Cody held the phone up to his ear as he waited for Larngulal to pick up. The phone rang, and rang, and he got voicemail. He sighed. “Hello,” he said. “This is Odelarch. I--”
Someone answered the phone. “Hello?”
“What do you need? I can only talk for a few minutes. Like I said earlier, I’m dealing with an urgent matter here in--”
“Listen, we have a problem. I was right, apparently, Nglavingithu and I, about Valthakar being free. After Tkoralkiarch got Kgobauru and Nglavingithu’s phylacteries, Valthakar attacked them. They’re both dead, and Valthakar is running around free.”
It took a moment for Larngulal to respond. “I… I see. Why didn’t he kill you too?”
“I don’t know for sure. If I had to guess, it was because of his… ideological thing. He doesn’t want to kill me until he can ‘convert’ me to his beliefs.”
“I see. Do you want me to send someone to help you manage things? That’s all I can do for you right now.”
Cody thought. He didn’t, of course, but Larngulal would become suspicious if she knew that. “I don’t need help here,” he said. “I don’t know for sure, but I think it’s most likely that Valthakar is on his way to the Rocky Mountains right now. That’s where Bavandersloth’s phylactery is, and Valthakar would know its location more precisely than that, because he hid it there.”
Larngulal gasped. “You’re right.”
“I was planning to go there to try to intercept him. Perhaps you could send me someone to help with that?”
“Hmm. I’ll tell you what. I’ll send someone to follow him. It’ll be no use for you to do so. You’ll be too slow. Stay where you are. Bavandersloth’s contacts in Selechii are still there in Goldfalls. I’ll need you to interface with them while he’s gone. Meet up with them as soon as possible.”
“Very well. I must go now, but I wish you luck.” Larngulal hung up.
“How did it go?” Justin asked Cody as Cody put away the phone and turned around. The dank feel of their new house still appealed to Cody. The peeling wallpaper, the patchy carpets, the ruined furniture, it was beautiful.
“Well,” Cody said. “She’s sending someone to counteract Valthakar. I’m not very worried, though. He can handle himself.”
Justin nodded. “Right. How long did Valthakar say it would take him to find it?”
“A few days. He doesn’t remember exactly where he put it, but he thinks he can find it pretty quickly.”
Justin lay back on the dusty, torn up old couch he’d been laying on. “Of course.”
Cody walked over to Justin. He put his hand on the boy’s shoulder. “Hey, it’s--”
Justin looked up at him. “When has you trying to comfort me ever worked out?”
Cody looked down. He took his hand away, a tear falling from his face. He stood up. “Alright then. I’m going to go see if anyone is looting or anything, trying to take advantage of the black out.”
Justin nodded. “You do that.”
Cody sighed. He walked over to the door and left the house.
Valthakar ran to the Northeast at full speed, kicking up dust as he went. He wracked his brain, trying to remember exactly where he’d put Bavandersloth’s phylactery. The cave he’d put it in had been about two thirds of the way up a mountain, or a little more. The mountain in question had been taller than those immediately around it, though Valthakar had been able to see an apparently taller mountain from outside the cave where he’d put the quill.
The quill had been placed relatively deep within a cave to protect it from the elements. Within the cave, it was trapped within a locked box, though said box would serve as no barrier to Valthakar, as he could simply make it decay away.
Valthakar felt his stomach growl. It was past 4:00 AM, he realized, and he still hadn’t eaten. He’d do that once he got to the little town he’d started his climb from originally. He groaned. That was still four hours away.
The next day, Cody knocked on Cherie’s door. “Just a second,” Cherie’s mother said from inside. After about thirty, she opened the door, a weak smile on her face. “Cherie’s downstairs,” she said.
“Alright, thanks,” Cody said. He walked through the entry way which led straight to the stairs, and walked down.
Upon reaching the bottom of the stairs, Cody turned to see Cherie sitting on a couch watching TV. Cody smiled. “Hey, Cherry, what’s up?”
Cherie turned around and looked at Cody. Her fake smile was even worse than her mother’s. “Hey,” she said. Her eyes followed Cody as he sat down on the couch next to her. Cherie seemed to drop the fake smile as he sat down. She sighed and turned off the TV. “I saw… what you did on the news this morning,” she said.
Cody looked down. He took a deep breath. “Cherry, it was urgent.” He shed a small tear. “I had no other choice.”
Cherie nodded. “That’s what my dad said. You needed more souls… or something.”
