Cody and Justin rushed out of the stadium, chasing Valthakar. As soon as Cody left, he turned his head to the right and looked down the street where Valthakar was running. He was already a distance away. Cody dashed after him, hand outstretched and firing a magical beam. Sparky ran ahead of him, shooting flames at Valthakar, but he was too far away. Cody had never seen Valthakar at his top speed before. Perhaps even this wasn’t his top speed, but in any case, Valthakar’s sprinting was swift enough that he soon vanished over the horizon.
A few minutes later, Cody stopped running, and told Justin to do the same. “It’s no use,” Cody said. “We can’t outrun him. We’re going to have to do something else.”
“What else?” Justin asked, his voice shaking a bit.
Cody took his human form. “This’ll be a start,” he said as he got out his bugged phone and spoke into it. “Hello, Mr. Lambert? This is urgent. Things have gone south and--”
Agent Lambert called him. Cody answered. “I’m here,” Lambert said. “I just handed your parents off to another agent. What is it?”
“We were able to take out Kgobauru and Nglavingithu, but Valthakar’s phylactery was too strong for Sparky to get rid of. He’s running out of the Northwest District right now. If he gets to a payphone, or kills someone and takes their cell, it’s over. Can you do anything?”
“Let me think. I could cut off cell phone coverage around here, and engineer a black out to shut down pay phones and land lines. That’d force him to go out of town if he wanted to make any calls, or find a phone powered by a backup generator. Did he manage to get his phylactery back?”
“Then you’ll have until he gets out of town to figure out how to destroy it. I’ll give the order to shut down power and phone coverage right now.”
Cody nodded. “Understood.” He hung up.
Cody turned to Justin.
“What did he say?” Justin asked.
“He’s going to shut down all of the phones around here, and the power too. That’ll give us until Valthakar finds a way out of town to figure out what to do. Let’s go back to the stadium for the books. We’ll ask them about things there.”
Justin nodded. The two ran back to the stadium. Cody went straight for On the Underworld.
“What, if anything, that I could access in the next few hours, can destroy Orichalcum?”
“Nothing. Orichalcum emits an aura which protects all substances near it. The only thing on your planet which might destroy it is magma, and even that would not do so quickly.”
Cody closed his eyes. He thought.
“Anything?” Justin asked.
“We can’t destroy the phylactery.”
Justin shed a tear. “So, that’s it then? We lose?”
“Maybe,” Cody said. Then something occurred to him. “Hand me On Soulless Ones,” Cody said. “If we can’t destroy his phylactery, maybe we can use it to release Valthakar from his binding spell. We’ve said before that he’d have good reason to side with us if it weren’t for Bavandersloth’s spell.”
“We can’t,” Justin said. “I’m a few hundred souls away, and you’re even farther, and the version we’d cast would take too long either way.”
Cody clenched his fist. “Hand it here anyway,” he said.
Justin sighed. “Alright.” He handed it over.
Cody opened the book and wrote.
“How many more souls would Justin need to be able to free Valthakar quickly enough for us to complete the ritual before Valthakar reached a phone, and with materials we can reasonably acquire?”
“For the version of the ritual lasting about seven minutes, perhaps five if he hurries, Tkoral’kiarch will need 529 more souls. Turn the page for a description of the ritual.”
“To free a bound lich in the second way, a lich with 1002 souls must place the phylactery of the lich meant to be freed in seawater with the remains of a lifeform killed by the caster. They must then recite the following chant while shaking the container: ‘Soulless One, bound to service, may your bondage end this day. Cast off all chains. I free you! I free you! I free you!’ Once the chant has been recited 34 times, the container will slip out of the caster’s hands regardless of any effort they make to hold onto it. If it shatters when it hits the ground, the ritual will succeed and the lich will be freed from bondage. If it comes to a rest and is still intact, the ritual will fail. The one who attempted to cast it will have 37 seconds to declare a lich’s name, and they will be bound to that lich. If they declare no name, they will join the lich they tried to free in service to its master.”
Cody looked up at Justin. “You’re five-hundred-twenty-nine souls away from being able to cast the spell in seven minutes.”
