Thursday, November 7, 2013

Angel of Death 1.01 There's No Other Way to Save Her, Is There?

                Cody looked down at Cherie with her hand in his.  He had just come into her drab hospital room.  He fiddled with his Rubik’s cube with his other hand as she spoke, but he was paying much more attention to her.

            “Of course they can’t get me into school, Cody.  It was stupid of me to ask.” Cherie said.

            “I’m sorry,” Cody said.

            “Don’t be,” Cherie said, “It’s not like I’ll live long enough to put any of it to use.”

            Cody put the cube down and began stroking Cherie’s hand.  “Cherry…”  That was what he’d called her ever since they began dating.  The name originated from when they first met, when Cody gave his original guess as to the pronunciation of her name.

            “Don’t ‘Cherry’ me, Cody.”  Cody looked down.  He took his hands away from Cherie and picked his cube back up.  Neither of them spoke for a moment.  After about thirty seconds, Cody solved the cube.

“Got it,” he said. 

Cherry smiled.  “How do you do that?”

“Know-how, and practice,” Cody said, also smiling.  He constantly carried the trinket around with him and fiddled with it.  He could solve it in about twenty seconds, and do several tricks with it.  Its stickers had long worn off, and the sides were now marked with silver, gold, green, blue, and red sharpie, with the last one being marked by it’s not being pigmented at all.  “I brought you a candy bar,” Cody said, reaching into his bag, and pulling one out.  He’d not have spent that much money on a treat for himself, but he would for her.

She took it.  “Thanks,” she said.  She unwrapped it and began eating.  “So, what classes are you taking?”

“I plan to take mythology and history,” Cody said, “but my mom has been pestering me about taking a more useful elective.  I’m beginning to see her point.  Knowing a lot about those topics probably won’t help me in a few months when I’ll need to get a job to help the family pay--”

“Ignore her,” Cherie said.  “You have a brilliant mind. Your ramblings about it are one of the few joys left in my life.”

Cody looked her in the eye, concerned.  He grabbed her hand, and began stroking it again.  “Don’t say that.  You have plenty to enjoy.”

“I really don’t,” Cherie said.  “I’m stuck in a hospital bed with two months to live.  I don’t think I have much to be happy about, just spending all day watching basic cable, not able to so much as move from this bed,” Cherie laid her head back and closed her eyes.  “Sometimes I just wish it would end.”

Cody began stroking her arm again.  “Please don’t say that,” he put his head down.  “I hate seeing you miserable like this.”

Cherie turned her head slightly away from Cody.  “Then stop looking at me.”

“Cherry…” Cody knew she was right.  Cherie had been diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor about two years ago, at the ripe old age of sixteen.  She had been popular, beautiful, and had more potential than anyone else Cody had ever met.  She deserved to live more than almost anyone in the world, yet she was the one who would die at the age of eighteen, while many less deserving people would live rich and full lives.

It had taken a long time for Cody to give up hope for her.  He had prayed harder than he had ever prayed before and fasted until his mother became concerned for his health.  He had begged the doctors to check again three or four times.  He finally forced himself to give up one night about a month ago when he realized he had just spent four hours reading through some books from the school library, hoping to find a cure for cancer himself.

Cody would have gladly given his own life, or his own soul, to let her live on, but he couldn’t.  All he could do was try to make peace with it.  He hadn’t yet succeeded.

The two of them conversed for about another two hours before the hospital staff made Cody leave.  He would have lived there if he could.  He said goodbye to Cherie as he walked out the door.  As soon as he had left, he allowed himself to cry for her.  He’d seen her at her liveliest only months earlier.  She was happy then, all things considered.  Now look what she had been reduced to.  Her hair had fallen out.  She had lost thirty pounds, reducing her already small frame to little more than skin and bones.  She was confined and miserable.  It was hard for Cody to bear looking at her in such a miserable state.  Were it not for the small joy she felt from it, he wouldn’t have done so at all.

As he left the hospital, he walked down the street to the bus stop.  He walked by a charity bucket, and instinctively put a coin in it.  That was about as much money as they could afford to give.  His family’s financial situation was not very good.  At best, it could be described as not secure but stable, in that if things continued as they were, Cody’s family would probably eat tomorrow.  If anything ever happened to upset the balance, though, they could expect to sleep in cardboard boxes at best.  At worst, they could expect to run out of money to placate the Black Death, the street gang who ruled their area.  The last time that happened, they had someone kick in the womb of Cody’s at the time pregnant mother, causing a miscarriage and rendering her infertile.

