Thursday, January 30, 2014

Angel of Death 1.04 I’m a Monster. You Realize That, Right?

            A few weeks into the school year, Cody made his way over to the library.  Cody had always been an avid reader of both fiction and non-fiction ever since he was capable of it.

He had little other choice.  His household had only one television, which didn’t have cable and was rarely available to him anyway.  The only times he watched it were when his parents made him watch the news and the occasional family movie night, a relatively recent innovation resulting from his family receiving a VCR last Christmas.  There were no computers or gaming consoles in Cody’s house either.  Books, board games, and tabletop role playing games had long been his only available forms of recreation.

As Cody entered, the Librarian saw him and called him over.  Cody noticed that it wasn’t the one from last year.  Shame; he had made good friends with that one.  Cody approached the desk.  “Hello,” Cody said, “Why did you call me over?”

“You’re Cody Giles, correct?”

“Yes.”

“Someone overheard you saying that you’d be here today.  They asked me to give you these.”  The Librarian pointed at collection of a dozen or so books.

            Cody looked at the books.  They looked old, like they might have been printed in the 1920s.  They were all different colors.  One was sky blue, another was yellow, and another was grey, but all of their colors were dulled by age.  “Odd.  I wasn’t expecting anything like this,” Cody said.  “Do you know who it was that asked you to give them to me?”

            “No.  I didn’t recognize him.”

            “Could you describe him for me?  Maybe I’ll know him.”

            “Let’s see, he was a portly man.  He looked to be in his forties.  He had dark hair and brown eyes.”

            “No,” Cody said, “that doesn’t ring a bell.”  Why would a man he didn’t know approach his school library and ask the Librarian to give him some books?  And who had overheard his conversations with Lester at lunch?  Wait a secon…  Oh crap!  If that man had overheard those conversations, he could have easily overheard Cody give away something Angel of Death related.  How had this happened?  Cody had checked carefully to make sure that no one was listening to him.  “Alright, clam down,” Cody thought.  “You just have to figure out who he is and stop him from saying anything.”

            “I see.”  The Librarian said.  “Well either way, he described you in detail, and I’m sure he asked for Cody Giles.”

            “I see.  Well… I suppose I’ll take them if I can fit them in my backpack.”  They were the only clues he had.

            “Excellent,” the Librarian said.

            Cody struggled to fit as many of the books as he could inside the pack.  Eventually, he was able to fit enough of them in that he could carry the rest.  He walked out of the library and toward the school bus to go home.

*****

After arriving home, Cody went up to his room.  He set down the books he was carrying on the bed and got the others out of his old lime green back pack.  He looked at the books.  There were thirteen in total.  They were conveniently numbered from one to thirteen.  Cody looked at the first book, A Chronicle of Deathly Things, by Benjamin Ronald.  It seemed to be a collection of short stories.  Cody opened it to see inside.  The book wasn’t very worn by use, but it was clear that it was old by the dark yellow tint of the pages.

            Cody opened to the first story, The Rising in Arkansas.  It was about an attack on a small, very remote town in Arkansas by a necromancer.  He moved in, raised the town’s dead, and made them attack and conquer the populous.  The ending was very chilling, as the necromancer succeeded in capturing the population, and began farming them to feed on their souls.

As Cody read the last few lines, the similarity of the necromancer’s nature to his own struck him.  Come to think of it, this wasn’t just similar to reality, it was eerily similar.  Did this mean that whoever had given him these books knew about liches?  Who might they be?  Another lich?  Some kind of monster hunter?  It could have been another lich’s soul that overheard him, but he’d been careful to check for anyone who might have been listening in.  He got out his mystic book.

            “Can I see other liches’ souls?”

            “Yes.”

So if it had been a lich’s soul watching him, he should have seen them.  Cody moved on to the second story, hoping to find more clues.

            The second story, The Thing That Stalked Astor Row, was the story of a street in New York City being stalked by a strange monster.  The creature, which was said to smell of death, hunted by shrouding itself in a black cloud, and then breaking into the homes of its victims and consuming their souls.

            Alright, so this person knew what Cody was, and how he worked.  If it wasn’t a lich, that monster hunter hypothesis was sounding more and more plausible.  “Of course someone would slay me,” Cody thought.  “I’d slay me if I could.”  The title of the next story, The Bejeweled Tome indicated it might give more clues.

