Undead Chaos, page 4
“He’s becoming a regular,” I said with a knowing grin. Rumor had it Dad was on the short list to replace Elder Michon, who’d passed away a few months earlier. Electing a new Elder was complicated and time-consuming, but I couldn’t help but feel a little excited at the prospect of my father being selected. I didn’t care much for the moronic bureaucracy of the Council, but Dad was one of the few who really tried to make a difference instead of just spinning his wheels trying to get reelected. The man was a mover and shaker, and those stuffy old farts could certainly use some new blood in their ranks.
Dad shrugged. “We have a nice home.”
I doubted Harper was interested in our décor, but Dad being cryptic meant he was not in a position to tell me anything. Yet.
“Well, say hello for me,” I said as we stood.
“I will. Make sure you see the Healer before you leave or your mother will wring both our necks.”
Dad laughed. “You don’t know the half of it.”
* * *
Anyone wishing to locate the Healer started with his clinic on the upper basement level of the South Wing. Originally designed as a prison for local magical criminals, the basement had been transformed over the generations into a fully operational hospital. Apparently somewhere along the line, the Shifter family decided we needed a place to get patched up more than a place to house evildoers.
The structure itself was impressive. My family maintained a full facility complete with an ICU, burn unit and emergency room. We employed a minimal staff on site, but had a sizeable number on call.
Trust me, we used them more often than I liked.
For his part, Healer Jenkins ran a tight ship. The medical staff was crisp and efficient and the facility well organized. Anyone who walked in could easily find their way around. If they ever got lost, the staff was more than willing to help.
I followed the sound of drums to an office and found the Healer listening to Glen Miller. He was bent over some paperwork, so I paused in the doorway. He was a handsome man with a strong, weathered face and hard, calloused hands. His long white hair was pulled into a ponytail and held in place with a beaded tie. Large turquoise rings adorned his fingers, and he wore a bolo made from the tooth of an extinct predator. His mouth was perpetually turned up in a grin and his eyes were dark and warm. He had the look of a man who always knew what I was up to and silently approved.
No one knew his exact age, but rumor had it he was older than he appeared. Even that was hard to guess since he carried himself with a strength and grace that masked any signs of aging.
What I did know was that he had been hired several years before I was born and had spent most of his waking hours in the clinic. He loved a good steak, had a soft spot for stray kittens and enjoyed blasting Big Band music. The last one always caught people off guard since he seemed like a man who preferred the free-love songs of the hippie years to WWII-era swing. But as he put it once, “Hendrix can’t hold a candle to a great horn section.”
In addition to his distinctive taste in music, Jenkins carried the unique designation of Healer. While combat specialists were subcategorized by gender into Warlocks and Mages, and the science castes into Wizards and Witches, Healer was one of the few titles unaffected by sex. To the magical community, it didn’t matter if the individual patching you up had to stand or sit to pee. Granted, the same could be said for every Skilled profession, but our people were weird with their traditions.
“Are you going to come in,” Jenkins asked, “or just stand in the doorway all day?”
“Hey, Healer.” I detached myself from the door frame and walked up to his desk. “Sorry, I was lost in thought.”
“There are worse places to lose yourself,” he replied with a wink.
“I’d like to lose myself in a woman.” The words left my mouth before I could stop them. My eyes widened with embarrassment. “Listen, I didn’t—”
Jenkins waved a dismissive hand. “That’s the best place to get lost. Now then,” he pulled my health file from his drawer, “your mother called and said I should check you out. She mentioned something about over-exerting yourself last night.”
I gave Jenkins a detailed version of the fight and an accurate painting of the physical toll it took. He listened intently, then asked me for particulars about the headache. Where did it start? What kind of pain was associated with it? Were there any other symptoms? I answered each as fully as I could. He took some basic vitals, then performed a basic healing spell on my leg to rid me of the tenderness.
“A clean bill of health,” he said as he finished. “The bruising may take a couple days to fade, but the muscle should be fine. As for the headache, count it as a victory. Considering the amount of Skill you used last night, you should be in a lot more pain. It seems as though your endurance is improving.”
“I’m still weak.” I couldn’t keep the frustration out of my voice.
“Don’t be too hard on yourself. The fact that you completed a complicated banishment and are suffering only mild discomfort is significant progress. This time last year you’d have been out of commission for days. Yes, you have a lot of ground to make up, but you’re doing it faster than anyone I’ve ever seen. It’s remarkable.” He frowned. “Very remarkable.”
I felt as if he were peering into my soul, making me feel both naked and really uncomfortable. A moment later, the familiar smile returned.
“Anyway, you’ll live. I can give you something for your head if you like.”
“Nah. I took some ibuprofen earlier and wouldn’t want to overdo it.”
“Good policy.” He wrote a few more notes in my file, then set it aside. “So, other than re-killing the undead, what are you up to?”
“Dad wants me to research some of the oddities from last night. He gave me an address for an expert Necromancer and wants me to pick his brain.”
