Clay Havenbrook yawned and sat up in bed, stretching. The sun poured in through the window, pooling on the blankets and warming them despite the chill.
“Mmm. ‘Nother day-huh?” His eyes widened as he remembered that…there was…something...important to do? That his dad had to do? He frowned, but couldn’t for the life of him recall what. He saw Scott go by his door.
“Morning to you too, buttmunch.” Scott said casually, leaning on the doorframe. “What’s up?”
“Hey, this might sound weird, but wasn’t there…something important going on? Something big that we had to do?” he said, brow furrowed. Scott gave him a funny look.
“You really awake yet or you still dreaming? We don’t gotta do anything today, remember? The school’s closed ‘cause of the electrical fire.”
“Electrical fire?” Clay said in alarm. Scott raised his eyebrow.
“Yeah…?” Remember, a truck hit a power main and that overloaded the transformer? School’s closed for the next two weeks. But next week’s Thanksgiving anyway, so it’ll line up. Meh.”
“Oh.” Clay said, still feeling something was off but unable to put his finger on it. “You didn’t blow it up, did’ja?”
“Please.” Scott rolled his eyes. “If I did, they wouldn’t be able to rebuild.”
When they got down to the kitchen, they started on the cereal, watching their mother flit aimlessly around the room.
“Something wrong, dear?” Michael asked, frowning because he thought something was wrong too, but didn’t want to press it.
“No…” she said uncertainly. “I think that’s the problem. I remember I was worried about something, but I can’t remember what.”
“Eh. If you can’t remember, it probably wasn’t that important anyway.” Scott advised. “Anyway, I gotta get going. Amber still wants to meet up to study today. I told her that we’ve got a vacation, but she said that made it more important to keep up with schoolwork. Ugh.” He slurped down the sugary milk and sighed. A hand held his shoulders fast to his seat.
“You know I don’t believe you.” Clay whispered, grinning. “What’cha really gonna do, make out? Remember, most bras unhook in the back, but you gotta watch out for the ones in the front.” He nudged his brother’s ribs, but Scott remained stonefaced.
“Alright, you caught me. I’m actually the world’s most powerful necromancer, and I’m off to resurrect the dead by invoking dark rituals and elder gods.” he said dryly.
“Clay, stop teasing your brother. Have fun Scott, be back by five.” Rebecca said. As he left, she called out “Remember, it’s up and over for a standard bra!” She giggled as he shot her an exasperated look and left.
“So how’re you doing, Detective?” Michael Harris said, handing Cross a coffee. She inhaled the wonderful vapors and sighed.
“I’m holding up. Better than some-” she shot a glance at Nightfang, now out of costume and staring forlornly at the magic circle Scott had inscribed for Leo’s resurrection. “But not as good as others.” She shook her head at Scott, animatedly describing just how his ingenious plan worked in intricate detail to Amber and Mrs. Harris, who looked to be developing white hairs on the spot.
“At least you’re doing better than my roof.” he grumbled, eyeing the thin particleboard Scott’s skeleton had duct-taped. The image of a skeleton doing carpentry was absurd, and he couldn’t get it out of his head.
“Hmm. The kid’s smart, yeah, but he doesn’t have the kind of training or discipline to be in charge of militaristic operations like this, that’s why there’s so much collateral damage. And he likes to play with fire. It worries me.” she grunted.
“Figuratively, or literally?” Mr. Harris said. He was still quite put out that one of his propane tanks and several customer supplies were used for the defense.
“Well Detective, I suppose it all worked out in the long run. He’s proven to be mature and responsible for his age in respects that matter, we should focus on that. Otherwise, I’d have to strangle him.”
“Heh.” She formed a tight-lipped smile. “You’re probably right. At least this time there isn’t as much paperwork.”
“Oh! By the by, where are the other vampires? I was quite looking forward to meeting Mr. Harvaste. To think, a chance to talk to someone who’s been walking around Europe for centuries!” Mr. Harris said, scanning the crowd for him excitedly.
“He’s not here. Genevieve said even though sunlight can’t harm them, they still don’t like it and they needed to sleep. I don’t blame-ehh?” She turned a raised eyebrow on a ghoul trotting up to her, head bowed with a hand behind his back. “Ebble?”
“Umm…stoghnkj…E-Ebble…w-want you have this.” He shoved some wilted daisies in her shocked hand.
“Huh? Flowers?” When she looked up at him again, Ebble squealed and ducked away, burrowing through the concrete at top speed in embarrassment.
“My floor!” Mr. Harris cried, dropping to his hands and knees. “You’d better believe you’re paying for that!” he shouted down the hole. Detective Cross just sighed and massaged her throbbing head.
“Okay, the sigils are ready, and the circle is complete. Who’s ready to raise some dead?” Scott said, and Leo eagerly raised his spectral hand.
“While it’s been a unique experience, I’d like to go back to my body as soon as possible.” he said.
“Tell me about it.” Amber muttered, and was pulled aside by Scott.
“Hey, did you get it? Was it hard to find?” he whispered.
“Nah, I got it. I spent nearly all morning looking for ‘em. There was a lot of rubble to sift through, you know.” she said, tugging her ponytail. She went over and retrieved a trash bag she’d put them in. “Do you really think it’ll work?”