            It was about a man called Fredrick.  He was an archeologist, and he discovered a tome which was clearly another copy of Cody’s tome.  It had all of the same properties.  Any page you flipped to was whatever page you willed it to be.  The table of contents was shown if you did not have any page in mind.  It also had the Q&A section.  As the story progressed, Fredrick’s investigations into the nature and origin of the book were interspersed by his interactions with his family, including his mentally disabled son.  The story concluded with Fredrick coming to the conclusion that the book came from the underworld just as it professed.

            The fourth story, The Roman Horn was a sequel.  In it, Fredrick found a horn dating from the Roman Empire and in unnaturally pristine condition.  As he investigated, he found himself stalked by an entity similar to the one from The Thing That Stalked Astor Row, only it used invisibility instead of a black cloud to hide itself.  Near the end of the story, after the lich had broken into his home, he correctly identified the object as a phylactery and surrendered it back to the creature.  Still, the lich did not relent, and Fredrick and his family escaped only when he managed to set the creature on fire.  It was burnt to ash along with his house and everything he owned except the artifact, which had fallen out a window, and the book.  Apparently, copies of On Soulless Ones are impossible to destroy.  If that was accurate, that meant the person who had given Cody these books knew more about the supernatural that Cody did.  That thought made Cody shudder.

            In the final story, The Tale of Fredrick’s Soul, Fredrick struggled to restore his family’s lives after the fire destroyed everything they owned.  He was forced to take a menial job, and his wife was forced to work as a prostitute.  All the while, he was being stalked by the lich from before.  In the end, Fredrick, after much consideration, used the book to become a lich, hoping both to restore his family to their former lives, and to shake off his pursuer.  He soon got his chance to fight the Roman lich, and barely managed to defeat it.  The story ended with an epilogue set one week later, in which he was moving into a new house, bought with the money Fredrick had been able to acquire with his powers.  As his family was settling in, he went off to feed.

Cody moved straight on to the novel, still hunting for clues.

            The Novel’s plot was about some men living in Italy who happened upon the fact that the Old King of the Underworld was soon to rise.  Cody opened up his copy of On Soulless Ones to see if the information in the book was factual.  If it was, it would confirm that the author of this book really did know more than he did about the underworld, making them a serious threat.  Cody willed to see what information the tome had on the “Old King of the Underworld.”

            “That information is not present in this tome.  Please consult ‘On the Underworld.’”

          What?  There are… there are other books?  Cody turned to the Q&A section.

“How do I acquire a copy of ‘On the Underworld?’”

“You’re given one when the Underworld or its ruler deems you to be in need of one.  That is all I know about it.”

So Cody didn’t have access to On the Underworld.  Well, the fact that an inquiry about the Old King had generated a response at all seemed to make the existence of this entity likely.  Still, it was possible that his book didn’t know enough about the Underworld itself to realize that the Old King didn’t exist, and it gave that error message only because the question was about the Underworld and not about liches.  Cody tried to think of another way to test the information.  Well, an Old King of the Underworld entailed a New King of the Underworld.  Cody checked the book for that. The page he got was from the index of liches.

“Gborin’gargoth

A Lich of Rulership.  A powerful lich.  He rules the Underworld from his skeletal throne.  Despite the nature of his kingdom, he is not malevolent towards the mortal world, and has prevented certain cruelties from being visited on it.

As Cody continued to read from the novel, he picked up several discrete facts about the novel’s version of the Underworld and the supernatural in general.  Some of them, like the oldest lich on earth having been the king of Atlantis, were obviously contrived for the novel, but others seemed like they might be real.  If whoever wrote these really did have such an extensive knowledge of the Underworld, they were more than an ordinary lich or single undead slayer.  They were either a very ancient and powerful lich, or a society of such hunters which had existed for a considerable time, and they knew everything they needed to know to kill or expose Cody.

            The nature of the On the Soulless Ones tome was explained.  Apparently, copies of it were not tomes in themselves, but merely means of accessing a giant tome located in the Underworld, whose pages were astronomical in number.  Most of it was a catalogue of liches and their powers.  The tome was sentient, as indicated by the Q&A section.

            The novel also explained something Cody had been wondering about, but had found too awkward to ask the tome about.  Souls, it seemed, got their taste from their moral character.  All souls were more delectable to liches than the best of mortal foods, but in varying ways.  Purer souls were sweet, with each virtue tinting the soul with a fruity flavor distinct to it.  Bravery, for example, had a vaguely similar flavor to that of a ripe pear, and honesty slightly resembled a juicy apple, only much sweeter.  Some virtues, such as humility, had a flavor that did not correspond closely enough to any fruit on earth for a useful analogy to be made.

