The Misadventures of A Necromancer
Warnings: NaNoWriMo (yes, this deserves a warning, in that it will be completely unedited), cursing, adult situations, probable blood and gore (I mean, come on, it's about a guy who raises the dead for a living), probable relationships both hetero and homosexual, drug references, um...other stuff. Just be warned in general.
Summary: See Charon Jr. Charon Jr. raises the dead. Among other things. Watch Charon Jr. save a raver, antagonize a vampire doctor, fight with his father, tease a his doll-making genius, and solve mysteries in his spare time. See Charon Jr. fall in love. And fuck it up. Oh Char.
Cole really hadn't planned on dying.
Then again, he really hadn't planned on going to that rave either. Or drinking, because who planned on drinking when they didn't even have money for a place to sleep? Or letting some random club boy shove his tongue and a chalky bitter pill down his throat.
But that was life, he supposed, staring in vague befuddlement at the gray, foggy riverside he stood on, and the equally gray people shuffling aimlessly about him. Well. Perhaps not life after all, because he was definitely not among the living anymore. "Ah, bugger." A few of the faded souls next to him slid sidelong glances at him as he cursed, looking sympathetic in a way that was completely and utterly unhelpful to his current plight.
Cole shot them a mild glare, mollified when one gray-faced trollop who had been making eyes at him huffed and turned away. The last thing he was interested in was a quick shag with some girl he was likely going to be spending eternity with. Especially since the ghost pallor just wasn't doing it for him.
Struck by a sudden thought, he glanced down at himself. His palms stared up at him, life lines grinning at him in a particularly sardonic way, but they were still the same peachy color he remembered them being the last time he had checked. So he wasn't gray yet.
"Does this mean I'm still alive?" he asked a passing wraith. The gray…thing – he suddenly realized it was impossible to tell what gender it had been – stared at him with a gloomy look that was mostly blurred. It was like staring at someone through a rainy window, he thought idly. Cole cocked his head, tempted to push a finger to the person's nose, see if he could smear it like wet oil paints. Cole raised one hand slowly, sneakily, but stopped upon suddenly realizing the being was speaking. Had been for some time, probably.
"Come again?" he asked politely. He was rudely responded to with a droopy sneer.
"The young ones nev'r lissen," the being slurred. "Yeh must be young if the underworld ain't leeched yeh yet. It'll happen though. It'll happen…" the last was moaned in a sufficiently hair raising tone. Cole was vaguely impressed.
"Right…" he said, backing away slowly, just in case the wraith made a grab or started melting over him or something. "Leeching. Got it. So I am dead then?" The wraith nodded mournfully. Cole pursed his lips and clicked his tongue thoughtfully, staring around the place he had found himself stuck in. "Is this all there is to it? Death I mean. Or the underworld, whatever." He gestured to the gray crowd, the sandy, monochrome dunes that seemed to stretch on forever and a day. "Tell me there's a Parcheesi room around here or something. Charades? Poker? Anything, because this pretty much sucks otherwise."
The thing shook its head, drooping. Cole eyed it contemplatively; if it turned into a puddle, he wondered if it would object to being frozen. He liked to ice skate. "The river," it warbled, straightening a bit. "You must cross the Styx river." It waved its blurry arms in a generally leftward motion. "Find Charon…the ferry man will take you. But be warned, you must-"
"That way, huh?" Cole interrupted. "Cool. Thanks Marly. Check ya later." He flashed a peace sign and began to saunter in the direction the wraith had pointed, hands shoved in his pockets. He ignored the other gray people parting before him, staring amusedly at him.
"Wait! The wraith called behind him, sounding shocked and sharper than before. "Ain't yeh gonna lissen to the warnings?" Cole shrugged.
"Nah, I'm good, thanks." In reality, Cole had decided that while listening to the warnings was probably a very good idea, it would be an even better idea to find someone a little less theatrical. With a wave over his shoulder, he skittered off as quickly as possible, weaving through the crowds the same way he had while alive and on the streets of San Francisco, escaping his latest pickpocket victim. While sliding through, he searched for anyone a little less dreary, and therefore hopefully a little more sane.
"Aren't you going to do something?" Shea asked, one furry eyebrow raised dubiously as he watched a young, scruffy looking raver slowly turn blue on the dance floor. Char glanced over at Shea, then down at the boy. He rolled his eyes, still swaying to the beat of the music surrounding him.
"Shit, no," he answered back, trying to tug the satyr back into dancing. "This is my night off." Shea reluctantly bopped up and down for a few minutes with Char, but kept looking over his shoulder at the body and the slowly increasing crowd around it. Char growled and chucked one of his glow sticks at the goat man's head. "He's fine!" he shouted over the electronic music. "He's not dead yet. He probably just fainted or something."
"Does anyone know CPR?" A little sprite girl in pants bigger than the rest of her shouted, crouched down next to the prone boy, two fingers pressed to his neck. "He's not breathing!" Shea shot Char a reprimanding look. Char whimpered, stared pleadingly at Shea, then gave up and scowled.
"Gods damn it, Shea! I hate you." Char shoved sweaty dark brown bangs out of his eyes and pushed his way past the Satyr and the gathering crowd of hopped up, strung out kids, cursing them with every breath. His first night free in almost two weeks, and some stupid club kid decides to overdose in front of his far too sympathetic friend. It figured.
Breaking through the circle surrounding Blue Boy, Char knelt down and bumped the sprite out of the way. She fell to her butt with a small yelp. "Hey, asshole!" she snapped, then blinked. "Oh. Char. Hey." She looked at him, then down at the unconscious raver. "Hells, is he that bad already?"
