Jason had a smile across his face as he beat his helpless victim. The person… nay, filthy creature, was meeting its end. The filthy animal had no right to be in his country, and if he wouldn’t leave by returning across the border, he’d leave by being buried in the ground. As Jason continued, his grin got wider and wider. He’d always hated this type for what they did, but only since falling in with his new group of friends had he had the courage to do what needed to be done. “I can thank our leader, Mr. Luckmann for that,” he thought as he bashed away.
Suddenly, he smelled a horrible smell. He looked to his left where he thought it was coming from, and saw a dark cloud dashing towards him. He felt a fear rush through him. He recognized the cloud. It was none other than that worn by the Angel of Death.
The police said the Angel hadn’t been active in a week. Had that been a lie? A conspiracy to make him let his guard down? Either way, he dropped the stick he had been using to beat his victim and began trembling.
After only a second, the Angel of Death pushed him over. Jason felt a shot of pain as his body impacted the concrete in the alley and his cheek and forearm scraped the same cement. Jason stood up spitting blood and saw the Angel’s cloud over the man he had been beating. Jason hurried away from the area as fast as he could. As he looked over his shoulder, Jason saw the Angel had begun chasing him and was gaining on him.
Jason was panting and could feel his heart beating faster than it should ever have been made to. Before long, the Angel caught up to him and forced him to the ground, his dark cloud totally blocking Jason’s vision. Jason’s eyes widened. The Angel placed his hand on Jason, and Jason began feeling unbearable pain. After a moment, he realized that he was feeling the same injuries he had been dealing to his victim a moment ago; the broken leg, the black eye, all of them. He began to cry.
“Please, Angel of Death, have mercy,” he said.
The Angel was silent for a second. “I can’t,” it said.
The next thing he knew, Jason could see the alley again. In fact, he could see it as well as he could if it had been daytime, but it seemed much larger. In addition, he could see himself being held by a hideous hand attached to a creature in a tattered black robe. Before Jason could get any sense of what was going on, though, it was dark again and he felt unbelievable pain, almost as if he was being chewed on by a giant dog. Crunch after munch after bite. It eventually stopped, and he began moving, as though through a giant tube. He had a feeling the worst of his pain was yet to come.
Bavandersloth sat in a red velvet chair as he perused his latest restoration. It was a quite beautiful scroll now that it had been restored to its former glory. Just as Bavandersloth was beginning to get comfortable, he heard a knock on the door. He got up, putting the once-decrepit manuscript aside, and approached the door. He braced himself to once again endure Valthakar, but when he opened the door he saw someone else entirely.
“Kaburlduth?” Bavandersloth asked.
“Yes. I’m happy to see you recognize me,” Kaburlduth said.
“Please, do come inside,” Bavandersloth said, motioning for Kaburlduth to enter.
Kaburlduth entered, and they began walking together to the great room. “Nice place you got here,” Kaburlduth said, looking around, “how did you manage to find it?”
“It belonged to a very rich man,” Bavandersloth said, “It was easy to find a house this good, though. I just had to Google about for mansions in this area.”
“Oh, of course. Finding wealthy victims can be harder for me given the restrictions I impose on my own feeding.”
“Oh, yes, that. How do you put it? Something like, ‘I shall not rid the Earth of pure Aryan blood?’”
“You say it like it’s something silly.”
They arrived in the great room and Kaburlduth lay back on a couch positioning his feet over one of the armrests.
“It is to me,” Bavandersloth said, “but I’m not here to judge your views on the nature and indications of human pigmentation. Now, what is it you want?”
“I seek to challenge the lich Odelarch to a contest.”
Bavandersloth tilted his head to the side for a second. “Contest? What grievance do you have with him?”
“He has been killing and eating my followers, and preventing them from carrying out the duties I’ve requested of them.”
“I see. I suppose that’s sufficient, though I’ll have to give him a chance to agree to stop first.”
“Of course, but we both know he won’t.” Kaburlduth grabbed a pillow and placed it under his head as he turned to lie on his side. “He seems like a do-gooder type who would be inclined to stick to his ideals, however foolish they may be.”
“Do-gooder type? You hardly seem to be the one to make such an accusation. You’re the one who refuses to devour mortals of your preferred coloring, after all.”
Kaburlduth sneered. “My intentions might be benevolent, but I am by no means a do-gooder.”
“If you say so. Regardless, Odelarch is not a vigilante, despite what the police have come to think. Unless he runs out of other crimes to fight, he’ll probably not be too concerned with being unable to prevent yours specifically.”
“Is that so? I do hope you’re right about that. Believe me, I don’t want to go through the trouble, but he’s starting to do meaningful damage to my presence here. I can’t exactly cleanse the area if, seven times out of ten, my followers are not only prevented from making any progress, but killed, such that I can no longer use them in the future.” Kaburlduth sat up, and put his head down. “In addition, I’m the one who sent them out there, and the one they look to for guidance. I’m responsible for their safety, especially from another lich. If they’re devoured when I could have stopped it, their deaths weigh on my conscience.”
Bavandersloth looked at Kaburlduth, and grinned. “How quaint. Well, I’ll tell Odelarch then.”
Kaburlduth glared at Bavandersloth before getting up and leaving.
Cody was pushed down onto the cold tile floor of his high school by another student. He felt a shot of pain as he hit the floor.