“Right. That’s like a year.”
Cody looked at Justin. He took a deep breath. “Justin, there’s a prison across town from here. It has more than enough peop--”
Justin’s eyes widened. “You can’t mean--”
“Justin, the fate of the world is at stake here. If Valthakar contacts Larngulal, both of us are going to die. The only way left after that to save the world would be for DIAPP to find Bavandersloth’s phylactery by chance, with us knowing nothing of where it is but that it is somewhere in the Rocky Mountains, or for them to flatten the area with bombs powerful enough to kill way more than five-hundred-twenty-nine people. Are you willing to risk every last person, including all of those prisoners, being ruled by Bavandersloth? Are you willing to risk Kandrinarkora coming back?”
Justin looked at Cody. He hung his head down, and shed a tear. “I guess not.” He said.
Cody put his hand on Justin’s shoulder. “It’s okay.” Justin wasn’t consoled. Cody kneeled down and looked him in the eye. “Hey, listen. If you don’t, they’ll probably still be eaten, but not by you. This way, at least there’ll be something for them after you die.”
Justin took a deep breath. His tears didn’t stop flowing. Still, he looked up, and Cody stood. “Al…right,” Justin said. He took his true form. Cody did the same.
“It’s for the--” Cody began.
“Stop,” Justin said. “I said I’ll do it.”
Cody nodded. The two ran out of the stadium.
Valthakar dashed out of the Northwest District, frowning. He wondered how long the boys had been working against his master. It couldn’t be that they were responsible for the souls going blind. They weren’t powerful enough. Not unless… unless they had outside help. Was that it, then? Who would it be? It’d have to be Gborin’gargoth, it seemed. Valthakar could think of no other possibilities which stood up to scrutiny.
Yes. Kandrinarkora was imprisoned on earth, and would be trying to get free. Gborin’gargoth would want to stop him.
It was clever, Valthakar had to admit. Not on the boys’ part, but on Gborin’gargoth’s. His readings of On the Underworld had already made it clear to Val that Gborin’gargoth was working to suppress Kandrinarkora. If he did just a few things, large scale feats, he’d be able to confound the community of liches with minimal effort. The rest, he could have his weakling avatars do, and no one would suspect them because the largest acts had been beyond their ability.
It was so clever that the pleasure of destroying it really did work toward making what Valthakar was going to do worth it. It still wasn’t, of course. That he would aid Bavandersloth to victory pained him. That he would do so again and again for as long as Bavandersloth reined pained him more so. Still, there was one fact that comforted him. No matter what happened, Bavandersloth’s rule would end eventually, as would the earth, as would he. For others, that fact brought sadness, but for him, it dulled it. No pain of his would ever be eternal. However long the next order lasted, it would not be forever, nor would the next, nor the next, and one day, before he knew it, the order without him would arrive, and he would never suffer again. Curse as he did that blasted necklace’s magic, it could only imprison him for a finite time.
Agent Lambert was on the phone with one of his agents. “I’m almost there,” the agent said. “Just one more push of a button--” The call was dropped, which in this case was a good thing. A few seconds later, the lights went out. Agent Lambert took a deep breath and turned off his phone. He wasn’t going to get any calls, so he may as well save battery.
He sat back down in his chair and took a deep breath. He didn’t know what the boys were planning. Cody was clever, but this situation did seem hopeless.
Soon, the building’s backup generators took over, and Lambert pressed a button to speak to another agent. “Get fifteen helicopters out there scanning the city. Destroy Valthakar’s body upon detection.” Lambert took a deep breath. “Disregard all collateral damage. Killing him is to be your first priority.”
“Understood, sir,” an agent said in response. Lambert sat back. This base would still be able to communicate with his own men through short range radio transceivers, and receive updates on what they saw.
Lester stood in line at the theater, his parents in front of him. A trip to the movies was a rare thing for Lester, but the new Starstreamer Chronicals movie was more than worth going to. His sister had also been delighted; not to see the movie, but to have the house to herself for almost three hours.
