As Bavandersloth sat in his home, a massive swarm of souls appeared in front of him. He looked up and gasped. “What is it?” he asked. They all started talking at the same time. Bavandersloth couldn’t understand any of them. “Stop talking,” he said. They did. He pointed at one. “You, what’s going on?”
“My two partners and I were tracking Cherie Lambert as you ordered, sir, and, out of nowhere, everything went dark. We couldn’t see or hear anything but each other. The other two stayed behind and I came straight here.”
“Can you see anything now?”
“I can see you, master.”
“Is that all?”
“Yes. Around you, it’s just black.”
“Not even the chair I’m sitting in? Nothing?”
Bavandersloth looked down. He took a deep breath and thought. He’d never heard of something like this happening before. He didn’t know it was possible. He looked up at his souls. “Any of you who this didn’t happen to, or who know of one of my souls who this didn’t happen to, come forward.” None of them did. Bavandersloth sighed. “Alright then, disperse.”
“Yes, master,” they all said.
Bavandersloth turned to his phone. He picked it up and dialed Nglavingithu’s number. After a few rings, Nglavingithu answered. “This is Nglavingithu,” he said. “Why have you contacted me?”
“Hello, this is Bavandersloth. Something has happened to my souls.”
“I know. One of the souls I use to watch you just came here and told me so.”
“So the same thing hasn’t happened to you then?”
“No. Of the liches I keep watch over, only you and Valthakar have been affected.”
Bavandersloth took a deep breath.
“Alright. I’m going to try to figure out why this is happening.”
“Acknowledged. Do you have anything else to say?”
“No. Thanks for your help.”
“Acknowledged.” Nglavingithu hung up.
Bavandersloth put the phone down, stood up and grabbed his copy of On Soulless Ones from his bookshelf. He picked up the quill that rested on one page and wrote on the other.
“Do you know of any means by which all of a Lich’s souls may be blinded and deafened to everything but each other and their master?”
“There is a spell which does that.”
Bavandersloth tuned the page, wishing to see the spell’s entry. There it was.
“Soul Blinding, Level 3
“Requirements: The Lich casting this spell must be in their true form and possess 51,810,065 souls.”
Bavandersloth did a quick calculation in his head. A lich with that many souls would be around one-hundred-fifty-thousand years old. Bavandersloth kept reading.
“At least one soul owned by the lich targeted must be sufficiently close, the range being determined by the caster’s soul count.
“Method: For soul counts greater than 85,951,428, the effect need merely be willed. For soul counts lower than 85,951,428 but higher than 51,810,065, the lich desiring to cast the spell must sit upon a small surface such as a cloth or a sheet in some solid structure in an enchanted space and perform the following ritual:”
The ritual the text went on to describe was quite long and elaborate and called for the sacrifice of a child. The ritual was far too elaborate to perform with one of Bavandersloth’s souls in range without them noticing. Perhaps one of his souls had been bound in place? He could do a tally of them to try to see if that was the case. Either way, he knew of no lich on earth old enough to cast the blinding spell with or without a ritual. There was, however, Kgobauru. Perhaps Bavandersloth had been wrong to think he had nothing to do with the incident in the amusement park. Perhaps Kgobauru was making some sort of move against him.
Cody felt his stomach growl as he climbed into his window and rushed into his bed. As he waited for his mother to come and try to wake him up, he thought. What would prove that Valthakar didn’t kill Justin’s parents, and that Bavandersloth did? Cody had initially figured it out because he’d found it too convenient that Bavandersloth had just happened to be in the right place to save Justin, but that fact would only be enough to make Justin suspicious, which could cause Justin to ask Bavandersloth about it, thus telling Bavandersloth that Cody was trying to stop him. What’s more, Bavandersloth could claim that he’d had some of his souls following Valthakar.
Cody could try to prove that Valthakar was somewhere else at the time. As far as Cody knew, Valthakar had gone to his old mansion when he left Cody’s house and been there until Bavandersloth bound him later that night. Was there any way to prove that Valthakar was there at the moment Justin’s parents were killed? What traces do people leave when they’re at home? Cody could try to figure out if there was a call made on that house’s landline around that time. Before he could do that, though, he needed to know when that was.
He didn’t remember off the top of his head on what date he’d been arrested, but he could look up the date of the police station fire and learn if from there. As for the time, hospital records would also show when Cherie was admitted, and he was arrested right after that. He’d contacted Bavandersloth with his soul a few hours later. Justin’s parents had been killed sometime between then and when Cody went to Bavandersloth’s mansion afterward. Off the top of his head, it seemed like that’d been between 11:00 PM and 2:00 AM or so.
That also might have been a good time to figure out when Bavandersloth gave the speech Cody had heard. It was seven months to the day after the first interview. It would be best if Cody could stop Bavandersloth before that date.
As Cody thought, his mother opened the door to wake him up. Cody feigned drowsiness as he sat up and got out of bed to get ready for Mass.
