Luise considered, for a brief moment, following after Nialghas. Her more rational inclinations won out over her hot temper, and she made a right-hand turn to drop off Camilo.
“Wait, I want to see what’s going on!” He objected.
“They’re playing a dumb game, Cam. Let them cause a goddamn car accident and see if it makes them wise up.”
“Well- yeah, they’re being dumb, but isn’t that what friends are for? To stop you before you make mistakes?”
Luise grimaced. “In a perfect world, sure. You’ve seen how stubborn Nialghas gets when he finds a new project to fixate on. We could chain him up in your basement for weeks and he’d find a way to slip out and chase down this so-called ‘mystery’ regardless. The sad truth is that friends often don’t get to save their friends from making mistakes, we just…help console them after.” Her tone was learned, like she’d been down that road before, and very bitter.
Camilo didn’t fight it. He let himself be dropped off, and Luise gave him a brief hug before leaving. “I’m going on vacation soon, so call me if you need anything tomorrow, or if those idiots wind up in the hospital, okay?”
Camilo nodded, and as soon as she was out of sight, he began jogging towards what passed for ‘downtown’ in their small city. By now he stood very little chance of finding where they went, but at least he could wait to see if there were sirens or something. He couldn’t just do nothing.
Camilo went to the city library, which was two stories tall and had an accessible roof. He waited there until the sun went down, and lingered for a few hours more after that, seeing nothing, frustrated that neither Eroll nor Nial responded to his texts.
Nial’s mind was racing. There was too much gravity surrounding the man who came to retrieve his book for the word Necromancer to mean nothing. He had felt it as soon as he stepped into the storefront. The man he saw– he was just a bit shy of six feet tall, with at least two day’s worth of salt and pepper stubble on his neck and cheeks. His eyes were wary and cold. He was a serious person, not some fiction fanatic. Nial had never been a religious person, per se, but on some of his ‘trips’ with Eroll he had sworn he had brushed up against another world. Felt the cold metal that kept them apart. If there was any kind of truth to the existence of magic, he had to know.
Eroll was driving, and doing a fairly decent job of it. He had kept pace with the racing car, which had certainly noticed that it was being followed by now. The driver had elected to ignore them, it seemed.
Eroll was gripping the steering wheel with his full strength, his knuckles white. “Damn sun is in my eyes.”
“We’re almost to the solstice, the days will get longer soon.”
Finally, the driver braked to a screeching halt in front of a parking garage…to pay the fee and enter. Eroll, of course, followed closely behind.
When he had parked, Eroll parked his car lengthways behind his car so there wouldn’t be any quick escapes on his part.
“I wanna talk.” Nial said as he hopped out.
“Whatever you think you figured out, you’re wrong. Whatever you think you want, stop it.” The man looked exasperated. “No one gave me this warning, and I wish they had. Fuck off, right now, in any direction, as long as it’s away from me.”
“I deciphered part of the book. I need to know.” Nial said, heedlessly.
“Buddy, grab your friend.” The man said to Eroll. “I’m serious, get away from me!” He seemed a little alarmed now.
“No. What’s happening two days from now? What else were you hiding in the book?” Nial crossed the space between them and the man began to backpedal. Nial, like a shark smelling blood in the water, lunged forward to grab on to the man.
Nial’s hand brushed the skin on the man’s neck as he tried to take him by the shirt, and something changed.
He told his hands to move forward, and they moved backward. He tried to look left, to look at Eroll, but he looked right. He tried to look down, and he looked up.
“What the hell?!” Nial shouted, tumbling onto his ass.
“I warned you. I warned you!” The man shouted, angrily.
Eroll approached and helped Nial stand. “What did you do?”
“I didn’t do a goddamn thing, and now your buddy is my fucking responsibility and it is not a good time.”
“What’s happening to me?” Nial asked, sounding disoriented.
“You’re going to see soon enough.”
Nial looked down, causing his head to move up, and began to understand. Surrounding the man across from him was some kind of shimmering mirage, like steam or clear gas fumes.
“That’s my life force you’re seeing, enhanced by– at risk of sounding like a cosplayer, a potion. I was about to go stop a goddamn zombie apocalypse by walking through the spirit realm. My Order, however, has rules. Now that you’ve touched me, the effects of my potion have shed onto you somewhat. You have to come under my wing until such a time as you can join an apprenticeship in my order, or you die under my care. Which means you’re about to get a crash course in all things supernatural.”
