards, the quiet emptiness, air filled with neatly arranged memories and farewells.

Maybe it was a necromancer thing.

He wound his way slowly along the gravel paths, until he stopped at a small crypt. The brass nameplate gleamed brightly: 'Sabriel Wade'. The construction was nondescript, a small concrete bunker with a wrought-iron gate worked with roses. They had been enameled blue, once, but now they were flaking and black. He produced a key and opened the lock easily, despite its age.

He walked down a half-flight of stairs, and pulled an electric torch out of his pocket. A few twists had it glowing, and he set it on a nearby ledge, casting a cool glow over the interior. A chest-high pedestal in the middle held a wooden casket, slightly worse for the passing of years, but still sturdy. He placed his shoulder against the lid, uncaring of the dust that smeared on his black suit-coat, and heaved. It swung open easily.

He looked down at the body inside. Every year he came here, she looked the same. It was to be expected, perhaps; the spells he had laid here were powerful in their own right, and he maintained them scrupulously. Brown curls, salted with gray, framed a face pleasantly worn with years. Delicate hands were folded atop a rose-red dress, elegant but practical.

He drew in a deep breath, and raised a thumb to his forehead.

"Take a breath." His voice was scratchy in the autumnal silence. "You're going to die." He exhaled, pulling his power to the forefront of his mind. A plume of vapor shot from his mouth, curling in the air. He moved his hand, pressing his thumb to his dead wife's breastbone. The twist of mist whipped forward, snaking into her mouth.

She drew a shuddering breath and coughed once.

"Sorry, dear." Peter smiled and stepped back as she groaned and raised her arms feebly. He grasped her hands and gently pulled her upright.

"Brains," she moaned.

"Heh." Peter smirked. She smiled back.

"Has it already been a year?" She coughed again, hacking gravedust from stiff lungs. The color in her cheeks rose as her heart slowly began to beat.

"Mmm." Peter offered her a shoulder, and she leaned on him as she climbed out of the casket. "Did you sleep well?"

"I was dead, Peter," she said helplessly.

"Of course." His reply was noncommittal.

"You know this isn't safe." Sabriel stepped away from him. "I wish you would stop."

"It's our tenth anniversary." He smiled, with a touch of loneliness.

"Oh, Peter." She sighed, but smiled. "Happy anniversary, dear."

He smiled and reached into his coat-pocket, withdrawing a small box of chocolates.

"This isn't fair, you know." Sabriel accepted, with a wry smirk. "I haven't gotten you anything."

"It's alright." Warmth filled the air for a moment as their eyes met. Peter offered his hand. "Shall we go for a walk?"

"Lets." Her hand was corpse-cold in his, but he held it tightly.

They stepped towards the stairs, and walked out of the small crypt.

They wandered the graveyard as the sun sank red in the west. Tall, leafless trees scraped skeletally at the sky, and they spoke of small, inconsequential things. The city, held back by the tall wall that segregated the living from the rest, brightened and began to move sluggishly as dark rolled in.

"This is the last year?" Sabriel pressed gently.

"Of course, dear." Peter's reply was absentminded.

"You sad that last time, too." Sabriel huffed.

"I meant it last time, too." Peter's smile was guilty.

"This isn't healthy, Peter."

"I know, I know."

"You should move on. Find someone else."

"Easier said than done." He shrugged, and spread his hands. "Besides, where am I going to find another necromancer?"

"You could teach them." A fond smile surfaced on her face. "Like I taught you."

"That's hardly fair." He chuckled darkly. "We learned together, you and I."

"And we both knew what we were getting into." She sighed. "You, however, were always the smart one."

"It was an accident, dear." He shook his head. "I don't…" He sighed. "I don't blame you."

"Anymore." Her smile was wry.

"Anymore." His smile was warm.

"It's good that you've forgiven. But at some point, Peter, you'll have to let me go, too." She tucked a stray curl behind an ear as she stared up at him, hazel eyes gleaming in the twilight. "I can't stay like this forever, you know. One day, I'll start breaking down." She spread her arms. "I wasn't young when I died, and even your embalming wards can only hold back so much. If you haven't released my soul by then…"

"Yes." Peter nodded solemnly. He reached into a pocket and pulled out a glass vial, holding a twist of brown hair. "You were so close."

"Close only counts—"

"—In horseshoes and handreading."

"Come now, I'm certain that some palmists have real power." Sabriel turned, looking out over the city, and leaned on his shoulder. "After all, we do."

"Zombies and ghosts." Peter snorted. "No wonder necromancy is so feared." Hesitantly, he offered her the vial. "This is the last time, I guarantee it. Take your phylactery back."

She accepted slowly. "Very well." She held the vial up to the dimming sky. "Then I guess this is…" She paused, her eyes going distant.

"What?" Peter's brows furrowed.

"Do you feel that?" She waved a hand vaguely.

He frowned, and quieted his mind. His wife, being dead, was naturally more sensitive to death magic than he was. He stilled his thoughts and concentrated. At the edge of hearing, a scrabbling, shrill sound slowly seeped into his consciousness.

"That's nearby." His frown deepened. "Someone's burning mandrake."

Sabriel nodded, a frown appearing on her lips. "We need to go."

"Mmm." He turned, and they started back towards her crypt.

As they walked, the otherworldly noise grew.

"That's really near." Peter paused for a moment. "I wonder what…"

"Peter." Sabriel's hand plucked at his sleeve. "You want to investigate, I know, but this won't go undetected. If they're burning mandrake, they're going to break the seventh circle. The authorities are going to be here."

"But not immediately." He frowned. "Otriving isn't a large town, it's not like—"

"Peter." Her gaze was serious. "You're the smart one."

"Look, dear. If someone's testing their power in this graveyard, there's no way they're up to anything good." He frowned. "Sure, the legal mages will show up soon, and they can probably shut them down. But I don't think Otriving has a pyromancer, so they're hamstrung from the get-go. If a necrotic spell gets out of hand, there's going to be casualties, fallout. If we catch them before they get too far along…?" He raised an eyebrow.