Lester looked to either side to see the posters around him. Of the four films being advertised, two concerned Angels. One was a documentary which credited “Light-rook” as a producer. The other was an action movie starring an Angel who apparently called himself “Shieldcraft.” That poster was on the far side of the room, so he couldn’t see who was meant to make it, though he imagined Bavandersloth had a role in it as well.
As Lester stood in line, the lights went out. His eyes widened. He looked up and around. The building had gone dark. Had the power gone out? He hoped not.
After the lights remained out for a few minutes, and given that the desk clerk didn’t seem to know what was going on, Lester had to conclude that is what had indeed happened. Crap.
It wasn’t too long before a woman came through the door to confirm what he already knew and send everyone away. Lester grumbled, but left the theater. When his parents tried to call a cab, he discovered that they had no reception. With nothing else to do, the three walked to the sidewalk near the highway and held out their arms to signal for one.
Valthakar finally encountered a payphone and took his human form so he could retrieve his wallet from his pocket. A few of the humans around were startled by his seeming to appear out of nowhere, his invisibility deactivating as soon as he took on his human disguise, but time was of the essence here. Bavandersloth had said on several broadcasts that no human should interfere with an apparent Angel’s business, so he was not bothered by the humans. He reached into his wallet and took out two quarters. He deposited the first into the phone, and then the second, and then the area around him became much darker.
Valthakar looked around. He could see no lights. Soon, he realized that there had been a blackout. He smiled. It was possible that this was a coincidence, though given the existence of DIAPP it seemed more likely that it was not. He looked around. He found a young man fussing with his cell phone and approached him.
“Hello, excuse me; I left my cellphone at home. Do you mind if I use yours to call my daughter?”
The boy looked up at him. “Oh uh… sure.” The boy handed the phone over. Valthakar entered Larngulal’s number, but then saw that there was no reception. He tried to make the call anyway, but he couldn’t.
“It doesn’t seem to be working for me. Could you help me?” Valthakar handed the phone back to the boy.
After a moment, the boy looked up. “Crap,” the boy said. “Apparently, I don’t have any reception. Sorry dude.”
Valthakar sighed. “Oh, it’s quite alright. I’ll see if someone else can help.” He walked away. When the next such attempt played out similarly, Valthakar realized DIAPP was almost certainly involved. If that was the case, they’d have extended the blackout as far as they felt they could. Valthakar thought. Running out that far would be tiresome. It would be much easier to find some place with a generator.
Valthakar grinned. He knew of only one facility in the area, with a phone anyway, which he was certain had such a device. He turned around and ran to it.
Justin headed toward the prison, covered in a cloud, his feet smacking concrete with each step. As he did, the power went off around him. He reflexively slowed down for a moment, but sped right back up, his surprise short lived.
He tried to think of anything other than what he was going to do, but his thoughts wouldn’t budge from that subject. He turned to look at Cody and whispered as he ran. “Which prison is it we’re heading toward?”
“I don’t know the name. It’s not the one your brother is in, if you were worried about that.”
Justin looked down. He tried to shed a tear. “Okay.” Justin’s thoughts continued to torment him. Regardless of whether he would encounter his brother, he’d encounter other people’s brothers. They’d be no less sad when they died than he’d be about his own brother. If he was willing to do that to them, shouldn’t he be willing to do that to himself? Why was his brother so special?
Justin looked up at Cody again, but then looked back down. He tried to think about something else.
“Look out!” Cody said. Justin looked up, ahead of him. His eyes widened as he just barely managed to stop before smacking into a wall at top speed and dropping the glass of shredded grass and seawater he planned to use for the ritual.
Justin looked over at Cody. “Thanks,” he said.
Cody smiled. “No problem.”
Deerward took a deep breath as he sat back. He pressed the intercom button. “Agent Thomson, any progress?”
“Odelarch and Tkoralkiarch are nearing Central Square. We have a helicopter on their tail. We’ve seen no indication of where…” Agent Thomson stopped speaking. “Sir, something is making the locks on the main entrance to this facility decay.”
“Disable the generator,” Deerward said, “and our phone lines as well.”
“Yes, sir.” The intercom clicked as it deactivated.