“Look, Darren, can we just skip this today? I’m running la--”
Cody braced himself for his usual daily beating. Suddenly, he heard footsteps approaching and the bully ran off. He turned around to see Bavandersloth approaching him.
“I seem to have arrived just in time,” Bavandersloth said, putting his hand down to lift Cody up.
“You did,” Cody said, taking Bavandersloth’s hand.
“Come,” Bavandersloth said, “I need to talk to you about something in the backroom.” Bavandersloth began walking towards the library. Cody followed him.
When they got to the back room, Cody closed the door behind him. “What is it,” he asked.
“You’ve been challenged,” Bavandersloth said.
Cody looked up at Bavandersloth. His eyes widened a little. “Challenged?” Cody asked. “Like… to a lich contest?
There was a pause. “By whom?” Cody asked.
“A lich named Kaburlduth,” Bavandersloth said, “he leads the band of neo-Nazi’s you have been targeting recently. He’s challenging you to a contest on the basis that your actions interfere with his ends.”
“Volkhad Luckmann is a lich?”
As Cody thought, he remembered seeing Kaburlduth’s description in the book.
A Lich of Hatred. A bigoted lich. He seeks to complete the work of his fallen leader and bring destruction to those mortals he thinks inferior. He is known to try to spread his prejudices.”
“And since he has a grievance, I have to accept his challenge?”
“Unless you are willing to agree to cease the offending behavior, yes.”
Cody felt a bead of sweat trickle down his face as he thought. He had not been deliberately targeting the racists. They were merely the first criminals he was running into when he went out to feed. At the same time, agreeing to not harm the neo-Nazis might mean having to pass by a person being killed.
“What exactly would my losing this contest entail?”
“The two of you could agree to any alteration to this, but traditionally, you would have to not only agree to cease the behavior he is challenging, but accept whatever punishment he demanded for defying him. If you won, however, he would have to accept whatever punishment you chose to inflict upon him, allowing you to make an example of him to others who might challenge you.”
“But I had no idea I was defying him.”
“Which is why you are getting a chance to agree to cease the behavior now. If you refuse this offer, you’ll be stating your intention to continue the behavior upon your winning the challenge.”
Cody felt another bead of sweat. “Do you know what punishment he is likely to demand?”
“In all likelihood, he’ll demand your termination, both because you defied him and because he doesn’t care for the difference in ethnicity between your mother and father.”
So saying yes meant a chance of Death, and a high chance, given that his opponent evidently hailed from Nazi Germany, meaning he had been around for at least sixty-eight years and therefore probably devoured around twenty-five thousand souls. On the other hand, saying no meant he might have to stand back and let another person die. Of course, as the challenged party, he could propose the nature of the contest, and he could deliberately tailor it to his own skills, but that might result in his rules being challenged.
“Remind me, what are the rules regarding what I can propose for the nature of the contest?” Cody asked.
“He could validly protest either on the grounds that the competition was unfair, determined to too high a degree by chance, or that victory would inevitably come at an unreasonable cost to him.”
“Would deliberately choosing something I knew I’d be better at than him be unfair?”
“Probably. It would depend on exactly how much better you were and why. You couldn’t, for example, demand a Spanish spelling bee, as you know the language and he doesn’t.”
Cody continued to sweat as he continued to think. He’d never set out to be a vigilante, or a valiant defender of the innocent. The reason he only killed persons committing crimes was so that he’d do the most good he could in the process of feeding. Letting one group of criminals continue their actions, so long as Cody didn’t run out of other feeding options, wouldn’t detract from that.
Cody thought long and hard. He thought about the prospect of having to walk past an innocent, screaming man as he was beaten to death; still smelling the victim’s terror as he walked away. He also thought about all of the people he’d not be able to save if he died, and his family who might need his protection. If he did lose to Kaburlduth, there was a chance, and it wasn’t too low to be worth considering, that his parents might be targeted for being an inter-racial couple. Kaburlduth’s gang did that from time to time, and their normal killing ground was small enough that his parents’ being targeted was a real possibility.
Cody looked down and then back up. He asked one last question. “Does the Convention of Protected Mortals last after my death?”
“No, but he can’t kill your family to send a message to other liches, as this would be an implicit threat to their loved ones.”
“But he’d have plausible deniability if he claimed to have simply targeted them for being an inter-racial couple?”
“I suppose if he was smart about it, yes. Knowing him, it is the kind of thing he might do.”
Cody shed a tear. He didn’t want to have to let people die, but by dying himself he’d deny his protection to people he loved who needed it.
Cody put his head down and shed another tear. “I’ll concede to Kaburlduth,” he said. He took a deep breath. “I never set out to be a vigilante, and it makes no difference to me who I save. So long as I can identify them, I will agree to avoid Kaburlduth’s agents whenever an alternative exists.”
“And you realize that for me to accept that as a concession, innocent people must count as alternatives?”
Cody took a deep breath. “I don’t expect to run out of criminals any time soon. I might have to start traveling farther, but that’d be it.”
“But nonetheless, you accept that innocent people count as alternatives?”
Cody paused for a moment and thought. “Okay,” Cody said, reassuring himself that that wasn’t a plausible scenario, at least not any time soon.
“And as for how to identify Kaburlduth’s agents, they should be wearing a swastika on their arms, all of Kaburlduth’s agents do.”
