It was cold.
Not the ‘let’s bundle up and we’ll be sorted’ kind of cold.
It was the kind of cold that cut through you like a knife.
What was unusual about this though, is that it was a few weeks’ shy of summer, and a few moments ago, I had been as they say, sweating balls.
I was getting close to my target, a non-corporeal Haunt. For those not in the know, a Haunt is almost-but-not-quite a ghost. Sometimes it’s an emotional echo, a leftover bit of rage, ecstasy, jealousy, what have you. These are by far the most common kind to deal with, but unfortunately, not the kind that has been making mischief for the last month.
The Haunt I’ve been sent to deal with is sneaky. Very sneaky. Which is unusual because by-and-large, they are unintelligent masses of emotion, and incapable of intelligent thought.
A curl of breath escaped my lips, gradually vanishing as my body temperature dropped to room temperature.
Wait. Let me explain.
I’m what you’d call a specialist in the field of the afterlife. Before you get all uptight, keep an open mind. I prefer to be called a psychopomp. (Yeah, I didn’t know what that meant when I started either.) It means I guide the dead to rest. No, not like the reapers. I don’t particularly care about where you go when you die, just that you get there. Ah, but I do have some other abilities…
Anyway, after spending two weeks chasing this thing, I realized it was sensing my life force and fleeing when I got too close.
Which is convenient for me, because all I have to do is die. It’s nothing special. Anyone can do it; the trick is coming back –and not just anyone can do that.
So now, the detachment that comes along with death dulls the senses, especially pain.
Oh, it’s still there. I can feel it if I care to. There’s power in pain. It can drive a man onwards when all he wants to do is lie down. I’m not at the point where that’s necessary though.
Revenancy. That’s the name for the state I’m in right now. It’s your basic intelligent undead. A few steps above zombie, a few steps below Vampire. …The purebloods, that is.
Common vampires are barely smarter than zombies, not even considered people, they’re smelly, faster, smarter zombies that crave blood. Don’t get me started! Vampires are a huge problem for Necromancers, and I don’t care to explain why just yet, it’s embarrassing.
Anyway, now that I’ve cast loose the life in me, I found that the Haunt had become less evasive. What I didn’t expect was the emotions the Haunt pushed onto me, the book that it orbited, or the fact that it wasn’t alone. A dozen other haunts slowly circled the floating tome, glowing smudges of color, looking like as if someone combined Halloween and Hanukah and ended up with a ghostly menorah.
I took it into my hands, wiped away the layer of frost that covered its heavy leather cover and read the title:
The Economicon: The Economics of the Dead
I applied spiritual pressure on the Haunts that hovered nearby, and felt them transfer their emotion onto me. I paused, because the emotions were unlike any I had absorbed before. They tasted (I know, tasting isn’t exact, but it’s hard to describe) like a complex combination of depression, resignation, and something else foreign to me. As I processed these emotions, they faded away, finally free.
I tucked the book into the large pocket inside the breast pocket of the khaki overcoat I usually wore when on a job, and headed back to the office. The glittery black eyes of Nathan, my driver flicked my way as I sat with a grunt in the back seat and shut the door with a little more force than expected.
“Everything alright?” He said, pulling out and heading downtown.
“Things got a little weird, but we’re good. Get us home, take the scenic route, I’m going to resurrect.”
“Sure thing. I’ll wake you when we arrive.”
I’m gonna need some help with this one. Buckling my seatbelt, I began the process to return to life.
“Let the boss know I’m heading in, and we’re going to need a staff meeting. Swing by and pick up Ramon on the way.”
“Yes sir,” Nathan’s eyes cleared to appear normal as he drove.
I cast my consciousness ahead of us, as my body took its laborious steps to return me to life, I might as well find out what’s going on in the office.
The day had been long, and golden fingers of the last few minutes of daylight lit the office. An old oscillating fan cast its gaze back and forth over the room, its whirring drowning out the dozen other lesser sounds that the office made in its daily business. Less than hustle, but somewhat more than bustle, the agency had managed to stay alive in the dog days of summer, barely managing to make ends meet.
The phone rang, and Jane, a thin black girl who had once been considered the office beauty before the death of her mother, now answered the phone, as if by rote. The smiles that could be heard through the phone from her, were now gone, and a faint trace could be found, if you listened real hard.
She set the phone in its cradle and strode to the large desk in the back. On this large wooden desk, sat a smaller identical desk. Seated at this small desk was The Professor, the manager/owner of the Metroplex’s premier supernatural detective agency. Standing a solid eleven inches high, she was a simulacrum of Althea Harrison, a mage who was well known by those who were in the know on recent events. She sat, playing a video game on a cell phone that rested on a stand on her desk, meant to emulate a computer screen.