After Mass, Cody walked over to Lester’s house. When he knocked on the door, Lester opened it. He smiled and invited Cody upstairs. As Cody walked in, he heard Lester’s mother working in the kitchen.
The two got up to Lester’s room and Lester sat down on the bed. “What’s up?” he asked. “Justin called me earlier to tell me you were alright. What happened?”
“A lot,” Cody said. His eyes widened. “Hey, what happened to the window that got broken by” Cody paused. He’d nearly said ‘Gborin’gargoth.’ “the creature who kidnapped me last night.”
Lester tilted his head. “I was going to bring that up later. After the thing was a ways away, I debated whether or not to chase after it. I ended up deciding to use your phone to try to tell Cherie’s dad about it. I turned around to pick up the phone and when I looked back at the window it was fixed.”
Cody stood. He wasn’t as surprised as he thought he should have been.
“So what happened?” Lester asked. “Justin told me you ended up in the Northwest District.”
Cody nodded. “Yeah, at a place called Joy’s Coast.” Cody told Lester the entire story of what happened in the park, from waking up on the raft to leaving. Lester listened. His eyes widened when Cody mentioned his interpretation of the specter’s allegory. Cody finished the story.
“So you just came home?”
Cody shook his head. “I was only about half way done.”
“So what happened next?”
Cody smiled. He put his head down and whispered for Gborin’gargoth to get rid of any souls after him.
“What was that?” Lester asked.
“I found a way to keep Bavandersloth from spying on us. It might be possible for us to stop him.”
Lester gasped. “What?” He stood up. “How?”
Cody told Lester about the rest of the story.
Lester was back sitting on the bed when it was over. His eyes were wide. “So… what the lich alien or whatever told you… this really is all about you being willing to let me die?”
“That’s how you made it sou--”
“You’re not going to die. I’m going to kill Bavandersloth and save the world.”
Lester gulped. He sighed. He looked down. “If you say so.” He looked back up. “If you are going to try this, there is one thing I would like.”
Cody raised an eyebrow. “What?”
“A gun, if the alien can get me one.”
Cody tilted his head. “A gun isn’t going to do anything if Bavandersloth comes after you.”
“It’s not for him.”
Cody tilted his head for a second, and then understood. His eyes widened. “Oh.”
“Just as a last resort. If Bavandersloth comes after me I can keep him from getting my soul.”
Cody nodded. “I’ll see if that’s possible.”
Lester smiled. “Okay. We might want to do the same thing for Steven and Reidel.”
Cody looked down. He thought. “Probably,” he said. “We’d have to tell them everything, though. Well, almost everything.”
“I know. It’s long past time we did.”
Cody took a deep breath. “Okay then. Let’s do it after school tomorrow. They might make a scene if we do it at lunch.”
Lester nodded. “Okay.” There was a pause. “So you said you wanted to look up some dates?”
“Yeah. I could do that on your computer real quick.”
“Okay,” Lester said. “So long as you clear it from my history afterwards. If you don’t, Bavandersloth might figure out what happened.”
Cody nodded. He turned around. History. His eyes widened. He turned back around. “The house where Valthakar was living would have had a computer. Once I have the date and time, I can look in its web history to see if Valthakar loaded a web-page around the time he’d have to have been away from that house if he killed Justin’s parents.”
“Good Idea,” Lester said. There was a pause. Cody sat back down. He opened his browser. He googled ‘Goldfalls Police Station Fire 2013.’ An online encyclopedia page came up.
“The Goldfalls Police Station Fire refers to the burning of the primary police station in Goldfalls Ca. on October, 20 2013. The fire resulted in the deaths of over one-hundred prisoners and police officers, including Leon Williams. Though the initial police investigation concluded that the fire was the result of arson, subsequent investigations have shown that there is little reason to think anything of this.”
October Twentieth. Cody repeated that a few times in his mind.
Next, he looked up the date of Bavandersloth’s first interview. He found another page which included a timeline of all of the interviews Bavandersloth and Valthakar had given. The first one was on October Twenty-sixth. Seven months after that would be May Twenty-sixth. Cody looked down at the corner of Lester’s screen. It was January Twenty-sixth. He had four months.
Cody turned around. “Alright,” he said. “I have the dates.”
“How long do we have?”
“Four months to the day.”
Lester looked down. “Are we sure we can do that?”
“We’re sure we don’t have any proof that it’s impossible. I might not even need that much time. It might be possible to do it tonight.”
Lester took a deep breath. “Okay.” He lay back on his bed.
“You don’t have to help if you don’t want to.”
“No,” Lester said. “I do.” Lester sighed. “By the way, do you plan to get help from DIAPP?”
“I’ve not decided yet. I’m not sure they’d be willing to work with me. I offered to help them with the dragon last month and Cherie’s father refused. It’s possible that this whole thing’s big enough that they’ll take my help, they also might do something to ruin my chance.”