            Sins, on the other hand, added meatier flavors.  Sins of neglect added a milky flavor, and wrath added a taste somewhat similar to that of a juicy steak.  As before, some sins, like theft, added a flavor not corresponding to any food on Earth to any significant degree.

            Information that detailed could only have been gathered from a lich, and a rather old one at that.  So whoever wrote this book either was such a lich, was friendly with one, or had the power to capture one.  Cody gulped at the prospect of that last one.

            The book also said much on the nature of the Underworld itself.  It was often said to lie “beneath” the cosmos, and yet in its own dimension.  It came into being not long after the universe by totally unknown means.  Though it was not conscious, it had great power.  On nothing but programming, it acted to increase its own power as much as possible, harvesting as much energy as it can while expending as little.  The moment it detected the first soul coming into existence, it calculated that it could, when the being died, capture the soul and imprison it within itself.  It could then put the soul to sleep, and drain the power it would otherwise be using to operate.

            Eventually, it began spawning several agents.  It created a guardian, Cerberus, to ensure that nothing ever exited the underworld.  It created enforcers.  Among these were the dragons, the ogres, and the mermen who patrolled its rivers.  It created a ruler, Kandrinarkora, the Old King of the Underworld.  He was programmed to forever seek to increase the power of the Underworld.

            Last but not least, it set about creating agents who could walk among the inhabitants of the mortal world.  It did so by creating a tome containing an incantation which would allow a mortal to become such an agent.  As incentive, it would give them the magical power to attain what they wanted most.  The book later elaborated that when the Underworld was taken over by its new King, the service of liches was so massively cut it did not in practice exist.  But before, serving the Underworld’s interests had dominated their lives.

Cody stopped about half way through the novel as his mother came in, saying it was time for bed.  After a few minutes, he resumed reading.

*****

            The next day after school, Cody and Lester spoke in Lester’s room.  “Alright, so this Benjamin Ronald guy, or more likely whoever wrote under that name, knows everything.  He’s in a position to do me serious harm, or even kill me.”  Cody said.

            “I think you’re worrying too much about this,” Lester said, sitting down on his bed.  “Do you even know this person wants to hurt you?  There’s no reason to assume another lich would be hostile, and I don’t see why a monster hunter would alert you to their existence.”

“Even if you’re right, it’s still prudent to be prepared,” Cody said.

“True,” Lester said.

            Cody sat down at Lester’s computer and googled the name “Benjamin Ronald.”  Nothing came up.

            “Find anything of interest?” Lester asked.

“No,” Cody said.

            “I see,” Lester said. “Can you find any information that might help you find that On the Underworld book?”

            Cody turned around and looked at Lester.  “Who would be stupid enough to post that information on the internet?”

            Lester lay back.  “Dude, never underestimate the level of stupidity of people on the internet.”

            “If you say so.”  Cody typed it into Google.  He didn’t see anything.  “Nothing,” he said.

            “I see,” Lester said.

            “I’m going to continue looking for something,” Cody said. “I’ve still not checked the titles of the books, and one or two things about liches in general.”

            “Alright,” Lester said.

*****

            The next Monday, Cody went back to the school library.  He wanted to ask the Librarian for more information which might help him find the man who had given him those books.

            “Hello,” Cody said, taking off his backpack and setting it down.

“Hello,” the Librarian said, smiling, “Have you begun reading those books?”

“Yes, in fact I’m quite a way through the collection.”

“Ah, you must really enjoy them then.”

“Yes, I do.”

“You know, I have copies of all of those books too, and as I have read a few of the stories again over the week, I’ve realized something.  A lot of what happens in the story closely resembles some of the recent events regarding this Angel of Death figure.”

            Cody’s eyes widened and he felt a fear rush through him.  Did the Librarian suspect him?  He had been the chosen delivery mechanism of whoever wrote those books?  Besides, Cody wasn’t the best liar, so even talking about the subject was a hazard.

            “Why are you nervous all of the sudden?” the Librarian asked.

            “Because I just realized I forgot one of my books, textbooks I mean,” Cody said, picking up his backpack.  “May I run and get it?”  Cody began walking away.  All Cody had to do was be gone for a few minutes, and then change the subject when he got back.

