Undead Chaos, page 18
“And yet my daughter and I are the ones being hunted like animals.”
“The Council has made a mistake. My testimony is on record, and with Dad’s help, we can correct it.”
“The Council,” he said bitterly, “cares nothing for admitting wrongs. They have an agenda and anyone caught in their path is crushed. I know this better than anyone.”
I glanced from him to Quinn and back. “What are you talking about?”
The Necromancer eased into his chair. “What sort of stories have you heard about me, Marcus?”
“Unpleasant ones,” I responded honestly.
“Like how I was raising an army of undead to conquer the Council? How I murdered people just to have access to fresh corpses?”
“Lies,” he said heavily. “All of my Necromancy was above board and was part of an authorized program funded by the Council. Our mission was to uncover why the Skilled lived longer than Normals. The project included the reanimation of both. All experiments were conducted in a controlled, observed environment, and all research notes were properly documented.”
“How come no one ever knew of this?”
“Our experiments were kept secret to prevent public alarm. The Council didn’t want word to leak that we were dabbling in the gray areas of magic—especially as the peace accord neared finalization. But our work was beginning to gain traction and we felt we were on the verge of a major breakthrough.”
“The project was cancelled without warning. Officially we were told it was due to lack of funds, but there was more to it. One day we were fully operational, the next, all our materials were confiscated.”
“You keep saying ‘we.’”
“My team,” he said. “There were six of us in all.”
“What happened to them?”
“Two died several weeks after my trial began. The remaining three simply disappeared.”
I struggled to process this information. “Do you really think the Council betrayed you and your team?”
“Perhaps not the entire Council, but elements within it certainly did. All the evidence used against me was directly from our case files, but the results and meaning behind each experiment were twisted and distorted. Once the seed of fear was planted there was no stopping it.”
“But who ordered the research in the first place, and why weren’t they on your side during the trial?”
“Our only point of contact was a Wizard named Henry Thames, but he died several weeks before our project was shut down. I have no idea who took over once he passed.”
“How was this kept from the public?”
“I tried to speak the truth, but was censored from the beginning. The only information that the Council ever received was through intermediaries.” He paused and rubbed his eyes with his bandages.
“I was a scapegoat, Marcus. Something went terribly wrong, and my team and I were eradicated to cover the evidence. Had it not been for the intervention of several key members, including your father, I would have been put to the sword immediately.”
“But you went to prison instead.”
“Yes. Perhaps it was not the best answer for those behind my betrayal, but it meant I was out of the way.”
“I’m surprised no one came after you upon your release.”
“Why would they?” Fawkes asked. “I was a convicted felon, discredited within my field, and stripped of my rights. Even now there is little I can do to protect myself other than run.”
“There must be something. If we can—”
Simeon waved me off.
“Your father is a good man, and I will be forever in his debt. Because of his influence, I lived to see my daughter grow into a beautiful young woman.” Quinn blushed. “But even your father has his limits. Going to him would do little good. The matter is closed as far as the Council is concerned, and this time, they will not rest until they have my head.”
“So you’ll continue to hide?”
“Until there is a better solution, yes.”
I frowned. “You can stay at the Homestead. You’ll be safe there until we can find the evidence to clear your name.”
Simeon smiled sadly. “Thank you, but it’s a moot point. Any evidence from years ago has long since been destroyed.”
“I’m not talking about the past. If we can convince the Council that you’re innocent of what happened at the hospital, perhaps we can get them off your back.”
The old man closed his eyes.
“You are innocent, aren’t you?” I asked, leaning forward.
The Necromancer bowed his head. “Not entirely. My experiments all those years ago delved into the possibility of regeneration. We hypothesized that with enough power, a corpse could be taken beyond basic reanimation and given new life.”
“But when we spoke at your apartment you said it was impossible. That it was beyond your realm of knowledge.”
“Because it was. All our calculations proved that our theories could never happen. Everything pointed to the impossibility of Regeneration. There was simply no way to convert enough power to conduct the spells necessary.”
“Is proof that we were wrong. No, Marcus, I am not entirely innocent. That being is undoubtedly based on my old research.”
No wonder the Council was coming after Simeon so hard. Whoever created Banks had used information from his old notes. With enough research, the undead’s very existence could be traced to whoever was responsible for Simeon’s initial betrayal. If that person was inside the Council, as Simeon seemed to believe, then it would not only be an embarrassment to the Skilled community, but weaken our image in the eyes of the Normals.
And the last thing the Council wanted was to threaten the peace we’d fought so hard to establish.
That meant Banks and Simeon were liabilities.
“Someone wants you dead for good,” I said.
The man nodded.
“But why now?” Quinn asked. “Daddy’s been out of prison for years.”
“Because of me,” I said angrily as the truth dawned on me. I put my head in my hands. “How could I have been so stupid?”
Quinn frowned. “I don’t understand. How is any of this your fault?”