“Anything that’d let Bavandersloth know what I’m doing. As soon as he realized there was a danger of someone helping Justin find out the truth, he’d probably kill Justin, and that’d be the end of it. With Valthakar protecting him, no one poses any threat to Bavandersloth in straight combat.”
“If it comes to that, could you try to separate them?”
Cody thought. “Maybe. I don’t know. I’ll definitely look into whether there is a way to break the binding spell on Valthakar, though without Bavandersloth to control him, he’ll go back to being as dangerous as he was before.” Cody looked up. “I’ll think more about getting DIAPP’s help. Maybe, just maybe, they have something that could let them beat Valthakar.”
“Alright. Maybe the four of us could vote on it? Us, Steven and Reidel I mean.”
“Of course,” Cody said. The two continued to talk as Cody turned back to the computer to find Valthakar’s old address.
Bavandersloth thought as he walked the streets, hunting. His souls hadn’t started working again at any point. Should he postpone his plans? No. That’s what Kgobauru, or whoever was behind this, probably wanted. He should keep on with his plans as he’d originally intended. No part of it centrally depended on him being able to use his souls.
Bavandersloth looked down at his prey. Without his souls, it’d been more difficult, but not impossible, to find this man. He was a member of the Selechii Syndicate. Bavandersloth jumped down and landed right behind the man. He put his hand on him and knocked him out.
Cody walked to Valthakar’s old house. He’d remembered the name of the gated community it was in, so he only had to check to see if anyone in the area had disappeared. He was able to find the information. A man named Kenneth Kurt Rogers had gone missing here around the time Valthakar would have moved in.
Cody felt a chill rush down his spine as soon as he saw the house. He approached it. There was still blood on the porch from when Justin had been blown open by Valthakar’s blast. Cody went inside. He saw a cup of coffee on the table. The cream in it smelled rancid. Cody couldn’t resist a quick sniff. He went into another room. From there, he could see a pool outside. The pool was full of leaves and insects. Cody saw a computer in the corner. He walked up to it and tried to turn it on. He couldn’t. He tried a few more times before it occurred to him: the power bill here hadn’t been paid. Cody thought. Was there any way to access the information? Eventually, Cody thought of something. He took his human form, reached into his pocket, and got out his cell phone. He’d brought it with him in case something went wrong. He turned it on and pulled up the web browser. He looked up how to remove a computer’s hard drive.
He was able to find a guide, but he couldn’t make heads or tails of it. Cody placed his hand on the computer. He closed his eyes, and willed it to begin decaying. As soon as he began to use his power, he was able to sense everything inside the computer and make everything but the hard drive rust away. Cody smiled. If he inserted this into another computer of the same type, he’d be able to look at the web history, or anything else that had been stored on it.
Cody put the device in his pocket, turned his phone off, took his true form, and left.
The man Bavandersloth had taken awoke in a haze, his arms tied behind him around a tree. Bavandersloth smiled. “Hello,” he said. The man’s gaze snapped over to him. His eyes widened and he screamed and yanked against the ropes around his ankles and wrists. Bavandersloth shushed him. The man struggled and thrashed. “Be quiet,” Bavandersloth shouted. The man sweated. He flexed and pulled as hard as he could. Bavandersloth slapped the man. The man flinched. He gritted his teeth. He stopped screaming and took a few deep breaths.
Bavandersloth pulled an envelope out of a bag he had with him. He held it up. It looked like it had a severed finger in it, but perhaps also a note. “There’s no need for you to be frightened,” he said. “I’m not planning to kill you. In fact, I need you to do me a favor.”
The man looked up at Bavandersloth. He shed a tear and pulled harder against his restraints.
“I need you to deliver this letter to Zachary Shepherd,” Bavandersloth said. “That’s all I want. Can you do that for me? I’ll let you go as soon as you agree to it.”
The man looked at the envelope.
“You can speak now, by the way. That thing about being quiet was just while you were shrieking before.”
The man gulped. He struggled against his restraints. “Fine,” he said. “I’ll take it.”
“Good,” Bavandersloth said. “Don’t open it beforehand. Give it directly to them.”
The man hyperventilated. “Alright.”
Bavandersloth smiled. “Good.” He undid the ropes and gave the man the letter. The man took it and, after a few minutes, walked off with it, still reeking of fear. Bavandersloth turned around and when back into town to hunt.
Zach turned his head as he heard his door open. One of his underlings came in. “Sir,” the man said.
Zach raised an eyebrow. “What is it?”
“One of our dealers is outside. He says an Angel abducted him and made him promise to deliver something to you. Should I send him in?”
Zachary’s eyes widened. He nodded. “Of course.” Zach’s guard left the room and the dealer came in. He was a kid, around the age Zach was when he started dealing. He was sweaty and trembling. He held the note.
