Undead chaos, p.28

Undead Chaos, page 28


Undead Chaos

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  “Should?” I asked with a sinking feeling in my chest.

  “You, more than anyone, understand it’s hit or miss with Hellcats,” he said in a low voice. “But you healed last time, so I have faith in you.”

  I stared at my hands, wondering if I was crippled for life. Thankfully I had an amazing Healer who, despite his loss, helped me recover from far worse last time. “Thank you,” I whispered.

  The old hippie’s s eyes moistened. “No, Marcus, thank you. That was some nice payback for what those things did to Sparrow. You did good, kid.”

  Hot tears stung my eyes and I cleared my throat to suppress them. I nodded and the Healer smiled.

  “So what’s the after-action report?” I asked, turning to my father.

  “Five guards killed, at least a dozen more injured in some capacity. Frank was wounded in the initial attack, but he is already back on duty at the front gate. Or at least, what’s left of it.

  “Our attackers fared much worse,” he continued. “We’ve recovered the bodies of nearly thirty Quaos agents, including the ones you fought in the armory. Another dozen or so that fell to the Hellcat or to our forest friends. Those numbers are rough estimates since the pieces were scattered all over the woods.

  “The Minotaur accounts for a handful more.” The man paused and chuckled. “He gave everyone quite a scare when he emerged from the woods. Thankfully we came to an understanding before he or any guards were injured.”

  I could only imagine the surprise on everyone’s face as Steve stepped onto the yard.

  “As for survivors,” Dad continued, “your friend Arbent arrived with a team of Warlocks and Mages soon after you blacked out. They helped us round up most of the remaining agents, all of whom are already in custody with the Council. Most are babbling or completely mad, but a few are lucid enough to interrogate. Hopefully we can use them to obtain useful information about their group.

  “Speaking of Arbent,” he said. “The Council has procedures for these types of things, and you ruffled a lot feathers with your call to him.”

  I smirked. “Good.”

  My father rubbed his eyes. “No, Marcus, not good. I know you aren’t a fan of the Council or their red tape, but the rules exist for a reason. In this case, I agree that you did the right thing, but your actions are not without consequence. Arbent is going to receive an official reprimand.”

  “Are you kidding me?” I asked in complete shock.

  “I wish I was.”

  I gritted my teeth in anger.

  “You can’t always circumvent the system when you think it’s appropriate,” my father said quietly. “Nor can you expect that there won’t be repercussions. Just remember that for the future.”

  My cheeks burned from the admonishment. “What about Hexcalibur?” I asked, wanting desperately to change topics.

  “For the time being it remains under lock and key with Alexander. Who, by the way, was very glad to finally be released. Couldn’t wait to get outdoors.”

  “He’s lived in the armory for as long as I can remember,” I said. “I’ve never known him to venture out of the room, much less outdoors.”

  “Apparently it wasn’t an issue until you sealed the entrance. When he realized he no longer had the option to get out, it was all he wanted to do. Besides, he claimed some things were more important than the armory.”

  “Like what?”

  “Tending to your bees.”

  I was pleased that Alexander was finally out of the house, and even more delighted that someone was as concerned about my girls as I was. They’d need a lot of time and attention to fully recover from the disaster.

  Hell, we all would.

  I rubbed the scar on my neck with my gauzed hand. “This turned out to be quite a mess.”

  “Yes it did,” Jenkins agreed.

  “What is the Council’s response to all of this?”

  “It’s too early to tell,” my father said. “The members are working night and day to keep the Normals placated with information. We’ll have to suppress some of it until the inquiry boards complete their investigation, but with any luck, we can smooth over any lingering tensions.

  “The issue of Quaos is a different matter entirely. Most of the leadership is appalled that a group like that could operate without their knowledge. Quaos was able to conduct experiments that required Skill at a level that is almost impossible to keep hidden for so long.”

  “You think they had an ally within the Council?”

  My father sighed. “I don’t know, but what little evidence we have points to that theory. The attack here bolsters that hypothesis.”

  “Because of Hexcalibur?”

  “Exactly. Only a handful knew where it was stored, which means they are all suspect.”

  I wanted to tell him that I should be on that list.

  Someone told Quaos the location of the sword and how to get past the deception spells of the property, but I was the one that retrieved it for them. It didn’t matter that I was unaware of the seeds that The Conduit had planted in my mind. The fact remained that the sword would have been fine in the vault. Instead, I convinced Quinn, Alexander and myself that removing it was the right move when in reality, it was exactly what The Conduit wanted. My cheeks burned, but my mouth remained shut.

  “Since Quaos found us and penetrated our defenses,” my father continued, “the Council is convinced that the Homestead is no longer the best place to store their powerful artifacts. They are demanding that everything be transferred to a more secure facility. I’ve already made arrangements for the initial shipment of items, including Hexcalibur.”

  “Where’s it going?”


  “It’s staying here?”

  My father nodded. “All of it. The move is just an intricate ruse, however I intend for the sword to ‘disappear’ in the crush of paperwork between here and its new destination. If there is a traitor within the Council, it will keep them guessing for a long while.”

