The sun was setting over the foothills. The orange light had lost its vibrancy, as the grass faded to grey. The day had blown its final kiss of farewell. A blanket of thick black was cast over the world.
The night that would never end had begun.
The animals were silent, asleep or afraid. The insects were invisible, searching the dark for someone to devour. The people prayed beside their beds, beseeching the Goddess for safe passage through their dreams.
Garan Hexler watched them all. He was hidden, for now. His camp was a mile or two outside of Jupetown. The unsuspecting fools had no idea he was there. He’d started no fire. He hadn’t hunted or foraged or even scavenged in the two days he’d been sat there.
Master Willow had taught him everything. He knew how to embrace the hunger and refuse to starve.
If Willow saw him now, the old man would be proud. Soon, at least, Willow would respect him. Tonight would be a night to remember. One for the songbooks.
Hunger lurched in Garan’s belly. He chomped down on his lip to distract from the pain. Willow would judge him on tonight’s performance. Everything hung on this moment. Ten years of training would be wasted if the plan didn’t work. But it would work, he told himself. He would prove himself worthy of the title of necromancer.
Garan skipped down the hill. The dim lights of Jupetown grew larger, brighter. He pretended he was a rat, just as Willow instructed. Scurry, scurry, scurry. Scamper, scamper, scamper. Crouched low to the ground, nose pointed to the sky, sniffing at the air, alert to any danger.
The trees and bushes swayed around him. Leaves rustled, but he sensed no human presence. His power grew with every passing day. His apprenticeship was almost complete. Soon, he wouldn’t need Master Willow. He would carve out his own path, resurrect his own horde, reanimate his ancestors and bend them to his will.
Jupetown came into view. Twenty or so buildings hugged each other tight. The smell of bread or cake enveloped the village like a warm, wholesome aura. He surmised from the rising smoke that most of the townsfolk were gathered in the tavern. He passed the first building undetected.
Garan skipped through the darkness. Jumped from shadow to shadow. As he reached the tavern, dotted in the centre of the hamlet, the sounds of merrymaking filled his ears. People laughed and sang. A tuneless instrument was strummed with mad abandon. To this motley audience, the screeches it produced were hilarious.
Satisfied that a sufficient amount were drunk and distracted, Garan sprinted off towards the graveyard situated on the other side of town. When they gaped at the dead trudging down their streets, the town’s collective shock would be delightful. By then it would be too late. The dead would be everywhere, ransacking their homes in a frantic search for flesh. They would devour their loved ones. They would consume everyone in sight.
Garan could scarcely contain his excitement. A giggle slipped from his lips. He froze in place, terrified by his mistake. He stood in the middle of a street, between two wooden shacks.
To his horror, a light appeared in the window to his left. He craned his neck towards it. A pair of eyes were blinking back at him.
The pox on this vermin! Garan prepared a spell, but it was too late. The eyes had disappeared, and a chorus of screams filled the air. Lights were appearing everywhere, in windows, and far down the street.
Garan spun in every direction. The world was spinning. His heart pounded in his ears. He hadn’t prepared for this. Thought it would be easy. They were just stupid humans. That’s what Willow said. But people were appearing from out of their homes, rubbing their eyes and muttering under their breath, bemused by the screams that had awoken them.
“You there!” a man yelled, pointing an accusing finger at Garan. He’d just emerged from a house and was still adjusting the hat he’d thrown on.
“It isn’t human!” a voice wailed from somewhere close.
“Drive it out!”
Garan tried to summon a spell, but it was too late. Arms were wrapped around his chest from behind, hugging him into submission. Next thing he knew, he was laying on his back. The arms pinned him back. He was their captive.
The world around him was blurry, but he saw the honey-coloured moon smiling down at him. The moon had a face. It took him a moment to realise there was a man standing over him, grimacing into his eyes.
“Thought you’d murder us in our sleep, did you?” The man’s frown deepened, the lines bold from the shadows. “Think again, you wretched witch!”
“I’m no…” The arms tightened around his throat, culling the words before they entered the air.
“The people will hear no more of your devilish speech!” the man standing over him spat. He stretched out his arms and addressed the whole street. “What say you, people of Jupetown? Shall we burn this witch before it has a chance to cast its curse?”
Voices roared their approval. There was scattered applause. A baby was crying.
The man returned his evil gaze to Garan. Then the man smiled.
“When you next see your Master Willow,” the man said, just loud enough for Garan to hear, “Tell him that he never stood a chance against the Bane of Necromancy. You’ll be seeing him very soon, you see. By the time I’ve finished with you, you’ll be begging for the pyre to end the pain. Before the night is through, Garan Hexler, you will tell me the precise location of your master’s lair.”
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