Det. Williams entered the room where Cody was being held. Cody sat next to a state appointed representative. Cody was crying. Williams sat on the hard metal chair across from Cody and looked at him. This was the Angel of Death. Williams was certain of that. The boy that sat across from him had killed more than sixty people. Williams pressed his lips together as he looked over at one of the officers in the room. “Has he been read his rights?” Williams asked.
“Yes,” the officer said.
“Excellent.” Williams looked over at the boy. He didn’t look like much of a murderer. He was short, chubby, and had a certain innocence about him, but Williams had learned long ago that you could never judge a man by his appearance.
“Hello Cody,” Williams said, “how are you?”
“My client will not be answering any questions,” the lawyer said.
“I think that’s his decision to make,” Williams said. He smiled. “Tell me Cody, how are you? I’m sure this whole ordeal has been hard on you.”
Cody looked down, but didn’t speak. Williams leaned over the table, closer to Cody. “Tell me Cody, am I right to think that you need to kill in order to live?” Cody looked up at Williams. His eyes widened. That was all the confirmation Williams needed.
“That’s an absolutely outrageous accusation,” the lawyer said.
“Shut up,” Williams said. “I’m speaking with your client, not you.” Williams fixed his gaze back on Cody. “Tell me,” Williams said, “can I expect to see a killing from you tonight? You’ll be locked up in here, so there’ll be no way for you to escape to kill anyone. I don’t think a jury will need any more proof than that to convict you, especially after we keep you here all the way to trial, and not a single murder occurs. It’s not like you’ll be able to afford bail.” Cody’s crying intensified. This boy was worse than average at hiding his emotions.
“Think about it Cody. You can either force us to try you for murder, a trial which you’ll have no serious prospects of winning, or you can confess to everything you’ve done right here and right now, and again when your arraignment comes.” Cody put his hand over his face. Williams leaned further over the desk, bringing his head closer to Cody’s. “I know you want to do good, Cody. I know you’re trying to do what’s right. That’s obvious from your actions. You’ve been cursed somehow with the need and power to kill. Am I right about that? Well, think of everything to be gained, by you and by the human race, if you were to submit yourself for analysis. I have no doubt there’s at least one other creature like you, the one that killed Latoya Stevenson, as well as Cherie’s neighbors, and several others. I’d imagine there are several more creatures like you, too. You could help safeguard humanity against all of them. A lot of people won’t be killed by creatures like you if you tell us everything you’ve done. I’m sure everyone who knows you will understand if you confess.”
Cody’s crying intensified again, but he was trying to hide it. Williams softened his voice. “Look, I feel sorry for you. I doubt you chose this, and I know you’ve tried to do everything you could right after what happened to you. But sometimes, situations come up where we have to do something hard even when we don’t want to. You seem like a nice young man from everything I’ve heard. What if it’s possible for you to find a way for you not to kill? Wouldn’t you like to learn about it if there were?”
Cody looked down and away from Williams and wiped away another tear.
“Look,” Williams said, “even if it’s not possible, wouldn’t you like to go down helping people?”
“Detective,” the lawyer said, “are you seriously accusing my client of being some kind of monster with magical powers? Do you even realize the absolute outrageousness of the accusations you’re making?”
Williams looked up at the lawyer. “Considering that we know someone with eight or so abnormal powers is running about, I don’t think it’s any less likely to be him than anyone else,” Williams turned back toward Cody. “In fact, I’m sure it’s him,” Williams pressed his lips together, “and after you miss a killing tonight or tomorrow, the world will be just as sure as I am.” Williams sat back. “There’s no way out of this Cody, so why not spare your community the expense of a trial? Anything that’ll happen as a result of a confession will happen eventually once you’re convicted of more than sixty counts of first degree murder, so why not speed up the process? After all, if it is possible to arrange that you don’t need to kill, you’ll want to get started on trying to find a way as soon as possible, given that you’ll certainly never manage to kill again. Wouldn’t you like that?”
