Saturday, June 17, 2017

Angel of Death 1.29 All Our Knowledge

(Hello everyone! Sorry for the long absence. That was the result, first and foremost, of schoolwork. However, that won't be a factor again until the end of the year.

In the meantime, something has changed. You see, Angel of Death is exactly the same it was before, except now you can give me money, through PATREON. If you don't know what patreon is, welcome to the internet! We're all very happy to meet you! It's a crowdfunding site that allows you to give me money each time I release a new entry of Angel of Death, or any other web serial I start in the future, which I have some plans to do. I have this idea about superheroes in a post-apocalypse setting that will probably manifest at some point.

You can pledge whatever amount you want, and I will receive payment in that amount every time I release an entry. No matter how long of an unannounced hiatus I take, you will never be charged until a new entry is released!

Becoming a patron gives you rewards, such as access to my notes, deleted scenes from early entries, access to the early drafts of upcoming entries as I complete them, and, (eventually) commentaries on various entries. At the highest level, I'll even craft a story, with the same minimum length as an Angel of Death entry, according to your specifications! So please, consider becoming a patron.)

            Reidel dropped his fork into the bowl in front of him.  He stared across the table at Steven, wide-eyed.  He saw Steven’s eyes sink downward.  Reidel could remember now.  They had gathered around the table when the ground shook, and a fissure opened up in Lester’s floor, right under Allen.  A golden cylinder rose out of it and surrounded him, molded itself into a sarcophagus with Allen’s face and sank down.  All of this, while Allen screamed.

            He’d remembered it the whole time, Reidel realized… he’d just also believed, like he knew it for a fact, that the school librarian had broken into the house and killed Allen.  Reidel’s eyebrow furled.  What the fuck was wrong with him?  The thought of Bavandersloth’s smug face forced itself on his mind, and made him seethe.

            “So you remember too?” Steven said, his voice scared.

            Reidel took a deep breath.  “Yes,” he said.  He reached out for Steven’s hand, which rested on the table limply.  He held it.

*****

            Violet Fox sat at her news desk, reading from her teleprompter.  “Breaking News,” she said.  The next line flashed across the screen.  How the hell do you say that on the air? she thought.  “As you yourself may well have noticed, what scientists,” she held back laughter, “are calling a complex global memory phenomenon has afflicted the globe.  Persons around the world are noticing what appears to be the sudden abandonment of beliefs which, on reflection, are found to have been held with unfounded dogmatism.  It has been noted that all of the beliefs in question pertain to the Angel phenomenon.  We bring you now to Neurobiologist Carlos Palmer.”

            Violet took a deep breath and leaned back as the broadcast cut to another newsperson interviewing the scientist.  Damn the twenty-four hour news cycle.  She was still trying to process what had happened for herself.  From her memory, it seemed to her like every… “fact” she could recall believing was something she’d heard from Light-rook while she interviewed him.  She had tried to think of an exception, but she couldn’t.  He’d said that the motorcyclists had been fighting Orichalcum over an evil book.  He’d reassured her that the book was evil.  He’d said everything about that other dimension.  He’d explained what had happened in North Korea to her.  She couldn’t think of anything else in any other area of her life that seemed to be part of--

            Her thoughts were interrupted by the teleprompter flashing back on.  “Thank you Carlos,” she said.  “Investigations into the source of this effect, including possible relationships to the angel phenomenon, are ongoing.  In the meantime, government officials emphasize the need to remain calm and proceed as normal.”

            Violet ripped off her headset as soon as the camera cut away from her.

*****

            Cody lay back in the worn out velvet seats of Bavandersloth’s plane.  All was well, after a fashion.  Cody glanced several rows up at Justin, who had finished crying, but was still not in the mood to talk.  He refocused his mind.  With Bavandersloth gone, he had another problem.  Everyone will have had their minds unaltered.

            The public would know that they had been lied to.  They would realize that their minds had been tampered with.  This would probably turn them pretty strongly against Angels.  To a large extent, that was good.  It might, however, lead to just a speck of public unrest and the occasional riot.  How much exactly would they realize? Cody thought.  They would notice that all of the lies had had to do with Angels.  They would notice all of those lies had painted Angels positively.  They would remember the book.  Cody placed his hand on his copy, which sat in the seat next to him.  They would probably assume that what they were told about it was false.

            Someone’ll want a copy, Cody realized.  But should they have it?  Would they be better off knowing about the devoured souls?  Would that just cause more unrest?  Cody thought hard.  On one hand, the real truth was upsetting.  But would not knowing be worse?  Would they fear the worst?  Which way would they be less likely to lash out at an innocent party?

            If I were them, Cody thought, which would make me feel worse?  When he thought about it that way, it was obvious.  They shouldn’t know.  He remembered how he’d reacted when he first learned.  Surely adding all of the information they still lacked, that the world had just nearly been taken over by soul eating monsters, would only make things worse.  It may leave them less prepared for the next time, but Cody already had plans to exterminate the community, and Valthakar’s ritual would prevent any new liches from being created.  There wouldn’t be a next time.

*****

            “There has already been a death tentatively connected with the incident, sir,” one of the DIAPP agents said.  The Grey man took a deep breath.  “Alright men, the question we need to answer is this: how do we prevent more public unrest?”

            “Should we try to spin this?” an agent suggested.  “Perhaps, just maybe, we could spin the devourers everyone saw as the result of some kind of genetic experimentat--”

            “That’s stupid,” the Gray man said.

            “But most of the public won’t know that,” the agent said.

            “Well we don’t need to calm down most of the public.  Any cover story we came up with would have to fool experts who have a deep understanding of whatever we blamed, and given what all the public has seen, that’s likely impossible.”

            “Perhaps there’s nothing we can do,” another agent said.  “We could try to leave the whole incident shrouded in mystery.”

            The grey man took a sip of coffee.  He seemed to think for a moment.  “That’s a bad idea,” he said.  “We’ve got to come up with some kind of story, something less upsetting than the truth, but believable in light of everything the public has seen.  We need to tell them something that will make them think they should keep living in the same world they were before.  So, pursuant to that - ideas?”

            No one spoke for a moment.  The Gray man looked around the room.  “C’mon, people.  What is the least disturbing thing they could be?”

            “Aliens?” another agent suggested.

            The Gray man thought for a second.  “No,” he said.  “Most of the devourers are specific people, people with friends, even families for some of them.  Body snatchers are scarier than what we really have.”

            “What if we say that they’re those people,” another agent said, “but we say that they made some kind of deal with an evil spirit, or alien or something.”

            “That’s not too far from the truth,” an agent pointed out.

            “That’s a point in its favor,” the Gray man said.

            The first agent nodded.  “Perhaps we could stage some kind of battle with whatever it was, make it seem gone, and give everyone on earth a sense of victory.”

            “Isn’t that a little silly?” someone else asked.

            “Actually, I don’t think so,” the Gray man said.  “The public will doubtless feel betrayed and defeated after being lied to for so long, and it’s that feeling which will most likely lead them to anger.  That’s what we need to prevent.”  He took another sip.  “We’ll set it up.  We’ll acquire some monstrosity and then film ourselves killing it. Then we’ll tell everyone that we’ve been after it the whole time.”  The man shifted in his chair.  “That leaves us with a lot of details to work out, but that can be done.”

            The DIAPP agents went on to discuss those details.

*****

            Violet lay across a couch in the break room, drinking coffee, wishing it was more than coffee.  Her mind was on the Angel story.  She was sure that everything, all of the beliefs that had been altered, had been things she’d heard while interviewing Light-rook.  Not even Orichalcum.  Just Light-rook.

            And everything that the public was forced to believe, they heard from my interviews.

            Violet stood up to get another cup of coffee.  You’ve already had three, a voice in her head told her.  Fuck you, she said back.  I can have as much coffee as I damn well please.

            She picked her mug up from the table and walked across the room.  She grabbed the pot and poured into her mug.  “You’re a real Journalist!!” the mug said.  She’d gotten it when she got her first job.  It was here, she realized, though she’d worked elsewhere for part of her career.

            The pot emptied, and the mug was still half-empty.  She started to summon one of the interns to make more, but she didn’t.  Instead, she filled the empty space with creamer and sat back down.

