Valthakar sat in the attic by the safe. He opened Bavandersloth’s copy of On the Underworld and turned to the table of contents.
“I A Description of the Underworld
“II On the History of the Underworld
“III On the Sections of the Underworld
“IV On the Souls of the Underworld
“V On the Creatures of the Underworld
“VI Questions and Answers
Valthakar thought. He turned to On the Sections of the Underworld.
“Since Gborin’gargoth came into power, the infinite expanse of the Underworld has been split into three principle sections, two of finite size and one of infinite size. The largest of the finite planes is the ever-growing paradise Gesolouri, the final destination of all those in whose hearts lie either goodness (as understood by Gborin’gargoth) or the potential for goodness.”
Valthakar raised an eyebrow.
“If a person is without need for moral correction, as is often true of those who die young and is true of all beasts, their souls are sent straight to Gesolouri. If, however, there is either some evil in their heart or some sin for which they need atone, and if these flaws can be extinguished and this evil atoned for in any finite amount of time by any means, they shall be moved to the vast Expanse of Quulianis. Because Quulianis is composed of the entirety of an infinite plane save for two small sections that have been cleaved from it, it contains every environment which the Underworld can contain, and does so infinitely many times. Those in need of redemption are brought into the environment judged necessary for them.”
Valthakar chuckled. That didn’t sound so bad, actually. Then again, he really couldn’t imagine what would ever make him into a do-gooder. He read on.
He eventually came to the description of the third realm.
“The final and smallest by far of the Underworld’s realms is the dominated and corrupted Caves of Nklonglerokt. In this prison lay all those whose nature is so corrupt that it would require an infinite amount of time to bring about in them even the will to redeem themselves. Because no such expanse of time is available and souls cannot be destroyed, such persons, a group which, it must be stressed is absolutely miniscule in number, are sealed in the Caves of Nklonglerokt and allowed to suffer eternally.”
Valthakar’s eyes widened and he dropped the book. He stood up. Valthakar clenched his fist and took a deep breath. He picked up the book and opened it. He turned to the Q&A section.
His hands trembled as he picked up the feather quill and wrote.
“Am I among the ones Gborin’gargoth considers irredeemable?”
“I am not permitted to answer that question.”
Valthakar gasped. He furled his eyebrows.
“What do you mean you’re not permitted to answer that question? I need an answer.”
“Gborin’gargoth has not permitted me to answer that question.”
Valthakar clenched his fists. He felt his heart racing. He seethed. He brought his fist back and punched the book. It had no effect.
Seething, Valthakar sat down. He opened the book back up.
“If I am, do I have any recourse?”
“By definition, no. If you are among those people, it would take an infinite amount of time for you to change your ways. No such stretch of time can ever pass, by definition.”
Valthakar slammed the book shut. He closed his eyes and cried. After a few minutes, he looked up then ran downstairs.
Bavandersloth lay on his couch, working through a month’s worth of newspapers. Sparky lay on the floor next to him.
He heard someone rushing down the stairs. He looked up. It was Valthakar. He was in tears. Bavandersloth raised an eyebrow. “What’s wrong?” he asked.
“Have you ever read the section of On the Underworld about its different parts?”
Bavandersloth nodded, sipping from a wine glass next to him.
Valthakar’s eyes widened. “So you… Did it tell you that you were redeemable?”
“It refused to say.”
“Why are you so calm?”
“Oh, I made a deal.”
Valthakar’s eyes widened. “A deal?”
Bavandersloth sat up and looked at Valthakar. “Yes, my friend,” he nodded. “A deal. That’s where we find a human and get them to agree to become walking suits of armor that are bound to serve us eternally in exchange for one wish.”
Valthakar seethed. “I know what a deal is.”
Bavandersloth lay back and rolled his eyes. “And you apparently don’t know what sarcasm is.”
Valthakar ran over to Bavandersloth. “Look, this is serious. I could be locked in caves and made to suffer for all eternity.”
Bavandersloth sighed and rolled his eyes. He sat up, taking another sip from his wine glass. “Well, do you know if you’re actually irredeemable?”
Valthakar looked down. He clenched his fist and looked up at Bavandersloth. “Of course I am. I don’t regret anything I’ve ever done. This is just some random guy who happens to be the King of the Underworld deciding morality for everyone. It’s not even genuinely wrong, just like I’ve always thought.”