Cody’s parents were planning to make him get a part time job soon.  Cody was already running through the various fast food chains in the area in his mind.  He just hoped that he wouldn’t be forced to drop out of high school.  This wasn’t because he had any delusion that he would use such a diploma to escape poverty.  This was because it was something he honestly enjoyed.  He loved to learn.  In another world, a world where life was fair, people got what they deserved, and his family had money, Cody would grow up to be a scholar or professor of history or mythology.  He’d also not be walking down this street right now, because Cherie would be at home, happy.  Here though, he’d either be killed in a drive by shooting, grow up to work a crappy job for less pay than his labor deserved, or descend into a life of homelessness and drug use, and Cherie would die of brain cancer.

As he rounded the block, Cody thought he saw something out of the corner of his eye in an alleyway.  He stepped back and looked into the alley.  He saw a book sitting in the middle of it.  It was large.  It seemed deep blue or sapphire for the most part, but had a silver skull in the middle.

He moved to walk past.  His mother had told him not to take short cuts after a close call with one of the Black Death’s competitors about six months back.  On the other hand, there was clearly no one around, and nowhere that someone could plausibly be hiding.  In addition, someone might have lost it, and it looked pretty unique and valuable.  Cody thought he should try to find its owner.  He went into the alley and picked it up.  As he held it, he noticed that it had real-looking silver for the skull, and realistic sapphires for the rest of the cover.  He didn’t think it was real, but was impressed with the quality of the imitation.

As he opened it so see if someone’s name was inside the cover, he noticed that the paper inside looked old, like it could have been written two-thousand years ago.  There was no name on the inside cover, but the title page intrigued him.

“On the soulless ones”

“Soulless ones?” Cody thought, “What could that mean?”  Driven by curiosity, he turned the page.  It was a table of contents.

“I A description of the soulless ones.

II On the process of becoming a soulless one.

III On the spells common to all soulless ones.

IV On the spells unique to one or some soulless ones.

V On the other properties unique to one or some soulless ones.

VI A list of soulless ones.

VII Questions and answers.

VIII Glossary”

“Odd,” Cody thought, “there are no page numbers next to the chapter names.”  He flipped to a random page in the book.  It was the table of contents again.  He flipped to another page.  Again, he saw the table of contents.  “Come on.  Give me something,” he said aloud.  He turned to another page.  It was the table of contents again.  “Come on. I want to go to the description section.”  He turned the page.

“I A description of the soulless ones.

Soulless ones are those who have, through magic, cast their spirits into objects in order to gain the power to accomplish their dreams.  They walk among mortals in the forms they once knew, but must reveal their true forms, those of dead and deathly creatures, in order to cast their magic...”

“What in the world…”  Cody looked at the book.  He was interested, and since there was no name on the back cover either, inside or out, and no other way he knew of to locate its owner, he decided to keep it.

*****
            
Cody walked up to his room when he got home.  He dropped the book on his bed, and it opened to the table of contents.  Again?  He could accept that that was printed in the book a few times as a joke, but flipping to it this many times?

Suddenly, something occurred to him.  He hadn’t gotten to the description until he specifically willed to see it over any other particular part.  He tested something.  “I want to go to chapter two,” he thought, and he turned to the beginning of the book, the same place where he’d found chapter one.

“II On the process of becoming a soulless one.
If one wishes to join the ranks of the soulless ones, one must first consider carefully if this is truly what they wish to do.  Many have cast out their souls, and the vast majority of them come to regret it later.  To give up life, and yet remain in this world indefinitely, is no small prospect…”

            “What the heck…” Cody said aloud.  He flipped forward one page, this time willing to see chapter three.

“III On the spells common to soulless ones
 “This chapter shall list all spells which all soulless ones can, upon meeting certain requirements, cast, in contrast with those which can only ever be cast by one or some of them. I: Transform. Requirements: The lich must be in their disguised form. Method: Effect need merely be willed…”

Cody was having a hard time believing what he was seeing.  Finally, he conceived of one last test.  He turned to the next page, and then turned back, but this time willing to see chapter one again.

“I A description of the soulless ones.

Soulless ones are those who have, through magic, cast their spirits into objects in order to gain the power to accomplish their dreams.  They walk among mortals in the forms they once knew, but must reveal their true forms, those of dead and deathly creatures, in order to cast their magic…”

He was speechless.  This book… it was magical… somehow.  It somehow bended to his will, with even the very same page changing its contents for him.  But if that was true, that seemed to lend some credibility to its claims.  It meant that these creatures it described may well be real.  He thought for a moment of his Catholic faith.  There was no reconciling it with this.  It still took him a few minutes to even begin the process of giving it up.  After he had pushed the matter from his mind, something occurred to him.