Cody was no longer trying to hide his tears.
“Look,” Williams said, “like I said I’m genuinely sorry for what’s happened to you, and I want to help, but in order for me, or the community to help you, you need to admit what you’ve done and promise us your cooperation. At worst, your sacrifice might help save countless lives.” Cody looked down. Williams leaned in closer. “At best, your condition might be curable. Even if it seems to you like there’s no hope, ask yourself, do you really know that for sure?”
Cody’s crying intensified. Williams looked down for a second before snapping back up. He looked at Cody for a few minutes. Based on his reaction, the boy clearly believed his condition to be incurable. Perhaps it was. Cody was in more of a position to know than Williams was, and it was entirely possible that he’d gotten some reliable assurance that there was nothing to be done.
Indeed, the prospect of letting himself die seemed to elicit a reaction, as though that might be impossible as well.
Williams looked at Cody. “Tell me Cody, is there some reason you can’t let yourself suffer the consequences of not killing; more than just it being unpleasant or even fatal to you?”
Cody looked down and to the left. This was an expression of shame and sadness, clearly, but what caused it? Was he ashamed that he had to do what he did and sad that he couldn’t avoid it, or ashamed that he did it despite not strictly having to, and sad that he was too weak to avoid it?
Williams tried to think of a question which would elicit a different reaction in each of those scenarios. He thought of one. “Cody, if there’s nothing you can do about it, it’s alright. No one will blame you for what you’ve done, especially since you and I both know that you only killed the criminals.”
Cody shed another tear. If there truly was nothing he could do about it, those words ought to have lifted him out of his sadness somewhat. Williams sat back up in his chair. “Look, even if you didn’t strictly have to kill, people will understand if your urge was too powerful to resist.”
Cody covered his forehead with his hand as tears streamed down his. More shame and sadness. So it was an urge, not a need.
Bavandersloth lay back in his mansion reading a book. Not his usual fair of historical documents, but a book on government. As he read, enjoying the warmth of his fireplace, one of his souls approached him.
When he noticed the soul, Bavandersloth closed his book, marking his place with his finger. He looked up at the soul. “What is it?” he asked.
“Odelarch has been arrested,” the soul said.
Bavandersloth’s eyes widened. He sat up, closing his book and setting it down. “What happened?”
“Williams seems to have figured out his identity. He’s interrogating him right now. Odelarch hasn’t spoken yet, but Williams seems to be figuring quite a bit out from just how he’s reacting to things. He plans to hold him for a few days.”
Bavandersloth looked forward and thought. He looked up at the soul. “Go back and resume monitoring him. If anything new happens, come tell me. If it becomes necessary, reveal yourself to Odelarch. I’d rather him know I’m keeping tabs on him than have him give something up thinking that there’s no escape on the way.”
Bavandersloth sat back and thought. He couldn’t just post bail. It would look too suspicious for Cody’s inexplicably wealthy school librarian to bail him out, and it would be a temporary solution anyway. He had to think of something that would free Cody without implicating him. He wracked his brain, trying to think of a plan.
Williams leaned back over the table. “Cody, I empathize with you. What’s happened to you is tragic, and if your urge to kill is as strong as it seems to be, I don’t blame you even one bit for what you’ve done.” Williams fought a tear of his own. “I mean that. You’ve been given a terrible curse--” Cody looked away. Williams’ eyebrow rose. Had he been cursed? That’s what Williams had assumed, but that reaction indicated he blamed himself somehow.
Of course, just because he blamed himself didn’t mean it was really his fault. “Cody, what made you into what you are?” Cody lowered his head, still crying. “Did someone else do this to you?” Cody turned his head away. Shame, indicating that he’d done this himself.
“Did you know you’d end up with the urge to kill?” Williams asked. Cody shed another tear, indicating the answer was yes. “Did you think you’d be able to control it?” Cody’s head sank deeper. Williams wasn’t sure what that meant. “Cody, if it’s just an urge, it’s possible that you’ll learn to control it. Wouldn’t you like to be able to do that?” Cody covered his face.