"You're too compassionate," Sabriel growled. "If you get caught, and with me here the authorities could hardly overlook you, you'll get the same treatment as any outlaw mage. They don't care one whit about necromancers; why should we help them?"

"I know you're worried about me, dear." Peter smiled helplessly. "But if we simply leave, won't that reflect poorly on necromancy? This isn't going to be a small problem."

"…Fine." Sabriel huffed. "You're going to get yourself in trouble, I know it. But if someone's really raising a horror of ghosts here…" She grit her teeth. "If you're willing to risk yourself on it, I'll follow you."


They both stiffened for a moment, as the ethereal screeching intensified.

"Something's changing." Peter frowned, and they both turned towards the sound. "Let's go!"

They jogged through the graveyard, suit and dress ruffled by the chill breeze. The burial ground wasn't very large, but it did have small, rolling hills and a few copses of trees, not to mention the occasional ossuary or crypt that blocked sight. As they neared the opposite wall, not far from the gate, Peter smelled smoke.

"That's mandrake, alright." He wrinkled is nose at the acrid smell.

"Hssst!" Sabriel hissed and pulled his arm, yanking him into the lee of a tall tombstone. "There!" She pointed forwards, to where a flickering fire cut through the rapidly darkening evening. A somber figure stood by it, carefully tending the spell he was building with twigs and scraps of magical material. Fresh piles of dirt surrounded him, lines bright on the short grass and a discarded can of spraypaint marking his intention clearly.

"That looks like… a zombie plague," Peter frowned. "This isn't good."

"Going for the old stew-and-chew?" Sabriel's eyes gazed out over the town. "By the size of the array, most everyone will be shambling by morning."

"Right, let's do something," Peter mumbled. He reached into a pocket and withdrew a scrimshaw, a little bundle of twigs and feathers. He looped his fingers into the thread, and spread it wide.

"Freeze, necromancer." He froze as he heard a gun click behind him.

He glanced at his wife. She nodded slightly. He dropped the scrimshaw, and slowly raised his hands over his head.

"Turn around slowly. Keep your hands where I can see them." The voice was low and quiet.

He turned, and found a blue-uniformed woman staring down the sights of a police-issue revolver. He frowned slightly.

"Officer, while I understand that this might look—"

"Quiet!" the woman snapped. "You're under—"

"Sabriel." Peter's voice was firm. "We don't have time for this."

"Right." His wife stepped forwards, shielding him with her body. He nodded and turned back to the fire.

"Stop!" The policewoman yelled.

"In a minute." His wife's voice was calm. "We're here to stop that madman. Please—"


Peter flinched, nearly fumbling the scrimshaw as the gunshot went off. The necromancer at the fire jumped, nearly upsetting his spell. He looked around wildly.

Behind him, Sabriel grunted once. A shocked gasp and the sound of metal hitting the ground followed, before scrabbling and panting arose.

Peter tuned it all out as he spread the scrimsaw. He raised his power, feeling it swell in his brain, a green glow that flickered in the back of his eyes and lit the tangle of strings and geegaws.

"Do not go gentle," he intoned. Green fire flickered from his fingertips, searing across the network and throwing fierce, dancing shadows on the ground. He raised his hands, framing the fire and the fumbling magician in it. "Break!" He yelled. His power surged, and a sound like shattering glass filled the air. His spell roared out, a gout of green fire flowing into the air, curling over the brown grass and searing it black. The paint laid out there darkened, bursting into flames which flashed along the lines and sigils, roaring into columns at the buried totems and sparkling as the energy captured there effervesced in seconds.

The necromancer at the center of the formation staggered, the fire he was tending flashed and flared. He stumbled back as the heat hit him. His gaze snapped over towards Peter, and for a moment, his eyes were clearly visible as glowing green coals.

"Peter!" A voice behind him called his attention back, and he spun. The police-woman, in the moments he'd been distracted, had been struggling with his wife. Sabriel was strong - both physically, as a living corpse, and as a necromancer, so he was surprised to find the conflict wasn't over yet.

A mage, he realized, as the officer blocked a crushingly strong kick with a palm strike, scattering blue sparks into the night.

"Enough!" Peter snapped, raising the scrimshaw again.

The policewoman's eyes narrowed, a frown flashing across her face. But she didn't stop moving; instead, she leaped backwards, fighting for distance. Sabriel closed, but a sudden surge of magic threw her off. The officer raised her palms, and Peter saw them glow again, that blue light outlining every crease and wrinkle with electric luminance.

"Holy—!" He dropped the scrimshaw, throwing himself backwards as a spell screamed off her hands, a doubled-palm of blue power zipping towards him, fingers cupped to grasp and crush. It grew as it moved, and he barely avoided it. He rolled and sprang to his feet, eyes darkening.

"Because I could not stop for death," he called, holding his hand high. His power surged again, leaving him slightly breathless as it ripped up his spine, arcing through his arm and wrapping his hand. It flashed upwards, coagulating into a glowing green blade, narrow and elegant, sharp and segmented like a spine. It had no handle, and blood trickled down his palm as he grasped it. He leveled it at his opponent. "He kindly stopped for me!"

The next blue-glowing strike was met with that pointed blade, and flashed to nothing on its green edge. Peter stepped forwards, flicking the sword left and right as he scattered strike after strike. After a moment the policewoman spun, obviously intending to flee, but Sabriel stepped in, blocking her path.

"Enough!" Peter pointed the sword at the mage. "We don't intend to harm you, miss."

Silence descended for a long moment. Finally, Sabriel drew a deep breath, and stepped back.

The mage relaxed slightly at that. She sized the two of them up cautiously.

"Names?" She asked.

"Peter Wade." Peter bowed slightly, waving his blade out. "Necromantic grandmaster."

"Sabriel Wade." His wife smiled gently. "Necromantic master, decimal litch. And you?" Her smile sharpened.

"Cynthia Moire." She paused.

"Cheiromantic?" Peter probed.

"Um." The Cynthia blinked. She looked suddenly disarming, as the ferocity drained from her face. She was slightly plump, and dark hair frizzed over her uniformed shoulders. Wide eyes gave her an innocent face, and she blinked owlishly behind wire-rimmed spectacles.

