At first there is nothing but darkness. Then a match flares and is applied to a single candle, which is in turn used to light more candles. The light reveals a man dressed in black – a leather jacket, cargo pants and a cloak with a deep hood. The man's face is concealed behind a steel mask and he exudes an aura of menace that is only emphasised by the heavy leather-bound book tucked under one arm.
The man moves in a circle, lighting candles until the little lights are at least five deep and span an area the size of a large room. There are three other people standing inside the circle of candles, each standing on one side of a square table on which rests a bulldog-clipped stack of printed pages. The fourth side of the table is left for the man currently lighting candles.
Finally this man takes his place at the table. He sets his leather-bound book down on the table and opens it, flicking through a series of plastic scrapbook sleeves that hold a collection of battered pages of what was once the only intact copy of Necromancy for Dummies in existence. The book itself was almost destroyed in January, but the necromancer who owns it meticulously preserved every single torn page in this scrapbook. The page he opens it at is not from the original Necromancy for Dummies, though. It is a handwritten page with a few untidy diagrams and a list of instructions that look like some kind of recipe.
After checking his book, the necromancer takes a silver bell out of his satchel. "By the blood of the necromancer I command that there will be light," he says, and the bell seems to chime on its own. The candles flare in response and the scene is revealed.
The ring of candles has been set up in a paddock with mountains to the west and south and low hills rolling down towards the plains of the north and east. Although it is midnight, the sky is not completely dark. The full moon is only a few days away now and the sky is almost bright enough for dawn.
The three other people standing around the table look much less like they belong there than the necromancer does. One of them looks like an accountant or a school principal – Simeon Barwick, a little man with prematurely balding hair and a moustache. Standing opposite him is Sarah Brightman, a blonde teenage girl in school uniform and pigtails. The third one is a woman in jeans and a Poisonblack singlet. She too is blonde, but her hair is twisted up in an approximation of a chignon. Her eyes are fixed on the stack of printed pages in the middle of the table and she feels that familiar tremor as she reads the top sheet.
It says "Dispersion by Siana Blackwood".
Her book. Her beloved first draft and all its characters, all rendered down to this stack of paper sitting on a table in the middle of a ring of candles. Siana reaches out to touch the pages, only to have her hand grabbed by the teenage girl on her right.
"Don't," Sarah says. "It's already too late for that." She squeezes Siana's hand and then lets go. Siana nods and folds her arms, but she still can't take her eyes off the draft.
"Scott, are you really sure about this?" Simeon asks.
"Course I'm sure, Simeon," the necromancer says. "Look, if we really need bits of it later I can always resurrect a page or so."
"Yeah, but..." Simeon and Sarah both look towards Siana. Simeon looks concerned and Sarah is trying to look reassuring, but both of them are thinking the same thing. Can Siana really let her Lit Crew go through with the ritual murder of the first draft of Dispersion?
Scott has no such hesitation. He is already setting out his equipment on the table – the bell close to his right hand, four crystals forming a square around the draft and his knife in front of him.
"The darkness will grow," he says. "The tide will turn and the voice will fall silent." He picks up the knife and makes a tiny cut in the end of his thumb, then lets a drop of blood fall onto the draft. Then he hands the knife to Sarah.
"The chains will be undone," she says. "The pain will end and the fears will be released." She too cuts herself and lets blood drip onto the draft, then passes the knife to Siana.
"The silence cuts through the screams," Siana whispers. "Control is relinquished and the dance can begin anew." She cuts herself, but there is a long moment of hesitation before she lets the blood fall onto the draft and she hands the knife to Simeon.
"The moments will pass," Simeon says. "Fear is released and the eyes will close." One more cut and one more drop of blood and then the knife is placed back in Scott's hand.
"By the blood of the necromancer and the blood of the muse, the story will die," Scott says. He cuts into his thumb again – a bigger cut this time, one that sends blood running down his thumb to pool in the palm of his hand. Then he puts the knife down and tips the pooled blood into his other hand and then lets it drip onto the top page of the draft. He picks up his bell and it chimes four times. Then he puts it down again and picks up the knife...
Siana puts her hand over her mouth to make herself stay silent and her eyes fill with tears.
… and the knife is plunged into the stack of printed pages.
"Right, now we can get on with preparing the second draft," Sarah says. She is the first one to leave, her mind already turning over the possibilities for the future. Simeon stays long enough to give Siana a pat on the shoulder, but he too disappears in response to an impatient gesture from the necromancer currently engaged in cleaning up a couple of still-bleeding cuts.
Siana, meanwhile, is just standing there with her arms folded and tears in her eyes. The Lit Crew had contemplated burning as the story's demise, but Siana knows there is no way she could ever stand here and watch her words turned into ash. At least this way there is a chance of bringing some of them back...
A hand touches Siana's back and she turns to Scott and hugs him, crying into the spice-scented leather of the necromancer's jacket. Scott hold her and lets her cry for a few minutes, but then he gently turns her back to face the ritually murdered draft. "You think that means it's all over, don't you?" he asks. "It's not. This is a beginning, not an end."