A few seconds later, the lights went out. It had occurred to Deerward that Valthakar might try to use this facility’s power to make his phone call, and he had had a contingency plan prepared in case of such an attempt. Deerward took a deep breath. Now it was simply a matter of the generators not being re-enabled.
Deerward reached into his drawer for a brightly colored pill. It was striped yellow, lime green and sky blue. He placed it on his desk, just in case he needed it. He didn’t expect to, though. The generator was in the basement. It would be quite the detour for Valthakar to come all the way up to his office.
As Lester’s cab inched down the street, he saw a light out of the corner of his eye. Was the city’s power back on? No, he realized. It was Central Square’s Big Digital Projector. The thing was connected to a backup generator, he reasoned. It must have been, as the streetlights in the square were still out. It being the only structure around with power explained the crowd in the square, as Violet Fox was on the screen, talking about the blackout.
Lester turned to his parents. “Hey, is it okay if I roll down the window? I’d like to hear what’s going on from the BDP while we’re near it.”
“Go ahead,” Lester’s father said before resuming his conversation with his wife.
As Lester turned down the window, he noticed a noxious smell. Immediately, he turned the window back up. He looked around, before noticing two dark spheres running to his left, toward the square. Cody and Justin? Why? As his father gasped upon noticing the same thing, Lester tracked the clouds of darkness with his eyes. Was this blackout something to do with them? Were they out hunting early, now that Cody’s parents were gone? Were they hoping to prevent crime during the blackout?
Soon after he saw the liches, Lester heard the helicopter following them. That had to be DIAPP, he supposed. He watched them, thinking that he’d ask them about this later.
As soon as John finished putting on his suit, he dashed into the stairwell. An alarm blazed, and sprinklers full of purple ink fell from the ceilings. He kept his head down to keep any of the ink from getting on his visor and interfering with his vision.
He emerged from the stairwell in the basement. He ran down the hall and barged into the generator room, his right arm extended to shoot a blast of flame at anything inside. The generator was scorched and blackened, but not deformed. A devourer-shaped figure of ink in the room was on fire. It turned to face him. John fired some liquid nitrogen from his left arm at Valthakar’s feet, but not before he was able to move out of the way. Valthakar dashed straight toward John and extended his ink-covered scythe.
With the exterminator swallowed, Valthakar turned back to the generator. He pressed a button on it and turned it on. Light flooded the basement. A few seconds later, another exterminator entered the room. Valthakar turned toward her and fired a magical blast, which, despite her managing to drench him with the flamethrower once again, did succeed in killing her. Valthakar put up a shield and then dropped and rolled to get the fire out. He couldn’t run straight to the phone. Last his souls had known, there were perhaps twenty exterminators in this building. He needed all of them to run at him before he could leave the generator alone, as otherwise, they would simply turn it back off, or perhaps even destroy it with their grenade launchers.
As he thought that, Valthakar got an idea. He walked over to one of the hallways leading into the generator room, the one on the right, and made the floors decay away into spikes, as Bavandersloth had once. He did the same with the hallway across from it. He left through the third and final hallway. An exterminator immediately saw him and launched a spray of liquid nitrogen, but Valthakar dove out of the way. He dashed at full speed at the exterminator, and crossed the distance to her before she could react. He ate her soul. Next, he spiked the floor of the hall leading up to the generator room. After firing magical beams down both halls, eliciting the scream of another exterminator, Valthakar spiked both of the halls on one side of him, ran to the stairwell, and then spiked the other side. He ran up the stairs, eating another exterminator on the way up, and, once he was on the ground floor, he made the stairs decay away. This was only one of several stairwells in the building, he didn’t doubt, but its absence would at least hinder them. Valthakar ran out into the ground floor lobby, looking around for cubicles in which he might find a phone.
Deerward stood up as the lights came back on in the facility, his eyes wide. He activated the intercom. “Where’s Valthakar?”
“On the second floor.”
“Can you turn the generator back off?”
“We tried, sir. Valthakar must have done something down there to stop it from working remotely, and the exterminators report the area to be inaccessible. We were able to shut off most of the phones, but about an eighth of them are still intact.”
