Scott’s boot splashed in a puddle as he limped through town, puffing and wheezing. It had stopped raining, at least, but though the sun was fighting to come out, the wind was picking up to chill him to the bone.
“You doing all right there, champ?” Amber asked, running without effort.
“Stupid…running…too…much…” he huffed, having to stop and catch his breath. Hands on his knees, he wiped his forehead and saw they were two blocks away from the gym. “Okay… record… time…”
“I’ll go check.” Amber said, and floated off to reconnoiter. There were plenty of people in the gym, but no one around staring in a window. She came back. “I’m not seeing anyone. If they were here, they’re gone. If they were the killer, or just a regular old creep. Damn it, I wanna sock ‘em one.” she said, punching her palm. The young necromancer checked his phone.
“It’s only been about fifteen minutes.” he said, shaking his head. “We have to be thorough. There’s a chance he’s still here, or the target moved and he’s following her. Either way, they couldn’t have gotten far. Let’s check again.”
After the pause to converse, he set off again a bit refreshed, Amber hovering behind him. They scanned the area as unobtrusively as possible. There was nothing out of the ordinary until they passed the gym itself, when Scott glanced over across the street. There, in the shadows of the alley between the doughnut shop and the laundromat, was a big guy in a black jacket with the hood up, bent over eating a doughnut so they couldn’t see his face, but there was unmistakably blond hair spilling form the hood. Scott hurried past him and ducked behind the corner of the laundromat.
“See Amber, he’s still there!” he hissed softly. “This could be our chance.”
“Um, okay.” she said nervously, tugging her ponytail. “So, what do we do now? How do we go about this?”
“Hmm.” Scott considered for a moment. “Well, the first thing we do is try to find out who that is. You’re way less conspicuous than I am, go and check out his face, see if you can memorize it for later. Then see if you can pull his wallet out and find an ID. If we’ve got his name, Cross can track him down later if need be. If you need help, just call me and I’ll provide a distraction.” he said. She nodded, and started to go, but a thought struck her and she turned back to him.
“Hey, Scott? If he really is the killer, and collecting hearts for a magic ritual, would he be able to see me?” Scott opened his mouth, blinked, and cursed.
“You’re right. Crap! If he can, he could possibly do something to you if he realizes you’re there. That’s the rule; if someone can see you, they can touch you. This…could complicate things.” He closed his eyes for a moment, reformulating the plan. “Okay, new tactic: go up and walk past, and just say hey or something. If he responds, we’ll know he’ll be able to see you. You’re harder to damage in any case, and I can yank you out of there if I need to.” he said, holding up the chain. “Just take it easy. Look casual.” She stared at him, nonplussed.
“I am literally glowing green.” she pointed out.
“Then…glow casual! You’ll find out who he is anyway, let’s get going!” He started to push her in front of the laundromat.
“Okay, okay, I got it! Sheesh.” Amber straightened up, then slouched over again, trying to look casual. She strolled up to the alley and tossed a “’Sup.” at the figure there. He was looking up at the gym again, so Amber got a clear look at him. She froze and gasped.
“What? What is it?” Scott muttered, peeking from around the corner. He was almost bowled over when Amber zoomed back, barely noticing him. “Ooof! What’s wrong? Did he see you?”
“No, I don’t think so, but we’ve got bigger problems than that!” she said, flailing her hands. “Scott, its Leo!”
“Leo! Leo Manning!”
“What? Leo? From school?” he said.
“Yes! Oh my god, this’s terrible! I thought he was such a good person! Stephanie has a crush on him! What if he really is the Craven Falls Killer?” she said, nearly hysterical. “I, I never thought someone so nice and charming could be so, so…evil!”
“Yeah, well, you never knew there was a necromancer at school either, so you never know what someone could be hiding.” he said, peering around the corner again. “We don’t know for sure if he’s the murderer or not, but he’s still acting suspicious.”
“I can’t believe this’s happening.” Amber said, starting to slowly sink into the pavement. “When they said he could steal any girl’s heart, I didn’t think it was literal! But he’s acting like a total creep here. I don’t know, he, he’s just so…”
“Handsome?” Scott supplied sardonically, and Amber scowled.
