By Nicole Walsh
image by Athitat Shinagowin/ shutterstock
“I’d kill for a cigarette,” Mindy said. “Then I’d resurrect his ass and charge him for the resurrection.”
“Doesn’t work like that, Mindy.”
She turned, flashing me a cheeky smile. “Should work like that, boss.”
The battle-field was a muddy mess of narrow pathways and pools of murky water. Here and there something steamed or smouldered or glowed. White-robed Healers from both sides of the conflict veered around us. You’d think we’d have a better relationship, necromancers and healers. Pretentious snobs.
Mindy paused. Her gaze went cross-eyed and unfocused, which meant she was trying to use The Sight.
“That one?” she pointed.
I checked my screen, consulting the proximity app: “Nope.”
“Pity. He was in one piece. Her?”
“That one there?”
“Mindy.” I glared. “You’re guessing.”
“He’s not far away.” Mindy folded her arms. It made the various packs and satchels of crystals, candles and bottles slung about her slim young body clank and clatter. Healers who don’t call us ‘corpse-fiddlers’ call us ‘rattlers’. It’s a term that bothered teenage apprentices, like Mindy. It does not bother wise old men like me.
Then again, I’m not the one carrying the bags.
I squinted at my screen again, making Mindy groan and slump and scuff about in the mud behind me.
“I can tell,” she whined, “‘cause you get that constipated look as you try and figure the screen out. Boss!” She hissed, as I tap-tapped the fiddly screen.
“You’re embarrassing us!”
I’m far too old to be embarrassed by a flock of pretty young Healers.
“He’s close,” I agreed.
Despite the app, finding our client is not an exact science. We might have first-rate necromancers in our team, but we suffer second-rate seers. The seers give us the world and general proximity. In most cases, that’s enough to find our client. Today we’re on a battlefield, wading through the recently deceased.
Mindy paused beside a Healer. He was young and sleek and handsome and had his hands on a warrior’s breast-bone, pumping urgently. He’d set his patient on firm ground and was kneeling on a mat spelled to repel water, mud, blood and all the other things you find in abundance on a battlefield.
“Back off,” the Healer snarled.
I paused, necromancer enough to know the woman was dead, that the pretty Healer was wasting his time.
“Want a hand?” Mindy asked.
“Back off or I stop your heart.”
“Mindy,” I called.
My apprentice scuffed and slocked through the mud on my heels, shoulders slumped like it’s all a huge effort. She stopped when she saw what I was looking at.
I checked my screen. “Yep.”
“No.” She gave me an appalled look. “No way!”
Our man’s half-way down the gullet of some sort of bog monster. He managed to kill it, but not before it swallowed half of him. The wrong half to avoid drowning.
Mindy’s face twisted. She shed straps and bags. It’s hard to find a place to set them in the gallons of mud, so she hung her work-bags in a muddy, leafless tree.
“Sooo not cool,” she whined.
“Not here to be cool, Mindy.”
I stood on solid-ish ground whilst she eased into a thigh-deep bog made filthier by blood, gore and monster poop. She fished about in the muck.
“Don’t tear him!” I shouted.
Mindy gave me a look. She was covered in slime, mud and gore by the time she pried the things’ jaw opened. Healers began to gather, gawking.
“Need a hand?” a teenage under-Healer called.
“I’m fine,” Mindy panted, booted foot on one jaw, fingers between jagged teeth on the other. The boy went in to help. After a time, an athletically-built female under-Healer went in as well. Mindy and the boy held the jaws open and the girl lifted the body off the teeth. They exited the pond wearing algae and muck, dumping the body at my feet.
“He worth something?” the boy asked.
“He has a contract,” I explained, checking my screen. “Probably. Ah, Mindy?”
Mud had glued Mindy’s black robes to her body, earning appreciative gazes from both under-Healers. She wiped her hand over the corpse’s face, getting the muck off. I moved to get a better look, checking between the screen and the dead mage.
“That’s him,” the female under-Healer confirmed, peering over my shoulder.
The under-Healers backed off to watch, sitting on a mud-covered log that was cleaner than they were. Their attention made Mindy fumble and bumble candles, crystals and relics.
The handsome long-haired Healer joined us, arms folded and glowering. He looked pale and shaky, having drained his power almost completely healing a corpse. I suspected he’s gathering up the courage to ask us if we’ll jump-start his client whilst we’re at it. Mindy probably thinks he’s admiring her ass. Then again, a man can do two things at once.
Mindy rocked back on her heels to check her work, then my expression. I nodded. Mindy’s good at what she does. She’ll be working solo by the end of the year.