“Professor. We just got a call from team EmJay. He’s en route, and wants a full staff meeting.”
The Professor reached up and pressed the button on the upper edge of the phone to shut it down, and stood, sending her desk chair rolling backwards.
“Did he say what about?”
“It was Nate. EmJay was resurrecting.”
The Professor looked startled, “Was there trouble?”
Jane shook her head, “I don’t think so.”
“Good. OK, gather the crew.”
“Yes ma’am.” Jane made a beeline for her desk and began making calls.
That’s enough, next stop.
I often wonder why Ramon didn’t upgrade his digs, it’s not like he’s hurtin’ for cash or Karma since we drove back the Elves. But I see the look in the eyes of passersby. It’s a sold mixture of fear and respect. I get that. We’re stupidly powerful, and mainly known for the Seige and Lunar Reclamation. I laugh when I hear some of the rumors about us, but realize that those rumors could get us killed. Ignorance is a weapon.
Ramon answered his cell, as he sat on the stoop of his house, watching his son play tag with his friends.
“Hola.” He took a drag on the cigarette that he had been nursing. His eyebrows raised as he listened to the voice on the other end.
“I’ll be waiting.” He rubbed his shaven, tattooed head wearily, flicked the butt into the street and stood, stretching. Whistling to his son, he jerked a thumb at the house. Tapping him on the head as his son ran past, he grabbed his satchel from the coat hook just inside the doorway, and buttoned his slate grey shirt to hide his beater.
“Chica! I’m headed to the office. I’ll call if I’m gonna to be late.”
From within, his wife replied, “You betta!”
He sat on the stoop once more, with his satchel balanced on his knees.
Ah, here I come.
A large, well maintained, smoke grey Lincoln pulled up, and the rear passenger door popped open on its own. Ramon stood, and tossed it into the seat.
Leaning in, he saw Mort slouched in his seat, restrained by his seatbelt.
“Nate, he gonna be OK?”
The driver looked back with a grin full of sharpened teeth.
“A little death ain’t gonna keep him down.”
Ramon sat, shoving his bag out of the way and buckled himself in.
Ramon nodded, “Well it hasn’t so far.”
As the car pulled into the underground parking, Nathan turned on the overhead lights, bringing me fully awake.
“Thank you for flying Nateway, please bring your seats to the fully upright position, and wait until we come to a complete stop before deplaning. Thank you, and have a nice day.”
Flexing my fingers and toes, I did a quick inventory to make sure everything was working as intended, I unbuckled my seatbelt.
“Howdy, Ramon. Sorry for the quiet ride.”
Ramon dismissed me with a wave
“Don’t sweat it. Aint the first time I’ve seen you dead.”
“Thanks, Nate. Did you make the call?”
“Yeah, we should have a full house.”
The elevator doors slowly opened, as if tired, and although unheard, I could almost imagine a ‘phew’ of exertion from it as the doors opened, and the heat from the office washed into the elevator.
As I entered the office, all eyes were riveted on the book in my arms.
The Professor squinted at it warily.
“EmJay, is that…”
“You tell me.”
Ramon cleared his throat, “Which one is it? We have the Cookbook, so…”
I dropped it on the large desk, the cold it radiated generated light fog which dripped down the edge, to the floor.
The boss leaned over it, chewing her lip as she pondered.
“The Economicon, eh? I think that’s a bit fishy.” She bent to open the book but thought better of it at the last second.
“Want me to ask Hartwood?” Jane enquired.
“Mmh. No,” The Professor returned to her desk and fished through her drawer. “Let’s call Kwok in.”
Pulling a wand from her desk, she stroked it several times, causing it to emit different colors with each stroke. Once it glowed canary yellow, she tapped the book, which slowly began glowing the same shade of yellow.
“It’s safe. Kwok. Now.”
“Yes ma’am,” Jane sat at her desk and flipped through a bulging Rolodex.
“So, you think it’s legit?” I asked, hoping that the answer would be no.
Ramon nodded. “It has the same feel as the Cookbook. Definitely something demonic.”
He opened his messenger’s satchel and pulled out a wooden case. Opening it revealed a well-used art set. With a quick, practiced hand, he sketched a startlingly detailed three-dimensional lockbox and padlock in the center of a magical circle on the surface of the desk. He then reached out and opened it.
“EmJay? If you would…” Ramon gestured grandly to his work.
