The Great Unravelling

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The cloak, which until this point had felt like a badge of pride, weighed on Hubert's shoulder far heavier than its physical presence. He remembered the day he had bought it nearly twenty years earlier - they had been planning their first every live role-playing game. Huu had been negative at first, mostly out of embarrassment of the idea of running around a field wielding a latex sword, but his friends had insisted, and he'd gone along with the game once they'd told him he could be a wizard.

Terrak Nor, the fireball-throwing mage that had been his character for the day was named to sound faintly Klingon. His behaviour was definitely not in keeping with the appellation, and Huu had spent the time playing Terrak as a patient and thoughtful sorcerer, constantly double-checking every idea before any action was taken, and hanging back out of the battles to provide support (and to save his own skin).

The cloak had been the shield between Hubert's personal shame and the outside world and had allowed him to really enjoy the day. Now it was performing as an emotional shield once more, but the enjoyment was definitely missing.

"What do you need me to do?" asked Dan, keen to learn despite the solemnity of the occasion.

"You could organise those bits, I suppose," Hubert offered, gesturing to the collection of artefacts on the sideboard.

His dining room had been transformed over the past week. What was once a little-used room filled with too much chintz, had become a surreal magical laboratory. The antique furniture that his mother had been so proud of was no longer home to flowery plates, but instead the cupboard for his collection of necromancy pieces. The carpeted floor had turned from a regularly-hoovered beige to a motley range of browns, stained by the blood that his mother had failed to fully eradicate in her post-operation clean-ups.

Huu sighed. Less than a week, but so much had happened.

And now it had to be undone.

Edgar, Mum-Zombie and Jenson all stood in the corner of the room; unmoving and uninterested. Hubert looked over at them and his shoulders sagged. His eyes focussed on the wraith – it was Jenson that scared him. Jenson that was out of control. Jenson that destroyed so readily.

"We do Jenson first," he said. "He's going to be the most difficult and he's also the most dangerous. I want him gone."

Dan nodded without comment and awaited his instructions.

Huu looked away from all of them and stared blankly at the dining room table, now necromancer's altar. Jenson, he ordered, on the table, please. Lie down.

Unaware of its fate, the wraith obeyed and Huu's gaze was filled with the ominous black cloud that constituted the creature's form.

For a moment he wished he was back in a game of Dungeons and Dragons. His friend Rob had once played a priest dedicated to the purging of undead monsters. Rob's character had been one of those to survive years of play and grow in power and respect both in-game and out. Huu had not spoken to his friend in decades and suddenly missed him. A single wraith would have been no problem to the powerful priest – a wave of a hand, the holding of a holy relic and one word.

"Begone!" Despite the passion behind the word, Huu was whispering, lost in his memory.

The wraith stubbornly remained. Dan looked at him quizzically.

"Sorry, I drifted a bit there. It's a bit harder than just a single word."

Dan nodded, remaining silent.

OK Rob, Huu thought to himself, what do I do now?

Hubert pulled his cloak around himself and reached into his store of memory, research and recent sudden understanding to determine what the ritual needed, and began. Over the next fifteen minutes, he directed Dan to pass him various unrelated-seeming objects and together they worked on the unravelling of the wraith.

In its final moments, Jenson shrieked. The sound was horrific, ripping into Huu both through his ears and also across the link of the necromantic field. Hubert felt himself buckle as the wraith focused its power in rebellion of its master, desperate to prevent itself from being undone. For a long second a battle of strength was fought between the two of them, like a dark tug-of-war. 

Then suddenly there was silence.

Hubert fell to the floor as a bright light tore through the black fog hovering above the table. It flashed, and then was gone. A layer of jet-coloured dust settled on the altar in the shape of a man.

"Wow!" Dan said, the first word he had spoken in an age. "Are you OK?"

Hubert pulled himself to his feet, shook his robe to fall into place and straightened his back. "I'm fine," he asserted, "I'm not about to be beaten by something I made."

The last sentence felt a lot more master-necromancer than unemployed-gamer. Huu found he liked the confidence.

"What about the other two?"

"Yes, we should do those too. Clear up the table while I get a drink, and we'll get on it."

He strode out of the room with three sets of eyes on him.

* * *

Stripping the animation from his mother's body was technically easier but emotionally a lot harder. Huu held her hand as he performed the last actions of the ritual, silently saying goodbye to his mother in a way he'd been unable to previously. His eyes were filled with tears as the false-light left hers and though he knew that really she'd been gone for days, now he accepted that fact.

Her disconnection from the necromantic field was soft in comparison to Jenson's tearing. In one last touch, she reached out to him and he felt her goodbye.

It was no longer about keeping the house, nor worrying about how his siblings would react – none of those things mattered. His mother had died, and she was never going to be there for him; not ever again.

"Night night, Mummy," Huu whispered, "sleep tight."

He let her limp hand drop from his grip onto the table.

"Don't let the bed bugs bite."

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