Char shrugged, taking stock of the body. "Hey, Saidie," he murmured, feeling for a pulse. The boy's heart was stuttering pathetically, and his chest was still. Char frowned. Heart attack, most likelythen. He wasn't convulsing, so no seizures. Probably too many uppers, instead of a bad batch of ecstasy. That was good, less damage to current body and less likely that others would be dropping like flies. "He's not gone yet," he said, answering her question as he moved the boy into a better position. He scowled at the on-looking crowd. "Could you get these idiots away?" Saidie nodded and jumped up, flittering around and shoving people back to give him room. Shea joined her, manhandling people away, leaving Char to focus on Blue Boy.
Char closed light green eyes, feeling for the cool waft of death. So far, he couldn't feel feel much, just a slightest curl of cold, like a tendril of fog against the back of his neck. The boy's heart stuttered again under his palm. Char glared at the blue tinged boy. "Asshole," he muttered, then tilted the boy's head back. "You throw up in my mouth and I'll send you to the underworld permanently." Threat stated, he pinched the boy's nose and leaned down to give him mouth to mouth.
Several minutes of chest compressions and unwanted lip action later, Blue Boy's heart stopped in spite and the cold air around him abruptly intensified. Char jerked back to glare at him and slapped him across the cheek. "Was that necessary?" Shea asked. The man had crouched down next to him at some point. He scratched idly at one hoof peeking out of his slightly outdated bondage pants, the only kind large enough to accommodate his goat half. Char raised an eyebrow at him.
"Yes," he said decisively, and slapped the boy again for good measure. "Bastard up and died on me, and now I have to go get him. Fucktard." Shea snorted and clapped him on the back.
"Shall we get him somewhere a little less crowded then, if you plan on doing your mojo. You…are planning on doing your mojo, right?" Char rolled his eyes and threw his hands up in the air.
"Well I bloody well have to now, don't I?" He grabbed Blue Boy by one arm and wrapped it around his shoulder as Shea got on the other side and did the same. Together they hefted him up; Char wrinkled his nose as he got a nose-full of unwashed blonde hair; the boy's beanie hat had fallen off as they hoisted him up. "Ugh. Beautiful," he groused. "This guy hasn't washed in weeks." He glanced up as several ravers stopped what they were doing to watch them. "Nothin' to see here," he snapped at them. "Just some stupid kid killing himself."
"Just say no," Shea intoned somberly, then cracked up as Char slapped him upside the head. They managed to drag the boy out of the giant warehouse they had been in and into a back alleyway, the cool air slapping them and briefly eclipsing the death chill wafting off the boy he held. Char shivered, wishing for the heat of the rave; he was rarely fully warm, an unfortunate side affect of his profession. Once out in the alley, Char dropped the boy. Shea grunted under Blue Boy's weight and let him down to the ground. "If you bang up the body when he's not in there, it's just going to be harder to tie him back into it," he warned.
"Dude," he griped as he knelt down next to Blue Boy, who was looking decidedly more blue as the minutes without a heartbeat started to add up. "Don't lecture me on my own rules. A few bruises won't kill him." He paused, snickered a bit. "No pun intended. Hey, get down here." Shea followed his directions. "You know CPR?" he asked the Satyr. Shea, predictably shook his head and Char huffed. "Have I mentioned lately that you're useless?" Shea flipped him off. "Fine, here." Char quickly showed him the motions to keep the body in working condition while he went to retrieve the soul. After all, there was no point sticking a soul back into a brain damaged body. "Okay, ready?" Shea nodded, taking over the chest compressions. "'Kay, guard my body for me. Remember to ask me a good question when I get back."
Shea grinned. "Yeah, yeah. Say high to your dad for me." Char scowled, taking one of Blue Boy's rapidly chilling hands in his.
"Fuck that, I'm avoiding him, if at all possible. Gods I wish Lae was here." Char ignored Shea's sympathetic look and instead concentrated on the tiny thread of warm soul still emanating from the dead body in front of him. Grabbing onto it with his mind, he followed it down into the underworld.
Cole glowered at the wizened old ferryman in front of him as tiny cold river waves lapped at his ankles. "What do you mean I can't get on the boat?" he asked. The man scrunched up his wrinkles into a sneer, black eyes twinkling maliciously.
"Well, what part didn't you understand?" he asked politely. "I know several languages, I can repeat it if you like." He leaned against his gondola stick paddle thing and Cole was momentarily distracted. What were those called anyways? He was sure there was a word for it, but it was slipping his mind. "You've not got much going on up there, do you boy?" Cole startled, then grimaced.
"Shut up," he muttered. If he hadn't been dead and therefore bereft of blood, he probably would have been blushing. Instead he ran a hand through his longish blonde hair, grimacing at the greasy feel. He stared at his hand; he didn't know dead people could have greasy hair. Weren't those problems supposed to go away when you no longer had a body? Apparently not. "I think I'm still high or something," he commented, still staring at his hand; there was something different about it but he couldn't quite place it. The old geezer in front of him scoffed.
"Can't be high here, son. You haven't got a brain to overload."
"But you can have greasy hair?" Cole muttered still staring at his hand. Were his nail beds turning gray? He felt the first thrill of fear since he had arrived in this awful landscape. "Listen, old man, you have to let me on that boat. I don't want to turn into Marly." The man scratched at his bum and hocked a loogie into the river.
"Pay up and you can. Until then, get out of the way. I've got a job to do, unfortunately."
Cole threw up his hands in frustration. "What ever happened to the whole 'there's no need for money when you die' thing, huh?" The old man grinned.
