February’s short story contains a new cast of characters that randomly appeared in my head one day. I’ve only spent a little time with them so far, but I like their dynamic.

As with most of my writing, this four-part story explores themes of death and grief. I hope you enjoy it and thank you for reading.

Necromancy [Part Two]

Tristan opened the front door of a small hut at the top of a hill on the outskirts of the town. He poked his head inside, announcing himself. Rowan remained behind him, looking around the outside of the hut.

It was a quaint area with no one else around. All the other houses in town were near the shops. Tristan had told Rowan all about Milo the night before. He was a halfling cleric who specialized in life, health, and healing magic. If it had anything to do with positive energy, Milo would know all about it.

The cleric was a hermit and didn’t trust people much. However, he was always willing to help if asked. It was rare he turned someone down, but he didn’t go out of his way to step forward on his own accord.

According to Tristan, Milo didn’t always live at the top of the hill. He also didn’t always live alone. When his house caught fire due to someone’s aimless magic, Milo made it out with nothing left. Even his friend had perished.

Milo’s loss was the reason Tristan thought he would be a good fit to talk about life and death to Rowan. He had seen loss before and he studied life. Tristan had hoped Rowan would learn a thing or two from Milo, but Rowan was only there to appease Tristan. Her goal was to make it seem like she had put effort into feeling better, but, in reality, it was difficult for her to keep an open mind.

Tristan waved his hand, motioning for Rowan to follow him into the hut. Rowan did so in silence.
“Milo?” he called.

Rowan scanned the room. It wasn’t a large hut so there weren’t many places for Milo to hide. They were in a small room that acted as a kitchen and living room. There was a closed door to their right and above them was a loft holding a comfortable looking bed.

Before they could make it any further into the hut, a door on the other side of the room opened from the outside.

A halfling stopped short in the doorway before relaxing his shoulders. “Oh, Tristan. Was my front door open?”

“It was.”

“Damn. I thought I had fixed the lock,” Milo muttered under his breath. He entered his home, closing the back door behind him.

“You don’t need to lock your doors, you know. This town is quite safe,” Tristan stated.

Milo narrowed his eyes. “That’s what they want you to think.”

“Has your house ever been broken into before?” Rowan questioned.

“No, because I lock my doors.”

Rowan bit back a laugh in response. She liked the way he thought.

“Milo, this is Rowan,” Tristan said in a defeated tone, swinging his arm between the two of them as an introduction. “Rowan, Milo.”

Milo stopped tinkering with whatever it was he brought inside the hut and stood tall. He clasped his hands together in front of him. “Rowan, it’s nice to meet you, I’m sure.”

“You, too,” she replied.

Tristan glanced between the two of them. “Alright, well,” he cleared his throat awkwardly. “If the two of you are all set, then I think I’ll take my leave.”

“What?” Rowan gasped. She leaned closer to him whispering, “I thought you said you would stay?”

“I’ll be right outside minding my own business,” Tristan responded in a low tone.

Rowan scoffed. “Fine.”

Tristan grinned at Milo, giving him a wave. “Thanks, pal. Shout if you need anything.”

Milo dipped his head in response.

He and Rowan watched Tristan disappear back outside, closing the front door behind him. Rowan looked over her shoulder back to the halfling. She didn’t know what to say to him and, judging from the way he looked her up and down, he didn’t know what to say to her, either.

“So,” Milo said, drawing in a sharp breath, “Tristan has told me a lot about your travels.”

Rowan nodded. She didn’t know that, but she had assumed Tristan told Milo all about Jasper.

“He told me that you’ve been feeling a little… overwhelmed, I guess, with your return without the full party?”

Rowan furrowed her brows. “That’s a strange way to put it, but alright.”

The cleric sighed. “My apologies, I’m not great at this. Cleric counseling isn’t my forte, but I do hope I can help in some manner.”

“I don’t think I need any help.”

Milo chuckled.

“What?” Rowan asked offended.

Milo looked her in the eyes, smiling. “That’s just it, isn’t it? Those who say they don’t need help are the ones that need it most.”

Rowan blinked at him. The only response she could think of was to tell him that he had made a good point, but she didn’t want to give him the satisfaction that he may be right, so she bit her tongue.

“Tea?” Milo asked, walking across the room to the small kitchenette.

“Sure,” Rowan said quietly.