“I think it’s worth a try.” he said confidently. “Okay, if I could have the deceased?” Nightfang dropped the tarp containing Leo’s body into the circle. “Extra-crispy.”
“I’d like to see how well you looked after burning to death.” Leo said.
“Ahh, you’ll be fine. Now, let’s raise ‘em on up. Hey! Hey Lagdinras, I know you’re watching!”
Six fireballs spun in the air, cutting open space to reveal Lagdinras’s golden eye. It emanated a bittersweet, yet proud feeling into the room.
I Feel most Satisfied with the conclusion, though I Mourn for those who have been lost. Good Job. However, why have You requested My presence, necromancer? You have everything at hand.
“Yeah, ‘bout that…” Scott said, shrugging gat the heat and radiance the messenger gave off. “Yeah, you see, I’ve been thinking. I’d really like to take necromancy to the next level. See, when a vampire dies, you know about vampires, right? You know about Kevin?”
I am Familiar with the Creatures, and the masked one’s…Exploits.
it emanated at Nightfang, making him pale even more.
“Good. Now, we know they don’t have souls, so get oblivionated when they die. But here’s the thing; energy can’t be created or destroyed. The individual particles of ectoplasmic, thermic energy still exist, they’re just completely absorbed into the natural background field of the universe, or almost absorbed.”
“They’re in a state that’s completely inert to former form, untouchable and untraceable. It’s simply not possible to detect them, forget retrieving them, even I have my limits. However, that’s the limit of mortal power. An actual god? That might be a different story. You can perceive multiple dimensions simultaneously, and can collect vast amounts of power with your vast knowledge. Therefore, it should be possible for you to metaphorically and metaphysically grab all the Lego bricks and reconstruct a soul manually, right?” Scott said. The eye trembled.
What you are Suggesting is Beyond even My Power. It…it cannot be Done. It Should not be Done. By all Rights, I should Strike you down right now for Disturbing the natural Harmony of the Cosmos. However, your Services are required for a Second Chance for Leo Manning.
“See, here’s the thing. I could do that, sure, buuuuuut…oh no, I’m feeling a little too weak at the moment, cough cough. If only I had enough incentive to carry on, and power through my crippling disability.” Scott said, affecting languishing illness. The assembled crowed gasped. Lagdinras, for perhaps the first time in its existence, was taken aback.
Are…are you blackmailing Me?
rang in their memories, the air vibrating with indignation.
“Blackmail is such an…” He circled his hand, trying to find the appropriate phrase. “…accurate word. Yes, I’m blackmailing you.” Scott said, grinning.
“Scott!” Leo whispered furiously in a high voice. “What are you doing! No! Please don’t use my resurrection as a bargaining chip!” Somehow, his ghost had paled even more.
“Sorry man, them’s the breaks. But don’t worry, I can chain you to my soul so you don’t fade into oblivion, your youthful promise cut down in your prime, never again to wield the light of justice upon those who worship at evil’s altar, potentially saving millions of lives, millions of orphans and puppies thanks to your holy work, oh what a shame, it’s too bad I can’t find the incentive to perform the ritual, oh no.” He cast furtive looks at the shaking eye. The fires surrounding it were blazing hotter and brighter by the second.
You-You DARE try to blackmail the Messenger of the great Zet-Mathaig, He who is the Incarnation of Righteousness? This Affront will not-
The whole room was very, very still. When Lagdinras “spoke,” it was more like arranging reality so he had already spoken, the words appearing in memory immediately.
This wasn’t like that.
There was a sense of…vastness, for lack of a better term, an enormity so immense and grandiose the sun was blotted out and the entire planet quaked in vibration, though the morning light shone through the window like normal. This was something that had no prospect of dispute, an agreement so final and absolute blood pacts were a quaint notion, beyond the absolute of the concept. Scott broke out into a cold sweat immediately, as he realized he now had just a faint idea of what exactly he was bargaining with. He glanced at Lagdinras, shifting back and forth to find the origin of the agreement. The fire presumably cut through the dimensional barriers, and it seemed impossible, but it was like the source had been speaking a very, very long way away indeed. He shivered.
Err, yes. I-It seems we are in Agreement on this Matter.
Lagdinras emanated, giving off a feeling of embarrassment.
You shall Resurrect those you have Chosen, those Above have Seen to it. However,
the burning eye narrowed,
Do Not presume to take this action again. The Powers Above cannot go against the flow of Fate, not without severe Consequences. It is Fortunate the one you seek has not been deceased long, Scott Havenbrook. Proceed.
“Y-Yeah.” Scott said, shaken to his core, but trying to shrug it off. Did he really just do that? Did he really just succeed? He really must be crazy. “Amber, the package.” Amber lugged the trash bag to the middle of the circle and swapped it for the tarp. She glanced over to Scott to see if she should open it, but he shook his head. "Allaghvah, goochun esteros. Allaghvah, goochun esteros. Ael shith, tivam se ael nath! Follahl xerph'um estios! Ha! Allaghvah, goochun esteros. Allaghvah, goochun esteros. Ael shith, tivam se ael nath! Follahl xerph'um estios! Ha! Allaghvah, goochun esteros. Allaghvah, goochun esteros. Ael shith, tivam se ael nath! Follahl xerph'um estios! Ha!"