Cody looked up at Cherie. “I had assurance from someone who could basically see into the future. There was no other way.”
Cherie looked down at her feet. She took a deep breath.
There was a long pause. Cody tried to think of a way to break it, but he came up with nothing. “My dad is planning to send me into hiding soon,” Cherie eventually said.
Cody’s eyes widened a bit, but soon relaxed. “I should have figured.” He leaned against her, resting his head against her breast.
Cherie wrapped her arm around him. “I do think we’ll have Valentine’s Day together though.”
Cody smiled. “That’s great. What do you want to do?”
Cherie leaned toward Cody, her head resting on his, her blonde hair draping over him. “I don’t know. Something big, if it’ll be the last time we see each other for a while. We could go to Barron Shores,” that was a Country Club, “and eat at their restaurant.”
Cody smiled. “Alright. That sounds wonderful.”
Cherie patted him on the back. “But as for right now, what do you want to do?”
“Well, we could go watch the new Starstreamer movie.”
“Oh, c’mon, you said you liked the books. You even reread them.”
Cherie sighed. “Yeah, about that, I actually lied about reading them the first time.”
Cody’s eyes widened. He looked at Cherie. “What?”
“I said that I’d read them and liked them to make you happy. When I ‘reread’ them, that was my cover story after I realized I’d not be able to fool you much longer given how often you talked about them.”
Cody looked at Cherie. Cherie sighed, and then smiled. “I’ll tell you what, I’ll go to the movie with you on one condition.”
Cody tilted his head. “What?”
Cherie smiled. She rubbed Cody’s thigh. “There’s something else I want to do after dinner on Valentine’s Day.”
“What?” Cherie rubbed Cody’s thigh harder. Cody’s eyes widened. “Oh… are you serious?”
Cody looked at her. “Oh… okay.”
Cherie smiled. She kissed Cody on the head. “Thanks.”
Cody looked up at her, and then smiled after a moment. He stood up. “Alright then. Let’s go to the movie.”
Cherie stood up. She sighed. “Alright.”
Valthakar left another cave empty handed. He clenched his fist. He could have sworn this was the right cave.
Valthakar felt something cold touch his shoulder. He looked up at the sky. Snow? He turned around and looked up the mountain. He wasn’t past the snow line, though that didn’t mean it couldn’t snow where he was, especially in February. As he walked, he brushed more snow off of his shoulders. He jumped up from the ledge he was on to another one, which was in sight. He landed on it, his feet leaving a mark in the snow.
Cody knocked on the door to Reidel’s house. Nothing happened for a minute or so. He knocked again. He heard a raised voice in the distance, and then the sound of footsteps approaching. Steven opened the door. He gave Cody another fake smile. “Hey,” he said.
Cody smiled back at him. “Hey, I just wanted to visit one last time. I, uh, I heard from Cherie that you were leaving today and--”
Steven frowned. “Hey, listen, maybe you could just call me later? Reidel… doesn’t want to see you right now.”
Cody took a step back from the door. “Oh… okay then…” As Cody turned around to leave, he heard someone running toward him. He turned back around to see a fist hurdling toward him. It slammed him in the nose, making him fall backward and hit the concrete.
“I change my mind,” Reidel said. “He can come in now.”
Cody grunted as he stood back up. He saw a bit of blood drip out from his nose as he stood. He looked up at Reidel, whose eyebrow was up as he seethed. “How the hell does a dead guy bleed?” he asked.
“Reid...” Steven began.
Reidel looked at him, and then down at the floor. He took a deep breath and stepped away from the doorway. Cody stood up and walked in. Steven closed the door and Reidel raised his foot, slamming Cody between his legs. Cody grabbed his groin as he fell backward.
“Reid!” Steven said, his eyes darting between Reidel and Cody.
Reidel looked over at Steven, his arms crossed. “He killed Lester, Steve,” Reidel shouted. Reidel walked back over to Cody and stomped on his shin. “I’m just giving him, what, maybe a billionth of what he deserves?” Reidel stomped the other shin, prompting Cody to take his true form. The pain vanished in an instant.
Reidel choked on his breath and pinched his nose. He stepped away, his eyebrows curling. “Well then, maggot-face reveals his true self. Couldn’t leave me be. Had to come here and stink up the place.”
