An essay by Dr. Iolanthe Osmandius, as provided by Antoinette McCormick
Illustration by Cory Caywood
The first time I died was an accident. First attempts at anything are awkward, but mine, hastily planned and frantically executed, was almost my last. Fortunately, I have learned a few tricks and some valuable lessons in my many deaths since–information you might find very useful, should you ever find yourself faced with a similar situation.
Believe me, you just might.
At some point in their careers, many practitioners of the numinous arts will find themselves the objects of derision, investigation, or public insurrection. Too often, what begins as calumny quickly turns into calamity: last year, 750 sorcerers, necromancers, and alchemists living in the Ordinal Zones outside the Vespertine Territories were the victims of violent attacks. An estimated 17% of these were fatal. In fact, unless you are lucky enough to live within the impenetrable wards of the Vespertine Territories, you will have a 75% chance of being the victim of crowd contagion–the bonfire of insanity generated by a throng of pitchfork-wielding, crucifix-waving, homicidally minded hicks–within the first five years of your vocation, alone.
You know this day will come. You have acknowledged its possibility since you invoked your first spirit, cast your first Star of Chaos, or pulled that first phial of what you thought was a much-vaunted, viscous elixir–one that probably turned out to be vinegar–from the ether. Call it an occupational hazard, but it is the burden shared by all practicing Occultists.
Why play the odds? Readiness in the face of the inevitable beats a last ditch improvisation in a faulty dirigible by any phase of the moon.
A prudent practitioner is always prepared.
A Death for All Reasons
Having a murderous mob on your doorstep isn’t the only reason for staging a plausible demise (and it’s certainly not the worst): perhaps, after having transmuted your every available opportunity into a handful of dust, you find yourself with a botched hex and a body count too staggering for expeditious disposal. Perhaps, after years of failed attempts, success comes via an invention or discovery, but now, one you no longer wish to share with the world. Maybe an indignity or betrayal at the hands of a colleague, friend, or lover is just too base to endure anymore. Alternatively–and this is an extreme case–after having inadvertently infuriated an Absolute Entity (Death, for example), you must now live an assumed afterlife on the run.
Whatever the circumstances, when you need to shed the constricting scales of an old life quickly, letting the world think that you’ve taken the “Pallid Passage” to the “Final Kingdom” is the best way away from whatever’s bedeviling you. Presumed fatality, unlike invisibility–which we will discuss later–frees one from a number of bothersome social expectations: morality, ethicality, and fiscal responsibility, just to name a few.
Any witch who’d try to tell you otherwise isn’t auguring with a full Tarot.
Before You Depart
Faking your own death is not for the squeamish, the fainthearted, or dilettantes. Once you’ve (purportedly) parted the Veil of Shadows, there’s no reneging–it’s much like making a deal with a higher demon or taking a blood oath, in this respect. You cannot return to your former self without serious karmic repercussions (not to mention actual concussions from irate former friends and loved ones).
In fact, this is perhaps the only time in life where being a recalcitrant misanthrope or irascible blackguard is advantageous. The fewer who’ll actually miss you once you’ve transcended this mortal coil, the better.
Ready to crown yourself in a shiny, new tria prima?
Death: Getting It Right the First Time
First, you will need a foolproof plan.
This is true whether you are a wizened sage or novice mage. Then–and I cannot stress this point enough–approach your death soberly, furtively, and above all, meticulously. Your modus mortalitas is the deadliest and most valuable weapon in your infernal arsenal: choose it wisely.
Three of the most successful methods I have used to date include
- Interspecies Mutation
- Reverse Alchemy
Contrary to popular opinion, accidents other than explosions, suicide, and abduction scenarios are modes you should avoid. Rationales for these will appear later in this article.
Of course, your results may vary.
Nothing says “Final Exit” more succinctly than being blown to smithereens. Whether yours will be the result of an unfortunate accident or act of terrorism, an explosion is a fabulous way to destroy all evidence of your former self.
Make yours an epic combustion: a sweeping, devastating conflagration–one that makes the pyres of Gehenna look like a Sunday barbeque. Chances are, your enemies want you to burn, so give them Sheol. Ask yourself, “What Would Paracelsus Do?” and then, triple that response (he didn’t have access to brisant explosives, after all). This is one time where bigger is definitely better. All that smoke and commotion will draw a crowd and divert attention, allowing you to escape unscathed and above all, unnoticed.
With that in mind, do try to draw as many witnesses to your untimely demise as possible. Having food, supplies, or a mysterious package delivered moments before the big bang ensures not only that you were there, but is also an excellent way to throw suspicion on someone else–particularly if you had been a recent target of verbal or written threats.
Implicating demonic forces is also highly desirable in this scenario. Lesser demons love taking credit for destruction on the earthly plane, and since most of them are compulsive liars, even if they do reveal your trickery, no one will believe a word they say.
Do not, under any circumstances, leave any identifiable body parts (yours or anyone else’s) behind. As tempting as conjuring counterfeit fingers and toes might be, a rookie psychic can detect your soulless fakes with his Third Eye closed. Likewise, your victim’s ghost, whether grayling or eidolon, will blab to the first necromancer, medium, or Ouija board it can find. Murder also tends to wreak havoc with your karma and the last thing you want is to have the Threefold Law (among other things) dogging you like twilight into your next life.
A prudent practitioner doesn’t leave trace evidence.
I enjoyed one of my longest and most enjoyable incarnations after a vampire bit me at the Midsummer Mayhem Festival in 1872; one I’d still be enjoying, if not for the cantankerous execrations of one, particularly vitriolic witch.