Milo picked up the kettle hanging over the fire. He brought it over to the sink and turned on the water. “Tristan tells me you study divination.” He turned the water off and brought the filled kettle back over to hang above the fire. He turned around pointing to the two chairs at the table. “I find divination fascinating. The idea that one can take a peek into the future, understand the present at a scholarly level, or peer back into the past is amazing.”

Rowan sat down in one chair, listening intently as Milo spoke. He sat down in the chair opposite her, his back to the fire. He had a wild grin on his face and Rowan wondered if this was the same halfling she met only moments ago. For someone who didn’t care to engage in conversation, it seemed as though speaking came easily to him when he got excited about something.

“You’re a wizard, right? Care to share why you chose divination as your choice of magic?” Milo prompted.

“Well,” Rowan said, thinking about it. “It came naturally, I suppose. My parents both practiced divination and I learned a lot from them.”

Milo nodded. “That’s wonderful. Where are your parents now?”

“Gone.”

“Dead?”

“Yes.”

“I see.” Milo stroked his chin. “Was it expected?”

“Yes and no. They both lost their battles. Mom in a fight and Dad to an illness,” Rowan explained. “But I don’t think that’s important right now.”

“What is important right now?”

“Not me,” Rowan spat.

Milo tilted his head to one side. “Then what are you doing here?”

Rowan growled under her breath. “I’m only here because Tristan asked me to talk to you but I don’t need to talk to anyone about this.”

“About what?”

“About Jasper.”

“What about him?”

Rowan glared at him. “I know Tristan told you Jasper is dead.”

Milo nodded. “He did. But we weren’t talking about Jasper. I had asked about where you learned your magic.”

Rowan opened her mouth to protest but closed it, realizing the halfling was right. She didn’t care too much to discuss her parents but she had no idea why her mind went to Jasper, or why she got so defensive.

The kettle whistled and Rowan wished she could scream aloud like the kettle.

Milo stood from his chair, taking the kettle off the fire. He poured the hot water into two mugs before bringing the tea back to the table. He handed Rowan a cup and sat down with his own, taking a sip.

“I was brought up as a cleric and was supposed to study all knowledge. I chose to study life instead,” he explained. “At first, that wasn’t acceptable, but I told them that studying life includes knowledge. Life is nature and includes the elements. It’s darkness and it’s light. Life is filled with good and evil.”

Rowan nodded, cupping her mug in both hands. “So, you chose life because it covered everything?”

Milo shook his head, smiling at her. “I chose life because it’s beautiful.”

Rowan raised an eyebrow. She tried to hold back a laugh but still smirked. “You mentioned life includes evil. You think there’s something beautiful about that?”

“Absolutely,” Milo replied with the utmost confidence.

Rowan’s smirk faded, puzzled.

“You see,” Milo explained, “you can’t have good without evil. You can’t have light without a little bit of darkness. And you certainly cannot have knowledge without the unknown.”

Rowan took a sip of her tea, unsure of how to reply to those words of wisdom.

“That is what life is all about and it’s a beautiful thing,” Milo continued proudly. “It’s all that is and isn’t. It’s everything and nothing at the same time. And what’s most fascinating about it is that we all go through the same hardships and prosperity, yet no two lives are alike.”

The half-elf put her mug down, pressing her lips together. The tea was delicious but she drank in Milo’s words.

“If you really think about it, we all come across the same aspects of life within our time in this world.” Milo began to count on his fingers. “We all experience adventure bigger than ourselves, raw emotions deep within the depths of our souls, we all have an innocent childhood, and we all transition into adulthood.

“Whether it’s big or small, we all go through the motions of finding a life partner. Moving to a town that fits our needs. In fact, we all have needs. Wants. Desires. When those are met, we experience happiness, pride, love. When they aren’t met, we go through periods of stress, paralysis… grief.”

Rowan paused at the last word. She stared at Milo who stared back at her, knowing. She wasn’t sure how he did it, but he certainly had a way with words. She peeled her gaze away, taking another sip of tea.

Milo watched her without a word. He didn’t drink his tea. He barely blinked.

Rowan shifted her weight in her chair uncomfortably. “I don’t know what you want me to say. I understand your words, but…”

“But you don’t want to believe them?” Milo interrupted.

“What? No. I just mean… well, I don’t know,” Rowan stammered, flustered. She took another small sip. Her mug was getting dangerously close to being empty and she wanted to continue hiding behind the beverage.

Milo leaned back in his chair. “I’m not sure if Tristan expected me to shove words of wisdom down your throat about life and death or if he expected me to talk through the feelings of grief with you.”

“Probably both,” Rowan muttered, chuckling a bit. “He did tell me that you lost a friend a while back to a fire.”