“Don’t be so quick to assume that that’s not possible,” Williams said. “Perhaps it gets easier for creatures like you over time? If that’s even possible, don’t you want to try to make it happen?” Cody’s crying intensified. Perhaps he did have a good reason to think it wasn’t possible. Indeed, it seemed that he did. Either way, he was still guilty, and the state probably wouldn’t care how truly morally responsible he was, given how dangerous his abilities made him.
Well that was it then. The lack of killings for two nights in a row would be enough for the prosecutor to charge him, and his failure to commit any murders while he was behind bars, or else the obvious signs of his means of escape if his urge overpowered him, would be enough to see him convicted. And perhaps, if it was possible, helped.
Williams sat back in his chair and crossed his legs. “We’re going to take you to your cell now, Cody,” he said. “Any time you want to confess, or tell us anything, simply ask for a guard.”
Cody nodded as he looked down and cried.
The police officers led Cody to his cell. Cody stepped in. Cody heard a metallic bang as the door slammed behind him. He turned around. He saw the officers walking away. He sat down on the bed and cried for several minutes. Williams was right. There was no way out of this without exposing himself.
Cody lay back on the bed. He thought. He had to feed. There was no way around that. He also had to get to Cherie in time to heal her. Since he’d be exposed either way, he had to escape.
Cody put his head down. Of course, if he did just take on his true form and blast his way out, Bavandersloth would kill him for violating the first convention. Cody looked back up. His mouth widened. Bavandersloth was his way out of this. If Bavandersloth killed criminals while he was locked up, there wouldn’t be sufficient basis to charge Cody, and Williams would have to let him go. He’d miss two meals, but that wouldn’t be a problem.
Now all Cody needed to do was think of a way to get his message to Bavandersloth. Cody put his head down. He’d have to use a soul. Cody clinched his fist. His family was still in danger as long as Valthakar was about. If it was the only way to protect them, it was what Cody had to do.
Cody’s eyes widened. Either way, he realized, he’d probably not get out in time to heal Cherie. She would still die. Cody lay back, and sobbed. Valthakar was right. Everything he’d done, all of it, had been pointless. Cherie would die nearly as soon as she would have otherwise.
After a few minutes, Cody forced himself to sit up and look around. He had to focus. There were more people than her who he had to protect. He couldn’t see any cameras around. It was safe to summon a soul. Cody took a deep breath and summoned a soul he’d not used before. The soul appeared in front of him. He looked at Cody. “What is it, Master?” he asked.
Cody fought through his tears. “Go contact Bavandersloth. Tell him I’m trapped in here, and that I need him to feed as I do so it won’t look like I’m guilty. I also need him to keep Valthakar from killing my family.” Cody gave the soul Bavandersloth’s address.
“Yes, Master,” the soul said. He flew off. Cody lay back down. He was all cried out.
Bavandersloth retained his invisibility as he ran up to the police station. He had a plan. He smiled. He looked around for a door. Eventually, he found one. He sent a soul inside the building to make sure there was no one around. When the coast was clear, Bavandersloth rotted the lock off of the door and went inside. After searching for a while, he was able to find a basement. He went down. There was only one human down there. Bavandersloth approached him, still invisible. He scythed and ate the man’s soul, then summoned another soul to reanimate the human’s body.
Bavandersloth walked over to a metal box which contained the building’s breakers. He called one soul for each wire, and commanded each of them to follow theirs. When they were done, the souls reported back to Bavandersloth, who severed the wires connected to the smoke detectors.
Bavandersloth went back upstairs. After a while, he found the break room. He looked inside. There were two people in the room, a man and a woman. Bavandersloth ordered a few of his souls to keep watch nearby.
