Cody was heading out to hunt when he heard Gborin’gargoth’s voice.
“Cody!” it said.
“What?” Cody whispered as he jumped down from his roof onto the alley between his house and the next.
“Kandrinarkora just contacted Bavadersloth.” Cody’s eyes widened. “He told him everything. I had to destroy the entire mansion, and Bavandersloth’s form, in order to keep him from alerting Valthakar.”
Cody stood for a moment. “Are the books still there?” Copies of On Soulless Ones and On the Underworld were indestructible. Being near the center of an explosion shouldn’t have harmed them at all.
“They should be somewhere nearby,” Gborin said.
Cody retook his human form and got out his cell phone, the bugged one. He called one of Justin’s disposable phones.
It was a minute before Justin picked up. “Hello?”
“A situation has come up. You should meet me back at Bavandersloth’s mansion.”
“I’m right outside the hospital right now. What is it that we can’t talk about over the phone?”
Cody thought for a moment. “Actually, I guess we can. Gbroin’gargoth just contacted me. He said….”
Justin trembled when Cody told him what had happened. He didn’t talk for a moment.
“Justin?” Cody said.
Justin swallowed and took a deep breath. “I’m here.”
“Okay. Well, I’m headed over there right now to grab Bavandersloth’s books, both On Soulless Ones and On the Underworld. After that, I suppose our priority is to explain the lack of Bavandersloth to the community of liches in a way that does not lead them to realize what we’re doing.”
Justin nodded. “Right. Any ideas there?”
“Not yet. Our best bet would be to steer suspicion toward Valthakar. Between the blinded souls and this, it will be easy for the community to figure out that a lich is working against them, and he’s the only one around here that’s not either of us.”
“But he’s under that spell. He can’t--”
“We’d have to convince them that someone broke it.”
“Just from thinking right now, I’m going with Ntullnarlth.”
“What? Why him?”
“First, he was here. Second, it would have been possible for him to turn invisible and obtain Valthakar’s phylactery. I think he had enough souls to break the binding spell and cast a new one to make Valthakar obey him. Third, he’s gone, so he won’t be able to deny it and the spell would have died with him. That would have freed Valthakar to pretend to be obedient while working against Bavandersloth. Fourth, Valthakar’s deal with Allen assured him eternal paradise upon his death, but Kandrinarkora would abolish the afterlife if he retook control of the underworld, so Valthakar would have incentive to work with Gborin’gargoth and against Bavandersloth.”
“And how long has it been since you heard about this explosion?”
Justin could have sworn he heard Cody smirk over the phone. “Less than five minutes. I learned from Bavandersloth himself. Now, there’s a DIAPP agent listening to everything both of us are saying right now, and I expect them to be willing to help us out with this. It’d be to our advantage for the community to send someone to investigate. We could find a way to trick them into believing the version of events we need them to. From there, it’d be a matter of finding Bavandersloth’s phylactery somewhere in the Rocky Mountains and destroying it in time.”
“Okay. So, what’s our plan when it comes to tricking someone?”
“Not that far yet. In the meantime, it should take long enough before Valthakar gets back to the mansion for me to swipe both of the books. He usually hunts until the early morning. I’ll give the On Soulless Ones book to you.”
Justin nodded. “Okay.”
Deerward picked up the phone and called Cody. He had to wait a moment to get an answer. “Hello,” Cody said when he finally picked up.
“Hello,” Deerward said. He took a deep breath. “We were listening. I’ve spoken with the Grey Man, that’s the leader of DIAPP, and he agreed that it’s in our best interest to help you.”
“As I expected. Now, I’m not much closer to figuring out how to make anyone think Valthakar did what we need them to think he did than I was when I spoke to Justin. I’ve come up with ‘plant some evidence,’ but I’ve not thought of what would prove that Valthakar caused that explosion. Do you have any ideas?”
Cody sighed. “Let’s think for a moment. If Ntullnarlth had taken control of Valthakar, what would he have him do? It’d have to be something subtle that it would make sense for no one to have noticed until now.”
Deerward thought. “Ntullnarlth wanted to expand his cult. What good could Valthakar have done for him there?”
“I’m not sure. Valthakar doesn’t have any mind control powers. As a slave, he’s most useful for his raw fighting power, but Ntullnarlth’s cult didn’t have any enemies besides Valthakar and me.”
Cody raised an eyebrow. “Did you ever actually do anything against it?”
“A few things, mostly small. I could, however, arrange for our records to show instead that we had attempted something and it had been foiled by Valthakar. An investigating lich could then be arranged to find such records.”