            “One thing before you go,” the Librarian said.  “I’m Benjamin Ronald.”

            Cody stopped walking.  He turned around.  “What?” he asked.

            “I wrote those books.”

            Cody thought about how to respond.  He came up with something.  “That would make you a lich then?” he said.  If the answer was no, Cody would be able to, at least convincingly enough to avoid trouble, dismiss the comment as a joke in reference to the books.  If he said yes, Cody would have the answer to his mystery.

            “Yes,” the Librarian said.  “I take it you’re Odelarch, then?”

            “Yes,” Cody said.

            “Good then, we need to talk.  Come into the back room.”  The Librarian began walking towards the back room.  Cody followed.  They entered and the Librarian shut the door.  “Allow me to introduce myself.  My name is Bavandersloth.  I am a representative of the community of liches.”

            “There is a community of liches?”  What would this mean?  Would there be rules?  Would they restrict Cody’s ability to help people as he wanted?

            “Yes.  We try to make contact with new liches almost as soon as they’re created.”  Bavandersloth smirked.  “So, to that end, allow me to welcome you to our community.  May your eternal undeath be pleasing to you.”

            “Thank you,” Cody said after a second.  “If I may ask, I’ve already interacted briefly with a lich called ‘Valthakar.’  Why didn’t he give me this introduction?”

            “He is not on proper terms with the community.  I will warn you, beware of him.  If he’s taken an interest in you, he is probably planning something which is to your detriment.  But that’s not what we’re here to talk about.”

            Cody took a deep breath and was shaking a little.  “Alright then, what do you need to say to me?”

            “Well, first there’s this,” Bavandersloth handed Cody a sheet of paper. “That has contact information for a hundred liches.  Between them, all of the liches they are in contact with, and all of the liches those liches are in contact with etc., you should be able to contact any other lich.  The ones highlighted in yellow only want to be contacted in case of an emergency.  The ones in blue have cause to worry that communications to them might be intercepted, and need to be communicated with in a way that would not tip off a human that anything supernatural was going on.  The green ones have both of those traits.  It is strongly suggested that you write at least one of them regularly, lest you fall out of contact with the community.”

            “I see,” Cody said.  He planned to look through the contact information and select a pen pal later.

            “In addition, there is an aspect of your behavior that needs to be altered.”

            Cody’s eyes widened.  “What do you mean?”

            “Liches observe a code called ‘the Seven Conventions’ on pain of reprimand from the community.  Generally, this consists of a representative, such as me, being sent over to get the offender to agree to come into line.  If they are unwilling to come into line, or if they are a repeat offender such that their claim that they will come into line carries no weight, I terminate them.”

            Cody listened carefully to the next part.

            “Here are the seven conventions as currently codified for most purposes.”  Bavandersloth handed Cody another piece of paper.  “The first convention is the Convention of Public Ignorance.  It is formulated: ‘Liches shall not, intentionally or out of negligence, engage in behavior which is likely to bring about awareness by the general public of the existence of liches, magic, or any other specific supernatural phenomenon.  Nor shall they act in a way which gives mortals compelling evidence of the supernatural in general.  Liches shall be accountable to the broader community of liches for such actions.’  The others are on that sheet, but it is that one we need to talk about.”

“Why is that?”

“You don’t realize?  Odelarch, you’re making international news.  The entire world is meditating on the manifestly supernatural events you are causing.  The entire community of liches is in frenzy trying to keep this from becoming the ultimate revelation of the existence of our kind to the modern world.  Our only saving grace is that the public still has little idea what to make of it, and we need to keep it that way.”

“I’m just trying to help as many people as I can when I feed,” Cody said.

“I know, but you need to be more subtle.  Either find an alternative to breaking into and out of hospitals, or find a way of doing so that will not be detectable.  Also, afflict the persons you save from crimes with a disease which targets short term memory.”

“What alternative could I have to breaking into hospitals?”

“I’m not sure.  You could adopt some methodology of getting in and out without being detected and only target diseases which have a tendency to go away suddenly, or people who are under treatments which you could arrange to have surprising, but medically plausible success.  Alternately, you could accept the fact that you’re a monster and make peace with being a malignant force in the world.  Just try to come up with something, or, again, just don’t heal anyone at all.  All that I care about is that this entire raucous dies down, and stays down such that no one will discern anything meaningful from this incident, and in a few centuries, after I and my contacts in media and government are done, no one will think much of this mystery.”