            As she sipped the cold, sweet, milky beverage she had created, she was finally able to get her mind off of the angels for a moment.  Instead, she remembered buying this mug.  She’d gotten it onlineIt would have been… 2000, maybe?

            She’d had it specially made from a website that allowed one to create a customized t-shirt or mug.  You could design any image you wanted to put on it.  She’d written this message in paint or something, and sent it to them.

            She looked at the mug.  She laughed.  It looked silly, now that she examined it.  It looked like, well, like it was made in paint.  The letters were blocky and zig-zagged, and bright green on a pink background.  It looked childish.

            She took another sip.  Perhaps it was childish, how she’d felt.  She was so overjoyed when she got that job.  It felt so… so validating, to finally have a real job in the industry, if only as a staff researcher.  No matter what anyone said, she was unquestionably a real journalist.  She was doing really, real journalism.  It was what she’d wanted to do since she was a child.  She liked researching, discovering, and piecing together, and she loved the presentation of it all even more.  That hadn’t changed about her since she was, what, ten?

            She took one more sip of the coffee, and set it down on the table in front of her.  She looked at the design again.  “You’re a real Journalist!!”  She picked the cup back up.  She had been around the angel story more than anyone she knew.  She was going to get to the bottom of it.

*****

            “Help!” the girl shouted.  Cody rushed toward her.  Her fear was pungent in the air around her, its pleasant odor tainted by the smoke of the burning car.

            The fear’s odor grew stronger for a split second when she first saw Cody, but then it relaxed.  Cody smiled.  He dashed right over to the back of the car, and placed his hand on it.  He willed the car to crumble into dust, and it did, rust forming and consuming the car with an eerie swiftness.  The car, and with it the fire, disappeared before they had the chance to kill the girl.

            The girl now sat on the ground, shaking.  Cody looked down at her as she sat in a fetal position.  Her injuries were not as bad as they could have been, though that would not have remained the case for much longer had he not intervened.  Still, he reached into a pocket he’d stitched to his true form’s raggy robe and pulled out a cell phone.  He dialed 911.

            I’ll need to figure out what happened to her parents once I finish this call, he thought, and once he’d told the dispatcher of the nature and location of the emergency, he crouched down and looked the girl in her eyes.  She held her nose, but didn’t crawl away.  “Where is your mommy or daddy?” he asked, as he placed his hand on her and tagged her burns.

            The girl looked back up at him, her voice nasally.  “My daddy… He… ran off to get help,” she said, her voice seeming to shake more from pain than fear.

            Out of the blue, the scent of another fear, no, many fears, hit Cody like a flowery truck.  His eyes widened.  For a fear that strong, something horrible must be happening.  “Don’t move away from here unless it’s for the ambulance I called or your parents,” he said, faster than he’d been speaking before, “I need to go help other people.”  He stood up and ran off before she responded.

            Cody heard shouting as he approached the source of the fear.  It was a booming mess of screams, pleas, and angered snarls.  When Cody realized he was near the news station, he formed a guess as to what was going on.  When he reached the station, he saw that he was right.

            It was surrounded by a crowd of rabid, shouting, people, numbering in the dozens, perhaps as many as a hundred.  The front door of the station was locked, but the people were gathered around the door, working to bash it in.  SLAM, Cody heard.  He dashed over, and as soon as the crowd saw him, they turned.  “Fuck, that’s one of them right there,” someone said, and most of the crowd descended upon him.

            Cody activated his shield straight away as the people ran at him from all sides.  The people were armed with baseball bats, crowbars and axes.  They were no threat to Cody’s shield.  The pungent scent of fear had not vanished, and Cody looked above the people surrounding him to the door.  There were still several people trying to break through it.  Cody didn’t want to lower his shield  While the baseball bats wouldn’t affect him, a lucky strike with an ax could deprive him of a limb.  Still, time seemed limited enough that there was no other choice but to risk it.  Blasting them from this close a range would be more hazardous, and would likely kill them, as would a magical beam.

            Cody lowered his shield.  Immediately, the humans who has been bashing against his shield ran into his cloud.  Cody grabbed one’s arm and inflicted a knock-out injury on him.  As the man fell, another tripped over him in the dark.  Cody ignored him for a split second, paralyzing three more, before returning to the one who had tripped.  Once a pile of humans had formed, Cody leapt on top of it, and, with the extra height, was able to jump over the crowd.

            The door broke open.

            Cody’s eyes widened.  A human from the crowd got into his cloud and punched him.  Luckily, that was enough contact for a paralysis, and Cody promptly administered one.

            From there, a number of humans, about half of the crowd, ran toward the door.  Cody thought.  They’re probably going in there to hurt someone… or kill them.  They’d been screaming enough about this place broadcasting lies for Cody to be sure of their malicious intent.  Keeping mobile to dodge the portion of the crowd chasing him, Cody fired a thin magical beam at the ankles of the humans running into the building.

            Cody heard screams as the humans’ feet and ankles were burnt.  Cody had held back his beam to avoid severing them.  As the humans fell on top of each other, Cody heard a crack from somewhere in the crowd.

            A few members of the crowd who could still walk limped away.  Another few hobbled toward him, a few of them moaning as they came his way.  Cody paralyzed a few convenient targets in his cloud and then ran back toward the entrance.  He planned his path poorly, and he heard another snap as one of the humans following him stepped on one of the people he’d incapacitated.  Cody arrived in the entrance, standing to block it.  Only one human had made it inside, and a quick beam had him on the floor wailing like the others.  Cody turned to the crowd and shot a weak magical blast just in front of him, where it would harm no one, but where it would seem like it was going to.

            A portion of the crowd stopped.  “You’re not getting in here,” Cody declared; his voice deep and booming.  A few more stopped, but some of them kept coming.  Cody clenched his fist.  Fine.  If they make me.  He crouched down and fired another magical beam, making it sweep across the crowd’s feet and legs.  Many of them fell, but not quite all.

            Cody gritted his teeth, and fixed that with a few more sweeps.  The crowd now lay in a screaming, immobile pile on the pavement.  Cody looked around.  He’d accidentally gotten one of the ones he’d scared away in one of his beams.  Fuck.  He ran up to the crowd he’d just knocked down.  He started knocking out the humans therein to spare them having to feel the painful burns.

            By the time police arrived in riot gear, they had little to do but call ambulances.  Cody tagged the humans’ injuries as he knocked them out.  He found the broken femur that’d been the source of the crack he’d heard.  It’d take him a while to work through all of these with humans he ate.

            As efficient as Cody had gotten with disease transfer, the sheer number of injuries and illnesses he had tagged at any given time was now enough to ensure that there was a waiting list.

            Cody was able to get all of the rioters tagged before any ambulances arrived.  He ran off.

*****

            Jonah awoke to a pain in his stomach like he’d never felt before.  It was hunger, he realized, but more intense than he’d previously imagined hunger could be.  He stood up, already in his true form.  He was in a dull grey room with concrete walls.  Lit dimly by a flickering lightbulb were rows of unconscious humans.

            Jonah salivated.  He pounced on the first bed, manifesting his scythe to consume its inhabitant.  He didn’t take any time.  He gorged himself, obeying a need deep within himself to satisfy his aching belly.

            It took him only a few minutes to devour the souls.  None of them woke up.  They’d been knocked out by someone else, he realized, and it was only then that he remembered having his form destroyed.

            Jonah felt less hungry now, but the urge to feed had not subsided.  He looked around.  The walls were featureless.  There was a door at the top of one wall.  There were no stairs leading up to the door, but it was opening.

            Jonah stepped back to get a better look as it opened, revealing Larngulal.  “He--” Jonah began, but was cut off when he felt two magical beams pass over his arms and legs, severing the ends off of all four limbs.  He fell backward.

            “Hey, what the hell was that for?” he shouted.

            “To prevent you from rampaging,” Larngulal said.  “That’s the last thing I need to deal with right now.  We’ll talk in a few hours when you’re well.”  She walked away.

            “Hey!” Jonah shouted.  He wiggled his arms, flopping on the floor.  He spent the next several hours struggling to get up, with no success.