“Cherry…”

The book contained instructions on how to become a soulless one, which seemed to basically be a lich.  From the descriptions, it seemed that they had magical power, the kind of power which could make astounding, wonderful things happen; the kind of power which could set right things which were once wrong; the kind of power which just might heal Cherie.  On the other hand, it didn’t seem likely that he would have healing power if he were a creature of disease, but he didn’t want to pass up this chance until he was sure.

“Perhaps there is something in the Q&A section about this,” he thought.

He turned the page, willing to find a relevant question.  Instead, he was brought to the beginning of the Q&A section, and what he suspected was its only page.  Two blank boxes were drawn on one page, and there was a quill resting on the opposite one.

Though this made him very anxious, he picked up the quill and wrote in one of the boxes.

“If I become a lich, can I heal Cherie?”

In response, or so Cody was convinced, words appeared in the other box.

“You would have unique powers determined by your reasons for casting out your soul.  If your intent is to heal her, you will have the power to move illnesses from one mortal to another.  This would mean that you could heal her illness by inflicting it upon someone else.”

Cody was startled, not only by the fact that the words had appeared at all, but also by their content.  He could heal her, but he’d have to kill someone else.  Was it worth it?  He loved her dearly, but the thought of murdering someone else to heal her was almost more than he could bear.  He wasn’t, and wouldn’t dare to become, a murderer.

“But I can’t do that!”

The book said nothing further.  Cody thought about Cherie’s form on that hospital bed.  He had the power to end her suffering.  He had the power to extend her life.  He had the power to make things right, and to let her fulfill her potential.  She didn’t have to die anymore.  Still, Cody didn’t want to kill anyone.

“Is there any other way to save her?”

“Not that you have access to.  If saving her is worth becoming a lich, then that is what you should do.”

Cody thought about his dilemma.  He wanted very badly to save Cherie, and to see her smile again.  He always used to love how she looked when she smiled.  He wondered if there was anything else he could do.  Was there any way around this? Could the book even be trusted?  Perhaps it was lying about the need to kill another person, but then again, why would it do that?  Then, a dreadful thought occurred to him.  “What if,” he thought, “I could find a person who deserved to die?”

No, no, not at all.  It was not his place to decide who did and did not deserve to die.  Still, as he imagined Cherie upright, happy, and smiling again, he asked…

“Can I move her illness to someone who deserves to die?”

“You can move it to anyone you want.  It is not my place to say if any person deserves to die.”

Cody thought for a moment.  This opportunity wasn’t something he could afford to waste.  He wouldn’t be able to live with himself.  Perhaps he could give it to someone on death row?  He had always been an avid opponent of the death penalty in general, so such a thing might be somewhat hypocritical.  Then again, those people were going to die anyway.  Regardless of whether or not it was just, he wasn’t changing their fate, but he was changing hers.

He thought of Cherie, lying on that bed, miserable, and then thought of her lying in a coffin, dead.  Hope had driven what small iota of peace he could ever make with the concept away.  Now that he could save her, the idea of failing to do so was unbearable, and the idea having to live the rest of his life knowing he could have saved her was even worse.

“What have other liches done who were concerned about the morality of their actions?”

“A few liches have been known to haunt the streets looking for crimes in progress, and taken those they’d have had to kill or maim anyway to stop them.”

Cody could, he supposed, make time to search for a crime.

Cody thought about it more.  Crime was heavy enough in the area that he was confident that he would be able to find a crime being committed.  It was a small price to pay for his Cherry to be able to spend the rest of her life happy, and to live longer than eighteen years.  Before he realized, he had already flipped back over to the second chapter.

“II On the process of becoming a soulless one.

If one wishes to join the ranks of the soulless ones, one must first consider carefully if this is truly what they wish to do.  Many have cast out their souls, and the vast majority of them come to regret it later.  To give up life, and yet remain in this world indefinitely, is no small prospect…”

Cody turned the page.

“…and you should remember that whatever it is you seek to preserve will nonetheless parish eventually, and you may still yet have to live without it.”

Cody thought about the warning.  It was true that Cherie would eventually die, unless he convinced her to become a lich too.  On the other hand she would still be able to live a long life, and die happy.  That was all he wanted.

“If you are sure it is what you desire, the process of becoming a lich is not very difficult.  You need merely place the object into which you desire to place your soul, called a phylactery, on the blank page at the end of this section, and then say the incantation on the page next to it.  Once you do this, there will be no going back.”

No going back.  There’d also be no going back if he let Cherry die.  She would be gone, in the ground, buried, and he’d never see her again.  He skipped the rest of the text and flipped to the final page.  The idea of doing that to someone may have almost been more than he could bear, but the idea of letting Cherry die, when he could have stopped it, was much, much more than he could bear.  He struggled greatly, but his emotions triumphed over his conscience.  “Besides,” he thought, “I could still change my mind after doing it, and just not kill anyone.”