"That was obviously palmistry," Sabriel said. "You don't think we wouldn't even recognize another outlaw mage, do you?"

"Necromancy, cheiromancy, and omoplatoscopy." Peter grinned. "The three black arts. Head, hands, and heart. You weren't drawing on natural power for those strikes. And since you're not changing size and going berserk, I guess you're not a scapulomantic."

"They don't necessarily—" Cynthia began, but stopped with a cough.

"Dang." Sabriel swore gently as she looked to where the magefire was still flickering behind them. "He's gone."

"Eh." Peter shrugged. "I shut him down pretty hard."

"Um." Cynthia said.

"Right." Sabriel turned back. "Cheiromantic?"

"Cheiromantic journeman." She smiled weakly. "Hydromantic master."

"Not a bad choice." Peter rubbed his chin. "If you're infiltrating the police, then—"

"Hold on, hold on." Sabriel stopped him. She turned to Cynthia. "Why are you here, and are you really an officer?" She smiled disarmingly.

"Erm." Cynthia paused, looking at the two of them, but eventually sighed. "Alright, I guess… I guess we need to talk about this. Right. Yes, I'm with the police. Really with them, I mean. I'm a licensed cheiromantic."

"…you can get licenses?" Peter's eyes narrowed.

"…sorta." Cynthia scratched her cheek. "If you're willing to swear some oaths, take some bindings. It's not too bad, but they want some insurance."

"Beh." Sabriel spat. "Hypocrites. As if the internal magics are somehow worse than the external. Pyromancy! Take pyromancy for example, those bastards can immollate—"

"Enough, dear." Peter cut her off gently. Given the opportunity, his wife would rant for hours on how the three dark schools were unjustly oppressed by the four elemental schools. "You know how dangerous the first few steps of any necromancer can be. If we hadn't had each other…" He glanced backwards, to the desecrated spellfire behind them. "Well, I have no idea what I'd have done, but it wouldn't have been pretty or simple. I'm sure the other dark magics have their own pitfalls."

He quirked an eyebrow at Cynthia, who nodded slowly. "As you say." She shrugged. "Well, I can't speak for scapulomancy, obviously, but palmistry is… dangerous."

The two necromancers shrugged and nodded.

"Anyways, officer… what now?" Peter's voice was hesitant. He tightened his grip on the glowing blade he still held, feeling blood ooze from his palm and trickle into the blood-gulch, which greedily absorbed it.

"Hmm." Cynthia tightened her brows. "My mark has escaped, and you two…"

"We promise to be good." Peter smirked. "And I promise to not spread word that the Otriving police department is working with dark mages. Pinkie promise."

"Peter." Sabriel stopped him. "Don't be flippant. Cynthia, we apologize for interrupting your… whatever you were doing."

"A trap, of sorts." Cynthia frowned. "That mageling… we were fishing for his teacher."

"Oh." Peter frowned, realizing. "No wonder you jumped us so easily."

"Wait, 'we'?" Sabriel asked, gaze flicking around.

"Eh…" Cynthia scratched her cheek. "We've got this place surrounded."

"So even if we hadn't…" Sabriel frowned.

"It would have been fine." Cynthia shrugged. "We could have stopped a zombie hoard. But now…" Her gaze flicked past them. "That mage, even if he's not very experienced, he's a necromancer. You're damnably hard to spot with magic, and he's likely gone. No offense."

"It's fine." Peter sighed, and turned. He walked over to the spellfire and flicked his sword, scattering the embers and extinguishing what little necrotic aura was left. Grass withered and died as the ash spilled, but the soft earth soaked up the magic and diffused it harmlessly. He ran a finger through the charcoal, heedless of the heat, and raised it to his nose. He sniffed once, deeply, and his lip curled.

"Pfaw." He turned to his wife, and held out his hand. "Dear, check this, will you?"

Sabriel took a whiff, and scowled as well. "I think I recognize that…"

"Mmm." Peter wiped his hand on his pants, then sighed, remembering he'd worn a suit today. For a moment, he smiled at the incongruous picture they made; he and his wife and formal dress, arcane energies and blood smearing them, forming an uneasy truce with a police officer.

Cynthia had collected her firearm, and was casually inspecting it as they talked. "Listen, you two." She frowned and holstered the piece, turning and catching their attention. "What are you intending here? I'm sure you realize this, but I can make your lives very difficult."

"You would need evidence, no?" Peter smiled, and the sword he was carrying vanished. As it did, his magic power dwindled, shrinking and curling up in the back of his head until it vanished entirely.

Cynthia simply pointed to Sabriel.

"I don't count, dear." Sabriel smiled. "I'm dead. What, six and a bit years now?" She nodded across the graveyard. "My crypt's over there. I'll be back in it before sunrise, or I'll be ash. Either way, I won't be walking again. I said I was a decimal litch, and that's the truth; I can walk one day a year. That's about to run out, though." She scowled slightly. "You've interrupted our anniversary celebration."

"Ah." Cynthia's expression darkened, confronted with bald-faced denial.

"Well," Peter shrugged, "it's not like we're trying to cause trouble."

"Quite the opposite, in fact," Sabriel added. "We've been laying low. But my darling husband here insisted that if we didn't act, we'd be 'darkening the name of necromancy further'. So we came over to see what we could do."

"Actually, this thing you've mentioned…" Peter coughed. "Licensed cheiromancy?"

"Really?" Cynthia's eyebrows rose. "That seems a little out of character, for a necromancer."

"Perhaps our reputation for pride isn't unearned." Peter smiled, and flicked his hand, banishing the blade he'd summoned. "But that doesn't mean we can't be reasoned with. If I could get a dispensation to practice my art, I'd gladly assist if asked."

"Hmm." Cynthia's brow furrowed. "Well, it doesn’t quite work like that. But perhaps we can negotiate something."

"Good." Sabriel clapped her hands. "Then, for starters, perhaps we can help you do something about this mageling - and his teacher."

"Ah?" Cynthia said. "How?"

