Prompt: A young necromancer exists in a world filled with fairy tale tropes. They set out on a quest to prove that dark magic does not make you an evil person.
Nothing would ever convince him that gratitude was not the appropriate response. Yes, Orkey Simth was still very young, just fifteen, but he knew right from wrong. He knew that undoing death was right, and one day the others would be convinced. Hopefully it was this day. He could smell something awfully dead inside the cave. It needed his help.
There were plenty of signs posted by the dairy farmers of the nearby village warning him as to the supposed contents of the cavern. One was labeled manticore. Another read deadly manticore. A third even said manticore! As if the creature was some sort of natural disaster that had blown through town. Being naturally gifted in the shadow of magic, he was of course well versed in all the spinier creatures that people mistakenly called evil.
A manticore was a majestic creature with the body and mane of a black lion. Its face was man-like. The other end was even more interesting, as a manticore’s tail could be just about anything. He had seen a litter of them once, every cub bearing a random end: armored flail, scorpion stinger, waving human arm that seemed quite friendly, and even a berry-bearing branch.
Orkey took his first steps into the cave. The smell of rot intensified. There was no fear to swallow because he was fresh out of it. He used to have some when he was very little, but it was scared out of him all in one go by the phantom of his grandmother. She came back, turned his hair white, and berated his whole family for not raising him properly. She was the one who told him he was a necromancer.
The little village that made all its milks and cheeses, and manticore signs apparently, had insisted the death of the cave dweller was a stroke of luck. They had claimed it was stealing their livestock and gobbling them up. Orkey like to take people at their word, but he already knew the denizens of Catchacow were liars.
It was just three days prior that he was welcome there as an exchange student in their charming school. Most of the others his age only used magic, rather than its shadow, so he had a hard time making friends. He didn’t let it keep him down, as magic’s shadow was allowed to influence that sort of thing. He could make all sorts of friends out of the dead things in the ground, but for once he thought he’d try to relate to one of the idyllic village girls he’d always dreamed of marrying one day.
He was in the school’s stables when he overheard a classmate talking to one of her friends. He was looking for depressed snails to use as a potion ingredient, while, just one thin stall away, the girls brushed the manes of the school’s mated unicorn pair. The one he liked was named Lumina, and she was lamenting the recent death of her pet rabbit Cheeks. She mentioned that he was buried nearby, under the ash tree where he’d been found as a baby.
Naturally, Orkey snuck away, resurrected the creature by dripping some magic’s shadow from his left ring finger, the most magical finger, over its grave and brought it back to her. The creature leapt out of his arms at the sight of her. Unfortunately, perhaps because she compared it to the unreasonably high beauty standard of the sherbet-horned unicorn, the sight of its rotted thistle ears and its floppy barely-attached stomach hanging out the left side disturbed her. She screamed and ran from it, upsetting the horses, her friend, and certainly Cheeks.
Yes, resurrected things were very aggressive for a few days, but that was only natural. They still thought they were about to die. Cheeks would have calmed down if Lumina had given him the chance, but she just shrieked. When she eventually formed words it was an order for the unicorn to stomp on the cute cadaver. Cheeks was no more for a second time.
The girls reported the incident and got him kicked out. It really stuck in his mind how they misrepresented the facts. It was alright. He would bring this manticore back. It would be big enough to show the whole village how docile things would be if you just gave them a little while to calm down. The shadow isn’t evil. It cools things, he always said, like shade.
Orkey found the manticorpse at the end of the cave, curled up like a kitten. It must have eaten a rotten sheep, for there was still a queasy expression on its primary face. There was a secondary one, for the tail was a whole serpent nearly fifteen feet long and with a head of its own. Orkey started there, with a drop of shadow in each slit pupil.
It only took a moment for the snake to rise above his head and flick its blackened tongue in his direction. Its irises glowed orange, bright enough to reveal the many stalactites hanging around menacingly. The snake allowed him to pet it.
“Can you speak?” he asked it.
“Yesss,” the serpent answered. It tried to curl around behind him, but Orkey turned with it. “You sssaved me. Thank you. I have a quessstion. I ssstill appear deceasssed. Can I eat in thisss condition?”
“I don’t see why not,” the boy chimed.
“Then I mussst thank you a sssecond time… for the nourishment!” The snake-tail’s mouth opened wide and two glistening fangs the size of his forearms extended. It lunged, but Orkey hopped back. The beast tried to pursue, but it didn’t have the strength to pull the rest of its body. It fruitlessly pulled and lunged several times, but Orkey was more than an inch out of reach.
“That’s just your revitalized anger,” Orkey explained. “Go ahead and feel it. Let it all out. I knew there would be some, so that’s why I only resurrected about a third of you. I’ll do the rest when you can help your other head keep calm.”
“Foolish whelp!” the snake hissed. “I am part of the ssstrongest manticore to ever live! We have terrorized this country for an eon. We are evil. That will never leave usss. Unlike your bones, which I will ssspit out as sssoon as your flesh dissolves.” The manticore was determined indeed. Its snake tail struck yet again, this time actually ripping itself off the furry posterior. Now it was free to slither after the boy, and it wasted no time.
“You’re such a shame,” he yelled at it as he fled toward the cave mouth. “Things like you are why people fear the shadows. You’re the one giving me all this hard work.”
“Shut up!” it hissed. It was definitely faster. Orkey had to dodge after lumpy rock while it could just wind around them. There was sunlight up ahead. It just had to grab him before his path options opened up. Its jaw unhinged, opening wide enough to swallow every cheese wheel in Catchacow. “You’re mine!”
The foot of an undead mammoth, tusks more vibrant than any unicorn horn, came down just outside the cave mouth and crushed the snake-tail’s head. Orkey caught his breath as he rubbed a stitch in his side. Just as his grandmother said, he never went a day without bringing something back, even if it was just a blackened moth that would fly right back into the same flame.
He had all his friends wait outside the cave, since some of them couldn’t fit inside, like his mammoth, his sand crocodile, and his blizzard hawk. Orkey lifted the heavy snake and tossed it over his shoulder and neck like a feather boa. He would bring it back again later and see if it had softened up.
Sooner or later, it would come around. Orkey was very good at making friends. His decomposing menagerie followed him back into the forest, with Cheeks hopping along at the back.
Author’s Note: This flash fiction story was written based on a prompt provided by wolkalak during a livestream. I hereby transfer all story rights to them, with the caveat that it remain posted on this blog. If you would like your own story, stop by twitch.tv/blainearcade during one of my streams and I’ll write it for you live!