"They lied. And I need money for when I have shore leave." He gestured out at all the milling gray people. "Go sign the petition with all the other losers who heard that and didn't bother to bring the two bits I charge. Won't help you much, since there's no one to give it to, but I'm sure they'd appreciate the extra signature. In the meantime…" he waved Cole away. Cole moaned in frustration, dancing a bit in the frigid waters. He rubbed his hands together briskly, hoping to chafe away the grayness. He fingered the class ring on his left thumb, thinking. It had been his father's, the only thing he had of the man before he had died. But then again if he could get the prick in front of him to let him across the river, he might be able to find the man. That would be well worth the cost of losing the ring. He twisted it off.
"What about this, old man?" he asked, holding it up. "It's gotta be worth whatever it is you charge."
The geezer leaned over in his boat to take a closer look, eyes lighting up with greed as he looked at it. "Hmm…very nice. My wife would like that."
"You have a wife?" Cole asked, surprised. The man gave him a smug look.
"Course I do. Hot little witch up top." He snatched the ring up and stowed it away somewhere in his reaper-esque cowl. "Alright, I'll take it. Now," he leaned on his paddle thing again and smiled beatifically, wrinkles winking at him. "There's the matter of your body."
"My body?" Cole asked blankly. The old man nodded.
"Your body. It hasn't been properly laid to rest yet. 'Fraid I can't let you on my ferry until it has."
"WHAT?" Cole yelped angrily. "What the bleeding fuck, you wrinkly bastard, that's not fair!" The man shrugged and straightened, holding his lower back and cracking it.
"Sorry, boy, but that's death. Don't worry, most bodies get buried these days. I'll keep this ring of yours in the meantime though. You come back when you're buried and we'll talk." He took the stick and bodily shoved Cole out of the way. Another soul took up his place, handing over some dollar bills and climbing into the boat with the few other souls huddled there as Cole stared slack mouthed. He had just been robbed in the afterlife. He vaguely wondered if this was karma being a bitch for all the people he had pick-pocketed while alive, but considering the ferry man in front of him was Charon and the river before him was the Styx, he figured that particular concept didn't have much bearing here. The old man was just a crook.
Scowling, he pushed back through the gray people, determined to get his ring back. He jumped when a hand landed on his shoulder, burning with heat. He shivered at the difference, suddenly realizing just how cold the underworld was. He spun as the hand tightened, and found himself staring at a boy, dark hair, pale skin, and green eyes the color of key lime pie. He glowed warmth like a heating coil and Cole was drawn to it like a moth. So were the other gray people around him, they drifted closer, closing them in. The boy scowled at them and elbowed one. "Back off, I'm not here for you guys tonight." Reluctantly the gray people obeyed, leaving them some breathing space. "You," the boy said, returning his attention to Cole, "are annoying. And ruined a perfectly good night."
Cole blinked at the boy. "Urk?" The boy rolled his eyes.
"Never mind," he muttered. "Let's just go. Quickly, please." His hand slid down Cole's arm, leaving a burning trail, and grabbed his wrist. He began tugging him away from the river, and away from the old man. Cole frowned and jerked to a halt. It wasn't hard; the boy holding onto him was ridiculously tiny, a good foot shorter than him and built like a stereotypical emo boy.
"Go where?" he asked. The boy tugged harder.
"Back topside. You had the balls to try and die in front of me, so now you get a second chance at life. Congratu-fuckin-lations, asshole."
Cole contemplated that for a moment, allowing the boy to drag him a few steps further before stopping again. "Wait," he said when the boy scowled and tried again to lead him away. "That stupid old geezer has my ring. I want it back."
"Charon has your ring?" the boy asked, face scrunching up with annoyance. "Great. Just perfect. Do you have to have it?" Cole nodded. The boy let out a groan of frustration. "You realize every second you spend here, the more brain cells are dying in your body back topside," he said.
"Really?" Cole asked, cocking his head and momentarily distracted. "Is that why I'm acting all ADD?" The boy snorted and smirked in a way that was oddly familiar. Did he know this boy? He took a closer look, but didn't recognize him. Cole was pretty sure he would remember eyes as unusual as his.
"Probably. So do you need the ring?" Cole hesitated, then nodded again. It was the only thing of value he had, and if he was going to live, he wanted it. The boy dropped his hand with a look of disgust and stomped back towards the river, shoving aside gray people who didn't move fast enough. Curious, Cole followed.
When the boy reached the river, the old man turned to see what the commotion was. "Oh. It's you again. Come to make more work or less for me, boy?"
"Less," the boy snapped shortly, crossing his arms, legs spread in a warrior stance. "Give the kid back his ring; you're not taking him across any time soon."
"'Course not," the man said with a little smile. "He hasn't been buried yet. Can't take him till he's buried."
"Just give back the ring," the boy snapped. "I'm bringing him back."
"Don't talk to me in that tone, boy. You've been taught better than that. Now, about this ring." The man pulled the ring out, rubbing the garnet stone against one sleeve. "I think its best I keep it. You may be bringing him back but he'll die again eventually. And he'll probably forget to die with money then, too."
Cole's mouth dropped as the boy shrugged. "Good point."
"What?" Cole yelped. Both the boy and the old man ignored him completely. The old man grinned a toothless smile.
"Glad you see it my way, lad."
"Mom'll hate it, you know," the boy said casually. "Too chunky." Cole stared between the two, brain slowly ticking.
"Holy shit," he burst out suddenly. They both turned to look at him, identical frowns on their faces. "You're related!"
The old man cackled as the boy huffed again. "'Course we are. You think just anyone can waltz into death and pluck souls out? I don't think so. That takes my blood running through his veins."
"Dad, just shut up, give back the ring and let me do my job. His brain is dying as we speak."
"I'm going to have a word with your mother about your lack of respect," the old man griped, but tossed the ring at the boy, who caught it out of the air.
"No point," he said, handing the ring to Cole, who slipped it back on his finger. "You're the one I learned it from, old man. And she's as bad as you are." He turned to Cole. "Can we be going now?" Cole nodded wordlessly, taking the boy's hand.