As he looked at the blank page next to the incantation, (which was in English, much to his surprise) he felt a sudden last-minute doubt come over him.  He was about to cast away his soul.  No matter.  He had to do this for Cherry.  He would be able to see her happy again.  She could go out on the ocean like she used to like to.  She could get the education she deserved, and the career she deserved.  She could be happy again.

He thought for a moment about the object he would place his soul in.  What one thing did he want to keep with him for all eternity?  Eventually, he took out his Rubik’s cube and placed it on the blank page.  It was the one thing he always carried around with him anyway.  He looked at the incantation.  He said it aloud.  “I call upon the power of the underworld to cast my soul into this object, so that I may become a being of death, disease, and decay.”  As he spoke the words, his thoughts were on Cherie, and the idea of her being well, and happy, again.

Immediately, he felt nauseous.  This feeling intensified until he couldn’t bare it anymore.  When he finally vomited, it wasn’t any food that came out, but his soul.  He could sense himself flying outside of his body, and see his surroundings as he did so.  He had no control over his path, and was hurdling toward the cube.  Cody tried to close his eyes, but couldn’t.  He felt like he was trying to breathe heavily, but wasn’t attached to a pair of lungs.  After a few seconds, he hit the cube and immediately found himself back on the floor of his room, opening his eyes.

As he looked around, he noticed something odd.  His room looked the very same as it had before.  It was twelve by ten feet in size.  It looked just as old and worn out as it did before; the carpet was just as dirty, and the walls just as cracked and ill-kept.  But what was once unpleasant and disgusting was now… aesthetically pleasing perhaps?

He looked at his hands.  They looked normal.  As he stood up, he saw the book.  It occurred to him that he should probably read as much of it as he could.  He opened it up to chapter one.

“I A description of the soulless ones.
Soulless ones are those who have, through magic, cast their spirits into objects in order to gain the power to accomplish their dreams.  They walk among mortals in the forms they once knew, but must reveal their true forms, those of dead and deathly creatures, in order to cast their magic...”

Cody turned the page.

“…which they must do regularly, as they must sustain themselves on the souls of the living, which only magic can scythe.”

“What?” Cody froze.  It seemed the murder he’d need to commit to save Cherie had become a rather moot point.  He’d be killing people regularly. No, not just killing them, he’d be eating their souls.  Their very essence would be forfeit.  “I… I have to… what have I done?”

He looked down at his Rubik’s cube.  He had put his own soul in that thing.  He kept reading.

“Such devoured souls are the method by which liches increase in power.  They are not destroyed, but rather, they linger with and serve the lich who ate them.  It is by commanding these that liches animate the dead.”

Cody read the second sentence again.

“They are not destroyed, but rather, they linger with and serve the lich who ate them.”

“I’m…”  So Cody was not only a murderer, but a slaver as well.  “What the heck have I done?”  He knew exactly what he’d done.  He’d turned himself into a monster, a murderous, slaving monster, cursed by his own hand to experience eternal un-death.  There was no blaming anyone but himself.  He had done this planning to commit a murder.  He may have placated himself at the time with the knowledge that he could go back on it, but that wasn’t what he intended to do.

As he read on, even the idea of nobly starving himself was rendered impossible.  Refusing to eat until he was in danger of starvation would merely cause him to go into a frenzy.  He’d lose his reason, shed his human disguise no matter who he was in front of, and be driven by base instinct to devour whatever unfortunate souls happened to be nearby.

He thought for a moment of suicide.  He grabbed the cube to throw it against the wall, hoping it would be smashed to pieces by the impact.  “No,” he thought, “not until I know there’s no way around this.”  He set the cube back down.  He thought.  He recalled the idea of finding a crime in progress and killing the perpetrator.  If it’d work with one murder, it’d work for many.  He opened the book to the Q&A section.

“Will I be able to find enough crimes to placate my hunger perpetually?”

“Quite possibly.  One of the powers you would have as a lich would be the ability to detect the scent of mortal fear.  Sometimes that fear may be the result of a crime in progress.  You’ll be able to search all night, as you will no longer sleep.”

So there was something he could do to avoid killing indiscriminately.  He did not, for a second, think it his place to decide who deserved to live or die, but the only alternative to trying, was not trying, and simply killing whomever he happened to run across.  Besides, by stopping crimes in progress, he’d save a life for every one he devoured.  Of course, having your life extended by however many decades was not an equal trade to being eternally enslaved to your own murderer, but this was the best Cody had to work with.