For a moment, nothing happened. Then, out of nowhere a fierce, hot wind kicked up, a musty odor wafting form the circle now flaring to life with the candles. Tiny particles of light, burnt sienna, began to wink into existence and spiral around the bundle, making it swell and burst. Scott felt another presence in his mind, working with the words he now spoke. A column of orange light sprang forth as the resurrection was complete, skin, muscle, bone, and soul reforming anew as Kevin’s mother drifted down to the ground. He stared, wide-eyed and gaping, completely stunned.
“Ha ha!” Scott crowed as Detective Cross immediately wrapped her overcoat around the blinking, confused woman. Nightfang found himself walking forward, his feet moving without input. “Take that, causality.”
“I…but-I…” Kevin trailed off, staring at his mother. She saw him, and her lip trembled and her eyes watered.
“Oh, Kevin…how…I-I’m sorry, I attacked you, I’m the worst mother in the world, oh my God I’m horrible-”
“NO, I’m the worst son, I killed you, but I’m sorry, I’m sorry I burned the house down, I-I can’t believe you’re here, id’s impossible, bud you’re here and dat’s ebryding I wanned…” Both embraced each other and fell to their knees sobbing and blubbering, each trying to hold onto the other tighter. Kevin turned his stinging eyes to the necromancer.
“Heh heh, my theory was right! The soul can be reconstructed after decomposition! Of course, you’d have to have the knowledge and ability of a god to gather every last scrap of soul and energy... A2÷(5000x4310) with the unity of X, where , that’s kinda a tall order…hmm, how to do, how to do, we’d have to start with the inverted Y axis of dimension one as the starting line…” He began muttering to himself and paging through his notes, nearly missing Kevin throw himself at his feet. “Gah!”
“You…you’ve done the impossible. I-I owe you too much for me to ever repay. Please, I am forever in your debt. If you ever need anything, anything at all, I’ll be there and help you out. I owe you a life debt.” Kevin said through his tears, unable to stop smiling.
“Ah, jeez. Look man, get up, this’s embarrassing. D-Don’t sweat it, okay?” Scott said, blushing. He pulled his tattered hood up and turned away. “I-It’s not like I did it for you, or to be nice or anything. I just wanted to see if it could be done. Now that I know it can, it’s only a matter of time before I replicate it myself.” he muttered, grateful the others couldn’t see his tomato-red face.
“He really is a bad liar, isn’t he?” Amber whispered to Cross, who rolled her eyes and nodded.
“Seems like the only way he can pull of deception is to be a monster threatening his life.” she added dryly.
“A-Anyway!” Scott coughed, lowering his hood and recovering. He started busying himself with the candles as Amber approached him.
“Still no way to change me back into a human?” she asked. Scott sucked in air through his teeth.
“Yeah, sorry, no. I’ve, ah, been a little busy.” he said, glancing at the hole Cerberus made. Amber sighed.
“And it could be months before you figure something out, and I’ll have to eat garbage or get refills until then.” she said flatly. Scott winced and nodded, and she sighed even deeper. “But you can reuse the same magic circle, right?”
“Right. Please, Detective, before I change my mind.”
“Don’t know how you talked me into this.” Cross grumbled, then pulled out her gun and shot her in the head, to Scott’s wide-eyed shock.
“D-Did it work? Am…am I still here?” Amber said, her eyes screwed shut. She peeked and saw her body on the floor. “Oh. Good, I suppose.”
“Mmm-hmm, mmm-hmm. The hell?” Scott asked pleasantly, his eye twitching.
“I know. Not exactly appealing, seeing your daughter die.” Mr. Harris said, holding his shaking wife. Amber had discussed this with them, but it was still hard to take in. “And I know you charge for your services, so we’ll call it even between the parts you used for your creature and the hole in the roof.”
“Yeah, yeah.” Scott said, rubbing his eyes. “This…no, this is fine. This’s okay. I can…fine, okay. Well then, who wants to come back first? It’s only one at a time.” The two ghosts looked at each other, and Leo shrugged.
“Ladies first. I can totally wait for five more minutes.” he said.
“Right.” Scott dragged her body into the circle and dropped her there.
“Careful with the merchandise.” Amber said, shuddering at the all-too-familiar numbness she felt as a ghost. ‘It’s only for a minute, it’s only for a minute. Scott will fix everything.’ she reassured herself.
“Then don’t just off yourself like that! Jeez, nearly gave me a heart attack…” Scott snapped, then began the ritual. The candles flared and the circle lit up as he chanted, her body once more dissolving into essential salts that reformed around her soul, this time double-checked to prevent from being raised as anything other than a human.
This was the chance it had been waiting for. Unbeknownst to everyone, there was a large spider hidden in the dusty rafters of the ceiling, awaiting this moment. From its web it snapped the special strands, releasing a fully-formed web down below. As thick and light as the morning mist, the light of the resurrection allowed the web to drift into the salts unnoticed, everyone focusing on her body restructuring. Had Scott actually seen it, he would have recognized the sigil that the specially-woven spider web formed.
