Detective Williams and his partner Donna waited inside the police station. Cherie Lambert was at last available for questioning. She had spent a few days recovering and preparing to start school once again. She was on her way to the station, and was expected to arrive any second.
“Repeat that list of suspects to me again,” detective Williams said to Donna.
“Cherie’s father Charles Lambert Jr., her mother Deana Lambert, her boyfriend Cody Giles, her ex-boyfriend Jake Webb, her friend Dawn Pearson, her aunts Sally Lambert, Marsha Wilkerson and Lauran Ferrell, her uncle George Ferrell, her grandmother Dorothea Kirkland, and her grandfather Charles Lambert.”
“Add Cherie herself to that list.”
“What? Why? Do you think she might be doing this herself?”
“With as little knowledge as we have of the killer and their abilities, it’s not something we can rule out. If she can move diseases between people, she could be controlling an avatar remotely.”
Donna obeyed, jotting down Cherie’s name. At that moment, Cherie arrived, walking into the police station. Detective Williams watched her as she came into the station. She was remarkably healthy. One looking at her now would never guess that a mere ten days ago, she was in a hospital bed, dying of cancer. She walked into the room where the interview would take place and sat down in front of the detective.
“May I ask how long this will take?” she said. “Today is the first day of school, and I need to be there in an hour.”
“Not long at all Miss Lambert,” Williams said. “Now, I assume you are aware of why I’m taking interest in you personally?”
“Yes, the news said that the cloud in the footage lingers longer in my room, right?”
“Yes. Now, I have a list of persons here. All of them are suspects in this case. Will you take a look?” Williams handed her a piece of paper with the list.
Cherie’s mouth widened a little as she looked at the list. “You’re not really suggesting that any of my friends and family would do this?”
“I’m not suggesting anything. That is merely a list of possibilities.”
Cherie looked it over for a second. “What’s Jake doing on here?” she asked. “I haven’t spoken to him in months.”
“In making the list, we considered persons who might seek to heal you in order to woo you. If it were Jake, he’d be likely to either have revealed himself to you by now, or else to reveal himself to you soon.”
“I can promise you, I’ll tell you as soon as that happens.” Cherie let out a smirk, “I have nothing but contempt for him.”
Nothing but contempt? Why? The answer could be mere high school drama. It could also be information that might give him insight into the motivations of his suspects. “May I ask why?”
“Oh let me count the ways,” Cherie sighed. “He’s a cocky idiot. He’s the most immature person you’ll ever meet, and he’s a bully. He’s insanely jealous of my boyfriend for ‘stealing me’ because I grew out of caring what the five most attractive people at school happen to think of me.”
“What do you mean?” Williams asked. He observed as Cherie’s expression became somewhat more somber.
Cherie sighed. “Being given an expiration date only a few years ahead of you makes you rethink your priorities.” She took another deep breath. “Things like influence, social status, and even money start to mean a lot less to you after a while. My illness gave me a reality check that caused me to realize how shallow he was and leave him for Cody.”
“I see,” the Detective said. He was taking careful notes.
“Tell me more about Cody. How likely do you think it is that he’s the killer?”
“I really can’t see him killing someone, not even to save a lot more people. Not even if one of them is me. He’s not that kind of person.”
“What do you mean?”
“He feels bad killing insects, let alone humans. He’s all but incapable of lying and is overly polite. He doesn’t even curse. I just can’t imagine him ever killing someone. Even if he wanted to do it, when the person is in front of him, begging for mercy, he wouldn’t be able to bring himself to.”
“I see,” the detective said, “Is there anyone else on that list that strikes you as odd?”
Cherie looked at it for another second. “Well, my grandma seems a little out of place. How could an old woman like her pull off all of this?”
“Whoever is doing this has abilities I don’t currently understand. No one, so far as I know, can move diseases from one person to another, or cast a veil like the killer does. It makes no less sense for an old woman to do it than for a younger man.”
“Alright, I guess that makes sense. Is that all then?”
“Can you think of anything else that might be helpful?”
“Not at the moment, and I really need to get to school.”
“Alright then, you may go.”