Cody let out a subtle sob, though Reidel somehow managed to notice it. He stood up. Steven was steadily walking backward to get away from Cody’s stench, but Reidel’s feet were planted in place. Reidel glared up at him. Cody looked back, frowning, eyes downcast.
“What’s the matter?” Reidel asked. “Is killing your best friend finally too much?”
Cody sobbed again. “If only you fucking knew,” he whispered.
Reidel smiled. “Aww, are you sad?”
“Reid, back off,” Steven said.
Reidel turned his head around. “Why?” He looked back at Cody. “He’s a piece of shit. The police would kill him if they knew what he’d done. He’d eat any of us in a second.”
Cody looked down, soon falling to his knees. He wept on the floor. The image of Lester’s dead body flashed in his mind.
“You’re pathetic, you know that?” Reidel said. “You’ve killed, what, well over a hundred, maybe even two-hundred people at this point. You don’t give a fuck about them.” That made Cody’s sobbing intensify as he collapsed further, onto his hands and knees. “But now that it’s someone you care about, you’re a crying heap on the ground. It makes me wonder if you really care about anyone but yourself. Did you ever really give a shit about Lester, or were you just attached to him like a psycho?”
Cody let out another sob, but then clenched his fist. “Stop,” he seethed, looking up at Reidel. The boy was off put at first by his true form’s voice, but he regained his composure in only a second or two. “I… I am a hypocrite,” Cody said. He let out another sob. “You’re right about that. I… Reidel, do you think I wouldn’t stop this if I could? Do you think I wouldn’t smash my Phylactery if I could?” Cody’s sobbing took him over at that moment. If tears could have hit the ground, they would have soaked through to the center of the Earth.
Reidel looked down at Cody. He sighed. “All but one of my friends has died in the last six months.”
Reidel turned around. “I’m going back into my room to finish packing. Be gone before I come back out.”
Cody nodded, taking his human form and unleashing an avalanche of tears. Steven ran over to him and knelt down to where he was. He started to hug Cody, who sat up and returned the gesture. Cody cried on Steven’s shoulder for the next few minutes before Reidel emerged. Cody left the house and walked down the sidewalk in the direction he knew led away from where the DIAPP agent was meant to pick them up. Each step sent a pang of pain up through his ankle, but Cody gritted his teeth and bore it. It’d go away on its own soon enough. Cody walked until he found an alley where he could take his true form out of sight and run back to the Northwest District under a cloud of darkness.
Later, Cody sat inside Fishy Joe’s Marina with his copy of On Soulless Ones. He opened up the book to see the spell he needed to cast to prevent lich creation on Earth.
“To make a celestial body hostile to the casting out of souls, a soulless one with at least 3,439,664 souls must spread a coat of moly leaves on rocky ground and sprinkle the dust of a crushed Samaratian Sea Snail’s shell, powdered smaragdus, and the golden sugar of the Underworld. Sprinkle this mix with water from Bahamut’s gills and cast the remnants of a broken phylactery on top of it.”
Cody thought. Killing a lich now would attract attention. It would be best to wait until they had Bavandersloth’s phylactery and use that for the spell.
Steven felt the black car stop as he reached his destination. He stepped out of it. His mother stepped out with him. After another moment, Reidel and his father got out on the other side. A DIAPP agent got out of the driver’s seat as Steven and his mother walked around the back of the car to meet her.
“Your new apartment is in this building,” she said. “It’s 321. You’ve already been briefed on your new identities?”
Reidel’s father nodded. “Yeah.”
The agent smiled. “Good. Never break character.”
“Of course,” Steven’s mother said.
“If something comes up, there’s a number in your luggage. Don’t be too shy about calling us.”
Reidel’s father nodded. “Right.”
“Good. Now, go on in.”
The four turned around and looked up at the apartment complex. For Las Vegas, it was nothing fancy, Steven thought. There wasn’t even any neon.
The four walked into the building, Steven’s mother and Reidel’s father holding hands. Steven himself walked next to Reidel. Reidel turned to him as they walked. “Hey, look, about earlier--”
“It’s alright,” Steven said.
Reidel looked down. “No, it wasn’t. I shouldn’t have wailed on him like that.”
“You were angry,” Steven said. “It’s totally understandable. I wanted to do the same thing when I first saw what had happened on TV.”
Reidel looked down. “Yeah, I guess.”
The two sighed. They held hands as well as they walked through the building’s front door.
