Really Long Author's Note: I wrote this for April Camp NaNo. Book 1 is finished, and I haven't started book 2 yet. It's inspired both by a really old story I wrote ages ago, and by a line in The Brave Tin Soldiers Fall. (In book 2 Death mentions a necromancer. This is the story of that necromancer.)
The setting is cobbled together from everything I like (steampunk, science fiction, fantasy…), and I'm pretending the result is coherent. Basically this is made of all the tropes I love and none of the ones I hate. You won't find any love triangles here, but you will find dysfunctional families, arranged marriages, dragons (eventually) and sea serpents, multiple asexual characters, and an astonishing number of zombies.
I'll post chapter one tomorrow, and after that I'll post a new chapter every Tuesday and Friday.
The Power and the Glory
Out of the woods, out of the dark
I'm well aware of the shadows in my heart
– Sleeping at Last, Taste
A small village, somewhere on a small planet
Year 7437 by Intergalactic Standard Year Reckoning
The zombie apocalypse happened on a perfectly normal market day. It happened so slowly and unobtrusively that no one noticed at first. They only realised something unusual was happening when a rotting corpse tripped over a crate of fresh fruit. Not even the most oblivious person could fail to notice a skeleton with strands of flesh still clinging to it, especially not when it sadly flopped around amidst the squashed fruit like a fish out of water.
Everyone who saw it screamed. Everyone who didn't see it ran to see what the screams were about. Gossip flew back and forth among the crowd. And then the shoppers began to notice all the other corpses shambling around the marketplace.
None of the other corpses were quite as decomposed. Most of them could be mistaken for living people, as long as you didn't get close enough to smell them. Yet a busy marketplace had so many strange and unpleasant smells that rotting flesh faded into the background. The corpses went unnoticed until everyone already knew they were there.
The screaming grew louder. People flung down their purchases and ran for safety.
If they'd been less frightened they might have realised these zombies did not behave as zombies were supposed to. They didn't bite anyone. They didn't eat anyone's brains. They didn't even chase the people running from them. They simply wandered around with a lost and confused air. As if not even they knew what was happening, and were waiting for someone to explain it all to them.
Crowds pushed and shoved their way out of the market square. Policemen vainly tried to regain order. Screams rang from everywhere. In all the pandemonium, no one saw two people run back into the now almost deserted marketplace.
The people stopped when they saw the corpses. An uncomfortable silence fell. At last one of them spoke.
"Well," she said. She clasped her hands behind her back and looked around with a badly-feigned air of nonchalance. "This is an unfortunate accident."
Her much shorter companion turned purple. "Accident? Accident? You blithering idiot! How did you accidentally raise the dead?"
2012 by Earth reckoning
Year 8516 by Intergalactic Standard Year Reckoning
"I have questions," the man said calmly.
A close observer might have seen how his hands shook as he held his coffee cup, how he almost spilled his drink as he raised it to his lips. A close observer might have guessed he was not nearly as calm as he sounded. Unfortunately, his companion had never observed him closely.
"I know you do," the woman agreed. "You want to know how I did it. That's all anyone wants to know. But really, you of all people should know better than to ask me that."
The man took a deep breath. He gripped the café table so tightly that it creaked ominously. "I don't want to ask about that. I want to know why you're here. Why I'm here. Why we're in this café. Why we're drinking coffee!"
His voice rose on the last word. As if the coffee was the most disagreeable thing about this situation, which was a base slander against the quality of the coffee. Some of the other people in the café turned and eyed this noisy foreigner with disapproval. The woman shrugged and added yet another spoonful of sugar to her coffee. That was her eighth. The man had kept count.
"I'm here because I want to try mountain climbing," she said. "You're here because you followed me. We're in this café because otherwise we'd have had this conversation on the street. We're drinking coffee because we can't just go into a café and not order anything. And," she added, "because I wanted to practice my Japanese."
"Mountain climbing," the man repeated. "You. Mountain climbing."
She gave him an offended look. "Do you think I can't do it?"
"There's nothing you aren't crazy enough to try, little sister, and I have no doubt you can climb a mountain if you want to. But why? There are plenty of mountains at home. Why come half way across the universe for one?"
She sipped her coffee and didn't answer. The man stared at her. She still didn't answer. He stared some more. No answer. He adopted his best imitation of their mother's disappointed look. She wavered and gave in.
"All right. I'm looking for someone."
Trepidation filled him. It never ended well when she went looking for someone. "Who do you want to kill this time?"
She snorted. "I'm not going to kill anyone. I just owe someone an apology. And an explanation."
Her brother frowned. "And this person is in Japan?"
A sad, faraway look filled her eyes, even as she continued to smile. "I don't know. Honestly, I came here because it reminds me of home."
Thousands of years and a lifetime ago, there was a little girl who stared up at the sky. A million stars shone brightly down on her, whirling around in an endless dance she could never join in. Yet it wasn't the stars that entranced her the most. Nor even the galaxies, those explosions of brilliant lights and colours that she could see through the telescope in the attic.
She looked up at the darkness between the stars. Its peace and emptiness called to her. And something inside her called back.