"Necromancy is a fairly… small community." Peter smiled wryly. "There aren't exactly hordes of people queuing up to delve into the secrets of death. And once I've encountered the power of a rival or opponent, I don't easily forget it." He pointed to the remains of the fire. "This mage's magic is similar to another necromancer I've known, and… clashed with, on occasion." He grinned at Cynthia. "He's a real nasty piece of work. If you're planning to take him out, I'll easily offer a hand."

"I don't know if 'take him out' is what we were going for." Cynthia frowned. "I'm not sure you're approaching this with the right mindset, Peter."

"Haha!" Peter laughed. "Look, Cynthia. I understand, you're wary of me." He spread his arms. "That's smart. And I'm wary of you, of course, and the power behind you. But I really do mean what I say. I promise, on my power, that I'll help you tonight, and I won't break the law or do anything against your conscience. If I can manage that," his smile quirked, going awry, " will you put me in touch with someone who can give me dispensation to be both a human and a necromancer?"

"…hmm." Cynthia frowned, considering. Peter maintained his smile. He had sworn on his power, which wasn't an oath for a mage to take lightly; if broken, his power would shatter, and the backlash would destroy his body.

"Alright." She nodded once. "If you can really do this, then we can talk further."

"Good." Peter nodded, and a faint ripple spread from his forehead, the oath taking effect.

"However, I haven't sworn." Sabriel stepped up, scowling. "Cynthia, I'll go along with this, but… if you try to double-cross my husband tonight, I won't let you off lightly." She hacked once and spat.

Cynthia's eyes widened as the bullet she'd shot earlier bounced off a nearby tombstone.

Sabriel grinned, spreading the quarter-sized hole in her dress, right over her heart, showing unblemished skin. "I'm no weaker than him. And a damn sight harder to kill."

"Right, right." Peter stepped forwards, breaking up the conversation. "If we're going to do this, let's get started."

"Wait." Cynthia turned to him. "What, exactly, are you planning?"

"You were right in how you approached this." Peter shrugged. "If his student is threatened, Crowley is likely to show up."

"…Crowley?" Her face fell. "You don't seriously mean—"

"Aleister Crowley." Peter's smile grew. "The evilest man in the world. Granddaddy of necromancy. You didn't seriously think he was dead, did you?"

"You've… clashed with him?" Her eyes took on a new respect.

"Grandmaster, you see." Peter's voice was absent-minded as he gathered a handful of ashes into his palm. "I've been at this a while."

"I've never heard of you." Cynthia's eyes flickered to Sabriel. "Either of you."

"We never attracted much attention." Sabriel shrugged. "Terror is as terror does, mom always said."

"Heh." Peter stirred the ash. "Anyways, here's the thing. Crowley isn't chump change. I seriously doubt that this student of his really knows what he's gotten himself into, but my guess is that Crowley's using him for some reason. Probably viciously. But even if that's the case, if he's challenged, the old bat should show, if only from pride." He grinned at Cynthia. "You ready for this?"

"Already?" Her pupils shrunk. "Right now?"

"We'll never have a better chance." Peter shrugged. "Crowley's nearby; he's got to be, if his student's running around. I don't know what he's got planned for this town…" His gaze skimmed over the shattered spell formation. "But if there's one thing I can say, it's that it won't be good. This is my… our best chance to strike at him, before he realizes we're on to him." He grinned at his wife. "And one last adventure between me and Sabriel."

"Till death do us part," his wife said. She grinned back. "We've got twelve hours of being married left."

"True." Peter shrugged. "Sorry, dear."

"I told you, you can't cling to me forever." She pulled out the phylactery Peter had returned to her and held it up, before crushing it between her fingers. "There, it's done."

"Alright." A hint of sadness entered Peter's eyes. "Cynthia?"

"…Right." The policewoman nodded. "I'd call in backup, but I'm the only mage in town. Unless more guns would help."

"They'd be liabilities." Peter frowned. "Dear, would you do something about the wall? We'll need to close this place off when things begin."

"Certainly." Sabriel looked outwards, and raised a finger. "But know your hair was bound and wound," she intoned as she drew it through the air in smooth motions, leaving glowing orange streaks behind. "About the stars and moon and sun…" As she spoke, the grass around the wall lengthened slightly, stretching upwards. "Go, Peter."

"Alright." The necromancer frowned and concentrated. He glared at the ash in his hand, and blew gently on it, infusing his power into his breath as he spoke. "And you as well must die, beloved dust…" The ash curled off his hand, twisting and turning in the night air. The stars sparkled above, and it snaked through the night, curling away into the darkness.

"And that's my strike." He turned to Cynthia. "Unless I miss my guess, Crowley will feel it, and come for us. Ready yourself." He turned to his wife, a looked deep into her eyes, before holding out his hand.

"The carriage held just ourselves…" A spark of energy leaped from his fingertips.

"And immortality." She grinned up at him, and a pinpoint of orange energy floated from her hand. The lights touched in midair, twinning together and curling, until they snapped open and unfolded into a pair of swords, with green blades and orange hilts. They each seized one, then tapped them together. A bright clink rang out.

Cynthia frowned at the display, and checked her gun again, before pulling a pair of fingerless gloves from her back pocket and slipped them on.

A moment later, off to the east, a sound like thunder rolled out and a ripple of power flashed past.

"Didn't kill him," Peter said, to Cynthia's questioning gaze. "That mageling. He'll be hurt, but he should be fine until we can collect him."

She nodded.

Something shrieked overhead, swerving and skewing through the night, dark and terrible against the stars.

"And that's Crowley, going to investigate…" Peter frowned. "He was closer than I thought— Dear!"

"On it." Sabriel's voice was calm, as the dark shape twisted and turned back towards them, piercing the air with a shrill whistle. It flashed forwards, hitting the ground with an echoing thump not far from where they stood. A second later, the grass around the wall shot upwards, branching into snarls and curls and twists of intertwining leaves. It arched overhead, interlacing into a lacy net. "That'll hold him, for now."

"He's fast," Cynthia muttered. "He barely swung past where you'd struck."

"I didn't try very hard to hide my hand," Peter replied.