“And why wouldn’t you have told me, and me told Bavandersloth, and Bavandersloth told the other councilors?”
“You were Bavandersloth’s henchman at the time. Why would we tell you everything we did?”
After a pause, Cody said “You’re right. That makes it work. How soon can you arrange for everything to be prepared for that?”
“Only as long as it’d take me to forge the documents; though something else just occurred to me. Would there have been souls watching Valthakar?”
“Maybe. Hold on. I’ll check.” Cody took a minute to get out the book. “During the Ntullnarlth affair, Ntullnarlth, Kgobauru, Bavandersloth, and … and Nglavingithu all had souls after Valthakar at some point.”
Deerward tilted his head. “That’s all?”
“Too many souls would have obstructed his vision, which Bavandersloth would have objected to, and he might have used that as a pretext to keep too many liches from spying on him even before it became a legitimate problem.”
“Ah. So Ntullnarlth is dead and Bavandersloth is gone. We need to kill Kgobauru and Nglavingithu and make it look like Valthakar did, and then we need to kill him too.”
“Right. So, how do we do that?”
“The first step would be gathering all three of them at the same place, then Tkoralkiarch could kill them.”
“The last time Kgobauru was here, it was for my contest with Ntullnarlth. If I could get Nglavingithu here, and get into a contest with him, Kgobauru would probably come down to mediate it and Valthakar would spectate on Bavandersloth’s behalf.”
“How would you arrange for Nglavingithu to get here?”
“I’d call him, tell him about the explosion, and ask for his help figuring it out.”
“And how would you get into a contest with him?”
“I’d make it look like he ate one of my humans. Everyone in roughly the downtown area belongs to me. If someone else preys on them, I can object.”
“And how would you make it look like Nglavingithu did that? You’d have to be able to prove it wasn’t you.”
There was a pause, and then the line went dead.
“Cody?” Deerward said. He thought. His eyes widened a bit. Every one of Cody’s kills had several terminal illnesses, but Nglavingithu’s wouldn’t. If Cody killed a person in his own territory, but didn’t use them to heal anyone, no one would believe that he’d done it.
Deerward turned the phone around to dial the number to call Cody back, but then he stopped. He thought for a moment, clenched his teeth, looked down at his feet and put the phone down.
When he had finished his nightly rounds, eating one soul and stopping a few dozen criminals, Valthakar approached the mansion. His eyes widened when he didn’t see it on the horizon. He ran toward it. It was nothing but a pile of ash. He saw no sign of his master, Cody’s dog, or his master’s boy. The boy had gone out hunting before he had, but was usually back before he was.
Valthakar took his human form and took his cell phone out of his pocket. He dialed Bavandersloth’s number first. The call went straight to voice mail. A few more of Bavandersloth’s phones did the same thing, until Valthakar had exhausted all of the ones he could remember.
Valthakar groaned. Had Bavandersloth been destroyed in this explosion? It had been one thing to substitute for Bavandersloth when he had planned for it the first time, it would be much harder to do it now, all while trying to figure out how this had happened.
He thought. On the very rare occasion he actually used the most powerful magical blast he was capable of, he would have been able to replicate this feat, but just barely, meaning that whoever was responsible for this was at least as powerful as him. The scorched earth and ashes where the mansion had been were sufficient to show that it had not been made to decay away.
There were two beings on earth who could have done this: Kandrinarkora and Kgobauru. Kandrinarkora seemed absurdly unlikely, so Kgobauru must have been responsible.
Valthakar dialed another number on his phone, calling Tkoralkiarch. It took two tries before he got an answer.
“I was in the middle of a kill. What do you need?” Tkoralkiarch asked.
“There’s been an incident. I got back to the mansion and it was destroyed. I wasn’t able to get a hold of Bavandersloth. I think Kgobauru is behind it. He’s the only other lich on earth who would be able to do this.”
Tkoralkiarch didn’t say anything for several seconds. “Tkoralkiarch?” Valthakar asked.
The boy finally answered. “I uh… ” Valthakar thought he heard a sob, “alright. I… I’m catching another scent. I guess you should keep working on it. I… I’d rather just stay out hunting?”
It took Valthakar a moment to respond too. He sensed something off. “Okay” Valthakar said. He hung up. He put the younger boy out of his mind and focused on the older boy. He dialed his number.
Odelarch didn’t answer. Of course not. He would have been at mass with his parents at this time on a Sunday morning.