Cody continued to read for a few hours, occasionally shedding a tear as he did.

*****

A few hours later, he put down his book.  He had read as much as he could take about what he had become.  He looked at the clock.  He recalled that he had made plans for a tabletop gaming session in half an hour.  He considered for a moment whether or not he wanted to go, given the events which had transpired.  He decided that going might help him get his mind off of what had just happened.  He quickly grabbed his cube, his dice bag, and the book, stuffed them in a paper bag, and ran out the door, saying goodbye to his mother along the way.  He ran down the street to his friend Lester’s house.

Cody greeted his friend as he entered, trying to get his mind off of what he’d done.   “Hey, Lester,” Cody said.

            “Hey Cody,” Lester said, “Go ahead and roll up your character.  We’re about to start.”

            “Okay,” Cody said.  He went aside and rolled up a paladin.

            “Alright,” Lester said, speaking to the group, “Our normal fare.  Setting’ll be the default.  No Evil Alignments.”

            As he spent time in Lester’s house, Cody noticed how his aesthetic tastes had been changed.  The beautiful plants spread about the house now looked unpleasantly ugly to him.  It wasn’t that they looked different.  They were the same shade of green, arranged with the same symmetry, and just as beautiful as before.  But whereas they were once delightfully green, arranged with pleasing symmetry and held impressive beauty, they were now repulsively green, arranged with repugnant symmetry and held sickening beauty.

            After their four-hour session, nightfall came.  The others started going home, but Cody contemplated something.  He was obviously planning on keeping his becoming a lich a secret in general, but he wondered if it might be nice to have one other person who knew.  Not only to give him someone to talk to about the subject, but also to cover for him if he needed it.  If he was to have such a person, Lester was the ideal candidate.

            Lester was his best friend, and a fellow nerd who wouldn’t be as freaked out by the idea as someone who had never heard of a lich before.  He was also a trustworthy person, very capable of keeping a secret.  Plus he was laid back enough to deal with some of the more unpleasant aspects of Cody’s new nature.

            He thought about it for a few minutes.  The biggest obstacle was the shame he felt for what he’d done.  He didn’t like the idea of someone else learning about it.   Eventually, he decided that the risk and the shame were worth it if it meant not being alone in this whole ordeal.  He approached Lester.

            “Hey there,” Cody said, “can I show you something?” Cody rubbed his forehead as he spoke.

            “Sure, man.  What’s up?”

            Cody got out his book.  He handed it to Lester.  He took a deep breath.  “Open it,” he said.

            Lester opened it to some random page.  “Odd,” Lester said, “why is the title page of contents in the middle of the book?”

            “Turn the page.”  Cody looked down and shed a tear, wiping it before Lester could notice.

            “Cody, why is the beginning of the book in the middle of the book?”

            “Flip to the Q&A section.”

            Lester flipped back to the table of contents.  “It doesn’t say where the chapters actually are.”

            “Guess,” Cody said, gritting his teeth.  Cody’s tears were now impossible to hide. 

            “Alright.  Look, man, what’s wrong?”

            “Just go to the page!”

Lester flipped straight to it.  “Why is it only two boxes?”

            “You’re supposed to write something in it with the quill,” Cody said, his breathing beginning to calm him down.

            “Alright…”

            “If a tree falls in the woods, and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?”

            “So is there any special reason that it included the quill?” Lester asked, “Wouldn’t a pen have done just as well?”

            “I’ve only ever tried it with the quill.  I don’t know if it’d work with a pen.”

            “What d’ya mean wor--”

            “Yes.”

            Lester dropped the book and fell backwards.  “WHAT THE FUCK?  Alright, breathe.  Breathe.  Now, ask Cody what the fuck just happened.”  He turned to Cody.  “What the fuck just happened?”

            “It… answered,” Cody said, beginning to sob again.

            “How?  And why are you so sad about it?”

            “I think it’s magic,” Cody said.  He took a deep breath, and then leaned down to pick up the book.

            Lester was speechless.

            “There’s another thing,” Cody said, clenching his fists as his arms laid at his sides.

            Lester just looked at Cody.  He didn’t say a thing.

            “This is the reason I showed it to you, Cody said. “Turn to chapter one.  Just go to a random page and you’ll get whatever page you want.”

            “Alright…”  Lester took the book from Cody, still showing confusion on his face.  He turned to a random page towards the beginning of the book.  As he read, he seemed freaked out, until suddenly, sheer horror came across his face.  “You’re not thinking of…”

            “For…”  Cody looked down and shed another tear, “For Cherie.”

