Cody rushed towards the source of an intense fear trail. The only thing he had ever known to produce a scent of fear this strong was another lich. The last time he had smelled it out on the streets like this, it’d been Valthakar trying to attract his attention. He suspected this would prove to be true again.
As he entered the ally the trail was coming from, he saw Valthakar standing over a boy who looked to be about fourteen. Cody prepared to pounce on Valthakar to force him away from the boy.
“No need for that, Odelarch” Valthakar said, looking at Cody, “I’m not planning to hurt him.” The boy was backed up against the ally’s wall, cowering and shaking. “In fact, you’d be advised to erase his memories of the last few hours and knock him out. I don’t think Bavandersloth would like to see him telling anyone about this.”
Cody knew Valthakar was right. He approached the boy. The boy’s eyes widened and the scent of fear coming from him intensified. “Calm down,” Cody said, “I’m not going to hurt you.” The boy’s eyes only grew wider. When he was within arm’s length of the boy, he kneeled down to his level. He then reached out, causing the boy to curl up into a ball. Cody placed his hand on the boy and inflicted a form of amnesia which would only remove his memory of the last few hours, and another infliction to render him unconscious.
Cody stood up and turned back to Valthakar. “Why did you call me?”
“To discuss recent events.”
“What do you mean?”
“You’ve made quite a name for yourself. There’s tell far and wide of your defeating Kaburlduth. He was well known for a lich his age, and no one expected to see him dead, at the hands of a do-gooder with less than a hundred souls no less.”
Cody clinched his fist. “What about that was the reason you called me?”
“Don’t think that you’ll be able to get out of situations like that forever,” Valthakar said. “If you keep trying to preserve that which will inevitably be destroyed, you’ll eventually meet your match.”
A gust of wind shot through the alley. “I don’t know if that’s true or not,” Cody said. “I do know that I’m not going to give up on being a good person. Even if it’s impossible, I can still try to come as close as I can.”
“Good person? You’re a monster Cody. You’re a lich. You’re not a person at all. You’re not even a living thing. Do you know what undeath is? You have no life energy, no magic of your own, and thus have to steal it from others. That’s the reason you devour souls in the first place, so you can rip the very life from them to steal it for yourself.”
“I don’t care about the mechanics of what I am.” Cody looked down. “All I care about is the consequences of my actions.”
“Oh, you mean the miserable souls watching their families grieve their own deaths while unable to tell their loved ones that they’re right there? How about the children who will grow up without fathers? Are those the consequences you refer to? Trust me, Odelarch. I know this from having been on this earth for thousands of years. Do not fight the inevitable. All things pass away, and if you do not head that lesson, then sooner or later, for your own good, someone will have to teach it to you.”
“Don’t bother,” Cody said. “What’s it to you if I waste my time?”
“Nothing, ultimately, but I must occupy myself with some sort of project. After all, I can no more destroy myself than you can.”
“Fine. Your advice is noted then. Now can I get on my way?”
“I hope for your sake you are telling the truth about that. And yes, you may.”
Cody ran off as soon as Valthakar spoke those words. He headed straight home.
Det. Williams smiled as he sat down for an interview. This man claimed to have seen a killing by the Angel of Death. Several had come forth with similar claims, but they all had credibility problems. This one, though, stood up to Williams’ preliminary scrutiny. He would arrive soon.
After a few minutes, he came inside. Williams escorted him to the room where they’d be doing the interview. The two of them sat down.
“So, you say you saw the Angel of Death?” Williams asked.
“Yes,” the man said.
Williams grinned. “Please, tell me the story exactly as you remember it.”
“Well, I own a small diner ‘round 10th street. The other night, a little after 2:00 a.m., I was in the back washin’ dishes when I saw a mugging in the alley outside through a small window. I don’t think the mugger or the gal he was robbing knew I could see ’em. I was about to run to the phone to call the cops, but all of the sudden, I saw that black cloud approach, the same one everyone else tells about. The mugger was scared as I’ve ever seen anyone be. The cloud covered the victim, and when it moved away, she was on the ground. After that, the cloud went over to the mugger, and was over him for about thirty seconds. By the time it moved away from where he’d been, there wasn’t nothin’ left of him.”
“And that’s when you made the call the department received last night?”
“Can you think of any other details which might be useful?”
