Servant of Death

Servant of Death

I’ve started writing more about Azmih, my lonely and mysterious Necromancer. He always seems popular when he pops up. Like Reianna, he’s a character that I keep coming back to, keep chipping away at, trying to find his final form. He has a story to tell, I’m just not sure what form it takes or what world it takes place in – since he has a habit of slipping in and out of my other fantasy worlds.

Necromancers are often depicted as evil sorcerers, twisting the dead to suit their own purposes. They might experiment on the living to further their studies and often they raise the dead do to their bidding. Necromancers usually want to thwart death, to use their power to reach beyond their mortal years. But I wanted to give them my own spin; what if a Necromancer served Death rather than manipulating it?

I’m a huge fan of the His Dark Materials series by Philip Pullman. These are high-concept novels, based on Paradise Lost, that ask a lot of questions about religion and the process of becoming adult. Around the time the third book came out (way back when I was in high school), and I started playing with this idea, a throw away line from The Amber Spyglass got stuck in my head. Lyra and her companion Will have traveled to the underworld to meet with a friend of Lyra’s who passed unexpectedly. In order to cross the water and meet with the spirits, they must summon their Deaths to carry them. In this case, their Deaths are shadow-beings, pieces of themselves they never (usually) meet until the moment of their end.

Except one soul Lyra meets in the underworld proclaims sadly that they spent their whole life in the company of their Death, only to lose their best friend when they died. What would it be like, I wondered, to spend your whole life with Death by your side, a constant companion, an eternal reminder of your ultimate end?

These two elements became Azmih’s foundation. Unfortunately, Azmih is quiet. He doesn’t whisper his stories to me as some of my other characters do, but makes me poke and prod and discover the details for myself instead.

My first attempt to tell Azmih’s story was a collaboration with several friends. The premise was that Azmih had been one of a great order of necromancers who traveled the world doing Death’s work (calming spirits, getting rid of undead creatures and punishing rogue necromancers). But because of the nature of their work, they had been hated, feared and misunderstood. Eventually, most of Azmih’s order was killed in a great purge that he alone escaped. Eventually, he fell in with a ragtag group of adventurers seeking a relic that could affect the fate of the world. As a result of various circumstances, Azmih would eventually be required to make use of his magic to correct a fatal error.

But though we were all fond of the idea, we never got around to writing much of it. And I’ve since drifted away from a number of people involved in the planning. Though I’d love to revive it, it just doesn’t feel right to stake a claim to something that was only 1/4th mine in the first place.

A few years later, I took a writing course during university. Each student would write three stories and the teacher would choose one to share with the class. The sole requirement for the story was that it had to say something about the human condition. My teacher firmly believed this could not be done with a fantasy story (though he seemed to be fine with sci-fi stories submitted in the past). So from day one I had my mission – prove him wrong.

I came back to the concept of Azmih traveling the world with Death as his only companion. I’m not sure what happened to the rest of his order or why he’s alone. I have since written about him confronting other necromancers, so perhaps his order is simply unpopular. Perhaps there have never been many of his type of necromancers, and perhaps he has refused to accept any pupils. For whatever reason he drifts from place to place, helping what people and spirits he can, often running into more trouble than he bargained for. And there are those who know how to summon him during times of need.

The story I wrote for that class was called Blood for the Dead. My teacher loved it, and it was almost published in an anthology of work that would have featured students from the class though, unfortunately, it fell through. After several years of trying to publish it, I’ve decided to release it on my blog this Friday. But for a long time after I wrote that story, Azmih lurked in the back of my head, unused.

Until I watched Mushishi. This anime is set in a 19th century Japan inhabited by strange spirit creatures called Mushi. The main character is a Mushi-shi or Spirit Master who travels the country aiding those who find themselves at the mercy of the Mushi. The anime has no overarching plot, which is usually a sticking point for me. Instead, each episode features one story about the main character facing off against a particular type of spirit. In a way, they’re like little fairy tales, each with their own grim message – and not all of them end happily. Occasionally, you catch a glimpse into the main character, Ginko’s past.

I really loved Mushishi. And the more I contemplated it, the more I came to realize the framework of small episodes really fits Azmih’s character. So I began writing stories for Azmih again, little vignettes that slowly paint a picture of his life. I’m not sure what form Azmih’s story will ultimately take, or if he will only ever appear briefly and then disappear on the wind, but he’s a fun character to write and I’m happy to share him with you.

Here are Azmih’s tales so far:
They Return Every Year to Lay Flowers on the Spot
He Crossed the Brittle Bridge of Bones
Blood For the Dead (forthcoming)
Death is Hungry (forthcoming)

2 Replies to “Servant of Death”

  1. I’ve always loved Azmih! This really makes me miss RP and writing. Ghost was fun to write and Glass of Blue Fire was a fun concept, although I’m not sure how well it would have panned out on a message board in the long run.

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