The Gerbilmancer

“You realize you’re going to die, right?” the tiny skeletal gerbil said, poking his body out from the top of Nick’s breast pocket. There was a green flash and an explosion of hellfire, the warehouse’s concrete floor shaking beneath him. “I mean, that’s Marco Bianchi back there and you’re…well…you.”

“You’re not helping, Mortimer.” Nick ducked his head as another blast landed nearby.

The little skeleton shrugged. “Just stating facts. He’s a stone cold killer and you’re the gerbilmancer. You’re slightly outclassed.”

Gerbilmancer. He hated that name. They started calling him that when he was a kid—when everyone realized he had no real necromantic spark despite being from one of the Five Great Families. While other kids learned to scry and raise the dead, the only thing Nick could do was control his pet gerbil, Mortimer, which technically didn’t even qualify as necromancy. Later he discovered he could raise the tiny creatures from the dead, too, but that was hardly useful.

“I’ve got a plan.”

Mortimer gave him a skeptical look. How does he manage to be so expressive with no skin?

“I do!” Nick insisted. “Help’s coming. I’ve just got to buy time.”

“Nickolai,” Marco said, his voice echoing throughout the warehouse, “we don’t have to do this. We can be civilized.”

“No offense, Marco,” Nick said, glancing out from behind the box that shielded him, “but you’ve never been civilized in your entire life.” Nick could see Marco and his two rotting ghouls walking between pallets of boxes, searching for him. Thank God he didn’t bring an army of those things.

“I want the key to the Necropolis. Give it to me, and this can all end.”

Buy time, they’re coming. “I think I’ll keep it,” he said, fingers closing around the key of human bone that hung from a chain around his neck, “it goes well in my creepy key collection.”

Another explosion. Nick flinched.

“You know,” Mortimer said, “trying to be witty isn’t helping.”

“Cut me some slack. I get mouthy when I’m nervous.”

“You can’t fight me,” Marco said. “Your sister was the strong one and I dealt with her easily.”

Nick was considering his options when he heard a noise like paper being dragged across rough concrete. He glanced to his left and saw one of the ghouls, its bared teeth and dessicated flesh mere feet away. “Woah!” He dove to the side as the creature’s claws ripped through the air where he had been moments before.

Marco had spotted him, now, and so he ran. He leaped over containers and slid around pallets as Marco rained hellfire upon him. Explosions kicked up debris as the blasts narrowly missed him. He skidded to a stop behind a low, cinder block wall at the back of the building that Marco’s attacks couldn’t breach.

Just a little longer and they’ll be here.

“Give me the damn key!” Marco said. “Or I will rip your soul from your body!”

He could see the second ghoul flanking him, the first still pursuing from the opposite side. Nick was trapped between them and the back of the warehouse. There was nowhere to go. He had one option left.

“Alright, Marco, I’m coming out.”

“Nick, what are you doing?!” Mortimer asked in a hiss.

“The only thing I can do: letting Marco think he won.”

Nick stood from behind his cover and turned to face his foe. Marco was fifty feet away, dressed in a pitch black suit, a mask of smugness plastered to his face.

The two ghouls stopped and stood motionless as the other man smiled. “Now was that so hard?”

“You want the key?” Nick said, pulling the chain over his head. “Fine. Come take it.”

Marco raised a hand, green flames coalescing around his fingers and building with a blinding light as he prepared to burn Nick to ash. “I think I’ll take it from your corpse, instead.”

The flames and the light disappeared.

“Ow!” Marco looked to the floor and kicked his foot to the side. “Son of a bitch! Something bit me!” A small, fuzzy blob scurried away.

Nick let out a sigh of relief. Finally.

A soft skittering echoed through the warehouse. Marco’s eyes darted about, trying to find its source.

“Do you know how many people own gerbils?” Nick asked as the sound grew. “It’s about twenty percent of all households. That means this city alone has over a million gerbils and however many more the local pet stores keep on hand.”

The noise grew louder still, a cacophonous scratching like rain pounding a tin roof. Marco stumbled back as tiny green flames ignited in the shadows.

“Everyone always made fun of me for being the gerbilmancer. You’re stronger, sure. But you rely on that strength too much. I’ve had to find different ways. When all you can do is control tiny rodents, you get very good at it. You might even be able to extend your reach across an entire city and call them to you in a pinch.” The green flames surged forward into the light. They were gerbils, dead and alive both, eyes glowing green with Nick’s will.

“One gerbil isn’t very frightening.” The creatures flooded from between boxes, fell from the skylights, and covered the floor. They were an unstoppable furry flood that surrounded Marco and washed over his ghouls, tearing them to pieces. “But a million of them? Well, that’s something else.”

“W…wait,” Marco said as the open concrete around him shrunk.

“I don’t think so, Marco. Let me show you what the gerbilmancer can do.”