“Hmm… Actually, yeah. When the cloud ran off, it was real fast, like, as fast as a car.”
“I see. Is there anything else?”
“Not that I can think off.”
“Alright then, please go to the reception desk. I’ll call you again if I have any more questions.”
“Okay.” The man walked off. The victim he had described had been found outside his diner, consistent with his account. She had no memory of the past few hours.
So it was true then. The Angel was still killing, or so it seemed. He probably thought no one would notice the people he was leaving unconscious in alleys. Williams considered whether he should announce this development to the press. This would force the Angel of Death to try to adapt to increased scrutiny and avoid leaving the unconscious victims behind, or stop killing altogether. No, that wouldn’t work. The Angel might have a method of hiding the victims, or locating their houses. It was better for Williams to keep the advantage he had. Right now, the Angel had no idea he was being investigated at all.
It was also interesting that the body was gone when the cloud moved away. It could have been that the Angel was carrying the body away. In fact, that was the most likely option. The fact that he had the power to carry the body at such a high speed as described indicated that he had enhanced physical abilities, along with his unusual powers. This further removed the possibility, proposed by some supporters, that he had to kill the perpetrators of the crimes he stopped in order to prevent them from going after the victims. If he could carry the man’s corpse away at such a speed, it was unlikely that he couldn’t hold the man down long enough to call the police.
After school, Cody went to the Library to speak with Bavandersloth. Bavandersloth took him to the back room.
“What is it you wanted to talk about?” Bavandersloth asked. He turned around and sorted some books.
“Valthakar and I,” Cody looked down and to the side, “we had another conversation.”
Bavandersloth stopped what he was doing and turned around. “I see.”
“What’s his deal anyway?”
Bavandersloth sighed. “He is a very old lich, the oldest one I know about, and he’s very powerful. In fact, he’s so powerful, that he’s essentially immune from the conventions. He just runs about doing pretty much whatever he wants, and no one can stop him.”
“What does he want with me? He keeps approaching me in alleys and going on about ‘not using my power to preserve.’”
“He’s said similar things to others. He seems to make a hobby out of delivering this message to those liches with a code of ethics like yours.”
“Is he dangerous?”
“Yes, very much so. In fact,” Bavandersloth looked at Cody, “your friends and family are not safe if he’s been targeting you.”
Cody’s eyes widened and he stepped backwards. “What?”
“He has been known to kill the friends and family of his targets to teach his lesson, and he might do something like that to you.”
“Is there anything which will prevent him from--”
“The only thing I’ve seen work without fail is the abandonment of the offending behavior, in your case, the killing of criminals instead of innocents. If you’re not willing to do that, I can’t say what, if anything, will work.”
How did this keep happening? Ever since Cody became a lich, his loved ones seemed to be endangered more. Maybe Valthakar was right. If it really is possible for a single powerful lich to take away everything you love, perhaps there was no point in trying to protect it... No. Thinking like that wouldn’t help Cody save his family.
“Exactly how likely is he to strike?” Cody asked.
“Very. If you want my advice, I’d suggest you devour your loved ones yourself. That’s the only sure way to keep Valthakar from doing it.”
Cody’s eyes widened. “What? I can’t do that. How could you even suggest such a thing?”
“Because anything less will be insufficient in the long run, unless, as I said, you are willing to change up your diet.”
Cody thought. The only loved one he had who Valthakar knew about was Cherie. He thought of sending some of his souls to keep watch over her, but that would serve little purpose. They would be impotent to act when Valthakar struck. The most they could do was alert him to an attack, and they’d probably do so too late for him to do anything.
Cody tried to think of anything else which might help. He couldn’t.
“Is there any place to put Cherie where he can’t access her?”
“No. Now, I need to get to work. I have nothing left to tell you, so please go home. I suggest you find a way to make peace with taking innocent lives. You’re a lich. You’ll have to do it sooner or later.”
Cody arrived home intending to turn right back around and go to Lester’s house to plan. He took all of his school materials out of his backpack so he could fit most of Bavandersloth’s books in, along with his copy of On Soulless Ones. He selected a few other resources which he thought would be useful. It hadn’t occurred to him until he was on the bus that he should have looked through the school library for some books which might help. There’d be nothing on liches of course, but generic works on battle strategy or the like would be useful.