Finding a “Sire for Hire” is a relatively safe and simple process–one for which you can contract in advance, provided you pay in Dead Man’s Gold (a simple conjuration). If the thought of preying upon your fellow mage leaves you colder than a crypt in February, relax. Vampires relish all types of blood (no pun intended). Raccoons and rats, for example, are plentiful and easy to catch; their blood is filling, nutritious, and quite tangy, when one adds a dash of vervain or a few drops of wormwood. Moreover, by feeding on these frequently disease-ridden pests, you’ll be providing a valuable, albeit anonymous, community service. There’s nothing monstrous about that!
While exsanguinating the occasional stray cur is fine, avoid slaking your thirst on cats, unless you are dead certain that said feline is a feral loner and not the beloved member of some crazy conjure woman’s coveted clowder. Your action, however well intentioned, still constitutes murder, and nothing speeds the plough of retribution faster than a grief-stricken witch, intent on hexing your undead hide from here to Hades.
Whether by accidentally draining your neighbor’s cat or using your newfound hypnotic abilities on said neighbor to score some extra cash, any abuse of enchantment tends to attract unwanted public attention–and piques Death’s, especially. While the former may be a bit of a nuisance, the latter is extremely hazardous and something you should strive against at all costs.
When you need to reclaim a fully human form fast, make a werewolf bite you. Most of them are rude, ill-tempered brutes who take offense at the slightest provocation, so this should be a simple task.
Right now, many of you are probably wondering, “Why a werewolf?”
Vampires have safeguarded this secret for centuries (largely, in part, because recurrent were-transformation has a crippling effect on long-term memory). As a result, werewolves, like most people, are unaware that the viral strains responsible for vampirism and lupinism, when concurrent in a single being, completely nullify one another. Reanimation, although immediate, becomes quite painful when attempted on more than one occasion; if being a sireling’s your fondest desire, do try to remain among the Undead indefinitely.
Unfortunately, this act of revivification will also render the werewolf human, so be prepared to make a hasty retreat. Take care to ensure that your intended werewolf is a slow (versus rapid) lunar cycler, or you could lose a great deal of your preternatural powers in the transformation process.
They will be skills and abilities that you will miss, trust me.
Often confused with Invisibility and Epoch Hopping, Reverse Alchemy is simple, effective, and exactly the opposite of what many of you probably already do on a daily basis. Only now, instead of wrestling form from formlessness, you will be consciously casting yourself into Nothingness, blissful and absolute.
Invisibility is an elementary glamour: great when you’re in a pinch, but easily detectable over long-term disappearances. Remember, your aim is to vanish without a trace.
Epoch Hopping–traveling to either the past or future–requires you peel back one of Time’s many pleats and slip through. The problem with this (beyond being squished or falling into an alternate dimension) is controlling exactly when and where you will end up. Time, as we all know, is a large lump of cosmic origami–one that is constantly folding, refolding, and randomly reshaping itself on a whim. To explore it, you must have an anchor in this world, a lifeline back to this reality.
In other words, the evidence you left behind would figure prominently in your inevitable capture.
Also, remember that Nothing can contain Time, but Time contains “everything” (only briefly and in limited quantities). This is yet another reason why Reverse Alchemy is a highly desirable evasive mode: absolute control is the key to survival.
A prudent practitioner is always in control.
Your “rigorous ruse” need not become a lugubrious mess. As mentioned earlier, when you need to disappear posthaste and with the appearance of utmost finality, accidental deaths, suicides, and abductions are among your most imprudent choices. Nearly all require an accomplice–a witness who, more often than not, will either betray you or blackmail you, or both. Accidents also frequently rely upon last-minute escapes and complex mechanical props (both of which have a tendency to go awry and malfunction, respectively).
Although all of these methods leave traces, both astral and physical, of your supposed passing, suicide is quite possibly the worst. It requires a body–yours–for substantiation, and subsequently, a soul for reclamation by Death (the entity Itself, which is far more frightening than its many anthropomorphic manifestations).
Apparently, while Death loves a good firestorm, nothing enrages it more than a false suicide (unless, of course, it’s a reanimate vampire or someone who uses the Void’s mysterious ether like a revolving door). If you think conjuring a new visage for your new identity will be difficult–but it is something you should do, by the way–try perpetuating multiple versions of that illusion for a century or so with Death and an army of Shadow Mavens at your heels.
Some entities have no sense of humor whatsoever.
The extraordinarily gifted among us have always paid a high price, not only for possessing our innate abilities, but also for developing them through our vocations as practitioners of the Infernal Arts.
When confronted with creating your illusory death, be imaginative in your approach, be meticulous in your execution, but above all, be wise (but not too wily) in your choice of denouement. Apparently, on this plane, you’re only allowed one sleight-of-death per life.
Honestly, who knew?
(If any vampires are reading this, please drop by my laboratory for a bite.)
An itinerate lecturer and alchemical practitioner, Dr. Iolanthe Osmandius was last seen leading a magical symposium at Conlegium Obscuro. Her sudden disappearance, following publication of this treatise in the inaugural (and only) edition of Artifice Weekly, continues to baffle authorities.
When not writing, Antoinette McCormick, a handmaiden of Western medicine, prefers to cast healing magic. Her work has appeared in The Vermont Literary Review, on a comic-themed tour poster for the musical group, Alice in Chains, and is forthcoming in Blood Moon Rising.
Cory Caywood is an illustrator, concept artist, and designer specializing in science ficition and fantasy. His work can be viewed at http://www.floatinginspace.net