Williams smiled. “The pleasure is mine, Ms. Lambert.”
As Cherie left, Williams thought about the information she had provided. If Jake Webb had the character Cherie described, he probably wasn’t the killer. Cherie may have been the first person the killer had in mind to heal, but this had gone beyond just her. This killer fancied himself a hero. He was at least naïve enough to consider the death of a criminal less tragic than that of anyone else. That is why he had suspected Jake. He had reason to heal Cherie Lambert, and, given his wealth, a probable lack of understanding of the desperation which leads people to engage in criminal activity. If interviews with other classmates of Jake’s reinforced this perception of his character though, it was safe to rule him out for now.
This was by far the hardest case Williams had ever tackled. Because the nature of the killer and his powers were totally unknown, he could not count on many of his usual tactics. He couldn’t be sure that the culprit wasn’t operating some avatar remotely, so it made no difference if someone had an alibi. No forensic evidence had thus far shown up either, and there was no reason to expect it to be there. All he had to work with were the persons and their motivations. And all he could do was continue his attempts to discern them.
Cody got off of his school bus. It was the first day of his sophomore year. He saw Lester get off of a different bus. He walked over to Lester.
“Hello,” Cody said, “How are you?”
“Good,” Lester said. “You?”
“Fine, all things considered,” Cody said. All things considered was a rather large qualifier. Eating the soul of one extortionist had been difficult enough, but killing every night, and seeing the damaged souls that resulted, had been extraordinarily hard for Cody to deal with. He had eaten ten people now, and seen what remained of eight of them.
“I see,” Lester said. The two began walking. “Tell me, do you think this detective Williams is likely to catch this ‘angel of death’ character?”
That was a tough question. Public interest in the Angel was high and as a result the investigation was well followed by the press. Every detail Det. Williams released about what he suspected was happily awaited both by supporters of the Angel, and by critics. Cody himself had done some research into Det. Williams. He was apparently a supreme talent in his field. He had a stellar record of success, and had solved many cases which seemed unsolvable.
He had already admitted to the press that he believed that the killer was a person and was connected with Cherie. That already put him far too close to deducing that it was Cody. Even this soon after Cody’s beginnings, it would already take only one major clue to get the detective on him like a hound. Fortunately, Det. Williams had also gotten some things wrong. He did not know that Cody was incapable of arranging a scenario where he did not kill. As a result, his profile of the killer was that of someone who would, given the choice not to do what Cody did, do it. He guessed that the Angel was at least wealthy enough to be aloof from the impoverished, and did not have empathy for the reasons the poor turned to crime. In reality, Cody was quite poor, and certainly in a position to understand desperation.
“I don’t think he’s entirely on the right track,” Cody said, “but I also think he’s only one major clue away from figuring it out. I’m not sure how long it will be before the Angel makes some kind of mistake.”
“I see.” Lester took a deep breath and put his head down. “What do you think would happen if he were caught?”
Cody thought for a second. “Well I suppose he would soon escape,” Cody said. Cody knew no prison had any hope of detaining him. Though he hadn’t yet had occasion to use them, he could unleash powerful blasts of magic which would quickly break through any walls. Or he could just hold his hand on the walls and make them decay away at an accelerated rate, reducing them to rubble in seconds. Cody looked down. “But in the process, he’d have been publicly exposed as a monster. His parents would reject him. Cherie would reject him. He’d have to flee the area and go into hiding. Even his supporters would turn on him once they learned what happened to the souls of his victims. He’d lose everyone he’d ever loved.”
“Yeah,” Lester said, “I don’t imagine his accomplice would do very well either.”
They continued to their first few classes. They had lunch at the same time. As they waited in line, they heard many debates between the critics and supporters of the Angel.
“He’s a hero. He’s saved ninety-four people from illness. Between that and the crimes he’s stopped, he’s probably saved over a hundred people,” a supporter would say.
“And he’s killed ten people,” a detractor would counter, “he had no right to do that even if it was to help other people.”
“They were criminals, and they were killed while committing crimes,” the supporter would say.
“He’s could easily pin the criminals and call the police,” a critic would say. Cody desperately wished that really were an option.