As Cody packed his bags, he heard a knock on his bedroom door. “Cody, there’s mail for you,” he heard his mother say. Cody set down his things on his bed and opened the door.
“Thanks, mom,” he said.
“You’re welcome Cody,” his mother replied, patting him on the head. She handed the letter to him and went downstairs. Cody looked at it. He opened it up.
“My Dear Friend Cody, I request your presence at the abandoned warehouse on Claudina Street tonight at 2:30 AM. There is something I wish to discuss. If you do not come, tell anyone about this letter, or try anything funny, I will destroy everything you hold dear. Be assured that several of my souls are monitoring you, including the one I’ve instructed to float directly behind you at all times, so you will not be able to get away with any tricks.”
Cody looked behind himself. He saw nothing, but the soul could have moved out of his line of sight. Souls could move at any speed they wished, and one that had been behind him less than a second ago could be in a distant galaxy by now.
“The lives of Cherie, Lester, and your parents will be forfeit if my souls see you as anything but a paragon of good faith. I hope you understand.
Sincerely, your friend and fellow agent of decay, Valthakar.
P.S. Yes, I do know where all of them live.
P.P.S. Don’t eat before coming. I’ll bring dinner.”
He knew. He knew who Cody was. He knew everything. Cody began breathing heavily. He forced himself to calm down. Going to Lester’s would almost certainly be counted as “trying something funny.” Even reading from his own book was dubious. All he could afford to do was pick up a novel from his shelf, and pretend to read it while he tried to plan. In the end, that’s exactly what he did.
That night, Cody arrived at the warehouse. He looked around and saw that there was no one there. Before he could suspect that Valthakar had tricked him, he heard the door open behind him. He turned around. It was Valthakar. He was carrying a boy about Cody’s age.
“Hello, Odelarch,” Valthakar said. “First, let me apologize for the tone of my letter. It’s very difficult to make threats like that kindly, so I long ago abandoned such attempts. Be assured that even if it might not make sense to you I am doing all of this for your benefit.”
“And why do you care about me learning your lesson so much? Why not just let me learn the hard way?”
“Because I must allow myself to care about something in order to pass my time, and I’ve chosen, among other things, the enlightenment of liches like you.”
“Why? Why not pick something what won’t make you so many enemies?”
“I have over four-million souls at my command, and all of the power that comes with them. I don’t have to worry about enemies.”
“Four-million?” Cody’s eyes widened. “How often do you feed?”
Valthakar smiled, “About one a night, plus any who oppose me, or who I must kill to advance my ends.”
Cody thought. “That… that would make you older than any civilization of any kind.”
“That is known in your age, yes.”
“What do you mean?”
Valthakar stood for a moment, and smiled. “Do you know how a lich’s clothing is selected?”
“A lich’s true form is given its garb based on, among other things, who they were before they became a lich; particularly, who they were in relationship to other mortals. For example, your poverty caused your true form to wear a simple robe made of rags, and Bavandersloth’s form still has the chains of his enslavement centuries ago. Now, look at my clothing. What am I dressed like?”
Cody looked. “A king, I suppose.”
“Yes, exactly, and that’s just what I was. Twelve-thousand years ago, I ruled over an island kingdom of unbelievable majesty. You call it Atlantis.”
Cody’s jaw dropped. He stumbled backwards. “At… Atlantis? Did I hear that right? You… you come from Atlantis?”
“Yes. Though we had only the tribes around us to be measured against at the time, our art, our culture, our ethics, and our philosophy have all yet to be paralleled by any civilization to come after us. Even our science has only in the past century been surpassed. I was a part of the long line of royals who ruled my kingdom in peace. We did not know war, for we had no rivals. We did not know want, for there was plenty of everything for everyone, and we barely knew hate, for there was no incentive for most to bother with it. Our people were happy, and their prosperity was my greatest joy as king. It was the greatest kingdom ever to exist on this planet. That was, until one day, it came under threat,” Valthakar smiled, “from the underworld itself.
“Liches started to appear from the populous, and to devour the people of my kingdom. This was during a time when liches were more direct servants of the underworld than they are now. The underworld had decided to use our kingdom as an outpost. The liches were meant to devour and overthrow me. They would then force my populous to use our technology to dominate the tribes around us, and force them into farms where they would be bred as heavily as possible. You see, the underworld is programmed to gather as much magical energy as it can. Since a new soul, one that it can capture, is created each time a new living being is brought forth, it generally used its liches as tyrants who would force their subjects to breed as heavily as possible.