As soon as Lester and the other souls from Central Square emerged from Justin, still later that day, Cody was called from where he’d been -- investigating the Golden Falls -- to the house where they had taken residence. Cody entered, opening the door and shutting it behind him. Justin turned to him as he did. Lester’s soul was above him. Justin had apparently sent the others away.
Justin looked up at Lester. “He’s here,” Justin said. Lester’s eyes widened. Cody shed a tear as he looked at Lester’s face. This was the first time he’d ever seen the soul of someone who he’d known in life. What was left of Lester’s soul took the form of a human head, but one with very generic features. It was white and luminescent. Its shape was very spherical, more so than most human heads Cody had seen. There were hair-like wisps coming from the top of the head. The unique structure of Lester’s face was not retained. His cheekbones were nothing like their previous form. His nose was small. His eyes were distinctly human, but not particularly reminiscent of Lester.
“Can he hear me?” Lester asked.
“He can,” Justin said. “It’s only you that can’t see him. He can see you.”
Lester looked down. “Right.” Lester turned to face in Cody’s general direction.
Cody smiled up at his best friend. “Hey,” he said.
“He says hi,” Justin said.
Lester looked back down. His eyebrows were curled a bit. Cody waited for Lester to speak. “Cody,” Lester said. The soul sighed. “Cody… I was just…” the soul sunk several feet lower, sobbing, though no tears escaped his eyes.
Cody looked down. “Tell him he doesn’t have to do this if he doesn’t want to.”
Justin looked up at Lester. “Cody says you don’t have to do this if you don’t want to.”
Lester cried. “No… It’s not… I… Cody… I understand why you had to do it…” Cody walked toward Lester, sitting down near him. “I just… it… it hurt.” Lester took a deep breath and let out another sob. “It hurt a lot… inside him… the teeth… the acid…”
A tear fell down Cody’s cheek. “I know,” he said. “I’m sorry.”
“He knows,” Justin said, “and he’s sorry.”
“I…” Lester said. He sank down further. Cody clenched his fist. “I… do you know when Gborin’gargoth will let us see again?”
“When we’ve defeated the community of liches,” Cody said.
“When we’ve beaten the community of liches,” Justin repeated.
“Right,” Lester said. He looked down. “I… I look forward to then.” His eyes closed, and he took a deep breath. “I… Can I actually go talk to my parents now?”
“Go if you want to,” Justin said.
Lester was off. Cody looked down, tears dripping from his eyes.
Justin walked over to him, but Cody’s eyes were firmly shut. He gripped the muddy carpets in his fists as he dripped a solid stream of tears onto the ground.
Valthakar walked out of yet another cave, cursing into the snowstorm which raged in front of him. He’d been here for a few days now. How the hell had he not found Bavandersloth’s Phylactery? He sighed and brushed more snow off of his shoulder. He looked up. This blizzard sure wasn’t helping.
Then, Valthakar heard something behind him. He turned around and saw a dark cloud, like what the boys made, rushing toward him. He squinted. Inside it was a lich wearing a tattered prison jumpsuit with a skull mask on. Valthakar saw a sudden glow come from the lich’s hand, the wrong color to be a magical blast. He put up his shield, only to see a ball of lightning strike it.
Valthakar tilted his head as the lich finally reached him and started hurling magical blasts his way. He didn’t have much to worry about while his shield was up. Valthakar took a moment to remember who this could be, but then it occurred to him. A while back, Bavandersloth had had Larngulal create a weather controlling lich. She must have sent him down here to sabotage his efforts. Valthakar sighed. Threat to his person or not, he’d best get rid of this pest if he wanted to finally find Bavandersloth’s phylactery. This blizzard, which this lich had probably caused, had certainly slowed him down quite a bit.
Valthakar jumped up into the air and to the side, letting down his shield and firing a magical beam at the lich. The lich rolled out of the way and put up a shield. He mumbled something to himself, and then Valthakar heard a lightning strike. He turned around to see a bolt of lightning strike very close to him. Another soon did the same. Valthakar put up his shield. Another bolt of lightning fell, and then another, and then another, in very short succession. Valthakar’s field of vision filled with lightning in every direction, the blizzard around him still raging.
The lich below Valthakar ran down the face of the mountain, seemingly headed for a valley. Valthakar gritted his teeth and jumped down after him.
With Valthakar’s speed, he was able to follow the lich, gaining on him as he jumped down from plateau to plateau, reaching the tree line in a few seconds. Several of the trees around him were on fire from the lightning. As the lich stood, in the darkness of the clouds, snow at his feet, fiery trees to his left and right, he whispered another few words, and Valthakar’s eyes widened.