Later, Cody got home from school. He entered his house, greeted his family, and went upstairs. He got his book, and turned to the Q&A section.
“Will I ever be in a position where I’m forced to use the souls I’ve eaten?”
“The only spell you need them for is the reanimation of the dead. I cannot say if you will ever be in a position where you are forced to use it.”
“Is that all they are useable for?”
“I’ve seen them used for reconnaissance in the past. You can also order them to disclose any information they may have, or give you advice.”
That was a relief. Cody’s plan to let them wander freely might work out after all. It wasn’t as good as life, but hopefully it was tolerable. Hopefully. He turned back to the list of spells, but as he did, he heard his father and mother approaching.
“Look, we don’t have the money,” his mother said. She sounded like she was crying.
“I can get the money,” his father said, “I--”
“No you cannot. I wish you could, but there is no way you can come up with enough in three days. Now, hold on one minute.” Cody’s mother entered his room. She sat down next to him on his bed.
“It’s time for bed sweetie,” she said, trying to force a smile.
“Alright mom,” Cody said. “What are you and dad talking about? You sounded worried.”
Cody’s mother took a deep breath. “Son,” she said, putting her head down, “we don’t have enough money to pay the Black Death.”
“What?” Cody’s jaw dropped and his eyes widened. One of the most widely known rules of his area of Goldfalls, CA was that if you did not pay the Black Death, you would yourself feel death’s embrace.
His mother began to tear up. “They want a thousand dollars within three days, Cody, and we don’t have that. They said… They said if we don’t get it, they will retaliate, and they’re starting with me.”
Cody began crying too. This was like Cherie all over again, only worse, because it was his mother and she only had days to Cherie’s months. She couldn’t go to the police. That would simply cause the Black Death to kill other people. They had always promised that they would, in all cases, kill twice as many people as evaded them, and they never broke their promises.
“I love you,” Cody said, crying. He sat up and hugged his mother.
“I love you too,” Cody’s mother said, embracing him, “Goodnight.” She got up, and left the room. They’d probably only have a few more nights to say that to each other.
Cody laid back. His mother was going to… she was going to…
Cody thought for a moment. The Black Death was one of the many criminal organizations which haunted inner city Goldfalls. Cody’s house happened to be in its territory. He already knew that his family paid protection to them, and assumed that everyone else in the area did too, though the Black Death did not permit its victims to disclose such things to others, and everyone around knew not to do the things the Black Death forbade.
As Cody thought, something occurred to him. Why should he obey them? Before, it was because they were vastly more powerful, but that was no longer the case. He could kill them with a single blast of magic and their bullets wouldn’t even inconvenience him.
Still more thoughts occurred to him. Perhaps stopping crimes in progress wasn’t the only possible manner in which he could choose his victims? Perhaps, if he went after the leaders of organized crime rings it would be much the same, and perhaps do more good. No, Cody had already decided it wasn’t his place to decide who deserved to live or die. But on the other hand, the need to save his mother was even stronger than the need to save Cherie. Waiting for whoever had been hired to kill his mother to strike was too risky. Asking Cherie’s family for the money would only put them in danger by informing them of the Black Death’s activities. Besides, who said he had to kill the gang’s leaders? He routinely rendered people unconscious when he broke into hospitals. He could find the leaders of the Black Death, paralyze them, and call the police to report their location.
No, that wouldn’t work. How would he call the police? Easy, hospitals had phones. He could paralyze the gangsters, leave them somewhere, and then report that location when he broke into the hospital. It might cost him some time which he could use to heal people, but it also might be worth it. He could save his mother, end the Black Death’s reign of terror, and send a message to other criminals that they might meet the same fate. Crime had already been driven down in Cody’s area by fear of him. Taking out an entire gang, even a small one, would send a message that it wasn’t just the grunts who should fear him.
That, of course, did mean his family would be targeted if he were ever discovered, but the gangs were already displeased with him, and his mother was being targeted right now. If he did nothing, his mother would die, and then his father when he couldn’t pay either. If he was to save them, Cody had to act. And killing a single hit-man would only prompt the Black Death to send another. Cody had to end the Black Death, and he had to do it within three days.
