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art by Melissa Mead

The Last Necromancer

Tom Jolly previously published "Surface" in Daily Science Fiction, and his articles have appeared in Games Magazine, Knucklebones, and Cubism for Fun (really). He's also known for game designs such as Wiz-War and Drakon, but pretends to be an electrical engineer during the day so he can pay the bills.

The crypt had not been locked. The graveyard was so remote and so rarely visited by anyone that vandalism had never been an issue, so getting access to the crypt was like visiting a 7-Eleven. Ras had walked right in.
The air inside was musty, and the center of the room was dominated by a large stone sarcophagus. Green moss decorated the corners of the room. Ras wondered for the hundredth time if Jerome LeVine had chosen the crypt just for the sake of easy access, knowing that someday, some other necromancer would come along and try to raise him using one of the many spells LeVine had written while alive.
Getting the spell book had been no problem. LeVine had used a vanity press to put out 10,000 copies of the thing, so most occult bookstores had a dusty copy on their shelves. Getting the ingredients for the spell was another matter entirely; a dodo's beak, hair from a sabertooth cat, ivory from a mammoth's tusk, and other oddities. In all, there were bits from seven extinct animals that had taken Ras three years to chase down. Not much chance of some neophyte accidentally casting the spell just by reading the book, rolling their eyes, and waving their hands.
He placed the seven hard-won spell components in a rough ring around the sarcophagus, lit a candle made from a dead man's fat, flipped open the worn book, and strained to read the words in the candlelight. He'd memorized the spell already, knowing full well that the lighting would be bad, but it just felt right to be reading it from the book. The spell took nearly five minutes to read, but he finally shouted the last line of the spell, "Rise, O Undead of the Earth, as I Call You Before Me, Rise and Breathe Again!" The words rang loudly in the small stone room.
Ras closed the book, sat down, and waited. A hissing sound came from the door of the crypt as a fog poured in, swirling around the edge of the sarcophagus like a ghost trying to find its way back into a body, slipping underneath the lid as if ports were drilled there, as though this had all been planned in advance. Ras felt lightheaded, a headache forming as he waited for the dead to rise. He heard a gasp come from inside the sarcophagus, as something inside began to thrash around.
A muffled voice croaked inside the marble box. "Where's the damned hasp... ah... God, it reeks in here." Ras heard a latch thrown, and the lid of the sarcophagus slowly rose on hydraulic cylinders. A rough gnarly hand gripped the side of the box and an eye peeked out, reflecting the dim light. "Who the hell are you?"
"Ras Carmichael, necromancer, at your service, Master LeVine."
"Huh." He looked around the crypt and carefully sat up, supporting himself against the sides of the sarcophagus. "My mouth tastes like the dead. Did you bring water?"
Ras had. He had thought the dead sorcerer might have to be rehydrated like potato flakes and had brought a few liters just in case. He unscrewed the cap and handed LeVine a bottle. LeVine sniffed at it suspiciously, then drank deeply.
He turned to stare at Ras and slowly smiled. "So," he said, "I'm alive again."
"It appears so."
LeVine nodded. "Excellent! How did you fix the spell?"
LeVine put his hand to his forehead. "The spell to raise the dead. Yes, how did you fix it?"
Ras turned red. "Uh... it seems to have worked just fine."
"The notes I left before I died, did you read them?" His hands gripped the sides of the stone coffin as his agitated voice echoed in the tomb.
"Crap," LeVine muttered. He looked around the tomb and sighed deeply. "You've brought me back to life, only to kill me again."
"I can fix the spell and try again. Next time..."
"There won't be a next time. You've brought the undead back to life. That was the damned problem with the spell, no discrimination. Every animal, every plant, every insect, every bacterium. Everything that's ever lived, coming back to life in reverse order." He watched expressionlessly as a black haze began to form around him. "Every bit of carbon from every animal and plant I've eaten in the past will recombine to create that animal and plant." He lifted a hand, watching the soot drift away from his body, on its way to recreate the next life form in the chain. "I feel weak."
"But," Ras stared down at his own hands as his clothes began to dissolve into a cloud of drifting carbon, "why isn't it affecting me?"
"The spell protects you. Even this crypt will protect you for a while since it's primarily silica."
Ras laughed in relief.
"Yeah, you go ahead and laugh. When all the oil rises from the ground, when every bit of carbon on Earth finds its way to the surface and this crypt is buried in organic sludge, we'll see how funny it is. If the earthquakes don't kill you first."
Ras stared at him in silence. The book he was holding fell apart in his hand, turning into a gray haze and swirling toward the door.
LeVine coughed and lay back down in the coffin as his decimated frame slowly disintegrated. "I just hope you live long enough for a T-Rex to eat your sorry ass."
The End
This story was first published on Monday, November 14th, 2011

Author Comments

The short-story framework and the end-of-the-world scenario go hand-in-hand quite nicely; not much reason to develop the character background too deeply when you're going to kill them all off anyway. This story popped into my head while reading a Harry Dresden book during the same period that I was reading a book on evolution. I find it darkly amusing how human ignorance, when combined with essentially unlimited power, most often results in the destruction of his own environment.

- Thomas F Jolly
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