“Not just that.” she said, embarrassed.
“Doesn’t matter what that pretty boy looks like, he’s on the move.” he said. Leo checked his watch, then got up and left the alley, crossing the street to look in the gym’s window. “We have to find out what he’s doing.” Scott said, his voice hard. He abandoned his hiding place and marched over to the gym too.
“Scott! Hey! Oh, I hate it when you do this!” Amber complained, and floated after him.
“Hey, Leo! My man!” Scott said, far too friendly, making Leo jump. “What’cha doing here? Looking to join? I would’ve thought football practice would’ve been enough exercise you would’ve needed.”
“Oh, hello. Um, Scott, wasn’t it?” Leo said. The necromancer blinked.
“Yeah. I’m a little surprised you know me, you’re sort of higher than me in the high school social hierarchy.”
“Ahh, don’t say it like that, we just have different circles. We had a double lab in biology last year. It was the unit on anatomy, and we had to dissect worms, fish, and frogs. I remember everyone was grossed out by it, even if only a little.
But you stuck out because you treated it like it was nothing. I was a little envious because I was feeling queasy, and you managed to make it seem like you were just doing dishes. I wish I could be that composed and mature.” Leo said with a small chuckle. Scott smiled and nodded, remembering the assignment, but deep inside he was a little irked at his super-positive attitude.
“So anyway, what are you doing here? See something you like?” Scott said, glancing at the window.
“Oh, err… well, uh…” Leo stuttered, glancing around nervously and shifting from side to side. Scott narrowed his eyes in suspicion, and Amber tugged on her ponytail. “Well, you are pretty quiet...” Leo murmured. “Can you keep a secret?”
“Yeah? You don’t have to worry about me, my lips are sealed; I know the value of discretion. But what secret could someone like you have?” Scott said. He had to seem as trustworthy and discrete as possible.
“Well…” Leo’s eyes were once again drawn to the gym window. “You see the woman at the bench there, lifting weights?” he said, pointing her out. The duo looked and saw a young woman who, while having a feminine face and was quite attractive on the whole, had a body built like, in Scott’s opinion, a brick outhouse.
“Holy hell, her biceps are bigger than my head!” he said.
“I know.” Leo said dreamily. “Her name’s Evangeline. Isn’t she just the cutest thing you ever saw?” Amber and Scott’s gawking turned form her to Leo.
“Err, yeah, she’s pretty hot, I guess.” Scott said noncommittedly.
“I have to say, this is not the direction I envisioned this conversation going.” Amber said.
“She’s very loving and kind. Right now, she’s training to become a professional bodybuilder.” Leo continued. “She doesn’t know her own strength, tends to insult people, is a brawn-over-brains type, is bullheaded and stubborn, and has been called a feral animal instead of a human being. When we first met, she threatened to break my arm.” He sighed, staring at her. “She’s just so adorable!” Both Amber and Scott were staring at him blankly. ‘He was listing her good qualities?!’ they thought at the same time.
“But anyway, we’re kind of going out. She’s my girlfriend.” Leo said sheepishly, grinning like a goofball.
“Oh. Uh. Um.” Scott blinked owlishly. “Congratulations.”
“Thanks. But I’d like you to keep it a secret.” Leo said. Scott raised an eyebrow.
“The truth is, we kind of have a long-distance relationship. She lives in Canada, but comes back to visit family here every so often. We met last year at Christmas, and I fell for her, hard. The problem is she’s twenty, and I’m only sixteen. The age difference won’t matter in a few years, but for now we agreed to keep things low-key. It’s best if we’re not seen together too much. I’d love to shout it from the rooftops, but it’s best that word not get back to my family, at least for now. Yeah?” he asked hopefully.
“I…see.” Scott said, turning back to the window to look at her. “Hey, that guy-”
Inside, they saw Evangeline chatting with a trainer, when a guy walking by reached out and smacked her ass. The trainer started shouting while the guy laughed, but Evangeline didn’t waste time with words. She reached back and decked the guy in the jaw, lifting him off the ground and sending him flying fifteen feet. She would’ve gone over and stomped on him if the trainer hadn’t hastily interposed himself between them, hurriedly explaining the legal ramifications. The guy on the ground was out cold.
