The kid was just finishing up her ritual when I got to her.
I felt the buildup of power from a hundred yards away, and as I got closer I began to be able to make out words—mostly what I caught was "part the Veil", and that made me hurry. Necromancy is almost always a capitol offense in what some of my younger colleagues have begun to call the "wizarding world" (and let me tell you how much I love sharing a name with that mythos), and even if the Wardens don't get you the odds are great that whatever you're trying to do will blow up in your face if you don't have the power to control it.
And, y'know, I'm since I'm a Warden these days I'm supposed to look on this sort of thing harshly.
She'd chosen a nice, stereotypical abandoned warehouse for her ritual space, at least, which meant that if things did go kablooie I might be able to keep anyone but her from dying. However, my preference was that she not die either, if it could possibly be helped; she was just a kid, her crimes outside of this ritual amounted to theft, and as far as I could tell all she wanted was her big brother back.
As I approached the warehouse door, I heard her chanting rise to a crescendo. "Let the walls be pierced! Let the veil be lifted! In the name of Janus, he who looks forward and back, I open the way!" she cried, and I cursed under my breath as I skidded up to the warehouse door. Rather than screw around with it, I just pointed my staff and snapped, "Forzare!" Invisible force shot from the staff and the door swung open with such alacrity that some small part of my mind suspected it hadn't even been locked, but I didn't have time to think about that; I only had eyes for the huge room within.
She'd set up her space well. Colored banners hung on stands, defining the corners of a large square in the middle of the concrete floor. The diagram between them was horrifically complex, and I thought that it was painted rather than drawn in chalk—a nice touch, making it less likely something would break one of the lines by chance. She was standing on the far side of the space, in the point of the star that was the central figure of the diagram. Her hands were raised over her head, making the heavy sleeves of her robe fall around her elbows.
The body of her brother lay in the middle of the star, wrapped in strips of black and white fabric that formed a complex pattern. At its feet stood the object I'd originally been hired to retrieve, a nondescript statuette of a bird. And in the air at its head, a wavering portal was beginning to form.
The bang of the door against the wall had startled her, but she was collecting herself even as she lowered her hands from her final ritual gestures. "You're too late," she said, sounding infinitely tired. I felt a pang of sympathy; big rituals can take it out of you. The sympathy didn't stop me making sure my staff was pointed right at her, though.
"I can see that," I said softly, trying not to spook her further. "Look, Stephanie, I know what it's like to lose someone." I met her eyes for a long moment so she could see my sincerity, almost too long; I could feel the first beginnings of a soulgaze as I looked away again. "I understand. But you know a little bit about the White Council—" She nodded. "—and you know they don't look kindly on necromancers." I edged a bit closer to her, staff still at the ready.
"It's not necromancy!" she exclaimed. "I'm just getting my brother back. That's all." She looked down at the body with an expression of terrible tenderness.
"That's interfering with a human soul," I said regretfully. "I'm a Warden. If we stop this right now, it's within my authority to ignore the fact that it ever happened." Actually it wasn't, but I was willing to pretend. The portal was firming up, becoming almost solid. There didn't seem to be anything dangerous on the other side, but I spared it a small part of my attention anyway, just in case.
"No, you don't understand," Stephanie said. "No souls, no necromancy. It's only a gateway." She took a sudden step forward, and I tensed, but all she did was kneel at the body's side. "This goes through the gate, and he comes back."
Suddenly everything was happening very fast. She grabbed the wrapped corpse with a strength I wouldn't have credited her with and heaved it towards the portal. I broke into a run, casting out my hand as I did to trigger the force stored in the silver rings I wore. The blast missed the corpse by inches but slapped Stephanie's outstretched hands, spinning her off balance; she fell heavily. The corpse sailed through the portal. I skidded to a halt and steeled myself, preparing to defend against whatever came back through.
Nothing happened. Several seconds later, nothing was still happening.
From her place on the floor, Stephanie let out a moan. "It didn't work," she said. "It should have been instant. He should be back!" She dropped her face into her hands and started to cry. I hate it when women cry.
"Is it going to be bad if I step into this diagram?" I asked. Should've occurred to me before, I admit, but I'd been distracted. I had to repeat the question before she shook her head, not looking up. I walked over and squatted down next to her. "Come on," I said. "We'll clean this up, close the portal before something nasty finds it. You can go home, I'll give my client the statue back, and that'll be the end of it."
"It should have worked," she wailed. I winced at the raw sorrow in her voice. "There has to be an exchange, I put his body through, why didn't it work?"
"Be glad it didn't," I said. "I doubt you'd have liked what you got, in exchange for a body two months dead." I put my hand on her elbow and urged her to her feet.
She said nothing for a moment, and I was just about to speak when she said, "In exchange for a dead body." The tone of her voice set all my alarms ringing—it was the tone someone uses when they've just realized what went wrong. "He couldn't come back in exchange for a dead body." She turned to look at me. I opened my mouth to say something (I have no idea what), and that was when she shoved me.
I stumbled backwards. The edges of the portal passed my peripheral vision. I hit the ground with a wham.