The shape resolved itself, slowly fading out of the night. It was a hulking creature, all spines and wings and blades and teeth, like the offspring of a chainsaw and a flying fish. It wriggled like a snake, oozing its way along the ground and between the tombstones.

"Homunculus," Peter spat. "Disgusting things. I'll take care of it." He dropped the sword, which hung patiently in midair, and raised his scrimshaw. Fire raced along his fingers, and he leveled them like pistols at the thing. He focused, and lances of flame flashed from his hands, spearing into the abomination. It screeched and writhed, knocking over tombstones in its agony.

"Well, you've finally desecrated a graveyard." Sabriel laughed lightly. "Told you we'd do it one day, dear."

"First time for everything, I guess," Peter grunted. "Break!" He spread his hands, and the lances exploded with shocking force, sending chunks of slimy flesh flying.

"Aaaaaagh!" A pained scream rose from the creature. Its struggles intensified, before they suddenly slackened. It was still for a moment, until a bulge appeared in its side. The bubble grew as they watched. Peter snagged his sword again, holding it before him as the creature's flesh split, and a human flopped out.

"Go!" Sabriel yelled, as soon as the figure was free.

Peter and her dashed forwards, streaking across the grass, jinking and ducking past gravestones. Cynthia concentrated, a blue glow gathering around her hands. She slashed with her hands, and glowing blades formed in the air before her. She flicked her fingers and they swarmed forwards, slashing at the man as he stumbled upright.

"Peter!" The word cracked through the air.

"Crowley." Peter growled in response.

"Aleister," Sabriel sang.

"Sabriel?" The shock on Crowley's face was apparent as they drew close. His eyes flicked back and forth between them, clearly wary of the blades they carried. He darted back, his long black cloak fluttering as he leaped up, up, up and landed atop the homunculus. He spread his lanky arms, an ash-gray flame rising in his eyes and pouring from his fingers in hundreds of threads.

"Cynthia, cut them!" Peter called.

The policewoman grimaced, but quirked her fingers. The blades she had shot swerved in midair, slicing upwards towards the spell.

"Too late!" Crowley snarled. The shape of the homunculus squirmed and separated, splitting into chunks. It wriggled and reshaped itself, oozing into a dozen humanoid forms.

"You've gotten stronger," Peter called, as he slashed and hacked at the group. His sword sizzled as it arced through flesh, easily severing limbs and blank, fleshy heads.

Crowley grunted, and waved his hands. The creatures began fighting back, their attacks vicious and swift.

"Peter," Sabriel called.

"Do it!" he replied.

"If I should die, and you should live," she called, "and time should gurgle on…" There was a resounding snap, and everything seemed to slow.

Crowley's expression shifted, gradually, from surprise to shock as his movements became sluggish. Sabriel smiled, and darted towards him.

"I call on the seventy-two demons!" The words were slow, but they were clear. Crowley's eyes narrowed as he spoke, grey fire rising in them. "The lesser key of Solomon, the legemeton, and the powers and principalities of the air!"

"How wonderful is Death," Peter called back, "Death and his brother Sleep!"

Crowley flinched, as specks of green power flicked out, lancing into the homunculus, but he refused to give up. "Purson, Stolas, Seere and Buer!" His movements were slow, but he raised his hands high, and power crackled in them. "Sabriel, it seems last time we met, I didn't kill you dead enough!"

"We all make mistakes." Sabriel smiled. "Don't worry, I'll be cautious."

"Urgh." Peter groaned as the power lashed out, spiraling into a long, fierce bolt.

It stabbed at his wife, lacerating her arm and searing her shoulder. Sabriel staggered, but her speed was too fast; the magic missed, at least enough for her to avoid a killing blow. Even as he watched, her flesh was beginning to heal. She leveled her sword, and lunged for the magician. "Die, Crowley!"

"As if!" He spat back. His riposte was fierce, the energy in his eyes lashing outwards and slicing at her. For a moment, it seemed like she might be blown backwards, but suddenly, Cynthia appeared.

"None can escape my palm!" the policewoman yelled, throwing a hand forwards. A blue circle lashed out, expanding until it slashed into the magician, blowing him backwards.

"Enough!" Peter yelled, leaping into the fray. His sword whipped out, meeting Crowley's neck. There was a flash of light. "Death is inside the bones," he called, "like a barking where there are no dogs!" As he spoke, his sword swayed, the joints in it cracking and separating. It writhed and leaped forwards, snarling itself around the magician with a whipping sound.

"Aaaah!" Crowley threw his head back and screamed, pale fire fountaining from his mouth. It exploded outwards, washing over the three of them. Peter blocked it and Sabriel ignored it, but Cynthia groaned, barely managing to direct half it away from herself.

Sabriel lowered her sword, to where Crowley lay panting on the grass. "There's little joy in life for me, and little terror in the grave—" her power flashed, an orange surge scorching its way down the blade as she drove it through his head.

"I've lived the parting hour to see, of one I would have died to save," Peter finished solemnly. His sword, still wrapped around Crowley, surged green. There was a moment of crackling power as the two magic's intersected, and Crowley went still.

"Haaah, haaah, haaaah…"

For a long, long moment, there was nothing but heavy breathing among the three of them.

Finally, Sabriel raised her head. Her charred arm was nearly done repairing itself. She kicked Crowley once. "You'd better take care of this bastard before sunrise, Peter."

"Yes, dear," he sighed.

"W-what?" Cynthia choked out. She was clearly suffering, blood flowing from copious cuts and slashes where Crowley's magic had hit her.

"He's not dead-dead." Peter shrugged. "It's a necromancer thing. I'll need some salt and silver, to truly bind him, but he'll be… eh. Maybe not 'fine', but he'll live for his trial, I guess."

"Speaking of which." Sabriel eyed the policewoman. "You're not going to do something silly and ungrateful, like arrest my husband, are you?"

"No." Cynthia grit her teeth. "You've helped me, both of you; we set out to capture whoever was behind that rogue mage, and we've done it. One way or another."

"Mmm, good." Sabriel looked her up and down. "Peter… I think this is it." She smiled at her husband.

"You going?" He returned a somewhat helpless grin. His wife had never liked farewells.