Immediately after coming to this conclusion, he examined it carefully for moral flaws. He could find none in the prospect of knocking out the Black Death’s leadership and handing them to the police. He decided it was okay to go ahead with the plan.
Tonight, though, wasn’t the time to execute this. As much as he wanted to strike right now, he needed to plan exactly how he would go about this, and he would have Lester’s help with that. He read in the dark for another hour or so, and then went outside to feed.
The next day, after school, Cody invited Lester into his house and up to his room.
“So what was it you were saying you want to talk to me about?” Lester asked.
Cody took a deep breath. “The Black Death has just given my mother her last warning, and she probably won’t be able to pay them.”
“You idiot! Why did you tell me? You just got me involved in this!”
“Because…” Cody clenched his fists and gritted his teeth, “because I’m not going to let them take her. The Black Death has ruled us for far too long. I now have the power to stop them, and I’m going to use it.”
“Look, man, you’ve clearly gone insane. You’re starting to become mad with powe--”
“No I’m not. Think about it. None of them have any chance taking me in a fight.” Cody pulled out the cube which contained his soul. “So long as I leave this at home, they’ll need a rocket launcher, grenade, flamethrower, or Molotov cocktail to do any meaningful damage to me.”
Lester thought for a moment. “That’s true.” Lester paused again. “But this is still a bad idea. I mean… what if you fail, and if you do what if you later get found out? The Black Death is vengeful Cody. By doing this, you take on the risk of—”
“I won’t fail,” Cody’s face took on a look of determination, “Those people have terrorized us for too long. They’ve taken our money, forced us to work for them, stolen our property, and killed those we love. How many people have you lost to them Lester? How many people have you known who were shot dead? I can think of two or three off the top of my head. Do you remember Ashley? How about Brandon? Do you remember little Marci, Lester? Do you remember that I was going to have a little sister? Do you remember the visit to the hospital after they kicked my mother’s stomach in? Do you remember the next few days after they told her she could never have another child? I remember the look on her face at the very moment she heard.” Cody shed another tear as he clenched his fists. “Do you remember that Lester? Because that was the last time we fell behind on our payments.” Cody looked Lester straight in the eye, “They’ve done that kind of thing to all of us, Lester. I don’t know anyone who lives around here and hasn’t lost something important. It’s about time someone taught them that they don’t own this neighborhood, and that they don’t own us.”
Lester looked at Cody, concerned. He put his hand on Cody’s shoulder. “They do, Cody.”
“No they don’t, and I’m going to prove that. I’m going to save her.” Cody looked down and shed a tear. “I have to.”
Lester looked at Cody with his arms crossed and took a deep breath. “And you’re really absolutely sure that you can pull this off? I mean, how do you even plan to find the leaders of these gangs? They’re well hidden, and even the police can’t find them. Even Williams can’t find them.”
“Simple,” Cody looked down on the floor “two of the souls I have were members of the black death. I can order them to give me any information I need.”
“You… you’re going to use them? Cody, you said you never would. Taking them is one thing, but using them to find and devour more people… it’s evil. It’s nothing short of evil.”
Cody took a deep breath and looked up. “I don’t need to eat the Black Death’s leaders,” he said. “Paralyzing them and leaving them for the police will do just as well.”
“And if they escape prison, or can give an order from inside, or simply wake up early? You do remember that they know of someone who’s connected to the Angel, right? Cherie?”
“That’s true…” Cody thought for a moment. “I suppose I could do it in a way that wouldn’t make it obvious that it was the Angel. That, though, would probably mean killing them.” Cody sat on his bed and thought. Not doing this wasn’t an option. His mother would die, and the Black Death’s reign of terror would continue. If he was going to save her, he needed to act. If he did as he had planned, Cherie might be a target.
So that was it then, Cody couldn’t let it be obvious that it was him. So, how would he avoid it? In addition to illness, he could inflict any injury he wanted with his powers. He could always give them bullet wounds. No, that wouldn’t work. People would wonder what had become of the bullets. They would expect them to be in the floor or wall, or in the victim’s bodies. Perhaps he could simply accelerate the decay of the bodies? Yes, that sounded like a good idea. The police would assume the bodies had been hidden.