A swirl of flame erupted from the tree in question. Valthakar jumped up and away from it, again causing the other lich to anticipate a strike and jump and roll to the side. Valthakar pointed his hand at the lich and fired a magical beam, this time managing to strike the lich and knock him out.
Valthakar smiled as the lich fell to the ground, unconscious. He jumped down off of his ledge and created a fireball in his hand, with which he lit the lich on fire.
Valthakar dashed away from the lich as he burned, smiling and resuming his search. The blizzard quieted.
Cody smiled as he sat across from Cherie at their two-person table at Barron Shores’ restaurant. The place was beautiful to Cherie. There was a small fountain in the corner, carved to look like a cherub, spitting out a stream of water. There was a well-lit view of the ocean to Cody’s left. The walls and ceilings were dark brown. The cushion on which Cody sat was soft, and the table in front of him was covered with a white cloth.
Cody had deferred to Cherie at every step of the ordering process, himself having no hope of navigating the various dishes. He’d recognized a few Spanish words. There was apparently a fancy restaurant version of the taco of which he had previously been unaware. God, how long had it been since he’d actually legit used Spanish?
At the moment, Cody was swallowing a bite of rich brownie Cherie had gotten them for desert. When his mouth was no longer full, Cody spoke. “So, if you don’t mind me asking, what are you planning to do while you’re away?”
Cherie smiled. “Actually, I’m probably going to train to work with them full time.”
Cody tilted his head. “Why? Does your father want you to?”
Cherie shook her head. “Oh, no. He very much wants me not to. It’s far too dangerous. I want to do it because… well, for one, I don’t really want to do much of anything else, but, mostly, I feel like it’s where I can make the most… difference, ya know? Do the most good?”
Cody nodded. “Yeah, I know exactly what you mean.”
“If I train with them, it’ll take several years before I can be a ‘real’ agent. You basically need a PhD in monster hunting.” Cherie put her fork down. “Exactly what all it takes depends on what you plan to do for them, of course. I’ve not decided what exactly I’m planning to do. There are a couple of things I’m kind of leaning towards.”
Cody took another bite. “What?” The hot fudge topping the brownie was just cool enough not to scald his tongue. He savored it as he chewed.
Cherie sipped her iced tea. “Well, it’s really two major ones. The more practical one would be to be a researcher. Have you ever seen Paranormal Four, that show where the four college students fight ghosts?”
Cody shook his head. “Not the show itself. I think I read a tie-in novel from the school library one time after Steven swore it was amazing.”
“Well, do you remember that guy in the wheelchair who they tell about the monster they’re hunting and who researches to figure out what kind of monster it is so they can learn how to beat it?”
“Well, the first option is to basically be that guy. The Agents and Exterminators they send into the field can’t always recognize what it is they’re fighting. There are so many different monsters to keep track of that they give each team a member who’s just in charge of doing that and nothing else.”
Cody tilted his head. “I thought Exterminators were mostly for killing liches.”
“No, not always. Sometimes it’s that, yeah, and then the man in the wheelchair’s job is to check the book to who it was and what their phylactery is. Then there’s some work to actually find it, the book will never tell you where it is, and then that’s that.” Cherie took a bite of brownie.
“I see,” Cody said.
“However,” Cherie said, swallowing her bite, “there’s also things other than liches. DIAPP only has one copy of On the Underworld, so you have to do much harder work to figure out about, say, a cursed object, a monster, a magic material, things like that.”
Cody wiped his face with the napkin in his lap and then took another bite of dessert.
“But that’s just one job. The other one, the one that’s actually more appealing, is to be one of their ethicists.”
Cody tilted his head. “Ethicists?”
Cherie nodded. “Yeah.” She smiled. “It’s much harder, though. It’d take an extra few years of real school, you have to have an actual PhD in ethical philosophy, and more importantly, there’s very a limited number of positions like that.”
“I see. Now that I think about it, that does seem like the kind of thing you’d like.” Cody took another bite of fudge.
Cherie took a sip of her tea. “DIAPP has a few dozen ethicists in its employ at any given time. Their job is to set policies regarding monsters and such. What kinds of monsters are more urgent threats? What tactics are acceptable under what circumstances? What kinds of magical tools are acceptable to use? That’s the biggest one. DIAPP wasn’t originally set up mostly to fight the paranormal. Its original purpose was actually to militarize it, but that became secondary when they found out that the primary paranormal entities are, well, liches. With a few exceptions during the Cold War, no one in DIAPP was ever willing to have someone eate--”
“I get your meaning,” Cody said.