With a bright flash, Amber’s body was complete and her soul had been reintegrated, becoming human again. Having gone through the process before, she immediately dove for her abandoned clothes and rolled behind a box while the guys averted their eyes. A minute later, she emerged breathing a deep, long-suffering sigh of relief.
“Did it work?” Leo asked.
“I’m pretty sure.” she said, frowning. Everything felt right, but so did things when she was a ghoul. She raised an eyebrow at Scott, who shrugged.
“Only one way to find out.” He placed a finger on her arm and said “Sekh,” toning the necrotic flow down as much as possible.
“Yowch!” She recoiled as if stung, rubbing her shoulder. “That hurt. That hurt! I’m really alive again! Yay!” She and her parents hugged, and she found it impossible to lift them. Amber beamed in happiness.
“My little girl, finally whole again. It’s a miracle.” her mother said, tears in her eyes.
“Thank you, I try to make it a habit.” Scott said cheekily. “Bring forth the tarp!”
Since Amber no longer had ghoul strength, Kevin easily placed the tarp with Leo’s barbecued body in the circle. After a moment to regain his strength and downing a water bottle, Scott repeated the chant, once more double-checking the Necronomicon to ensure he didn’t turn Leo into a wight or other undead by accident.
Leo’s spirit drifted into the circle as the blue salts drifting and forming into his body, and Scott frowned. There was a heaviness in his mind, and while the flare of the circle drowned out the other light, he could swear there were soul particles blinking into existence with Leo. However, it was too late to stop now, he didn’t want to condemn Leo to a very short and painful existence in a half-formed body before becoming a ghost again.
“Follahl xerph'um estios! Ha!" Scott clapped, and with a burst of green, rainbow, and blue light the resurrection was complete.
Leo blinked the darkness away, realizing there was a green carapiece next to him.
“Huk. Huuh-ahk!” Mielios coughed, rubbing his eyes and mandibles. “My. Oh my. That…that was an experience that was interesting. However, I shall endeavor to not have it repeat.” Leo’s eyes widened, and there was a moment of silence.
“AAAHHHHHH!” Mrs. Harris screamed, but this time it was her husband that fell into her arms. “Why is there a giant praying mantis!?”
“The hell’s going on!?” Cross thundered, her gun at the ready.
“Mielios! You’re alive too!” Leo exclaimed, hugging him.
“That sneaky bastard!” Scott exclaimed, snapping his fingers and grinning. “No wonder he agreed to my terms so readily. I forgot all about him, oh man!”
Indeed. Forgive the deception, Scott Havenbrook. However, Lord Zet-Mathaig, Champion of all that is Right And Pure, felt it was Necessary.
Lagdinras emanated. Scott merely held up his hands.
“Ahh, no worries. I can admit when I’m beat. It was a good trick, I ain’t even mad.”
“Cool! This’s great! So many got to come back!” Leo said, letting go of the alien. It had completely slipped their minds in the surprise, they forgot the resurrected weren’t wearing clothes.
“Yeah, you got me, I admiiiiiii….” Scott trailed off wide-eyed, once Leo called attention to himself again. That…that just wasn’t fair.
“Oh my.” Amber said, covering her eyes, but not so subtly peeking through her fingers.
“K-Kid’s girlfriend must be happy.” Cross muttered, trying to avert her eyes and mentally reviewing the statutory laws.
“Huh? Oh!” Leo said in embarrassment, covering himself with his hand. Then, sheepishly using two for adequate cover. “Um. Sorry about that. Does anyone have any pants I could borrow?”
“Here.” Mielios said, rolling his multifaceted eyes. He tore the tarp up into a rough poncho with his claws and draped it over Leo. “Humans are strange. There is no reason to hide one’s body, save unless one is under the covers.”
“Yes, well, not all of us have exoskeletons.” Cross said, unable to look anyone in the eye. “So. Well done everyone. Good job. I’m going home to take a sick day and drink myself stupid. Oh,” she tossed to Kevin and Mrs. Bachelder. “Come see me when you’re ready. I’ll help you with the paperwork for the police and insurance reports about your house. We don’t want the general public knowing about any of this. You had fire insurance, right?”
“Y-Yeah.” Kevin’s mother said, wiping her face. “K-Kevin, I am still so, so sorry. A-And I’m sorry I didn’t know you were a…a…”
“Vampire?” he supplied with a rueful smile.
“Yes. How? Why?” She shook her head. “No. That’s not important right now. You’re here, and you’re okay, and that’s the best thing I could ask for.” she said, hugging him close. A hand touched her shoulder, and she turned to see Amber and her mother.
“Um, Mrs. Bachelder? Kevin’s been very helpful, so we wanted to let you know you’re welcome to stay in our guest room until you two get back on your feet.” Amber said, smiling.
“It’s the least we can do, for everything that he’s done for us.” her mother said.
“Oh wow, I-I don’t want to impose, but…I, I don’t know what to say…” she said, tearing up again.
“Say yes, Mom. It’s just for a little while.” Kevin said.
Lagdinras emanated at the sight, floating behind Leo and Mielios.