“At the time, I was as benevolent as you, and thus was not going to allow that to happen to my people or to the tribes around us. I sent the military of Atlantis after them. But alas, we had been spoiled by peace, and did not have a strong enough force to defeat them. In order to protect my kingdom, and my people, I did something radical. I stole the book from one of the few liches my forces managed to kill, and asked the tome how the underworld enforced its orders on its servants. It answered that the underworld would inflict them with horrid bouts of pain and disease if they did not comply with every order it gave them.
“After careful consideration and thorough interrogation of the book as to the exact severity of these bouts, I made a decision. I chose to cast out my soul for my people. With her consent, I chose my mother’s pearl necklace as my Phylactery. She had always taught me to rule my people rightly, in justice, goodness, and truth, and I thought the necklace would serve as a reminder of the ideals I intended to uphold. Because I had become a lich with the intent of defeating other liches, my powers made me especially good at combatting them. I cast down the plague of them which had infested my kingdom until there wasn’t a single one left to terrorize those who I, as king, served as leader, and I endured the trials with which the underworld tempted me along the way. Even when I found the great beauty of my kingdom revolting, and even after I was forced to sentence the few criminals we had to be my own sustenance, I still continued to uphold the interests of my people as best I could.
“I persevered with great fortitude through all of the punishments which the underworld sent to me, and fought off its monsters and liches until it gave up on this planet, at which point it finally stopped trying to punish me for defying it. I went on to rule my kingdom in peace for a few centuries. I thought that the kingdom I believed in, and the people I cared for, would survive. I thought that I had conquered the underworld itself, and I had. I had defeated everything it had sent, made due to every trial, and adapted to every consequence of the battle. I had become a lich to preserve this kingdom, its art, its values, its thought, and its people, for whom I cared so much that I cast out my soul, fought monsters, and endured the trials of the underworld for them. But then, one day, out of nowhere, and for no reason I could deduce, well, you know how the story of Atlantis goes.”
“It… sank?” Cody asked.
“Yes. It sank! For no obvious reason, some lights, whose identity I’m still yet to discern to this day, flashed in the sky and it sank. Every man woman and child I had sacrificed so much to protect perished. The luckiest drowned. The least fortunate were devoured by sharks.” Valthakar seemed to try to shed a tear. “It wasn’t fair. I had defeated the underworld itself. I had earned the preservation of my kingdom.”
Valthakar looked down. After a moment, he laughed and looked back up at Cody. “And yet the universe laughed at the folly with which I pretended I could preserve something in being. All of that sacrifice, all of that hardship, and all of those hard-fought victories against dragons and ogres and other such things, all of them were for nothing. A mere few hundred years later than it would have fallen to the liches had I done nothing at all, a span of time which by the time you are my age, you understand is barely anything at all, it sank. All of its glory and all of its people, were lost, never to be replicated again.” Valthakar chuckled. “Never to be possible to replicate again. From there, the history which was meant to befall this planet, the story of our Kingdom’s rising from nothing, and eventually uniting the entire world in peace and harmony, was replaced by the history you know. The history made up of slavery, bloodshed, violence and suffering, began, and continues to this day as the legacy of Atlantis’ fall. And thus I learned what you must learn too, Odelarch. Decay is the only constant in the universe, and the only thing all things have in common is that they will end.”
Cody stood there. He was frozen for several seconds.
“Now, I have brought a boy about your age. He is entirely innocent by your standards. Please, show me that you will heed my words. I promise you that I will not eat him if you do not. Now, devour him, or I shall have to teach you my lesson the hard way.”
Cody looked at the boy. He was unconscious, though he would ‘wake’ as soon as Cody scythed his soul, and he would suffer through the entire process of being digested. Cody clenched his fist. He couldn’t take an innocent life. It was out of the question. His compassion forbade him from even considering such a thing.
“The answer is no, Valthakar,” Cody said, returning his eye contact. “I give you my condolences for the loss of your kingdom, but I will not abandon my ideals. If your lesson is true, I will learn it in due time without your help.”
