A New Problem

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Huu put the card on the table with an audible flick. He reached over to the little pile of cubes to his left, found a three on the die and placed it on Liliana's text box.

"Liliana of the Veil," he announced. Mark shook his head slowly from the other side of the table. "We both discard," Huu added, dropped a Swamp into his graveyard and adjusting the die accordingly. He waited for Mark to decide which of his cards he needed the least and smiled apologetically.

"She's fucking stupid." Mark said. It had been four games so far that evening, and three of them had been won off the back of the three-mana planeswalker. "Especially off a ritual."

Hubert had to agree that he was right. As the centrepiece of his new mono-black "Necromancer" deck, Liliana was actually over-performing; turning a fun play experience into a run of easy wins that left neither player satisfied.

"I'm thinking of taking her out," he admitted. "Or at least, a couple of them. Turn one ritual-Liliana is getting a bit tired."

"A bit," Mark agreed.

The playset of four Liliana of the Veil had cost Hubert close to £300. He'd gone for mint originals, because he could afford to and because he had always wanted to. His mother would never have approved while she was alive, but he liked to think that zombie-mum would have been a fan of the choice.

It had been nearly six weeks since her funeral. Nick had been surprisingly supportive, sorting out logistics and money in a way that Hubert simply couldn't have done. Mary Grange had been far more savvy with personal finance than Hubert had even believed and there had been a life insurance policy which paid out three hundred and fifty grand. The money had cleared a couple of weeks earlier and Hubert had an account that had only just slipped below six figures – and that was after inheritance tax.

He hadn't wanted to waste it, but a few hundred on some outstanding Magic cards that he'd always wanted didn't even dent it. Nick had given plenty of advice on savings and investments, some of which Hubert planned to follow.

He needn't have been so worried.

"Let's play Commander with the others," Huu suggested.

They were in the pub across from his house. Naomi and Nick had both agreed there was no rush to sell the place and that Huu could live there rent free until they chose as a trio to liquidate it. His home was safe.

From behind the bar, Sam called out that they only had an hour before he wanted to get out of there and go home. He had gathered enough experience to know that multiplayer games of Magic could go on a while and to give notice appropriately if he didn't want a lot of begging while he tried to close the doors.

Rachel signalled that they understood, and five Magic players sat down to shuffle their 100-card masterpieces.

"Wonder where Dan is," Alex mused, "It's been three weeks now."

Huu said nothing, laying his cards on the new playmat that also sported a picture of the signature necromancer, but he knew.

* * *

"They missed you tonight," Hubert said to the man lying on the altar that had once been his dining table. Six ghostly hands held Dan's limbs down – one for each wrist and the other four covering his legs.

Dan said nothing. He'd not spoken in four days. His eyes flicked over to Huu's and in them was a sense of menace.

Huu slumped into the chair he'd put in the corner of the room and looked at his apprentice. He reached out with the necromantic field and tried, not for the first time, to get past Dan's block. Whatever had happened to the other man was strong, however, and Hubert had no more luck tonight than any other.

Meeting with his friends and playing the game had given him the mental space he had needed, but it hadn't provided him with any fresh inspiration.

"I don't know what to do," he moaned. He looked around the room, now fully kitted out as the necromancer's domain. Among the potions and unguents, Edgar stood. He looked like an ornament, except for the way the magic held together his fleshless limbs.

Dan had come to him a week earlier. It had all been going well – the two men had spent weeks studying necromancy from the theoretical perspective, improving their skills and understanding. Then they'd taken a break when Hubert's inheritance money had come in, and had travelled to London for a week of sight-seeing and indulgence.

Three days apart had been all that was needed for the problem to set in. Dan must have tried one of the techniques they had been researching and it had obviously gone wrong. He'd managed to get to Hubert's house, with obvious effort, and had collapsed on the doorstep.

He had been gabbling, unable to form a complete sentence. The necromantic field emanated from him like shockwaves of power – stunning Hubert and almost dismembering Edgar, but that had subsided and eventually the necromancer and his skeleton friend had managed to bring Dan to the laboratory.

A couple of days later, having eaten and drunk nothing, and with no sign of needing the toilet or any other form of relief, Dan's meaningless conversation had stopped and the violence began. He had smashed anything he came near and tried to tear Huu's skin off if he came too close.

The ghost hands to subdue him had been necessary.

Hubert had slept little and done nothing but try to reach his friend ever since. Tonight had been the first time he left the building, determined to forget his troubles in an attempt to reset his mind.

"What the fuck did you do?" he asked the silent man, not for the first time.

Hubert sighed. He had been mulling a thought over for hours, a day even. He needed intelligent help – someone who could discuss the magic with him and help him try to find a new direction.

It was time to make a vampire.

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