Nikki - Even Cats Talk These Days
The cat stared at me with utmost disinterest. The Nyxian Blade summoned itself with its grip in my cold sweaty palms. There was a talking cat on my bed. And I was not sure if I would swing my blade at it or I would listen. For some reason, the first option sounded more logical than the second. Cats were not supposed to talk.
“I assumed you are surprised.” The cat spoke again. Its voice was soft but cunning. And I was amazed at how it produced words so effortlessly. I mean, a cat’s mouth was not designed to communicate so directly to a human being. “But no worries, I am pretty sure you have a lot of questions in your head. And I am speaking through magic, so that’s one question down. You will also need a guide because things will get complicated from here.”
“If I was assigned a guide, who sent you?” I asked. But the cat was silent. Its eyes were trying to calculate how I would respond. My mind was spinning a dozen times a second because I was trying to figure out what would happen next. “And if I am going to be guided, then to where or what am I being guided to?”
“Sorry, little boy.” The cat apologized sparingly. Its tone was uncaring. “But I am not yet allowed to speak of such.”
“So what is the point of you introducing yourself to me if you will just end up telling me that you are not allowed to spill the beans.” I grumbled. Today was supposed to be a good day. Then suddenly, another weird being showed up on my bed. Of all places. Hopefully, it won’t go worse from there. But the cat went silent. And the glint in its amber eyes just ticked me off. “Give me at least a clue who summoned you.”
“I will guide you to my benefactor. He lives here on this dimension. My summoner is a human, like you. And it would be best if he would meet you soon. He would be the one who would explain things.” It replied. The way it said the words were so fluid. It was utterly unbelievable. “He said that only you can help him.”
“Are you sent by the Black Sorceress?” I asked, with my fingers trying its hardest not to twitch. My stomach churned, anxious for the answer because the cat paused from being talkative. It scanned and studied me like an endangered specimen. “She said that she will be sending some sort of help. And I do not welcome that.”
“Sorry, I do not know anyone called the Black Sorceress.” The cat apologized. “I have no interest in the messy affairs of mages. I’ll give you a tip: don’t take interest as well.”
“Bummer.” I said dryly. The cat jumped down from my bed and hopped onto my desk. “I thought she was some sort of famous villain in Altimeraea. Looks like she overestimated herself.”
“Take a rest.” It stated. The way it was said was almost like a command. And I didn’t like the idea of being ruthlessly ordered by a small feline. “We’ll go there tomorrow instead of school.”
“Did you just asked me to cut class?” I exclaimed. And it didn’t look like it cared at all. The cat just looked bored out of its wits. “I have a mom, you know. And she will freak out if she knew I would go somewhere else aside from school.”
“I assume you don’t know how to use your powers properly.” The cat replied. “You’re going to be a useless necromancer if you don’t even know how to conjure the dead. Summon a zombie and put an illusion curse on it.”
“Let me just be clear, I never had necromancy classes. So don’t expect me summoning zombies with a flick of my finger.” I grumbled. Then I sat on my bed, looking back at the cat on my desk. “This is already ridiculous that I’m talking to a cat. And I didn’t know you come with ridiculous expectations, too!”
“It seems we must take a visit to Asphodel first before you get your rest.” Isis concluded. “Call upon a wight to serve you. That should be more than enough to take cover for you. They can be handy for leaving decoys if it is a must. And I will cast the illusory curse myself.”
“You might want to explain first what a wight is. If you’re going to be my guide, then amuse me with the knowledge I know nothing of.” I replied. My tone was demanding, but I was unsure if the cat would give in to such commands. Its poise was high and peculiar like a spoiled brat. “And if you’re going to leave some undead creature in my school, wouldn’t that be too obvious?”
“That’s why I will cast a curse on it. Anyone who sees that will see you instead. Wights are more intelligent than a zombie and can communicate.” Isis started explaining. “With proper allegiances and instructions, it’s an effective servant for a necromancer.”
“What do you mean by proper allegiances?” I gulped. “You sounded like it has the capacity to betray.”