Bavandersloth entered the room. He put his hands on both of the officers and killed them with a thought. He summoned two more of his souls to animate their bodies. Next, he went into a bathroom and found a rag. He covered it in hand sanitizer from the counter. He took the coffee pot off of the coffee maker, and set the rag in its place. He left the maker on.
Bavandersloth left the room, and then the station. He sent one of his souls to alert Cody to escape.
Cody was still lying in his cell. Despite his best efforts, his thoughts wandered, over and over, back to Cherie, unconscious on a hospital bed as doctors tried and failed to heal her.
As he lay, Cody heard someone calling to him. “Odelarch,” they said. Cody turned his head. “Odelarch,” Bavandersloth sent me. The building is on fire.
Cody’s eyes widened. “What?” He rose to his feet.
“One of my friends is animating one of the guards. He should be here in a moment to unlock your cell. When he arrives, take your true form, cast your cloud, and run straight through the door I lead you to.”
It was only a few seconds before the guard showed up. She unlocked the cell. Cody changed forms and darted out, following the soul outside. As he ran, he passed other prisoners. They shouted at him. He closed his eyes and looked down.
“Is the fire department coming?” Cody asked.
“Probably,” the soul said, “but they’ll most likely be too late to save the building, or anyone too deep in it. My master has made sure exit is as difficult as possible. The only ways out that aren’t blocked are the front door, which couldn’t be blocked discretely, and the one I’m leading you too.”
“So all of these people are going to burn to death?”
Cody took a deep breath. He shed a tear. He couldn’t let any of them out. Any method of doing so would make it too obvious that the Angel had been here. As he ran down the hall, he took any opportunity he could to stop and use his powers on someone, especially someone in another jail cell. He inflicted lethal burns, often right in front of other screaming, and doomed, prisoners. Those burns would have been agonizing had they been delivered by fire, but Cody inflicted the whole process of burning to death in an instant, too quickly for it to cause any pain. Occasionally, Cody would shed a tear when he had to leave someone alive for the coming flames. Soon, the fire spread close enough that Cody could hear pained screams.
Eventually, the soul led Cody to the door. Cody retook his human form, and burst out through it. He found himself in an alley.
“What do I do now?” he asked the soul.
“Stand out in front of the police station. Stay far enough away that you’re in no danger, but no farther.”
Pretty Pink Ponytails sat in her cell, singing. “Pretty Pink Ponytails leaves a lot of bloody trails. Bones crack at my attack. It brings a smile that never fails. Pretty Pink Ponytails--”
“Hey, can you knock that off?” the woman in the next cell yelled.
As Pretty Pink Ponytails reached through the bars to make her to bye-bye, she smelled smoke. She smiled. Fire would be more painful than anything she could do without her toys, which were back at her playroom.
She turned around and looked up. She saw a window near the ceiling. It was too thin and too high up for most people, but not for her. She stepped up onto a bench in her cell and jumped up to the window, punching it out. It took her three tries to get enough glass cleared. After that, she jumped up one final time, and grabbed the ledge. She pulled herself up. As she crawled through the window, she found it a tight fit, and felt shards of broken glass dig into her. She was able to get out, though.
She jumped down to the ground on the other side, bleeding from her stomach with some shards of glass embedded. She ran off, looking to find her brother. As she ran, she felt light headed. She recognized the feeling. She knew it wasn’t from blood loss. Her eyes widened. She rushed home as soon as she could. Nita might be coming out, and she needed her big brother to lock her up.
Detective Williams sat in his office with Donna. As he shuffled some papers around, he heard someone shout. “Fire!”
He stood up. He and Donna ran for the door. He couldn’t smell any smoke, so he was sure the knob would be cool enough to touch. He tried to open it. He couldn’t. Something was blocking it. He and Donna pushed as hard as they could, but they couldn’t make the door budge. Williams got down. He looked underneath the door. He could see the bottom of something large blocking the doorway. He couldn’t tell what it was, but could tell it was a piece of furniture, not anything that fell down from above. This had been deliberate.