But be that as it may, We are still Very busy. I must be away to another crisis elsewhere. But before I go, I Must Ask of you two something.
The air shimmered and shifted, and Leo found himself holding his sword charm, and a familiar piece of leather hung from Mielios’s claw. The alien’s head jerked up to meet the eye.
“B-But, Lord Lagdinras! This…I am not worthy, not after all that I have spoken, all that I have done against our work!” Mielios said, bowing low.
Rise, Mielios. What happened to You is unfortunate, but not Insurmountable. Rest assured, Lord Zet-Mathaig, Arbiter of the Cosmic Heavens and Great Balancer of Karma, has still Many uses for you, should You Choose. You are Worthy. Should you still feel you must Repent, the crack of your Whip may offer Penance enough.
“Th-Thank you, Lord Lagdinras. Hail Zet-Mathaig!”
And You, Leo Manning?
The teen grinned and flung his arm out, slicing the tarp to reveal his smooth, extra-muscular chest. He held the sword aloft and caught the tarp with his fist to form a kilt.
“I pledge my sword to carry on with justice and righteousness!” he declared. The sun emerged from behind a cloud at that exact moment, streaming in through the window and making both his sword and chest gleam. Every person with two X chromosomes present felt very warm.
Indeed. Fare you Well, until we Meet again! And rest assured, Scott Havenbrook, We Will be Watching.
Scott blinked as the fires flared and spiraled back, receding into another dimension of reality.
“Huh. What do you think he meant by that?” he muttered worriedly, glancing at the Necronomicon.
“I don’t think worrying will make it any better.” Amber said, dragging her eyes away from Leo.
“Yeah, kid. Whatever happens, happens. Just gotta roll with the punches. You don’t have to like it, but that’s what you have to do.” Cross said, shaking his hand. “Now then, you won’t be pulling any more crazy stunts like taking the mayor hostage or robbing jewelry stores again, right?” Her mouth was set in a thin smile, and her grip tightened exponentially.
“Yeah! Yes yes yes, got it! The straight and narrow for me, oh boy yes!” Scott yelped. She glared down at him, still smiling.
“Good. Glad we could have this little talk. And I’m very glad to see that you understand that this will not happen again, correct?” She still hadn’t let go.
“Oh my word yes there’s completely no reason at all to take such extreme measures, only did it because crunched for time, you know how it goes ha ha ha.” he said, sweating.
“Glad we understand each other. Don’t call me in again unless something like this happens, but if it does you call me immediately, okay?” she growled, letting go.
“Yes ma’am!” Scott saluted.
“Good boy.” After delivering her number to the Bachelders, she waved and left. Scott breathed a sigh of relief.
“Aw, she’s not that bad.” Amber said mildly.
“Maybe for you.”
“Well, it’s been fun, but we should get going. We have to get our guests settled in, and I have to make some calls.” Mr. Harris said, eyeing the holes in his warehouse. “Does anyone else need a ride? I brought my station wagon.”
“I would like a ride to my house, please. I would be most grateful to obtain a new pair of pants. And I really should call Eva, she must be worried.” Leo said, adjusting his tarp. He turned to Mielios. “You need transportation anywhere?”
“I’m doubting your people would let the sight of a Cimterian riding in your vehicle slip. I can use the forest to go back to the park, my ship is there. I can resupply and conceal my guise in no time.” he snorted, then bowed low to the group. “I thank you all for the hospitality you have shown, despite what has occurred. I am full of grate.”
“Uh, it’s ‘grateful’. Short for gratitude.” Mrs. Harris said. She flinched as he turned his multifaceted eye on her.
“Is it? How strange. Such an unusual tongue, I never got the full hand of it. Fare well, I will meet you tomorrow, Leo. Remember, we still have a half and two months of training to go through as yet.” He bowed again and left, slipping through the trees expertly hidden despite the morning sun.
“Unusual fellow.” Mrs. Harris said, a little unnerved. It wasn’t every day you talked to a mantis man from another planet, but he seemed nice. “Coming, Amber?”
“Yeah, just a sec. Can you meet me later tonight at the cemetery?” she asked Scott.
“Sure?” he said, eyebrow raised.
“Cool. See you then!” She waved and the group left.
“See you.” And with that, the necromancer was alone in the warehouse/secret lab. Well, alone from anything living. He turned to Bones, obediently sitting in the corner. “Alright then! Look alive mister! Or, you know, whatever you do! We got a whole lotta work to do. Tarantulas!” The undead abomination crawled out of his backpack and hissed softly. Okay, my supplies of body parts are at an all-time low, and we’ve got to find a place to keep the zombie bacteria. This’s the serious necromancy project I’ve been waiting for, the potential of this’s enormous!”
He grinned as he opened the window and whistled to the two dozen zombies he’d neglected to inform Cross he still had. “C’mon in and start cleaning up people, we’re getting down to business! It’s time to rebuild, and cultivate more bacteria. Holy crap, these guys are gonna be great. In fact-” He pulled out his phone and grinned at the record he’d managed to pull up. “-I may have found the perfect test subject.” He grinned evilly and chuckled as the zombies moaned in victory.