I nodded and picked up the book and placed it into the lockbox that had until a moment ago, just been a drawing, closed it and fixed the wrought iron lock that sat near it, securing it from meddling hands.
“Jane, get that fan on it. We have a new air conditioner for the time being.” The Professor said, turning her attention back to her phone-cum-computer.
Jane shot a thumb up into the air just as she hung up the phone.
“Yes, Boss. Kwok is on his way.” She rose and unplugged the fan, relocating it to the table, then went on a quest for what I assumed was an extension cable.
Now we wait.
Slowly, sneakily, stealthily, tendrils of icy fog rolled off the table, and spread aimlessly throughout the room.
Jane entered, carrying a large, orange extension cord and began the arduous process of untangling it.
The tendrils that floated by gently brushed her exposed ankles, and moved on.
With a whirr of life, the fan spun up and began blowing over the lockbox and its tenant, and within a few minutes, the temperature had indeed dropped a few degrees, but no further, as the unbearable heat from without would not be beaten so easily.
I noticed that the tendrils had not been dispersed by the fan. Indeed, they persisted in their blind feeling around, and then, with more interest, that the tendrils were more-or-less, making their way to me.
Since I had already been in contact with the book, and its potential identity was problematic, I felt that this was confirmation on that point. Curiously, I didn’t feel anxious as they slithered towards me. Indeed, I rather welcomed it.
Yeah, that should have tipped me off, but I was blind to the process that had already been catalyzed within me. Hindsight is, as they say, 20/20.
The sound of the elevator wheezing its way upwards like a fat man climbing stairs, snapped me out of my reverie, and caused me to re-evaluate the tendrils that were slowly weaving their way towards me. I stood and moved to a less tendrily part of the room.
The elevator’s doors shuddered open, revealing an ancient Asian man wearing a loud Hawaiian shirt with a large smile, holding a briefcase.
“Hello everyone!” He said, striding from the elevator.
The Professor stood up and peered at him from behind her phone-cum-monitor. “Thanks for coming so quickly.”
She stepped around her desk-on-a-desk, straightened her clothes, a black and red bolero outfit, with her standard lab coat over that.
Mr. Kwok put his case on the central desk, beside the hand-drawn lockbox, and opened it, revealing an eclectic selection of magical gear.
Ramon who had been deliberately leaning against the wall, trying to look hard, cleared his throat and approached the table, and looked at the old man with a raised eyebrow. Mr. Kwok nodded, as he glanced his way and back to the box. He cleared his throat and held his hand above the lockbox, and with a car-polishing motion, erased it, revealing the book, which gently rose a few inches into the air by the fog it emitted.
“Well, that’s certainly something unusual you have there.” Mr. Kwok rubbed his head as he contemplated. “Before I get to work, can I get some info on the circumstances on which it was found?”
“Ah yeah,” I began. “It was a simple job from the Agency. They hired me to release a Haunt that had been causing problems, but it was a little more complex than a normal release job.”
The old man cocked an eyebrow at me.
“Well, for one, it was dodging me. It was as if it were sentient. I had to become undead so that it wouldn’t sense me. As I did, it led me to the book, which had a lot more of them around.”
The old man nodded, “Okay, good enough.”
He pulled a wooden tray from the case and placed it on the desk.
The Professor spoke up, “I checked it. It’s not trapped.”
Kwok grunted in satisfaction, pushed the levitating book over the tray, and pressed it down with his index finger, where it lay still. He then retrieved a hand mirror from the case and tapped its face a few times. The glass began glowing dimly, then became entirely transparent.
He looked at the book through the mirror as if it were a looking-glass, hemming and hawing as he went.
“Well It’s definitely a Tome. What confuses me is that this one – the Economicon, is already in our possession, as is the NecroNomNomNomicon, which we already have some personal experience with.”
The others muttered among themselves as they received the news.
“You can’t just copy a whole Tome,” Nathan said, “They’re individuals, moreover they’re Demons, and I oughta know.”
“Yeah, I get that.” Kwok continued, “but here we are. But further, it seems as if it’s attached itself to Mister Appel,” he nodded my direction.
I groaned inwardly.
Just what I need. I suppose it makes sense that a Tome that revolves around the undead would find a Necromancer interesting. Now that I think about it, I think that Haunt led me to it!
“Well, what are we going to do?” I asked.
Mr. Kwok sniffed and looked at the ground a moment. “Well, we need to ask an important question, are there more copies floating around out there?”
My spirits sank. The chaos one Tome can cause is bad enough, what if there are two? Ten? A hundred?