Williams thought. There was no way out of here. Who would do this? He had plenty of enemies, but there were far better ways to kill him than by trapping him in a burning police station.
It was absurd to think that someone would move that piece of furniture in front of his door in the middle of a fire, so it must have been moved before, which meant whoever had done this had set the fire. It couldn’t have been the Angel of Death. He knew from Pretty Pink Ponytails’ testimony that he was afraid of fire. At the same time, it had to be him. He must have still more powers that Williams didn’t know about.
No, even if he could do this, he wouldn’t, nor would the other creature like him likely have any reason to do this. You don’t go to all of the trouble of framing someone just to let them out. Wait, there was one possibility. Now that Cody was in prison, setting the place on fire would force him to reveal himself, or be killed. But why trap him? Williams’ eyes widened. He was the only one who knew that there were multiple Angels.
Williams turned around. He saw Donna crouching down next to him. They both lay down on their stomachs. They looked at each other.
“So this is it then,” Donna said.
“Most likely. No one will notice that we’re not coming out until it’s too late, and if the two of us together couldn’t move that thing away it’s probably heavy enough for moving it to take at least two, more likely three people; more than will stop to move it in the middle of a fire.”
Donna took a deep breath. She looked over at her desk, at a picture of her parents. She shed a tear. She looked back at Williams. She put out her hand. She smiled. “It’s been a pleasure working with you,” she said.
Williams took her hand. He nodded. “Same.”
As Williams predicted, no one came to rescue them as they lay. Eventually, they smelled smoke. They backed away from the door. They felt the heat of the fire as they saw it come into their room. Soon, the entire room was ablaze. The walls, the ceiling, the floor, Williams’ desk, containing everything he knew about the Angel of Death case, and recordings of all of the deductions no one else would likely make, all of it was bright and hot. Soon, Williams and Donna were bright and hot too. They screamed as the flames consumed their cloths, and then caught on their flesh. Williams reached out for Donna’s burning form. Neither of them could help screaming as their flesh melted and burned. They both closed their eyes. After a few minutes, Williams no longer heard Donna’s screaming. “Donna…” he mouthed, falling to the ground.
Cody stood outside of the police station, waiting. He assumed Bavandersloth had more planned. As he stood, Cody watched ambulances arrive.
A few minutes after Cody ran out, a police officer saw him. She did a double take, and ran over. Cody put his hands up when he saw her approaching. The officer got out her baton. “How’d you get out?” she asked.
Cody looked up at her. “One of the guards was going around opening cells.”
The officer looked at him and raised an eyebrow. She put away her baton. “I see.”
The officer got out her radio. “Johnson, one of the prisoners got out.”
“Really?” Cody heard.
“Yeah. In fact I think this was Williams’ Angel suspect.”
Cody’s eyes widened.
“Really? Well, won’t he be relieved. For now, I guess you should take him to your cruiser.”
Cody allowed her to cuff him and bring him to her car. He sat in the back. After a minute, he spoke to her. “Um… Excuse me, officer, what did the guy you were talking to mean about me being relieved?”
The officer put her feet up. “The prosecutor’s not gonna charge you with anything. The real Angel healed your girlfriend about half an hour before the fire started, while you were in your cell.”
Cody’s eyes widened. Bavandersloth didn’t have healing powers, and he’d told Cody that he didn’t have any friends that did either. Had he lied? Wait a second. Cody smiled. Cherry was okay. She’d live. She was out of danger, at least for now. He needed to talk to Bavandersloth about taking care of Valthakar permanently, but if Bavandersloth was able to pull this off, there might just be a chance.
Cody turned to his side as he heard a siren. He saw a burned body being rushed out of the station by paramedics. He looked down. “How many people survived the fire?” Cody asked.
“Not too many. The smoke detectors didn’t go off, so a lot of people probably got trapped inside before knowing to run out.”
“Including Det. Williams?”