Bavandersloth lay back. “Well, make a deal like I did, then. I tricked a human into requesting a spell that brought infinite happiness to the world. Hence, I cast a protection spell on myself which ensured that I would experience infinite happiness instead of infinite suffering. I think I did the same thing for his brother or something, which is how I got him to agree to it.”
Valthakar took a few deep breaths. He stood up. “Alright then,” he said. “That’s exactly what I’ll do.”
Lester gathered his books into his backpack and stepped out of class. “You’ll be getting your tests back in a week,” the teacher said as the students scrambled out of the classroom. Lester walked over to Cody as the crowd dispersed in the hall. It was pizza day, so the students were speed-walking toward the cafeteria.
“So, how well do you think you’re gonna do on your mid-terms,” Lester asked as they walked down the hall.
“Hmm,” Cody said. “I don’t know. I’m not worried, if that’s what you’re asking. I think I did fine, but I’ve not put much thought into it.” Cody sighed. “I’ve mostly been focusing on other things as of late.”
Lester put his hand on Cody’s shoulder. “Yeah, I guess--”
“Oh, crud,” Cody said. “That reminds me, Bavandersloth told me to go straight to him after class. I’m sorry, I can’t come to lunch. Catch you later.” Cody turned around.
“Do you want me to bring you some pizza?” Lester asked.
“No thanks,” Cody said, shaking his head. “I don’t really need any.” Cody ran off. Lester sighed. He turned around.
Lester carried his tray to his table. He was the last member of his usual group to arrive. “Oh, hey Lester,” Allen said as he approached. Lester sat down.
“Sup,” Lester said.
“Not much,” Reidel said. “We were just talking about the last Angel interview.”
“Reidel thinks they’re hiding something,” Steven said.
Lester almost flinched but was able to resist. He clinched his fist a bit under the table. “Oh,” he said. “What makes you think that?”
Reidel sighed. “It’s just all so convenient; like, their story. I mean think about it, they just happen to have perfect duplicates of themselves runnin’ around being evil, and one of ‘em just happens to attack their biggest enemies right when the good guy just happens to be trapped behind some portal we’ve never seen.”
Lester felt a bead of sweat run down his neck. He clenched his teeth inside his mouth. “They say it’s cuz of some Lovecraft shit,” Lester said, “like, that’s why we can’t see them, or at least that’s how it seemed to me.”
Reidel sighed. “Yeah, maybe, but isn’t that pretty convenient too? And that doesn’t address the other stuff. What if it’s more like V, where they don’t want to show off their appearances because it’ll make them look bad?”
“I’ve heard some people say they’re liches,” Allen added.
Lester nodded. “I’ve heard that too. The problem, I think, is that lore about liches isn’t old enough. I mean, if there were one of them who was ten-thousand years old like they say, there ought to be more stories about them, right?”
“Liches go back a little longer than D&D,” Allen said. “There’s this Russian character, Koshy-something. He was an old, evil dude whose soul was inside a needle way away from his body.”
Lester sighed. He looked down. “Yeah true.” He looked up. “So you guys are thinking the all liches are evil angles or…”
“I dunno,” Reidel said.
“Let’s not forget that they kill people,” Allen said.
“To help other people,” Lester said.
“So they claim,” Allen said, taking a sip of his milk. “But think about it. They can paralyze people like that.” Allen snapped his fingers. “Why should they need to kill anyone? Then there was that girl in the armor, supposed to be a crime boss. Did you hear what she said?”
“Unless they’re really the same things as those devourers.” Reidel looked down and shuddered. “Then it all makes sense.”
“That was a crime boss,” Lester said. “Didn’t the cops confirm it?”
“Why are you so defensive?” Steven asked.
“I’m not defensive, I just think it’s important not to…” Lester looked down. “Never mind.”
Reidel raised an eyebrow. “Yo, you okay man?”
Lester looked up. “Oh, yeah. I’m fine.”
Drat! How much should Lester tell them? Siding with his best friend was a no-brainer, right? No, it shouldn’t be. Siding with humanity should be the obvious choice. Wasn’t Bavandersloth supposed to be planning something big? What if Lester could help stop that? What if he got himself killed? Was one of Bavandersloth’s souls watching him right now?
Lester tried to keep out of the conversation, saying as little, and staying as vague, as possible, just letting Reidel and Steven talk. That’d work for now. It was all he could do until he was alone to think more.