“I’m sorry Mister Appel, you’re going to have to use the Tome. It seems to be attracted to you. I hope that we can learn more about our situation through this.”
I saw this coming a mile away, but that didn’t make this any easier.
“What do I have to do?” I asked, pinching the bridge of my nose and squeezing my eyes shut.
“You’re going to team up with Mister Gutierrez, and work out of the book until it reveals its plan to you.”
“Man, my wife ain’t gonna like this.” Ramon groaned.
“I’m not lovin’ it either, bro,” I replied. “C’mon. We need to get to work.”
“You have a plan?” Ramon said, inspecting his art kit, and placing it in his messenger bag.
I chewed my lip and shook my head. “Not much of one. We’re gonna bust out a tube of elbow grease and work through this.”
Mr. Kwok stood straight, “I have a room you guys can use above my shop, and you’ll have access to reagents…”
“My man!” Ramon beamed.
“Yeah. What he said.” I winked at Ramon, and glanced to Nathan. “C’mon, Nate. Let’s get rolling.”
“I’ll meet you there, gentlemen.” Mr. Kwok repacked his goods and gave a slight nod.
Three hours later, I’m deep in study in a disused office above Kwok’s shop. Ramon is fast on the draw, and I know his talents will keep us safe if we find ourselves in hot water. Back in the War for Earth, Ramon, the luckiest sonovabitch I ever met, showed me two things. One, that with enough prep time, his graffiti skills can literally create an arsenal worthy of an army. And two, that when he draws a skeletal pile of bones, even with crude cans of spray paint, (and I know that’s quite unfair, because he’s an amazing artist with those clacky cans.) I can animate them as if they were real remains. That saved our bacon on more than one occasion. How his magic makes that happen is beyond me, though, and that’s literally my job description: To know how to raise the undead.
We’ve had a few visitors already. That absurdly tall, thin man with the wooden expression, ah yes, Hartwood. He just leaned (and ducked!) in to see how we were doing before disappearing again. Even the Boss, and his companion, the little blond Pixie girl, Nancy peeked in on us to make sure we didn’t need anything. Let me tell you, that little dog’s presence meant more to me than any of the others, especially considering that he brought the community together with the normies to win that seemingly unwinnable war.
Well, reminiscing about the past is all well and good, but it won’t get this puzzle unpuzzed, and this Tome is …tedious at best. I suppose that’s why I never became an accountant.
After a solid week of studying, I found it.
“Nate, Ramon. I think I’ve found something. Get ready.” I looked hard at the page before me, which was unlike the previous pages full of esoteric formulae and regulations involving the undead. This new page was an actual incantation, meant to do …something. Even though I’m a Necromancer, this is high-level stuff. If my master had survived the war, I’d have him here coaching me through this. Sadly, my learning of the Ancient Way was cut off prematurely.
Ah, there I go again, rambling on. But honestly, I’m kind of terrified, because when you work with Tomes, your soul gets tainted, and let’s be frank, Necromancy kind of has a certain reputation. A not completely unfounded one though, I suppose that’s why the Tome chose me. There aren’t many active necromancers around these days. Most are dead, and waiting for a zombie apocalypse or something to wake up and stretch their legs.
Nate has arrived, with the components for the incantation, so I reckon I can’t put this off for much longer.
Here we go.
I’ve initialized the magical circle on the page, the soft green light is …quite soothing actually, but it’s prompting me for the ingredients needed to complete this ritual. I place them, one at a time into the circle, and the Tome absorbs them. I can sense the concerned looks my friends are giving me, but I can’t look away.
My consciousness flickered slightly as it dove into the Tome. I feel its voices assaulting my ego, its demands are crystalizing, the plans becoming clear. It is unaware that I didn’t become a Necromancer for dominion over the dead, but for other, more personal reasons.
This is the reason I am not enslaved utterly by it. In this mad dreamscape, I am made aware of other copies of the Economicon, eight in total, and the Necromancers that have become willing servants to it.
The audacity of the plan is equaled by the absurdity of it.
It’s a freaking pyramid scheme! A supernatural scam! The Economicon wants to channel energy from its servants into itself, and emerge into the world as a demon-god and create an apocalyptic nirvana of undead. Everything undead, even plants.
But to provide this amount of energy …would take sacrifices on a global scale. The entire concept was utterly alien to me. It would take a full-on zombie apocalypse to do it, and it has the manpower to pull it off now.
I severed the connection to the Tome and flung it across the room.
“Guys. This is big. Bigger than big. We gotta get back to the office!”