The Dead Immortal

by April on July 21, 2012

A dead body is never a good sign, particularly if the poor chap was immortal to begin with. I turned to the petitioner and asked the all-important question. “Are you aware of my fee for this sort of thing?”

The dirty peasant farmer who didn’t look like he had two rubes to his name pulled at his forelock with an anxious gesture. “Yes, Magician Detective Sir.”

Magician Detective Sir. I wanted to sigh, but didn’t. “Well, then, shall we get on to it?” I had an empty magical account to fill, after all. Perhaps I shouldn’t have used up all my credit on that last case with the unhappy fiance. Messy murder cases could be so expensive.

I circled the dead body. “You sure he’s an immortal? This fellow could have dropped dead of a heart attack, you know. It happens even to young folks.”

My petitioner opened his mouth to speak, but closed it again. Apparently in fright, if his wide eyes were anything to judge by. Well, the world’s most powerful magician had that effect on people. What no commoner knew was every bit of magic I used had to be paid for, else the price would be subtracted from my health. Needless to say, I didn’t want to become decrepit before my time. But burnishing my reputation while paying entirely in money hadn’t worked out so well, and my rube account had dropped far below anything sustainable.

I had a magical reputation to maintain, after all. Word would get around if the most generous and powerful magician in the land was seen turning people away.

Now I just had to see if I could solve this death without using up the meager store of magic I had left.

Not a lot is known about immortals. They’re a secretive lot that do just that, they live forever. No one knows why, and I’d never heard of one dying. Still, there was one way to find out more about this body. I bent down and fished the fellow’s papers out of the pocket of the regally purple robe marking him as an immortal. Although those robes had been known to be passed around the black market. Maybe he would turn out to be your average dead person after all.

Zanius. Not the most creative of names. I read further. The man cluttering the ground in front of my cottage had been born three millennia ago, and he’d won all the requisite honors, titles, and degrees that perpetually bored people usually do.

I examined his face. No sprinkling of gray in his hair or at his roots to show he’d acquired his robes in a less than authentic manner.

A slight whistling sound came from the body, audible only when I bent my head down close to it. I frowned. Dead bodies do not emit sounds. Not unless they are packed with something dastardly, like magical explosives.

That thought had me dancing backward on suddenly nimble feet. Apprehension squeezed my throat shut. Had I offended someone? I’d tried so hard to be agreeable. Helpful, even. My enemies didn’t stay enemies for long. Of course, my magical charm helped with that.

The whistling sound grew louder, and I grabbed the bucket of water I’d drawn laboriously by hand from my well and tossed it on the body. Every drop of water flashed into steam as soon as it touched Zanius.

Not a good sign, that.

Zanius’s eyes snapped open, and I jumped back, barely managing to stay on my feet. This was even worse.

I whirled to the confused dupe who had brought the body and ripped the bag of rubes out of his still clenched hand. The farmer winced with pain – I couldn’t blame him – but I was too busy to do anything about that. After tossing the bag in the air, I chanted out the money to magic command – that one was free of charge, since the ambient magic in the air took care of it. Even the terrified farmer backing away next to me could have done it.

A magical bell dinged in my ear, letting me know the conversion was complete. Just in time.

The unblinking immortal staggered to its feet, wisps of steam blurring its figure. “Give me Arken the magician,” he demanded.

That was me.

For some reason, I don’t think that deep voice was really his own. Immortals usually had a higher pitched voice without the spooky monotone. Plus the fact that Zanius still looked as pale as death meant I now had a dead immortal animated by some terrible magic I’d never heard of by some enemy I hadn’t realized existed.

Not a good combination.

“He’s not here.” I glanced around and tried to paint a pathetically confused expression on my face. An obvious ploy, but it might work if the what-ever-it-was now in front of me didn’t know what I looked like. “But I’ll tell him you stopped by. May I tell him who called?” I added a bow in for good measure.

The politeness threw the dead immortal off guard, and its brow furrowed in confusion. “Magic wants him, to devour him.”

“And he’s not here, how terrible,” I said sympathetically while trying to hide the frissons of alarm raising my hair on end. Magic? As if it was a person? Using an immortal as its messenger? And why would it want to come after me, of all people?

I glanced at the farmer cowering near my garden, scrabbling at the dirt. Didn’t he know there wasn’t time to dig a hole for protection? I’m sure if the corn stalks in the field to my left had been tall enough, that frightened man would be hiding deep within the rows in the tiniest ball he could manage. I couldn’t blame him – a little part of me wanted to run away shrieking in terror as well.

Okay. A big part. But that’s not what magicians do.