*****

            Violet had poured through her interviews.  There were fewer than one would think.  That this had all happened in a mere seven months was so incomprehensible to Violet that it made her uncomfortable to contemplate it.  It did, however, allow her to search through all of them relatively quickly.  October 23th, 2013, the Angel of Death, not Light-rook, comes into the news station and asks to give an interview.  October 26th, 2013, the Angel of Death gives the interview.  It was interesting.  The Angel of Death and Light-rook had the same voice.  She’d not noticed that at the time, but having compared the recordings over and over again, the two of them sounded exactly the same, but different from Orichalcum, and the other angels who’d given interviews around the world, and recorded 911 calls supposedly by the Angel of Death.

            December 28th 2013.  The first devourer attack.  Even at the time, the possibility that the devourer had been Light-rook had occurred to Violet.  Even now, though, it didn’t make sense.  Why?  Why go through so much to craft a positive public image; then jeopardize it?  Perhaps they wanted to be seen to have a villain to stop?  Why not make it seem more different from them?  Perhaps they couldn’t?  Why not use the canine creature that had been seen aiding the Angel of Death?

            Alternately, what if Light-rook rampaged around the city for another reason, and invented an imaginary species to blame it on?  There was no mention of devourers from anyone until just after Light-rook’s body was destroyed for the first time.  Orichalcum introduced the term during his first interview.  If it was a lie, it must have been something they came up with in anticipation of the rampage.  That meant that they knew that the rampage was going to happen.  Indeed, even in the cell phone footage of Light-rook being killed, he started to ask the agents if they thought he was something.  When Violet listened closely, it sounded like he had started to say “devourer.”

            Violet sighed and fell back on her bed, her legs still hanging off the edge.  On some level, it felt like it made sense to just assume that the angels were the devourers.  They were obviously evil if they’d mind-controlled every human on the planet for months at a time.  But that wasn’t good enough.  Violet wanted to be sure.  She wanted to be able to prove she’d found the truth.

            On January 6th, 2014, the whole business with the book had happened.  Motorcyclists in glowing rainbow armor, matching that of the government agents seen elsewhere, were riding, their path consistent with them being headed toward the station.  A man shot them, as well as several standers by, and took the book from them.

            Light-rook had said that the book was full of lies and slander regarding them.  That was what an evil being would say… when those words passed through her internal monologue, Violet had to stop and process the fact that they had.  She sat up in her bed.  Every surface in her room was scattered with documents.  That was as it should be.  She closed her eyes and pictured the mug at her office.  This world was going insane.  She was mostly sure she wasn’t in a padded cell somewhere.  If someone was that far gone, Violet supposed they’d not know that they were.  They may well think that they were in their bed, documents scattered about, a laptop glowing with thirty tabs open, when they were in fact in a strait jacket, banging their head against the pads that lined the walls of their cell.

            If I’m that far gone, there’s no harm in continuing.  An evil being would lie and claim that a book exposing their plans was full of lies.  Somehow, that felt like an obvious conclusion to jump to.  Knowing that the angels had used some sort of mind controlling magic…

            …mind controlling magic on everyone, made them seem evil.  Light-rook had said the book’s principle lie was that angels and devourers were the same creatures.  If that was what it said, it seemed, by the obvious line of reasoning, that they were.

            It was right after he’d said that that the strangest thing had happened.  Violet had brought up the angels’ critics.  Light-rook’s response had been peculiar.  “I gained a new power last night.  The power of any one of us is constantly growing by drips and drops.  One of my powers requires me to be with someone face to face, or at least it did, until last night.”  Violet had asked what he meant.  “Oh, simply that the various fears based on the facts that I just mentioned are false.  You should think nothing of them.

            A power… a mind control power that he’d gained.

            On February 8th, Light-rook made his last public appearance.  Violet was pretty sure none of her beliefs came from after that date.

            On February 10th, a pair of apparent devourers had perpetrated the Central Square Massacre.  This was the one that gave the game away.  Most of the way through the massacre, one of the devourers stood over the body of one of the victims for quite a long time.

            Violet had wondered why that might be.  Hoping to figure it out, she did some research into who the victim was.  He was a teenager named Lester Green.  His parents had died with him in the massacre, but he had a sister who was alive.

            Violet intended to speak to her.  Violet had taken inspiration from Det. Leon Williams, the police officer who had first investigated the Angel of Death murders.  He had first determined that a human was responsible for them by observing the extra time the black cloud had seemed to spend in Cherie Lambert’s hospital room.  He had died in a fire which had initially been ruled arson, but regarding which the police had dropped all investigation.

            He had arrested a suspect, a teenager named Cody Giles, Lambert’s boyfriend, in the case.  On a hunch, Violet had checked, and Giles and Green went to the same school.

            If Violet was right, the devourer had been Giles, and he had reacted unusually to the realization that he had killed someone he knew.  Perhaps he hadn’t done so up until that point.  He’d originally been cleared of suspicion by the fact that another angel had healed a woman while he was in jail, but there were at least two angels capable of that.

            Violet had met Williams when he was alive.  He was brilliant, and throughout all the time she’d covered news around Goldfalls, he’d never proven to be wrong.  If he had suspected Giles was the Angel of Death, it was probably true.

            If the Angel of Death were Cody Giles, and the devourer who had stood over Green’s corpse was Cody Giles, that meant that this devourer was the Angel of Death, meaning Angels and devourers were the same creatures, seemingly engaged in a conspiracy to take over the world.

*****

            As Justin waited for the DIAPP agent to arrive, a drop of water fell onto him from one of the leaky pipes above.  He and Cody were in their true forms, with no darkness around them.  Even though no one was around, this was the most public place Justin had ever been without the cloud, which made Justin feel naked.  The boy stepped aside, out from under the leak.

            The walls and floor of the room were covered in impressive looking occult symbols, the crown jewel of which was the giant pentagram in which the liches stood.

            Justin heard the door open, and saw the DIAPP agent enter.  The man smelled just the tiniest bit scared.  He was in an exterminator’s usual suit.  The thing was turned off right now, though soon it would begin to play its horrible music and flash in a million ugly colors.  In his hand, the agent held a large, ornate dagger, with a blade which looked like a single sharpened ruby.  The handle was golden, and studded with a mix of blue and purple jewels.  At the back of the handle was a small golden skull.

            “Hello,” Cody said, as the man entered the room.  His fear-scent grew a tad stronger.

            “Hello,” the man said.  He stared at the two for a moment.  “Any reason not to start?”

            “I can’t think of one,” Cody said.  “Justin, are you ready?”

            “Yeah,” Justin said after a moment.

            The agent activated his suit.  Justin came close to covering his ears as the music played.  The agent turned to the left, and shot a clear liquid at the wall next to them.  The stuff bubbled as soon as it hit the wall, releasing a thin smoke.  At the same time, Cody charged at a washing machine in the basement, smashing it.  Justin fired a beam of green energy at the wall, tracing a sweeping path from one wall to the other.  All of this was for the purpose of making it appear that a fight had started here.

            They continued like this for about thirty seconds, until the basement was sufficiently destroyed, and the DIAPP agent ran upstairs.  Cody fired a magical beam up through the open door as he left.  Justin ran up the stairs after him, Cody following shortly behind.  The man ran out the open door, into broad daylight outside, eliciting stares from bystanders.

            Gasps followed as the liches chased him outside.  Many of the people around ran away.  The DIAPP agent jumped at Justin, who grabbed his arm.  He could have made the suit decay away at this point.  Given the noxious sound it was producing, he was tempted to.  However, he held back, and did nothing more than flip the agent over, so that he landed on the ground face-first.  That was too fast, he realized.  Cody said I needed to fight badly enough that people would believe he beat me later.

            The agent tripped Justin from the ground.  The boy hit the sidewalk hard.  He heard a magical blast land behind him.  He stood up, spitting out a grey-brown tooth.  As he did, he saw what DIAPP had hoped would occur.  Some stupid, suicidal human was filming them.  Even after central square…  Justin turned around to see the DIAPP agent running down the street.  He followed, firing a magical blast on the road beside the agent.

            The three ran, the human slowly enough that Justin had no problem catching up, until they were out of the neighborhood they’d been in, and near a bunch of businesses, and a larger crowd.  It was then that Cody closed in for melee.  Summoning his scythe, he swung it at the DIAPP agent, allowing him to parry it with the bejeweled dagger.  Justin ran into the fray and did the same.  They fought, with their scythes and the dagger, like Justin had done many times before with his friends, using toy light-sabers.

