Driving to the morgue, I can’t help but think about what Newt told me. The DeadNettles have run drugs and guns for years, they make a neat little sum of money. Why get into the organ game? Why the change in direction? Something must be going on.
“Your police,” Witch-Hazel speaks up, “Aren’t they supposed… I don’t know, not let gangs run organ harvesting schemes?” She asks. A bitter scoff escapes me.
“I think you already know how I feel about the police. The bastards in blue don’t give one shit about the lower class. They protect themselves and the rich; anyone other that is a nuisance at best to them. Cops steal, rape, and kill more than any gang in this country, they get away ‘cuz of a shiny badge. They are the maintainers of the status quo, and this country has a dogmatic, fiendish love of the status quo. So the cops can never do anything wrong enough for people to demand actual justice from them.”
“Surely not all of them can be bad, right? There must be good ones,” she asks innocently. It’s a fair question.
“Let me answer that with another question: if a man kills someone, and his colleagues protect him from all consequences of it, do you think they’re good people? You think the family of the person he killed appreciates the effort they’ll go to to make sure he gets off, scot-free?”
“No, I suppose not.”
“That’s what police do, they cover each other's asses so nothing happens to them. So that they don’t have to do better, hold themselves to a higher standard. So no, there aren’t any good cops in my book, because they all stand together.”
I briefly check my phone to make sure I’m going the right way.
“But it is grisly, even for them. Either they’re being ignorant to what happens to the people they let disappear, or they just don’t care. But that’s an issue for another time.”
We’re not far from the morgue now.
“What are you gonna do about this necromancer?”
“I have a few questions to ask, hopefully, they’ll shed light on what's going on here.”
“And if they’re not the talking type?”
The witch considers my question for a moment.
“Guess I’ll have to make them talk,” she says with certainty. I hadn’t thought about how powerful she might be, but then again, I have nothing to compare her against.
“Didn’t think torture was in your wheelhouse,” I comment.
“I didn’t think that there were necromancers in the non-magic world. Plus, I didn’t say anything about torture, I know several spells to get the truth out of someone.”
“You didn’t offer that when I had to tie a bowline around a pillar to Newt.”
“I don't know what a bowline is, but you had that.”
“Oh, so it’s like that?” I ask as I park the car.
“It’s like that,” she counters.
“Whatever, we’re here to see your corpse.” I get out of the car and open the door for Hazel. “How long you think this’ll take?”
“Why, you got a hot date or something?” The witch asks as she gets out. It’s a short flight of stairs to the entrance. This late at night there’s no one out in the streets of this part of town. I hold the door open for her.
“I don’t know where all this sass is coming from, but I can always leave you stranded here,” I point out. She stops in the door frame and turns to me.
“I think you’d be bored without me,” Witch-Hazel teases. I lean in closer, putting an arm over her head. I feel that heavy gaze of hers scan me up and down.
“What makes you so sure?”
Her index finger cradles my chin.
“I’m a very exciting person,” she answers with a sweet voice.
“And humble too,” I propose. She traces a path along my jaw, her fingertip glides over my throat and hooks the collar of my shirt. Gently tugging she beckons me forward and like clockwork, we’re interrupted by a sharp whistle.
“As much as I'd like to let you crack on, you’ll make the dead people uncomfortable,” Xyla Polly interrupts us. She’s a dark-skinned, thick-set woman. She has on her signature combat boots, caked in mud like she just went hiking through the woods. A light brown tweed skirt covers her full thighs, a cozy black sweater, and a cardigan with a skull pattern.
It’s kind of a librarian look, but I guess morgues are like libraries in a way.
“Now come on in. It’s rude to keep people waiting,” Xyla says, her Irish accent sails through the lobby. Witch-Hazel rolls her eyes and follows her. I clear my throat and head inside. Xyla takes us to one of the rooms. The silver doors that house a corpse shine as we walk by.
“So when ye first asked about yellow discoloration on the bodies, I thought you were acting the maggot. But then I remembered a report on a John Doe we got a month ago.” She leads us to a compartment and opens it. A middle-aged man slides out before us. His pale skin is blotchy, the stitches on his chest from his autopsy are poorly done but they’re not the only medical scars he has. I spy a poorly healed incision on his side, probably to remove a kidney. Given the slapdash nature of the scar, I’d say it wasn’t with his consent.