"Junior!" the old man called as they turned away. With a stifled groan, the boy paused to look over his shoulder. "Love you. Tell your mother I've got vacation time coming up next month." Cole was surprised to see a small smile grace the boy's lips as he ducked his head.
"Yeah yeah, I'll let her know." He paused, then, "Love you too." He grabbed Cole's hand in a tight grip and took off. Cole bit back a snicker when they passed old Marly, the blurry wraith raising a hand as the boy picked up speed. "That thing's really annoying," he muttered once they were far enough away. "It'll whine on for hours on end if you let it."
"I know," Cole admitted. "Got caught by him earlier. Hey, is it getting brighter?" The boy smiled grimly.
"Welcome back to the living, kid." With a yank that almost pulled Cole's arm out of its socket, he was suddenly pulled through the light –
And back into darkness. He gasped for breath, chest aching like mad. His eyes snapped open as someone pushed down on his sternum, making pain radiate out, and came face to face with a man who looked to be in his early thirties, muddy brown hair and eyes, two curling horns peeking out of his curls. He stared blankly as colors swirled dizzily before his eyes as he continued to gasp, completely confused. "Wh…wha…?"
The man stopped pressing against his chest as Cole continued to wheeze. "All right there?" he asked, warm voice sounding surprisingly cheerful. Cole ignored the question, looking around. Brick walls on two sides, the smell of garbage…he was definitely in an alley somewhere, which was definitely not the rave where he had passed out. He could still hear and feel a vibrating bass beat from close by though, so he couldn't be too far. His heart was beating like a hummingbird's in his chest, just as it had before. So he was still high, apparently. Had the gray place just been a really elaborate hallucination?
Movement on his other side caught his attention as things sharpened abruptly. Someone was still holding his hand, lifting it up. When he turned his head, he jolted. It was the boy from his hallucination, even paler than he had been in the gray place. He no longer glowed either, dark circles of fatigue under his pretty green eyes. He wasn't looking at Cole, instead fiddling with what looked like one of those cheap glow stick bracelets on his wrist. As Cole watched, he managed to disentangle it from the myriad other bracelets and armbands and slipped it onto Cole's wrist without letting go of his hand. "Wha-?" he managed again, but didn't have enough breath to finish the question. Something in him lurched and his heart shuddered in his chest. The boy grimaced, clammy hand tightening as he paused, eyes fluttering closed. Cole felt something in him settle uneasily and the boy's eyes opened again.
The boy glanced up at the horned man and held out his hand. "Got a knife or anything?" he asked. The horned man grimaced.
"Got a piece of glass," he said, picking up a shard from somewhere and offered it. The boy scowled down at Cole.
"If I get infected and lose my hand, I'm taking yours," he threatened, then looked back at the horned man. "A little help?" Cole watched, completely confused, as the man sliced across the boy's palm with the glass. Said boy hissed, then brought the bleeding palm down to rest over the glow bracelet on Cole's arm.
Cole's stomach wriggled as the boy chanted in an unfamiliar language, the words twisting darkly through his mind. As the words petered out, the thing that had been jumping in his body settled completely, as did his heart. His lungs expanded completely for the first time since he had woken up in this alley and he felt complete. He watched as the boy's hand fell away from his wrist, leaving a blood smear and the glow bracelet, now shining with a deep red light that wasn't due to the radioactive chemicals. The boy swayed slightly, hand resting on Cole's chest. Cole winced, whatever the goat man had been doing to him, it had left a bruise.
"Who are you?" he wheezed. The boy's eyes fluttered open, the green made more vibrant by the dark kohl lining them. He lifted the hand from Cole's chest and held it out to shake.
"Char McCormick, Necromancer extraordinaire. You owe me three hundred bucks."
They left the raver sitting in the alleyway, looking blindsided, after ascertaining the fact that no, he did not have the money to pay Char's fees and that yes, Char had only been joking (sort of). Shea had wanted to treat the boy to some food and coffee before ditching him, but Char refused. He was done with charity. Charity all too often resulted with him acquiring new problems and adopting strays. Besides, caffeine was the last thing the boy's poor heart needed. So instead Char had glared at him and issued a warning to stop with the drugs and to never, ever take off the glow bracelet, since he had tied the boy's essence to it in order to keep him in his body. If it was taken off, he would find himself jolted right back into the underworld and Char would not be coming after him.
Char tugged Shea out of the alley and down the street, trying to ignore the bone deep cold and weariness that always settled in after a trip into death. The curling tendrils of fog crawling up from the San Francisco Bay. The warehouse they had been in butted right up against the shore, so the temperature dropped far quicker than further inland in the city. He shivered in spite of himself and wrapped his arms around his torso; the tight tank top and jeans he'd worn to the rave weren't enough to keep his teeth from chattering. Shea gave him a sideling glance and pulled him close to his furry chest. The goat man's warmth radiated from him; Char snuggled in gratefully. "Thanks," he muttered. Shea smiled a bit, leading them towards one of the main streets and hailing a cab. Once inside, he let go and stretched out, crossing one furry leg to look at a cloven hoof as he gave the nervous cabbie directions to one of their favorite all night diners in the magic district. He glared as the man kept glancing back at his horns, obviously unused to dealing with the magical community. The cabbie looked away quickly and pulled away from the curb.
"Figured we could use some food and coffee, even if we didn't invite the kid along," Shea said as they took to the streets, a tone of reproach obvious in his voice. Char shot him an annoyed look.