  “They’ll eventually figure out you tricked them.”

  “Perhaps,” he admitted. “But they will have a hard time convincing others that I am stupid enough to not only defy Council orders, but also keep such a deadly weapon in my home. Especially after this attack. We’re already changing the passcodes and increasing the level of security, so it would be suicidal to try and penetrate our home again.” My father shook his head. “As much as I hate to say it, this remains the safest place for all the items in the vault.”

  In a weird way, it made sense. Dad wasn’t a senior member of the Delwinn Council because of his good looks.

  “Thank goodness the sword will be safe,” I muttered.

  “Indeed,” my father answered. “Sadly the damage has been done, and it will take some time before we can repair it.”

  “What do you mean?”

  Dad rubbed his eyes. “Hexcalibur created fractures in our reality, many of which sealed when you turned the sword against The Conduit. Unfortunately, a mended bowl is never as strong as it was before being broken. There are reports that some areas have weakened and started to splinter. The Council has already called for the creation of teams to handle them before they deteriorate further, or worse, rupture. Were that to happen, our entire realm would be at risk for attack from beings we know nothing about.”

  “That’d suck.”


  “Any chance there’s an opening on one of those teams?”

  Jenkins and my father traded a look of unmistakable concern.


  “Your name already came up. The action committee charged with creating the teams wants a full debrief from you since, at the moment, you have the most experience with both Quaos and the disharmony of Hexcalibur.”


  “We need more eyes and ears within the Council. Someone installed at Headquarters who can keep tabs on the comings and goings of members. You would report back to me and a handful of others that believe someone is involved in all this.”

  “You need a spy.”

  “It’s more complicated than that.”

  “Doesn’t matter. I’m in.” A lot of people had been hurt or killed because of The Conduit and his followers, and I’d been instrumental in their plot. If there was any way to get some payback at the people responsible, I wanted it.

  Even if it meant buddying up to the stiffs on the Council.

  Dad nodded. “I’ll let the action committee know. We’ll use the time between now and when you’ve healed enough to travel to gather more data and build a straw-man plan.”

  He breathed heavily, and for the first time I realized just how taxing this had been on him.

  “Marcus,” he said, solemnly, “I know you’ve only just woken up, but I’d like to get a rundown of what happened in the Underground. I’ve received some information, but would prefer hearing it from you firsthand.”

  I gave him and Jenkins a detailed briefing of the past week, starting with my first breakfast at Millie’s to the appearance of the bees at her diner. I even told them about the final encounter with Banks and his departure with Simeon. The only part I glossed over was Shadow Dancing. Technically it was still considered dark magic, and the last thing Simeon and Quinn needed was more trouble from the Council.

  When I got to the part about leaving Jethrow at Millie’s, I paused to fight the knot in my chest.

  Jenkins must have read the fear on my face. “Wright is alive. I know Utterback, and we’ve talked. He patched the kid up pretty well. He’s resting at a Council hospital, but it will be a long time before he’s combat capable again.”

  I felt a weight lift off of me. “Thank goodness.”

  Not that I’d forgive him anytime soon. He’d used me to get to Simeon and Quinn, and that betrayal would sting for a long time. Plus, he’d been stupid enough to trust a person like Treble McCain.

  “What about Treble?” I asked, thinking about the man who’d caused so many problems.

  “Off the reservation and on our wanted list,” Dad said. “His actions violated Council law. We have warrants out for his arrest, so it’s only a matter of time before we find him.”

  “Hunters specialize in tracking people, so it may not be easy.”

  “Oh, it will be very difficult,” Dad replied. “But don’t forget I married one of the best in the business. I’m sure your mother can provide some good insight on ways to find him.”

  Suddenly I felt very sorry for Treble.

  “How about Quinn and Simeon?” I asked cautiously.

  “The Council felt that based on Quinn’s actions yesterday, she more than proved her innocence. All charges against her have been dropped.” He took a breath and let it out slowly. “Sadly, the same cannot be said for Simeon. His flight screams of guilt in the eyes of the Council. The hunt for him continues.”

  “But he was completely drained of his Skill by Quaos. Even if he wanted to practice dark magic, which I know he doesn’t, he’s incapable of it.” I glared at my father. “He told me about what happened the first time he was arrested, by the way.”

  My father was silent.

  I darkened. “You knew.”

  He leaned forward and pinched the bridge of his nose. “The evidence against him was so damning that it left little room for the truth. Prison was the best we could do for him, and even then, we were lucky.”

  “And yet he is targeted a second time for a crime he never committed?”

  Dad rubbed the dark patches under his eyes. “Unfortunately, that is not my call. The Elders voted and majority rules. Simeon remains a wanted criminal.”

  I gritted my teeth. “They’ll kill an innocent man.”

  “To a degree, yes. Simeon may be innocent of the charges against him, both today and from years ago, but without the evidence to support a testimony, it does us no good. He’s not doing himself any favors by hiding.