“M.E said he died of a heart attack. No one’s come by asking about him. It’ll be a couple of days before he’s found a plot at the pauper’s graveyard,” she says, her accent plays around with the words. I have to wonder why she’s living here in Oleander City, it’s not an easy place to settle in. Though I suspect the high murder rate is the main appeal for her.
“He’s in his mid-fifties maybe. Pretty open and shut case,” she explains, disinterested. “But then.” She ties her black dreads into a quick ponytail. The locs that form her bangs have always reminded me of fingers for some reason. I’d probably find her cute if I wasn’t so put off by her personality. “Here, right at the crown of his head, we have some yellow discoloration.” Right where she points there’s a line of yellow skin. The shape of it reminds me of an open wound.
“The medical examiner chalked this up to jaundice, given the cirrhosis of his liver, it’s not exactly surprising.” She turns to look at Witch-Hazel as if she just realized she’s here, which should be impossible because of how gorgeous she is. “You’re a new face,” she says. The diener looks her up and down. “Ye don’t seem like a Bay Leaf.”
“She’s not, just came into town a couple of days ago,” I interject. A normal person would ask more questions but Xyla is already bored with Witch-Hazel and turns back to me.
“So what’s your interest in our yellowed friend here? This some kind of poison you guys are trying out?” She asks, excitement gleaming in her eyes.
I’m not sure which I find more disturbing, the idea that she thinks the Bay Leaves would poison a random homeless man or the fact that she’s visibly thrilled by the notion.
“No.” Xyla isn’t sworn to secrecy about what the Bay Leaves do, she just helps us because she loves our handiwork. But telling her we’re trying to track down a necromancer seems like a bad idea.
“You kill anyone today?” She asks, something like lust dripping off every word. Xyla’s the type of person who’s fascinated by serial killers beyond wanting to know about their minds. If I had to guess, knowing a group of assassins is a wet dream come true for her. I look past her to Hazel. The witch does a motion with her hands that I don’t understand, so I make no reaction to it. She quickly rolls her eyes, points to Xyla, and makes a talking gesture with her hand.
I turn my attention back to the diener.
“Matter of fact I killed two people today.” Her face lights up at the news.
‘Make this quick, Hazel.’
While Hollyhock distracts her I quickly get to work. I open the man’s eyes. They’re glassy and absent. The sclera is a little bloodshot but otherwise no yellow is in them. Jaundice usually starts in the eyes, so it being localized on top of his head tells me he’s who I’m looking for.
I press three fingers on top of his head and send a small pulse of magic. By how easily it passes through his skull confirms it. Someone has created near-microscopic holes where his frontal and parietal bones meet to more easily access the cerebellum.
The pulse comes back later than it should. The motor part of his brain has been severely damaged, maybe even destroyed. Whoever this necromancer is, they put too much energy into this part and it overloaded.
‘They’re either an amateur or desperate.’
I’m not sure which is more dangerous.
I can detect faint remnants of the magic that once poorly attempted to animate this man. It’s not much but I can figure something out. I hone in on the unique resonance. It feels like a tremor that shakes my bones as I focus on it. The intensity of the leftover magic leads me to believe that the necromancer in question is quite powerful.
‘Great, nothing worse than a morally corrupt magician who’s powerful.’
Right then and there I think about what this path could be leading me to. Is chasing an unknown necromancer really something I want to do? I could just spend my days enjoying my time with Hollyhock. The assassin has enough on her plate without helping me chase down a wild magician.
‘Apathy is the cause of continued cruelty. It’s indifference that kills the soul,’ Floribunda’s words echo in my head. If she were here, she wouldn’t hesitate for a second to pursue this.
So I won’t either.
Once I’ve scrutinized the magic signature I pull my hand away and try to settle the tremors coursing through my arm.
‘At least it won’t be hard to miss this feeling.’
Whatever conversion Hollyhock and Xyla were having seems to have reached its end. She seems to notice me again. She strikes me as the kind of woman who doesn’t care about anything but her interests.
“Where’d you say you were from again?” Xyla asks.
“She’s in from Thailand, pulled Oleander City out of a hat as a vacay spot,” Hollyhock fabricates. The best lies have a grain of truth to them.
“Well, let me be the first to say this about America; this is a country that worships killers. Doesn’t matter the reason, all that matters is the count. Mass murderers, serial killers, here in this country they get the spotlight, praise even. If your…” she looks to Hollyhock “friend here, had a flag on her shoulder, she’d be covered in medals by now.”