“It will betray you the first instance it sees a stronger master.” The cat stated dryly. But that means bad news for me. If the wight is going to see Mr. Evans, then the game is over. It will turn the tables on me for sure. My probably eyes looked hollow as I dwelt in my thoughts. Isis tilted its head in curiosity. “What are you thinking of, little boy?”
“Will my friends notice it wasn’t me?” I asked.
“No. The curse I will cast on it is highly potent. And normal people will easily fall under the curse. Their minds will perceive the wight as you. Nothing lethal will happen to your friends if that puts you at ease.” The cat answered. Then it licked its paw with amusement. Its eyes narrowed as it observed me further. “Do you have anyone nearby that is a mage? I presume that’s the cause of your worry.”
“My teacher.” I admitted. My voice went grim. “Mr. Evans is a mage. He also goes by the name Samael. And he has an interest in me for being a necromancer.”
“Then we will deal with him later.” Isis dismissed. “I’m sure that he’ll be able to see through the curse and will wonder where you really are. But we can confront him later on.”
“You don’t understand.” I insisted. “That person is asking for my help to release his mother from the binding in Asphodel. And they will not take no for an answer. I could feel they’re no average mages.”
“It is a higher priority for you to meet my benefactor.” The cat retorted. It dismissed my concerns right away and hopped to the desk near my window. “He will surely help you how to deal with this Samael guy. But first, I need to teach you the basics of summoning the undead.”
I braced myself for the overload of information. And it was a good thing I did. The cat started educating me on the basics of Necromancy. Those few hours of the necromancy crash course went seemingly like a few minutes. I thought my head was going to explode. Isis covered a brief history of necromancy into the foundational rituals that could help me communicate with the dead. It explained how it was necessary to always have a ritual circle ready in case of immediate threats.
“Listen well.” Isis started. It braced itself around me while explaining. I just looked at the ritual circle that it drew on the ground with its tiny paw. And I got too dizzy following it around me. “There are two categories of undead creatures. The corporeal ones and the incorporeal. Corporeal ones are more taxing to summon because they need a physical body. But they are the most useful in physical battles because they could damage opponents in this realm.”
“Right.” I replied.
“A wight is a corporeal being. So conserve your energy as much as you can because it needs to be summoned tonight.” Isis instructed. Then its paw tapped on my floor, and an intricate ritual circle appeared at its feet. How it was able to do that, I have no idea. “Conjuring a wight could be physically tiring for you as well, even if you are my most promising student.”
“I’m your only student here.” I muttered. “Praising me to be the best isn’t really a compliment.”
“Incorporeal beings, on the other hand, are most effective if you take the fight in Asphodel.” Isis continued, ignoring my snarky side-comment. “But they could still be helpful in this realm for the likes of reconnaissance. They can also provide support for your offensive spells and curses. The incorporeal creatures can use magic like you and can use highly potent hexes. So it is also a must for you to have them serve under your wing.”
Then the lessons continued on. Isis taught me how to properly call forth a wight from Asphodel. There were a lot of words that were tricky for me to pronounce. But I was still able to quickly get the hang of it.
It was past midnight when I finally drew the ritual circle for the Extraction Curse correctly. My eyes felt heavy as I had to go through with the basics first and control my avroi with dead accuracy. Beads of sweat dripped down my face as I forced out the last bit of my strength in summoning a wight. So I placed the palm of my hand and activated the ritual.
The Extraction Curse ritual circle in front of me glowed into a sinister blue hue. And energy erupted from the center of it. I slipped into Asphodel a few minutes before the ritual and made sure that a wight was on its way from that side. And the hours of effort paid off when an undead body materialized before me. My breath turned to ragged gasps as soon as it was summoned.
The wight looked like a corpse fresh from the morgue. Its skin was gray, but it had no odor. No life could be found in its hollow eyes. It stood before me, like a soldier awaiting new orders. The creature looked like a man in his early 40’s. It’s hair was white, and dark-colored veins stretched around its naked torso.
“Remember what I taught you.” Isis said. “Put them under a proper contract, and that wight will serve you.”