            We’re two monsters from another realm, was the lie which DIAPP would release to give context to this show.  The only two, a pair, one in a black hood, the other white robes.  DIAPP hoped the color thing would help people believe that they were the only two, but that having two there rather than one would provide an out if more were to surface somehow.

            Justin heard a whoosh, and felt something pierce his heart.  He looked down.  The agent had gotten him.  Justin stumbled backward as the agent pulled the dagger out of him, grunting.  Cody stared, feigning shock.  Justin fell onto his back, moving his head to look out onto the stupid humans, whom he supposed were willing to have their souls devoured if it meant getting to post footage of the fight on the internet.

            Justin was facing the wrong way to see the fight behind him, and he couldn’t turn to look now.  If I move, they’ll know I’m not dead.  So he listened to the clack of magical scythe on pretend magical dagger, until he heard a squish, and the smack of Cody falling against the pavement.  The DIAPP agent hit the ground right afterward, heaving, out of breath.  The crowd still looked on.  After a moment, a cheer began.  The man stood up behind Justin, and stepped toward the crowd.

            Then the crowd looked up at the sky, some pointing dumbly, screaming.  Justin heard the loudest thunder he’d ever heard before as a bright light engulfed his vision.

*****

            Tracie Green wore green.  Her demeanor was not as bright as her clothing, though perhaps it had been at some point in the past.  It felt cruel, speaking to this girl, no older than twelve, about her dead brother.  Had the story been any less important, Violet wouldn’t have done it.

            The two sat in the grass, next to a cute little garden the girl had planted.  Though spring wouldn’t begin until later that week, some of the flowers had already bloomed.

            “Did your brother know a boy named Cody?” Violet asked the girl.

            “Oh, him?  Yeah.  They were best friends.  He was over all the time.”

            “This was Cody Giles?  The boy who was arrested in October on suspicion of being the Angel of Death.”

            “Yeah.”  Tracie gave Violet a look.  “Is that what this is about?”

            “Yes,” Violet said.  She didn’t explain why.

            “Oh,” the girl said.

            “They were quite close, though?” Violet pressed.

            “Well, yeah, I guess,” Tracie said.

            The interview continued for a while, but that had been what Violet needed to know.  Violet’s suspicions had been confirmed.  She would present her research to her managers, and then say it on air, and post it online, no matter what they said about it.

*****

            The giant bird flew into Justin’s field of view.  It was black and white, with a feathery crested head and a long, thin beak.  Blue arcs of lightning crackled all across its body.  The creature dove straight for the crowd, and the idiots finally scattered.  Perhaps this would teach them common sense, Justin thought, as he stood up and shot a magical beam at the bird, his aim true.

            The creature let out a thunderous squawk, its head turning to gaze at Justin.  The boy stepped back.  That probably should have done more damage, he thought, gazing at the bird as he heard another crash of thunder, and light overtook his vision once again.  He could see past the light.  He could no more be denied his sight by the overabundance of light than he could by the lack of it.  He saw a thick, blue bolt erupt from the bird’s beak and strike him, knocking him backward.  Beside him, he could now see the crisp-black legs the DIAPP agent.  It seemed his upper half was elsewhere.

            Cody had already stood, and was firing at the bird.  He raised his shield immediately after he fired on the creature.  Seeing the logic in this, Justin raised his shield as he stood up.  The creature opened its beak, and shot a lightning bolt at Cody.  The sound was again deafening.  Despite his shield, Cody was thrown backward by the blast.  Justin turned to see him fly back and slide against the pavement.  After just one blast, his shield was faint.  Crap, Justin thought.

            Justin turned his attention back to the creature.  He jumped to the side, lowered his shield, fired a blast, and raised his shield again.  He turned around and ran away from the creature in zig-zags.  He saw Cody stand up and run back toward the creature, firing a beam.  After a moment, Justin turned around and fired again at the creature.  Just as he lifted his shield back up, another bolt hit him, throwing him back and to the ground.  As he stood, he realized his shield was already at half strength.  Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Cody waving his arms inside his shield as he jumped about to avoid the bird’s fire.  Once he saw he had Justin’s attention, Cody made a gesture, sticking out his thumb and pinky to make a telephone shape and putting it to his head like he was speaking into it.  They had agreed a while back that that signal meant for Justin to lower his shield so they could talk.

            Justin rolled to the side, by luck, actually dodging away from a bolt, and lowered his shield for a moment.  Cody lowered his as well.  “I know what that is,” Cody shouted.  “It has to be set on fire.  Nothing else will hurt it.”  Justin nodded and raised his shield back up.  He turned to look for the flamethrower on the exterminator’s back.  He found it, along with the exterminator’s head and shoulders.  What remained of the metal tank was well and truly exploded.  Being struck by lightning must have ignited its fuel.

            Justin looked around.  He saw Cody running toward a gas station.  Justin moved in the same direction, keeping his eyes on the monster, jumping around like Cody had been doing.  He was apparently doing it worse, however, because the creature managed to strike him mid-air, throwing him toward the gas station and popping his shield.  Crap.

            Justin stood back up.  He saw that Cody was inside the gas station’s building, waving his hand, motioning for Justin to move to Cody’s right.  Justin moved that way.  He stopped, but Cody’s waving only got more frantic.  Justin ran.  As he did, another bolt of lightning knocked him forward and onto his face.

            Justin heard his left arm skitter away as he hit the ground.  Using his other arm, he forced himself up, only to see the bird directly under the gas station’s hood.  Across the street, a human was cowering in the bushes with a cell phone camera pointed at the creature.  It stepped slowly toward Justin on its giant, thin, stick legs.

            As it did, Cody ran out of the gas station and, without missing a beat, grabbed one of the gas pumps and sprayed the gasoline at the creature.  The sparks moving throughout its feathers seemed to be all that was needed to ignite it.

            Cody dropped the pump after only a second and dashed away from it.  Justin followed him.  He heard frantic, pained squawks behind him.  After a few dozen feet, he turned around to see the bird flailing around, flapping its wings in an attempt to put the fire out, but it seemed to have no success.  After a couple hundred feet, the two stopped.  They turned around, and watched the bird, now fully engulfed; flail around for another minute or so before collapsing to the ground.

            “Well, that ruined everything,” Justin commented after a moment.

            “It did,” Cody said.  He turned around and walked off.  Justin looked over his shoulder.  The human was still in the bushes.  Justin nearly aimed an energy beam just above the moron’s head, just to scare him, but he held back.  He turned and went off with Cody.

*****

            The Grey Man sat, whispering the phrase “Damn it to hell” periodically.  His computer was open to a cell phone video of the devourers who had agreed they’d pretend to be dead.  They were pretending to be heroes instead.

            The Grey Man heard a click, and then a voice.  “Sir, something requires your attention.”

            The man pressed a button.  “What is it?”

            “According to our source at the Channel 4 news station in Goldfalls, one of the anchors there, Violet Fox, intends to report on an investigation she carried out into the Angel of Death case.”  The voice paused.  “She’s come to a lot of correct conclusions, sir.”

            The Grey Man sighed.  He leaned back in his chair.  There’s no lying to the world after this, he thought.  Someone is going to figure things out sooner or later.

            “Let her do what she wants.”

            “Sir?”

            “Don’t give me that.  I said to let her do what she wants and I meant it.”

            There was a short pause.  “Very well, sir.”

            The Grey Man turned off his computer.  He stood up and left.  (He was off work in ten minutes anyway.)  He’d be stopping to buy a drink on the way home.

*****

            “We’re on in sixty!” Violet heard.  Nervously, she fiddled with the papers she held.  Her palms felt disgustingly sweaty.

            “On in five, four, three, two.”

            “Good evening, I’m Violet Fox.  This is channel 4 news at 6:00,” she said.  “Our top story tonight continues to be the angel saga, as well as new information, gathered by this reporter personally, which may shed new light on the events.”

            That sounded okay so far, Violet thought.  From there, she went on to lay out her theory.  Cody Giles was the Angel of Death.  Devourers are angels in disguise, or perhaps the other way around.  They just tried to take over the world.