Cody took a deep breath, looked down, and then back up.  “I already know I’m a monster,” Cody said. “And if I could make peace with being a malignant force in the world, I would have done it as soon as I learned that I was.  I guess I’ll try to think of something.”

“Good,” Bavandersloth said. “I’ll be reporting that statement back to the community.  If in a few days the actions you have taken are insufficient you will hear from me again.”

Cody began shaking a bit.  “Alright.”

*****

            Once Cody got home, he went upstairs, laid down on his bed, and thought.  Making enemies with the broader community of liches was suicidal.  Bavandersloth had already given him a working idea for how to heal.  Now, how to break into and out of hospitals without leaving enough traces to prove that something supernatural had occurred?  The lack of any obvious healings would deter suspicion that it had been him, but he had to hide his true form from the cameras.  He knew he couldn’t perform an invisibility spell.  He might be able to eventually, though.  A lich’s power level was determined by the number of souls they had eaten.

Cody had eaten his thirty-third soul the previous night.  He opened up his book.

“How many more souls do I need before I can remain invisible long enough to get into a hospital, tag all of the persons I want to heal, and get out?”

“About four-thousand.”

Cody thought for a while.  He could take out the security cameras, but he didn’t know how.  He would have to learn then.  Cody decided to do so as soon as he could find a way to do it without arousing suspicion.  With that in mind, he turned to his paper, and read the conventions, being careful to note their exact composition and wording.

“(1) The Convention of Public Ignorance: Liches shall not, intentionally or out of negligence, engage in behavior which is likely to bring about awareness by the general public of the existence of liches, magic, or any other specific supernatural phenomenon.  Nor shall they act in a way which gives mortals compelling evidence of the supernatural in general.  Liches shall be accountable to the broader community of liches for such actions.”

“(2) The Convention of Non-Revelation: Liches shall not alert mortals to the identities of liches other than themselves, except with the consent of any such liches.  Nor may they deliberately arrange circumstances in which the identity of a lich other than themselves will inevitably be revealed to a mortal, or in which the avoidance of such a revelation requires another lich to make some unreasonable concession, except with the consent of all such liches.”

“(3) The Convention of Regulated Contests: Liches shall initiate the settling of disputes only through contests organized and approved by a third party who is considered by the community of liches to be qualified to organize such a contest and who does not have any significant interest in the outcome of the contest.  Any lich may challenge any other, though the challenged party is only compelled to accept the challenge if the lich organizing the contest recognizes a sufficient grievance, and if the offending lich either will not agree to cease an offending behavior or has already knowingly done such grave damage that the offended lich has the right to pursue punishment.  If, after making such an agreement, the offending lich goes back on his word for any reason other than to prevent an offense against himself he will be terminated without recourse.  If he goes back on his word to prevent an offense against himself, a contest will be held with the other party being treated as the one challenged.  The challenged party will always propose the nature and rules of the contest, though the contest’s final form must be approved by the organizer after he hears any complaints about the nature of the rules by the challenger.  Acceptable complaints include that the competition is for some reason unfair, that it is decided to an unacceptably high degree by chance, or that victory will inevitably come at an unacceptable loss to either party.”

“(4) The Convention of Protected Mortals: The mortal friends and family of other liches shall not be harmed, unless the avoidance of such a result would require an unreasonable concession.”

“(5) The Convention of Limited Destruction: Liches shall not, intentionally or out of negligence, cause mass destruction of life or property, whether by the engineering of plagues, or natural disasters, or the setting of fires or any other means.  Mass destruction is defined as destruction sufficient to incur notice by the living in general, or to do significant damage to mortal society or population levels.”

“(6) The Convention of Non-Abandonment: In all cases, the community shall appoint a lich to investigate the status of a lich who has fallen out of contact with the community for what is, for that lich, a highly unusual amount of time.”

“(7) The Convention of Community Enforcement: These conventions shall not be enforced except by agents appointed by the broader community of liches.  Such agents shall act as assigned by the community, and be accountable to it.  They must disclose the actions they take while performing this duty to the community in good faith.”

Cody put away the sheet of paper, and looked at the clock.  He needed to start getting ready to go to Cherie’s house.  He was having dinner with her that night.