“Let me be your loyal subject, o wise one.” The wight stated. But it sounded more like a groan. My knees shook at the unearthly sound it made. And my heart sank the moment it looked at me with a grim smile. “I shall make a footstool out of the enemies before you.”
“I-I will give you conditions to fo-follow, and I will l-let you be my se-servant.” I stammered. My breathing went haywire as if I have entirely forgotten how to do it. The wight before me was full of sinister aura. Isis told me that wights are resurrected spirits who didn’t pass on to Elysium and sought to redeem themselves. “W-will you take it?”
“Speak, o mighty one.” The undead replied. My lungs jumped upwards to my throat, gasping for more oxygen. “Let me know the rules you want me to follow, and I will be yours.”
“This one seems very loyal.” Isis commented. Its eyes scanned the wight from head to toe. Piqued with utmost interest. “I sense no ill will. Just give them instructions. No need to waste avroi on a binding contract.”
The cat was highly knowledgeable and had proved more useful for the last few hours than the Black Sorceress, who promised help in my search for my father. However, it didn’t have enough capabilities to fight like her. But it did mention that its current state wasn’t its proper form. That part was a bummer. Wights would be more helpful in an actual battle then.
I observed them both and thought of the rules to apply.
“First, I expect you to behave like me at all times.” I said in a stern voice. But it was more of a squeak from my failing vocal cords. “Second, I expect no lies from you nor betrayals. You are loyal to me alone. You will meet a mage, and I will not tolerate any instance of potentially traitorous action. And third, I expect you to protect my two best friends in case of emergencies.”
The wight bowed its head in reverence of me. And something rode in me. It was a budding sensation in my boyish chest. I felt huge. Powerful. Yet so sinister. It raised its head with deep respect in its lifeless eyes. My mind wandered what else to add. The last rule was to ensure my friends would be defended if Mr. Evans made a funny move. Wights, after all, were ruthless killers when they were alive.
“Anything else, my lord?” The wight asked. A chilling wave expanded as it awaited further.
“Lastly, I am allowed to reinstate my rules according to how I see fit.” That concluded my rules, and I stretched out my hand. The creature took it, and I pressed on my avroi into the wight. A couple of rings appeared that stretched around its neck with the two parallel rings’ inscription. “Break the rules and the extraction curse will undo itself.”
“I accept your conditions, my sire.” It finally said. Then Isis hopped in front of it and tapped the area by the wight’s feet. A different ritual circle appeared around it, and the wight slowly morphed into a replica of me. From my messy hair to my mismatched eyes. It was a perfect image. Even I could be fooled. “Is this look good enough, my master?”
It even sounded exactly like me. Phineas and Otis will indeed be fooled. My right eye twitched at the complete resemblance. Then my look-alike morphed back to the unsightly image of the wight before warping back to my face. Slowly, my eyes adjusted to uncanny illusion, and I see both my face and the wight’s simultaneously. I looked at the time, and it was almost 2am.
“Go hide under my bed for the meantime.” I commanded. My voice was almost expired. “I need to sleep.”
The other Nikki obeyed with no question. Then I slumped on my bed. Typically, the thought of a dead person lying under my bed would keep me awake. It may look exactly like me, but it was still a corpse. Then the backlash of consecutive practice and an actual summoning crashed on me. I was knocked out before a minute had passed on my bed.
It only felt like a few seconds before my alarm went off. And the aroma of mom’s pancakes swirled into my nostrils. Sadly, I would have to skip breakfast and let my duplicate eat. Not sure if it even has the capability to digest. As I stood up and quickly prepared for the morning, Isis was just intently waiting for me to finish on my study table. I promptly took a shower and slid on to a dark set of clothes.
Everything went fast, and I was ready to go. I nodded at my replica, who went outside my room and greeted my mom. But before he went, I cast a hex on the wight to share a subtle mental connection with me. That would allow me to hear and see what my duplicate was doing. I could also send specific actions to it. That was a spell I just learned the night before. And I wasn’t expecting that I would use it a few hours later.