“Okay.” Cody took a deep breath. “I won’t bother them.”
Bavandersloth looked Cody in the eye. “And I warn you, if you break your word, all of the paths to avoid termination will be difficult indeed.”
“Okay,” Cody said.
That night, Cody went out hunting. He could smell an intense fear trail as soon as he left his window. He headed straight for it. As he approached its source, he could tell that it was one man beating another with a rod. He remembered his promise, and what would happen if he broke it, but he decided to at least see who it was in case it wasn’t related to Kaburlduth. As he got closer, he could hear the victim screaming and begging for mercy. He could also see the red band around the perpetrator’s arm. As he got even closer, he could tell there was a swastika on it. He could hear every impact, as well as the victim’s crying. “You’re not a vigilante,” Cody told himself. “This isn’t your responsibility and if you try to interfere, you will die and your parents will follow.” Cody started walking away.
“Help!” he heard the victim cry. He continued walking away.
“Someone help me!” he heard. Cody began to walk faster. He had his head down, and would have been crying if he had been in his human form.
“Someone!” Yes, hopefully someone. Hopefully someone else would come.
“He’s going to kill me!”
Cody took a deep breath. “I am not a vigilante,” he said to himself. “I don’t have to deal with this if there are morally equivalent crimes elsewhere.” A few seconds later, he turned around and rushed back towards the scene. He tackled the Nazi. With only a thought, he made the man’s left foot shatter. He went back to the victim, tagged his injuries, and moved them over to the perpetrator. Finally, he scythed and ate the perpetrator’s soul. Judging by the taste, the man had killed several times before.
Cody moved back over to the man he’d just saved. He grabbed him before he could get up and run away. He gave the man an ailment which would render him unconscious and erase his memory of the last few hours, and walked off.
He just got himself killed. Kaburlduth was going to demand his death, and he’d have no recourse. No, he didn’t know that. Bavandersloth had said there was no easy way out of this, not that there wasn’t one at all. He had to think of something for the sake of his parents. If he died now, they’d soon follow. Cody returned to his room, lied down on his bed and began reading from the paper Bavandersloth had given him on the conventions.
The next day, after school, Cody was pulled aside exactly as he had expected to be. Bavandersloth approached him and Cody followed him without saying a word. Bavandersloth dragged Cody into the back room where they normally met.
“You broke your promise,” Bavandersloth said. “Could you really not last a single day?”
“No,” Cody said. He looked down. “I couldn’t.”
“And you know that the punishment for this is termination?”
“Yes.” Cody closed his eyes.
“Where is you Phylactery?”
“I see. Will there be anybody else there?”
“I see. I’ll think of an excuse to get inside on my way over there. Before we do this, though, there is one thing you should know.”
“There is one way you might be able to avoid death.”
Cody looked up. “There is?”
“Yes. If the action you took to break the promise was to prevent him from committing an action which would have been considered a grievance had it been completed, you can counter-challenge him.”
“I know, but that wasn’t the case, was it?”
“The incident happened in your standard hunting grounds, correct?”
“And you acted to prevent the death of a human in your area?”
“Well, you could claim that he infringed upon your property by sending one of his agents to terminate a human who was rightfully yours.”
Cody stood in place for a moment. “Property?”
“Yes. In the eyes of the community, you, because you have consistently hunted in that location for the past little while, and no other lich has hunted there recently enough, have claim to that area and all of the mortals in it. Other liches do not have the right to damage their usefulness.”
Cody said nothing for a few seconds. “I… I’m not sure what to say to all that,” he said, his mouth wide open.
“‘I make that claim’ would be advisable if you are looking for suggestions.”
“Yes, yes, I make that claim. It’s just… property.”
“Yes. The community of liches has long recognized the residents as not only a feature, but the most important feature of a hunting ground. As the hunting ground is yours, so are its mortal residents.”
“I see. That makes sense. It’s just… to think of my parents and Lester like that is al--”
“Shall I inform him of your challenge?”
“Oh, yes, of course.”
“Alright, hold on. I’ll call him.”
Kaburlduth sat in his middle class home as he wrote his next speech. He hadn’t bothered looking through the rich areas in town for someone he was willing to kill. It wasn’t as if he’d find anything, or so he thought. As he wrote, he tried to imitate the man who had so inspired him when he was human. He had to replace references to Germany with America of course, but that wasn’t a problem. It wasn’t about that one nation specifically. Not really, especially now that that nation had gone on to criminalize the glory it had spawned. It was about the preservation of a superior people, who deserved to dominate the world, free of the ruination brought by filth.
As he wrote, Kaburlduth heard his phone ring. Presumably it was Bavandersloth, to announce the death of the child who had interfered with him.
Kaburlduth picked the phone up. “Hello,” he said.
“This is Bavandersloth--”
“Oh, yes, my good friend. Please do tell me, is the deed done?”
“No, actually, that’s what I’m calling you for. Odelarch has counter-challenged you.”
Kaburlduth’s eyes widened and his jaw dropped. He sat forward in his chair. “He’s done what?” Kaburlduth spat.
“He’s claiming that he has a right to the territory where the incident took place, and that he was acting to prevent you from infringing upon it.”
“That slimy little…” Kaburlduth took a deep breath to control himself. Letting the pathetic pile of trash anger him wouldn’t accomplish anything. “I suppose we shall negotiate the terms of a contest over the phone, then?” he asked.