“Hello, sir,” he said. “I was… I was out on the job and I--” He took a deep breath. “So I was out in an alley, doing my job, when I just fell unconscious. The next thing I knew, I woke up tied to a tree in the Northwest District, just on a random street. An Angel was standing over me. He gave me this,” the dealer held the note up, “and told me he needed me to give it to you and your sister.”
“Can you hand it here?” Zach asked.
“Okay,” the dealer said. He took a step forward and handed the note to Zach. Zach opened the envelope. He gaged and held it away from him. It smelled awful. He held the envelope at arm’s length and pulled out the piece of paper inside. As he pulled out the note, a desiccated finger fell out. Zachary staggered backward. He held the note as far away from him as he could and read it.
“Hello, Zachary Shepherd. ‘Tis I, Lightrook. I wish to meet with you on the night of Monday, Jan. 27th 2014 in the lobby of the old Goldfalls Museum of Natural History to discuss a proposition I have for you. I believe you will find it most interesting and to your benefit. I can assure you that I will be alone, and so long as only you come, I will make no effort to harm you at any point. Anyone else who comes with you will be killed, of course. I believe the two of us can do great work together. Sincerely, Lightrook.”
Zachary stared at the note. This was obviously a trap. He looked up at the dealer. “Thank you,” he said. “You can go now.”
“If I may, there’s actually one other thing.”
Zachary raised an eyebrow. “What?”
“He… he stole all of the products I had on me.”
Zachary’s eyes widened. “How much?”
“Wel… more than…” the man gulped. “More than $4,000 worth.”
Zachary’s eyes grew wider. He clenched his fist. The dealer backed out of the room. Zachary sat down. He groaned.
Cody returned home the next morning. As he crawled through his window, he bowed his head and whispered for Gborin’gargoth. Gborin’gargoth answered. “Hello, Cody.”
“Hey.” Cody lay down on his bed. “So I--”
“There’s no need to tell me what you’ve been doing. I’ve been watching you.”
Cody lay back and rolled his eyes. “Right, of course.”
“I have to if you’re going to be able to talk to me on demand. Regardless, there is one thing I want to tell you. It occurred to me after our conversation that it would be better if I just left all of Bavandersloth’s souls disabled permanently.”
Cody’s eyes widened. “Oh? You can do that?”
“Yes. From the start of our second conversation, they’ve been unable to see or hear anything but Bavandersloth and each other. The ones near you also shouldn’t remember the first time their senses were disabled. As far as Bavandersloth should be able to tell, all of his souls stopped working at the same time. He’s already noticed, and he believes Kgobauru is responsible. It’s possible that once Kandrinarkora shows himself to him, he’ll figure out that I did this, but, if anything, that will make him suspect you less.”
“Oh, and there’s one other thing you should know.”
“It’s about Pretty Pink Ponytails. Bavandersloth sent her a note.” The two conversed until Cody’s mother came in to wake him up.
After school, Cody, Lester, Steven and Reidel walked into Lester’s house. Cody had wanted to tell them that they were just going to hang out, but Lester insisted that they tell them that they had something to tell them. When they got in, Lester invited them up to his room. They followed Lester upstairs and into his bedroom. Lester lay down across his bed and Steven sat in the computer chair. Cody stood up in the center of the room.
“So what did you need to say?” Reidel asked.
Cody looked down at the floor, a bead of sweat running down his face.
“Go on,” Lester said.
Cody looked up at his three friends. “Have you seen a Light-rook interview in the last three weeks or so?” he asked.
“No,” Reidel said.
“I’m at work at 6:00 when they come on,” Steven said. “I haven’t been able to catch them.”
Cody took a deep breath. “Okay. Good.”
Reidel raised an eyebrow. “Hey, man, what’s going on?”
Cody took a few deep breaths. He looked down at the floor. “I’m the Ang…” Cody took a deep breath. “The… you know enough from that.”
Reidel’s eyes widened. He stumbled backward. “You…” He stared at Cody, his mouth agape. He looked at Lester, who nodded. He looked back at Cody. “Why? Why have you--”
“I have t--”
“Don’t give me that!” Reidel shouted, his eyebrows slanted, his whole face contorted in anger. “You don’t have to do anything! What the fuck could justify you killing, what, is it a-hundred-fifty people now? How many times have I sat across from you, played games with you, not knowing that you were a fucking murderer?”
“Calm down,” Lester said. “Let him finish explaining.”
Reidel turned to face Lester. “Clam down? Don’t you tell me to calm down! You! You knew about this too! Where do you get off--”
“Please, listen,” Cody said. Reidel turned his head back to Cody, fuming. A tear ran down Cody’s face. He took a deep breath.
“Fine,” he said. “This had better be good.”