*****

            That night, Bavandersloth sat in the study of the home he had borrowed from one of the humans he had eaten.  He pulled out a copy of Twilight and held it in one hand.  He held a scrap of parchment in the other.  It was worn down and its contents illegible.  That could be changed.  With a thought, Bavandersloth moved the decay from the ancient document to the modern novel, which was soon worn as though it had sat in a desert for thousands of years.

            After doing this, Bavandersloth began reading the newly refreshed manuscript.  As he read, he heard a knock on the door.  He went to the door and opened it.  He saw Valthakar standing in front of him in human form.  Without saying a word, he slammed the door shut and walked away.

            There was more knocking.  Bavandersloth eventually returned to the door and opened it.  “I’m not interested in anything you have to say.”

            “Oh, I don’t have anything much to say.  I’m just here to ask how things went.”

            “They went fine, now go away.”

            “Oh come now, can’t I have a tad more detail than that?”

            “No.”  Bavandersloth again slammed the door in Valthakar’s face and walked away, ignoring Valthakar’s knocks.

*****

            Two days later, Cody walked from the bus stop to Lester’s house.  Lester had just gotten a new racing game.  Well, new to him; it was about seven years old.  He wanted to try it out with Cody.  As they entered Lester’s room, they spoke about the events which had transpired.

“So there’s a community of liches?” Lester asked.

“Yes,” Cody said.

“So there are hundreds of liches?”

“According to the book, there are an astronomical number of liches, but about two-thousand are on Earth.”

“An astronomical number?”  Lester hung his head down for a second before forcing himself to look back up.

“Yes.  Is something wrong?” Cody asked as Lester sat down on his bed.

“Not really,” Lester said.

Cody sat down next to Lester.  He took a deep breath.  “Let me guess.  You’re imagining that many people being eaten and enslaved, right?”

Lester took a deep breath and let his head sink down.  “Yes.”

Cody put his hand on Lester’s shoulder.  “Don’t worry.  It doesn’t bother me that you think that way about me.  That’s what I thought too when I first heard, and I don’t even have to deal with the possibility that it could happen to me.”

Lester looked up at Cody and put his hand on his friend’s shoulder.   “Look, you’re different, okay?”

“Different?  How?”

“You try to find a way to be a good person, and you try to feed selectively, and to give the ones you eat the best lives you can give them.”

“And why does that make me different?  I’ve eaten thirty-five people, Lester, and I don’t think any of them are consoled by the fact that they were criminals or that I don’t ask them to do any work for me.”

“I don’t care what they think.  You’re trying, Cody.  You’re trying despite how hard you’re finding it.  Just now, you were asking for my help in how to keep doing good despite a new obstacle that you’ve encountered.”

“Why is that enough?  I turned myself into an eight foot tall walking corpse who gains his sustenance through devouring the souls of the living.  This form, the one you’re seeing, is a lie.  I’m an undead abomination in a tattered black hood.”

“No you’re not.”

“Ask the book about tha--”

“I don’t care about the book.”  Lester stood up, and looked at Cody.  “Go look into the mirror like you are now, and then take your other form, and look in the mirror then.  Now tell me, which one of those is more like you?  Which one looks more like a kind-hearted, mild-mannered boy who is trying everything he can think of to do the right thing in a difficult situation?  That is who you are, Cody.”

Cody took a deep breath.  He looked down and then back up.  “That’s just what you see.  The people I’ve eaten see me differently.  To them, I’m the terrifying creature who devoured their souls so I could use them to sustain my unworthy undeath.”

“But you didn’t do it to sustain your life, you did it because you didn’t want to starve yourself until you gave into your instincts and went on a frenzy killing hundreds of people.”

Cody thought for a moment.  He sighed.  “I guess that’s true.”

“Exactly.  You can’t ask any more of yourself than your best, even when the problem involves eating souls.”

“True.”  Cody sat with Lester for a few minutes.  Neither of them said anything.  “So, are your parents using the downstairs TV or can we play on it?” Cody finally asked.

“As far as I know, it’s free,” Lester said.

*****

            The following Monday, Bavandersloth called Cody aside when he got out of his last class for the day.  He led Cody to the library, and escorted him into the back room.

            “What do you need?” Cody asked.

            “I’m just pulling you aside to review your progress.  You’re hiding your tracks a lot better now that you’ve started shutting down the cameras, but you still leave behind a broken window, and it’s immediately obvious when the security cameras shut down.”

            “I can’t think of a way to avoid that for now.”

            “Give them some reason to think it’s something else besides you.  You’re the only one who has been breaking into hospitals through the windows recently.  No one is fooled by your shutting down the cameras.”