Valthakar walked through the inner city of Goldfalls in his lich form. There had to be someone around here who’d be willing to make a deal, right? It would entail their death, of sorts, and he couldn’t lie to them about that or the deal wouldn’t work. Still, there had to be someone. All he had to do was come up with a way to formulate their wish that involved keeping him out of hell. He could do anything that technically satisfied their request and did not resort to haggling over synonyms or homophones. There also couldn’t be a blatant ride-on; the deal was for one wish, not two.
Valthakar sniffed. He smelt a fear coming from somewhere nearby. He smiled. There was a small chance this was his lead. If not, it might be his meal for the night. He followed the smell to a sidewalk across an alley. His eyes widened. He saw a little girl clutching a teddy bear walking down the sidewalk. The streetlight above her flickered. She was brown-skinned and had short, curly hair tied up into two balls. She was looking down at the ground.
Valthakar turned around, intent on walking away. But as he walked, he heard the girl crying behind him. Maybe he could make the deal with her? Yes, he could. A little girl was the perfect person to trick into making his deal. He grinned, took his human form and walked over to her. “Hello, little girl,” he said, walking up to her. “What’s wrong?”
The girl looked up at him. She stepped away. She looked back down. “I’m lost,” she said.
“I see,” Valthakar said. “Is there anything I can do to help?”
The girl wiped a tear and sniffled. “Could you take me home?” she asked.
“Certainly,” Valthakar said. “Where do you live?”
“Near Claudina St.,” the girl said.
“I see,” Valthakar said. “Come with me, then. I’ll lead you there.”
The girl looked up and smiled. “Thank you.”
Valthakar nodded. He began walking and headed away from Claudina St, but the girl probably wouldn’t realize that. The girl followed.
“What’s your name?” Valthakar asked.
The little girl looked down and squeezed her teddy bear. “I’m Keisha,” she said.
Valthakar smiled. “That’s a lovely name.”
“Thank you,” the little girl said.
The two walked under another streetlight. It was out. “Why are you lost?” Valthakar asked.
Keisha looked down. “I…” she shed a tear, “I ran away.”
Valthakar tilted his head. “Why?”
Keisha gulped. It took her a moment to speak. “I… I did something bad. I ran away because I was afraid I’d get in trouble.”
Valthakar feigned a frown. “Are you still afraid of that now?”
“A little. Right now I just want to get home. I’m more scared out here.”
“What exactly did you do?”
Keisha shed a tear. “I… I…” She squeezed her bear tighter. “My momma kept a special picture on the table. It was of my sister Latoya. She died because an Angel killed her, back when they were bad.” Valthakar raised an eyebrow. This was an interesting coincidence. “I got mad at my mommy because she wouldn’t let me go to a Christmas party, so I threw the picture into the fireplace.”
“A Christmas party? So this was at least a week ago.”
Keisha nodded. “Momma was so mad. She was yelling and screaming at me. She made me sit in the living room while she went to the kitchen and made lunch. She said she’d have a punishment ready when she got back. I was really scared, so while she was gone, I ran out of the house and down the street.”
Valthakar grinned. Here was his chance. “That sounds really bad,” he said. “You’re probably going to be in a lot of trouble when you get home. I don’t know that your momma will ever forgive you.”
Keisha looked up. She cried, squeezing on her bear. “What? Why?”
“You might get time out for years, or lose all of your toys forever.” Valthakar looked down and shook his head. “Running away made it even worse.”
“You really think she’ll never forgive me?”
“I can’t say for sure,” Valthakar said. He looked down, trying to keep from chuckling. “But I doubt it.” Keisha looked down. Tears bubbled up from her eyes. Valthakar grinned. This was his chance. “Though I can think of one way out of it, if you want to hear.”
Keisha looked up. “What? What can I do?”
Valthakar moved and stood in front of Keisha. She flinched. Valthakar kneeled down in front of her and looked her in the eye. “First, let me tell you a secret. I’m an Angel.”
Keisha’s eyes widened. She took a step backward. “You’re...” she fumbled, “an Angel?”
Valthakar nodded. “Yes. And if you want, I can use my magic to make sure your momma will still forgive you, even after you destroyed the picture.”
Keisha stumbled back. “I… how?”