“How dare he lay a hand on my delicate little flower!” Leo growled, making Scott stare at him.
“Delicate little flower?” he said.
“I think that’s a tooth. No, teeth.” Amber corrected, seeing what was on the ground.
“Anyway, I’d better get in there and see how she’s doing, try to calm her down. I have to say, getting this off my chest is quite refreshing. Can you promise not to tell anyone about my girlfriend?” Leo asked.
“Huh? Oh, sure. No problem.”
“Great! Thanks so much. It means a lot to me, I really owe you. See you around!” he said cheerfully and went inside, where he greeted her with a chaste kiss on the cheek. Evangeline grabbed him and lifted him off the ground in a crushing hug, and they started laughing. Scott and Amber started back home.
“Well. That was a thing.” Amber said, still trying to comprehend what she had just seen.
“Yeah. I think that’s the first time the fabled ‘girlfriend in Canada’ turned out to be real.” Scott said.
“Guess if Stephanie wants a chance, she’d better start drinking protein shakes and pumping iron.” Amber said, then realized something. “You know, this means we still don’t have any leads on the Craven Falls Killer.” Scott stopped in his tracks, realizing she was right.
“God damn it!”
Detective Cross sighed and paced outside the cemetery gate, breath visible and mixing with the evening fog. Her watch said it was 11:23, which meant he was late.
“Damn it, kid. You’re the one who wanted to meet here, lord knows why, and now you make me hang around here even longer in this depressing place. Alone.” She shivered, purely out of the cold, she told herself. “God, this place gives me the creeps.” Cross looked through the bars at the tombstones. It was all too easy to see hands piercing up through the dirt, horrible rotting zombies coming to life to devour the flesh of the living; especially as now she knew such a scenario could actually happen.
“Hey, Detective.” Scott said, jogging up to her out of the fog, Amber waving happily.
“You’re late.” Cross growled.
“Yeah, sorry ‘bout that. My parents went to bed late, I don’t want them to be involved in any of this.” he said nonchalantly. Cross looked like she wanted to chew him out, but logically knew she couldn’t argue with him on this point. Amber came to the rescue.
“So, Detective. You wanted to see us? There’s been another victim?”
“Hmph. Yes.” She pulled out a manila folder and handed it to Scott. “This is a copy of the report, including all relevant pictures. It is highly illegal for me to give this to you, so destroy it after you’re done looking it over.” She gave him a hard look. Scott nodded, then started flipping through the pages. “I need you to take a look see if there’s anything we couldn’t see. This makes the sixth victim, and we’re no closer to a suspect than when we started. Ugh.” Scott skimmed the files, instead examining the photographs with a careful eye.
“Hmmm. I’m afraid there’s not much to go on, just from these pictures.” he said. “I might be able to discern more if I could get to the scene itself-”
“Which you’re not.” Cross interjected. “There’s no way I could justify your presence there.” Scott stared at her, then looked back at the photos.
“As I was saying, I might be able to see if there was any mojo happening at the scene, but honestly I don’t think there’ll be anything I could divine there either.” He paused, looking at two photos, one of the body and one of the whole room. “But it’s obvious that there’s some kind of blessing involved. Nothing else is out of place, aside from the body. Chances are a human couldn’t have taken care of everything in a short enough time period. I mean, there’s no blood spray.” Amber made a face, but Cross huffed in frustration.
“Don’t I know it. It’s like the guys in this precinct never went through basic investigation. They didn’t notice a thing off about the whole place.” Scott cocked his head at her.
“I mean, they were standing around with their thumbs up their-” Cross was suddenly aware that her audience were minors. She coughed. “Anyway, they were milling around until I pointed that out.”
“We’re not children, Detective Cross.” Amber said rolling her eyes, but Scott looked concerned.
“And no one else thought the very lack of evidence was strange?” he said carefully.
“No. Why?” Cross said, not liking where this was going.