So that was it then. He’d go in, kill the Black Death’s leaders, and destroy their bodies. That of course meant he needed to seal them in the room so that he could pick them off one by one. No, he could intimidate them into submission, an easy task. Given that he could inflict any illness or injury he wanted, there was plenty of capacity for torture.
Torture… he was really considering using his powers for torture. He almost left the plan behind at that point, but he remembered his mother. The most he could do was save torture for a last resort.
“You’re right,” Cody said, his head down. “I will have to kill them.”
“And you’re going to eat them too?” Lester looked concerned.
“Yes,” Cody took a deep breath, “if the underworld has any justice to it at all, which, at least in mythology, it usually does, I’m doing them a big favor by keeping them around long enough to repent of their actions.”
“That is true,” Lester said. “Alright then, you do your thing. I won’t tell anyone or anything.” Lester grinned. “Now that I think about it, being rid of the Black Death would be nice.”
“I know,” Cody said.
That night, it was time to execute his plan. Cody got out his book and flipped to the Q&A section.
“How much do the souls mind being forced to carry out a given order?”
“As much as they would have when they were alive.”
This isn’t something Cody would normally do. He’d already done enough horrible things to these people. The least he could give them was the ability to wander around the world in peace. But now, he’d be denying one of them even that, if only for a few hours. Hopefully, this’d be the only time he’d have to use an unwilling soul.
Cody snuck out in his usual manner and transformed. He went on his usual round with a hospital and a criminal. If he didn’t, someone might infer something from the fact that the Angel had skipped a night. Once he was done, Cody hesitated, and then summoned one of his souls.
Without any choice in the matter, the soul was compelled to rush toward him. “What do you want?” the soul asked. The soul looked angry. Cody would too if he were dragged away from wandering the world in relative peace so that he could carry out the commands of his murderer.
“You were a member of Black Death, right?”
“Yes. Why does it matter?”
“Do you know where their leadership is?”
“Yes. Please give me all of the information I’ll need to find them, and any more at your discretion.” There really wasn’t any worry of the soul tricking him, as souls could not deliberately defy their liches in any meaningful way, even if they found a loophole in their orders. His precision was to ensure that the soul couldn’t make a mistake.
“Right now, they’d be gathered together for a meeting. There’ll be eight of them, and two guards.”
“Alright then. Will you please lead the way.”
“Alright. If I may ask, mast--”
“There’s no need to refer to me as that.”
“Oh, alright then. If I may ask, er… sir, why are you asking for this information?”
“That’s none of your concern.” Even if that had managed to fool the soul, which was unlikely, he would find out once the leaders joined Cody’s collection of slaves. Cody looked at the soul, for a second and put his head down. Knowing the answer would probably just make him feel worse, he asked one last question. “If I could annihilate your existence right now, would you want me to?”
The soul seemed to be thinking for a moment. “If you never give me another order, then no. If you plan to give me orders occasionally… I’m not sure. If you plan to give them regularly, then yes. Absolutely yes.”
Cody knew he couldn’t have expected any other answer. “Go on, then,” Cody said, “lead me to them.”
“Alright,” the soul said. The soul led the way. He didn’t speak as he floated in front of Cody. The entire time, Cody was reminding himself of both his mother and his sister. Eventually, they arrived outside of the safe house. Cody was very lucky that the leaders were meeting tonight. They were all together in a convenient location, though it might be that this happened regularly.
“How long will it take for the Black Death to break up entirely with these guys gone?”
“I have no idea. A lot of the members will probably leave or move and the guy we hired to off your mother will probably abandon the job once the people who’d pay him are gone.”
“How do you know about that?”
“Our territory ain’t big. I recognized the outside of your house. Anyways, there are only a few dozen members who’ve been initiated into the Black Death. Most of our work was handled by hired men. Without these eight, most of them will start looking elsewhere for clients. A lot of the people who joined hoping for the gang’s protection would also leave.”
“How many would be left over?”