"You know if we took him along I'd never be rid of him," he whined, rubbing at one eye. He was tempted to nix the diner idea, but his growling stomach decided him. Instead he let let Shea drag him in to the diner and order him pancakes and hot chocolate, managing about half before his mind shut down and he slumped against the table, letting the sounds of other late night customers lure him into a light doze. "Hey," he said suddenly as his hazy mind thought of something. He lifted his head just enough to rest his chin on his forearms and glared at Shea. "You never asked me a question. To make sure I'm me," he elaborated as Shea looked up from his veggie omelet, confused. "What if I'm some spirit hitching a ride in this body?"
Shea smirked and took another bite. "Well, I figured the necromantic ritual you did right after proved pretty well who you are." He pointed the fork at Char. "I mean, how many spirits know how to do that?"
Char frowned, wriggling his head a bit on his arm to move the bracelet digging into the soft underside of his chin. "Oh please, any dead head with some necromantic knowledge could have done that. That's not good enough proof."
Shea rolled his eyes. "I think you're underestimating your talents, kid. But fine. What's the air speed velocity of an unladen swallow?"
Char snorted. "That depends. Is it aiming for your face?" he asked. Shea laughed and shook his head.
"Yeah. You're you. Welcome back." Char groaned and dug his head into the hollow, unbearably tired. He felt a hand rustle his messy hair as Shea chuckled again. A sharp twinge of vertigo hit him. "Come on kid, let's get you home."
Char allowed his friend to manhandle him out of the diner and the few blocks down the street to the building he used for his business and home. "Sleep well, Char. Try not to take any cases tomorrow, 'kay?" Char nodded and waved the Satyr away before trudging up the stairs to his second story flat. He was greeted at the door by Laelaps, his Hellenic hound dog and crouched down to bury his face in her short black and tan fur.
"You should have come tonight," he told her as she panted happily. "Don't like going downside without you." Lae whimpered and nuzzled him and he sighed. "Let's go to sleep, 'kay?" He shoved himself into a standing position, closing his eyes as another wave of dizziness shot through him. "Come on." She followed behind him into the bedroom and jumped onto the unmade bed as he struggled to tug off his boots and wriggle out of the tight jeans. Clad in his boxers and tank top, he flopped back on the bed and managed to pull the blankets over him, leaning over on second thought to flick on his electric blanket. Lae curled up against his back, her warmth and life melting away some of the coldness in his bones. With a sigh, he snuggled deeper. "Night pup," he murmured, and gave in to sleep.
It took Cole three days to track down the boy who brought him back to life. He had never been to the magic district in San Francisco; for some reason he had always just assumed that it would be a little like China Town – quaint, full of signs and shops with odd letters and even odder wares, and residents who may or may not want you there if you didn't belong.
For the most part he was right. Occult shops filled their store fronts with candles, stars, and magic books designed to lure in tourists and psychics offered to read your palms, your tarot, your tea leaves and everything else possible. Those walking the streets were divided – humans clustered together and staring in awe at the things around them, and the natives, who were generally distinguishable by the otherworldliness of their looks. Horns, brightly colored hair, fur, scales, cat eyes…even Cole, who was slightly more used to strange looks than most found himself glancing around in curiosity. What surprised him more than their looks was the absolutely blasé way they ignored the looks of the tourists. Apparently they were used to it.
It took him the first day and a half to realize that asking around in the storefronts was useless. There were two sides to the magic district: the one set up for tourists, and the real one that only the locals could access. Cole was not a local, was obviously human, and therefore fobbed off anywhere he went with polite smiles and offers of twenty percent off love talismans.
"I'm a witch," he told one store, and the girl behind the counter laughed, light glinting off her various facial piercings. "I'm a warlock," he told the next. The old hag there smiled politely and offered him a crystal ball to 'help him focus his energy', but no information. Slumping, he gave up for the moment.
Mid day on the third day found Cole in a small courtyard off the main street, dragging his fingertips through a fountain he had found. The sound of the water falling echoed off mosaic walls surrounding him, sending calm waves through him. He contemplated where he would sleep that night; his first night had been spent curled in a box full packing material behind an exotic (ie magical) pet store. While relatively comfortable in comparison to some places he'd slept, the sounds coming from the store had been enough to scare him away from sleeping there ever again. Last night had used up the rest of his money in a horrible little hostel housed with a vampire who kept cracking lewd jokes and staring a little too intently at his neck. Even if he had money left, he didn't think he would go back; he didn't think he could take another sleepless night spent clutching a pencil in a death grip.
He stared into the rippling water, watching the koi fish nibbling near his fingers and contemplating them as well– he was really hungry.
"I wouldn't if I were you," a tinkling voice said behind him. He looked over his shoulder and withdrew his fingers guiltily. A woman in a long flowing skirt and tight tank top, bells jingling from her ankles and wrists, smiled wryly at him. Her warm cinnamon eyes sparkled cheerfully at him. "They belong to the Naiad who owns the aquatics store across the way and she'd be very angry if you harmed them. I'm Marise, and you?"
"Cole," he replied a bit bashfully, and turned towards her on the wall. She was really pretty, he thought vaguely, rich brown hair falling in waves to her shoulders and a body that was curvy like the earth goddesses in the books all the vendors had been pushing at him all day. His eyes narrowed a bit. "Are you a goddess?" he asked. Marise laughed, rich and deep like the rest of her and sat down next to him, spinning to dip her bare feet in the pool.
"No, but thank you for assuming," she said with amusement. "I'm a werewolf, actually, but I promise not to bite. You're human, right?"
"Is it really that obvious?" he complained, slumping. She chuckled again and shook her head.
"You don't hold yourself like one of us," she told him, and patted him on the shoulder. "And no offence dear, but your…attire is rather telling." Cole pouted a bit.
"What, so there aren't any homeless magical people?" he asked petulantly and fought the urge to scratch. He hated being so dirty, usually he could find places with free showers but had been too busy traveling before the rave and searching for the boy since and hadn't had time to search out places.