            It left a lot of unanswered questions, not the least of which being why whatever mental control Light-rook had been using had stopped working.  No one had heard anything out of him for over a month, since the same day a mansion in the Northern part of town had exploded.  Perhaps he had died in that explosion?

            This would be Violet’s last broadcast here.  She’d be going into hiding for a while.  Between the riot on Wednesday and her announcing that a bunch of monsters had been planning to take over the world, monsters that might come after her for revenge, she didn’t feel safe in Goldfalls.  She’d said goodbyes to her family and friends.  She’d be leaving as soon as this broadcast was over.

            She might end up regretting this; if she found a devourer standing over her, having tracked her down to avenge their plans.  No, that wasn’t right; most of them could turn invisible.  She wouldn’t be able to regret anything before they’d already killed her.

            Still, even if she somehow would regret this, she knew that she shouldn’t.  That was what mattered.  She’d done the right thing.  The camera stopped, and she took a long, deep drink from her mug before getting up to leave for the airport.

*****

            The world reacted poorly to Violet Fox’s broadcast at first.  It seemed, for a month or two, as though she had made a terrible mistake.

            But the human species was more invested in its own status quo than some might have predicted.  In the end, when the worst of the riots were over, the humans had to eat.  To do this, the bulk of them had to perform labor for the higher classes.  As a result of this labor’s necessity, it continued.  As the labor continued, so did the human’s schedules.  With these, the normal state of human societies went on.

            The angel incident had far reaching implications, of course.  Human existence would never be precisely the same as it had been before magical beings had tried to take over the world.  Scientists and philosophers were immensely concerned with the issue, and amateur organizations popped up alleging to assist in the fight against the remaining devourers, whom DIAPP would have to track down, even as the monsters became ever more desperate.


            Still, Valthakar’s spell went perfectly with the materials I sent, and it seems, in the end, their world shall continue as it always did.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Angel of Death 1.28 Death Throes

            Zachary rushed away from the prison, pulling the sphere out of his pocket.  The Angel of Death had said some magic words right before Pink fell and started changing.  Could that have been a coincidence?  He’d never seen an Angel need to use nonsense words before. Everything they did, they just did.

            The Angel of Death had said this sphere was a good luck charm.  Maybe the opposite was the case.  Zachary tossed the sphere away from him, causing it to land on the grass a distance away from him.  He kept running.

*****

            Cody followed the fear trail Zachary left behind him.  His frightened scent grew more powerful as Cody drew near to its source, and before long, Zachary was in sight.  The human found a sudden burst of speed somewhere inside him as Cody approached, but it did him little good.

            Cody reached Zachary and tackled him to the ground.  The human’s fear was pungent in the air as Cody pinned him, but the scent faded away when Cody knocked Zachary unconscious.  Cody closed his eyes and scanned through his mental catalogue of the diseases he had to tag.  He started with the most serious ones which were not immediately life-threatening.  He tried to strategize his transfers to move as many illnesses as he could.  He went through the pettier illnesses, and then the most dangerous ones.

            Finally, Cody moved over a group of life-threatening injuries in a single burst before snatching up and eating Zachary’s soul before the human could die.  When he’d done that, he lay back for a moment, and then stood up to go back to the prison.  Explaining this to Larngulal would be easier if fewer Selechii goons survived this affair, and in a few days, Cody would be in a position to scrub the organization from the face of the earth.  With both their leader and Zach working for him, he’d be able to find all of their hide-outs, track down every one of them and either kill them or send them to the police.  He just needed to wait for Valthakar to find Bavandersloth and he’d be golden.  He smiled.  He really was going to win.  Perhaps Cherie wouldn’t have to wait until next Valentine’s Day for another night as special as their last.

*****

            Cherie sat down in the training academy the next day with her work on her desk.  Some of the other trainees talked amongst themselves as they waited for the instructor.  Cherie looked over her work.  It still seemed satisfactory to her.

            A few moments before class was set to start, the instructor walked in.  “Good morning,” he said.

            “Good morning,” half of the class repeated.

            “Alright, everyone, you should all have completed the sheets I gave you last Friday over the weekend.  Today, we’re going to go through them.  For each of the scenarios, you were asked to write down questions you would want to ask to help you identify the kind of monster which had attacked the place in the text.  Today, I’m going to answer them.  Now, let’s read back over the first scenario.”

            The instructor got out a sheet of paper and read aloud from it.  “You are in the field when your squad meets with you to give you information.  They tell you that the rural Ethiopian village in question has faced three disappearances.  Each one has been a woman who went out to collect water and did not return.  The ground near the bank of the river is muddy, but there have been no unusual footprints found.”  The instructor looked up at the trainees.  “You were asked to list two questions you would ask to help you figure the answer out.  Would any of you like to ask one of your questions to me now?”  One of the other trainees raised their hand.  “Church,” the instructor called.

            “The question said no unusual footprints were found, but was anything else unusual found in the area?  Not just on the bank, but anywhere on the path these women would take to get there?”

            “That’s a good question, but not in this case, no.”  The instructor looked away from him and back to the class as a whole.  “He was doing something right when he thought of that, though.  Outside the box thinking is critical in this job.  One shouldn’t let themselves be led to assume that the bank is where these women are being snatched from.  That’s possible, but it also might not be the case.”  The instructor turned to another student whose hand was up.  “Yes, Ackerman?”

            “About it being possible for them to have disappeared from the bank, I think I spotted something that might rule that out.  If these women went there to collect a day’s supply of water in the morning, wouldn’t they have been seen by other women?”

            The instructor smiled.  “Now that is a very good point.  Your colleagues press the women’s families further on that point, and discover that all of them had gone out at night.  There’d been a disease epidemic in the area, its symptoms are all naturalistic, and these women had each gone out to get extra water for family members dehydrated by the illness.”  The trainee who had given that answer grinned.  Cherie decided now was the time to put up her hand.  However, the man behind her was called on first.  “Williams?”

            “Yes, I was wondering if any of the women’s buckets were found, especially near the river bank.”

            “Interesting question.  Why do you ask?”

            “According to the book, auhizotl will call out to their victims in a way that imitates the voices of their loved ones.  I reason that if one of these women heard such a call and went after it, they’d have left their bucket behind.”

            “I see,” the instructor said.  “Upon searching the area, your group finds an empty water vase.  With further questioning, you discover it to have belonged to one of your victims.  Also, out of curiosity, how many of you narrowed in on an auhizotl as one of your guesses?”

            Looking around, Cherie saw several students with their hands up, other than her and Williams.  “Hmm, I see,” the instructor said.  “Lambert, what’s your question?”

            Cherie looked at the instructor.  “The scenario said that there were no unusual footprints found on the river banks.  What kinds of footprints were found?  I ask because it might be that the monster responsible left footprints, just ones we didn’t recognize as unusual.”

            The instructor smiled at Cherie.  “Ah, another good question.  There were snake tracks in the area, along with those of a mud turtle, and those of a wolf.”

            “Would wolf prints be consistent with an auhizotl?”

            “They would.  It’d take close inspection to tell the difference.  The absence of any blood or evidence of a struggle near the bank had caused both you and the villagers to rule out a wolf attack, or indeed, any wild animal attack.”

            “Are there any prints around for us to do that inspection on?”

            “Yes.  You do the inspection, and you discover that the prints are indeed those of an auhizotl.”

            Cherie smiled.  Yes, she thought.

            “Now then, onto question two.”

*****

            Bavandersloth felt a voracious hunger as his consciousness returned.  He’d felt this same hunger before.  Quickly, he recalled what had happened at his mansion.  Kandrinarkora had told him Odelarch and Tkoralkiarch were working with Gborin’gargoth to betray him.

            Bavandersloth stood up.  He was in a dirty cave.  He could see no light nearby which might indicate an entrance.  However, sniffing the air, he smelled a pungent fear.  It was distant, but intense.  Bavandersloth salivated as he rushed through the cave, following the scent to what he presumed would be a fresh soul for him to devour.

            As he ran, he thought.  His phylactery had been hidden in the Rocky Mountains, so it could be presumed that that was where he was.  It’d been thirty days since Bavandersloth’s last memories, or else an entirely new form would not have been built for him.  He didn’t remember how his form had been destroyed.  He hadn’t felt, seen or heard anything unusual, except of course Kandrinarkora’s voice.  That was probably the trigger, indirectly.  Gborin’gargoth had destroyed his form to prevent him from alerting the community to what Odelarch and Tkoralkiarch had done.