  “I know you blame yourself,” he added, staring intently at me, “but believe me when I tell you that if there was anyone that has done more to aid that man, it is you. Besides, he’s good at hiding. I’m sure he’ll be able to take care of himself until the time comes for us to properly clear his name.”

  Dad made a good point, but Simeon was finished with trying to clear his name. The Council had failed to help him twice in as many decades, and the Skilled community would forever remember him as a dark Necromancer. If I’d spent two decades living in shame because of lies, I’d also want nothing more to do with my society.

  Then there was Banks. As an undead that was regenerating more and more each day, he was both an abomination and fascination all rolled up into one flabby, putrid being. What would happen to him in the weeks and years to come? Would he continue to regenerate, or would he finally succumb to the inevitable as Simeon claimed?

  So many unknowns.

  “By the way,” Dad said, interrupting my thoughts, “we recovered your car from the woods. It’s parked in one of the spare garage bays.”

  “Did anyone molest it?” I asked, thinking of the sack in the backseat.

  He shook his head. “No. I simply had one of the guards bring it here and lock it. Otherwise, it’s been untouched.”

  The panic in my chest eased slightly. The first order of business when I got healthy was to destroy every one of the books Nick had given me.

  Except the cooking tome, of course.

  “I’m not sure how you did it,” my father said, changing subjects, “but your actions yesterday were amazing. To best a demon the way you did was truly remarkable.”


  “It was also stupid!”

  My mother burst into the room, leveling me with a withering gaze as the door closed behind her. Her arm was wrapped in thick gauze while the sling held it tight against her body. There was a nasty purple bruise on the left side of her chin, but otherwise she seemed fine.

  Well, fine and pissed. She was barely able to contain her rage.

  “Young man, do you have any idea how much damage you caused yourself pulling that stunt out there? You’re lucky you weren’t killed.”

  “Angela,” my father said calmly, “I think Marcus knows the danger.”

  “Well obviously he needs reminding!” she snapped, glaring at me, “Tapping so deep into your Skill was irresponsible and nearly fatal.”

  “You realize you were both unconscious, right?” I asked. “And I had Quinn by my side? And that I’m a grown man?”

  Mom seethed, then simply deflated like someone had put a hole in her balloon.

  “I know.” She slumped into a chair and set her chin on her good hand.

  I gave her a wide smile. “The Healer here says I’ll be fine, Mom. Besides, I could use a little time off. All this Warlocking is pretty tiring.”

  “You’re talented, Marcus,” she said, ignoring my humor. “And you’re obviously a powerful Warlock. But no matter how old or experienced you get, you’ll always be my little boy.”

  I couldn’t help but beam.

  Moms rock.

  There was a light tapping on the door.

  “Marcus?” Quinn asked, poking her head into the room. Her eyes widened when she saw the cluster around my bed.

  “Sorry,” she said in an embarrassed tone. “The nurse told me it was okay to visit.”

  “It’s fine,” Jenkins replied, giving my father a wink.

  Dad placed a hand on my mother’s shoulder. “I think we should let Marcus get some more rest. Jenkins, would you please give me the rundown on my wife’s injuries?”

  My parents departed the room but
not before Mom gave me a smile that seemed to radiate with the hope of grandchildren. The Healer followed close behind, but paused at the door and looked at Quinn.

  “I was supposed to dress his hands. Would you mind doing it for me? The healing balm and gauze are in the top drawer.” He nodded to a cabinet nearby.

  “Um, sure.”

  “Thank you. I’ll be back in, say ninety minutes?”

  Quinn’s face suddenly matched her highlights, but the Healer closed the door before she could respond.

  She sat on the bed and slowly unwrapped my gauze. “So, how are you?”

  “In a lot of pain. Thankfully the Healer has some awesome meds.”

  Quinn peeled the last of the gauze away, and we both examined my hands. My fingers were curled into claws, and the dark red skin was covered in angry blisters. The addition of the bloody scars made my left hand exceptionally grotesque. I was glad Jenkins had told me they’d eventually heal.

  Quinn sniffed and I caught her wiping her cheeks.

  “Here,” she said quickly, digging her fingers into the balm, “let’s get you redressed.”

  “Ow,” I whined dramatically as she rubbed the cool goop on my palms.

  Quinn rolled her eyes. “Oh hush, you big baby.”

  I watched in silence as she coated each hand, straining to feel the warmth of her touch through the tingling sensation of damaged nerve endings. When she finished she gingerly wrapped my wounds in fresh white gauze. She gave my mummy hands the once-over, then nodded with satisfaction.

  “That should do it.”

  I held my hands up. “Guess I won’t be playing piano anytime soon.”

  “I didn’t know you played.”

  “I don’t, but now I have an excellent excuse.”

  Quinn laughed. “You are such an odd nut, you know that?”

  “Yeah, it’s part of my charm.”

  “I could get used to that,” she replied.

  Her laughter died and we were silent for a few moments. Her gaze drifted to the window, focusing on something far in the distance.

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