            “Cherie… you want to use magic to heal her?  Cody, bro, this isn’t something you should dabble in.  You don’t know what it is or how it works.  You’d be throwing your soul away and becoming a monster.  You’d… You already did it, didn’t you?”

            “Yes…” Cody’s crying became inconsolable.

            Lester stood up and patted Cody on the shoulder.  “Look, it’ll be okay man.  This isn’t a role playing game.  This is real life, okay?  Being undea…  No matter what you are, you’re not intrinsically evil.  You’re still the same person you’ve always been.”

“Look at a lich’s diet,” Cody said, still crying.

            Lester looked in the book.  Willing to see the information on what a lich ate lead him to a detailed description on the mechanics of their feeding.  Lester looked at Cody.  Cody could tell Lester was trying to think of something which could calm him down.  Lester didn’t say anything for a while.  “Look, there’s nothing to be done, and just getting upset is unproductive.  You need to force yourself to calm down and think about this rationally.”

            That was actually a pretty impressive attempt.  Cody at least knew Lester’s statement was true.  He tried his best to think happy thoughts.  He thought of what he’d done all of this for: Cherie.  She’d live a long, happy, healthy life.  That wouldn’t make up for what he’d have to do.  He needed to think of ways to mitigate the ills he’d bring.  He’d already thought of making all of his prey criminals.  What else?  Well, their enslavement to him was a moot point if he didn’t actually make them do anything.  No, not entirely.  They’d still be forced to linger with him, as opposed, presumably, to being allowed to enter the afterlife.

            Still, the most he could do was let them roam the earth, or even the universe, free of his commands.  That was the most he could do in that respect.

            What else?  Well, he could maximize the efficiency of his killings by healing many people, and doing it each time he killed someone.  There was nothing in the book which said he couldn’t transfer the diseases of many people into one person.

            “Could you hand me the book?” Cody said.

            “Alright,” Lester said, “here you are.”  Lester handed him the book.  He looked happy to see Cody thinking about things, even though he clearly wasn’t finished absorbing this information himself.

            Cody turned to the Q&A section.

            “Can I transfer the diseases of several people to one person?”

                “So long as the diseases are compatible, yes.  Some diseases, like hypothermia and heat stroke, can’t be experienced at the same time.  You could, however, transfer incompatible diseases to the same person consecutively, so long as the introduction of the one cures or otherwise overrides the other.”

            Alright then, that’d maximize the amount of good he could do with each kill.  He tried to think of something else.  There was a list of liches in the table of contents.  It was plausible that his own entry would have a list of his own powers.  He figured he might be able to figure something out from that.  He turned the page, willing to see his own entry.

            The page he opened to had lines of entries, but this one was highlighted.

“Odelarch
A Lich of Disease.  A new lich, he intends to use his power to allocate life to those he finds worthy.  He thinks himself a monster, and regrets casting out his soul.”

            Cody turned to the Q&A section.

            “’Odelarch?’”

“Your lich name.  It is your true name now.”

“Why not just ‘Cody?’”

“The names of liches serve a function in the underworld.  All of your names must be changed to make them able to serve that function.”

Cody prevented himself from thinking about that.  He closed the book, and looked up at Lester.

            “I’m off, then,” Cody said.

            “Alright,” Lester said.

*****

            Cody maintained his human form as he waked down the street towards the hospital.  He thought about how he was going to get in.  Invisibility spells, according to the book, were accessible to all liches, but only once they had reached a certain power level.  A lich’s power level was determined by the number of souls the lich had consumed throughout their life.  The more souls you had eaten, the more powerful you were.

            All liches, though, regardless of level, did have two abilities which would be very useful for Cody tonight.  First, they had perfect night vision.  They did not require a single photon to see perfectly well in a dark room.  They could simply see, and in full color, regardless of the light level of the place they were in.

            Second, they had the ability to drain all of the light out of a space, leaving nothing but a black void, which no human could see into.  Using these in combination, Cody could hide his true form from the hospital’s security cameras, and to anyone who saw him walking around the rooms.  He’d likely freak a lot of people out due to the black void that he’d be creating being visible to both humans and cameras, but this would not be in a way traceable back to him, or to the existence of liches specifically.

He went into an alley as he neared the hospital.  He set down his bag. Cody closed his eyes, and willed himself to change forms.  As he did, he felt himself growing.  When he thought he was done changing forms, he opened his eyes, and looked at his hands.  One of them held a wooden scythe with an iron blade.  This was the instrument he would use to remove souls from bodies so he may devour and enslave them…  Cody retrained his focus on the task at hand.  His arms were a disgusting brown color.  The nails were long claws, and looked ugly and poorly kept.  The entire thing could have easily passed for the arm of a corpse if it did not look so inhuman.  He wore a tattered black cloak.  It was patchy, as though it was a composite of rags.  Cody could also smell himself, and he smelled exactly as one would expect him to, like a decaying body.  He didn’t find the aroma unpleasant though.  In fact, it was rather intensely pleasing.  Indeed, the alteration in his aesthetic tastes had, as a whole intensified now that he had taken his true form.