Valthakar smiled. “One of our traits, us Angels, is that we can do almost anything by making deals with humans. I could make an agreement with you to reduce the amount of punishment, that’s people getting in trouble, in the world by a big number called aleph-null, and when I do it, I can make sure that part of that aleph null is you getting in trouble with your momma.”
“And what do I have to do?”
Valthakar took a deep breath. “Unfortunately,” he said, “I can only demand one thing from you. I’ll cast a spell on you that will give you a lot of magical power. After you have that, you’ll have to come work for me.”
Keisha’s eyes widened. “What? For how long?”
Valthakar looked down. “For a long time. However, it will be worth it, compared to the forever that your mommy will be mad at you that you broke the picture.”
Keisha took another step back. “I…” Valthakar looked at Keisha, suppressing his grin. Valthakar thought about an incident during his childhood when he and his mother had had a similar exchange. He hadn’t run away, but he had broken something in the palace. He recalled his mother’s disapproving gaze. He thought about it. He clenched his fist and banished it from his mind. He looked at the girl.
“I need an answer,” he said.
The little girl looked down. She looked back up. She shook her head. “No,” she said.
Valthakar’s eyes widened. “What? What do you mean no?”
Keisha looked down, and then back up. “I mean no. I want to get back home right now.”
“But your mommy will be mad at you forever. Is that what you want?” Keisha looked down. She took a step backward. Valthakar grinned. “I wish I could give you a better deal, but you’ll only work for me for a little while compared to how long--”
“Please just take me home,” Keisha said. “I don’t think you’re right about my momma.”
Valthakar’s eyes widened. “Fine,” he said. He took his true form and activated his cloud. The girl’s eyes widened. She ran from him. Valthakar thought. He sighed. As delicious as she would be, her rescue would also be good for the Angels’ reputation. He chased after her, caught her, put her to sleep and wiped a large chunk of her recent memory. He ran toward the police station.
The next day, Cody and Lester sat together during lunch. The others hadn’t arrived yet. Lester looked up at Cody. He sighed. “So I’ve been hearing the word Lich associated with you.”
Cody sighed. “Yeah, so have I. I think Bavandersloth might be working on something to take care of that.”
“I’m hearing it from the others,” Lester said. “I was talking here with Allen and Reidel yesterday. They think the Angels are hiding something. A lot of people think so too.”
Lester looked down. “It was really hard not to tell them that they’re right.”
Cody stopped eating. He looked down.
Lester looked at him. “Oh, no, no, no. I don’t mean I’d ever bust you.” Lester sighed. “I just wish I could maybe help them reach some of the right conclusions. Maybe it could even help stop Bavandersloth’s plan.”
“I’d imagine. I wish I could too,” Cody said.
Lester looked down. “That’s easy for you to say,” he whispered.
Cody looked at Lester. His eyebrows furled. “What was that supposed to mean?”
Lester looked back up at Cody. His eyes widened. “Oh. Sorry.” He looked down.
Cody slammed his fists on the table. “No, I really want to know what you meant by that.”
Lester looked back up. Cody’s eyes were locked onto him. Lester scooted back. “Woah, dude, calm down.” Cody kept staring. Lester sighed. “I just… never mind, okay?”
“Fuck you, man.”
Lester flinched. “What?”
“You think I just don’t care about the people around me?”
“No, no. Not at all. That’s not what I meant.” Lester looked down. “Look, I’m sorry, okay? You’re right. It would suck for you if Bavandersloth won. Still, I think I’m safe in saying I’d be worse off.”
Cody looked at Lester. He sighed. He looked down, and then back up. “Yeah, I guess,” he said.
“It’s not hard to work out what Bavandersloth’s planning,” Lester said. “He wants to subdue humanity; to enslave us somehow. Nothing else would work for him long-term. All of this discussion going on shows it. He can only keep looking like a good guy for so long.”
Cody took a deep breath. He looked down. “Yeah.” He looked up. “According to On Soulless Ones, back when liches were slaves to the underworld, they used to take over worlds and farm mortals. The goal then was always to get the population as high as possible. The more souls that were created, the more souls that could be harvested.” Cody looked down. “I guess the parts about farming wouldn’t really apply now, but a lot of the rest…”
Lester’s fingers fidgeted a bit. He clenched his fist.
“There’s nothing I can do about it, though,” Cody said. “Well, nothing that I’m not trying to do. Still, I don’t think I’ll succeed.”