Deerward thought. Was there anything to do? If he were lucky, he had fifteen minutes before Valthakar called Larngulal and got all of them killed. With the entire community of liches acting against them unconcerned about keeping their actions covert, their defeat was all but certain. “Have the helicopter after Odelarch send him a message. I don’t care if a civilian hears it. Tell them that they have about fifteen minutes to do whatever it is they need to do to stop this. At the same time, keep throwing exterminators at Valthakar however you can. Slow him down.”
Lambert’s eyes found themselves looking toward that pill. If Bavandersloth won…
“He’s in the base,” Cody heard. “You’ll be out of time within fifteen minutes.” Cody stopped in his tracks. The people around him backed away from his odor, but most of them were so unthreatened by his presence that they didn’t leave the Square.
Justin turned to him. “Is… is fifteen minutes enough--”
“Nowhere close. There’s no way we’re getting to the prison in time.”
Justin’s head hung down. “Is… is that it then?”
Cody thought. If Valthakar’s call made it through, Larngulal would send whoever and whatever was necessary to kill Justin and him for defying the community. The world’s principle hope would be gone. DIAPP might still stop the community, but was that worth the risk? They hadn’t been able to stop them in future Cody saw. Cody bowed his head. “Look into the future the same way you showed it to me. If I let Valthakar make that call, does Bavandersloth win?”
Gborin took a moment to respond. “Yes,” he said. “The community deduces that I have assisted you. They descend on Goldfalls in the guise of devourers to destroy you. Because you cannot allow yourself to be destroyed peacefully for the same reason you cannot smash your phylactery, their efforts involve a large-scale assault on the city. With the help of a weather controlling lich under Larngulal’s command, all attempts to hold them back fail. The resulting fear and panic from their destruction of this city, by devourers as far as anyone can tell, gives them the worldwide audience they need to make the broadcast as soon as Bavandersloth returns.”
Cody clenched his fist. Bavandersloth had told him a while back that they’d not been willing to attempt such a large-scale attack to get the attention they needed because it risked backfiring if even a few people suspected it was the community. It seemed that such a risk would have paid off after all. Cody looked around. The helicopter message hadn’t driven anyone away. He closed his eyes.
“Cody?” Justin said. “Have you thought of a way to get to the prison in time?”
Cody turned around. “I’ve not.”
“So… that… that’s really it then?”
Cody shook his head. “The prison isn’t the only place with souls, Justin.”
Justin’s eyes widened. He took a step backward. “You can’t… you can’t mean…”
Cody gulped. He felt like a vice grip was keeping him still. He had to fight just so he could nod.
“You have to.”
Justin’s eyes were wide. “I can’t,” he shouted.
“Shhhhhh. Don’t let the people around here hear you.”
“I…” Justin looked down. “There’s no other way? Is that what Gborin just--”
“Yes.” Against his will, Cody’s eyes focused on the people behind Justin. He closed them. “I’ll start paralyzing the people around here. You… you know what I need you to do.”
Justin sobbed, though his form prevented any tear from escaping him. He fell to his knees, drawing a few looks due to the sudden motion of his cloud. “I…”
“Stand up, Justin.”
Justin sobbed a few more times. He stood up and raised his scythe. Both liches mutated their shadows into a humanoid form so the community could pass this off as a devourer attack. He was still pretending to work for them. Cody rushed to the edge of the hole his scent had made in the crowd, lay his hand a person in the crowd, and knocked them out. He did the same thing with his other hand. He moved his first hand to a new person and did the same thing to them.
Justin’s scythe scooped out the soul of an old woman first. She tasted sweet and fruity. The old man next to her was similar. As people started to collapse, the other people near them noticed and screamed. As Justin chewed another soul, the crowd dispersed and people started running away. Justin pounced a young woman, and took her soul, still letting out his dry sobs. He dashed over to a man about his brother’s age and ate him. As the crowd ran away from him, he saw someone push someone else down to get them out of his way. The pusher’s eyes were wide as he looked back. Justin ran toward him, causing him to speed up. Still, the human had no hope of outrunning Justin, who could taste that final push on the man’s soul as he gulped it down. Justin ran back over to the girl who’d been pushed. She was around Cody’s age. She stared upward as Justin approached her. She screamed, and franticly tried to get up, but one of the others in the crowd must have trampled over her ankle or something, because she couldn’t. Justin dipped his scythe down when he reached her and ate her soul.