“Because blessings can’t do that. At least, not from something that need hearts to power up. A general, ‘nothing interesting is happening here’ effect is the best it can do about that, certainly not hours after the fact, under people giving it close scrutiny. It just doesn’t add up.” Cross’s eyes narrowed.
“What? Are you saying the…force…behind this couldn’t pull a Jedi mind trick on the scene? I thought that’s what was happening here.”
“No. I’m sure there are powers that could, but if there were the culprit would’ve made a bigger move by now. Besides, if that were the case, you wouldn’t’ve noticed anything amiss, either.” Scott explained, pacing back and forth.
“I thought it was because I’m not from here. I was originally working the Carson case over in Nahumville. I was brought in because of my expertise.” Cross said.
“No, that wouldn’t have mattered to a blessing of that magnitude. It would’ve affected the whole area of the scene. So, the police are affected, except for the newcomer. The blessing’s not involved.” he muttered, wracking his brain for the answer. “It sounds like…” He suddenly stopped and shuddered.
“What? Spit it out.” Cross demanded.
“Well, it sounds like mind magic. The officers there were enspelled not to see anything wrong, to be totally mystified by the situation.” Scott said.
“Wait. Are-are you saying that someone has tampered with the brains of my men?” Cross said, cold and hard. It would make the most sense.” Scott said, taking a step back along with Amber. The fury coming off of her was palpable. “In fact, the more I think about it, the more things fall into place. Think. The murderer’s been active since August. Even with a daemon’s blessing, there would have been something to go on, at least. People would’ve known things weren’t adding up at the crime scene. The cops, for sure. But if we are dealing with a magic user, then he’s been very clever. He’s been using two spells: one to ensure no interference or evidence, and another to make sure the cops don’t look too hard at what they don’t have. It’s brilliant, in a twisted way. But the fact that he was so thorough was his downfall.”
“Can it.” Cross snapped. “How can we reverse it?”
“Ehh…kinda got me there.” Scott said sheepishly, and shrugged.
“What!?” Cross and Amber both yelled.
“Hey, hey, easy! Mental magic is complicated, there’s very few udo buttons! Besides, I, uh…don’tknowhowtodoit.” he mumbled, looking down. Cross grabbed him by his jacket and lifted him off the ground.
“What do you mean, you don’t know how to do it?” she hissed Scott blinked.
“Wow, you must work out.” he said.
“All right, all right. Let’s all just calm down.” Amber said, putting herself between them. “We’re all on the same side here.” Cross scowled, but set him down gently, with a mumbled “sorry.” “Now Scott, please explain.” she said patiently.
“Thing is, necromancy is just one field of magic.” he said rubbing the back of his neck in embarrassment. “Like biology and physics. Both fields of science, both interact with each other, but both very different. The Necronomicon doesn’t go into much detail about the other studies of magic. It’s got an overview, but the focus is the dead and beyond. I don’t know any other spells, let alone how to reverse them.” Cross felt all the strength drain out of her at his words, and staggered to keep from falling over.
“Then…nothing can be done?” she asked hopelessly, a haunted look in her eye.
“Hey now, I never said that. I may not know the counterspell, but I bet the caster does. All we have to do is capture him and give him incentive to cancel it. Failing that, taking him out should do it, too. If I died, my zombies would fall apart.” Scott said.
“Rrrgh. That’s great and all, but that just leaves us back where we started; we have no idea who or where the perp is.” Cross said, grinding her teeth. Scott cursed.
“Um, actually, I’ve been thinking about that,” Amber piped up, and they turned to her. “Maybe we’re taking the wrong approach. Earlier, when you left me alone with Captain Blackwell-” she scowled at Scott, who shrugged “-he went on and on about hunting tigers in Borneo. He came across one and had the same trouble we’re having now-they couldn’t chase it or find it, it was too fast and good at hiding.”
“Who’s Captain Blackwell?” Cross asked, confused.
“A ghost in the house on Raimi Avenue.” Scott supplied. Cross pinched the bridge of her nose.
“Right. Go on, how did they track it down?”
“That’s the thing. He didn’t. It came to them.” Amber smiled. “All we need is some bait.”