Milo nodded. “That I did.”

“How long did it take for you to get over it?”

“Get over…?”

“His death.”

Milo’s gaze softened.

Rowan held her breath. Had she said something wrong?

“Rowan,” Milo began.

Uh, oh. This sounded like the beginning of a lecture.

“I never got over my friend’s death,” Milo said. “I never will, either. Otherwise, grief would cease to exist.”

“It would, technically. It would only be a short-term thing, though,” Rowan commented.

Milo smirked. “Remember earlier I said we all experience life differently? We all go through the same motions, but it’s how we perceive them that makes each experience unique. We all deal with them differently, some going through the motions quicker than others. It may seem like you stop grieving, but it’ll hit you once in a while.”

Rowan slouched in her chair. She knew that. She had lost many people in the past before. They weren’t coming back and, despite of that, she missed them very much. Did she think about them every single day? Not necessarily. Her grief was always triggered by certain sights or scents. She knew it was only a matter of time that she’d get over Jasper’s death. Why Tristan needed to make a big deal about it and have Rowan talk to someone was beyond her.

“Here, I’ll show you.” Milo stood up from his chair and walked over to the bookshelf on the other side of the room. He scanned the spines for a moment before pulling out a petite book.
Rowan rolled her eyes behind his back. If this was a scrapbook, she was going to feign ill.

He brought the book back over to her, placing it in the middle of the table, the title facing her.

Rowan’s eyes grew. “Necromancy?” she looked at the halfling in disbelief.

Milo sheepishly rubbed the back of his neck. “Yes, necromancy. I began learning it three days after my friend died.”

“But necromancy magic is illegal.”

“That it is. However, I had no idea what to with myself when he died. I wanted to bring him back or talk to him, even if it was only one last time. I still had things I wanted to share with him. I wasn’t ready to let him go.

“I studied necromancy for two years before I was caught practicing such magic. That’s what caused me to stop. That’s what made me realize my friend wouldn’t have wanted that for me. He was very much a stickler for the rules of magic, so if he knew I was practicing necromancy… well, I can’t imagine the words he would say to me,” Milo explained.

“Did it work?” Rowan asked, intrigue taking over.

Milo shook his head. “I can’t disclose that information.”

“So it worked.”

Milo pulled the book closer to him. “I didn’t say that.”

“You implied it.”

“You’re misinterpreting my words,” Milo said quickly. He held up a hand before Rowan could speak again. “I’m telling you this because I want to share what I learned during my time dappling in illegal magic.”

Rowan clamped her mouth shut, but she wasn’t interested in anything else he had to say unless it was Necromancy 101.

“You can’t have life without death. If you spend too much time worrying about the future or reminiscing about the past, you miss the present. The present is most important because you can implement what you’ve learned from the past to better your future.”

“And you’re telling me that learning necromancy was a mistake?”

“No, I’m saying that death is natural and part of life. Death is an integral piece to the puzzle to ensure we all enjoy life while we have it.”

Rowan glanced upward for a moment to think. “Then it would also be true that you can’t have death without life. Because without death then everyone would be alive.”

“But not everyone would be living,” Milo added. “Without death, there is no end goal. People would waste the day. They wouldn’t learn from their mistakes. There would be no concept of time.”

“So you’re saying death is important.”

“Absolutely.”

“And we need to learn more about death.”

“Well, of course. There’s always something new to learn when it comes to life and that includes death.”

“Can you teach me?”

Milo clicked his tongue. “Teach you?”

“Necromancy,” Rowan said matter-of-fact.

“Absolutely not. Have you been listening to anything I’ve said?”

“You said we need to learn more about death. Necromancy is the study of death, is it not?”

“Well, it is, but-“

“And you studied necromancy for two years, did you not?”

“I did, however-“

“Then you can teach me,” Rowan stated.

Milo opened his mouth but no words came out. Instead, he cleared his throat, standing. “Tristan is a good friend of mine, so if there is anything else he, you, or your companions need, you know where to find me. But I shall not be dipping my toes into necromancy ever again.” He picked up the book, tucking it under his arm. “Now, it was lovely to meet you, but please leave.”

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Rachel Poli

Rachel Poli

Author

Rachel Poli is a multi-genre author with a soft spot for mystery.

She often experiments with short stories and flash fiction, however, she's currently working on the first book of her detective fiction series.

When she's not writing, she's usually cleaning, reading, or playing video games. She currently resides in New England with her zoo.

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