The hand on his shoulder squeezed a bit and she gave him a sympathetic look. "There are plenty, dear. But you don't have the look of a supernatural, and most witches know basic cleaning spells if they can't find a shower." Cole slumped a bit more, feeling disgusting. "Oh honey, don't give that look. I didn't mean to make you feel bad." Cole shrugged and resolved to find a place to shower, pronto. "Mind if I ask why you're here? Somehow I don't think it's for the tourist attractions."
Cole shook his head. "I'm looking for someone. But everyone are assholes and won't tell me anything." He pursed his lips. "No offense to you, but I don't think I've met a community more closemouthed and hard-assed in my life. And I'm including the republicans in Connecticut in that statement."
Marise frowned a bit, looking out at the fountain. "We have reason to be," she said softly. "Your kind tend to look at us as oddities at best, abominations at worst. Hunters will kill us on rumors or on the word of humans without ever taking the time to research their case. Or call upon our services for entirely wrong or harmful purposes. When someone we don't know comes around asking about one of our own who works in a potentially dubious profession, we tend to get a little suspicious."
Cole whipped his head around to look at her. "You know who I'm looking for," he accused. Marise cocked her head to glance sidelong at him, a small enigmatic smile on her full lips.
"Word also gets around fast, kid. I know you're looking for a boy who can 'bring the dead back to life', which means a necromancer. Since most necromancers don't achieve that status until middle age, and you said boy, I can only assume you mean Char."
Cole snapped his fingers and pointed at her. "That's the name! I forgot it. I was a little distracted at the time." Marise raised one eyebrow at him. "So can you tell me where he is?"
The werewolf's eyes shuttered and she gave him an assessing stare. "Mind telling me why you're looking for him first?" she asked calmly. Cole shrugged, threading his fingers together in front of him.
"Easy," he said dryly. "I want to thank him. He saved my life." He held up the arm with the glow bracelet, the red light shining even in the mid afternoon sun. Marise took his wrist, studying the bracelet with a look of intense interest. Cole quelled the jab of unease as she fingered the bracelet, sliding it down his arm slightly. He didn't remember a whole hell of a lot from that night, but he definitely remembered the boy's…Char's warning not to take it off. He had no desire to challenge the boy's statement.
"Wow, this is pretty rough, especially for Char," she murmured before looking up at him. "Why did he use a bracelet? He usually uses tattoos – more permanent." Cole bit his lip and extracted his hand from hers, fingering the red glowing plastic.
"I would assume he was in a hurry," he muttered, suddenly reluctant to talk about it. "It wasn't exactly under the best of circumstances." Marise watched him for a second, before smiling at him.
"Well, no matter. It's still very well crafted. So you want to thank him? That's all?" she prodded.
Cole sighed, a little annoyed now at all her questions. "I was also going to offer help if he needs it. I couldn't pay for what he did, so I wanted to make up for it, if I could. Anything else, or will you tell me yet?"
Marise chuckled and clapped him on the back. She took her feet out of the water and stood up, shaking off droplets and making her bells jingle. "No more questions, at least right now. Come on in to my café and I'll get you some food and information. Okay?" Cole blushed, feeling a little ashamed that he had snapped at her when it was obvious she was just looking out for her own.
"That would be wonderful. Thanks." He followed her into a small café with a sign over proclaiming its name to be Tsuki, a small moon with clouds shadowed across it. He smiled at it.
"Tsuki?" he asked as she ushered him onto a stool next to a high legged table and tossed him a menu. She smiled back.
"I know, it's trite, but I couldn't help it," she admitted, waving to a girl with white hair and dark skin behind the counter. The girl bounced over, balancing two glasses of water.
"Hey Mar, taking in strays?" she asked, voice slightly squeaky. Marise clucked and took a sip of water, looking innocent. Cole wondered what she was, then wondered how rude it would be to ask. The girl was looking at him just as curiously though, so he decided to risk it.
"So, what…err…" he trailed off as she grinned at him and bared a mouthful of sharp teeth. "I'm Cole," he finished weakly.
"I'm Sal," she said, "And I'm a were-orca. Human, right?" Cole nodded. "Right. Well, what can I get you?"
"Um…" he hedged, looking at the menu and then Marise. He didn't want to take advantage of her. She seemed to understand his hesitance immediately, however, and gave him a reassuring smile.
"Order whatever you want, dear. The sky's the limit and don't worry about eating too much. I've got two boy cubs at home who regularly try to eat me out of house and home."
Taking her word for what it was, he ordered a turkey sandwich, a blueberry muffin, chocolate shake, and fries. Marise raised one eyebrow and ordered him a cherry-fudge brownie as well, stating "They're the best in the district, and made completely without magic. I refuse to let you go without having tasted one." Cole flushed but didn't complain. When the food came he gulped it down, feeling full for the first time in what felt like weeks. When he couldn't finish it all, Marise piled the leftovers into a box along with another sandwich and some fruit. She also gave him a small box of brownies she advised he use to 'sweeten Char up'. Cole thanked the werewolf profusely, smiling shyly at Sal, who was making eyes at him. He took a deep breath, then gave Marise a look.
"You still haven't told me anything about Char," he said, reluctant to do anything to ruin the good mood. He liked Marise, she was certainly nicer to him than anyone else had been in the last few days, and Sal seemed like someone who could be a good friend. But he had to know about the boy who had saved him; his mother had told him to never leave a debt unsettled, and a life debt was definitely right up there with the 'must settle's. Marise quirked a smile at him.