Cody looked at them. Steven just sat in the chair, mouth agape, saying nothing. “Back in August,” Cody said, “as I walked home after visiting Cherie at the hospital, I came across a book….” Cody spent the next twenty minutes telling them everything. He told them about the magical book, and about becoming a lich. He told them about a lich’s diet, and about how he defeated the Black Death. He told them about Bavandersloth, how they met, and what he was doing now. Finally, he told them about the Underworld, Gborin’gargoth, and what he and Lester were doing now. He didn’t tell them the truth about what had happened to Allen, because he knew that Bavandersloth’s spell meant nothing could convince them of anything other than what they’d been forced to believe.
At the end of it all, Steven hadn’t said a word. Reidel glared at Cody. He took a deep breath. “So the big thing to stopping Bervandersloth--”
“Shut up. The point is to prove to the kid that Berwhatever killed his parents?”
“More or less.”
“So you need to check that hard drive’s web history?”
Reidel pressed his lips together. “We need to find someone better with computers than us for that. If we mess it up, we might accidentally wipe the thing and lose our only chance.”
“Maybe,” Cody said. “That might be a reason to get DIAPP involved.”
“No need,” Lester said. “We could go to any Good Buy and have someone there get the data off of it.”
“But that would cost money,” Reidel said.
“True,” Lester said. “What’s the most we could pool together?”
“I could ask Bavandersloth for the money,” Cody said. “He’ll probably be willing to lend me some, if nothing else.”
“That’s a pretty big risk,” Reidel said. “What if he finds you out?”
“He won’t. There are plenty of reasons I might want money. I’ll have no problem convincing him that this is nothing to do with me trying to stop him. He doesn’t even know I have the hard drive.”
Reidel sighed. “Alright,” he said. Cody smiled. He stood up. Over the next few hours, the four worked out a few more details about exactly what their plan would be, and Cody answered a few questions about him from Steven and Reidel.
Bavandersloth and Valthakar walked, invisible, up to the house where they knew Zachary and Pink to be hiding. A line of Bavandersloth’s souls had followed Bavandersloth’s severed finger, which they were still able to see. One of them had stopped in place every few moments. By following the trail this left, Bavandersloth had been able to work out where the note had been brought to.
The liches climbed up the walls by taking advantage of various fire escapes, pipes, and dumpsters nearby. They made sure not to leave any climbing holes behind so there’d be no evidence that a lich had been there.
Bavandersloth reached the window to the room Zachary was staying in. He took a brick he’d carried with him and shattered the glass. Zachary awoke. Bavandersloth leapt into the room and pounced on top of him, immobilizing him.
Zachary screamed for Pretty Pink Ponytails to come help him. She ran into the room, holding a Molotov cocktail. Before she could throw it, Valthakar tackled her and forced her hands behind her back, dragging her with him as he took a seat in front of the door.
“Hey!” she shouted. “What are you doing, you big smelly meanie?”
Valthakar uncloaked. Pink gagged as his scent suddenly rushed into her lungs.
Bavandersloth uncloaked too. Zachary’s eyes widened further. He struggled to force Bavandersloth off. Bavandersloth waited for him to stop struggling, and then rolled toward the window and forced him off the bed. He sat in front of the window. “Why hello, Mr. Shepherd,” he said. “Did you get my letter?”
Zachary panted as he stood up. “Yeah,” he said. He looked up. “I take it there was a tracking chip in the finger.”
“I’ve no need to reveal my methods,” Bavandersloth said, smirking.
“I see,” Zachary said. Pink still struggled in the corner, but was unable to escape Valthakar’s grip. “So you’re here to kill me because your trap failed?”
“No, I’m here to discuss the proposition I wanted to discuss with you. I really did wait for you at the museum. It would have been lovely if you had come. Nonetheless, the discussion needed to be had, and your paranoia could not be allowed to impede it.”
“Hurry up then,” Zachary said.
“I’m afraid that might not be possible,” Bavandersloth said. “For there’s something of a story behind the proposition, and I believe it’d be best if you knew it. You see, I am not the do-gooder you believe me to be. I do not wish to elaborate too much, but rest assured, I am much more like you than I am like a police officer.”
Zachary raised an eyebrow. Bavandersloth smiled. He continued. “You may have noticed I have the media in my pocket right now, and I want to make my programming demand more attention. Unfortunately, I am doing too well in my crime-fighting endeavors. Since my kind went public, crime has dropped by an alarmingly high amount. People aren’t afraid anymore. Granted, I tried to engineer that myself in the early stages, but now I need something better. I need a boogeyman, and that is what I want you to be. My kind has already eliminated maybe half of the criminal organizations in the world, mostly small things individual ones of us could take out in a short time. Now I need the rest of the criminal world to strike back, and I’m prepared to give you the resources to do so.”
Zachary sat down in a chair in the corner of the room. He leaned forward. “What kind of resources?”
“Money, labor, and information.”