He tested his light removal ability.  It worked.  He could also see perfectly well in his own cloud of darkness.  Cody looked around to make sure that no one would see him if he entered the hospital by climbing the fire escape and breaking a window.  There was no one in sight.

Cody approached the hospital and ascended the fire escape, straight to what he knew not to be the window to Cherie’s room.  He could tell he had unusual strength and speed in this form.  He made the darkness spread as far as he could, and then punched the window open.  The shattering glass woke the patient up, but the darkness prevented her from seeing Cody, or anything else.

            “Who’s there?” she asked.  She looked old, like she was in her seventies.

            Cody did not speak, he couldn’t bear to.  He merely placed his hand on her, and knocked her out.  Becoming a lich also granted him the power to inflict any disease or injury he wanted, including one which would do no more than render her unconscious, elderly woman or not.  Once this was done, he kept his hand on her.  He could sense a tumor in her lung.  He placed a tag on it.  Her lung cancer would not be cured until he passed it on to his victim, but he wouldn’t be able to do so without tagging it like this first.  Once he was done, he left through her room’s door.

            He went to a few of the other rooms, and gave their occupants the same tag.  In addition to maximizing the good he could do, healing many people, not just Cherie, would ensure that the event was not as easily traced back to him.  He’d avoided healing Cherie first for the same reason, even though her healing was the one he most looked forward to.

            He tagged five other people in three rooms before making his way into Cherie’s room.  As he entered, he saw her sleeping.  He crept up to her.  He got to her, placed his hand on her, and tagged the brain tumor for transfer.  As he did, thoughts of the times he would have with her in the future filled him with glee.

            As he left her room, Cody saw hospital security was running in the hallway.  When they saw his blob of darkness, they took on a look of surprise and horror.  They probably came down thinking that the sudden black spots on the cameras were a glitch, or the result of sabotage.  They weren’t armed with anything more than batons, so they didn’t approach the cloud.  Cody didn’t approach them, preferring to merely enter one last patient’s room, and tag them.  He could tell the guards were waiting outside, and he didn’t want to touch them accidentally and thus possibly reveal that a roughly humanoid thing with the texture of a corpse was inside.  The less they knew about what was going on, the better for them, Cody, and the world.  It was better to get the other patients here later than to risk more knowledge of what was going on reaching the general public than was absolutely unavoidable.

            Cody tagged both of the patients in the room, and broke the window, leaving.  He took the fire escape down, still enshrouded in his darkness.  He returned to the alley where he had placed his bag.  Once he was there, he deemed it safe to decrease the extent of his veil.  Lowering it completely would reveal his true form if someone happened to see him, but keeping it too wide would make it more likely that someone would see it.

            That trip to the hospital would surely make front page news in the morning.  In fact, he might want to be significantly more careful in the future.  Regardless, he needed to heal Cherie, and this was still the best way he had thought of to go about it.  Now he needed to attend to the matter of his victim.  Fortunately he had his ability to smell fear.  The scent was detectable at rather large distances and he could trace its source rather precisely.  He fixed on one of the scent trails and headed in its direction, picking up the paper bag with his things in it as he walked.  He was silent and stealthy as he moved around at night.  He arrived at the source of the smell.  It was a couple watching a horror movie in an apartment.

            Cody shifted his focus to a different trail.  It was nearby.  He moved towards it, and soon arrived at an alleyway.  He could hear a conversation going on in the alley.

            “Now, just give me the money you owe, and everything will be fine, okay?  The Black Death doesn’t break its promises.”

            “Look, I’ll have it next week okay?”

            “Sure you will, just like you did the last three times you said that.  But do you know what?  I think you’ve had the money this whole time.  I think you’re hiding it in that run-down--”

Cody activated his darkness, set his bag down, and ran in.  He quickly tackled the man, knocking him away from the woman.  The woman screamed, and ran off.

            Cody could smell the sweet aroma of fear as the man began to panic.  The man was hyperventilating, sweating a bit, and his eyes were wide.  “What the fuck is going on?” he cried.  Though the smell of his fear was sweet, Cody still remembered what it represented.  This man was afraid for his life, and rightly so.  Cody was about to kill him… about to kill a human being.