Lester felt a bead of sweat roll down him. He put his head on the table.
Cody’s eyes widened. “You’re protected, though. Bavandersloth would need the better part of the community to agree before he could get rid of that convention, and plenty of liches, including councilors, have loved ones who they care about.”
Lester sat back. “Yeah,” he said. He picked up a grape from his tray. “So what do you think you’d do with me?”
“I don’t know. The best thing I could, I guess. I don’t know what my options will be.”
Lester looked down. He took a deep breath and took a bite out of his apple.
That night, Valthakar went back to the Inner City. This was Odelarch’s territory, technically, but it didn’t matter. Deals had to be freely chosen on a mortal’s part, so they did not count as utilization of the mortal by a lich. He ran around, invisible, sniffing for human fear. The strongest trail led him to an apartment complex. He could hear shouting from an upstairs window.
Valthakar ran into the building and up a stairwell inside. He sniffed and followed the scent to the right apartment. He broke in. He saw a bruised woman cowering on the couch. A man stood over her, holding a rod. Both of them were looking at the door, probably having been startled by Valthakar breaking it open.
Valthakar ran toward the man. After a few moments, the man’s eyes widened. He seemed to realize what was going on. Valthakar tackled and paralyzed him from the neck down. The woman looked at the man as Valthakar turned around. She seemed to have figured it out, too. Valthakar stood up and placed his hand on the woman, willing her unconscious.
He heard the man shouting at him. He activated his cloud and turned visible. He kneeled down in front of the man. “Greetings,” he said.
The man looked up. His eyes widened.
“I have something I need to talk about with you.”
The man squinted. “Huh? What could you possibly need from me?”
Valthakar sighed. “You’re probably going to get in trouble here. You just beat the shit out of what I presume to be your girlfriend.”
“Hey, fuck you. What does--”
“I’m offering to get you out of trouble.”
The man’s eyes widened. He squinted. “What?”
“In fact, you strike me as someone with a pretty long rap sheet. I can feel your every illness just by touching you. You’re addicted to things that didn’t even exist when I was your age. Some of them are making you rot away.”
“Hey, shut up.”
“I don’t think you want me to do that. Someone’s probably called the police. You were pretty loud, and have way too much melanin for any of this to be ignored. However, I happen to have means to get you out of trouble. In fact, I might be able to keep you and whoever else you want from ever being in trouble with the police again.”
The man squinted. “No,” he said after a moment, shaking his head. “This is a trick. You’d never--”
“Why not? I’ve only been killing criminals because our kind follows rules that say we have to. I have no problem with making sure you get away.” A bead of sweat fell down the man’s face. “I’m right about the record, aren’t I? How long would you get?” The man gulped.
“I see,” Valthakar said. “Here’s my offer then: Unbeknownst to you, my race has the ability to do almost anything we want if we can get a human to make a deal with us.”
The man squinted. “A deal?”
“Yes, a deal. Here’s how it works: You make one wish, and I grant it. In exchange, I set a date, usually right away, but I’m flexible. You will live invincibly until that date. It can be years into the future.”
Valthakar sighed. “Well, then you’ll be buried alive in a magical coffin, decay alive for a year, and then become my armored servant after the coffin reforms itself into a suit of armor around you. Still, that’s years away, and it really won’t be as bad as it sounds.”
“Fuck no, man. I’m not gonna be anyone’s slave.”
“Are you sure about--”
The man spit in Valthakar’s face. Valthakar sighed. “Suit yourself.” He scythed and ate the man’s soul.
Lester flinched as something shook him awake. He opened his eyes. He sniffed, and his eyes widened. He looked at the computer chair in his room. Bavandersloth sat there, chains dangling from his wrists. Lester gasped. He sat up in his bed and scrambled against the wall, gagging at the lich’s scent.
“Hello,” the lich said.
Lester’s breathing was erratic as he tried to balance his instinct to gasp for air with his need to shut out the lich’s horrid smell. “He… he… Hel…”
“Do not be so afraid,” Bavandersloth said. “I’m not here to hurt you.” Bavandersloth stood up. Lester jerked backward. Bavandersloth sighed and sat down. “I’m merely here to talk. The souls I have monitoring you have said some very interesting things about your recent conversations with certain friends of yours.”
