Oromon wiped a circle out of the begrimed windows and peered across the street. “Of course I’m not implying you’re a corpse-lover, Ferlis,” he said over his shoulder, “or that you’re harbouring one. I’m simply making enquiries.”
Ferlis carried on about insulting respectable goodhands and how it wasn’t to be borne, all of which Oromon duly ignored. Outside, in the odd greyscale gloom, the nightwatch boys were lighting the lane sconces. It was only mid-morning but the Alnight would be here soon. Four hours, give or take. Soon the entire realm would be plunged into darkness for one day and one night.
It was a big event, this Alnight, a once-in-a-decade sort of thing. On his way over, Oromon passed homes decorated with demon masks and dancing charms in preparation for the Festival. He wondered why people bothered with such superstitions; it was only the simple geophysics of one realm eclipsing another.
He turned back to the sitting room when Ferlis’s gormless assistant set down the tea service.
“Take that back,” Ferlis ordered his assistant. “Academy dogs don’t deserve the civility of tea!”
“Come now, Ferlis,” said Oromon, “we’ve been nothing but civilised.”
Something crashed ominously upstairs where Vasan and Padbury were searching. The expensive kind of ominous. Oromon winced. Civilised, yes, but he wished his crew were less noisy about it. He gazed forlornly after the disappearing tea tray…and he had so been looking forward to that slice of poppyseed cake.
“Check the permit again, my good man. Signed by the Zangara herself,” Oromon said soothingly.
“I don’t care if it’s signed by Danar the Divine,” the goodhand cried. “You cannot waltz in here with your thugs and accuse me of-of-of…skullsapping!”
Oromon made a face. “I do hate that term. It’s so crass. Anyhoo, have you noticed anything missing from your workroom in the last few months? Reagents, preservatives? Necrobiological texts, cadavers, phylacteries, amulets, so on and so forth? Anything a necromancer might find handy?”
“I am a servant of the Zangara, you rot!” Ferlis paced indignantly, looking like a frowsy-haired worm. “A Danar devout! A disciple of medicine and learning! We abhor tampering with the unnatural; the Academy has no cause to suspect me or any other goodhand.”
“Ah but you are mistaken, Ferlis my dear. Goodhands are perfect candidates for necromancy.” Oromon paused to cast over Ferlis what he liked to call The Appraising Eye. “I like you, Ferlis. I like you because, despite the pea up your backside and all your hullabaloo, you are telling the truth–and I can always tell the truth–thus I will reveal to you my rationale.”
Oromon sat down with a sudden zeal that stopped even Ferlis in his tracks. “As both healer and priest, goodhands are almost always first to attend the sick and the dead, you agree? You are also required to update and practice your knowledge frequently, are you not? And, especially as you’re under the employ of the Zangara, you receive more than adequate funding for said practices. What necromancer’s guild wouldn’t want to recruit a goodhand? It’s unsurprising the number we’ve ferreted out from the underground, and among them how many are government-appointed. Goodhands are only human after all, even those belonging to the Zangara, bless the good queen.”
Far from looking convinced by this theory, however, Ferlis narrowed his eyes. “I wasn’t aware the Academy was involved in surveillance of negative conjury,” he said.
“My dear Ferlis, the Academy created the laws forbidding negative conjury.”
“Yes, and left it to the local terraforces to uphold those laws. A bit out of jurisdiction for you men of books and thaumaturgy, isn’t it?”
“We are a new branch, I will allow.”
“And what branch would that be, pray tell? Voodoo Patrol? Order of the Occultist Exterminators?” Ferlis smirked at the breadth of his own wit. “You dabble with necrophiles and the curious perverse; who’s to say this branch of yours is incorruptible?”
Now Oromon remembered why he found goodhands so irritating, but he smiled his best condescending Academy smile and rested his chin atop steepled fingers.
“Have you seen necromantic arts at its most depraved, goodhand?” Here, Ferlis scoffed derisively. “Oh, I imagine you think you have. You only know about the average gravediggers and body-takers, and the poor man looking to earn quick blunt by selling their body parts for a Speaking. Or those demon-worshippers of Vironas who think the only path to their god is to become a necromancer’s minion.
“Have you ever witnessed a Rending and, in turn, the ways to Tether that poor soul to a corpse? Did you know the dead can not only walk but spout philosophy as cleverly as they can eat your flesh? Would you even know one if it approached you on the street? Have you seen a newborn possessed and dance to beat of the dread-drum? Do you know how many necromancers a man will visit, the price he offers his soul, just to see his deceased wife and daughter? Do you know there are child prodigies who, before their thirteenth birthday can raise their own mothers–from the dead, that is?”
Oromon had drifted back to the window. He saw Ferlis’s scepticism reflected there.
“The best and most terrible works of necromancy come from the unexpected, the ordinary,” Oromon continued. “That’s why my goodhand theory is so delicious, because it is perfectly boring, perfect unexpected and perfectly logical. People think necromancy is like vampires or good politics–they hear of it but they never see it–but I tell you it exists. We must all of us be vigilant leading up to the Alnight, when the link between the living and the dead is most obscured, and thus, most tempting to whole conclaves of necromancers preparing to harness its might.”
“Ah, Vasan, Padbury,” he said as his two agents came in fighting cobwebs and sneezes. “What have we?” They shook their heads and filed out at the flick of his finger.
“Congratulations, Ferlis. You come out clean,” he said. “But if there are activities of special interest going on here, or anywhere else, you can be sure we’ll find it.”
“I’m filing a complaint,” said Ferlis.
“Your prerogative, of course. Here is the forwarding address. The name’s Oromon.”
to be continued…
Next I: Half Light (pt 2)