            Cody said nothing.  As he transferred all of the diseases he had tagged to the man, including the brain tumor which had made Cherie so miserable.  The man screamed in agony as he suddenly felt ten tumors develop in him all at once in various parts of his body.  Cody was saddened by the man’s suffering.  He hated having to do this, even to this fellow murderer.

            “Don’t worry,” Cody said, “it’ll only hurt for another second.”  Cody readied his scythe.

            “Please… man… have some mercy.”  Cody could hear the man crying.

            Cody wished he could grant mercy to the man and merely report him to the authorities, but he had to eat, and the man was a goner from the tumors anyway.  “I’m sorry,” Cody said, “but I can’t.”

Cody tore the man’s soul out of his body using his scythe.  Upon seeing the loose spirit, he quickly grabbed it, put it in his mouth and swallowed it.  It tasted very good, a fact which bothered Cody quite a bit.  After looking at the man’s body for a second, he fell to his knees.  He would have cried if he had been in his human form, but in his true form, all he could do was silently endure the torturous guilt he knew to be just punishment for his sins.  This man may have been horrible, but he also may have had a family he couldn’t find any other way to feed, and been surviving the only way he knew he could.  Regardless of his motives, he was about to be damned for his sins.  Right now, if the book was to be believed, the man was fully conscious as he was being forced on an agonizing journey through Cody’s digestive system.  When that was done, the man would emerge as a slave, bonded to Cody’s will, and unable to disobey an order.  Cody continued to cry for a few minutes, before he was finally able to console himself by repeating in his mind that he had to eat, and that all he could do now was make the whole ordeal as easy for the man as possible once he came out.

Cody took a few deep breaths.  He needed to go back home now.  He picked up his bag, and headed in that direction.  Once he was far enough away from the scene of the crime, he retook his human form.

            As he walked, he looked at his watch.  It was 12:37.  That was a problem.  He was supposed to be in by ten.  Well, he just had to suck it up then.  He started towards his home and arrived at the front door.  He got his house key and opened it up.  His parents might have already gone to bed--

            He say mother waiting for him.

            “Hello, son,” she said.

            “Uh… Hi, mom.”  Cody couldn’t help but stammer.

            “Son, do you know what time it is?”

            “Yes.”  Cody put his head down.  “I’m sorry.”

            “Son, you know it’s dangerous to be out around there at night.  You worry me by not coming in when you’re supposed to!”

            “I know, mom.”

            “Then why do you do this to me by not coming back by the time you were supposed to?”

            Cody looked back up at his mother.  “I uh… got caught up doing something with Lester.  Neither of us uh… realized it was uh… after midnight until it was uh… too late.”

            “Son, I can tell when you’re lying to me.”

            “I was doing something okay?  I thought it’d take less time than it did.  This won’t happen again.  I promise.”

            “Then why didn’t you call me?  I would have gotten a taxi to come pick you up rather than have you walk home!”

            “I know…,” Cody drew a breath, “I… should have...  I’m sorry.”

            His mother sighed.  The one major benefit to being poor was that he didn’t really have much to take away.  Their house contained only five rooms and one small hallway.  There wasn’t enough money for a video game console, and there was only one television, with no cable.  What extra money was ever spent on Cody was spent on those books which he could not or did not want to check out from the public library.  “You are grounded,” Cody’s mother finally said, “for one week.  Your grounding will end when it is time to go to Lester’s house for your gaming session, and the only reason I’m letting you do that is because there are other people who need you to be there.  I will not be so generous if this happens again.”

            “Okay.”  Cody should’ve thought of going home on time and sneaking out after his parents had gone to bed.

            His mother sighed.  “Now go get some sleep.”

            “Yes, mam.”  Cody headed up to his room.  He didn’t need to sleep of course.  He planned to read all night, some from his other books, and however much he could stand from his tome.  After reaching his room, he went to his bookshelf and pulled out a random book from the top shelf, where he kept his works of science fiction.  He lay back on his bed, opened it up and began reading.  As he did, he thought of Cherie, healed of her cancer and happy.  He thought of her able to go to school after all.  He thought of her getting to see decades more of life.  Thanks to what he had done, she would live the rich, full life she deserved.  Cody would have wondered why that didn’t make him feel any better, but he already knew.

*****


            Valthakar drove down the interstate, finally passing the city limits of Goldfalls, CA.  He had been in his old haunt for about ten years.  That was more than long enough for him to be in any one place.  This city looked promising.  It had more than enough souls to sustain him.  Beyond that, he sensed a strange aura coming from it, as though something important, and powerful, were inside.  Something he found interesting, and which he thought might be worth seeking out.


1 comment:

Isaac Klein said...

I love the story so far