Valthakar looked around. If Kgobauru had done this, he must have been in town to do it, which meant that he’d have taken his plane, which meant that there might be a record of its landing at the airport. Valthakar turned invisible and ran off to check for that.
Cody walked upstairs from his room as soon as he got home from mass. He got out his cell phone and held it up to his face, not dialing a number.
“Hello? Hello? Mr. Lambert? There’s something I need to--”
The phone rang and Cody answered it.
“What is it?” Lambert asked.
Cody took a deep breath. “I want to talk about getting my parents and friends into hiding, in case my plan with Nglavingithu doesn’t work out, or in case something happens later to expose me.”
“There are procedures for that,” Lambert said after a moment. “You’re right. We should have done it sooner. Of course, it will involve telling your parents about what you’ve done.”
Cody nodded. “I know. Once you’ve gotten them to safety--”
“You’re going to have to tell them yourself. We’re not going to waste our effort abducting them when you could tell them to come with us.”
Cody looked down. “But--”
“Cody, what do you expect them to do if they hear it from us? They might not believe it. In any case, the first thing they’ll want is to contact you. It would be much easier for them to hear it from you first.”
Cody’s head sank farther. “Alright,” he said. “Can we arrange for it to be done this evening?”
“Yes. You’d better tell them as soon as possible. Give them more time to deal with it before being taken away.”
Cody nodded. “Alright. Be here at 7:00. I’ll tell them in a few hours.”
“Okay.” Agent Lambert hung up.
Cody took a deep breath and waited a few minutes before opening up his book.
“What is Nglavingithu’s phone number, including area code?”
Cody picked up his cell phone and then put it down. DIAPP would no doubt prefer that he let them listen in to this conversation, but Nglavingithu no doubt knew that the phone was bugged. Using it would look suspicious.
Cody opened up one of his disposable cell phones and dialed the number. In the future world Gborin’gargoth had shown him, this was the lich who had been responsible for his losing the battle he now fought. As the phone buzzed, Cody felt his lip curl into a slight sneer before he took a deep breath.
The phone was answered after two rings. “Hello?” Nglavingithu said. His voice was dry, dull, almost bored.
“Yes. Who am I speaking to?”
“This is Cod—Odelarch.”
“Why have you called?”
Cody took a deep breath. “Bavandersloth’s form and mansion have been destroyed. We have no idea how. I went there to get something from him and found it reduced to scorched earth and ash, and he didn’t respond to my calls.”
“Did you recover his books?”
“I didn’t see them. They’re probably somewhere around there.”
“It is possible that the perpetrator of this already stole them.”
“Yeah, I suppose that could be. Now, I’d like you to come down here if you could and help me investigate. The only lich who I know of that is down here and could have destroyed the mansion like that would be Valthakar, and he’s been bound to Bavandersloth for months. Kgobauru is also powerful enough, but as far as I know, he isn’t here. You know the community better than I do, and are probably better at doing investigations like this.”
There was a pause. “I shall come,” Nglavingithu said, after a moment. “I shall arrange for a flight as soon as possible. I will start by asking Kgobauru to fly me there. If he approaches from the South, where he is supposed to be, it will be clear that he is not responsible. If he approaches from the West, where you are, his responsibility will be all but confirmed.”
Cody smiled and nodded. “Yes. That sounds perfect. We should meet soon after you get here. Where?”
“My first stop will be the mansion. Meet me there at eleven, your time. I wish to see its ruins for myself. Do not alert Valthakar to my arrival. As impossible as it seems, if Kgobauru is would be best for him not to be warned of our arrival.”
Cody nodded. “Alright.” He hung up. This was perfect. This was absolutely perfect. He wouldn’t even need to arrange a contest. He’d be able to just meet the two of them on the tarmac and kill them as they arrived, then run straight to Valthakar and kill him too. He could then tell the last councilor, Lorn-something, that he’d come across Agent Lambert’s false records of Valthakar working for Ntullnarlth, and that he’d seen Valthakar kill the others.
Wait, no, there was one problem with that. He’d need to explain how Valthakar had gotten both of their phylacteries. He picked up the quill pen and wrote to the book.
“Do Nglavingithu and Kgobauru carry their Phylacteries with them?”
“Kgobauru usually keeps his wherever his current base of operations is at any given time. Nglavingithu’s is hidden in Antarctica.”
That worked out well for his original plan then. He’d say Valthakar got Kgobauru’s phylactery from him and that Justin had gotten Nglavingithu’s from its hiding place for the contest.