"Alright." He walked over her and kissed her, once, her corpsebreath cold on his lips. "I'll see you… eventually, I guess."

"Mmm." Sabriel nodded, and walked over to Cynthia. "Look at me," she demanded.

Cynthia raised her eyes.

"Be straight with him."

Cynthia nodded.

"Good." Sabriel held the look for a moment, before raising a thumb to her head. "Take a breath," she said brightly. "You're going to live." She breathed out, a wisp of magic curling off her lips. It settled on the policewoman's wounds, and they visibly began healing. "Bye."


The two of them watched as she walked off into the darkness. When her silhouette finally faded into the dimness, headed in the direction of her crypt, Peter sighed.

"That's it, then." He raised his eyes to the heavens. "Happy anniversary, dear."
« Prev   23   Next »
#1 · 4
Well, this was a wonderful experience.

I loved the story, I loved Peter, Sabriel and their relationship.

There are hints at a larger world out there, which seems to be rather intriguing but secondary, as the characters are at the core of the story.

Now to the few issues I saw.

This parts bothered me:
"Aaaah!" Crowley threw his head back and screamed
"Haaah, haaah, haaaah…"

For a long, long moment, there was nothing but heavy breathing among the three of them.
Writing screams and panting as dialogue and then narrating that they are screams and panting doesn't really work for me. I would suggest to leave only the narration, as the dialogue, if devoid of any other information, is redundant and not really the right way to handle it.

The fight was quite interesting at the beginning but soon became a bit disjointed. I would suggest to revise it a bit. It was a bit difficult to follow who was doing what, and it lost a bit of weight at the end.

The ending was beautiful, and a nice closure for the characters.
#2 · 6
· · >>TitaniumDragon
Peter and Sabriel:

Are great characters, and the story you put them through is a lot of fun.

But I of course have suggestions. First, there's a little too much terminology for me. In a novel, it'd be fine since you'd have room to do more than just drop the terms scrimshaw and decimal litch and cheiromancy and omoplatoscopy and all. But in a short story, as they used to say, you come up with a beginning, a middle, and an end, then start in the middle and race as fast as your fingers can type toward that ending. Just the essentials will be enough to suggest the larger magical world around the characters.

And second, the coincidence of the guy performing his dark ritual in the graveyard on the very same night that Peter and Sabriel have their anniversary was a little too much for me. Maybe this is their anniversary because it's the best night every year for necromantic doings. Then it'd make sense for the guy to be there, too. Better, though, would be to have Crowley's overall plan depend on Peter and Sabriel being there--he needs the vial with her soul in it or something. Eliminating as many coincidences as you can always helps tie a story together, I've found.

Good stuff here!
#3 · 4
23. The Necromancer’s Wife

It leads off with a strong hook. The prose was also generally sound, and if there were any mechanical issues, I don’t recall them.

Reading it, I was strongly reminded of the Dresden Files, although there were clearly some differences in the world mechanics. The magic system for one, though it seemed a little confusing at times; or at least I didn’t get enough of a sense of the rhymes to quite grasp what was going on-- if they were standard chants, or adapted to the situation or what.

Also, that name Sabriel... Methinks someauthor has read Garth Nix

Characters were well-voiced, though I was a little surprised that Sabriel was so willing to forgo her last day. Then again, she was trying to get Peter to let go, so I suppose it fits. I’ll echo Kettle in saying that the relationship between Sabriel and Peter was one of the main strengths of the story. We came into it cold (har har), but it still felt organic.

One bit of dissonance I had; achieving ‘grandmaster’ while being virtually unknown implies he’s put a lot of effort into keeping a low profile, in which case he gives out details with surprisingly little reluctance.

The plot was serviceable, though there was one thing I recall as feeling off; Early on Cynthia says “We’ve got the place surrounded,” but we never see anyone else, and then she says there’s no backup.

That bit threw me, but I was still able to roll with it, and enjoy the story overall. Looking back, I’m surprised to see that this clocked in at less than 6,000 words; it read longer.
#4 · 2
I felt like this ended up doing slightly too much, and straining to accomplish everything it wanted to. As everyone has mentioned, the early part of the story and the central relationship is very strong and meaningful. I think for me, I thought the arc was building towards the first confrontation with the necromancer, and a more quiet recognition of moving on with life, and I respected that. But then it kept going...? Then it turned out that they had to fight Aleister Crowley and Peter was a grandmaster and there was a big flashy fight scene and wow, it was just such a very jarring twist. Like everyone powered up and got in their giant robots for the big battle.

I don't think that's necessarily bad, but I feel like your two halves of the story are working at cross-purposes. I think some work in the second half to sharpen and explain more would potentially lessen the disconnect I was feeling. But really, I do think you could safely scale back without losing much--Does it really have to be Aleister Crowley?

You've got the start of something really good here. You just need to massage some of the details, and perhaps expand in some of the sketchier action sequences.
#5 · 2
· · >>Bradel

I’m always a sucker for magic in modern times, and I’m fascinated by the magic system you devised here. Necromancers fuel their spells by quoting morose literary quips? Writer, you have all of my yes! And I adore the relationship between Peter and Sabriel; believable, wistful, supportive, melancholic. Very well crafted indeed.

Now, there are a couple of issues. Peter dismisses his green blade twice while discussing licensed dark magic with Cynthia. Also, the climactic combat scene gets a little janky - it can be difficult at times to keep track of who is doing what. For example:

"Urgh." Peter groaned as the power lashed out, spiraling into a long, fierce bolt.

It stabbed at his wife, lacerating her arm and searing her shoulder.

So Peter is attacking his own wife? Either this is misattributed action, or the scene where Crowley took brief control of Peter’s faculties was cut. Either would work, but the few lines above and below this quote are where the combat gets the hardest to follow.

This is mostly just polish, though. I love this story, Writer - sign me up for the series.