Heat burned my cheeks. “Carly Banks called me directly, and I banished her husband independent of the Council. For at least a day, the incident was completely under the radar. Unfortunately, I took you all to the hospital. Banks re-alived, or whatever it’s called, and escaped. The media storm that followed forced people to ask a lot of questions that someone didn’t want answered. The easiest way to deal with it was deflection. Tag the man with a reputation of dark Necromancy and people will gladly follow that line of thinking.” I peered at Simeon. “You ran because you knew.”
“I recognized my old work immediately. When Mr. Banks escaped, flight was my only option.”
“What about the alarm inside Banks?” Quinn asked.
“Probably a warning to his creators,” I replied.
“Exactly,” Simeon said. “Someone knew what they were doing and set an alarm in case anyone found their experiment. Now that my name is connected, the only choice is to remove me from the equation. Coming out of hiding is a death sentence no matter what.” He sighed. “No, with Banks still missing, it’s best that we run. I know many places that are outside the influence of the Council and the Skilled community as a whole. Quinn and I will be fine.”
“You can’t run forever, Simeon,” I said. “I’ve met one team already on the hunt for you and believe me, they are some of the best. Eventually they’ll—”
“You had an encounter already?” he demanded.
The vehemence in his voice startled me. “Yes, why?”
“I fled the moment they showed up. They had no idea I was following Marcus.”
Simeon glared at us. Then he closed his eyes and cocked his head as if he were listening for something. His face was gravely serious.
“You fools,” he said. “You were followed.”
My heart raced.
Quinn paled. “Impossible. I covered our tracks like you taught me.”
“And yet we have company.” He opened his eyes and looked at his daughter. “We need to leave. Now.”
Without warning he stood and walked quickly to the bathroom. Quinn grabbed a knapsack on the floor near the couch and trotted after her father. I followed closely at their heels.
“How could we have been discovered?” Quinn asked.
“Tracking spell?” I offered, but she shook her head.
“Being this deep below the surface makes it almost impossible. The signal gets muddled in the ground clutter.”
Simeon pushed a small section of the tile next to the mirror. The piece popped out and he twisted it a quarter turn before pushing it back in. A trapdoor opened near his feet.
“You first,” he said to his daughter. She nodded, sat on the edge of the trapdoor, and slid into the darkness. Simeon gave her several seconds before doing the same.
Heavy footsteps thundered down the stairwell outside the main room followed by the unique howl of a Tracker Hound.
My heart sank into my shoes.
Unlike normal hunting canines, the Tracker Hound was specifically bred to serve a Hunter. They were infused with superior tracking Skills as puppies, and the conditioning continued well into adulthood. The result was a beast that could hunt a target mercilessly across the globe.
There was a yelp as one of the hounds hit the defensive spell on the door. More barking ensued and the inside of the door began to glow. It shifted from light yellow to red before exploding in a shower of splinters.
As I jumped into the hole I caught a glimpse of an oversized Siberian husky charging into the room. A moment later, the darkness of the shaft enveloped me and I was zipping down a huge pipe. The ride lasted less than three seconds and dumped me unceremoniously onto a cold stone walkway. It was dark and stank of rotten eggs.
“Where are we?” I asked, collecting myself and jogging after Simeon and Quinn.
“Part of old DC,” Simeon said as we trotted down the dark tunnel. Water seeped down the curved brick walls and pooled between a pair of rusting train tracks in a trench that ran along the brick pathway we were using. “Specifically, the old train system that existed long before the modern Metro. Most of these tunnels were converted to save money when the current system was built, but other areas like this were simply abandoned and forgotten. They aren’t very extensive, but this network is large enough to allow us to escape unseen to another section of the Underground.”
“Simeon,” I said as we turned a corner, “they have Tracker Hounds.”
The Necromancer cursed and picked up the pace. “Quinn, cover our tracks.”
“On it,” she replied. Instead of using magic, she pulled a small glass vial of yellow liquid from the folds of her cape. She tossed the tube down a tunnel as we passed, the glass shattering on the stone.
“What was that?” I asked.
“Deer urine. Tracker Hounds may be exceptional at hunting, but they’re still dogs. The smell should cause their natural instincts to overpower their Skilled ones.”
“Meaning they’ll want to follow that scent instead of us.”
She heaved another bottle down another side tunnel. “With any luck, yes. Worse case, it should confuse them long enough for us to escape.”
A howl echoed off the stone walls. My knees weakened.
“How close to the exit?” I asked.
“Half a kilometer,” Simeon replied.
There was another howl, this time much closer.
“I thought you said the urine would distract them,” I said to Quinn.
“It was only a hypothesis.”
We turned a corner just as two Tracker Hounds came into view behind us. We were moving fast, but not fast enough to outpace them.
As they approached, I reached behind me with my Skill, creating the spider’s web of senses like I had outside of Nick’s Knacks. The mental imagery was hazy, but I felt one of the hounds launch at me. I ducked to the right and, manipulating the air with my Skill, hurled the dog sideways. It hit the grimy tunnel wall and released a yelp before sliding to the ground. It struggled to stand, but could only limp after us.
