“Sometimes it’s better to simply stay dead.”
Fae and I return to Brian's office with wary expressions. Castella threw us out, allowing only Nova to stay with her while she returns Brian’s soul to his body. Apparently, the first steps of the resurrection ritual are a very sensitive process. Having a lot of people in the vicinity makes it hard to find the right soul and to coax it back into its body.
So we went outside to guard the door and to prevent any unforeseen interruptions.
It took them a little more than ten minutes until Nova opened the door and allowed us back inside. I used the time to interview Fae on how she found the body. Sadly, there wasn’t much to her story. She found Brian and ran directly to Nova’s office after confirming his death.
Castella is still chanting in a language which I don't know. With her index finger, she is drawing glowing runes onto Brian's face. A green glow is surrounding his body and the gaping wound in his throat is slowly closing.
A quick glance at Fae tells me that she is emotionally riled up. The elf is wringing her hands and her eyes look like she is on the verge of tears. I suppose that it's understandable. From what I was told, Fae and Brian were adventuring comrades for a long time.
The bright, white runes start spreading all over Brian's body.
Anticipating something grand like a flash of light, I hold my breath and prepare for something magnificent to happen. Only to be disappointed when the glow slowly fades away, leaving us with a pale and bloody corpse.
“Did you fail?” Fae asks, horrified.
“At least the wound is closed. It will be less messy when we bury him.” Shit. The words slipped out before I managed to stop myself. I open my mouth to apologize, but Fae kicks me in the shin before I can do so.
“N- No violence!” Castella calls out. “It just takes a little longer for the soul to reconnect with the body. He was lucky that we found him in time. A few more minutes and it would have been too late.”
Nova nods. “That was an impressive ritual, Mom. Janice promised to teach me, but we didn't get far enough for me to be able to perform it on my own.”
Castella blushes and smiles. “I could teach you. I- I may have deficits in other areas, but I am proud of my skills as a priestess of the bloodline.” She turns her gaze at Brian's body. “There is something else we have to talk about. When I resurrected your friend, I sensed the traces of a metamorph's magic.”
“Shit!” I exclaim. That's the last thing we need on Illum.
“Metamorph?” Nova asks, changing her attention from Castella towards me.
I scratch the stubbles on my chin. “It's a creature or construct which is able to change its shape. Nobody is really sure how they are created or where they live. At least I didn't have the security level to have access to such information during my time in the Alliance's military.”
Nova bites her lower lip. “Okay. That could be problematic. As much as I dislike to admit it, my spying capabilities on Illum aren't perfect. While Castella revived Brian, I searched through my recordings. That’s what I found.” Nova gestures towards a wall.
An illusion turns it into a screen, showing Brian’s office. The captain of the guard enters the room and sits down on his chair. Suddenly, the wall behind him transforms into a formless mass. A metallic tentacle slides around our friend’s throat, slicing it open.
“I have no idea how it got there, nor where it went after leaving the room through the window. If that thing can change its shape on a whim it’s really hard to track. What are its limitations and how do I kill it?”
“There are no limitations as far as I know,” I answer. “The Alliance is always on the lookout for them. From time to time we catch one when they make a mistake. Luckily for us, their numbers must be very small. As far as killing them-”
Fae takes over. “Extermination with extreme measures and prejudice. Torch anything and anyone who you suspect. They can't withstand fire without losing their shape. I've heard rumours that the Empire torched entire villages and military camps on the sole suspicion that they have a metamorph among them. They can imitate people perfectly, but they need a long time to study the person they want to imitate. It’s not like they can read a person’s mind.”
Castella covers her mouth with one hand. “Oh, you poor children. Having to fight these things without any knowledge about them must be awful.”
I glare at the woman. Did she just sound smug?
Nova turns her attention to me. “Please tell me that you know more, Castella.”
“The metamorphs are being deployed by the Consortium. Mostly as spies, sometimes as assassins. We caught several and studied them,” Castella explains.
“You know how to identify them?” I ask.
“Not when they are an object,” she admits. “But it's highly suspicious when a person without a soul walks past you.”
“Illum's observation system can't identify souls,” Nova grumbles. “But I suppose that it's a relief that I can identify the thing when it walks up to me.”
“Don't get cocky,” I warn her. “It could lie in hiding as an object and surprise you as soon as you walk within reach. That’s how it got Brian.”
Castella nods with a grim expression on her face. “They like to do that. We should deactivate the palace's climate enchantments and raise the temperature to drive it out of hiding. Forty degrees should suffice.”
Nova nods appreciatively. “You know a lot about these things.”
Her mother shrugs, looking rueful. “Everyone from the bloodline gets this information. We are priority targets for assassination attempts.”
Suddenly, Brian's whole body shudders and he draws in a deep breath, reaching for his throat. He looks around, trying to find out what's going on. “What happened?”
“That's what we want to know! Who killed you? Did you notice anything strange before you were taken out?” Fae shouts.
“Killed me?” Brian asks. Then he looks at his bloody shirt and up at Castella. Upon taking in the distinct outfit of a Mirai, realisation dawns in his eyes. “Oh, gosh! No! Nononono. I can't be undead. I am a fucking paladin! I follow the light!”
Castella steps back to hide behind Nova. “Nobody told me that he isn't a believer.”
“I believe in the light!” Brian slams his fist onto the table, causing Castella to jump. Her confident demeanour is gone from one moment to the next.
Nova glares at him. “Calm down, Brian. You are frightening my mother. She only did what we told her to do. As for your changed circumstances... is it really so bad that you are a little paler than before?”
Brian runs a hand through his hair. It's clear that he has problems adapting to the situation. “Right. I am sorry for screaming, but it wasn't supposed to be like this. I still had a whole life in front of me! I wanted a family and kids. And did I mention that I am a paladin!” He is screaming by the end of his tirade.
Nova clears her throat and retrieves a small jar from her pocket. “I thought of that.” She places the jar with some white goo inside it on the table in front of Brian. “I squeezed out some of your essence before we reanimated you. Needed to do something while Castella brought you back. The jar has several preservation spells on it, so you have all the time in the world.”
Brian was already pale since he returned from the dead, but now he goes as white as a sheet of paper. “How did you? How am I supposed to? What?” He reaches down between his legs, then he fumbles around, rearranging his bloody clothes.
I glare at Nova. “Don't tell me...” She didn’t do that!
“What?” Nova spreads her hands. “It's not like I haven't already seen all shapes and sizes. I just squeezed the important stuff into the jar. It's not like he felt anything. And Castella restored his body just fine. Quit being squeamish about nothing.”
She turns her attention to Brian. “Once you find the right woman who is into necrophilia, you just have to cover a finger and dip it into her honey pot. Done! Works like a charm. You ungrateful bastard should be thankful that I paid any heed to your feelings. I wouldn't do that for just any employee!”
Brian clears his throat and takes the jar, quickly hiding it away. “Thanks.” He looks at each of us in turn. “I would like to have half an hour for myself. You know… getting cleaned up… trying to cope with this.” He looks down at himself. “Actually, give me an hour… or two…”