Final Thought: Top of the Class in the Necromantic Independent Study Program
#6 · 2
I also want to know more. I guess the terminology had the opposite effect on me that it had on Baal Bunny (even though spelling 'lich' with a T kind of bothers me). I'm also skeptical that the bad guy needed to be Crowley, and the fight with him is the weaker part, but I think this is a pretty good approach.
#7 · 3
· · >>Bradel
This is definitely a good story, but, of course, I still have some minor gripes:

1. Some typos: You sad that last time, too. Litch. Journeman;
2. Some sentences: wrought-iron gate worked with roses. (wrought is already the archaic past participle of work, so that looks a little odd); The city, held back by the tall wall that segregated the living from the rest: why ‘rest’ and not ‘dead’? ‘Rest’ seems a little bit too sweeping.
3. Pinkie promise. Why did you invite a ‘Pinkie promise’ to this fiction?

All right. To the story then. The plot is fairly thin, but it’s well executed. The relationship between the two main characters is nicely depicted, and the way they complement each other is great. And the magic formulas were great, too.

It is a bit heavy loaded with dialogue. Bordering on talking heads.

The fight isn’t that compelling. We’ve got the impression the trio just trounces their only opponent. It’s finally a fairly easy task to drub that arch-mage, to the point where we can question his abilities—if he can sense the others’ magic, I would expect him to be more prepared for the brawl. I would’ve preferred a plot where the evil necromancer escapes at a pinch, and the policewoman asks Peter his help to further chase him.

Finally, the end was slightly weak. There’s no real resolution or elaboration on what we’ve already guessed.

Overall, a pleasant read, but not as outstanding as I would've liked it to be.
#8 · 3
· · >>horizon
I'm using horizon's HORSE rating system, which you can learn more about here.

23 – The Necromancer's Wife

Somewhat nitpicky, but I'd smosh the first and second paragraphs together. That first sentence is hanging out there like it's supposed to be important, but it's really not very attention-catching. Peter has a dead wife, and he's visiting her at the graveyard. Yay, mundanity! "Maybe it was a necromancer thing." is an awesome hook, and everything you write before that point should be working toward making that line pop as much as possible, because that's where you're going to catch your reader. It already pops plenty, but the fact that it looks like you've got a dynamic line at the start detracts a bit, especially since that first line is in no way dynamic.

That "Brains" line is fantastic.

The writing here is just consistently excellent. I'm... I don't know how far in, I just got to "the old stew-and-chew". Only one real editorial comment thus far: it feels like there's a lot of disconnect between Peter and Sabriel's romance, and the zombifier story. You've made a point of connecting them up through the argument between Peter and Sabriel, and that's good—but I think this would work better if there were a more natural connection than Peter thinking the authorities are unprepared, and so he should probably go help. There's really no tie-in to motivate his need to do this thing, so the stakes are pretty low. The zombie plague is threatening a lot of characters we don't care about, but the two we do care about seem like they can pretty much resolve the plot to our satisfaction by just walking away.

That's continuing to be the big problem I see in this story. The dialogue scene with Peter, Sabriel, and Cynthia is all fun, but it also feels pretty undirected. It's three enjoyable characters standing around talking, but they don't seem to be doing enough plot advancement, character development, or world-building to really justify the scene they're in. I know that's a high bar to set for a Writeoff story, but when you're up against the sheer, calculated density of something like "The Name Upon His Forehead", it's important.

"Haha!" Peter laughed.

This feels like a really weird bit of unnecessary double-use. Aside from the fact that it gives me pretty bad Shy Ronnie flashbacks.

"…hmm." Cynthia frowned, considering. Peter maintained his smile. He had sworn on his power, which wasn't an oath for a mage to take lightly; if broken, his power would shatter, and the backlash would destroy his body.

This is awfully intrusive, explaining the dialogue through narration. I'm not a huge fan of this.

"Aleister Crowley." Peter's smile grew. "The evilest man in the world. Granddaddy of necromancy. You didn't seriously think he was dead, did you?"

This is getting a laugh from me. I'm not sure how intentional that is. I just find it farcical, a bit like watching a fairly serious Las Vegas heist movie and having Elvis be the revealed as the villain at the end.

Through to the end now. It's a fun read, with nice prose and some cool details. I was a bit weirded out by the poetry, but then seeing that Crowley used much more character-appropriate incantations made me enjoy the worldbuilding you were doing there quite a bit. I think I might actually push that reveal back a bit and make it less subtextual: Cynthia could show some surprise at necromancers using poetic incantations and give Peter a chance to exposit a bit. (I mention this largely because I think some readers might completely miss the juxtaposition you're doing with Crowley; I don't know how obvious the difference is unless you have a little background in the history of magic.) My problems here haven't changed—and if anything have probably gotten a little worse with the Crowley thing. But there's no denying that I really enjoyed reading this story, and even though it's not going to get that close to the top of my slate, that's less a comment on this story's quality and more a comment on the quality of the field as a whole. This is absolutely a piece of work you should feel good about, Author, even if it could use some revision.

HORSE: ▉▉▉▉▉▉▉▉▉▉▉▉▉▉▉▉▉▉▉▉
TIER: Solid
#9 · 5
A couple points for >>Monokeras:

"Wrought iron" isn't the author using fancy language, it's an actual thing. You might recognize it from, ohh, the Eiffel Tower.

"Pinkie promise" actually predates My Little Pony, and is traditionally a promise made between two people while linking their hands by their pinkie fingers (the last finger on the hand). Traditionally, it doesn't involve any cupcakes.

On the fight scene, I'd sort of decided where my problems with this story were before that point, but I'll echo what a lot of other readers seem to be saying. My problem is less that it was janky, as >>Icenrose described it (though I think there's some fair criticism there). It's more that the fight is always a fait accompli without a whole lot of back and forth.