“If you want,” Bavandersloth said. “You could also agree to meet at my mansion.”
“Yes, yes, of course. That’s what I meant. I’ll be right over.” Kaburlduth nearly broke his phone as he hung up. He thought he’d been rid of that pest, but now the little worm had squirmed out of both his word and the consequences for breaking it. No matter, now that he was the one being challenged, Kaburlduth would be the one to propose the rules of the contest. He had the advantage and when he won, the puny little insect would die with all the agony befitting such a pest.
“He’s going to meet us at my mansion.”
“Right now? My parents will expect me at home.”
“Do you have a cell phone?”
“No, we can’t afford one.”
“Alright then, what’s your home number?”
“Alright then, hold on.” Bavandersloth got out his phone and dialed the number. “Hello? Yes, this is Cody’s School’s Librarian. He was wondering if it’s okay if he goes home with his friend Lester today. He says he’ll be there by his normal curfew. Yes… Yes… Because he’s running back to his classroom to grab a book he forgot. Yes… Alright then, he says thank you.” Bavandersloth hung up his phone. “Well that’s taken care of. Now, shall you ride in my car?”
Cody looked down and sighed. “Sure, I guess.”
Cody got out of Bavandersloth’s car as it pulled up to the mansion. The mansion looked to be about three stories high, not counting the roof which might have included an attic. It had a large courtyard. Unauthorized entrance into the mansion was prevented by a black iron gate. The courtyard was dominated by hedges and gardens, and had two large fountains near its center.
Cody and Bavandersloth entered the house. They went directly from the entry way into the Great Room. Cody took a seat on one of the couches as Bavandersloth went into the other room to get himself some wine. He came back with a full glass. A few minutes later, Kaburlduth pulled up to the gate. Bavandersloth let him into the courtyard and then into the house. He glared at Cody as he came into the room.
“May I propose my challenge?” Kaburlduth asked as he sat down.
“Yes,” Bavandersloth said, sipping his wine.
“I propose that we choose a space, ideally this mansion. We then let a mortal of my selection loose in the area, and both hunt it. Whoever devours it first wins.”
Cody’s eyes widened. Kaburlduth was going to try to make him kill an innocent person.
“That sounds acceptable as a basic outline,” Bavandersloth said, “Cody, do you have any objections? You can object on the grounds that the challenge is unfair, that it is to too great of a degree decided by chance, or that winning it would inevitably bring about an unacceptable consequence to you.”
“Killing an innocent, or killing for a reason other than sustenance or to save a human life, violates my code of ethics. Can that count as an unacceptable consequence?”
“Oh come now Bavandersloth. If it were torture, that’d be one thing, but surely such a petty ethic as refusing to perform the action by which the vast majority of liches sustain themselves doesn’t count.”
“If Cody can propose a reasonable adjustment to the contest that brings it into line with his ethics, it does,” Bavandersloth said. “Those are the rules, and I didn’t make them,” Bavandersloth took a large drink, “and it’s the same rule you’d be appealing to if Cody had demanded that you kill someone whose coloration you care for.”
“Can I ask for a new contest altogether?” Cody asked.
“No,” Bavandersloth said.
“Fine then,” Cody said. He closed his eyes and thought for a moment. If he had to follow Kaburlduth’s outline, there’d be no way to get the human totally out of the equation. A soul would be no good, as it would evade them both too easily. “How about this, we do the contest as Kaburlduth described, but while his objective is to eat the human, mine is to protect them for a given time.”
“Kaburlduth, do you object to that adjustment?”
Kaburlduth thought for a moment. “Actually, I don’t think I do.” Kaburlduth chuckled. “I actually like the idea of prying an inferior mortal out of his arms and displaying to him the futility of his attempts to protect such a being. I’ll happily accept that adjustment, if only to see your emotional pain bring even greater justice for the innocent lives you took.”
Cody looked at Kaburlduth. “You cared about them?” Cody asked.
Kaburlduth glared at Cody for a second.
“Oh no, don’t be.” Kaburlduth looked over at Bavandersloth. “You see, this is what I mean when I say he’s a do-gooder and I’m not. Only a do-gooder would assume I don’t care about my underlings.”
“True,” Bavandersloth said, taking another large sip, “but then again, only a do-gooder would care about his underlings. Anyways, about the contest. I’m not as eager to accept those terms. Odelarch’s task seems vastly harder unless the time limit be extremely small. It seems to me he ought to be given some additional way of achieving victory.”
“Like what?” Kaburlduth asked.
“You will hide your phylactery in this house, wherever you wish. If Odelarch can find, identify, and destroy it, he will win.”
“That’s outrageous!” Kaburlduth said.
“No it isn’t. If you hide your Phylactery well, especially considering that he does not know what it is, finding it will not be too easy.”
“Is there anything else I could take on as a handicap?”
“Sure, we could add many other instant victory conditions.” Bavandersloth took another sip. “But that’s the most difficult I could think of that is still reasonable. Besides, if you lose, you’ll die anyway.”
“Fine then,” Kaburlduth said. “It’s still worth it to get to crush him. But if Odelarch destroys an object other than my phylactery, he must experience a penalty.”
