Alan wiped the blood on his hands off on his pants with a casual smirk. “So, which of you is going to be dumb enough to bind yourself to this asshole?”
It was nearly three thirty in the morning; the subtle lighting of the occult shop hardly did anyone any favors as it cast long shadows over the small group gathered around the corpse on the altar. If they had expected compassion or understanding from the shopkeeper, they had certainly picked the wrong hour and wrong shop to come to.
A man with dark features lay on the cold, stone altar, his burnt auburn hair fanned out around his beaten face, clumped in patches by blood. There was a stab wound jutting up under his ribcage--the killing blow, as it were--where his shirt was soaked crimson and clung to the skin. Under the taint of blood, he smelled of alcohol and ashtrays. Alan knew the man in passing, but cared little about his demise. He was a drunken lowlife as far as the necromancer was concerned and had an untimely end coming to him due to his own insatiable temper. Du’shan Mukshah was hardly someone to get worked up over, and yet two men stood next to him, asking for a miracle.
“Speak clearly, Mr. Keys. I’ve little understanding of your ways,” the taller of the two said. He was their leader, the one Alan was most used to dealing with, Ath’ran Mukshah. He sounded weary, which was to be expected from a man who had just carried his cousin’s lifeless body from the gutter to the Hallow in the middle of the night.
Alan took a seat on the altar next to the corpse, scooting it aside a bit to make himself more comfortable. “Yeah, you Protectors of Antiquity like to pretend you know all about the ancient world, but when it comes to the art of Necromancy, you’re surprisingly dumb.” He smirked at them like a kindergarten teacher with a class of small children. “Well, boys, this is what we call a dead body. Observe.” Alan picked up the body’s arm and let it fall, needlessly demonstrating the fact that their companion was still, indeed, dead. “Now, soon, as rigor mortis sets in, he’s going to be stiff as a plank, but for the moment, he’s still nice and limp. Aside from being mortally wounded, this is a decent condition to have him in for our purposes.”
“Mr. Keys, please, let us get to business.” Ath’ran was not amused, his dark brows angled sharply in a look that promised to leave Alan in a state similar to Du’shan’s if he did not treat the body and situation with more respect.
However, in his own territory, Alan was immune to such subtle threats. He swung his legs, still smirking at them. “If you want a resurrection, I’d let me handle this is my own way and in my own time. Now, where was I? Ah, rigor mortis. Right.” He hopped down from the altar and walked back to the storage room behind the counter as he spoke. “You know, resurrections don’t really have all that much to do with necromancy. Resurrecting people from the dead is more a gateway art than a real necromancical practice, but some damn asshole had to go and give us that misnomer because all anyone really cared about was how damn cool it was that we could make dead people come back, never mind that we unlocked the very blueprints of existence. You think all those millennia ago people were making pilgrimages to the northern territories to apprentice themselves out to my clansmen for a greater understanding of the universe? No. And what really sucks is, by now, people are so damn ignorant, they must think we’re the one hit wonders of the supernatural world. No wonder there aren’t more of us: we sound like an organization for goth bitches who want to associate themselves with all things dead and decaying. What a load of bullshit. If it were up to me, I’d call it mansmancy, after the Latin work for ‘mind,’ since that’s more what it is. Except then we’d sound like an association of faggots. Not sure which is worse, goth morons or fudge packers.”
Ath’ran exchanged glances with his companion, Riyad Shihar D’sen, conveying both exasperation and a cry for patience. The leader readjusted his cousin on the altar, putting him back into a position of peaceful slumber with arms laying out at his sides. Ath’ran could listen to any amount of pointless banter if it meant they would get the shopkeeper’s assistance in the end. At least, that’s what he told himself.
Alan came back out from the stock room with a small black box in hand, and continued to ramble on his way back to the altar. “Real necromancy is as simple as mind over matter. Resurrections don’t require that, since the dead bastard can’t exactly think himself back to life on his own. Being dead just means the essence holding the soul into the vessel is gone. So, we replace the essence by borrowing from a willing sacrifice and the soul can be drawn back inside. Like I said, simple shit. So the next time you guys hire a scribe for that little organization of yours, you tell him to fix the necromancer misconceptions in your records so I don‘t have to explain all this shit to every rich bastard looking for a resurrection.”
Riyad Shihar forced a smile as his foot tapped quietly against the stone floor. “Sure thing, Mr. Keys. So, are you going to get started now? We are paying an exorbitant price for your services, after all.”