“Are you ready?” I asked the cat. Isis just nodded its head once and posed itself in front of my window. It slipped right through the glass of my window like a shadow would. And my nose just scrunched in how slippery the tiny beast was. “I’ll meet you 2 blocks west from here. Stay on the corner of Topaz and Emerald streets.”
I slipped into Asphodel and walked outside of my house in the alternate dimension with a bit of focus. Since I could use more of my abilities, traveling into the realm of Death had become more manageable. And it felt like I was able to sustain myself longer in it, adapting to its deathly clutches.
According to Isis, Asphodel is a unique dimension because it overlaps all the other dimensions. Unlike the other realms, it even has a deeper layer that I can eventually travel to. But the cat never went into specifics. It just said that I would have to find some other reliable sources to further explore Asphodel.
Since my realm and Asphodel overlap each other, wherever I am in Asphodel is directly parallel to the same location in my realm. So slipping in and out is just a matter of my focus to travel the two dimensions. Yet, I was still unprepared for battle. I would have to gather more wights and wraiths to be a formidable opponent if I would ever clash with Samael again.
I kept walking and met with Isis on the corner I spoke of and quickly slipped out of Death. The cat was sitting curiously on how I popped into view. I probably looked like a ghost fading in and out of existence.
“Follow me.” The cat commanded. But before we left, it asked me to touch its paw, and a marking on my wrist appeared. A ring of scribbled inscription appeared around my wrist, and I felt a sensation of avroi on it. “It should keep unnecessary attention away from us if ever someone looks at you. The bell on my neck works the same way, so no one would bother picking me up just because I’m a feline. This world seems to be very fond of cats.”
“Cats are considered pets in our realm.” I replied dryly. It was weird for me to explain to a small animal how the world works. But I’m pretty curious how I would get to spend the day cutting classes. “So if someone sees your walking around like a stray feline, then you’d get pick up and be brought to a nearby animal shelter.”
But Isis looked apathetic to that fact.
We went into a bus stop and hopped in. The bus was on its way to the next town called Saintsville. But that was not our destination. The place we were about to go was somewhere on the outer parts of Madburrow. As we traveled, I focused on the hex I placed on my replica, and a vision came into my mind’s eye.
The other Nikki was in the classroom with Phineas looking intently at me. It seems that the other “me” was giving off a false vibe that went unnoticed. In front of the class was Mr. Cain, whose gaze tore through the hex. His eyes looked at me with attention as if I was some sort of anomaly. For sure, he was able to see through the curse that Isis left on the wight.
For sure, there would be a lot of questions I need to answer the next day.
Almost half an hour later, we arrived at some old parish. And there was quite a big house behind it. When I checked the sign, it stated that it was an orphanage. I walked forward as Isis nudged me to follow it. We went through the front door, and a woman was sitting by the front desk.
Her eyes brightened up. But she was not supposed to have enough focus to look at me. So I quickly checked the hex on my wrist. But it was gone. Not a trace of it could be found. Even the traces of the avroi was nowhere. I looked around, and the cat also vanished. With who it was able to go through objects like before, it was not surprising.
“Are you here to see Father Declan?” She asked.
“Yes.” It was the only answer I could muster. “Is he here right now?”
“He’s with the kids in the last room over there.” The girl replied. Her voice was so cheery and sparkling that it was making me a bit nauseous. “Father Declan’s lesson is just about to finish in the West Wing, so you just arrived in great timing.”
“Thanks.” I muttered. It almost sounded like a grumble. People with very high energy like the girl are often in the latter half of the people I would like to talk to.
I walked further into the West Wing, and she left me alone to wander on my own. My senses were awake because of how there was an adequate amount of avroi in the orphanage. It was weird because it was a place where religious people would probably go to, and yet there was a clear presence of magic in the atmosphere.
When I arrived in front of the last door, I took a deep breath and prepared myself to escape into Asphodel any moment. I knocked on the old, damp mahogany and turned the metallic knob. The room was quite spacious, and the priest was busy attending to a group of kids. They were probably two or three years younger than me.