“I don’t know. Maybe two dozen or so, but they’ll be split into a couple of factions. The whole thing is loose enough, and certain subgroups are competitive enough, that without these guys to hold it together, it’ll fall apart pretty quickly. Either way, they won’t be able to do the kinds of things they could when unified.”
“I see. How bloody do you expect the competition from other gangs for this area to be?”
“I dunno. This isn’t really prime turf even if it wasn’t known to be part of your hunting grounds. That’s why the Black Death was able to take it so easily when it started out; no one here has much money to take. With you around, it’s possible that no one will want it or that they’ll wait until you seem to go away.”
Cody allowed the soul to return to what it had been doing prior to Cody’s summoning him and looked at the house with his darkness on. He was hiding in a shadow, so it’d be very unlikely that he’d be spotted. The guards were each near one of two windows facing the front of the house. They were both armed. There was a window to a lit basement. It was possible that the leaders were in there.
Cody needed to get inside. He moved down the street a ways, crossed it, and took on his human form. Taking his human form was a risk, but a necessary one. He walked down the sidewalk outside the house. As he walked by, he could see that the guards were tracking him with their pistols. As he neared the front door, he turned towards it. Cody made sure no one was around. He approached the door and knocked.
“What is it?” the guard asked.
“Package,” Cody said, rushing the lie out as quickly as possible.
Cody could hear the guards’ confusion as one of them approached and opened the door. The guard opened the door and looked down at him. Before the guard could react, Cody took his true form, pushed him to the ground, went inside, scythed the guard’s soul, and ate it. He turned to the other guard and closed the door. He approached the guard. Cody wasn’t casting his darkness, so the guard could see him. The guard reeked of the strongest fear Cody had thus far smelled. He froze in place, too terrified to alert the leaders below.
Eventually, Cody reached the guard. “Please… spare me,” the guard said, crying. Cody wished he could, but leaving a witness was more than he could afford to do. “I’m sorry,” he said. Cody scythed the guard’s soul, and ate it. He would have shed a tear had he been in his human form. After that, he made both of their bodies decay away.
Cody found the stairs to the basement and went down. As he headed down, he came into view of the leaders. They gasped. He could see their eyes widen and smell their fear as he approached. They were frozen in fear for several seconds. Finally, one of them spoke.
“Wha… what are you?”
Cody didn’t answer. He continued approaching them. Eventually, he got to one of them, scythed his soul and ate it. The scent of fear in the others grew. Given that the only thing they couldn’t see about the incident was the soul itself, Cody wondered if they might have guessed what he had just done. “What do you want?” another one asked.
“I want for your little organization to end,” Cody said.
“You got it!” one of them said, “I’ll order the disbandment tomorrow.” The other nodded in agreement.
“How can I trust you?” Cody asked.
“We’re terrified of you, as you can well see,” another of them said. “If we break our word, feel free to come back and kill each and every one of us.” The others nodded.
Cody wanted to believe them, and wanted to let them go. But he had no reason to trust that they wouldn’t attempt some sort of trick to arrange that he couldn’t find them again. In addition, it was entirely likely by this point that they’d eventually work out that he was the Angel. If that happened, they might start their operations from their new hiding place by targeting Cherie.
“I’m sorry, I can’t trust you.” Cody scythed and ate another soul.
One of the leaders tried to run outside the room, but Cody grabbed him and took his soul too. Another one made a run for it as he did so, seemingly hoping to be able to escape while Cody was distracted. His fate was the same as the last.
The four remaining leaders all cowered in their chairs. Cody continued eating them until there were none left.
A few days later, Cody was out hunting again. As he left the vicinity of a false lead, he suddenly caught the scent of a fear which rivaled the one he’d inflicted on the Black Death’s leaders.
He rushed to its source. As he approached, he saw what was causing it. There was a woman cornered in an alley and standing over her was another lich. The lich looked different than Cody, but it wasn’t hard to deduce that he was a lich too. Unlike Cody, whose true form wore a black, tattered cloak which looked like it was made of stitched together rags, this lich seemed to wear equally tattered but regal attire, though not from any culture Cody could recognize.