“Indeed you would, but for your sake, I shall teach you before then. Do not try to guard against it.” Valthakar called a multitude of souls together with him, and they formed a vortex around him, through which he was still visible. “In my twelve-thousand years, I have amassed the power to thwart any attempt you might make.” The vortex grew thicker and thicker with the souls he summoned, until he was totally hidden within it. It swirled about for a while. Cody heard what he thought was the boy screaming. A few seconds later, the cloud dissipated totally. Valthakar and the boy were nowhere to be seen.
Cody clenched his fist, looked down, and shed a tear.
Lester and Cody went up to Lester’s room after school the next day.
“So, what’s up man?” Lester asked.
Cody stood there for a second and looked down. After a moment, he looked back up. “You…” he gulped, “you’re not safe,” he said.
Lester’s eyes widened. “What? Why?”
“Valthakar, the lich I told you about, he’s made a threat. It’s vague, but it’s likely that he will try to kill you.”
Lester sat down on his bed. He looked down.
“I want to discuss a few measures to keep you safe.”
Lester looked up. “Like what?”
“Well, first, we need to develop a way of you contacting me in the event of danger.”
“Alright, got any ideas?”
Cody looked down. “None that are good.”
“What do you mean?”
Cody took a deep breath. “If you want,” Cody looked down and closed his eyes, “I can send some of my souls to monitor you.”
Lester’s jaw dropped. “What?”
Cody began tearing up. “If you’re willing to accept them, I’ll have three of my souls monitoring you at any given time. If anything happens, one of them will come and tell me.”
Lester looked Cody in the eye. “Cody, no. Don’t do that. I know you want to protect me, but using their labor is just wrong.”
“More wrong than letting you enter the same state as them, and under a less kind master? I have fifty-six souls available for this kind of work. If I have three of them monitoring you, Cherie, and both of my parents at all times, I’ll be able to arrange that they work in shifts of less than six hours a day, and as I devour more, those shifts will get smaller.”
Lester sat for a second. “And you really think this can hurt my chances of being killed?”
Cody fell to his knees, continuing to sob. “Yes. I’ve ran through every scenario in my mind a hundred times and it’s the only thing that’d give you any hope if he comes after you.”
Lester sat there for a second. “No,” he said. “I can manage.”
“No you can’t. Liches are too powerful. You won’t stand any chance at all. No human could ever hope to stop a lich from eating them, especially not with as few resources as you have.”
Lester looked down. “Well I won’t be alive on the back of slaves. You’re going to have to find some other way.”
“Well, if it happens when you’re home, I’ll call you.”
Cody shook his head. “You won’t be able to get to a phone in time. Besides, he’s not an idiot. He’ll be sure to strike when it’s as hard as possible for you to get to me.”
“Fine then.” Lester clenched his fist. “I’ll risk it.”
“Risk being a slave?”
“Yes. I’d rather be a slave than avoid being one by using slave labor.”
Cody looked down and took a deep breath. “Okay,” he said. “Let’s put aside the question of monitoring for now. If you do manage to get to a phone we need to discuss what I’ll do when I arrive.”
“Cody, I can tell when you’re lying. Are you planning to send souls anyway?”
Cody cried a little more, and then looked up at Lester. “What other choice do I have?”
“Maybe you could honor my desire to take the risk. This is a threat to my life, Cody. It’s my decision to make. You’re not the only one who has values.”
Cody looked down for a few seconds, and then stood up. “Okay.”
“You mean that?”
“Yes” Cody took a deep breath, “I do.”
“Okay then. So, when you do get to me--”
“When you do get to me…”
Cody took another deep breath. “When I get to you, the odds are slim that I’ll be able to beat Valthakar in a fight. Much more likely than me destroying him is me being able to get to you first.”
“I just want to know, if it comes down to it, should I take you to prevent him from doing so?”
Lester looked at Cody for a moment. “Do you really think that’s likely?”
Cody shed a tear. “It’s plausible.”
Lester thought for a moment. “If you have the chance to scythe me, you’d have the chance to kill me, right? To inflict some lethal injury on me?”
“Not necessarily. My scythe is about seven feet long, and I might be able to use it on you before I could get close enough to touch you. In a fight with Valthakar, every last bit of time will count, and the difference between when I can scythe your soul and when I can kill you with my touch of death might be enough time for Valthakar to get you, or block my access to you. I’ll want to err on the side of caution in the fight, so if… if I’m not sure,” Cody shed a tear, “I want to go for it.”