"Of course, dear. He lives on Paramour Street, off Calcifer Blvd. I can't remember the number at the moment, but his shop is called Risen. You'll find it easily enough. Good luck, dear. I think you're a good kid, and I know Char could use some help, even if he refuses to admit it." She paused for a moment, sizing him up, then nodded decisively. "If he turns you away, come back here and I'll hire you. I'm sure we could use you too."
Cole was flabbergasted, and said so. She waved him off, handing him the leftovers and pointing him in the right direction. Grinning and excited, Cole ignored the looks of those around him and skipped happily off to find the shop and a boy who could travel through death.
Char was tossing a small ball for Laelaps in his office when the bell above his front door jingled. He froze, arm half cocked, then dropped his legs from the desk and glanced over sheepishly at his customer. The polite smile he had pasted on his face slid off, however, as he recognized dirty blonde hair covered by a red beanie and hazel eyes. He sighed and pitched the ball for Laelaps, who was wiggling her butt at his side. "Come to pay me my three hundred?" he asked Blue Boy.
Blue Boy slumped a bit, shifting a plastic bag he'd been holding to his arms. "Um. Not exactly. But-"
Char cut him off. "Do I even want to know how you found me? I don't usually take cases from humans, unless they've been specifically referred to me."
"I, ah, asked around. A lot," he said, looking around the office curiously, at the wall to wall bookshelves crammed with books, talismans, statues, herbs, candles, and a few skulls thrown in mostly because he liked to freak out his customers a little; it made them take him a little more seriously, seeing as his age did nothing to garner respect. "Wow, is that a Lakshmi statue? Hindu goddess of wealth, right?"
Char nodded grudgingly, surprised the kid knew enough to be able to identify the goddess. "Not that it's doing me much good," he muttered and shot a pointed glance at Blue. "Too much charity." Blue flushed and shot him a surreptitious glare, to which Char smirked smugly.
"Well isn't it kind of pointless to have it? I mean, if it's the Greek pantheon running things?" he asked. Char looked curiously at him.
"What gave you that idea?" he asked, leaning forward in his seat and nudging Lae away. He didn't feel like tossing the ball to her anymore. With a whimper she rested her head in his lap and he pet her absently.
Blue Boy raised an eyebrow. "Um. I argued with Charon the ferryman on the shores of the Styx? That might have something to do with it." Char rested his elbows on his desk, picking up a pencil to fidget with.
"Tell me something. Are you very religious?" The boy hesitated and shook his head. Char shrugged and pointed the pencil at him. "The otherworld is what you make of it. All the gods and goddesses exist and don't exist at the same time. When it comes to death, my father comes in many guises; Shinigami, Angel, the Grim Reaper…what you believe is what you see. It doesn't matter. When he ferries you across the river, you go on to whatever afterlife you personally believe in. Because you don't believe in anything in particular, you see dad in his true guise, as Charon. If you believed in Christianity, you would have seen a bright light." Char paused, cocking his head. " Of course, since you hadn't had last rites, technically you would have been stuck in purgatory, which looks pretty much the same as the underworld, so…"
The boy was looking contemplative now, and Char wondered briefly if he should have told him all that. It wasn't technically a secret, and the boy didn't seem to have any really strong views, but it still wasn't usually wise to spill the secrets of the otherworld to humans. He wasn't even really supposed to know, but his heritage made him privy to information others didn't normally have access to. Blue was currently looking contemplatively at all the various religious statues Char had, before shaking his head as if to clear it. "Huh," he said.
"Why are you here?" Char asked before the boy started questioning him further. The boy stepped forward, winding his way around piles of papers and supplies. Char reflected briefly that he should probably at least clear a path; his office was beginning to look a little messy.
"I came to thank you again for what you did," Blue Boy said. He came up to the desk, rustling in the plastic bag he carried. Lae perked her black ears and trotted around the desk with a short bark. The boy jumped a bit as she growled. Char watched, curious to see how the hound would react. She was a very good judge of character and fiercely protective of him. Cautiously, Blue stretched out a hand for her to smell; Char noticed the glow bracelet fall forward, still glowing softly red with the power of his blood. Lae edged forward, sniffing loudly, then let out a happy little bark and sat down, tail wagging. Blue's face melted and he crouched, reaching in to the bag again to pull out some sliced turkey. "Aren't you lovely," he murmured to her, petting her back as she at. Char was mildly impressed as the boy stood again and pulled out a small Styrofoam box. "Here. I brought you these."
Char dropped the pencil and reached for it with a suspicious look. Said look immediately melted as he popped the lid open and the smell of rich chocolate assaulted his nose, accompanied by a sweet undertone of cherry. He nearly groaned with delight. "You've been to Tsuki," he said, tearing off a corner of one of the brownies and popping it into his mouth. He sunk back into the chair to savor the rich taste. He paused, then groaned again, this time not in delight. "That's how you found me, isn't it? The meddling bitch." He couldn't be too angry at Marise, however; it was undoubtedly her idea to bribe him with his favorite desserts.
"She was the only one who would help me," he admitted, tying the bag again and hanging it from his wrist. "Those aren't why I'm here though. I have a proposition for you." Char raised an eyebrow, taking another bite of brownie.
"A proposition?" he asked, slightly amused. "Okay, shoot."
"I want to work for you," the boy said bluntly. Char raised his other eyebrow to join the other and swallowed.
"I'm not exactly hiring," he pointed out reasonably. The boy shrugged.
"Just because you're not hiring doesn't mean that you shouldn't be," he replied, "And it would give me a chance to pay you back. I can do lots of things, I can be like your assistant or something."
Char closed the Styrofoam box for later, using the movement to take time to think. "Give me one good reason why I should hire you?" he said when he was done and leaned back in his chair, propping his feet up on the edge of his beaten desk. He hid a wince as one foot caught on one of his books, shoving to the floor with a loud plop. The boy in front of him grinned, sweeping dirty blonde hair out of sparking hazel eyes.