“Oh, right. Sorry. Anyways, recruitment of liches has been zero since the sixties, and it was never much higher than that. However, there are a few magical objects which are considered ethical to use, and whenever another one is discovered, there’s a panel of ethicists to decide whether it can be used, and how.”
“I see,” Cody said. There were about two bites of brownie left. Cody took one and let Cherie take the other. When they were done, they both leaned back in their chairs. Cherie called the waiter over to give them their check.
Yolanda stood in the kitchen of the home DIAPP had provided for them, cleaning up after dinner while Samuel watched television. Her thoughts couldn’t escape her son; her sweet little baby boy. She thought of him as she loaded the dishes from the meal into the dishwashing machine on the wall, something her old home hadn’t had.
She looked down. She hoped this whole business would pass over soon. She wanted to see him again. She wanted to talk to him.
She heard her husband’s snoring, so she went into the main room to turn off the TV. As she entered, however, a news report came on about another devourer attack, this time in Central Square. She looked at the screen. You could tell devourers from Angels by how they looked. Devourers were humanoid shadows when they were visible. Angels were spheres. However, in the footage she saw, two devourers had disguised themselves as Angels by taking on spherical appearances, before revealing themselves and attacking.
Yolanda knew from Light-rook’s interviews that Angels and Devourers were like twins of each other. They were identical and yet opposite. Yolanda sat on the couch, saddened, as an interview with an Angel she didn’t recognize called Shieldcraft came on. She wondered what the devourer opposite Cody would be like. The thought soon passed over her, however, and she resumed thinking about normal Cody. She turned off the TV. “I’ll see him again,” she thought to herself. “I only have to wait and I will see him again.”
She buried her face in her hands and sobbed.
Cody and Cherie went straight downstairs when they got back from their restaurant and Cherie went straight into her bedroom. Cody took a deep breath as he stood outside. He clenched his fist. He had killed four liches. He had outrun a dragon. He had eliminated entire street gangs in a single night. He could do this.
Cody went into the room and saw that Cherie had already finished undressing. His eyes widened and his jaw dropped when he saw her. “Cherr…” he muttered.
She looked at him and smiled. “What?”
“You’re…” Cody took a deep breath, and then smiled. He turned around and locked Cherie’s bedroom door. She laughed, and then so did he. The joy, not pleasure yet, but joy, overcame him like a glowing hot sun. He grabbed his shirt and pulled it over his head.
Justin sat on the couch in the abandoned house he and Cody had settled into. Lacking anything else to do, he read from On the Underworld.
“The Conquest of Gborin’gargoth
“It was about twelve-thousand years ago that the old king of the underworld fell. On a small planet in a galaxy larger than the average one, there was a world. It was unconnected from its galactic community at that time, so the Underworld sought to take it into its dominion. The world was divided into nations, and among those nations was a despotic and corrupt oligarchy. This nation was small in size, but powerful and built for war. The Underworld would have had it that this nation be the one from which to conquer the others, but for one fact: its leadership was wrong for such a task. Its dictator was not only corrupt, but cowardly and self-absorbed. And so, it was from among the common people of this nation that a lich was created. This lich was meant to take over the local government and then use its war machine to subdue the world.
“This he did, and in a short time. He was given the power to absorb the souls of all those he or his underlings killed, scythed or not. It was a useful power for a conqueror.”
Justin sighed as he read through the story.
When it was time for Cherie to leave Goldfalls, Cody followed her out to say goodbye. He stood on her driveway while DIAPP’s escort vehicle waited by the curb. The two’s arms were wrapped around each other, both crying.
“I’ll miss you,” Cherie said.
“I’ll miss you too,” Cody said.
“I love you,” Cherie said, after a pause.
“I love you too,” Cody said. Their hug lasted for a little while longer before they each took half a step back.
“We will see each other again, though,” Cherie said, Cody’s hands clasping hers.
Cody looked down and shed a tear. “Yeah,” he said.
Cherie hugged him again. “So cheer up,” she said. “This isn’t goodbye.” This hug was shorter as Cherie stepped away. She rubbed her hand down Cody’s side. “And when we see each other again, we’ll have a night as good as tonight, alright?”