“Thank you for volunteering to be our willing sacrifice, Riyad. Step right up to the body.”
“Volunteering? No. No, no, I was just asking.” The younger man took a step back, having learned from experience to be distrustful of the shopkeeper.
Ath’ran moved forward. “I will do whatever is necessary.”
“Beautiful. Step right up and let’s get this over with.” Alan pulled the blood-soaked shirt off of the corpse and threw it aside before opening up the small black box. He took a handful of the contents, and began to sprinkle it onto Du’shan’s exposed chest. It was ash, dark gray speckled with white, that fell gently in controlled designs. When Alan was finished, myriad symbols ran from Du’shan’s sternum to his pelvis. The ease with which Alan had traced the intricate patterns verified his experience with this particular procedure. Alan dusted his hands off and closed the box, taking up a ceremonial dagger that was lying to one side. He stretched one hand out, beckoning for Ath’ran to come closer, as he brandished the nasty-looking blade over the light of a candle.
Ath’ran came to stand beside him, confused and intrigued. As he came to a stop, he felt as though he were still moving forward, a strange pulling sensation dragging up from his gut and suffocating him, like someone had punched him hard in the trunk, knocking the air out of him. He paused, eyes wide, waiting for his breath to return as black spots began to creep into his vision. The frightening sensation disappeared just seconds after rendering him helpless; he turned a hard gaze on the necromancer, questioning his motives more than his guilt.
“That was your essence. I just gave it a little tug. What you felt was your soul losing it’s connection to your body momentarily. What I need you to do is remember where you felt that sensation, concentrate on that area and imagine it as a ball of thread. I’m going to take an end of that thread and pull some of it away and give it to Du’shan. You’re going to feel dizzy and if you faint I will laugh at your big, black ass.”
Ath’ran made a face at him but nodded, putting a hand over his gut as he focused. Alan took his other hand and ran the dagger across Ath’ran’s forearm, spilling a thick, steady trickle of blood. He collected a generous amount on his own fingers and began mixing the blood and ash together as he rewrote the glyphs down Du’shan’s chest.
Alan wiped his hands off again, making his pants even more filthy, and gave a satisfied grunt. “Hard part’s over. Isn’t that nice? Alright, now all we need is a quick jolt to his senses to make the body realize it’s got everything it needs to sustain life and call the soul back to it.” He cracked his knuckles and did a few stretches, toe touches and twists to limber up his back and arms. Then, in one swift movement, he grabbed the nearest candle and touched the blood and ash mixture with the flame. It ignited instantly with enough force to make all three spectators step back and gave off too much light to be natural. It seemed as though Du’shan had fallen into a small sun, hidden in the blinding white light.
“Son of a bitch! What the fuck!” The corpse leapt off of the table, swiping at the flames on his chest. The strangely bright flames vanished, leaving a trembling, exhausted man standing in the middle of the room gasping for breath and covered in sweat. “The fuck was that?!” Du’shan looked around, surprised to be in the occult shop rather than a hospital or his own bed. He felt at his body, under his ribcage where he was sure there should be a moist, gaping wound. His found only smooth, clean skin as his eyes locked on the figures of his cousin, co-worker and the man called Alan.
“Tada!” Alan applauded himself briefly than began packing up his things. “Success. How do you feel, Du’shan?”
Du’shan shook his head. “What’s going on? What am I doing here?”
“You died.” Du’shan looked quickly at Riyad Shihar, taking in the sober and serious expression on his face. “You picked a fight with the wrong guy at the bar this time, I guess. Ath’ran brought you to Alan to be resurrected.”
“And resurrect you I did. A fine job, if I do say so myself. And I do. Enjoy being bonded to your cousin,” the older man added flippantly.
Du’shan stood, stunned, in the middle of the room, as though waiting to be told it was a joke. The atmosphere remained melancholy, however, and he watched with wide eyes as Ath’ran wrapped the wound on his arm with the remains of his cousin’s discarded shirt, before turning his attention to Alan once more.
“What exactly do you mean by bonded, Mr. Keys?”
Alan’s smirk was thin and sinister. “I would have thought you’d ask how his wound closed up first. Either way, the answer is more or less the same. You share the same essence. Since you are alive, obviously he must be alive as well, and so his body took its lead from you to replace what was missing to sustain life. However, should one of you die, the essence will be released from both of you and you will both die. No matter where you are, when the first one goes, the other will die in the same day, hour, minute and second. And as a note, I don’t resurrect bonded pairs. It only complicates the situation to throw more people into the mix. So take care.”