Cody thought. Was there any way to get around the contest entirely? He could find a way to make it look like Valthakar had tricked Justin into retrieving it, but that could have negative consequences for Justin. He may even be executed for it. Cody needed Justin. He’d be at a considerable disadvantage against the community of liches without Justin’s powers. He put his head down. He had to frame Nglavingithu for the murder of one of his mortals. There was no way around it.
Nglavingithu waited at the airport for Kgobauru. It would have been better if he had his own private jet. He needed to look into that. He shouldn’t be relying on Kgobauru for transportation. Then again, it did help him in this case.
Nglavingithu looked up at the sky. He saw Kgobauru’s jet. It was turning to align itself with the runway. He only would have had to do that if he’d come from the South. If he came from the south, that indicated that he was in St. Louis, where he purported to be. More importantly, he had flown here in a little over an hour. He couldn’t have gotten here from Goldfalls that quickly, unless he was already on his way back, but Nglavingithu had called him on his cell phone, which he wouldn’t have been willing to use while he was on his plane.
That was one of two suspects all but ruled out, then. The problem was that the other suspect had already been all but ruled out. How likely was it that the binding spell on Valthakar had been broken?
But perhaps it hadn’t been. Maybe this was part of a plan by Bavandersloth, who had ordered Valthakar to destroy the mansion. Why would he blow himself up? Perhaps he wanted to frame Kgobauru to get him out of the way. With Ntullnarlth gone, Kgobauru was his greatest opponent on the Council. No, that didn’t make any sense. Surely if he intended to frame Kgobauru, he would have done a better job at it.
Then again, flight records aside, Nglavingithu would be the only one who knew for sure that Kgobauru hadn’t been in Goldfalls at the time, other than his friends, and the book, but the book was fickle. God knew if it would answer a question like that.
It was unlikely, put perhaps Bavandersloth had some kind of hidden design. In either case, the plane was landing, and Nglavingithu needed to get on it.
Nglavingithu landed at the airport after a four hour flight. As he’d imagined, his copy of On Soulless Ones had been uncooperative. You could ask it any question, but it didn’t always feel like answering. It had never refused an inquisitor one of its little poems, or a lich’s soul count, but when asked about finer details, the thing gave or denied answers according to its own whims.
Nglavingithu looked back down at the book in front of him. Its poem was the most he’d been able to gleam about Odelarch.
“A Lich of Benevolence. A utilitarian lich. Cunning, he stalks the night and day seeking to bring about his kind and horrific designs. For the right purpose, there is nothing he would not do.”
It was as uselessly cryptic as every one of those poems.
Kgobauru’s voice rang out over the intercom, telling him to exit the plane. He did, walking down the stairs and onto the tarmac. As he walked, he smelled something, like gasoline. It stank. He turned his head as Kgobauru followed him out. The plane was leaking something.
Kgobauru’s eyes widened for a moment, but then he just grumbled. Nglavingithu looked up at him. “How bad is that?” he asked.
Kgobauru’s teeth were gritted. “Bad enough that I’ll not be flying home for a few days.” Nglavingithu kept looking at him for a moment, but then turned away and walked on, into the airport. He went into the bathroom, found a stall, took his true form and turned invisible, then exited. He knew where Bavandersloth’s mansion was, so he ran straight toward it.
Cody approached the mansion’s ruins once again at 11:00, finding Nglavingithu already there. Sparky was by his side. Nglavingithu turned to notice Cody as he walked up to him. The older lich looked around in the trees near Bavandersloth’s mansion. Cody took a deep breath. This lich…
“Hey,” Cody said.
“Hello,” Nglavingithu said, climbing down from the tree.
“Have you found anything?” Cody asked.
Nglavingithu shook his head. “No. Bavandersloth’s copy of On the Underworld is nowhere to be seen.”
Cody stood there for a moment. He clenched his toes as he looked up at the lich. “I’ve been thinking on how Valthakar could have been released from his bounds. I think I’ve come up with a possible sequence of events.”
Nglavingithu tilted his head. “What?”
“Alright, so the only liches who’ve been in town with the ability to release Valthakar from the spell and rebind him would be Ntullnarlth and Kgobauru.”
“Wait, you raise a very important point. I’ve been thinking of this in terms of whether Kgobauru or Valthakar did this, but it could be that both of them did.”
Cody stood for a moment. That was actually better than what he’d come up with. He thought. Were there any holes in that scenario? No. He couldn’t think of any. He could easily invent a time Kgobauru and Valthakar had been alone, and that Nglavingithu was considering it seemed to indicate that his monitoring hadn’t been sufficient to rule that out.