Cody wasn’t sure what to do. He hadn’t faced another lich before. At the same time, he couldn’t just let this woman die. Then again, he didn’t know the context of this event. Someone who walked into the house while he was partway through killing all of the gang leaders might have gotten the wrong idea, and it was possible that he was making such a mistake here. It might be that she was a criminal, or that this lich had some other valid justification to act as he was seemingly planning to. She had no weapon on her, though, and he couldn’t give up the element of surprise by asking. Liches grew more powerful with each soul they consumed, meaning Cody was a very weak lich, and if this one was older, he would be far more powerful.
Ultimately, Cody decided that it was unlikely that the lich had a valid justification. Cody tackled the lich. He growled, and tossed him off. The woman tried to run away, but the other lich was able to grab her and render her unconscious. Cody stood as the lich turned to face him.
“I thought I’d be able to get you here,” the lich said.
“You what?” Cody asked, tilting his head in confusion.
“You’re following the fear trails created by criminals, aren’t you? I wanted to talk to you, so I manufactured one to attract you.”
“Why would you want to talk to me?”
“You are Odelarch, yes? The new lich?”
“Yes,” Cody said. Cody stood up straighter as he said this.
“You seem to be making quite a fuss around here. I’d like to know why? Most liches are as secretive as possible.”
Cody thought about the question for a moment. He looked down, then back up. “I’m just trying to do the right thing. If I have to kill, I’m going to do it in the best way I possibly can, and save as many people as I can by doing it.”
“I see.” The lich chuckled. “I used to think upon similar lines.”
“Used to? Who are you anyway?”
“I am Valthakar. I came to this town looking for something, and I couldn’t help but notice the raucous you were causing. In addition, it’s considered common courtesy to make first contact as soon as you discover a new lich, so I thought I’d drop by.”
“Alright then. Thank you. Now, I do need to resume hunting.”
“And I shall let you. Just let me give you one warning.”
“I used to be a lot like you. I can’t heal mortals like you can, but I used to use my powers to defend my home from invaders and criminals, and to try to make the world a better place.”
“Why did you stop?”
Valthakar took a deep breath and looked Cody straight in the eye. “I stopped because I learned the most important lesson in the universe. I learned that nothing lasts forever. All of the people you’ve saved are going to die someday, and anything you create will rot and decay until it is no more. Trust me, young one; you’ll save yourself a lot of trouble by heeding my advice. Do not try to use your power to preserve. At best, you will delay the inevitable end of a thing, usually for an inconsequentially small amount of time. At worst, you will accidentally shorten its life or that of something even more precious.”
Cody stood there for a moment. “I know,” he finally said, “the book I used to turn myself into a lich gave me the same advice, but thanks to me, most of the people I’ve cured or saved from criminals will be able to live full and complete lives.”
“True, they will live a little while longer, and right now, that may seem to you to mean something. But trust me, by the time you turn fifteen-hundred or so, you’ll grow to appreciate how inconsequential those extra few decades really are.”
“We’ll see,” Cody said.
“I’m sure you will,” said Valthakar, “every lich I’ve ever known of eventually has.” With that, Valthakar ran off. Cody put Valthakar’s words out of his mind and resumed hunting.
Valthakar headed away from the alley. Odelarch was just like he had been all of those years ago. He couldn’t fault him for that. That would be quite hypocritical of him. Besides, many liches had gone through that phase to one degree or another. Most of them eventually learned better, as Odelarch eventually would.
Valthakar refocused his thoughts on his current destination. He had sensed something in this town, something powerful. It was in the vicinity of the town’s waterfall, possibly behind it. From his research, Goldfalls had been named after the beautiful, golden waterfall that lied within it. The reason the water had its gold tint was unknown to scientists who had studied it. The area behind the waterfall had been examined before, and nothing of interest had been found.
If the explanation was magical, though, humans who knew nothing of the underworld might have missed the significance of something which Valthakar would be able to recognize as important. Valthakar headed towards the waterfall. He swam up to it, and stepped through it. He, along with a few of his souls, looked around at the small dent in the cliff wall. He noticed nothing of interest, above or below the water. That was disappointing. He’d have to continue his search tomorrow. Right now, he needed to go back to the city to hunt, so he could be finished by morning.
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