The second hound was smarter and darted back and forth while gaining on us. I stepped to the side as Quinn flung an open bottle of urine at the animal. The contents splashed all over the dog’s snout and the beast screeched to a halt. It pawed at its face, thrashing its head back and forth.
“Nice!” I said.
She winked, but her face filled with horror as she noticed something behind me.
“Marcus!” someone called. I glanced over my shoulder and cursed. Jethrow gave the hounds a quick glance, then sprinted toward us with his sword drawn.
“Get out of here,” I yelled to Quinn and Simeon as I drew my own sword. “I’ll slow him down.”
Without waiting for a response I skidded to a halt, reversed direction, then threw an air-ball spell at Jethrow. It missed, but he stumbled in surprise. I ran at him as hard as I could. I leaped into the air, traveling the remaining distance between us with a slight boost from my Skill.
As I came down, I swung my blade overhead. Jethrow dropped his attention from the spell he was working and snapped his sword to intercept me. There was a clang of steel and I drove his blade down into the stone walkway. Jethrow rolled with the move, spinning around and hammering his elbow into the back of my head. The impact jarred my brain. I staggered forward into the wall. I stopped myself with my bad wrist, instantly ruining Millie’s healing efforts. Pain shot up my arm.
“What the hell are you doing?” Jethrow yelled. He jerked his sword out of the stone with an explosion of sparks.
“Saving two lives,” I retorted blocking a swipe of his blade. I stepped sideways and fired another air-ball. Jethrow ducked, then came at me. I deflected his sword and the tip gouged a long scar in the stone wall.
“They’re criminals, Marcus!” Jethrow said, throwing a punch into my gut. I doubled over, but grabbed his arms as I went, pinning them against him. His Skill pulsed against me with startling force.
“Marcus, please,” he begged as we strained against each other. “You know I’m stronger than you.”
“Yeah, but I fight dirty.” I jerked my knee upward, ramming it into his crotch.
He let out a grunt, releasing his sword as he bent over. I pulled one hand free and dropped Jethrow to his knees with a punch. Then I reared back, planted my foot in his chest, and shoved with my Skill. The kick threw him across the tunnel into the stone wall on the opposite side. He slid to the ground, moaning in pain.
I bent over, breathing heavily. Sweat poured down my face and I struggled to catch my breath. I staggered over to Jethrow’s sword, picked it up, and wobbled toward my former friend.
“What happened to you?” I asked between gasps. “You used to believe in doing the right thing no matter what, but now you’re just blindly following orders like some soulless robot.”
“Have you ever stopped to consider that Simeon and his daughter are, in fact, guilty?” Jethrow shot back as he wheezed. “And stopping them is the right thing?”
“They aren’t guilty, you idiot!” I shouted.
“How can you be sure? Because he told you?”
“No, because I’ve been with them from the beginning. I know what really happened.”
Jethrow didn’t say anything, so I
“He’s a wanted criminal who—”
“Oh, cut the recorded speech!” I snapped. “Someone is trying to take him out, Jethrow. You’re too smart not to have figured that out already.”
He looked away from me.
“Holy hell,” I said quietly.
“I’m not like you, Marcus,” he growled. “I don’t have an influential family that will pull strings if I screw up, and I sure as hell can’t operate outside the Council for pleasure. It might not be a perfect system, but it’s better than anything we have. They make the rules and we follow them. Maybe if I get into power someday I can change things, but until then, we have to toe the line.”
I shook my head as the disappointment at what my friend had become seeped into my chest. “Fine. You want to be a company man, go for it. Me? I’m going to go help two innocent people.”
“No you aren’t,” a different voice said.
Something slammed into my chest, throwing me onto my back. I tried to breathe, but inhaling cause my lungs to explode with pain. Both swords clattered to the ground, as did an arrow with a spherical knob in place of a point.
A familiar boot kicked me in the side. Air rushed out of me again and I bent in half. The boot came down two more times before Jethrow said, “That’s enough.”
Treble McCain scooped up the swords. He stood over me without an ounce of emotion on his face. “Serves you right for talking so much,”
Jethrow eased to his feet. “What about Fawkes and his daughter?”
“Subdued,” the Hunter replied. “One of my hounds is standing watch.”
“I’m impressed you didn’t have to kill them. Good work.”
Treble nodded. “The urine was a clever move. It distracted several hounds, but there were enough veterans in my pack to make up for the pups.”
“That’s why you’re the best,” Jethrow said.
“How?” I gasped, my side throbbing.
“How did we find you?” Treble replied, turning his attention to me. “The Warlock here placed a tracking spell on you last time we met, and we’ve been following your progress ever since. The second you dropped off the radar, we knew you were with the criminals. Being underground might screw with humans, but not the senses of my hounds.” He allowed himself a slight grin. “It was such a stroke of genius to let you do the legwork for us.”