The problem with that might be that DIAPP probably hadn’t been surveying Kgobauru like it had been Ntullnarlth, so Cody might not be able to use his falsified records plan. Still, he might not need it.
Cody looked up. “So you think Valthakar might be bound to Kgobauru?”
Nglavingithu nodded. “Yes. You mentioned your own sequence of events, though? Was that not a part of it?”
Crap. It might not be best for him to give out his original scenario. If he presented it, and then he found proof for it, would Nglavingithu suspect something? He thought. He might say as little as possible, or feign at simply having been wrong. “I thought it might be more likely that Ntullnarlth had released and rebound Valthakar, and that Valthakar was freed when Ntullnarlth died.”
“Possible, but unlikely,” Nglavingithu said. “Given Valthakar’s nature, he’d run off as soon as he was freed.”
“That wouldn’t be very smart of him,” Cody said. “Bavandersloth could just track him down and use Justin to get him back.”
“True. Has he had any good opportunities to kill Justin since Ntullnarlth died?”
Cody thought. “I can’t think of a specific one, but I’d imagine he would.”
“I see.” Nglavingithu looked up at the sky, seeming to think. “My souls were keeping track of Valthakar during all of his interactions with Ntullnarlth. Besides, unless Valthakar is planning something big, he’s not patient enough to feign service to Bavandersloth for that long. Kgobauru… I know he was in St. Louis before he flew here, but it’s possible he had Valthakar wait until now. Why, though?”
Cody thought. “Perhaps he was waiting until he could create a new lich, and now he has? One with Bavandersloth’s powers?”
“Might be… I’ll check the book. In any case, Kgobauru being responsible is by far the most likely scenario. That deduction should be sufficient grounds on which to hold a contest with him… except that he’d beat me at anything he’d agree to.”
Cody’s eyes widened. He could have a contest with Kgobauru instead… but then how would he explain why Justin had gotten Nglavingithu’s phylactery? He needed him killed, too. “Is there a way we could team up? Bavandersloth was my mentor and my friend, so I’d have a grievance. I’ve taken down powerful opponents before. The two of us together could get rid of Kgobauru.”
“He’s powerful enough that he might agree to a two against one contest. However, your victories against Kaburlduth and Ntullnarlth were only possible because they underestimated you, and in both cases, you came within a hair’s width of losing. You must understand, Kgobauru is one of the most powerful liches on earth. The others are nothing compared to him. The only reason he’s a suspect in this is because of his immense power. He obtains every ability in a miniscule fraction of the time it takes anyone else to get it. Things neither of us will live to be able do with rituals lasting years, he can do with a thought. He has so many powers, he needs another power just to index them in his mind and keep them all straight in his mind. He will not be easy to defeat, especially given that he won’t allow you to use your dog.”
Sparky’s ears perked when he was mentioned. Cody took his true form and started petting him with his right hand, his dead flesh cooking from the dog’s heat. “So, you’re saying we can’t beat him?”
“It’s not likely… but then again, Kgobauru has other enemies, and Bavandersloth other allies. What about Tkoralkiarch? Larngulal? Actually, that’s most likely our answer. Yes. Larngulal. She’s the only other councilor alive, and she’s historically sided with Bavandersloth in most disputes. She has every reason to want Kgobauru gone. She could force him to agree to a competition he can’t win, so long as it maintains the trappings of fairness.”
Cody nodded. “That would work. We’d kill Kgobauru.” And then Justin would kill Nglavingithu and Valthakar in one blow. All of their problems would be solved. Nglavingithu’s death would also be the first absolute proof that he had changed the future he’d seen, as the other lich had been alive in his hallucination. Cody clenched his fist a bit. “Is Kgobauru still in town?”
Nglavingithu nodded. “Yes. We shall challenge him now, and plan the contest for tomorrow.”
Nglavingithu got out his phone and called Kgobauru. “Greetings.” he said, “this is Nglavingithu.”
“Hello. What is it you need?”
“I’ve done some investigation of the events around here, and spoken with Odelarch, who’s here with me right now. I’ve come to the conclusion that you are responsible for the explosion.”
“I said that--”
“Yes, yes, I know what you said. That’s absurd. How did I cause the explosion from so far away? Powerful as I am, I can’t just do whatever I like.”
“Valthakar cast the spell to cause that explosion, but you ordered him to.”
“And how would I do that? He cannot defy his master, who, I’ll remind you, is Bavandersloth, not me.”