“Fair enough,” Bavandersloth said. “I’ll be forbidding the use of souls by both of you because of Odelarch’s ethics and because it would make it too easy for you to track each other. I’ll have my souls patrolling the halls as they usually would. If they see that Odelarch has made a wrong guess, they will alert you and you will be able to use a soul to track him. Each wrong guess he makes will allow an additional soul to be brought into the game.”
“That’s still not enough,” Kaburlduth said, “He still has an unfair advantage.”
“I disagree,” Bavandersloth said. “Now, Odelarch, do you have any objection to the rules as they stand?”
“Yes,” Cody said. “Kaburlduth should be prevented from using invisibility. It is a power unique to him between the two of us, and that would make my task of protection all but impossible.”
“I agree,” Bavandersloth said. “In addition, neither of you will be allowed to use magical blasts or beams while inside the house as being able to use a ranged attack just anywhere would make Kaburlduth’s task too easy. And because you might do a large amount of damage to my house.”
“Alright then,” Kaburlduth said. “I have one more amendment to the rules I’d like to propose. I say that if the mortal is able to escape the mansion before the time runs out, I shall be the victor. Odelarch is its babysitter, so it only makes sense.”
“Cody, do you object?”
“Of course. You’re saying I have to keep a no-doubt hysterical human from escaping?”
“Hysteria shouldn’t make a difference,” Kaburlduth said. “Your strength, speed, and magic should no doubt be able to overcome any pathetic attempt to escape.”
“I agree,” Bavandersloth said. “I accept that amendment. Is that everything?”
“Yes,” Kaburlduth said.
“Won’t it be too easy for him to track the human by the scent of their fear?”
“There is a lich who makes candles which mimic the scent of fear for exactly this purpose,” Bavandersloth said, taking another sip from his wine glass. “They will be spread throughout the house.”
“Alright,” Cody said after thinking for a second. “That’s all.”
“Okay, hold on.” Bavandersloth spent about three minutes writing something down. As he did, Kaburlduth was glaring at Cody. “Alright then, here is a draft of the rules to this contest. ‘By eleven tonight, Odelarch, Kaburlduth, and a single human, selected by Kaburlduth and approved by me, will be placed in this house. Odelarch and the human will be together, but Kaburlduth will be in a separate location. They will all be blindfolded and the human will have been kidnapped and made unconscious. Odelarch and the human will not know where Kaburlduth is, and Kaburlduth will not know where Odelarch and the human are. In addition, Kaburlduth’s Phylactery will be somewhere in the house in a location selected by Kaburlduth and approved by me. Odelarch and the human will not know where it is. Neither party is allowed to use souls, nor are any souls permitted to assist either party, unless Odelarch destroys an object or objects other than Kaburlduth’s phylactery, mistaking them for be Kaburlduth’s phylactery, in which case Kaburlduth will be permitted the use of one soul per object destroyed. Kaburlduth is not allowed to use an invisibility spell. Candles which mimic the scent of fear will be placed throughout the house, and are not to be put out. Neither Odelarch nor Kaburlduth shall use magical blasts or beams except in the courtyard, and may not fire them in the direction of the house. Kaburlduth will be the victor if he is able to eat or otherwise kill the human by 4:00 a.m. or if the human leaves the premises of the mansion before then. Odelarch will be the victor if he is able to prevent Kaburlduth from killing the human by 4:00 a.m. and prevent the human from escaping by 4:00 a.m., or if Kaburlduth’s phylactery is destroyed.’ Does anyone object to anything in those rules?”
“No,” Kaburlduth said.
“Five hours seems like a very long time,” Cody said. “It seems like it will be unreasonably difficult to protect a human for that long.”
“I disagree,” Bavandersloth said. “Anything else?”
Cody thought for a moment. “No,” he said.
“Very well,” Bavandersloth said, “Cody, I’ll drive you to Lester’s house. You should have several hours there before your mother expects you home.”
Cody got up and left with Bavandersloth. He’d done all he could to keep the rules in his favor. As he left, he felt a bead of sweat trickle down his face.
That night, around 10:00 p.m., only minutes after his mother left the room after wishing him goodnight, Cody snuck out through the window. It was foggy. He was met by one of Bavandersloth’s souls, who guided him to Bavandersloth’s mansion. The fog made streetlights take on an eerie quality. After about an hour, Cody arrived at the mansion. The fog around it was just as dense, and crickets could be heard all around. Cody was greeted outside the gate by Bavandersloth who ordered him to put on a blindfold.
“Kaburlduth has already arrived,” Bavandersloth said. “He’s in his starting place. Now you must take your place and not move from it until you hear the clock strike eleven. The first chime should wake up the human and will be your signal that you are allowed to move. The contest will continue until the clock strikes four, or until one of the victory conditions is met. Understood?”
“Good, now put the blindfold on.”
Cody complied, and was led into the mansion. He could tell he had been sent up four flights of stairs, but didn’t know how many floors that corresponded to. He was led in a straight line for a while, then to the left. He was told to lie down on a cold hard-wood floor, and heard a door close. From there, he waited for the clock to strike eleven.