As he looked up from her body, he set his sights on another passing man. He held out his hand and knocked him down with a magical beam to the ankle. The man fell to the ground, scraping his knee. As Justin ran toward him, another man carelessly stomped on him, making an audible crack and eliciting a scream. Justin turned his head toward that person and ran after them at full speed. He scooped out their soul and ate it, noticing it tasting vaguely of chocolate milk. Justin tackled and ate a few more humans, including a couple who reminded him of his parents, before making his way back to the man he’d disabled. There was a bloody spot on his upper leg from another person stomping on him, and a woman had tripped over him and fallen. He tried to take her soul first, but she had apparently already been trampled to death. Justin sobbed and then turned to finally take the first man’s soul.
Cody looked up from his work as he heard a helicopter arrive. It bore a camera on its front and a Channel 4 News logo. He looked back down. He had to knock these people out strategically. If they were trampled, they’d be wasted. He turned toward another woman. Her face looked kind of like Cherie’s, though her hair was bright red. He knocked her out and then threw her onto his low pile of mortals. Over the screaming, he could sort of hear Violet Fox reporting on what he was doing over the news.
The crowd thinned faster than Cody had imagined it would. There had been something like a thousand people in the square. All but a few hundred had already been caught or had escaped. Cody tackled a woman to the ground. This one looked like his mother. He knocked her out, and then leapt straight to another person, an older man who reminded him of his grandfather, and did the same to him. He heard a yell. He looked up and saw someone running toward him, preparing to punch him. Cody just stood there and magically knocked the man out as he touched him, making the man fall to the ground with his fist still in a ball.
As Lambert sat in his office, he got a radio message. He pressed a button. “What is it?” he asked.
“Our helicopter watching the boys says something’s happened with them. They’ve started slaughtering the crowd. One of them is eating them while the other is incapacitating and gathering them into a pile. They can’t tell if the civilians in the pile are dead or unconscious. They’re asking for permission to fire on the devourers.”
Lambert’s eyes were wide. He thought. Why would… wait…
“Hold on a moment.”
Lambert opened up his desk and got a copy of On Soulless Ones out of a drawer. He opened it and asked it a question.
“Are the boys gathering souls they need to cast a spell that will stop Valthakar?”
Lambert thought. That must be how they’d reacted to his alert. Could he allow this? Knowing Cody, if he was working with Gborin’gargoth, he’d not do this unless he thought there was no other option, and the fact that they did this meant they were planning something specific. Whatever they were doing, it was probably the only way to save the world…
Lambert pressed the button. “Tell them to hold their fire. Sit back and observe.”
“You heard me. They are not to fire on Odelarch or Tkoralkiarch.”
“Sir, letting them attack a crowd of civilians would be a violation of--”
“I am ordering them not to fire. I am your superior officer. Is that understood?”
The agent took a moment to speak. “Understood, sir.”
Lambert sat back. He turned the intercom off and buried his face in his palms. He was putting a lot of faith in Cody, but Valthakar was minutes away from success. This was humanity’s last chance.
Justin stood up from another kill to see someone running for the space between two cars. He dashed over to them and ate them. He heard an unusual scream and turned his head. Cody ran through his peripheral vision, but Justin ignored him. He saw a boy about his age looking around for his parents. He sobbed. He didn’t even think about killing that boy. Instead, he turned to look at the people running away from the cars. He saw a man in a taxi driver’s uniform. He ran after him and ate him. A woman near him turned around. When she saw that he was so close, she screamed and sped up, that seemed to be everyone’s reaction to Justin at the moment, but Justin ate her, and then the man she was running with.