The priest noticed me with attentive eyes. “May I help you?”
I gulped, and I sensed a fair amount of magic coming from the priest. But the same sensation was also coming from the rest of the kids inside the room. It was as if all of them were mages. The amount of concentration was quite thick, and it was rotating around their bodies like a fluid body of water. And I had no idea if it was supposed to be that way. Isis just told me the night before that I was a natural prodigy in sensing the avroi everywhere.
“Yes.” I chirped and made my voice as innocent as possible. But it kind of failed, and I just ended up sounding like a moron. A complete, stupid moron. “Can we talk after?”
“Of course.” Father Declan smiled. It was warm and giddy. But I just found it so repulsive. “Let me introduce you to them first.”
I walked forward, and the four kids around him had their childish awareness was quickly jolted towards. Two were girls, and another two were boys. But it was interesting that the four of them showed different ethnicities. One of the girls was probably a Mexican with her expressive facial features. And the other one was Asian.
To the right were the other two boys, and one of them was most likely an African American, and the other was Caucasian. Both of them were wearing sports attire as if they were about to play a game of soccer. All of the kids had dark hair except for the Caucasian boy, who had a mix of auburn and dirty blonde.
“This is Margarita and Shai.” He motioned to the girls who were, and they simply greeted me with bright smiles. I hated to sound racist, but with their names, it was clear who was who. After that, he motioned to the other two guys on his other side. “And then this is Johnson and Eran.”
The two boys just nodded at me, and it was then I noticed that the Caucasian looked like a little Adonis. His good looks were evident, and a healthier amount of avroi was on him. I took notice of him immediately.
“And what is your name, young man?” The priest asked.
“Nicholas.” I said. “You can call me Nikki.”
“Nice to meet you.” He replied. The avroi in the air just got thicker by a small percentage. It was as if a battle was on hand. Then he motioned the kids to leave the room. That was my cue to ready myself for the Nyxian Blade appearing in my hand. “But I just need to clean up this place for a while. You may wait for me in my office at the Right Wing. Ask for directions from Stefani. She’s the girl at the front desk. Will you be able to do that?”
“Of course, sir.” I agreed. Then I had to probe on that child who was giving off an unnatural vibe. “That Johnson kid looks like he’s a son of a celebrity. Is he an orphan, too? I doubt that his parents would leave him off in a place like this just like that.”
“No need to call me that, Nikki.” Father Declan chuckled. His brown eyes remained calm. If it was a facade, then he was good at keeping at it. The priest was doing its purpose. “I’d like to believe that I am a friend to everyone. So we don’t need to be so formal here. But regarding the boy, I think you were pertaining to Eran. He’s a very charismatic kid. An angel to our small family. That child had turned down offers to be a commercial model multiple times. Anyway, off you go then.”
The priest was a mage. With the way the avroi flowed in the room, there was no other explanation. The kids were probably under some spell, which is why it was present in their bodies. Just what kind of benefactor is this Father Declan, I asked myself.
“Sorry.” I groaned. “I’ll wait in your office.”
When I stepped out of the room, I was surprised to see the Caucasian boy waiting for me outside. He was just a few inches shorter than me. And the tension got thicker in a second.
“Can I help you?” I asked. My eyebrow was raised, wondering why he decided to present himself before me.
“Come quickly.” The boy muttered. His blue eyes were brimming with assurance. “We must go to Death. We must go to Asphodel.”
“Wait, what are you talking about?” It was a feint. But the little kid before me was looking bored and uninterested. The boy was able to see through my bluff. I’m not that bad of a liar. Yet I was not so sure if I was that obvious. “How do you know about Asphodel?”
“Father Declan was never my benefactor, to begin with.” The cat stated. It just suddenly appeared by the boy’s foot. My throat went dry as soon as the realization had hit me. The thought made me shudder as I shrank bank before this small, frail kid. “It was foolish of you to make assumptions right away.”
Then I felt an intense pressure coming from the boy. This “powerful mage” Isis was pertaining to wasn’t the priest. It was none other than Eran.