Ath’ran gave a quick nod of understanding, then bowed slightly to him as he turned, ready to leave the dim shop and the night’s occurrences behind him. He put a hand on his cousin’s arm and steered him towards the door. “Riyad Shihar will see you home, Du’shan, and we will speak on this in the morning.”
“You shouldn’t have done this,” Du’shan replied, feeling a strange numbness in his chest.
“It hardly makes sense to argue about what has already been done. I would appreciate it if you would not mention this to my wife, however.”
Du’shan nodded dumbly, feeling Riyad Shihar come up to his other side as they passed through the door and out into the night.
Alan’s thin smirk grew larger as the bell chimed over his door to signal their retreat. He quickly locked the door for the night, much later than he’d anticipated but well worth every second. A thousand credits was nothing to turn one’s nose up at, and for such a simple task, it seemed almost as much a crime against humanity as it was against nature. Then again, being well over a thousand years old himself, he was well versed in offending the natural forces.
It didn’t take long for him to blow out all the candles; he let the wax pool on the surfaces of his tables and cabinets to help create the ambiance he was aiming for. He would let the blood pool on the altar over night as well, to stain the stone--a sacrificial altars as ancient as his would miss the feel of blood tricking through its pores.
That was his excuse, at least. Really, Alan just hated the idea of having to scrub the otherwise ornamental piece of furniture. It suited him just fine to wait till a more manageable hour to proceed with any thoughts of clean up.
He closed the drapes behind him as he wandered into the back of his shop and through the mess of artifacts and vials stashed on every available surface there. It was, in his opinion, very curious that, in spite of the ease with which he tossed things about, nothing was ever out of place or broken. The answer to this mystery was rather obvious, he supposed, as he walked up the stairs to his apartment on the floor above, which was scarcely any better off than below. From ceiling to floor, there were so many trinkets and oddities hanging from the walls, it seemed more like a storage room than a home. Beyond the assorted junk, was a kitchen, which was surprisingly clean and uncluttered.
Alan walked through his home quietly, feeling quite warm and serene in the place that was his sanctuary in a changing world. Rather than immediately slip back into his bed for a few more hours of sleep, he detoured to the furthest end of the studio, pulling back a curtain that partitioned one corner of the room from the rest. There was a hammock there, with large holes purposely cut out of it. The sleeping occupant hardly seemed to notice the holes--on the contrary, the holes made for a much simpler night’s rest. For a demon with wings and a tail, the gaps in the fiber were perfectly aligned so that the appendages hung through the holes and he could rest comfortably.
For a demon, he certainly looked like an angel in his sleep.
Alan pressed some white-gray hair from his son’s face, smiling absently to himself at the sheer insanity of his life. A living, breathing demon, the only one of his kind in the world, and here he slept, getting ready to start the day with a bowl of neon-colored cereal and help his father run the family business. In not eight more hours, this gray beast would be shouting at him from the stairwell to come get his lunch while Alan lazily tended the counter. He’d cook and clean, organize and catalogue, and take care of his absent-minded father all the day long, every day. Even when he was dressed up to play the fortune teller, he was still helping his father. Such a sweet, loving young man, only centuries old, who could eat a human being in about twenty minutes when the craving struck and had the instinctual morality of an animal. There was instinct, there was family and anything else was an unnecessary complication. Alan loved him almost more than life itself.
He’d make him clean the blood off the altar in the morning.
Alan kissed Quinn’s forehead, feeling his son’s cool skin under his lips, then crossed the room to his mattress on the floor. He shed his bloodied pants, stripping down to his boxers, and settled into his fluffy blankets for the rest of the night. It was never difficult for him to fall asleep, and this night was no different from the others in that respect. However, waking up with a foot on his face a few hours later was definitely something new.
“What the fuck?” Alan rolled from under the thick-soled boot, wiping his lips off for fear they had grazed the filthy underside of the man’s shoe. He glared up from the floor, blue eyes narrowed in aggravation as he scowled at his best friend.
Nicholas Rabbit showed no pity for the necromancer and nudged him in his side with his toe. “Get your lazy ass up. Quinn’s been running the store all morning.”