There was another boy, about Cody’s age, who looked familiar to Justin. Still, he couldn’t place his face, and, despite his sob, he supposed it didn’t matter. He tackled the boy to the ground. After this one, he thought, he’d go back to eat the ones Cody had knocked out. He was pretty sure there’d been enough.
The teenager squirmed. “Yo, man, please…” Justin raised his scythe. As he scooped out the teen’s soul and popped it into his mouth, he heard the boy’s last words. “Cody, don--”
Cody’s eyes widened as he heard Lester’s cry. It couldn’t possibly be… he, abandoned the human he’d been chasing and ran straight toward the voice. Justin looked up at him, still leaning over the dead body. Cody could see his friend’s form from where he was. He stared at Lester’s corpse, whose open eyes were still pointed up at Justin, frozen in terror. Cody fell to his knees and cried. It was a dry cry, but every bit as much of a cry as it would have been in his other form, Cody realized. He crawled over to Lester’s body. He put his hand on it. He looked at Justin. “Go eat from the pile until you’ve had enough,” he said. “Perform the ritual.”
Justin nodded and stood up. Cody looked down at his best friend. Memories flashed through his mind. Several were of times Lester had given Cody advice. A few were some of his favorite games he’d played with him. One was the lunch they’d had together after a grueling test. The last was about a year ago, when he and Lester had talked about what they wanted to be when they grew up. Cody had wanted to be a historian. Lester… Cody couldn’t remember what Lester had wanted to be. It didn’t matter now, he supposed.
Cody sobbed, his head against the stomach of Lester’s corpse. After a few minutes, he heard the crowd dissipate as everyone got away. Not too long after that, he heard Justin shouting the chant the book had told him about.
“Soulless One, bound to service, may your bondage end this day,” Justin said, his voice shaking. “Cast off all chains. I free you! I free you! I free you!”
Cody was painfully aware of the news helicopter above him, but he’d come up with some explanation later as to why the devourer he was playing would take an interest in Lester’s corpse.
He looked back down at Lester’s body. He would see his friend again, he supposed. He would see his friend again. It would be as one of Justin’s souls, but still. As Cody thought, he remembered the time he’d talked to Lester about Valthakar. He told Cody that if he had the choice, it would be better to kill him than let him be eaten, by Cody or Valthakar. That was months ago, but Cody didn’t think Lester had changed his mind. “You were stubborn about that sort of thing,” Cody whispered to Lester’s body. His arms, which had been holding Cody up from the ground, finally gave out, and he collapsed on Lester and uttered a mindless sob, whispering his friend’s name repeatedly.
Valthakar frowned as he finally found a phone. He rushed over to it, picked it up and dialed Larngulal’s number. He stood, waiting for her to answer.
As he stood, he felt something strange. It was mild at first, but escalated. It rushed over him like a cool breeze, making him feel lighter. A weight lifted off of him, making him beam. Had those two… had they really? They had. They’d freed him. He could tell.
“Hello? What is it?” Larngulal said. Valthakar smiled and hung up. He laughed. He laughed hysterically. He fell on the floor and started rocking back and forth. “Ha Ha ha ha HA ha ha Ha ha Ha Ha HA HA HA HA.” Free at last! He couldn’t remember the last time he was this happy. He was going to have so much fun exploding Bavandersloth’s carefully laid plans. This just might be the best time he’d ever had in all his twelve-thousand years.
Agent Lambert received another message. He pressed a button and listened.
“Sir, Valthakar has been seen leaving the facility. Whatever Odelarch and Tkoralkiarch did, it seems to have worked. He used one of the office phones to make one call, but he hung up immediately afterward. He didn’t give the recipient any information.”
Agent Lambert let out a massive sigh of relief. “Acknowledged,” he said. He smiled and put his pill back in the cabinet. He needed to get Cody’s friends out of town, he realized, so he couldn’t rest just yet. However, he allowed himself a few minutes with his eyes closed, his head back, and his mind relaxingly empty.
Cody looked up from Lester’s corpse when he heard Valthakar approaching. He started to speak, but then Valthakar ran at him and punched him. “Away, cur!” he shouted, and punched Cody in the stomach, sending him flying into a nearby car.