“Zombie? Like…like TV. Like The Walking Dead?”
“Sure, close enough. They’re actually called Ghouls but whatever.”
Eroll looked back and forth between them. “You’re screwing with us.”
“Not at all, and in about ten seconds your buddy and I are going to stop moving, apart from drawing breath. Guard our bodies, we’ll be back in a few hours.”
True to his word, in just a few moments both of the men slowly flopped to the ground.
Eroll, thoroughly confused at the scenario but experienced in handling people as they were tripping, fireman carried the men one at a time into the back of his car. He pulled a blanket out of the trunk, and played mellow music…though that was now for his benefit more than theirs.
Hours passed. Eroll went from confused and nervous to downright paranoid. He habitually checked to make sure both of the men were still breathing, at least once every five minutes.
Finally, the street lamps flickered on, and Nial took a deep, irregular breath.
“Easy, Nial. Easy. Do you remember where you are?” Eroll turned around in his seat to look at Nial directly.
“I’m fine, Eroll. I’m fine.” Nialghas slowed his breathing over the course of a minute. “Um. This guy…his name was Eric Prospero. He won’t be… he won’t be returning to his body.”
“He died?!” Eroll shouted.
“Quiet!” Nialghas chastised. “It’s not like that. Not entirely. We should get out of here.”
“Well– yeah, but what do we do with him?”
“Cameras saw all of us enter and none of us leave. Hmm. Put him in the front, we’ll drive out of here with him, then dump him. Cops will only come asking if someone reports him missing, which they won’t, and even if they do, we just met him once, gave him a ride and haven’t heard from him since.”
Eroll blinked hard twice, then smacked himself across the face. “Jesus. Okay. This is way over my head, man. What do you mean we’re gonna dump him? Like this body, this guy is dead? Isn’t he still breathing?”
“Nope, he stopped when he chose not to come back. Look, this guy? His body? It isn’t real. It’s basically a fabrication. Don’t sweat it, cops won’t come looking for answers, as long as no one finds the body.”
“I’m gonna be sick.” Eroll said, now unable to stop staring at the dead man’s body.
“Keep it together. And, as soon as we dump the body, it’s probably best if both of us just forget about this. What I saw over there…it’s fucked. This isn’t, like, Skyrim magic. It’s blood sacrifices and torture and a bunch of nasty stuff. We dump this guy somewhere, and leave this whole thing behind us.”
The notion that this evening could be quickly forgotten spurred Eroll out of his shellshock. “Okay, yeah. Where do we go?”
“Bunch of lakes south of town that are too small to have fish. We get some weight, tie him to it, and let the body take care of itself. Easy.”
“Where do we get the weight?”
“Mmm, I think I have enough leftover concrete mix from when mom and I were refinishing the basement.”
It ended up taking until the early hours of the morning, when the sun once again peaked over the horizon, but the body was disposed of. Not once, in his panicked and overexcited state, did Eroll notice the new leather-bound book that was now tucked into Nialghas’s pants.
Nialghas looked back on the evening after settling in at home. His mother hadn’t noticed him sneak in– his simple trick was to use the front door instead of the back. The back door was noisy. It was cliche to use the back door, or the windows. The front door, however, had an electronic password on it that he could use to come and go seamlessly. Plus, Nialghas had never given her reason to really worry about him before. She was sound asleep.
Everything had transpired so quickly in the short time he was away– he hadn’t meant for Eric Prospero to die, but he died all the same… And it was death, as true and final as all the death everyone else had ever known. Nialghas just decided it would be easier to lie to Eroll than to panic him with the truth. He knew for certain that the police wouldn’t come to care about his body, though, since he and Eric Prospero had failed. The witch they pursued, a Necrophos who had defected from Eric’s so-called ‘Order’ had won. In that one event alone, she must have raised over two hundred zombies, and was likely already working to make more. She would find it more difficult now, however, since Nialghas had cut out one of her eyes, and stolen her book.
Nialghas opted not to sleep. Instead, he opened the witch’s grimoire, and began the much longer, much more arduous process of deciphering her nonsense notes, which would ultimately lead Nialghas to understand how to take control of her ghouls, and use them against her.
She knew his face. She knew his name. She had a growing army that she could unleash at any time, turning the city and Nialghas’s life upside down in her search. Nialghas had only one path forward and no way to turn back.
He had to become a Necrophos.