Meldi sat reading a book – not one of his own, as he had long ago exhausted their wisdom, but one of the novels that the chief enforcer had lent to him. It was a piece of historical fiction that drew parallels between Terek the Ruthless and the mythical Stalin. Meldi had heard of the book before, as it was quite well-received, but he found there to be little subtlety in the distinction between the story’s villains and heroes.
He was in a holding room for now – though the enforcement officers had done what they could to make it comfortable until more appropriate accommodations could be made.
Periodically, Meldi came very close to forgetting about the bandage on his face. The bottle had broken, and a few shards of glass had embedded themselves in his cheek. The wound was superficial, but it would likely scar. A younger man might have enjoyed the prospect of such a distinctive new characteristic, but Meldi could only imagine how his mother would cry if she saw what had happened to her poor boy’s face.
A poor boy of fifty-seven years. A poor boy who was a necromancer, even if he hardly conformed to the stereotype.
The enforcers had the bottle’s thrower in custody, but Meldi was under no illusion that that would be the end of it. The North East Colonists had more reason than anyone to fear the undead, given their history, but it was that history that had drawn him to this frigid country in the first place.
Meldi had grown up hearing stories about the Bone King, and the hellish dystopia that he ruled within the Wastes. He had not, as a child, wanted to replicate that power. Like any good Vastani boy, he looked forward to the day that they took back the mainland.
But Bernardo Meldi had been privileged enough to travel. He had seen the world from other perspectives. He learned a bit more about the Vansa that had existed before, and though they did not deserve their fate, it did cast the Reclaimers’ vision into doubt. At nineteen, Meldi realized that a defeat of the Bone King would not lead to some recovered golden age.
He began to study the Bone King – who had in fact been a human being once, with the name, presumably an alias, as it did not have the sound of a Vansan name, of Mogra Thesh. At first he studied him out of morbid curiosity – here was the most monstrous human being who ever lived. To even suggest otherwise was a crime in and of itself, literally in Vastanos though only socially in other parts of the world.
Meldi found nothing to sympathize with in Mogra Thesh, which brought him some relief, knowing that there was some truth to the version of events that he had learned as a child. Yes, the man was a mass-murderer, even before his final living act.
But certain crimes have a statute of limitations. A twenty-year-old man who steals a television set will not be arrested when he is eighty. The crime is distant.
Yet how long would it take to forgive the deaths of millions? In a living human’s frame of reference, with only so much time, the answer may be as good as never. But Mogra Thesh became the Bone King a thousand years ago. He was a fact, a facet of the world. Any justice that would come to him would arrive a thousand years too late.
What was the point?
Furthermore, what had he done since? The bone constructs of the Waste were not the souls of the dead trapped in some painful existence as slaves. They were wholly new beings – whether sophisticated magical machine or conscious beings, he couldn’t say. Other than himself, the Bone King had not truly raised the dead, but instead created his own bizarre life cycle with the remains of one type of being transforming into another kind of being.
So the ultimate shock, when a young Bernardo Meldi did his research into the Bone King, was that this most notorious necromancer in history was hardly a necromancer at all.
Such thoughts would not endear him to the people of the North East Colony. Indeed, such disparagement of the Bone King might even draw the ire of the pair of his creations that remained in the town.
Meldi had become absorbed with the story of Mogra Thesh, particularly his travels abroad before his return to Vansa that precipitated the Doom. It seemed obvious to Meldi at least that Thesh must have gone to the Forest of Dusk that would, centuries later, become the North East Colony. Who else was there to learn from? Paul Airbright had died hundreds of years before Thesh was born. It had to be the Icelord – that strange, inhuman figure sometimes called Hazhed-Funir – that had taught the man who would become the Bone King.
Meldi followed in the Bone Kings’s footsteps. But he assured himself that he would always be bound by ethics. Mogra Thesh had been a doctor, but he had violated his oath. Bernardo Meldi would not commit that same sin.
Meldi tossed the novel down on his cot, not bothering to slip in a bookmark. The enforcement chief, a man named Harrick, had appeared with two cups of coffee.
“Not to your tastes?” asked Harrick as he handed him a cup, eyeing the book.
“I may take it up again.”
“How’s the cheek?”
Meldi put a hand to the bandage. “I can hardly feel it.”
“You don’t know anyone in town?”
“Not really. I have not been here for a long time.”
“That was when you… raised? Is that the term?”
“I suppose the most accurate term would be revive. Yes, the last time I was here I revived Ana.”
Harrick leaned back against the wall and took a sip of his own cup. “That was...”
“Eleven years ago. Ana was fourteen. You know, it doesn’t feel that long.”
“Long before I ever met her then.”
“I am sorry, Detective Inspector. I realize that this must have come as a great shock to you.”
“She didn’t know?”
“No. I don’t believe so. Unless her parents told her… but I don’t think they would have. I advised them not to.”
“They moved away. Elgrin, or somewhere like that, I want to say. Don’t recall when. She didn’t talk about them much. I didn’t like to pry. I figured, maybe a more traditional sort of family, not so happy with their daughter’s lifestyle, if that’s the euphemism.”
Meldi nodded. “A wish granted can make one fear some sort of price. It is a factor I confess I did not consider when I undertook the procedure.”
“Most evil in the world happens because of an inability to understand the nuances of consequence.” Harrick stared at the cover of the novel on the cot.
“I was confronted with a situation that demanded expediency. Not all the consequences were negative.”
Her eyes were filled with tears from exertion. She had done her best to rearrange Lisenrush to distribute the weight evenly on her shoulders, but the pain was immense. Every step, it felt like every vertebra was being pounded into its neighbor. Her muscles screamed, and the wound – healing but definitely not yet healed – was a roar of indignant fury. The Ranger-Captain’s breaths were too quiet to be heard, and Ana prayed that she was not simply imagining the rising and falling of her chest.
She stumbled as she lifted one foot onto the asphalt road, nearly toppling over. She passed the large wooden sign, with a painted swordfish leaping out of the water over the words “Welcome To Port O’James.”
The first car passed them, as if there was nothing odd to see. The second car stopped, and a tall, broad blonde man stepped out, seemingly unsure of what he was seeing.
“Call for help,” said Ana. And with that, she fell, Lisenrush collapsing on top of her.
(Copyright Daniel Szolovits 2015)