“What the heck?” Cody asked, but then he realized what the answer probably was. He was still disguised as a devourer. Valthakar, made to look like an Angel, couldn’t be seen to contact him except hostilely, or to allow him to slaughter civilians unmolested. Cody stood up, but Valthakar went at him again, this time taking him out of the view of the news helicopter. Cody immediately took his human form. Valthakar did the same. They moved into a different alley before Valthakar sat down. Cody looked at him. “Do I have to worry about my friends now that you’re free?” he asked.
Valthakar smirked. “Cody, you never had to worry about them. Is that not what I told you? A lot of grief, including what you feel right now if that body was who I thought it was, would be saved if you didn’t worry about them.”
Cody shed a tear. “Shut up.”
“Ooh, so it was who I thought it was.” Valthakar leaned back. “Typical do-gooder. You killed all of those people, who had best friends, wives, children, parents, and cry as you might, you followed through. As soon as it’s someone you know however--”
Cody’s eyebrows curled and his face reddened. “I told you to shut up!”
Valthakar looked at Cody. “You did, didn’t you?” He reached under a dumpster and pulled out a rat. The thing squirmed and bit him as he gripped it in his arms too tightly for it to escape and stroked it gently, as one might a lap dog. “Well, I suppose it’s unfortunate for you that I don’t take orders from you, or anyone. I thought you’d be happy about that. You just murdered one of the friends you used to go to such lengths to try to protect from me to arrange that circumstance.”
Cody seethed. “When this is over, I’m going to kill you.”
Valthakar grinned. “Ah, there’s the Odelarch I like to see. I do hope I’ve not hurt your feelings too badly, I really do want to work with you. It’s just so hard not to say I told you so when, well, I did tell you so, over and over again, for weeks.”
Cody seethed. “I’m going to kill you painfully.”
Valthakar chuckled. “Or else the reverse. Or else you’ll see my way of things.” He stroked the rat’s furry head as it struggled. “Regardless, in the meantime, I have every intention of cooperating with you, and I see no need to alienate you, so your friends are safe. Well, safe from me. Nothing is ever actually safe.” Valthakar set the rat down and stomped on its tail, causing to run away from his foot, and into traffic.
Cody sighed. “Alright then.” He tried to push Lester out of his mind and do some planning with his new ally, but before he could, Valthakar resumed talking.
“I don’t suppose I’m in any position to mock you for being a do-gooder. The paradise I bought my way into has a purgatory preceding it, so I don’t expect to think any differently from you during my time there.” He lay back, resting his head on his hands. “Still, even that won’t last forever. Perhaps if Gborin’gargoth is usurped, it will be by someone who will let me see the truth of things again as I do now.”
Cody clenched his fist. “Well, before that can happen, we need to stop the community. As I reason it now, that involves two crucial things. First, we have to kill Bavandersloth. Second, we have to make it impossible for a new lich similar to Bavandersloth to be created.” Cody put his head down. “Is there a way to stop any new liches from being created on Earth?”
“Actually, there might be,” Gborin said.
Cody’s eyes widened a bit. “Really?”
“Yes. You could cast a spell on the Earth to make it hostile to lich creation for a time. If Valthakar were to do it, he could make it last perhaps a year, with an hour-long ritual. It’d require some normally impossibly rare magical substances, but I could send them to you.”
“What did he say?” Valthakar asked.
“You’re powerful enough to cast a spell that could temporarily prevent lich creation.”
Valthakar lay back. “I see. Speaking of seeing, I don’t see the little one. Where is he?”
“I’m not sure.”
Valthakar sighed and then stood up. “Well, we’d best find him and regroup. With the mansion gone, it might be best to base ourselves out of the Northwest District. There are some lovely houses there. As soon as we have one picked out, I’ll run to the Rocky Mountains. I was the one who put Bavandersloth’s phylactery there. I don’t remember exactly where, but I think I’ll have the easiest time finding it.”
Valthakar stood up and took his true form. Cody did the same, looking down, and letting Lester enter his mind again. He punched the dumpster as he walked by it, making a dent. Valthakar turned around and said something sarcastic, but Cody didn’t listen this time.