“At one point, but perhaps no longer. What if you are his master? You’d have an easy enough time breaking the spell on him, and casting your own.”
Kgobauru was silent. Nglavingithu continued. “You held his phylactery in your own hand while you were here during the Ntullnarlth incident. You could easily have broken the spell and recast your own while you did, without anyone knowing. Hence, Odelarch and I are challenging you to a contest. My reasoning is more than concrete enough to compel you to acc--”
“Wait, what do you mean you and Odelarch?”
“You have wronged both of us, hence you will face both of us.”
“Is it? There’s only one other councilor to make that ruling, and I get the feeling she’ll side against you.”
“She won’t. Why would she set that precedent? Another group of liches could use it against her later on.”
“Unless she keeps from violating the conventions or the rights of another lich. Honestly, you are coming off like a coward. I’d think the two of us in tandem are necessary to make this contest fair, given your magical power.”
Kgobauru seethed. “Fine! You’ve challenged me. I’ll get to work on a two on one contest. I promise you, when this is over, you’ll be begging me to cast a binding spell on you, and I’ll decide then if I think I should.”
Nglavingithu hung up. He turned to Odelarch. “It’s done.”
Odelarch nodded. “Good.” The boy’s smile was wide.
Kgobauru put the phone in his pocket as he lay back on the couch in his hotel room, gritting his teeth. He took a deep breath. This wasn’t going to kill him. This was more of an annoyance than anything else. Both of Bavandersloth’s pets were clever, the boy especially, but they were also both weak.
Still, it was failing to take the boy seriously that killed Ntullnarlth. It would be a mistake to do anything but put his full effort into this contest. That began with its construction. Odelarch’s strength was in his mind, Nglavingithu’s too. Kgobauru was a match for either of them on that front, but it would be safer to force their challenge to take place in a domain in which Kgobauru was superior. He had better, stronger spells than anyone else. He couldn’t challenge them to a straight magic competition, as Larngulal would likely rule that arrangement unfair. However, he would not need to do that. His best course of action was a straightforward fight to the death. There was a sports arena in the Goldfalls Northwest district, Kgobauru was pretty sure. He couldn’t recall what sport it had been for, but he didn’t imagine that it would matter. He’d look it up later.
Kgobauru smiled. Plus, he could and should demand an ally. Two on one wasn’t fair. He could use this as a pretense to get Rngwelokt to help him. His shields would be beneficial in this contest. Then again, perhaps a monster from the underworld would be more advantageous. Yes, that would do. He’d summon something large and powerful which would demand the other two’s full attention, and while they were focusing on it, he would activate his speed boost and use it to enhance himself, and take them out before they could do anything about it.
But what creature ought he use? Kgobauru thought. He should demand Valthakar’s copy of On the Underworld. He’d look through that.
That night, Cody got a call from Agent Lambert. He was outside. It was time for Cody to get his parents to leave. The two were downstairs. He hadn’t talked to them.
“Can’t you tell them? If you think they need to hear it from me to believe you, I could tell them it’s true over the phone.”
“That might work, but if you tell them in person, you’ll have the option of showing them your real body. They’ll be guaranteed to believe you then, at least as much as they could be.”
Cody shed a tear. “I suppose. They’ll be out in a few minutes.”
“Okay.” Agent Lambert hung up.
Cody sat in his bed for just a moment, curled up with his hands clasped around his knees. He closed his eyes and took a deep breath, than another, than another. He unclasped his hands and put them to his side. He lay back in bed for a moment, then stood up. He forced himself downstairs, where his parents were chatting.
As soon as Cody’s mother saw him, she tilted her head a bit, and got a look in her eye, a worried, innocent look that stabbed Cody in the heart. “What’s wrong, Cody?” his mother asked, concerned and confused.
Cody clenched his fist. He took another deep breath, which made his mother shift to an even worse expression than she had worn before. “Mom,” he forced out, “and dad…”
“What is it?” his dad asked.
“There’s a car outside.”
Cody’s mother stared for a moment. “What?” his father asked. “What do you mean? Whose car is it?”
“It’s Mr. Lambert’s, but it’s from his work. It’s not his green van.”
“Cody, what’s wrong?” Cody’s mother asked.
Cody sobbed. “Mom, dad, you need to get in the car.”
“Why?” his mother looked at him. Her eyes scorched his soul with hellfire and made him fall to his knees, crying. His mother stood up and walked over to him, his father following behind. Before they could get too close, Cody took his true form, right there on the stairs. He didn’t put up a cloud. He didn’t deserve one.