“You’re asking to work for us--”
“Oh quite the reverse of that I assure you. You see, I intend to contrive that a devourer will appear, quite suddenly, in this world, and cause trouble. He won’t really exist as such, but the public won’t know that. In order for people to believe in him, though, I need him to do dastardly deeds which I may then feign combating. I will give you the aid of the odd one of us to help in your enforcement, reanimate corpses to perform petty labor for you, and use my powers to acquire information which will help you find those who defy you, especially the police, and destroy them.”
“You can re… you can bring back the dead?”
Bavandersloth chuckled. “Not properly. They’re just drones. Their consciousness is nothing to do with the soul that once inhabited the body and they have none of the person’s personality and memories.”
Zachary looked down. He was thinking. Bavandersloth smiled. Zachary looked forward. “I can’t make this agreement on my own,” he said. “I’ll need to contact the boss, and he may want to talk to you.”
Bavandersloth smiled. “Of course, but you’re interested?”
“I am.” Zachary smiled. “And I imagine he’ll be.”
“Splendid.” Bavandersloth grinned.
Cody knocked on the door to Bavandersloth’s mansion. Justin opened it for him. Justin smiled. “Hey,” he said.
“Oh, hey,” Cody said. “Is Bavandersloth here? I need to talk to him.”
Justin shook his head. “No, he’s out hunting. What do you need?”
“Money,” Cody said. He sighed. “I’m planning to collect reward money for catching a criminal, Pretty Pink Ponytails’ brother. I need Bavandersloth to make a fake I. D. so I can claim the reward under a false name.”
Justin nodded. “Alright,” Justin said. “I’ll tell him when you get back.”
Cody turned around and started to leave. “What do you need the money for?”
Cody thought. Should he say? Should he lie? He’d look suspicious to Justin if he didn’t answer, but he might look suspicious to Bavandersloth if he was truthful.
No, that was ridiculous. Surely he could be vague enough. Cody turned around. “I need to switch hard drives on a computer. I’m planning to hire the guys at Good Buy to do it so I don’t risk breaking something.”
“Oh,” Justin said. Cody started to turn around, but right as he did, he noticed Justin’s face looking downcast. He turned around. “Hey, is something wrong?”
Justin sighed. “I…” he looked up. “My brother might be able to help.”
Cody tilted his head. “Oh. Does he know a lot about comput--”
Justin nodded. “Yeah, you could say that.”
“What do you mean?”
Justin looked down and sighed. “He used to work for Macroware as a hardware developer. He should know how to do it, and he’d probably do it for me for free. He’d not be able to do it in person, but he could walk you through it on the phone.”
Cody thought. Having someone walk him through it might cause a miscommunication. Cody didn’t want to take any risks he could avoid. “Is there any way for him to do it in person? If he’s out of town, I could find a way to go there.”
“That can’t happen.”
“Are you sure? Where is he exactly?”
Justin looked down. “In jail.”
Cody’s eyes widened. “Oh.” He took a step back. “I’m sorr--”
“Don’t worry about it.” Justin took a deep breath. “But yeah, there’s no way for him to do it in person. I might be able to get his help over the phone, though. Bavandersloth could get them to allow it. I could use my cell phone and put him on speaker phone for you.”
“Where is he? Do you know what jail?”
“No,” Justin said. “I mean, I don’t know what it’s called. It’s around here and I’ve been there before. His name is Ryan Cooper though. You could look it up. I think he’s on the Online Encyclopedia.”
Cody tilted his head. He sighed. “Go ahead and ask him,” he said. He smiled. “Thanks.”
Justin sighed. “You’re welcome.”
Cody turned around and started walking away. He thought. Out of curiosity, he pulled out his phone. Cody did a search and pulled the Online Encyclopedia page up.
According to it, Ryan Cooper had used his access to Macroware company servers to interrupt the flow of money from the company and transfer it to several accounts run by his accomplices.
Cody questioned if he wanted to work with him, but concluded that there would be no opportunity for Ryan to do anything wrong here. He decided to go through with it.
It was a few days before they were able to work everything out. Bavandersloth helped Justin arrange the visit, under the impression that this was a favor for Cherie. It turned out that her computer was compatible with the Hard Drive Cody had gotten.
Cody took a deep breath. With Ryan’s help, Cody had finally finished getting the accursed clump of incomprehensible metal into Cherie’s computer. He thanked Justin’s brother over the phone. “No problem,” Ryan said.
Justin turned off the speaker phone and held the phone up to his ear. “Okay then,” he said.
Justin turned off speaker too. Cody smiled. “Hey, can I talk to you for a second?” he asked.
Justin raised an eyebrow. “Yeah?”
“Do you want to go hunting with me tonight? We’ve not worked as a team in a while and there’s a spree killer I’d like your help to take down.”
“Alright then, go ahead and meet me here at Cherie’s tonight, say around eleven?”
“Alright. That sounds good.”
“Okay then, see you.”
Cody hung up. He got out from under Cherie’s desk and smiled. “It’s done.”
Cherie smiled back. “Nice job.”
Reidel nodded. “So where are you going from here?”