Alan ducked under his covers, obligated to make this process as difficult as possible. “Well good! I hope he cleaned the blood up too! I’m still sleeping--it won’t kill him to work the counter for another couple hours. I had to do a resurrection last night and I deserve my beauty sleep!”
“You deserve a kick in the ass and I am more than happy to oblige.” With that said, Rabbit took hold of his friend’s ankles and began to drag him towards the stairwell. Alan grabbed on to everything and anything he could reach in an attempt to slow Rabbit down. He squirmed and wiggled, flailed and flopped as well as he could with his feet in the air; Rabbit held on tight and dragged him out the door and down the stairwell, listening to his friend’s skull bounce off of every step. With all the noise he made, an onlooker would have thought his dark-skinned friend was killing him. Rabbit did not let go of his feet until they stood behind the counter; a few customers looked on in horror after hearing the ruckus of their descent.
Quinn’s human face wore a mask of amusement as he looked down at his boxer-clad father, who was holding his head in his hands.
“That was my head, you black hole of reason, not my ass!”
“In your case, I don’t think there’s much of a difference.” Rabbit waited by the stock room door, half daring Alan to try and push past him to get back up to his bed.
As much as he wanted to just that, the necromancer knew when to admit defeat. Most of the time. “Quinn, get me some coffee. And some slippers.”
“You’re going to run the shop in your underwear?”
Alan looked down at himself. Well, he could do much worse than plaid. “Good thinking, son. Pants, too.”
Quinn nodded and hurried to the back, dropping the human façade as soon as he passed out of sight. Rabbit watched him go--he always found it rather interesting to watch the boy turn back into the demon. Necromancy was a powerful craft, playing deeply on perception. Even though he knew Quinn never physically changed, just projected a different image of himself for people to see, the fact that it worked was amazing. The mind was a powerful tool, and also, it seemed, very gullible. Though he knew how it worked, even Rabbit could not see through to the demon if Quinn did not want him to.
“I hope you’re proud of yourself. The least you could have done was bring me a bagel. Apple cinnamon. With cream cheese and an apple on the side,” Alan complained, still rubbing his head as he took a seat on the chair behind the counter.
“Not today. I‘ve got a lot of shit to do. I figured I‘d just stop by since you were on my way.”
“Well don’t do me any favors next time. Ass. “
Rabbit fixed him with an annoyed stare. “Quinn hates masquerading as human and you know it. Though there’s something to be said about him being in charge instead of you. He seems to understand a level of professionalism that you obviously don’t.”
“I am the shining saint of professionalism.”
“Says the man behind the counter in his boxer shorts. “
Alan made a face at him. “I’m not the one who pulled me down a flight of stairs. Had you just let me sleep like I intended to, I’d be down here showered and dressed, with a bagel in my belly in my own time.”
Rabbit shrugged, taking a seat on the counter. “So, a resurrection, huh? Who died last night? Anyone I know?”
The necromancer nodded. “Du’shan Mukshah. Bar fight or something.”
“The guy from the Protectors of Antiquity? Huh. How many more of those spare essences do you still have in the back?”
“None.” Alan glowered at the counter top.
“None? You had like...seven at last count,” Rabbit pointed out. “I didn’t think you’d done seven resurrections this year.”
Alan shrugged, seeming uncomfortable with the topic change. “I tried out an experimental resurrection technique. I used most of them for that. Yoko hasn’t been by to sell me any more, so I just bonded Du’shan to his cousin Ath’ran. That ought to prove interesting.”
Rabbit looked at him for a minute then hopped off the counter. “You’re a terrible human being.”
“Perhaps. Not like I twisted his arm or anything though.”
Rabbit just shook his head and readjusted the collar of his leather jacket. “I’d better go. I’ll probably stop by later, though, to make sure you haven’t gone back into hibernation.”
“Gee, thanks. Oh, can you stop off at the Protectors of Antiquity before you do and pick up my stuff from Riyad Shihar? He should be done appraising it by now.”
Rabbit gave an affirmative gesture and walked around the counter, leaving with the chime of the door as he strode out to his bike.
Alan sighed, resting his head against the register. Some days it was far too easy to understand why he affectionately called his best friend his brother; they didn’t exactly have all that much in common, and they pissed each other off on a daily basis, but he always came back like nothing had happened. That was family, though--coming back because they belonged more than because of friendly obligations. Alan sighed again, forcing his body to forget about the lump he should have gotten from the loving abuse.
Now where was Quinn with those pants?