            Bavandersloth reached the mouth of the cave, and stepped out into a dawn-lit snowy valley, surrounded by trees and with looming mountains to his left and right.  Bavandersloth followed the scent across a creek and up one of the mountains.

            If his form had been destroyed by Gborin’gargoth, his absence would have to be explained.  Not knowing how Gborin’gargoth had done it, it was difficult for Bavandersloth to guess whether Odelarch would have been able to explain the whole affair away.  If Gborin’gargoth had been clever, he’d have made sure to destroy his form in a way which would seem impossible for his collaborators to achieve.  Depending on what that was, any number of persons may be blamed for what happened.

            Bavandersloth run up the mountain a ways, and then turned to walk around its face.  The smell was coming from a nearby hill.  Bavandersloth could tell that much.  He made the mountain subtly smooth itself as he walked on it, to keep the terrain from slowing him down.

            It was unfortunate that Bavandersloth would have to punish Odelarch and Tkoralkiarch, the latter especially.  Bavandersloth had grown to like the boy.  Perhaps Bavandersloth could use a binding spell as Tkoralkiarch’s punishment.  Yes, that was exactly what he would do.  His phylactery collecting ability was too useful to waste.

            Bavandersloth would be less merciful to Odelarch.  He’d been a troublesome boy from the beginning.  Bavandersloth has seen promise in him, but any possibility of him being an ally in the future was offset by the fact that he had made himself Bavandersloth’s enemy now.  He should be dealt with cruelly and without hesitation.

            Bavandersloth felt a blade of grass crunch beneath his foot as he smelled the fear, closer, but only on account of Bavandersloth’s motion.  The fearful human didn’t seem to be moving at all.  Perhaps they were stuck where they were, maybe pinned by a rock.

            It was a difficult problem, Bavandersloth realized, working out how to exact his retribution on the boys.  As much as he’d love to gain Tkoralkiarch as a bound servant, getting his phylactery would be obscenely difficult.  He could call it back to himself at any time, and if he did, getting it back would require entering the range from which he could retrieve Bavandersloth’s phylactery.

            Wait, no.  Kandrinarkora had blocked Tkoralkiarch’s retrieval ability once.  There was no doubt he could do it again.  Yes, that would work.  As for Odelarch, Bavandersloth would acquire his phylactery once he had Tkoralkiarch serving him.  He’d bind him, make him lead Bavandersloth to his friends and family, (if Gborin’gargoth was communicating with the boy, there was no doubt he’d hidden them away), kill them in front of him, and then kill the boy himself.

            Of course, it was possible that Larngulal or Kgobauru had already seen to their punishments.  Bavandersloth hoped she’d not secured them by doing something rash.  At one of their earlier council meetings, she had advocated a large-scale attack on a major city to draw attention.  It was one of the rare times Bavandersloth had been united with Ntullnarlth against her.  Such an attack would inspire too much fear and panic.  The right amount of those things would bring in the audience Bavandersloth needed for his final broadcast.  Too much of them, and fuck knew what would happen.  Suspicion would brew.  Riots would rage.  Just about anything would be liable to occur in such an atmosphere.

            Bavandersloth finally reached the source of the scent; a little girl, sitting on the mountain, crying.  Bavandersloth was invisible, so she couldn’t see him.  He rushed toward her and buried his scythe in her stomach, killing her.  Immediately after that, he raised his shield.

            Sure enough, his shield was immediately struck by a giant glowing blast of magic, shattering in an instant.  Bavandersloth’s eyes widened.  There was only one lich who could have created a blast that large.

            Bavandersloth jumped back into the valley, dodging another incoming blast.  He looked to see where it’d come from.  He reasoned out a direction, but was unable to figure out his attacker’s location from that.

            Bavandersloth hurried back into the wilderness.  That blast had come from Valthakar.  He’d scared that little girl, and then used her to lure him to that specific spot.  He’d know Bavandersloth was there when he saw her die, and that’s when he fired.  That meant Valthakar was no longer under Bavandersloth’s control.

            That was bad.  That was very, very bad.  But who could have freed him?  It must have been one of the traitors, but neither one was powerful enough to reverse a binding spell.  Could they have powered themselves up?  No, that was absurd.  They’d have had to kill hundreds, something neither of them would ever consider.

            Or… perhaps, would they?  Cody had become rather ruthless as of late, it was true.  By all accounts, his killing of Ntullnarlth had been quite cold.  Still… it seemed unlikely.  The far more likely option was that they’d gotten some third person to assist them.  If that was the case, the culprit was likely a fellow do-gooder.  How many others were there?

            Off the top of his head, Bavandersloth could name three.  Vargrilog, who, when Bavandersloth last knew, was in Abuja, Nigeria, promoting civil rights as he fought crime.  He had become a lich around three-hundred years ago, originally to fight the North Atlantic Slave Trade, of which he had been a victim.  It was a shared background over which he and Bavandersloth had bonded, and his judgement was normally good enough for him to be more than worthy of governing that area, but Bavandersloth knew his loyalty to the community would be more than tested by this plan.

            There was also Ngulakoro, in Warsaw, Poland.  Now that Kaburlduth was gone, she was the last remnant of the storm of lich creation that was World War II.  Her original intent had been to leave Poland with her family during the invasion.  Later, she returned to actively fight the Nazis.

            Finally, there was Kagzuwehl, the Oldest Living Do-gooder.  Just a smidge too young to bind Valthakar himself after freeing him.  He was a product of the crusades, one of the smaller ones.  He’d turned to magic to repel the crusaders who invaded his lands.  He was in Jerusalem at the moment, if Bavandersloth recalled correctly.

            Bavandersloth thought.  Any of these three would have been able to release Valthakar from him.  Which one had, however?  The book could easily have informed Odelarch about any or all of them, though contacting them might have been difficult.

            Bavandersloth wracked his brain as he sniffed for more fear.  He could smell a few faint whiffs in the distance.  He licked his lips.  Perhaps they were from a settlement.

*****

            Valthakar cursed.  His blasts had hit nothing but the snow.  Bavandersloth had sensed his trap.

            Valthakar jumped to the far side of the mountain from the one he’d hit, the location where Bavandersloth was less likely to be, all things considered.  He waited a few moments, and then took his human form.  He grabbed his cell phone and then took his true form again as soon as he could.  He dialed Cody’s number.

            “Hello,” the boy said before the first ring ended.  Valthakar stood up and ran toward the nearest town as he spoke.

            “I didn’t get him,” Valthakar said.

            “I see,” he said.

            “He’s probably going to the closest town, Palisade.  You should call your friends at DIAPP, their special ink would be very helpful to us, and when you’re done with that, you should take the first flight here, perhaps on one of their helicopters.  Bring Justin, and the dog if you can.”

            “I don’t think Sparky would do well on a helicopter ride,” Cody said, “but Justin and I will head over as soon as we can.”

            “Get here as soon as possible.  Try to do it while Bavandersloth is still frenzying if you can.  His compulsion to feed will be advantageous to us.”

            “Of course.”

            “Alright then.  I’m out.”  Valthakar hung up.  He took a deep breath and zoomed off at his top speed, kicking up a white, snowy mist.

*****

            Cody put the phone down.  He lay back and waited a moment for Agent Lambert to call.

            The phone rang.  Cody answered it.  “Yes?”

            “The DIAPP office in Grand Junction, the closest one to Palisade, has already been alerted, and the whole area is being evacuated on the pretense of an incoming tornado.  As for you being transported there by helicopter, it’d take too long.  We do have a plane that could get you there in less than an hour and a half.  I’ll have it prepared at the Goldfalls Municipal Airport.”

            Cody smiled.  “Thank you.  Justin and I will be there in about twenty minutes.”

            “Alright.  We’ll prepare the jet as quickly as we can.  Oh, and there’s one other thing.”

            “What?”

            “We can loan you some of the sonar goggles our exterminators use.  They’ll allow you to see Bavandersloth while he’s invisible.”

            Cody’s eyes widened.  “Wow.  Really?  That’d be great.  Thanks.”

            “You’re welcome.”  Mr. Lambert hung up.