The officer took a deep breath. “Possibly.”
Cody took a deep breath. Maybe Bavandersloth was able to get the help of another healing lich at the last minute.
After a few hours, Cody was released. The prosecutor decided not to charge him for breaking out of jail, and allowed him to go home.
That night, Cody snuck out of his house to feed earlier than he usually would. Once he had had his meal, he went out to Bavandersloth’s mansion. He knocked on the door. Bavandersloth opened it. “Oh, greetings Odelarch,” Bavandersloth said. “What brings you here?”
“Well, I’m wondering how you healed Cherie.”
“Ah, I was going to come see you in the morning about this. Please, come inside.”
Cody did. He sat in Bavandersloth’s great room. As he sat, he heard a voice upstairs. It sounded like it belonged to someone around ten years old. He couldn’t make out what it said.
“Excuse me,” Bavandersloth said. He went upstairs. Cody raised an eyebrow. After about a minute, Bavandersloth came back down.
“Who was that?” Cody asked.
Bavandersloth put his feet up. “That was the lich who healed Cherie.”
Cody’s eyes widened. “What?”
“Please, Odelarch, don’t be so upset.”
Cody looked at Bavandersloth. “You brought a kid into this.”
“You’re a kid.”
“Yeah, but like, a young kid. He sounded, what, ten?”
“And you made him into a soul eating monster?”
“He said the chant of his own free will. I just gave him the book and told him what powers he needed to make sure he’d get.”
Cody stood up. “But he’s just a little kid.” Cody noticed something out of the corner of his eye. He looked up. He saw the child standing at the top of the stairs. Bavandersloth turned around.
“Come down, Justin” Bavandersloth said. “Introduce yourself to the Angel of Death.”
Cody was silent. The child walked down the stairs of the mansion. He sat down in front of Cody. “Hi,” he said, holding out his hand, “I’m Justin, Justin Cooper.”
Cody grabbed Justin’s hand and shook it. “I’m Cody Giles.”
“I understand if you don’t think I’m ready.”
“Bavandersloth told me what I’d have to do once I got these powers, but I’m not worried. I just have to keep killing bad guys and helping people every night, right, like you do?”
“Well, yeah, but--”
“But what? I’m going to be saving people. Plus, I won’t just fight criminals. I’ll also fight evil liches, like you did with that Nazi.”
Cody started to speak, but Bavandersloth interrupted him. “Speaking of which, tomorrow, we’re going to take out Valthakar.”
“What? I thought you said he couldn’t be--”
“Not without me,” Justin said, grinning.
“When I gave him the book, I told him to intend two things when he became a lich, healing Cherie, and getting Valthakar’s Phylactery. Hence, he’s gotten a special power. If he’s close enough to a lich, any lich, he can make their Phylactery appear in his hand.”
“I see,” Cody said, taking a deep breath, “but why would he go along with this?”
Justin put his head down, and as a tear formed in the corner of his eye. Cody looked at him. “What is it?” he asked.
Justin cried. “Earlier tonight,” he said, “Valthakar…” He was silent for a moment.
“Valthakar killed his parents,” Bavandersloth said.
Justin nodded. “Bavandersloth was barely able to get me out of the house in time,” he added through light sobs.
Cody’s eyes widened. He looked at Bavandersloth, and then back at Justin. He put his hand on Justin’s shoulder.
“Justin wants to keep as many people from being hurt by liches as possible,” Bavandersloth said. “He’s a lot like you in a way.”
“I know it’ll be hard,” Justin said, “but I’m ready to do what I have to do to help people.”
Cody took a deep breath. “Alright,” he said.
Bavandersloth looked up at the clock. “You know, something occurs to me.”
Cody looked at him. “What?”
“It’s not even midnight yet. If we wanted to, we could go take care of Valthakar now.”
Justin looked up. “Yes. Let’s do it.”
Cody looked at him, then up at Bavandersloth. “Are we sure he’s ready? Has he even had his first meal yet?”