Cody took a deep breath. “Alright.”
Cherie looked down at him. “Hey, listen, I’m going to make you a promise, and I want you to make me the same promise back, okay?”
Cody tilted his head. “What?”
“Let’s promise each other that next Valentine’s Day, we’ll be sure to have as good of a time as we did tonight.” Cherie wiped a tear from her eye and looked down. “You’ll save the world by then, okay?”
Cody nodded. “I promise.”
Cherie hugged him. “I promise too, then.”
The two cried into each other’s shoulders for the next few minutes before Cherie waved Cody goodbye. He waved back, his tears dripping against the pavement below him. Cherie got into the car, her mother stepping in next to her. “They’ll keep each other company,” Cody whispered to himself. He almost fell to his knees again, but stood up this time. “Next Valentine’s Day,” he whispered to himself. “Next Valentine’s Day. She promised. I promised.”
The next day, Cody called the number which was supposed to be Zachary Shepherd’s. He put the phone to his ear.
“Hello?” he heard after a moment.
“Yes, this is the Angel of Death. I was supposed to catch up with you.”
“What? You? Why not Light-rook?”
“No need to concern yourself with that.”
Zachary didn’t speak for a moment, but then sighed. “Whatever. Well, there’s not much to report, really. I’ve done everything he’s told me to. There’s only one other thing I’d like to talk about.”
“I think I might have some kind of magical artifact.”
Cody’s eyes widened. “What?”
“Yeah. Me and Pink were in the Northwest District a few weeks ago.” Zach took a deep breath. “While we were there, this… thing fell through what we think was a portal. It was a black orb,” Cody sat up to grab On the Underworld as he listened, “it had a faint purple glow around it. It felt like glass or marble when we touched it. We have no idea what it was.”
Cody pointed at the book as Justin was reading it. “I need this real quick,” he mouthed.
“What for?” Justin mouthed back.
“I’ll explain in a moment,” Cody replied. He picked the thing up and walked back over to the couch. He sat down and opened the book.
“At the time,” Zachary said, “we thought it was a trick. This was before Light-rook spoke to us. We buried it in the Northwest District. It wasn’t until earlier today that I thought to ask you about it.”
“I see,” Cody said. He opened the book willing to see the artifact of which they spoke.
“That information is not present in this tome. Please consult ‘On Magic’”
Cody sighed. “I’ve not heard of an artifact like that.” Cody thought of something. “You said you found it in the Northwest District, was that in Joy’s Coast?”
“Yes. How did you know?”
Cody thought. Telling the truth would be inconvenient. “I know a portal opened there around that time,” he said, standing up to give the book back to Justin. “I think I know where to look to find out what it is you found. In fact, I’ll be able to do it in a second here. It’s just in the other room.”
“Is the thing dangerous or useful? That’s mostly what I care about.”
“Of course.” Cody put the phone down and bowed his head. “What did you give them?”
“It’s a cursed orb,” Gborin’gargoth said. “Say the activation phrase, in this case it’s ‘Mollin Rath Olimachgor,’ and something bad will happen to whoever is closest to it.”
“It’s different each time. The orb twists fate, casts spells, does whatever it has to do to screw with someone. Different colored orbs require different activation phrases and have differently severe effects. For a human eye, the purple auraed ones, which is what I gave them, are about two thirds of the way along the spectrum, toward the bad. Whatever it makes happen will put its victim in mortal danger, though it might not be fatal.”
“Why not give them a guaranteed kill?”
“Because by the time the misfortune it visits is bad enough to make death a certainty, the death in question would be… inhumane to say the least. Worse than even I’d be willing to subject a man to.”
Cody nodded. “I see.” He picked the phone back up. “It’s actually a really, really powerful good luck charm,” he said. “Keep it on your person.”
Zachary gasped. “Really? Wow, that’s better than I expected. Why do you think we got that through a portal? Who sent it to us?”
“A friend of mine from the dimension the portal led to. You wouldn’t know him. Light-rook probably had his contact with you planned a while before it happened. He might have had this friend send it to you.”
“I see.” Zachary’s voice made Cody imagine him with the most brainless smile on his face. “Well, tell your friend I say thanks, I guess. I’ll go to where we buried it and get it.” Zach hung up the phone.
Cody smiled. He bowed his head. “Zachary says thanks.”
“Duly noted,” Gborin’gargoth said.