Lester put his head down and thought for a little while longer. He looked up. “Well, if you’re sure it’s the only way, do what you have to do. If at all possible, though, kill me before letting me be eaten by anyone. No offense Cody, but I don’t love hanging out with you that much.”
Cody took a deep breath. “Alright.”
“What about your parents, or Cherie? What if you end up in the same situation with them?”
Cody took a deep breath. “I’ll do what I have to do.”
“And you think they’ll be okay with that?”
Cod put his head down. “I think that I know things they don’t.”
“The recording has started,” Valthakar’s soul said.
Valthakar grinned. Things were as they needed to be for him to strike. Retaining his invisibility, he crept inside the house where his victim sat. The soul who had been monitoring his victim led him to the correct room. Valthakar observed his victim. She was in a video chat with a friend.
“I know, can you believe it?” the woman in the house said.
“No. No I cannot, I must admit,” the other one said.
A baby began to cry. “Hold on, I need to check on the baby.”
“Alright. Latoya, when you get back, can I show it to you?”
“Yeah, yeah. It must be horrible if you just had to record my reaction.”
“Oh trust me, it is. It’s called ch--”
Valthakar activated his veil of darkness, a tool he hadn’t used in a long time, and entered the room. He tackled the woman as she screamed.
“Latoya? Latoya!” cried the woman on the other end of the chat.
The raucous caused the baby to wail at the top of its lungs. Valthakar held the woman. He inflicted a scratch across her stomach. He moved it down from her breast to her belly button, carving the most painful path he could manage. “Help,” Latoya screamed. Next, he brought another scratch to her forehead, then another one. “Call someone,” Latoya shouted at her fried on the other end of the computer. The next scratch went across the eyes. The next one went across the nose. He continued down her face, and then across, until he scratched out a grid of wounds. He pushed her head outside of the cloud, to make sure the camera got a good look at Latoya’s face as it dripped with blood and tears and as she screamed in desperate agony. He did similar things to her arms and legs, hands and feet. He made sure blood hit the camera’s lens on at least two occasions. He infested her body with holes, resembling the paths caused by wriggling worms as they crawled through her, devouring her flesh. Horrible burns began to appear on her skin, while frostbite began to consume her fingers and toes. At one point, she was made to vomit blood onto the surrounding area. His torture of her went on for several minutes. Finally, when Valthakar was confident he’d gotten all the footage anyone would need, he scythed Latoya’s soul and ate it. He then made her body decay away into nothingness.
Valthakar moved away from where Latoya had been, and walked over to the crib. He deliberately went behind it so the camera would get a better shot of him picking up the baby. It cried and struggled, but its efforts were futile. Valthakar began making similar scratches across the baby’s face and body. Once he’d carved out a similar grid, he held the baby outside of his cloud for the camera to see. From there, he gave the infant the same treatment he’d given Latoya. When he was done, he once again held the baby out for the camera. He was covered in burns. His limbs were frozen. He was full of holes, and his flesh was torn as with a whip. His eyes were bleeding. His broken bones pierced through his soft flesh, and his mouth was dripping with blood. After the baby was finished crying for the camera, Valthakar scythed and ate the baby’s soul. He came out from behind the crib and sat in front of the computer, looking right into the camera. He could see the face of the woman on the other side of the camera. She was frozen, seemingly in shock. He smiled. “More are coming,” he said into the camera, “and not just from around here.”
Valthakar got up and walked out of the room. He exited the house, and ran back to his mansion.
Bavandersloth was waiting for Cody when he got off the school bus the next day. Cody saw him and walked over to him
“You’re coming with me,” Bavandersloth said.
“Now? I have a class to get to. Can’t it wait? I mean, I don’t think I’ve done anything wrong--”
“I can handle that later. You need to see what’s on television right now.”
Bavandersloth pulled Cody back to the library and into the back room. There was a small television in the corner. It was currently playing a commercial.
“What’s going on?”
Bavandersloth fiddled with the volume on the television. “Valthakar has struck.”
Cody’s eyes widened. “What? Who?”
“Hold on, it’s starting.” Bavandersloth crossed his arms.