“It was noth--”
“I wouldn’t be here if it was nothing.” Bavandersloth stood up. Lester’s eyes widened further, and his breathing became heavy even as he pinched his nose. He scooted away, toward the foot of his bed. “Oh, clam down,” Bavandersloth said. “If I were here to eat you, I would have done it while you were asleep. I’m no sadist, and even if I were, you wouldn’t be worth it.”
Lester’s breathing and scooting slowed down.
“Besides, you’re an important piece of leverage against Cody. Killing you would be a waste of your strategic potential.”
Lester sat on the edge of his bed, cross-legged.
Bavandersloth smiled as he sat down on Lester’s bed. “Besides, I’m not that mean of a guy.”
Lester’s breath was still heavy. Sweat rolled down his face.
“So then, regarding what I wanted to talk about: You seem to be considering the prospect of disseminating some of the knowledge you’ve gained from Cody to the public in order to harm the public’s opinion of the community of liches. What do you think I think about that?”
Lester sat, breathing, saying nothing, fighting the urge to scream.
“C’mon; answer. What do you think I think about that?”
Lester looked down. He gulped. “You’ll want to kill me,” he whispered.
“Pardon? I didn’t quite hear you.”
Lester looked up. A bead of sweat ran past his eye. “You’ll kill me.”
“Maybe,” Bavandersloth said. “Maybe I’ll kill you. Maybe I’ll kill someone you love. You do have two parents, four close friends and a sister. Maybe I’ll not kill any of them and instead rob you of something you care about.” Bavandersloth smiled. “Of course, all of that is if and only if you counter my ends, and you haven’t yet.” He leaned forward toward Lester. Lester leaned back away. “However, I don’t take enemies lightly, Mr. Green. Don’t expect to be able to cross me and get away with it.” Bavandersloth sat back. “Just remember that your actions have consequences.”
Lester stayed back. Bavandersloth was still. “Will you remember?” Bavandersloth asked.
Lester didn’t respond.
“Tell me you’ll remember.”
Lester’s eyes darted around the room. His breaths were still heavy.
Bavandersloth raised his scythe. “Will you remember?”
“I’ll remember,” Lester shouted. His eyes widened. Shit. That might have been loud enough to wake up the whole house.
Bavandersloth nodded. “Good.” He stood up, turned around, and walked to Lester’s bedroom window. He lifted it open and stepped out.
Lester lay awake in his bed an hour later. What should he do? Saving humanity was obviously worth risking his life, but what about the chance that the risk wouldn’t pay off? If Lester just told people everything he knew, there was a chance no one would believe him. He had to come forward with proof that Bavandersloth couldn’t possibly spin.
The book! If Lester gave On Soulless Ones to the press, Bavandersloth would be screwed. How could he possibly get around that? But how would Lester go about stealing it? Could he get Cody to give it to him? Maybe. There was a good chance. But how could he ask for it without provoking Bavandersloth? Maybe if he waited a while, he’d be able to come up with an excuse. Then he just had to get it to the news station.
Where was the news station? Lester didn’t know. It’d be too dangerous to look it up. The souls watching him would see it.
Lester shuddered and pulled his covers over him a bit more. There were souls watching him right now. Lester sighed. He had to find some plausible excuse to look it up. After that, he had to figure out an excuse to go there, with the book, without raising any suspicion. No, that was probably impossible. As soon as he headed that way with the book, Bavandersloth would head him off.
Lester took a deep breath. Was there any way he could tell anyone about this? He could tell Cody, but Cody wouldn’t help him. Lester’s eyes flashed open. DIAPP! Contacting DIAPP was as easy as calling Cody on his cell phone, and it’d probably be plausible enough for him to want to contact Cody right away.
Lester reached over to his nightstand and got his cell phone. He checked its clock. It was 2:00 AM. Crap. Cody’s phone wouldn’t be on right now. He was out on patrol. Lester could call him in the morning though.
Lester groaned and settled back into bed. That’s what he’d do.
The next morning, Lester woke up. He stretched, and then got out of bed. As he moved to get in the shower, he remembered that he needed to call Cody. He clenched his fist. He needed to make it clear to DIAPP that he needed help. Maybe there was a chance they’d give it to him. He grabbed his cell phone off of his nightstand and called Cody.
Cody picked the phone up. “Hello.”
“Hey, Cody,” Lester said.