Bong! Bong! Bong! Cody removed his blindfold and looked around. He was in a bedroom, on the floor. There was a window in front of him, overlooking the foggy courtyard. The walls were adorned with various decorations, mostly of a historical theme, along with pink floral wallpaper. It looked old, as though it’d been there for a few decades and no one had ever bothered to change it. To Cody’s right was a bed, on which lay the human. She was dark-skinned and seemed to be about eighteen. She was overweight. As Bavandersloth had said, she had been awoken by the clock. As Cody stood up, in his human form, he saw that her eyes and mouth were wide.
She sat up and looked around and finally at Cody. “Where am I?” she asked, seeming dazed. She then looked out the window, “and what time is it? Oh no, has my Baby been home alone for hours?”
“It’s eleven,” Cody said.
“Eleven? Oh no, oh no. I need to get back to him right away. Do you know what’s going on here?”
Cody thought about how to respond. He needed her to immediately trust him. “You’re in danger,” he said, stepping away. “I’m here to protect you.”
She looked at him for a second. “This ain’t the time to be kidding me boy. You don’t look like you’ll be protecting me from anything.”
“I might not look like much, but I’m all you have. I need you to cooperate with me, and believe whatever I say, no matter how ridiculous it sounds.”
She looked at him for a second. “Look, boy, if this is some kind of game, I want no part of it. I just want to get back home to my son, okay? He needs me, so I need you to tell me what’s really going on.”
“You’ll only be able to get back to him if you trust me, okay?”
“And why shouldn’t I just run out? I’m getting the feeling I’m not free to just leave. Who exactly is guarding this place?”
“Someone you can’t get past,” Cody said. “Someone no human could get past.”
“Could you be more specific if you don’t mind?”
“Well, he calls himself Bavandersloth.”
The human laughed. “Bavandersloth? What, did he get that out of a comic book?”
“No. Now I need you to be quiet. Someone in here is looking for you.”
“Looking for me?”
“Yes. His name is Kaburlduth--”
“Look, I might not be the sharpest tack in the box, but I’m not stupid, okay?” She leaned forward to look Cody in the eye. “Now I’m going to give you one last chance to tell me what’s really going on, and don’t you bullshit me, okay?”
Kaburlduth was prowling the halls at that very moment. Cody had to convince her. He could show her his true form. That’d probably cause her to believe anything he said, but it’d also cause her to scream and run away; or at least, it might. Cody had to take a risk, so he dashed to the door and stood in front of it so she couldn’t run out.
“I’m going to show you something,” Cody said, “I need you to try not to be too afraid, okay?”
“Boy, I don’t think there’s a thing in the world you could do that would scare me.”
“Alright then.” Cody took a deep breath and shifted into his true form. The human’s eyes and mouth widened and she began to shake. She fell back onto the ground and slowly crawled away backwards, gasping for air. Cody shifted back into his human form. “I’m sorry about that,” he said. He looked down at the floor for a second, and then at her. “Now, are you willing to believe me?”
“Alright, alright,” she said. She was sweating and breathing heavily. “Say anything. I’ll believe you. Just don’t hurt me.”
“I would never hurt you,” Cody said. He took a deep breath, and extended his hand to help her up. She looked at it and got up without taking it. “In this house, there is another creature like me. His name is Kaburlduth. He is trying to kill you, and the only way you’ll survive is if I can protect you for the next five hours, or if we can find and destroy his Phylactery; that’s the object his soul is in. Destroying it is the only way to kill him. He’s quite powerful. He’s very fast, and very strong, and can cover himself in a black cloud to hide in total darkness.”
“Wait… black cloud, like that serial killer, the Angel of Death? Is this Kaburlduth him?”
“No. That’d be me actually.” Cody didn’t feel like forcing himself through a lie right now. Even if she was one of his critics, she should still be willing to accept his help at this point.
The human’s mouth widened. “You?”
“Yes, me. Now, as I was saying, I need you to promise to listen to me, and do and believe everything I tell you to until you’re safe. Then, after five hours, you can go.”
The human paused for a second. “Okay…” she said, still breathing heavily. “I promise.”
“Now, we need to find a better hiding spot than this, one where Kaburlduth is unlikely to look. We need to move quietly as we search, though.”
The woman’s breathing was growing softer. “Alright.”
The two of them went outside the room into the hallway. They went from room to room, looking for a suitable hiding spot. As Cody looked around, he saw Bavandersloth’s souls patrolling. They did not alter their course on his account, but Cody could tell they were keeping a close eye on him as they passed. All of the rooms in the corridor were lined with historical artifacts. Not all of them were particularly valuable, such as the medieval French coin in the bedroom they’d woken up in, the scroll they found in a rec room, or the cloth hat with the silver skull in the billiard’s room.
Cody was immediately available to identify the skull as a Totenkopf, and the hat as that of an SS officer. This made the object a prime candidate for Kaburlduth’s Phylactery. Cody thought of destroying the hat right then and there. He decided against it for now. This house had clearly belonged to a man who collected such things, so it was likely to have many artifacts from that period in it. Cody folded the hat and put it in his pocket. He’d destroy it only if he found himself in a tight spot where it was worth the risk.
As he continued walking, he saw more and more that his choice had been justified. There were several artifacts from World War II in this house, including several bits and pieces of Nazi uniforms. He kept all of the ones he could, but he didn’t destroy any of them.
After they exhausted their current floor and the attic as possible sources of hiding places, Cody decided to risk going downstairs. They found the lower floor to be similar to the one above it, a straight hallway with several rooms. They snuck along, searching from room to room. Most of the rooms were pretty small and open, and none of them contained any possible hiding places which would not likely be inspected by Kaburlduth.