The commercial break ended. A news program came on.
“We’re here live to hear a press conference from the Goldfalls chief of police due to new developments in the ‘Angel of Death’ case.”
Cody gasped. “What?”
Bavandersloth shushed him.
“…the serial killer dubbed the ‘Angel of Death,’ up until now defended by many as a well-meaning or even noble vigilante, has now been caught on camera mutilating eighteen year old Latoya Stevenson and her infant son.” The footage began playing. “These images were recorded by Latoya’s webcam during an online chat with her friend Adriana Merritt. Here, the Angel of Death’s signature cloud can be seen enveloping Latoya, and then her baby. In footage too graphic for us to show Latoya and the infant are” the reporter swallowed, “Latoya and the infant are mutilated. The tape ends with a terrifying promise that more killings are to come. The people of Goldfalls are demanding answers. We cut now to a press conference with Chief of Police Sabrina Finch.”
Cody cried. Latoya… He’d worked so hard to save her. Now all of that had been for nothing. Valthakar ate her and her son too. How did he even know about her? He must have been monitoring Cody much more than Cody knew, and with some souls very skilled at evading detection. As Cody thought, a chill ran down his spine, as though someone was watching him.
The reporters were thick and noisy outside the police station where the chief of police was giving the conference.
“Chief Finch, how much progress is being made on catching the Angel?”
“We have our best detective on the case. We are assured that he is making progress. He has had a list of suspects for a while, and it is only a matter of time before he finishes narrowing them down. In addition, the FBI is intent on sending agents to assist in the investigation.”
“What can the people of Goldfalls do to protect themselves from this creature?”
“If he should arrive, call 911. We’re working on building a task force specifically to respond to such calls.”
“Ma’am, why would a killer who used to fear going into large crowds deliberately send a message like this?”
“The original assessment of him as a vigilante has been shown to have been incomplete. The department now suspects that his urge to kill is more deep seated than was previously thought.”
“What of the rumors that the department knew the Angel was active and didn’t inform the public?”
“They are baseless nonsense. We would never deceive the public about an active serial killer.”
“Do you have anything to say to the killer, and to the people of Goldfalls?”
“Yes. To the killer, I want you to know that whoever you are, we will find you. Your powers cannot and will not save you forever, and with the resources we are giving to your case, it is only a matter of time before we manage to expose you for who and what you are. To the people of Goldfalls I say this: Know that the people sworn to protect and serve you are hard at work, and they will yield results. We will not let our city down. We will find this monster and bring him to justice, and he will stand before you, the people, to be punished for what he has done.”
Bavandersloth turned off the TV. “Don’t be fooled by their pretend tears for Latoya,” he said. “The American public has never cared half that much for a poor, obese, black woman or the child she had out of wedlock, gruesome footage or none. Consciously or not, at least two thirds of what seems to be outrage is in fact mere selfish fear that they will meet the same fate. Valthakar has made them feel unsafe, and there is little they will not do to make that feeling go away.”
Cody stood in place for a second. “What does this mean for me?”
“You’ll never enter another hospital. Not for a few centuries at least.”
Cody’s eyes widened. “What?”
“It was silly of me to ever concoct a scheme which might allow you to do so, and I apologize for the false hope I gave you. At this point, I doubt I will ever be able to recover public ignorance totally. The best I can hope to do is keep this whole ‘Angel of Death’ incident totally shrouded in mystery, and work toward a new and acceptable status quo.”
“But I have to save--”
“I have to save people too, Cody. I have a responsibility as a leader in the community of liches to protect our kind from extermination. You understand that that’s what’s going to happen to us unless I act in precisely the correct way, right? And that way doesn’t involve taking any risks.”
Cody looked down and took a deep breath. “Fine. Anything else?”
“Yes. Be aware that if you slip up, you will be culpable for the exposure of the public to the existence of our kind, and it will mean your termination.”
Cody gulped. He took another deep breath. “Alright. As that all?”
Bavandersloth took a deep breath as well. “Yes, that is all.” He turned away from Cody. “At this point, there is a part of me which finds it more likely that I’ll be able to find some agreement with humanity than continue this masquerade, but I know this is not the case. The very reason for the first convention is just the sort of fear that you are seeing right now. Humans would never be so rational as to speak with us about such an arrangement, even if there were two-thousand souls a day they were willing to consign to slavery. Though, in truth, there probably are.”