“I’ll tell my parents I’m staying the night here. When Justin shows up, I’ll bring him down, explain where the hard drive comes from and tell him everything. Justin was pretty motivated to get revenge against Valthakar right after his parents died. I’m hoping that that hatred hasn’t worn off so it can transfer to Bavandersloth, which would make Justin kill him, getting rid of the community’s only mind controller.”
Cherie looked at Cody. “You’ve said Justin was made by Bavandersloth just to heal me. Will other liches be able to do the same thing with this? Will they be able to create another lich with the same powers?”
Cody nodded. “They probably will. The good news is that lich will be really weak. Mass mind control through the media is a really strong power, so that lich will be weaker in other areas. Also, after we’ve gotten rid of Bavandersloth, we’re going to leak the truth out about what,” Cody sighed, “what liches eat. Without Bavandersloth to come up with something clever, the community probably won’t be able to get around that.”
“Wait,” Reidel said, “if they can get powers like that, why not just have a lich that snaps his fingers and gives them everything they want?”
“Because that’d take more power than a new lich can have. There’s an upper limit.”
“You said they’ll be weak,” Cherie said, “but the other liches would protect a new world-conquering lich, right? When they make a new one, what will you do?”
“Still kill them if I can,” Cody said, “possibly through Justin.”
“And we’re sure that’ll be enough?” Reidel asked.
“Not entirely, but it might be.” Cody looked at Cherie. “Have you told your father what we’re doing?”
Cherie nodded. “He approved it.”
“Good. Also tell him everything I’ve just said. I won’t be able to do much to keep the community from broadcasting like they plan to, and I won’t be able to exterminate lichkind on this planet, which is what I’ll have to do in the long term. DIAPP will have to do a lot of the work here.”
Cherie nodded. “Okay.”
A few hours later, Justin arrived at Cherie’s house. Cody closed his eyes as he heard the knock. “There’s no way for Bavandersloth to learn about this?” he whispered.
“There are no souls watching you,” Gborin’gargoth said. “I’ve spread the soul disability throughout the community. Right now it’s affecting the entire counsel and most of the liches closely affiliated with them. Soon, it will affect all of you.”
“Could you make the fog around them wear out when they leave earth?”
“It’d take a lot more energy. Why do you ask?”
“I’d like mine to be able to keep exploring space… and stuff.” Cody looked down.
There was a pause. “I’m sorry, Cody,” Gborin said. “I’d have to use enough magic to risk Kandrinarkora getting out. I can’t do that.”
Cody nodded. “Okay then.” He took a deep breath.
“Who are you talking to?” Cherie asked. “Also, is someone going to answer the door?”
Cody sighed. He started walking upstairs. After a few paces, he turned around and looked down the stairs. “Gborin’gargoth,” he said. “Look it up in the book.”
Cody walked upstairs. He opened the door for Justin. Justin looked up at him. “Hey,” he said. “So do you want to just turn around and leave?”
Cody looked down and Justin. He took a deep breath. “No. There’s something I want to show you first.”
Justin tilted his head. “What?”
“Come downstairs,” Cody said. “I need to tell you the secret Bavandersloth and I have been keeping.”
Cody started to walk downstairs. Justin raised an eyebrow and followed. “Do you remember about what time your parents died?” Cody asked.
Justin took a moment to speak. “It was the middle of the night,” Justin said. “I think early on. Maybe around midnight? Why do you ask?”
“So Valthakar would have needed to be away from his house, all the way across town in yours, to do it?”
Justin’s eyes widened. “What are you saying?”
“I got Valthakar’s hard drive from his house,” Cody said. “It still has the web history from that night stored on it.”
Justin gasped. “Wait… you think he didn--”
Justin followed Cody over to the computer. He sat down in the chair and looked at the web history.
At 11:17 p.m., Valthakar had logged onto a television streaming site. This might have been right after he got home after injuring Cherie.
At 12:02 p.m., he’d google imaged “gore.”
Justin’s jaw was on the floor. “It… No… It can’t be…”
“It is. The timeline makes sense. 11:17 is the right time to be right after he got home from hurting Cherie. If he watched one episode of something, it’d take him about forty minutes, not much less than how long he spent on that video site. I think a lich would be more likely than anyone else to want to look at random gory pictures.”
“But he can’t… so…” Justin turned around. “So you think Bavandersloth made a mistake? Why didn’t Valthakar tell him? The binding--”
“Bavandersloth needed someone to heal Cherie to clear my name and get me out of prison, and who could defeat Valthakar,” Cody said. Justin’s eyes widened. “He wanted someone who’d agree to kill whoever he asked, and who would be loyal to him afterward, so they’d not use their power to retrieve phylacteries against him. He chose you.” Justin’s eyes widened. He started to cry. His head fell downcast. “He killed your parents. I figured it out pretty quickly. I wondered why he’d just happen to be around you. He threatened to kill my friends and family if I told you.”