After they had checked the fifth room in the hall, Cody peeked out to see if Kaburlduth was out there. He didn’t see him, and the two exited the room. Right as they began walking down the hall, one of the doors swung open, and Kaburlduth, in human form, stepped out.
“That’s him,” Cody said to the woman. She immediately nodded and began running away.
“Stop!” Kaburlduth said, suppressing the thick German accent he normally wore with pride, “I’m not here to hurt you.” He had a concerned look. Cody could see that he was carefully monitoring his body language to seem as welcoming as possible.
“Go downstairs,” Cody said, “I’ll be right behind you.” Hopefully, Cody could inflict some kind of meaningful injury on Kaburlduth before he could get to her, which could buy them some time.
“What vile lies has he told you?” Kaburlduth asked the woman. “Whatever they are, don’t believe them. Despite his welcoming disguise, he is a monster, and he has every intention of devouring you.”
“Don’t listen to him,” Cody said, “he’s only trying to--”
“There’s little time,” Kaburlduth said. “Come here, quickly. His particular sort of vicious abomination delights in playing the most despicable mind games with their poor and unfortunate prey before they devour them body and soul, leaving nothing of them. They have been known to keep their disgusting form of recreation up for hours on end with the same innocent victim. He won’t attack you now, as he’s unwilling to keep a share of you from his pack, but if you go downstairs with him, he will take you to his pack, and they will make a meal of you, and then your child.”
The woman’s eyes widened. “My child?”
“You’re Latoya Stevenson, yes? Your child is missing from your home, just as you are, and is probably already with the rest of this creature’s pack. Please, come over to me. He’s probably told you that I’ll kill you. He knew that I was about when he took you. But you mustn’t believe him, understand? He will only lead you to your total destruction, soul and all, and then proceed to inflict the same fate on your innocent baby. If you hurry over to me though, we should still be able to save your child.”
Latoya began to approach him.
“Come, quickly,” Kaburlduth said, “his pack will soon wonder what is taking him so long.”
Latoya began to walk towards him. Kaburlduth no doubt planned to devour her as soon as she was too close to get away in time after seeing him shift forms. Cody had to act quickly. If she was eaten not only she, but also Cody, would die.
Having no other choice, Cody took his true form, tackled her, and began to carry her downstairs as she struggled. As he ran, he heard Kaburlduth running after him. Cody told the woman to look behind as they ran through the stairwell, knowing that Kaburlduth must have taken his true form to have any hope of keeping up. He could tell by her gasp that she saw him. She stopped struggling, and let him carry her through the great room, past the warm fireplace. Cody spotted some books from World War II as he ran past the room’s massive shelves, including a copy of Mein Kampf. It was indistinguishable from an original German copy straight from the first printing, though it was too new to be Kaburlduth’s phylactery. It must have been a replica.
The two ran out into the courtyard. Now that he was outside, Cody looped around one of the fountains so that he’d be permitted to fire magical blasts at Kaburlduth without firing it towards the house. The fifth blast managed to hit near Kaburlduth, knocking him back. As Cody looked around, he was able to see an open hatch which appeared to lead to a basement. He entered it and looked around. He saw one door which seemed to lead to the rest of the house, and another door, leading into a closet. He put the woman into the closet, ran up to and opened the other door, and ran back into the closet. He was able to shut the closet door, doing so as quietly as he could manage, before Kaburlduth entered the basement. Cody had shifted back into his human form, and was covering the woman’s mouth and nose with his hands to keep her from breathing too loudly. She was cooperating by trying to control her breathing to make as little noise as possible.
After about five minutes it was clear that Kaburlduth had fallen for Cody’s trick and gone to look for them inside the house. Cody took his hand off of Latoya’s mouth and she took a few deep breaths. Cody knew that Kaburlduth would eventually come back down and look for them, and he needed a plan. He could go upstairs and throw the objects he had acquired into the fireplace in the Great Room, but there was no guarantee that any of them were Kaburlduth’s phylactery. And if they weren’t, his chances of winning would suddenly become very slim.
As Cody tried to think of a solution, Latoya whispered to him.
“How much of what he said about you is true? I mean, you’re obviously not here to eat me but…”
Cody looked at her, and then down at the floor. “I have no pack, nor do we live or hunt in packs. I have absolutely no plans to devour you, and I have no idea where your baby is.”
“Do you devour anyone at all?” she asked.
Cody closed his eyes and took a deep breath. “Not in the way he said.”
“In any way whatsoever?” she asked.
Cody took a deep breath, and held in a tear. “I do what I do because I must. If I were to starve myself, I’d go into a sort of frenzy, and go on a rampage which would cause much more death and destruction than I do with my current mode of behavior. Any attempt I made to destroy myself would fail. Be assured, though, that I do not destroy the souls of those I devour, nor could I if I wanted to.”
She looked down, and put her head in her hands. She took a deep breath, and exhaled. “Why have I been taken here anyway?” she asked. “Why is he trying to kill me, and why are you trying to protect me?”
Cody knew she wouldn’t like the truth. He also knew that he was so bad at lying as to be nearly incapable of it. Cody took a deep breath. “In his human form, he is the leader of a band of criminals. He was ordering his men to kill humans in my area. Because the area he was targeting was my territory, I was able to challenge his behavior. Our kind settles disputes via contests, and because I had challenged him, I had to accept the basic framework of the competition he proposed.”