“Xyla, spare her your diatribe. You ready, Hazel?” she asks, concealing what we came here for.
“Yes. There’s work to be done,” I answer.
“Well, wait a second. I just remembered another body that came through with some yellowing,” Xyla chimes in.
She leads us to another compartment and slides out another corpse. This one is a young boy, he shows signs of malnutrition, along with bruises and scars besides the autopsy ones. It’s hard to tell but he’s maybe ten years old.
Hollyhock tenses next to me and averts her eyes, finding the rest of the room more interesting. She shifts to her back foot.
“Report said the cause of death was multiple organ failure. Probably drank or ate something he shouldn’t have,” Xyla explains flatly. She doesn’t show any sympathy for the deceased, unlike the assassin. “Same deal as the other, no one’s claimed him. We can’t find any family.”
Hollyhock is staring at a tile on the floor.
‘They target people that no one will miss, which seems like a lot of the population.’
Through the boy’s short haircut I can see the yellowing effect on his head. But Hollyhock grows more uncomfortable next to me. I could get a faint amount of magic from him, but I doubt it’d be useful. Plus Hollyhock looks vexed by the boy.
“You can close it, we have what we need.”
“It was very useful. Thank you, Xyla.”
“Well, I can’t say that wasn’t interesting. Don’t be a stranger.”
“Yeah yeah, see ya,” Hollyhock says, practically dashing from the room.
“Goodbye,” I quickly say to catch up with her.
Hollyhock quickly makes her way to the car.
“Is something wrong?” Seeing a dead child isn’t easy, but she seems deeply troubled.
“I knew that kid,” she answers. “Well, ‘knew’ is a strong word. I saw him a couple times, name was Bahi.” She holds the car door open for me. I get inside and she enters as well.
“Did he have any family you know of?” She shakes her head as she starts the car.
“Nah, his mom OD’d when he was young and you’d have a better chance of winning a scratcher than seeing the pops around,” she explains.
‘What’s a scratcher? Not important.’
“Rye and them try to look out for any kids like that, on their own. But he was always distant to them, thought cuz he didn’t have a family that he didn’t need one.” She shifts the stick that controls the car. “Now he’s cold in a freezer,” she says barely above a whisper, and tilts back in her seat.
The car is running but we aren’t moving as Hollyhock stares blankly at the roof.
I reach out to her, hesitate for a second, but then grab hold of her hand. A gentle squeeze brings her back. She acknowledges it, softly squeezing my hand in return.
“That's life here, sometimes it’s just short,” she says. It sounds more like she’s trying to assure herself rather than me. She presses down on the pedal and we start moving. “So did you get what you needed?”
“Yes,” I answer, happy for the change of subject. “I can set up some devices that’ll let me know if the necromancer casts any magic in the city.”
“Oh yeah? How’s that work?”
“Normally it tracks a unique magical signature with a sample, but I don’t believe there are any other magical beings here. So if and when they cast strong enough magic, it’ll pick it up and I’ll be able to find them. And necromancy requires strong magic.”
“I’m guessing you’ll want a high vantage point to get more range?” She proposes.
“Yes, actually. How’d you know that?” She shrugs.
“What you described sounds like a listening device, guess some things still apply in the magic world, huh?” She stops at a red light.
“I guess so.”
“You said a unique magical signature. What’s that?”
“It’s hard to describe to someone unfamiliar with the concept….it’s like a fingerprint but with a sensation.”
“And our predatory necromancer, what’s their signature like?”
“It feels like a tremor that starts in the body. Very unpleasant. They’re quite powerful as well.” The light turns green.
“Don’t worry, we’ll get this fucker,” she says with such confidence. I’m sure she doesn’t fully know what she’s getting herself into by helping me. But I appreciate it all the same.
“Just try not to get too beat up, I don’t want to use all my potions on you.”
“You think just ‘cause you’re cute you can be fresh with me?” I cock an eyebrow.
“You think I’m cute?”
“Girl, you’re gorgeous,” she answers without missing a beat. Her phone vibrates in her pocket. She hands it to me. “Who’s that from?”
“It’s from Tamara. She said: ‘Get here, now.’” The assassin’s neutral expression doesn’t change but she just says,
Chapter 10 end.
Bio: I’m a young writer from NYC I want to be a professional writer someday and hope I look good while doing it. I like writing action and romance and even exclusively either. Follow me on Twitter and Tumblr for updates and bug me about my stories!