The under-Healers on the log looked impressed. The handsome one was peering over my shoulder, checking my screen. I angled it so he could get a better look, hearing his sudden intake of breath as he spotted my user-name.
“Yo-you’re… Grimdrake the Deathless?” he gaped.
He took a big step back.
Mindy joined the kids on the log. She asked about a smoke and the girl produced one. The kids sat elbow to elbow sharing it whilst I moved around the body, lighting candles and activating runes.
The handsome Healer was more interested in me than Mindy.
“What are you doing on a field like this?” he asked.
“Contract,” Mindy called. “Get called to all sorts of places.”
The young Healer edged out of my way, keeping his distance. I could feel the power in him. Too much power, and the wrong sort of training. He uses a bastardised version of a self-taught resurrection spell to bring the freshly dead back with a punch of raw, ugly power. I could see the damage it does to his aura.
Mindy got in the way, pretending to help. I don’t need the help. She’d set the base perfectly and my spells were flawless. In moments the body was fitting and jerking, bile, blood and muck frothing from the battle-mage as he convulsed.
The other two kids are on the feet. They clapped politely as the body flipped, doing a wild horizontal dance as it flopped and jerked back to life. The sound of the battle-mage dragging in his first breath is very loud.
“Wow.” Even the handsome Healer looks impressed. “That’s…”
We stood about, kids swapping a second smoke, whilst the battle-mage coughed and vomited up half the pond. He got onto his knees, filthy hair tangled with mud, weeds and fish skeletons, hacking up a lung.
“Wh-what?” he gasped.
“You died,” I explained. “Fortunately, your grandmother sent you a birthday gift. Happy resurrection.”
“No, no, no!” the mage whined. “I didn’t consent to this. No!”
He scrubbed desperately at his forehead, shooting to his feet. His gaze locked on the handsome Healer, who looked the most legitimate of the lot of us.
“Is it on my forehead?”
“Ah, no sir.” The Healer winced, gaze lifting a few inches.
The battle-mage froze. “It’s in my aura, isn’t it?”
“Welcome to Affordable Resurrection.” I flagged his aura so the kids who don’t have The Sight could see it. Our logo is gaudy and ugly, burning like a flaming brand directly over the man’s head.
The kids burst into a splattering of applause.
“No, no, no!” the battle-mage wailed.
“Your grandmother thanks you for the coupons you sent her for her birthday.”
“Rent was due,” he whined. “I… this…” He lifted a finger to jab into my chest, then thought better of it. “I am not happy,” he announced. “She could have…. argh!”
He turned and stomped off.
The handsome Healer watched him go, intrigued.
“He has to pay that off now, right? You’ll siphon off his life-energy? That’s how Affordable Resurrection works?”
“That’s right,” I agreed.
“Do people trust resurrection wards set by a hungry ghost?”
“It’s a gift contract,” I explained. “Snaps in post-death.”
“Some gift,” the younger boy whispered. “Right?”
I shrugged again, watching my apprentice pack up our gear.
“It’s a clever business model,” the handsome Healer mused.
“Works for me.” I would have patted Mindy on the back for a job well done, but I died fifty years ago. Affordable Resurrection is an equal opportunity workplace. We hire all sorts, including ghosts.
Mindy fished out a card. She passed it to the handsome Healer.
“If you ever want to jump ships to resurrection…” I paused to look at the corpse he had worked so hard on. “Learn to do it properly.”
“I’m from a family of Healers…”
“Ten year contract, then you can go it alone,” I called.
Mindy gives him a cheeky smile and sashayed after me.
“Who’s next?” she asked.
I checked my screen. It, like the image of the body I once lived in, is all powered by energy siphoned off dozens of resurrected people suffering gaping open contracts.
“Ex-wife,” I reported. “Trips down the stairs at the mall.”
“At the mall?” Mindy slocked gloop off her robes. “When?”
I checked the time. “Half an hour.”
“Do I have time to wash up?” Mindy asked.
A sheet of freshly-contracted power washed over me, changing my incorporeal form from robes into stylish civvie clothing.
Squelching in wet boots, Mindy gave me a disgusted look.
“You suck, boss.”
About the author: Nicole Walsh is a cat enthusiast from the east coast of Australia who loves fern gardens and long dresses. She writes short stories and novel-length speculative fiction and urban fantasy that spans from a little bit dark, a little bit amusing through to a little bit steamy. Visit Nicole at: https://nicolewalshauthor.com/ and www.facebook.com/nicolewalshauthor
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