            Cody put the phone in his pocket.  He turned to Justin, whose eyes were on a brightly glowing cell phone.  “Hey, Justin.”

            Justin turned around and looked at Cody.  “What?”

            “We’re going to Colorado to help Valthakar fight Bavandersloth.”  Justin’s eyes widened, but Cody continued.  “Mr. Lambert is preparing a plane for us now.”

            Justin sat up, and then looked down at the floor.  He took a deep breath, and took his true form.  “Alright,” he said.

*****

            Valthakar slid down one last cliff and ran into Palisade before Bavandersloth had a chance to.  Tornado sirens blared in his ears as soon as he approached the small community.  An evacuation order was being issued over loudspeaker.  Odds were this was a ploy by DIAPP to empty the city.  Looking around as he walked through the small farming neighborhood around him, it seemed to have worked.

            Valthakar thought.  DIAPP helicopters were already in the sky; their pitch black metal skins blending into the midnight above.  Valthakar should seek some kind of shelter, he realized.  Bavandersloth was much slower than him and wouldn’t be here for a while, so there was no point in him being out in the open.  Hopefully, DIAPP’s sonar would detect and ink Bavandersloth as soon as he entered the little town.

            Valthakar looked up.  One of the helicopters was approaching him.  His eyes widened and dashed around.  He ran into the nearest empty house.  He waited.  The helicopter hovered over him for a few minutes before touching down; perhaps realizing a rampaging Bavandersloth wouldn’t sit and wait like he was.  He decided to de-cloak, though he put his shield up at the same time as an exterminator jumped out of the helicopter and approached him.  The woman stayed a good distance away and with her flamethrowers pointed at him.  Valthakar stayed where he was as the woman eyed him, her fear detectable to him, though foolishly mild.  Valthakar didn’t pay her much mind as she had a rather confused conversation through her earpiece, presumably about him.  He just sat, waiting for Bavandersloth.

*****

            Jeremy sat in the helicopter, his guns primed at where Bavandersloth was expected to arrive.  Of all of the military operations he had been involved in, this was by far the most sophisticated and important ever to involve paintballs.  Not ordinary paintballs, true enough, but paintballs nonetheless.  They were certainly the purplest thing which had ever been fired from a chain gun.

            Jeremy pressed his lips together.  A small part of him was impatient for the lich to arrive, but the much larger part that remained knew better than that.  He listened for the woman at the radar to shout out that they had detected something.  She didn’t of cour—

            “Hold on!  I just caught a blip on the sonar.  It’s the right size and speed, but it’s headed for Grand Junction!”

            Jeremy’s eyes widened.  His full attention snapped toward his gun, sparing the little bit he used to listen to the conversation happening behind him.

            “Straight for Grand Junction?  He must have figured we’d be here.  All helicopters pursue.  Goggles on.  Fire on sight.  Disregard all collateral damage.”

            “Yes, sir!” Jeremy shouted, along with those in the helicopter with him, including the other gunner behind him who held the actual weapons.  Jeremy took a deep breath as the helicopter moved.

*****

            Valthakar raised an eyebrow as he saw the exterminator near him react to a radio message and the helicopter above him land.  The exterminator turned toward him and said something, but Valthakar couldn’t hear it through his shield.  He sighed and lowered the thing.

            “Bavandersloth has been spotted heading straight for the next town over,” she said.  Valthakar’s eyes widened.

*****

            Justin looked down at his feet as he sat on the plane, thinking.  He’d have to kill Bavandersloth soon.  He remembered how eager, how excited he’d been to avenge his parents when he’d thought it’d been Valthakar who killed them, but for some reason, he felt different about it this time.

            He tried to settle back in his seat.  His seat was hard and lumpy, unlike Bavandersloth’s jet.  All the same, Justin never wanted this plane ride to end.  He wished he could just sit here forever.

*****

            Justin sat on the velvet couch, tears in his eyes, staring downward at the brown hardwood mansion floor underneath him.  He closed his eyes as drops of water fell onto that floor.  He recalled his mother’s warm embrace, how she used to cheer him up.  How she’d held his hand during his first flu shot.  He’d not believed her when she said it wouldn’t be that bad, but with her there, it really hadn’t been.

            Justin felt a hand on his shoulder as he cried.  He turned around and opened his eyes.  Bavandersloth was there, smiling down at him.  His smile was warm, soft, comforting, kind.  Justin looked up at him as he walked around the velvet couch and sat next to him, not saying a word.  Looking up at him, Justin thought.  This man had saved his life.  The Angel of Dea—no, the thing impersonating him, it would have taken him too if this man hadn’t been there to save him.

            Justin felt the seat below him depress as the man sat beside him.  Justin looked down, before embracing the man in a hug, head leaned over his shoulder.  Bavandersloth squeezed him just tightly enough as Justin cried over the man’s shoulder.

*****

            Justin squeezed the armrest as he heard the plane’s engines whirr around him.  The whole time, it’d been Bavandersloth.  He’d stolen his parents’ souls.

            They would be freed after Bavandersloth was dead, Justin remembered, a thought which quieted his tears a bit.  He looked up at Cody, whose attention was focused on the copy of On Soulless Ones which was spread across his lap.

            Tears still trickling down his face, Justin turned over his hand and placed it in front of Cody, who looked at him, at first quizzically, but then with a faint smile as he took the hand and squeezed it.  Justin leaned over and rested his head on Cody’s shoulder as he read, closing his eyes, squeezing the last few tears out.

*****

            Bavandersloth rushed across the sand toward the second nearest settlement.  Valthakar no doubt lurked at the nearest.  He’d get more food at the larger cluster of humans to its west.  He could smell more fear from there than he might have expected.  Why would that be?  The odor wasn’t enough for it to be Valthakar in devourer’s garb, or in any form.  Perhaps DIAPP was faking a disaster to have the town evacuated?  Yes, that would explain it.  It would also imply that Valthakar had told DIAPP what he was doing and they had listened.  The alliance that would imply had been made was more than unfortunate.

            Then again, it could also be a real natural disaster.  That would be quite the coincidence, however.

            In any case, any likely cause of a fear of that strength made it doubly pointless to go for the nearest town.  No doubt it would soon be evacuated.

            Bavandersloth continued toward his destination as he heard helicopters fly up behind him.  His eyes widened.  He turned around.  There were several of them in the distance, and they were zooming toward him.

            Bavandersloth looked ahead as he dashed for the city, but kept watch on the helicopters over his shoulder.  It was only a minute or so before they caught up with him, and then slowed down to keep pace.  He aimed his hand up at the helicopter nearest to him, but in the time he did that, five helicopters had him in their sights.  They pelted him with paintballs.  Bavandersloth seethed as he saw his once-invisible form become covered in neon purple ink.

            The lich ran ahead nonetheless.  If DIAPP was after him, Valthakar was as well.  Bavandersloth raised his shield.  It was soon covered in ink, ink that would fall on him as soon as he lowered his shield.  The shield was still faint from Valthakar’s destruction of it a while ago.  Bavandersloth seethed. It was vital that he avoid another encounter with Valthakar, but he wasn’t sure how he would avoid it.

            Bavandersloth ran to the side as the helicopters repositioned themselves in front of him, but to no avail, as they pelted the front of his shield with ink just as they had the back and sides until he was finally blind.

            Being blinded did not stop Bavandersloth from sprinting forward with all the strength he could muster.  However, as he did, he felt his shield pop at the hands of a magical beam.

            He turned around, even as the ink spilled on him, covering himself in a devourer’s cloud.  He saw another shot, a magical blast, come toward him.  He jumped to avoid it, but felt the shock of it hit him like a million tons as it hit the road, a shockwave tearing off his legs and throwing him a large distance.

            Bavandersloth felt himself, his back flat against the ground.  He lifted his head up to look in front of him, when he saw the magical beams which sliced off his arms.  He grumbled as Valthakar walked toward him.  “Wait!” he shouted.

            Valthakar uncloaked in front of him and grinned.  “I won’t be doing that.”

            “I ate out some of the ski lodges!  I got my fill already.  If you blow me up, you’ll just have to search for my phylactery again, and the monsters will be just as dedicated to keeping you from finding it.”

            Valthakar stopped.  He turned around, shouting up at the helicopters behind him.  “Do any of you have any contact with someone with a copy of the book?”