Williams and Donna sat in the courthouse parking lot.
“This doesn’t make sense,” Williams said, grumbling.
“Maybe the chief is right. What if he’s been the same kind of person who normally kills like this, but has only now worked up the courage to kill an innocent or be caught on camera?”
“No. No one with that kind of urge to kill would have any reservations about killing innocents, not unless they were a vampire or somethi…” Could that be it? Could it be that the Angel killed out of some sort of necessity? No, that wasn’t likely. Nothing was missing from the body of the first victim that wouldn’t have been expected as a result of the diseases the victim had, so unless it was to be believed that he devoured his victim’s souls, it was unlikely that he drew sustenance from them. In addition, a person had been found unconscious in an alley the previous night surrounded by droplets of blood from cuts he didn’t have. The Angel had fulfilled his normal M. O.
“Maybe he had some grudge with Latoya Stevenson?” Donna asked.
“Maybe, but as far as we know, none of our suspects ever had anything to do with her.” Williams paused for a moment. He could only think of one way to make sense of this. “Perhaps though, more than one person has the Angel’s powers.”
“More than one?”
“Yes. What if there is another figure with the same abilities, and he perpetrated this murder, perhaps knowing the Angel would be blamed?”
Donna looked up. “That’s possible, but why would they?”
“I can’t say. It could be that someone unrelated to the original Angel had reason to kill her, and they simply took advantage of the fact that the first Angel would be blamed. It could also be that creatures like this have some need or urge to kill which is utterly different than anything that exists in normal humans.”
Donna sat back. She took a deep breath. “I miss the days when things make sense.”
“Everything makes sense Donna. If it seems not to, that just means you don’t understand it.”
Donna sighed. “Whatever. Do you want me to look for individuals who might have reason to kill her?”
“Yes, please do. There’s just one other thing that troubles me.”
“The baby. If it were just about her, why kill the baby too?”
“Perhaps the killer was after revenge?”
“Maybe, but then why not kill the baby first and force Latoya to watch?”
“Perhaps it was against someone related, like the child’s father, or Latoya’s mother?”
“Could be. Please look into people who might have motive to do that as well.”
That night, Cody arrived at Cherie’s house. He was greeted by her at the door. She smiled at him.
“Hi Cody,” she said.
“Hi Cherry,” he said.
Cody followed her to her living room. They talked. Cody droned on about his interests as he usually did. Cherie listened. She always found his words fascinating. Eventually, though, the conversation turned to the events of the day.
“By the way, did you hear?” Cherie asked with a frown on her face.
“Hear what?” Cody asked.
“The… thing that saved me, it killed a baby.”
“Oh, yeah,” Cody took a deep breath. “I heard.”
Cherie put her head down. “Why? Why would he do that? Why would anyone do that?” She looked back at Cody. “Why would he save me, and then kill a baby?”
“I don’t know,” Cody said.
Cherie cried. “I don’t either.” She looked up. “Right now I just hope he’s brought to justice. As much as I’m glad that I’m alive, I hate that I had to be healed by a monster like that.”
Cody remained silent.
“The worst part is,” Cherie’s sobbing intensified, “I know it was someone I love. Someone I know and trust used some… some freaky… whatever it was to torture and kill a baby. It might have been my father, my mother, my grandma, or even you.” She put her head in her hands and continued to sob.
Cody put his hand on her shoulder. “You know I’d never kill a baby.”
Cherie looked up at Cody. “I know that about everyone I love, but one of them did.” She buried her face back in her hands. “I have no idea who it was. The only thing I know is that I hate them. They think they can just give and take life, like I’d want them to heal me by killing someone else.” Her sobbing intensified. Cody hugged her as it continued.
Valthakar sat in his home, or rather that of Kenneth Kurt Rogers. He meditated on the energy he sensed from the golden falls. He was sure it was the very same energy he had sensed on that fateful day. He had seen two lights in the sky. One was bright green, the other dark violet, and from the violet light, he had felt the very same feeling he felt now. One of pure apathetic, blank nothingness. Perhaps something was returning, or perhaps he had only recently grown powerful enough to sense it again. Either way, he was determined to find out what was wrong with those falls. He had to let himself care about something.
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