I could give some detailed discussion on this, but I think I'm just going to take the easy way out and link to one of my old Fimfiction blog posts where I talked about writing fight scenes. I know, it's lazy and a little lame to go posting links to my Fimfic account on someone else's story, but I'm not going to be able to do a better job talking about them here than I did there, so I feel like this is really the optimal way to go.
#10 · 4
· · >>TitaniumDragon
You've got a good story here, author. In fact, you've got two good stories, and unfortunately there's something about the way that they collided that ground me to a complete halt. :(

Like >>Bradel I've got to praise the wittiness of the dialogue here -- e.g. the casual in-joke of "Brains" shows a lot about their relationship effectively and economically; and on the whole the death-poetry casting rotes give this a neat and literary flavor -- and this starts out building toward a sweet and sad sort of psychological climax about Peter finally coming to terms with Sabriel's death and making the decision to let her go. And then the story shifts gears so hard it nearly derails, from Frankenstein into Dresden, and this starts ticking off the urban-fantasy adventure checklist, and I just hit a wall. It really didn't help that your first story felt so much stronger than the second -- others have commented on the hasty fight descriptions, and the intrusiveness of the exposition, and the casual volunteering of Peter's information in a you-look-trustworthy-join-us D&D campaign sort of way. If you'd started the story in Dresden mode, those still wouldn't be great, but they'd at least be tonally consistent with an adventure-fantasy setting. But the way you started out had me expecting so much more from this, and I couldn't ride out the transition.

I do hope this gets edited into shape after the competition.

Tier: Almost There
#11 · 1
This was good, and was a fun little romp, but I have to admit to getting lost in the descriptions of the spells at times. The action scenes didn’t quite come together for me, and some of the shouting seemed a bit… trite, I guess? I dunno.

That said, I did love the ideas behind this overall. I agree with Baal Bunny (>>Baal Bunny ) WRT: the coincidence of them doing it on the same night; it should either be a night with some significance that would require them both to act at the same time, or Crowley actually be trying to trick them (possibly into getting into a fight with the police?).

The world was bursting at the seams, and some of it was really good, but as noted, some parts didn’t quite end up pulling me along as well.

The central idea behind this – and the two central characters – was a great deal of fun, and the necromancers were very enjoyable to read about as people, but as Horizon ( >>horizon ) noted, the second half with the fight scene just didn’t do it for me.
#12 ·
Very nice story that came in third on my list. The depth of the world from which it seems drawn is impressive, but flawed from the sheer number and diversity of details flung at the reader (which oddly enough is one of the strong points of it too). There's a good solid A on this one.
#13 ·
You've got pleasant characters here, Author, but the plot isn't much to speak of. I kept flipping back and forth with how much AU/fantasy was in this fic. Crowley? Really? >.< Anyways, I did enjoy parts of this, but it's rather disjointed and unhinged plot-wise and with some of the descriptions, especially your fight-scene. Your sections are almost running at cross-purposes.

Still, it was fun enough.
#14 · 3
Hey, guys. This is Not_A_Hat.

Firstly, congrats to our winners, Dubs, Cold, and Mike! Good job on your writing, and enjoy your well-earned medals.

Secondly, thanks to everyone, for the reviews and feedback on my story. I cringed reading them, because I cringe even harder looking back on what I wrote. However, I won't insult my readers by apologizing; votes say this was genuinely enjoyed, which I'm more than happy about.

Still, this story is an example of what my writing looks like when I wing something just as hard as I actually can. It was written in about the last five hours of the contest due to work, friends, poor time-management, and being night shift. Basically a complete hack-job.

How well it's been received surprised me, to say the least.

On the writing:

I… am fully aware that the plot of this story more than limps; it drags a mangled, bleeding carcass through the verbiage. This is what happens when I get exactly one idea: "Hey, a necromancer could visit their dead relatives!" while walking through a graveyard on Easter weekend, but don't come up with any sort of compelling conflict or tension.

I started alright, and managed to define Peter and Sabriel's (yes, a nod to Garth Nix) characters before I ran out of plot. I'd begun late and rushed, fully immersed in panic mode, so I steeled my resolve and applied Chandler's Law three times to get a trainee necromancer, a police officer, and… Aleister Crowley, because why not?

Not going to lie, that wasn't my proudest moment. After reading Bradel's comment, I wish I'd used Elvis. It would have made just as much sense, and been twice as funny.

Anyways, once I had some more conflict, I hastily knotted all the pieces together with some lumpy exposition and a dumb fight scene. For incantations, I took a moment to check Wikipedia's list of demons in the Ars Goetia and find some somber poetry. I slapped on an ending, made an alt, and uploaded without even a decent editing pass.

In the end, I could, and should, have done countless things better. I cringe looking back, because I knew I was writing flaws into the story as I went, but couldn't pause to think out better directions or challenges. :/

On the ideas:

The magic came from my ideas folder; in the middle ages, according to Wikipedia, there were seven types of forbidden magic: necromancy; palmistry, (chiromancy); scapulimancy, (spatulamancy, omoplatoscopy - divination with the bones of shoulder-blades); geomancy; hydromancy; aeromancy and pyromancy.

I had, at some point, started playing around with a magic system that legitimized four of these as being safe 'external' magic, and outlawed the other three as being dangerous 'internal' magic, since they apply directly to the body. (I've assigned necromancy, palmistry, and scapulimancy, to head, hands, and heart as well.) Things have been tweaked for a more action-oriented and 'popular' feeling, since they seem mostly oracular, originally.

In the end:

It seems I'm an even worse judge of my own writing than I thought. I'm glad of the reception and comments, but wish I'd created something I was more proud of, even if I'm apparently capable of writing somewhat enjoyable things under pressure and in a rush.

Panic and lack of planning created massive systemic plot flaws here, not the least of which are an endemic lack of cohesion and a total disregard for deliberate pacing, foreshadowing, and recursion, all of which I was quite rightly called out on in various ways. Possibly the only piece I'm proud of is the first third and last few paragraphs, and the only element I'd actually re-use otherwise were the death poems as spells.

I am, however, moderately pleased with my character work. But… original characters and scenery are the easy part, for me. I just never expected them to carry this so far.

Once again, I'm mostly left pondering effort and reward, the 80/20 rule and how it applies to my skills. I have yet to effectively grasp my creative methods: what affects the process the most, where I should focus my effort to tell better stories with less work. Can I leverage my characters to create better plot more easily? Probably, if I knew how. :/

I have applied for a shift transfer, which might let me reclaim a normal weekend schedule. However, next round I'll strive to manage my time and concentration better.

I may even succeed.

Thanks again for your kindness; I appreciate your patience with me.