"I'll give you three," he said, mellow voice confident. "First, I'll keep you from say really cliché things like 'give me one good reason'."
Char rolled his eyes. "What if I like cliché lines?" he asked, a smile edging onto his lips. At least the kid was amusing.
"Then you'll love my third reason. But first, my second," the boy paused, eyes rolling up as he contemplated the numbers. "Right, second reason. This place is a freaking pigsty. How do you even find anything in here?"
"Says the boy who hasn't seen a shower for weeks."
"That's circumstance. Give me a shower where I don't have to worry about dropping the soap and I'll clean up. Then give me a week and I'll have this place spotless," the boy retorted. Char frowned a bit, dropping his feet and picking up the book.
"I have a very specific filing system," he muttered. "I know where everything is. You go cleaning things, I won't be able to find anything."
"I'll make you a new filing system. I'm good with computers, maybe I can get rid of some of this paper." He paused, nudging one stack of various folders, notebooks, and other stuff. "No offense, Mr. McCormick, but I'm pretty sure I heard a scream from under one of these piles when I came in. And that's not a good sign."
Char snickered a bit. "Eh, that's just the baby banshee. She likes to play hide 'n seek. If you worked here, she'd be your responsibility." He watched the boy for reaction. Baby banshees could be hell, even if their screams weren't lethal like they would be when full grown. No one wanted to deal with them, hence the reason he was still trying to find a home for her nearly six months after finding her on one of his jobs. But the boy was just staring blankly at him.
"Will she kill me?" he asked, sounding curious. Char shook his head.
"Not on purpose." The boy shoved his hands in his pockets.
"Okay then. I like kids." Char bit his lip, thinking. He could use an extra hand around the place, someone other than Laelaps or the occasional extra hand that Shea offered when the Satyr wasn't working. And in spite of himself, he found himself liking the other boy. He took in the overlarge gray hoodie that looked like a Good Will reject, jeans that were ripped and stained at the knees, and the plastic bag the boy hadn't let go of since coming in. He sighed.
"You're going to need a place to stay, aren't you?" he asked in resignation. The boy blushed, looking down.
"Yeah. That could be part of my payment though. Room and board or whatever. I've done that a couple times. I could keep your place clean too, be your general assistant – slash – housekeeper – slash – whatever else you need."
They stared at each other for several seconds before Char gave in, rubbing his temples. "What's your third reason?" he asked, suddenly curious. The boy gave him a beatific smile that seemed to light the room, as 'cheesy' as that was.
"My name is Cole," he said, shoulders raising as his grin turned sheepish. Char stared at him blankly, not understanding what that had to do with anything, although it was nice to know his name so he could stop referring to him in his mind as 'the boy'. Cole raised his eyebrows as the silence stretched and Char raised his own. "Oh come on," he burst out, taking his hands out of his pockets to gesture wildly between them. "Char? Cole? Char. Cole. It's like…so cheesy it's perfect."
Char blinked, then groaned and thunked his head on the oak desk. "Shea's gonna love you; you're worse than I am."
"Does that mean I'm hired?" Cole asked, sounding like a hopeful puppy.
"Sure, why not," Char sighed. Cole pumped one fist in the air with a cheer.
"Thank you, thank you, thank you, Mr. McCormick. You won't regret it!" Char grimaced and leaned forward to search through some of the papers on his desk.
"I will if you keep calling me that. You can't be much younger than me." The boy raised one eyebrow and finally set his plastic bag down on one of the side table scattered around the room, pushing up the sleeves of his hoodie.
"I'm probably older than you, actually. What would you like me to start with?"
Cole gave him a funny look. "Almost twenty-one," he said. Char grinned, hands stilling in their fidgeting.
"Me too. What's your birthday?"
"December 29th. You?"
"Ha! December 14th. That makes me older." Char leaned triumphantly back in his chair, hands clasped behind his neck. Cole stuck his tongue out and Char snickered.
"Yeah, well. You look about fifteen," he muttered, shifting sulkily.
"You want this job, kid?"
Cole flashed a very fake looking smile. "Of course, boss. How ever may I do your bidding?"
"That's better," he said. "Now go take a shower and wash your clothes. Apartment's upstairs, bathroom's the second door on the right and the washer/dryer's in there too. Laelaps," he snapped and she came to attention, "go with him. No chasing." At Cole's confused look, he elaborated, pointing at the hound. "Laelaps. The dog who can catch everything. Technically Lae's the great great great something of the original, but she still likes to try. She seems to like you though, just don't try to steal anything. Drop your shit in the living room, we'll figure out where you can sleep later. Oh, and Cole," he stopped the boy as he started to leave. Cole looked over his shoulder, inquisitive look on his face. "I find out you're still taking anything stronger than advil, the deal's off. Got it?"
Cole nodded, looking serious. "I'm not a druggie," he said, picking up the plastic bag once more. "That night was…a mistake." He paused, then said hesitantly, "I do drink though, sometimes. I won't while I'm here though, promise." Char considered the words, then shrugged.
"If I said that was a problem, it'd pot calling kettle. Just don't go throwing up in my bathroom. Or coming in with a hangover, because gods know they don't mix well with necromancy." Cole nodded emphatically and Char smiled. "Okay then. Welcome to Risen. Go make yourself unsmelly."
Cole saluted. "Yes, Boss!"
First story - Done! Just a note, but this story is actually a series of short (ish) stories instead of chapters. So the 'chapters' will be long, unless I decide to cut them up into parts. This is being posted here because it is the first draft and will likely be edited to hell and back so I'm not worried about copyright stuff. To that end, any critiques you may have, lay them on me, and I'll take them into consideration. Thanks!