After all was said and done, it was late in the evening by the time Scott was free to meander to the cemetery. He glanced up at the stars. Jupiter was unusually bright, but Polaris cancelled it out like most times, so the inevitable small rift between dimensions would be small and swiftly close. Nothing he had to worry about, at least. The waning crescent moon illuminated his path as he wound his way through the graves, dead leaves crunching underfoot. He ascended the familiar hill to the willow tree overlooking the lake, where Amber was waiting.
“Hey there.” He stamped his feet to warm himself up. She turned and smiled, jumping off the headstone. “I see you guys haven’t taken it down yet.”
“Bureaucracy at its finest.” she said, patting the stone. It’ll probably stay up until after Christmas. Uh, speaking of which.” She retrieved a package behind the gravestone, tugging her ponytail. “I know Dad’s letting you off the hook for the stuff you took from his warehouse-”
“Borrowed to save the whole town, prob’ly the world. It’s a very important reason, no one could say otherwise.” he interjected, trying to ensure people believed him. She giggled.
“I know, I know. You don’t have to convince me.”
“Yeah, guess I don’t.” He leaned back against the tree. “You’re about the only one I don’t have to.” he muttered under his breath. Amber cleared her throat.
“Anyway, so I was thinking that since you did mastermind the plan to take Brian down, and calling a debt even isn’t, y’know, exactly the funnest reward around, and since the season’s almost here and all, and I know it gets cold up here, my mom and I went shopping, so. Uh. Here.” She presented the box awkwardly. “Merry early Christmas.”
He took it curiously and ripped the wrapping off. Once the box was open, he took the garment and held it up to the moonlight.
“Oooh!” It was a brand new hoodie, longer than his old one and midnight sable, instead of the faded dark grey of the one he was wearing. “Wow, it’s so cool! I love it!”
“Glad you like it. Yours is, ah, not exactly in the best condition anymore, to put it mildly.” she said, making a face.
“Huh? What do you mean?” he asked. She flicked her gaze to the one he was wearing. In addition to the accumulated stains of both condiment and anatomic fluids, two life or death battles in three weeks had not been kind to it. It had been worn almost threadbare, and there were numerous small tears in it. “Oh. But it’s still comfortable!” he said weakly.
“It also smells.” Amber wrinkled her nose. That, Scott could not argue. Even after laundry day, the scent of sweat and decay from his graveyard raids had seeped into the fabric. “Well. Good thing I have a new one, right?” he said, doffing one and donning the other.
“Right.” Amber smiled, leaning on her gravestone. “After all, doesn’t a hero have to look his best?”
“Villain.” Scott corrected with a grin, admiring the new black sleeves. “And everyone knows the villain has a better wardrobe than the hero.” He looked up, expecting to see her smiling on the stone. Instead, she was right in front of him, red-faced, her eyes starting to glisten.
“No, Scott. You have to stop doing this. I-I can’t take it anymore. You…you keep saying you’re a villain, so much. And with such sincerity I know…I know you really believe it. Why? Why do you think you’re some kind of, evil rotten-hearted villain!?” She had been steadily advancing on him, and he found himself backed into the tree. He sighed, and smiled at her, so sad and resigned.
“Why? Isn’t it obvious? I’m a necromancer. I play around in graveyards at night and with dead puppies and make corpses sit up and dance. And I’m…not very nice. Nice guys don’t invent supernatural biological weapons. They don’t terrorize towns they’re trying to save. I’m a genius, and awesome, sure. But a good person? I don’t know what standards you’re using, but by mine? I…I fail.” he said, his voice cracking. He tried to play it off with a laugh. “My methods, my first instinct is to rob graves and use the corpses. I don’t find anything too wrong with it, but everyone else is repulsed. Even you. Don’t try to deny it-”He held up his palms over her protest. “-because when I revealed Cerberus’s materials, what was your reaction?”
Amber opened her mouth, and immediately realized he was right. She was creeped out, but that was normal. She blinked. It was normal to have a reaction like that. But Scott…she was beginning to see what he meant. He shifted nervously and smiled.
“Y-Y’get it, right? I mean, I guess I’m just desensitized to the less, uh, appetizing parts of necromancy. And to be honest, it never grossed me out too much in the first place. I mean, I am a creepy, moldy old necromancer, no matter how awesome I am. And I am pretty awesome.” He chuckled when she cracked a smile despite herself. “But y’know, when-when you s-said that I’m…I’m your friend despite that, it. Y’know.” He shuffled awkwardly, red-faced. “It made me really happy. Like I didn’t have to be alone anymore.” he said in a small voice. “I-I understand if-if you don’t wanna hang out anymore. But, um, I’d just like to thank you. This past month and a half…it’s been fun. I haven’t, uh, had any close friends since middle school, really. It’s been…nice.” He rubbed his head and looked at the tree, the lake, the moon, anywhere but the girl in front of him. She sniffled.
“So. Uh. Yeah. Necromancers are kinda the bad guys, even if they do good. Not exactly pleasant for most to be around. In fact-” He sighed and gave her that smile that made her heart crack. “It’s probably best if you, y’know, keep your distance at school. I can’t exactly go around demonstrating my finer points, so the others don’t understand, and I don’t want-”
He felt himself enveloped in a pair of warm arms, trapping him tightly.