“Oh, hey. What’s up?”
Lester sighed. “Bavandersloth came to my room last night.”
Cody gasped. “He what?”
“So you didn’t know?”
“No I didn’t…” Cody sighed. “Do you think it’s the best idea to discuss this on this phone?”
“I can’t imagine how it’d matter if DIAPP knows this.” Lester sat down. How much could he say? Could he hint somehow that he wanted help? No, any way to do that would probably be too dangerous. If he didn’t, though, would DIAPP know to help him? “Besides, I wanted to talk to you as soon as possible.”
Cody sighed. “Well, what exactly did he say?”
“That if I ever did anything to stop him, he’d kill me, my loved ones, or both.”
Cody sighed. “Okay. Well, I’m not sure of anything I can do.” Cody sighed. “Just do what he says. Don’t be a hero. There’s nothing you can do to hurt him and it’s not worth the risk to try.”
Lester looked down. “Okay.” He should act disappointed. That would be more believable.
“I know that’s easy for me to say,” Cody said. “But it’s true.”
Lester lay back. “I know.” He rubbed his forehead with the back of his head. “Okay then. I guess I’ll see you at the game tonight?”
“Yep. Can’t wait.” Cody hung up.
Bavandersloth sat in his great room on the phone.
“Look, there was nothing we could do, okay,” the voice on the other end said. “Sometimes the police show up and interrupt your plans in this business, y’know? We need you to--”
Bavandersloth sighed. “Fine. I’ll try to arrange for a shipment to get to you some other way.”
“Thanks, Bav. You’re the best.”
Bavandersloth sighed and hung up. Before Cody had destroyed public ignorance, Bavandersloth had worked closely with various criminal organizations in the third world. He’d reanimate bodies for them, and in exchange, he’d be paid for their labor. He’d been able to make agreements with certain liches to protect the groups he worked with.
Bavandersloth stood up, intending to get a book of contacts out of one of his safes upstairs. One of the organizations he worked with had just had their cocaine manufacturers taken down by a police raid, and they’d called him to bail them out. As he walked, a soul came to him.
Bavandersloth looked up. “What is it?”
“Lester Green, master. He placed a call to Odelarch, knowingly using the bugged phone. There is a possibility he’s trying to alert DIAPP.”
Bavandersloth scratched his chin. Was Lester smart enough to think of that? Why would he do it? If he did do it, it would have been because he was feeling helpless, but still wanted to resist. This wasn’t what Bavandersloth had predicted. He had to be careful. Lester might be the kind of human for whom threats would only make him feel forced to act. Bavandersloth’s eyes widened. He got an idea. He looked up at the soul.
“Go back and continue observing the boy. I’ll take care of this.”
The soul nodded and flew away.
Valthakar smiled. Finally, he’d found a mortal who would make a deal with him. Valthakar stood across from the mortal who’d agreed.
“So this’ll get my family off the…”
Valthakar nodded. “Your family will never be forced to endure a single bit of punishment again.”
This boy’s grandparents were refugees who fled to the United States during the Korean War. His Grandparents’ siblings hadn’t been so lucky. Their decedents were still facing retribution for their ancestor’s crimes, as was the region’s custom.
Valthakar smiled. “Let me just say, though, if you want to, you could be a bit more ambitious. I could take down the entire regime.”
The boy’s eyes widened. “That’d be even better. Much better.”
Valthakar smiled. “Good, then. Now, make your wish. You will be summoned to fulfill your end of the deal at a later moment.”
The boy gulped. “And when will that be again?”
“I intend to do it tonight. I told you you’d be giving up your life for this.”
The boy nodded. A bead of sweat fell down his face. “Yeah, you did.” He looked down. “And I said it was worth it.”
“Then do it. Believe me, if I could do this without having to take the price I must take, I would.”
The boy gulped again. He shed a tear. He clenched his fist. He chuckled. “To think this is the way something like that is going to end.”
“You can only stall so long.”
The boy gulped again. “Right.” He took a deep breath. He looked down and shed a tear. “I… I wish that the amount of punishment in existence will be reduced by aleph-null, and that at least a portion of that be done through the permanent destruction of the tyrannical state in North Korea, which must occur overnight tonight, bring about no severe or fatal injury to any human and must not be followed by another tyrannical government at any time in the future.”