Zanius the undead cocked his head, as if it were listening to its master.

Master. That one thought set off a cascade of realizations. Immortals must be Magic’s messengers. And in return, Magic made them live forever. Well, except for this case. But what Magic gave, Magic could take away.

Awe and horror spun together inside me, each fighting for dominance. A sentient Magic had been controlling our entire society through money and power since time immemorial. Immortals were our rulers, after all.

Then I froze. What if that’s not the only way Magic controlled us? What if Magic could control anyone who drew on its power? Just like this immortal in front of me, standing as still as death till it received further instructions.

Huh. Perhaps Magic’s controlling effect wore off if I didn’t use its power. Why else would this dead immortal be here, beginning to snarl and raise its hands to attack? Maybe I shouldn’t have gone on that magic fast after all to build up my credit. Then this wouldn’t be happening.

Clearly some action on my part was needed, though, so I bowed while I tried to figure out a non-magical way to kill the already dead thing standing a mere three paces from me. “Please tell Magic that Arken’s servant sends his regards on behalf of his master, and that he soon hopes to regain his skills once he accumulates enough wealth to do Magic honor.”

Zanius’s eyes narrowed. My act wasn’t working. Maybe I could destroy him with fire? I wanted to kick myself for letting my hearth inside go cold, even if it was summertime.

Maybe one little fireball spell wouldn’t bring me under Magic’s control?

Before I could open a link to my magical account, Zanius spoke.

“You are Arken. Your speech patterns give you away every time.”

Amazing how two words turned my world upside down. “Every time.” That meant this had happened more than once.

A hazy memory triggered by those words tickled the edge of my mind, but it slid away like a slimy fish when I tried to grasp it. What had happened was similar to what was going on right now, but I couldn’t remember anything more.

That was all I needed to know, though, and horror rushed through me. That my near perfect memory couldn’t quite remember it meant someone or something had placed a block on it, and the only thing I ever let into my mind was magic. Or perhaps I should say, Magic.

My fist clenched shut. How I wanted to fight, to throw a fireball at this immortal pawn. But I’m sure I did that every time before. Magic must love how predictable I am. But not this time. Magic had overplayed its hand with those two little words.

The undead wasn’t here to attack me like I’d thought. It was here to provoke me to draw upon Magic’s power, making me fall under its sway again. Apparently one little spell would do the job.

If only my corn patch was tall enough to provide cover for an escape! Even I didn’t know how to handle an undead creature trying to kill me without magic.

Out of the corner of my eye, I caught a glimpse of the farmer circling behind Zanius with a pair of large rocks in his hand. Perhaps that scrabbling in the dirt hadn’t been cowardly after all. Too bad he had absolutely no chance to creep up on Zanius undetected. Immortals had excellent senses.

The farmer needed help. I backed up a few steps and began babbling. Not too loud. That might alert the undead to my rather hopeless plan. “You mistake me! I’m Arken’s younger brother! Look, not one gray hair in this beard here.” I pointed at my chin and didn’t mention my experiments with tree bark dye.

“Such a pathetic attempt at misdirection.” Zanius sneered on behalf of his master, Magic.

True. But now the farmer was just a few steps behind him. I slipped out of my tunic and threw my arms wide. “Look at this body! Such defined muscles you’ve never see on an old man.” And I threw the tunic at his face.

Zanius jerked a step back to get out of my range, just as I’d hoped. The farmer slammed the rock down on the back of his head, and the undead fell to the ground with a squish like a sack of rotten potatoes.

“Defined muscles, eh?” The farmer looked me over.

Embarrassment didn’t cross my mind at all. “Just all part of the misdirection.” I grabbed my tunic and slipped it over my head. “I’m afraid I already converted your money to magic.” Changing the subject was definitely desirable.

The farmer shrugged. “It was from this immortal’s partner.” He knelt down and tied Zanius up with the rope that had been holding up his pants.

“You may have a bit of trouble walking home,” I observed.

“Not as much as you’ll have staying alive,” he said.

He had a point. Zanius would come after me as soon as Magic revived it again. I surveyed my little cabin and garden. “I don’t suppose you’d need a farmhand, do you?” Retirement from magical detective work seemed more desirable every moment.

“Give me the rope from your well, and we’ll have a deal.”

Excellent. We spit on our hands and shook. Not very sanitary, true, but the only non-magical way of binding a contract.

I grabbed my ornately carved staff and set off with my new friend. Boss. Whatever. “So how do you feel about a little rebellion against Magic on the side?”

The farmer laughed. “That’s what I live for. Rebellion is my name, after all.”

The End



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