“Stop it!” Amber cried, tears trickling down her cheeks. “Just…just stop it! Stop putting yourself down! I don’t know where you got the idea that you’re a bad person, ‘cause you’re not! You’re not a villain! I hate it, I hate seeing you like this! If you keep saying stuff like that over and over to yourself, you eventually start to believe it. How long have you thought of yourself as a villain?” She stared at him, and he wilted under her gaze. He realized he’d been subconsciously referring to himself as a villain, not always, but for quite some time after beginning his experiments.
“Look, it’s alright.” she said softly. “I know you’re not a bad guy. Raising zombies, kidnapping the mayor, stealing jewelry, being creepy in general, yeah, that’s what you think of when you think of an evil, villainous necromancer. But when I think about you, I see someone who’s banished an evil ghost, solved my murder, stopped a coven of witches and a daemonic invasion, who was willing to go head-to-head with a vampire alone, fought against an entire army of them, fought his best friend and banished an Elder God, and who saved me from death, along with Leo, and even blackmailed a god into letting him revive two complete strangers, because it was the right thing to do. Don’t give me that crap about ‘advancing the limits of necromancy’, that’s crap and you know it.”
“Uh. Well…” Scott trialed off, and Amber continued.
“You saved the town and probably the world twice over, Scott. I can argue your methods, but not your results. And anyone who really knows you will say the same thing. You need me to call Leo, or Kevin, or anyone else to prove it? And you know what I call anyone who’s done what you’ve done?”
“What?” he asked, mouth dry.
“A hero. Not a villain.” She could feel him shaking. He was breathing deeply to try and stay calm, fighting all his instincts telling him to bolt.
“Um. I guess.” he muttered.
“No, Scott. You know. You’re probably the smartest person I know, you know deep down it’s true.” she said, smiling. “You have power, like Stephanie or Brian. They went crazy and became murderous psychopaths doing whatever they wanted.”
“And so did I.”
“Yeah, you did go crazy and do whatever you wanted. And what did you do, what was your first instinct upon being unbound from the normal consequences of the law, of morality? You try to start your own business, and help people in trouble. Such villainy.” she said cheekily.
“Yeah, well…I charge for my services.” Scott said, looking away. He didn’t want her to know just how much her words had affected him. She smiled in understanding, and gave him a bigger squeeze. It felt good to hug someone and not have to worry about breaking them.
“Okay, okay, I get it.” Scott sighed overdramatically and smiled. A real one, with genuine vulnerability and happiness, not the confidant grins she had become accustomed to, nor the sad ones he gave when expressing his image of himself. “So, uh…you gonna let go?”
“Oh! Sorry!” Amber said, releasing him. “I haven’t been able to actually touch someone in awhile. Firs the ghost thing, then I was worried about hurting somebody as a ghoul…” she trialed off, giggling nervously.
“Yeah, I get it.” Scott said, stretching. His back cracked, and his green eyes flickered with an emerald glow as he grinned. “But still, I’m no hero. After all, who wants to be a hero? Let Kevin handle that. Everyone knows the villain’s cooler anyway. They get the best costumes, the best lines, every actor loves being the villain. In fact-” he held a finger to his chin, grinning like a madman, and tilted his head towards her. “You’ve given me an idea.” He leapt from the tree past her grave, and started down the path. Amber sighed, frowning, but then he turned around.
“Hey. Hero or villain, it doesn’t matter. I’m still gonna be the best necromancer in the world. Buuuut, every great villain needs good minions. Care to join me in my secret lab?” He smiled at her, another genuine one. In that moment, she knew that he understood.
“You mean my dad’s warehouse?” she said, wiping her face off, and smiling back.
“Secret. Lab.” he corrected.
“Whatever you say.” She joined him on the road back. “I think though, I should be promoted form minion. There’s only one of me, after all. Detective Cross isn’t interested in the position.”
“Forget it. I’m the boss, I say you’re a minion.” Scott teased.
“Well, the costume wasn’t bad, but I think it could use a redesign. It’s too drab and boring, like it was mass-produced.”
“Like a uniform? Which it is?” he said, eyebrow raised.
“Yeah, if I’m gonna have a costume, I get to have a say in the design. The black is good, goes with anything, but can we, I don’t know, work some yellow into it? Something bright and cheery? It’s more my style. Ooh, maybe some pastels!” Amber giggled excitedly. Scott palmed his forehead.
“You’re working for a villain! A necromancer! Pastels are not part of the equation for necromancy!” he groaned.
“Maybe that’s the problem, we’ve got a branding issue. We need to reinvent the paradigm, present ourselves as a new villainous group, play up the whole community organization angle; you know, do some volunteer work, donate to Red Cross, clean up litter, the works. I’d bet we’d even be invited to speak at schools.”
“Can any of that stuff be handled by my zombies?”
“No. It cannot.” she said primly.
“…I don’t think I want you in my organization anymore.” he said.
They bantered down the path and through the cemetery, into the night, the stars sparkling above them.
But even as wounds born of preconceptions were healed, the stars shone down on sinister stirrings as well.
“-so you said there were rumors of a…giant, walking around town?” the man in the suit said, taking notes.