“It’s best to take care of Valthakar as soon as possible, and I’m sure he’s ready.”
Cody looked down. He sighed. “Alright.” He looked back up.
Justin looked at Cody. “Don’t worry,” he said, “I’m ready.”
Cody took a deep breath. “If you say so.”
“So how do we find Valthakar anyway?” Cody asked.
“I have one of my souls tracking him,” Bavandersloth said.
Cody took a deep breath. “We’ll take your car then, I guess?”
Bavandersloth nodded. “Yes.”
The three walked out. They got into Bavandersloth’s car.
Bavandersloth’s car raced toward Valthakar’s neighborhood. According to Bavandersloth’s soul, he was in a house he’d taken.
Bavandersloth took a drink of soda as he drove.
“How far are we?” Justin asked.
“Not far,” Bavandersloth said. “Only a few minutes.”
Justin took a deep breath. He put his hand in his pocket. Bavandersloth reached the gate that guarded Valthakar’s neighborhood. He stopped in front of a guard at a booth. “Hello sir, what business do you have here?” the guard asked.
Bavandersloth took off his seat belt, and took his true form. It was nearly naked, with only a loin cloth to cover itself. From its wrists and ankles dangled rusty chains. Bavandersloth looked at the guard. “You should let us in,” he said. “Also, you did not see, are not seeing, and will not see anything out of the ordinary tonight to do with us.”
The guard was dazed. He nodded, not saying a word. He pressed a button and opened the gate. Bavandersloth drove the car inside.
“Valthakar probably knows we’re coming,” Cody said.
“I know,” Bavandersloth said. “He’s waiting for us. He also probably knows about Justin, and his powers. It shouldn’t matter. I’ve stacked the deck in my favor. All that Justin must do is will himself to acquire Valthakar’s phylactery, and then hand it to me.”
Cody raised an eyebrow. “Wait, why hand it to you? Why not just smash it?”
“There is a spell I want to cast on it, one that might allow me to prevent things like this, like Valthakar I mean, from happening in the future. Valthakar isn’t the only lich old enough that policing him is a difficult task.”
Cody looked at Bavandersloth. He tilted his head.
There was a light fog in the air as they pulled up to Valthakar’s house. The three got out of their car and looked around. No one was outside. “Time to take our true forms.”
Cody nodded and transformed.
Justin nodded. “Right.” Justin took a deep breath and transformed. His true form was as tall as Cody’s and Bavandersloth’s. It was clothed in silky white garb. The outfit seemed to be one piece, but there was elastic evident around the waste. The outfit was pure white, save for two bright red stains; one on the front, which was round and about one foot in diameter and, as Cody saw when Justin walked in front of him, one in back, which was an oval about a yard high and two feet wide, eclipsing a good deal of the garment.
The three approached Valthakar’s house. Bavandersloth called his soul and ordered it to give him a report. Valthakar was waiting right inside for the three to open the door. He was ready to fire a shot at them. Bavandersloth sent the soul back in. He turned to the others. “Stand clear of the door,” he said. The children nodded, and each stood to the side. Bavandersloth ripped the door off, stepping to the side with it. A fireball came out from inside. The three heard Valthakar’s voice.
“Hello,” he said. “You’re free to come on in if you want; especially little Tkoralkiarch.”
Justin grabbed a rock and threw it in front of the door. A fireball was shot at it.
“I see you’re not in the visiting mood,” Valthakar said. “That’s too bad. I was hoping I could have another talk with Odelarch. If you’re unwilling though, I suppose there’s no way to force you. Of course, there’s really no way for Tkoralkiarch to use his powers without coming in here. The tome is a snitch that way. It told me just how far away I needed to be, so I made sure he’d have to be well inside here to get my phylactery. Really, you might as well leave.”
Justin gritted his teeth. He turned to the others. “Any ideas?”
Cody thought for a moment. He turned to Bavandersloth. “Will our magical shields be able to stop his shots?”