“So… I’m just a game piece to you?”
“No. I value your life. I very much want to see you safe and back home with your baby. On that note, can you think of any way out of this? I’m drawing a blank.”
Latoya seemed to collect herself and then think for a second. “I don’t know.” Latoya said. “Is there anything about these phylactiwhatevers which is different from everything else?”
“No, they basically look… wait…” Cody remembered something he had read in one of Bavandersloth’s books. In the short story, The Roman Horn, the main character found a horn dating from ancient Rome. One of the features about the horn which had made it remarkable was how well preserved it was. How could he be so stupid? Phylacteries don’t decay. The freshness of the copy of Mein Kampf he had seen in the Great room wasn’t proof that it wasn’t Kaburlduth’s phylactery, it was evidence that it was.
“I think I have a guess as to what his phylactery might be,” Cody said.
“What’s your guess?” the woman asked.
“One of the books on the shelf in the room I carried you through. I recognized it as a copy of Mein Kampf, and identical to the original printing. I assumed it was a replica because it was too fresh. I just now remembered that Phylacteries don’t decay through time. We need to get up to the great room. The safest way would be to go through the courtyard and reenter the house through the front door.”
Latoya took a deep breath. She seemed to be collecting herself. “Alright.”
The two were able to leave the basement and return to the front door without incident. Cody opened the door and entered the house. After the woman came in behind him, he closed it again. The two crept into the great room. As they edged closer, they saw Kaburlduth hurrying down the stairs in human form. He was breathing heavily.
“Latoya,” he said, “a member of that abomination’s pack blind sighted me! He was apparently joining in their game. You must come with me quickly if we are to have any hope of saving you and your baby!”
Latoya looked over at Cody, then back at Kaburlduth. “Do you really think I’m that stupid?” Latoya asked.
After a second, the wide mouth, heavy breathing, and concerned eyes Kaburlduth had been displaying evaporated. He took his lich form. Latoya stumbled backward. “Oh, on the contrary, I think you are far dumber than most of the apes that this society has allowed to run about. If you had any intelligence in you at all, you’d have come with me, knowing that if I were truthful, I’d be your only hope, and if I were lying, that little insect couldn’t possibly protect you. Now, it’s time for you and the pest to die.”
Kaburlduth ran straight at Latoya. Cody grabbed her and headed straight for the book. He was able to snatch it from the shelf. As he did, Kaburlduth’s eyes widened, and he rushed straight toward Cody. Cody dashed to the fireplace and threw the book in. Kaburlduth’s eyes widened as soon as the book hit the fire. Cody positioned himself in front of the fireplace to guard it. Kaburlduth stopped in his tracks. “You…” Kaburlduth fell to his knees, and then to his stomach. By the time he had collected his thoughts speaking was a strain. He looked up at Cody and spoke his last few breaths. “You… you may have won this round… but the plague… the plague to the world you represent will not triumph. One day… one day goodness will triumph over your poison… and you… you or your decedents will fall… fall to the same ideas… and as consequence… to the same man who inspired me.” He seemed like he wanted to continue, but at that moment, he closed his eyes and his head fell to the floor. His corpse shifted back into human form.
Given his age, Kaburlduth had probably eaten about twenty-five-thousand souls, and all of them had just been freed from their enslavement and allowed to pass to the underworld. As he retook his human form, Cody began thinking about how when he grew to be that age, he likewise would have enslaved and murdered at least that many people. Those years were a short time to claim that many victims, all of whom would know the truth of Cody’s monstrous nature; and that whatever lies he may have told, Kaburlduth was right to call him an abomination.
Latoya was startled by Bavandersloth as he entered the house in human form.
“Congratulations Odelarch,” he said. He turned to Latoya. “Now, Latoya, I am going to approach you and take my true form. I have no intention of hurting you, understand?”
Latoya turned to Cody. “Can I trust him?”
“Yes,” Cody said. “Do as he says. He won’t eat you. He probably plans to erase your memory of this encounter.”
Latoya’s mouth widened as she looked back at Bavandersloth. “What?”
Bavandersloth looked at Cody. “You don’t go and tell her that,” he said. He turned to Latoya. “You’ve come to know too much over the course of the last few hours. Your memory must be taken away.”
“But… But I don’t want my memory taken away.” she said.
“Neither would I,” Bavandersloth said. “But alas it must go away, unless Odelarch is willing to take full responsibility in the event that you let these events slip. He just saved your life. Do you really want to do that to him?”
Latoya looked back at Cody. “That’s your name?” she asked.
“Yes,” Cody said. “How about this, I’ll tag her amnesia, and if I ever deem it safe to restore her memory, I’ll do so?”
“That’s your prerogative,” Bavandersloth said, “but I’d advise you against it. There’s no sense in tempting yourself.”
“The day that it is safe will probably never come,” Cody said. “But the day might come when I need an additional human ally, and it is worth the risk. Latoya, you understand that if you ever recall this, you must never tell anyone?”
“Yes,” Latoya said. With that, Bavandersloth approached her, took his true form and inflicted her with amnesia and unconsciousness. Cody tagged the amnesia, and then let Bavandersloth run off with her.