Valthakar smiled. Finally. He felt power swelling up inside him, and then condensing within him. Pure magic built up within the bounds of his material body, begging for release. He closed his eyes, and willed for the boy’s wish to take place, with the remaining infinity in the reduction of punishment being filled by his own punishment in hell.
A beam of bright green energy came from him and rose upward in a column, splitting into two forks high above him. One went back downward and plunged itself into the underworld, while the other would move to North Korea.
When the beam had passed, Valthakar took his human form. “Thank you,” he said. He smiled. “Your brave sacrifice has improved the lives of millions.”
The boy smiled. “I know.”
Lester finished getting everything set in place for his RPG session that night. A few hours later, Reidel arrived, then Cody, then Allen, then Steven. When Cody arrived, he pulled Lester aside for a moment.
“Any new developments?” Lester asked.
“Bavandersloth chewed me out for not hanging up on you. Other than that, no. I was actually going to ask you the same thing. Has he contacted you again?”
“Nothing’s happened today,” Lester said.
Cody pressed his lips together. He took a deep breath. “Alright.” The two rejoined the group.
Lester began to narrate the paragraph he’d written down earlier; words spoken by a village leader to the party of adventurers. Lester heard the front door open as he spoke, but assumed it was one of his parents and paid it no mind.
As Lester neared the end of his speech, he felt the ground around him shake, and then shake more. Lester’s eyes widened. The pieces on the table in front of Lester jiggled. Lester, Cody, Reidel and Steven scrambled under the table.
Lester looked around. His eyes widened. He saw Allen’s legs. Allen still stood up. “What the hell are you doing, Allen? It’s an earthquake.” Lester said. “Take cover.”
Suddenly, Lester noticed a rift appearing right bellow Allen. He gasped and jerked back, hitting his head on the bottom of the table. Allen levitated over the rift as it tore open, forming a hole in the ground. Allen screamed. Lester gasped. Steven and Reidel frantically shouted at each other. The ground below the hole didn’t go very far, only an inch or so of rock. Lester heard Cody gasp behind him. Below the inch of rock, there was a vast expanse.
As Allen levitated over the expanse, a golden object, a cylinder, came up from the hole and enveloped Allen, blocking him from sight, though his screams could still be heard. Lester heard a loud bang. The cylinder changed shape. Lester shed a tear. Reidel and Steven screamed. Cody crouched with his mouth wide. The cylinder sank into the rift. As it passed, Lester saw that it was now a sarcophagus bearing Allen’s face. Allen screamed and banged on the sides of the coffin. “Help,” he shouted. “Get me out of here. Guys, help me. Someone, please get me out of here. It hurts. Help.” Allen kept screaming and protesting as the coffin sank into the hole. The ground shook again. Steven and Reidel covered their heads. The hole in the ground closed.
Lester lay on his stomach, his mouth wide open. He felt a weight fall on his legs. He turned around. His eyes widened. He saw Bavandersloth pulling Reidel out from under the table. Steven, Cody and Lester scrambled out from underneath the table and stood up. Bavandersloth leapt over the table and touched Steven, rendering him unconscious. Lester stood. He shed a tear. He saw his parents and sister nearby, also unconscious.
“What the hell did you just do?” he screamed, crying.
“I didn’t do a thing,” Bavandersloth said. “You did. I warned you about what would happen if you defied me, and you attempted to contact DIAPP.”
Lester clenched his teeth and furled his brows. Tears streamed down his face.
“I hope you’ll listen to me next time.”
“Go fuck yourself.”
Bavandersloth smiled. He turned to Cody. “I’m not going to be at the school library anymore. I’m planning to let the cover I use there take the fall for this.”
Cody stumbled backward. He nodded.
Bavandersloth smiled. He turned to Steven and Reidel. Lester stood in front of them, but Bavandersloth forced him aside. “I’m going to take them upstairs,” he said. “I’ll wake them up and use my powers to convince them that they saw the librarian break in the house and murder Allen. If either of you don’t want to experience further consequences, you’ll go along with it.” Bavandersloth turned around to face Lester. Lester’s face was red with tears. “Understand?”
Bavandersloth nodded. “I’ll take that as a yes. Next time it will be someone even closer to you.”
Bavandersloth looked over at Cody. Cody nodded and shed a tear. Bavandersloth looked back over at Lester. “Remember,” he said, “I’m watching you.”