Both of Cody’s parents stopped, and took a half step backward. Cody took his human form again. He looked up at them, eyes drenched with tears. “I think you know,” he put his head down, closed his eyes, and cried. “Please don’t make me tell you,” he said as the first of many tears hit the floor.
Cody’s mother looked down. She took a few steps toward him. She put her hand on his shoulder. She stroked it, and then hugged him. His crying waned a bit and he opened his eyes, and looked up at his father, who was looking down at him. Cody closed his eyes again, and cried on his mother’s shoulder.
After a few minutes of this, Cody pulled his hands back to his side, ending his mother’s hug. She leaned away and looked him in the eye. He looked away. “You need to go,” he said. “Angels… we’re not what we seem. Not most of us, anyway. Light-rook, the one on television… he’s…” it just then occurred to Cody that he wasn’t sure how much the two of them had seen of Light-rook’s interviews. If they’d seen the wrong ones, there would be limits about what he could tell them. “You’re in danger. Cherie’s father… he’s… he’s… it might sound weird, but he can protect you. Once you get in that car, you’ll understand why.”
Cody’s mother put her hand on Cody’s cheek. She tried to look him in the eyes, but he wouldn’t return her gaze. “Alright, Cody,” she said after a moment. “Go upstairs for your things. We’ll go.”
Cody shook his head. His mother’s eyes widened. “I have things I have to do here. I can’t go with you.”
“If Cherie’s father has anything to do with this, I’m sure he can take care of anything--”
“No. He can’t.” Cody’s head sunk. “I’m sorry.”
Cody’s mother hugged him again. “A few months ago… The black death--”
Cody nodded. “Was me. Yes.”
Cody’s mother squeezed him tighter. “You saved me, Cody.”
Cody closed his eyes, as tears welled in them. He nodded. “And now I’m going to save you again. You need to go. I’ll see you again as soon as I can. I love you.”
“I love you too.” Cody’s mother gave him one final squeeze, than leaned back, and stood up. Cody’s father still stared.
“I love you, too, dad,” Cody said.
Cody’s father shed a tear. “I love you, too.” His father kneeled down and hugged him for about half a minute. After that, his father stood up. Cody watched as the two left.
He sat on the stairs, sobbing as he waited to hear, and then heard, the car drive away. He sobbed and sobbed, before punching the railing on the stairs and making a chunk of it rot away. He cried, and then threw a few more punches, wailing. He kicked and ripped at the posts which held the rail up. He tore one out, and broke it over his knee, sobbing. He shouted as he ripped the rail itself off of the remaining posts. He made it rot away as he fell to his knees and cried.
After a few more minutes, Cody stood up and walked upstairs to his room. He looked around. He got his lime green backpack and stuffed it full of books from his shelf. He was only able to fit maybe a third of them in there. He thought for a moment, before getting an old backpack, the one he’d used until he got his current one five years ago, and put several more books in it. He was able to put the rest of the books, his cube, and most of his clothes in his pillow case, which he then tied shut.
When he was done with that, Cody turned off all the lights in his house, unplugged everything, checked both sinks, locked the upstairs window he’d used to sneak out, grabbed a house key from the kitchen, and left, locking the door behind him. He got a strange look from a woman who lived across the street from him. His eyes met hers, welling with tears. He turned away and walked down the street until he could find an alleyway where no one was. There, he took his true form, hid himself and his things with a cloud of darkness, and ran to Bavandersloth’s mansion.
“I apologize that I couldn’t come to you in person,” Larngulal said. “I have urgent business here in New York. I can’t possibly fly down there until it’s dealt with.”
“It’s acceptable,” Nglavingithu said, nodding next to Cody. Kgobauru, nodded as well, from his hotel room.
“Now,” Larngulal said, “let’s get down to business. Nglavingithu’s case that you, Kgobauru, acted against him and Odelarch with a single act validates their joint challenge against you. As the challenged party, you may dictate the nature of the contest you have with them.”
“I want a straight fight,” Kgobauru said. “There’s an old football stadium in the Northwest District. It belonged to the Goldfalls Flying Squirrels, before the district was evacuated. Myself and a monster of my choosing, within reason of course, will do battle with Nglavingithu and Odelarch, who will be unassisted. I assert that that me having a monster to aid me is more than reasonable in the face of a two on one fight.” Larngulal nodded a bit as he spoke. “I will win if either Odelarch or Nglavingithu’s form is destroyed while mine is intact, or if all three of our forms are destroyed. They will win if my form is destroyed while both of theirs remain intact.”