            One of the agents nodded.  “The head of every base has one.”

            “Find out if what he just said is true.”

            Bavandersloth lay back.

            The agent spoke again about a minute later.  “It is,” the human said.  Bavandersloth grinned.

            Valthakar turned around.  He walked the rest of the way and kneeled down next to the prone Bavandersloth.  He matched Bavandersloth’s smirk.  “Well, congratulations, you get to live an extra few hours.”  Valthakar stood up.  “Tkoralkiarch will be here inside the hour, however, so I wouldn’t get too comfortable.”

            Bavandersloth took a deep breath.

            “I wish you could understand how wonderful it is to see you just as upset about your own death as any common mortal,” Valthakar said.  “You think you’re some lord of amorality, but you’re as obsessed with preservation as Odelarch is.  The only difference is what you want to preserve.  Thinking you can live forever--”

            “I don’t think I can live forever.”  Bavandersloth looked up at Valthakar.  “I knew when I became a lich that my phylactery would eventually be destroyed.”

            “I’m not talking about that kind of knowledge, Bav.  No one is so consciously delusional that they believe they’ll live forever.  But at the same time, you feel like you can live forever, don’t you?  How often do you really think of your life in terms of a finite span of time?  At any point in your eight-hundred years, did you ever really realize that you would die someday?”

            Bavandersloth sneered, but as he tried to think of a response, he struggled.  “Perhaps not often, I’ll admit, but yes.  I have.”

            “I see.”  Valthakar sat down, clearly intending this to be a long conversation.  Perhaps inflicting himself on Bavandersloth was the only way he could pass the time until Tkoralkiarch arrived.  “If I didn’t know better, I’d admire your honesty.  I’m still greater than you in this respect, however.  I always think of it that way.”

            Bavandersloth turned his head and looked Valthakar in the eye.  “Really?  Always?  I imagine that’s exhausting.”

            Valthakar nodded.  “It is.”

            Bavandersloth tilted his head.  He looked back up at the sky.  A starry night swirled around above him.  He recognized every constellation by heart from the days when you had to sail on a boat to really get anywhere.

            “The alternative, however, is delusional.”

            Bavandersloth looked back at Valthakar.  He chuckled.  “Delusional?”

            “Look at you.  You have all of your big plans.  Tell me, were you thinking about how long you would rule the world?  I mean really, truly thinking about it?  No.  You acted as I would expect someone to if some part of them thought they were going to be in charge forever, because some part of you did.”

            Bavandersloth scoffed.  “At least I’m after something.  You scream and cry about how finite your time is, but you insist on doing nothing of value with it.”

            “There is nothing of real value to do.”

            Bavandersloth smiled.  “Really?  You’re that much of a fool?  ‘Oh, dear, I won’t be able to do things forever, therefore there’s no point in doing anything at all!’  Grow up.”

            “Says the eight-hundred year old man to the twelve-thousand.”

            Bavandersloth chuckled.  “Yes, says me to you.  Even Odelarch’s worldview is more adult.  At least when he doesn’t get his way, he doesn’t wail like an infant about it for over ten millennia.”

            “I’ve not wailed about Atlantis since about a month after it sank.  I don’t care about it anymore.”

            “And yet you spend so much time looking for it.”

            “Curiosity,” Valthakar said, “if it could even be called that.  I have to pass the time somehow.  Looking for Atlantis is as good a way as--”

            Bavandersloth’s laughter grew louder.  “Are you lying or are you honestly that deluded.”

            Valthakar glared.  “Your youth denies you perspective,” he said.  “Perhaps when you’re my age, you’ll understand.  Oh, wait, I forgot,” he grinned, “you’re going to die in a moment, aren’t you?”

            That managed to silence Bavandersloth.  A subtle grimace flashed on his face, but was gone before Valthakar would have been likely to notice.  Bavandersloth lay back, closing his eyes.

*****

            “You may exit,” Justin heard soon after the plane landed.  He stood up.  He’d been seated at the front of the plane, so Cody was the only one ahead of him as he walked out.

            Several exterminators got on motorcycles behind him, but Justin and Cody ran straight for the desert where Bavandersloth was stranded.  Regardless of any other respect in which he may be conflicted, Justin was quite uncomplicatedly relieved that he would not have to fight a battle.

            Justin sprinted forward inside his cloud of darkness, looking down.  He just had to grab the phylactery and snap it.  It would be that simple.  Cody had said Gborin’gargoth would stop Kandrinarkora from blocking him this time.  Justin didn’t even have to hear a word Bavandersloth said if he stayed inside his shield.  He’d just do it and his parents would be free.  All of the deceptive spells Bavandersloth had cast would be reversed.  Valthakar would then cast that anti-lich spell, and all of this would be over.

            Justin took a deep breath.  Over.  He’d felt like this would never be over, but it would be, at least where Bavandersloth was concerned.  The community of liches would be defeated.  No new liches would be created, so it would just be a matter of hunting down the ones that were left.  Justin would probably be a huge part of that, he realized.  He was the one who could get any phylactery he wanted.  There were so many different strategies liches had come up with to protect their phylacteries.  Some liches hid their phylacteries in secluded locations, from mountain ranges, to Antarctica, to lakes and rivers, even outer space.  There was one lich who’d found a way to get his phylactery onto the international space station.  There was another who’d somehow gotten it onto a space probe.

            None of that mattered where Justin was concerned, though.  He got it, Sparky burned it, that’s all there was to it.

            Justin looked up as he heard the DIAPP helicopter twirl above him.  He looked back at the road in front of him, and he saw Bavandersloth.  He clinched his fist and activated his shield.  He stepped forward.  Cody followed not far behind him, no expression of any kind on his face.  Justin took another step.  A tear fell down his cheek.  A moment later, Cody said something, and then tapped Justin’s shield, but Justin didn’t respond.  He did move again though, after a moment.

            Justin was alone with his thoughts inside the shield.  Why had the plane landed? he thought.  Why couldn’t the ride have lasted longer?  He moved perhaps five steps in the first minute of his approach, but soon discovered that by picturing his mother’s face, he was able to speed himself up.  Soon, he was close enough to Bavandersloth for the lich to look back at him.  His lips moved, but Justin did not lower his shield.  After a moment, he summoned courage to bring Bavandersloth’s phylactery to him.

*****

            Bavandersloth looked at the boy inside the shield.  It was true what they said, he discovered.  When you’re about to die, your entire life flashes before your eyes, though perhaps it only happened to some people.  His childhood flashed before him, the quiet farm on which he’d been born.  He still remembered his mother’s face, after all these years.

            As vivid were the memories of the chains he’d worn off of the farm, and the heat of the sun and ache of his muscles once he’d been moved to his new one.

            More clearly than any of that, though, he remembered her.  She was the reason he had become what he became.  He’d become a lich so he could save her, and he’d traded his soul so he could kill her.  She’d been a weakness by the end, a liability.  She knew too much of him, and her word and welfare held too much sway over his mind.  Now, he only wished he’d done it sooner.  He would have spared himself several unpleasant incidents.  Still, perhaps it would be the one good thing about the Underworld.  He might see her again.

            After Georgia’s face faded from his mind, he remembered the past few months, the most eventful in his life.  His plan had been so intricate, so well laid out, so wonderful.  It would have succeeded, but for the intervention of Gborin’gargoth.  Bavandersloth could see the smile on Odelarch’s face, as though the boy had just won their little game.  He’d not.  He was not a player.  He was a piece.  He was just a pawn in Gborin’gargoth’s game against Kandrinarkora.

            Bavandersloth lay back, closing his eyes as he felt a sudden pain in his gut.

*****

            Justin lowered his shield as he dropped Bavandersloth’s phylactery to the ground in two pieces.  Valthakar walked right over and picked it up, changing into his human form, pocketing it, and then taking his true form again.  “Good job,” he said.

            Justin nodded, his eyes downcast.  “Right,” he said.

*****

            Georgia sat at the table of plenty in the Underworld when a stone she was meant to keep with her vibrated.  She picked it up, activating its display.

            “Bavandersloth has died,” the alert said.  “Would you like to see him before he begins standard processing?”

            It’d been a while since she’d gotten such an alert.  Without a second thought, she touched the “no” option and resumed her meal.