Tears streamed down Justin’s face, sobs escaping him every now and then. “No.”
“Why would I lie to you about this?”
“I… I don’t… why are you telling me now, then? If he’s going to kill every--”
“His souls are disabled,” Cody said. “By Gborin’gargoth. I’ve been working with him. He caused the whole thing at Joy’s Coast.”
“I…” Justin sat, crying. He pulled his knees up and wrapped his hands around them. Cody moved to put his hand on Justin’s shoulder, but Justin swatted him away.
“Bavandersloth has been planning something big,” Cody said. “You know that he’s been mind controlling people in his interviews.”
“Stop!” Justin cried. “Just stop.”
“You need to kill hi--”
“He’s planning to take over the world.”
“I said stop! I don’t believe you.”
Justin’s face was red. He screamed at Cody. “For the last fucking time I said to stop!”
Cody quieted down. Justin sobbed. “I… I don’t know what to think, alright? Give me time.”
Cody sighed. He nodded. “Alright.”
There was a pause.
“Don’t tell Bavandersloth I said any of this,” Cody said. “The threat also included you.”
Justin looked down. He cried. Cody walked into Cherie’s bedroom, where Cherie and Reidel were waiting.
Pretty Pink Ponytails smiled as she skipped toward the train tracks. She looked at the train bridge. She beamed. She could have so much fun with it. She couldn’t wait! She ran up to it and stuck the funny glowing spheres Light-rook had given her onto it. They were so easy to stick. They didn’t adhere to her hand at all, but once they were on the tracks, they were immovable. She had to stick them to just the right places, though. Light-rook had said so.
When Pink was done, she skipped away, heading back to her brother’s car. Her brother drove away.
Georgina drove her train forward down the tracks. She came to a bridge. She looked forward and squinted. She thought she saw a weird glow coming from the tracks up ahead. That color… That was the same shade of green Angel magic used. She wondered--
Bavandersloth laughed as he turned on his camera. He shrouded himself in a layer of darkness with the shape of an elaborate caped costume. He made sure it covered his chains.
He turned on the camera. He smiled. “Hello, people of the Earth,” he said, distorting his voice to make it sound as menacing as he could. “In the last few months, you have become aware of the existence of a group of beings you know as Angels. You have learned that they have been living among you for thousands of years. Their community, two-thousand strong, has fought on your behalf, or so it has seemed to you. They have fought against the wisest among you, those you deem most malignant. That cannot be allowed to go on.
“Several of the organizations your heroes have been opposing have contracted me to,” Bavandersloth cackled, “compel you to cease tolerating the Angels. I’ll admit, when I was first approached, I wasn’t sure what I could do to propel you along. They have already killed you by the thousands and you have not cared. However, after several hours of thought, something occurred to me. You have not cared because they have been wise themselves. They have targeted only the humans whose lives you do not value.
“I suppose then, to convince you to act differently, I must destroy those humans whose lives you do value.”
Bavandersloth turned around. Right on cue, he saw the train come into view. As it did, he closed his eyes and willed the mystical spheres Pink had set to explode. They did. The bridge exploded into a million pieces right in front of the train. The train surged forward, unable to stop. It plunged right off of the tracks and crashed into the valley below. Bavandersloth turned back around, as slowly as he could, for dramatic effect. He waited until the last car fell off the tracks to continue speaking. “Now now, don’t feel too sad. We arranged to have the cars separated. Several train cars toward the back are perfectly safe on the tracks a ways back. Let me explain. There are two-thousand-one-hundred-sixty-one angels in this world right now, a few more than the number of humans that were on this train. We cut the train such that precisely Two-thousand-one-hundred-thirty humans would die in the crash. We went into the remaining cars and shot thirty-one more. In other words, the same number of humans have been killed as Angels remain on this world.”
Bavandersloth took a step toward the camera. “Now, here is the rule. As of this moment, it is the morning of Saturday, February the first, 2014. One week from now, on the eighth, another tragedy shall strike, and once again, a number of humans shall die equal to the number of remaining angels on this planet. Your task, humanity, is to do anything you can to reduce that number. Kill as many Angels as you can.” Bavandersloth raised his fist for the camera. “Arrange for their executions. Hunt them down. The more of them you eliminate, the more humans you shall save.
Bavandersloth grinned. “You have one week, humanity. One short week to begin exterminating them. Who knows? Maybe you’ll manage to get rid of them entirely and subvert the tragedy all together.” Bavandersloth chuckled. “But probably not. You might as well try though. After all, what do you have to lose?”
Bavandersloth laughed for a few minutes and then turned off the camera. He’d trim the footage a bit and then upload it online.
Bavandersloth cloaked himself and started down the road. He looked up in the sky. Just as he had planned, the smoke from the explosion had risen. With Kgobauru’s enchantments, it should remain there for the foreseeable future.
The smoke, having risen, split and clumped together, shaping itself into a string of characters.