“I object,” Nglavingithu said. “His win condition is too broad. He should have to destroy both of us, not merely either of us.”
Larngulal nodded. “I agree.”
“In that case, they must destroy my creature’s form as well as my own in order to win.”
“I think all three of us would prefer that the creature be part of the contest prize,” Cody said. “Destroying it would make that impossible.”
“I’ll get to keep the creature no matter what if I win, so I don’t care about that. Besides, if you win, Nglavingithu could bind me and make me summon whatever creature he liked.”
Larngulal nodded. “Kgobauru is right. If it’s a two-on-two fight, both combatants from either team should have to be destroyed for the other team to win.”
Cody gritted his teeth, but then sighed. “Fine”
Larngulal nodded. “Alright then. As I said, it will be impossible for me to be physically present for the contest, so I see no reason for you not to hold it right away. Odelarch, Nglavingithu, take Tkoralkiarch and Bavandersloth’s copy of On the Underworld to the stadium. Kgobauru, meet them there.”
Kgobauru nodded. “My pleasure.”
“The monster you select shall be no more than one-thousand feet in length, width or height, whichever is greatest. It shall weigh no more than two-hundred-twenty-five tons. Its presence on the world shall not be a danger to it, nor to any parties not involved in the contest, humans included. It shall not be a specter.”
“Acceptable,” Nglavingithu said.
“Yes,” Kgobauru said.
Cody nodded. “Alright.”
“Very well. It is my understanding that Valthakar asked to spectate on the contest. He may. Now, go.”
Nglavingithu nodded and ended the call.
Kgobauru turned off his computer. He sat back on his couch for a moment before standing up. The hardest thing he was going to do today was decide whether to kill the two pests, or bind them to himself. He tended toward the latter.
When Cody, Valthakar, Justin, Sparky and Nglavingithu entered the football stadium, Kgobauru was sitting in the stands. He turned to face them. “Ah, there you are,” he said. “You have the book?”
Valthakar nodded. He handed it over. Valthakar had avoided this whole ordeal. Despite his knowing that Kgobauru was innocent, he knew his master would benefit from his being killed. Besides, any attempt to clear Kgobauru’s name could be explained away as a lie.
“Good, good.” Kgobauru opened up the book and sat back down with it.
Cody turned to Justin. “Get everyone’s phylacteries,” he said. Justin nodded. He took his true form and used his power to obtain them. First, he retrieved Kgobauru’s, and set it on the stair beside him. He then got Nglavingithu’s and set it in the same place. Next, he went for Valthakar’s, and placed it on the step.
Valthakar turned around and raised an eyebrow. “Wait, what do you need mine for?”
Cody smirked. He won. He was about to free millions of souls and make it most of the way to saving the world in one stroke. In another world, Nglavingithu turned him evil, but in this one, Nglavingithu died. Cody pointed at the phylacteries. “Sparky, destroy.”
Kgobauru’s eyes widened. “Wait, wha--”
Sparky breathed out an avalanche of searing flame, scorching the phylacteries. Cody turned his head and locked eyes with Nglavingithu, who fell to his knees as his phylactery was burnt. He didn’t say a word. He just stared. Kgobauru turned to face Cody. “So… that’s what this was abo…” he tried to stand up, but fell and sagged over the next lower row of seats. Cody smiled.
Then he heard a magical blast coming toward him. His eyes widened and he dove backwards. When he sat up to look at its source, he saw Valthakar running out of the stadium. His eyes widened and he gasped. He looked over at the pile of phylacteries.
The other two were gone, but Valthakar’s was unharmed.
Cody looked up at Justin, who was watching Valthakar leave, paralyzed with shock. Cody stood up and dashed down to Kgobauru’s corpse. He grabbed On the Underworld. He opened it up to its Q&A page.
“What, that’s on Earth, wouldn’t a hellhound like Sparky be able to burn?”
“A hellhound cannot burn some magical materials. The only one that has ever been common on earth, humans call Orichalcum.”
Cody’s eyes widened. He dropped the book. He turned around to look at the bright red jewels in the Necklace Valthakar had placed his soul into. Cody walked up to the Phylactery and grabbed it. He took his true form and tried to rip it, or break its chain, but he couldn’t. He stood back, and hit it with his best magical blast. It was intact.
Cody looked up at Justin. “If Valthakar gets back to the mansion and calls Larngulal, it’ll be over for us.”
“C’mon,” Cody said. “We have to stop him.”
Justin nodded. The two ran out of the stadium.