4 min read

A King’s Ransom, by Rachel Searcey

A ruined castle in deep fog
Photo by Bernd 📷 Dittrich / Unsplash

Content warnings

Death of a pet.

“Lorcan!” Nomi’s voice trickles through the black void. Far away and thin. I grasp onto the threads and pull.

I’m here, Nomi. My senses awaken and the darkness fades to a misty gray. I open my eyes. Dense fog roils in a cavernous hall. An arched ceiling painted with cavorting human figures leers at me. A ring of black candles flicker against the encroaching darkness; the acrid wicks leaving smoky trails in the air. Runes are drawn in white powder, spiraling outwards. A multitude of robed figures sway to fluting music.

Where is Nomi? I can’t see her. With a deep breath, I quiet the panic fluttering in my chest. I struggle to stand, but my hind-legs refuse to cooperate, leaving my front claws to scrabble against the damp stone floor.

The air hangs heavy with incense and the scent of roasted meat, but it smells wrong. Rotten.

Like a dead snake, my tail drags on the filthy ground. I urge my wings to spread. To take flight and escape, but my wings are clamped to my back as if bound with glue. I stretch my forelegs and they crack, stiff and aching. There’s no pain, only a chill from the dank room.


“I’m here, little one.” Nomi steps forward, her brow furrowed with worry. I hate when she’s upset. I’m eager to take my perch on her shoulder and offer comfort.

“Wait!” an old woman’s voice hisses in the dark. “Don’t break the circle, not yet.”

Robed figures part to reveal the source of the warning. Overwhelming fear surges like a hurricane gale. I’m caught between wanting to run to Nomi and fleeing Javarda, the necromancer. Her alliance lies with no man nor kingdom nor god. Death bends to Javarda’s will and the sin lies heavy on her hunched shoulders. Driven underground, she commits abominations far from human eyes and their sense of morality.

Javarda leans heavily on her creaking cane, decorated with cat and bird skulls. They clack against the wood with an eerie hollowness. Her cowl is embroidered with the hair of stillborn children. A musty odor emanates from layers of frayed skirts, hemmed with dead men’s teeth. Her wrinkled face is cavernous with age.

I curl into a ball, head tucked under my limp tail. Nomi brought us here.

Nothing good will come of this.

Memories ebb and flow. I imprinted upon hatching, when as a mere child, she fed me scraps of meat from the palm of her hand. She came of age and we entered our first skirmish together. But the end was the battle in the Khalen Desert, where I devoured the eyes of Nomi’s slaughtered enemies. My stomach was bursting and it was difficult to fly. A stray arrow punctured my chest and shattered my right wing. Nomi caught me before I crashed into the bloody battlefield. I remember pulsing warmth, then icy cold, and falling asleep on Nomi’s chest.

Now we’re here and I understand. I am…was…dead.

I sit up and search Nomi’s face for answers. Vibrations tickle up my forearms. I place one claw in front of the other and Nomi gestures, encouraging me forwards. Her forest-green eyes lock on mine. I inch closer and closer, scattering the powdered runes with my dead hind-legs and tail.

Nomi breaks her gaze and turns to Javarda. “What’s wrong with him?” She strides across the room with her hand on her sword hilt. Rage pours off her in waves.

The mysterious figures crowd around, a shield of bodies to protect the crone.

Javarda flashes her sharpened teeth at Nomi. Words fall from her mouth like toads and snakes. “The process is uncertain, tricky. You are lucky to have your companion back at all.”

Nomi, jaw clenched, towers over the old woman. “Make him whole. With how much I paid you, I expect results.”

Javarda cackled. “I work with what you bring me, princess.” The last word hissed from between her cracked lips. Sticky black mucus dribbles down her chin. “Does the king know his precious eldest daughter forfeited her wartime plunder to revive a wretched dragonet?”

Her voice slithers in my skull. A plume of oily fog obscures Javarda. Her form wavers and dissolves into ash. A projected illusion.

Nomi draws her sword, christened Rudra, a glorious weapon which has stolen the life from countless enemies to the kingdom. If I know my princess, Javarda is doomed.

The shambling bodyguards crowd around Nomi. She slashes at them with frenzied blows and they collapse into piles of scrap. They are empty wraiths, spirits propelled by Javarda’s will. Nomi and I have fought their ilk before. She lays waste to the rest, signing a charm over each pile so they may never rise again.

Nomi prowls the foggy room. “Face me, crone!” Her screams echo in the empty hall and go unanswered. The only door is bolted and magically sealed. Nomi curses and turns to me once more.

She stands uncertain at the edge of the circle before scuffing it with her boot. In three strides, she reaches down and takes me in her arms. My body goes limp at her touch. Her fingers, still filthy with viscera, worry at my wings, attempting to loosen them. She massages my legs, coils my tail. I expect pain, a sensation of stretching, unbinding. Instead, nothing except the dreadful cold.

Nomi curls me to her chest and strokes my head crest. I nestle into her lap. Wet drops hit my cheek and neck. I’ve never seen her cry before. What’s left of my heart aches.

“Don’t leave me,” Nomi says.

My vision fails and all I can hear is her heartbeat. I want to tell her how much I love her, but she knows.

“I swear by the Three Mothers. Javarda will bring you back again or her life is forfeit.”

Release me, Nomi. Let me go.

“Never,” she whispers. Her lips graze the top of my head and her heartbeat fades to silence.

Author's note

"A King's Ransom" was inspired by my immense grief over the declining health of my 14 year old black cat, Nibbler. We'd had him since he was a kitten and I often called him my "baby boy". He passed this winter and we miss him every day. I would give anything to have him back.

Rachel Searcey

Rachel is a filmmaker and writer living in the Florida panhandle with her husband, two children, and two cats (1 black, 1 torti). She’s bi-racial—Indian and white— and grew up in Texas. Her work has been published in Cosmic Horror Monthly, Diet Milk Magazine, Flash Point SF, Aphotic Realm, Pyre Magazine, and various anthologies.

Website: http://www.agirlandhergoldfish.com