“No. None of us are powerful enough.” Bavandersloth thought for a moment. His eyes widened. “But I can think of one thing. Each time one of his shots breaks one of our shields, its power will go down. It will have to use a bit of its energy. If we can surround Tkoralkiarch in all three of our shields, their combined force might be able to render the resulting shot survivable.”
Valthakar laughed inside the house. “Ha. That will never work. Need I remind you that I am ten-thousand years old? Or that I have the power of thirty-million souls on my side? Even all three of your shields couldn’t stand up to a blast from me.”
“Bavandersloth, is that true?” Justin asked.
“I don’t know. It’s the only thing I can think of to try though. We’ll layer our shields. Justin, yours is the weakest, so it’ll be the farthest away from you. Odelarch, yours will come next. Mine will be last, and it will hopefully bear the brunt of the blast.”
Justin looked down, then took a deep breath and clinched his fists. He nodded his head “Alright.”
Cody nodded too. He stood back, preparing to cast a shield.
“On my mark,” Bavandersloth said.
All three of the liches cast their shields, and advanced so that they would surround Justin. Justin ran in, going a few feet into the room. Valthakar fired a magical blast at him. Cody closed his eyes, and concentrated on keeping the shield up. He heard Justin’s shield break, and then felt his fail. Almost immediately afterward, he heard Bavandersloth’s shield fail. The blast of magical energy knocked Justin out of the house. He was unconscious, and shifted back to his human form. A large part of his torso was missing, the entire middle third, save for a thin strip of flesh. Cody fought the urge to stare at the pleasing image of the leaking entrails. He forced himself to look over at Justin’s hand. In it, there was a necklace.
Bavandersloth ran over to the necklace. He grabbed it and jumped back. Valthakar ran out, but Bavandersloth closed his eyes and cast a spell. As Valthakar emerged from his house, he stumbled, falling to the ground. He looked up at Bavandersloth.
“Really?” Valthakar was stammering. He chuckled. “A will binding spell? I didn’t think even you would sink that low.”
Bavandersloth looked at Valthakar. “Then you underestimated me.”
Valthakar fell unconscious. Bavandersloth shifted back to his true form, and advised Cody to do the same. He did.
“What did you just do?” Cody asked.
“I cast a curse on him. His soul is now affected by the same magic as a devoured one. He cannot help but obey my every command, and cannot bring himself to defy my will.”
Cody’s eyes widened. He stepped back. “Oh, um, why didn’t you just kill him?”
“It’d be a waste of his power. If I had killed him, he would be gone. This way, the most powerful lich on the earth is as my command, mine to use as I please.”
“Oh, uh, okay then.” Bavandersloth picked Valthakar up, and Cody picked up Justin. The small strip of flesh nearly broke as Cody lifted it off the ground. He had to catch the boy’s legs.
“By the way,” Cody said, “there’s one thing I’ve been wondering.”
“I’m just thinking, wasn’t it quite the coincidence that you just happened to be around when Valthakar was killing Justin’s parents?”
“I was tracking Valthakar.”
“Well, yeah, but you managed to get to that house just in time to save Justin when--”
Bavandersloth turned around. “Cody, do you care about him?”
Cody stumbled back. His eyes widened. “What?”
“Do you care about Justin?”
Cody took a deep breath. He felt a bead of sweat fall down his forehead. “Oh. I guess.”
“Then I’d like to recommend against encouraging him to pursue any lines of thought that might cause him to uncover truths about my actions that might require me to do unpleasant things to him.”
Cody’s jaw dropped and his eyes widened further.
Bavandersloth smiled. “I’m glad you understand.”
Cody put his head down as he carried Justin to the car and set the boy down. He got in on the other side and sat down. He buckled his seatbelt.
“How long will he be out?” Cody asked.
“They’ll both wake in a few hours,” Bavandersloth said. “He’ll be healed in about ten days.”