            “What would count as a reason to think it was someone else?”

            “One way would be to steal something.”

            Cody gasped.  “What?  I can’t steal from a sick person.”

            Bavandersloth looked at Cody for a second.  “You kill people and eat their souls.  What is theft to you?”

            Cody took a deep breath.  “Yes, but I only do those things because I have to.  I don’t want to commit any gratuitous evil.”

            “Well I’m telling you that you have to.  If you don’t I’ll be forced to enforce the rules.  In addition, I’m going to ask you to wait about five months before going into a hospital at all.”

            “Five months?  But that’s countless people I’d save.”

            “And if I have to enforce the rules and kill you, that’d mean your entire undeath-time’s worth of people you can’t save.  If you start doing this now, people will see through it.  If that time passes, and there’s positive evidence that it wasn’t you, they might not.  Especially if you vary up your ways of breaking into hospitals, or rob other places some nights.  Then, when you start up again, it will be attributed to an unrelated hospital burglar.”

            Cody stood there for a moment with his mouth open.  He took a deep breath.  “Alright,” Cody said, 
“I guess I have no choice.”  In his mind, Cody was trying to think of other options.

            Bavandersloth chuckled, “That’s the spirit.  Now, you may go.”  Bavandersloth turned around and began grabbing some books.

            “Wait; there was one question I had for you.”

            Bavandersloth turned back around.  “Oh?”

            “Why did you give me those books?  Why didn’t you just confront me?  You must have already known I was a lich.”

            Bavandersloth chuckled.  “I find it interesting that you ask.  Well, the books exist as a discrete way of transmitting information.  Through them, I could give you all manner of knowledge of the Underworld in the form of objects that no one would give a second look.  As for why I gave them to you before introducing myself, I wanted to see how you’d react.”

            “Wanted to see how I’d react?”

            “Yes, observing how someone responds to a perceived threat can be very illuminating, and I often find that knowledge useful later on.”

*****

            Four days later, Detective Williams sat in his office perplexed.  The Angel of Death had not entered a hospital in five days, and had not healed in a week.  During those two days’ difference, he had been shutting down the hospital’s security cameras.  It was probable that he was still killing, given that persons had gone missing from his usual haunt, but the other aspect of his usual activity had ceased.  Then again, his usual haunt was the inner city.  A lot of people went missing around there in general.

            “Donna,” Williams said, picking up a cup of coffee, “bring me records.  I want information on anyone who has filed a police report or checked into a hospital in the past few days.”

            “Why?”

            “The killer uses disease as his tool of choice.  If he is doing something to cover his tracks, there might be something there I’d be able to spot.”  It was Williams’ best hope of seeing through this and figuring out what had happened.  Had the Angel stopped?  If so, why?  Williams tried to think of a solution.  If the Angel were concerned with being conspicuous, he wouldn’t have gone on past his first day.  Besides, his type usually liked being in the spot light.

            “Yes, sir,” Donna said.

            “And Donna…”

            “Yes, sir?”

            “The press it to be informed that the Angel of Death has ceased operating.”

            “Sir?”

            Williams took another sip of the coffee.  “If it is true that he’s still operating, but trying to hide himself, I’d rather he think it’s working.  He’s more likely to make a mistake that way.”

            “I see.  I’ll get right on that then.”

*****

            That night, Bavandersloth left his house to go hunting.  He had chosen a quite remote place for his home, though one which suited his tastes very nicely.  The old resident of the house didn’t mind much.  He seemed as happy as any other soul Bavandersloth had ever taken.  Indeed, Bavandersloth had heard he was adjusting especially well to his work overseas, piloting a body as it labored for one of Bavandersloth’s contacts.

Bavandersloth took on his true form, cast an invisibility spell, and walked outside.  He ran a few miles away from his home before stopping.  From there, he looked at the various houses that happened to be near.  He selected one that suited him.  He rotted the door’s lock away, still invisible, and went inside.


            As he looked around, he eventually found the master bedroom.  He smiled as he inflicted a heart attack on the male, and took his soul before he could die.  He could smell thievery on him, and he was in the mood for such a taste.  He grabbed the soul and devoured it, savoring as he swallowed.

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2 comments:

Rhys Parker-Eaton said...

For some reason no one posts, I really like this website and story. I enjoy the plot and I hope you continue writing!

Isaac Klein said...

so do I