“Yeah, it’s the rumor going around town on Halloween. But everyone knows it’s just a rumor, the vandalism was caused by some out of town punk kids.” the gas station clerk said. The man had come in, flashed a badge, and now at the behest of his manager he was being interviewed about the strange stories circulating around Craven Falls. He was sweating at first, but the officer seemed to purely be interested in the information.
“I see. And do you know anything about the old Kruger mall collapsing? Big event, I heard.” the officer inquired. The clerk snorted dismissively.
“Eh, that place’s been abandoned for years, I’m a little surprised it was still standing ‘til now.”
“No reports of strange lights, unusual noises, or unfamiliar people going around?” the officer asked, scribbling in his notebook.
“Not that I heard. It’s a hangout spot for the local kids, been graffitied to hell and back, nothing major.” he said. The officer diligently recorded the information.
“I see. Now, we’ve had a lot of missing persons cases recently, in Nahumville and surrounding areas. You hear anything about it, anyone who seemingly vanished?” The clerk shook his head.
“Craven Falls is pretty quiet, nothing much like that happens here. ‘Cept for that serial killer thing a couple of weeks back.” he admitted.
“Ah yes, the Craven Falls Killer. I’m familiar with the case, part of my job here is a follow-up investigation of the incident.” the officer said with a grim smile.
“Yeesh. Good thing they caught her. But why’ve they got you looking into this stuff when the case’s closed?” the clerk asked.
“Ancillary information. We’re trying to see if there’s any connection between cases, probably not but we have to check all leads, not matter how small or unlikely. So, I heard something strange a couple of days ago. Something about a…excuse me, superhero running around?” he asked with eyebrow raised.
“Oh, yeah. The news was actually taken in for a sec too, thanks to that building fire. But it turns out it’s just a couple of students doing a, whatchamacallit, live art performance or something. The one playing the superhero just managed to catch the baby from the window. Made a great story though, very poetic.” the clerk grinned. The officer dutifully recorded everything.
“And this supposed supervillain?”
“’The dread Necrysis, mastermind extraordinaire, sworn nemesis of the vampire superhero Nightfang, turning his back on bloodsucking and using his powers to uphold what’s right.’ The stuff these kids come up with, it’s a hoot.” the clerk laughed, and the officer smiled as he noted it. “They even got the mayor to go along with it, don’t know how they managed that. It was a blast. Honestly, with that serial killer going around and the school catching fire, this town’s needed some levity.”
“It certainly does seem so.” the officer said, finishing up. “Well, I seem to have everything I need, so thanks for your time. I have to go, but your help is much appreciated.”
“Hey, anytime man.” They shook hands and the officer left the store. He walked briskly past the gas station lights, his long coat catching in the wind as he headed into the darkness by the woods next to the road, where his façade of amenability dropped. He pulled out his cell phone and dialed a special number.
“Agent Crenshaw, reporting in.” he said.
“Ah, results already. And?”
“It’s just as we suspected. From this and others I’ve interviewed, the townsfolk seem to have had their memories and perceptions altered to recall events differently, from Halloween and this incident. The news reports during and after paint a very different tale than a couple of college kids playing a prank, but no one seems to care.” Crenshaw explained.
“Hmm, I see. And the arc spikes on the meter?”
“Most of the time, nothing out of the ordinary, sir. But I believe had we been here yesterday the readings would be very different. Even now, every so often the needle pushes close to one, every so often.”
“Dear lord. That’s nearly twice the national average.”
“It is my professional opinion the meter could have read three, or even a four in the last two days, sir.” Crenshaw said. There was silence from the other end.
“Agent, how is the situation now?” his superior asked, a note of worry in his voice.
“Whatever happened, it seems to be winding down now. Whatever’s in charge of all this seems to be trying to keep everything under wraps from the public, at least for now.” he said, shooting a glance at the gas station.
“Thank heaven for small favors, I suppose.” the agent’s superior drolled. “Very well. If you or anyone else is in no immediate danger, we have to investigate thoroughly. How long were you cleared for?”
“A week, sir.”
“You have a month. Check into a local hotel, we’ll send you more personal effects and equipment tomorrow. Be as unobtrusive as possible, we don’t want whatever’s going on to be aware of your presence. I expect daily updates at 14:00 sharp, understood?”
“Yes sir.” Crenshaw said without hesitation. He knew the drill, but this was the first assignment he’d heard of that would last a month for any agent. “Sir, do you think it’s wise, sticking around so long?”
“We can’t afford to leave any stone unturned, Crenshaw. This is a full investigation, and we’re stretched enough as it is. I’m sorry to have to risk you, but we need to know. I’m sure you know what could be at stake here.”
“Sir.” Crenshaw said.
“Any other questions or concerns?”
“Sir. I hereby request type-C equipment to arrive tomorrow morning.”
“Very well, request approved. Sighing off. And Crenshaw? Be careful.”
“Will do, sir.” He hung up. Type-C equipment, right off the bat. It was nearly impossible to get their hands on type-C equipment. He shivered at how worried his superior was. But never mind; he had work to do. He walked down the street into the darkness, pulling up his collar against the wind.