“No idea. He didn’t give me a name.”
The Healer leaned forward, his face pinched with concern. “That’s not like your father. May I see the address?”
I pulled the scrap of paper out and handed it to him. He glanced at it, then back at me.
“Are you sure this is right?”
Instead of responding, he opened a bottle and offered me two painkillers.
“Jenkins?” I asked, glancing warily at the pills.
“Your father said the person was an expert in the field of Necromancy?”
“There are a handful of people who can claim that title, but only one that lives in the local area.”
I stared at him, my insides rolling with apprehension.
“Simeon Fawkes,” he said stiffly.
The name hit me like cold water. I stared at the Healer, then felt the sudden need for the pills. I swallowed them without water.
“Can I have the whole bottle?”
An hour later I was standing outside a condominium complex in northwest DC. It was a nice place with lots of glass and faux French artwork in the lobby. Instead of enjoying the décor, I stood in front of the call box with my finger hovering over the name Fawkes, S—#408. Several occupants entered and left, and all of them gave me a wide berth.
Two decades earlier, Simeon Fawkes was the leading authority in the fields of Summoning and Necromancy. His theories, while revolutionary, also skirted the lines of darkness. Eventually Simeon crossed it, blaspheming nature with his experiments. The Council arrested him, and he spent fifteen years in prison before being released on parole.
In the time since, he’d dropped off the magical radar, but details of his practices still caused chills to run up the spine of even the most hardened magical warrior.
The tales I’d heard turned my stomach. If even a fraction of them were true, then he’d had a hand in everything from raising dead animals to trying to build an army of undead warriors to overthrow the Council. Some even said he’d kidnapped and murdered vagrants off the street, just so he’d have warm bodies for his experiments.
It wasn’t just the tales of his experiments that were terrifying, it was also how easily he had fallen into dark magic.
All of our spells required a little piece of our soul to work, but dark spells, especially the ones designed to do harm or violate nature, were different. A practitioner needed to dig deep into the evil that lingered inside all of us and bring it into the light. It took a special kind of malevolence to not only open that door, but do it repeatedly. Each time that evil was accessed it chipped away at a person’s humanity until all that was left was the darkness.
Apparently Simeon hadn’t been too far gone when the Council stopped him, but he’d done enough to scare the crap out of everyone, including the Elders. And that was no small feat considering those guys had seen just about everything.
Every single story about Simeon Fawkes, including a few I made up, raced through my head as I stood in front of his building.
I chided myself for stalling. I was a commissioned Warlock of the Delwinn Council and was executing an official interview at my father’s request. Cowardice was unbecoming. I gritted my teeth and pushed the button.
“Yes?” Fawkes answered in a deep, resonating voice. The call box added a metallic quality to it that stirred up visions of a T-800 ready to gun me down. I cleared my throat and tried to sound like a professional and not some terrified dork.
“Mr. Fawkes, my name is Marcus Shifter. My father, Christopher, sent me to discuss a matter that requires your, um, expertise.”
The box was silent and I wondered if I was out of luck. As a free man, Fawkes had the right to tell me to get lost. To be honest, I was kind of hoping for it.
“Very well,” he said heavily. The door buzzed and unlocked.
I entered the building, smiled weakly at the concierge, then pressed the elevator call button. The doors pinged open and I joined an attractive older lady and an obese man in sweatpants. A hideous version of “TNT” piped through the speakers, blaspheming one of the greatest rock bands of all time. I was sick of it before the doors closed.
The elevator stopped on the second floor and the male occupant waddled out. As soon as he was gone, I pressed the button to my floor a hundred times. My left eye twitched and I glanced up at the speaker with a scowl.
“That won’t make it move any faster,” the woman said.
“I know,” I replied and machine-gunned the button harder.
Thankfully we arrived on the fourth floor moments later. I stepped into the hallway, leaving the lady to the elevator-music hell. As the doors closed, she muttered “weirdo” under her breath.
I took a moment to soak in the quiet, muted hall before walking stiffly to 408. I held my hand in front of the door for a heartbeat, then I took a deep breath and knocked.
The door swung open and my brain short-circuited.
Instead of an elderly gentleman with a dubious past, the doorway was filled with a pretty woman in her late twenties. She stood a half a head shorter than me with jet-black hair that was bobbed and streaked with bright pink highlights. Her skin was a light tan and her eyes a startling green. She had a small mouth and a well-proportioned, athletic figure that was wrapped in tight jeans. She wore a gray T-shirt that read “Nerds do it in binary.”
“Uh,” I said, impressing her with my quick wit. I looked at the apartment number again, then back at her.
“Hi,” she replied in a light British accent. “I’m Quinn. Simeon’s daughter. You must be Marcus Shifter.”
She pronounced my last name “Shiftah.” It was unsettlingly sexy.
“Hello?” she asked cocking her head. “Anyone home?”
“Yeah. I’m Marcus.”
“Nice to meet you.” She held out her hand. It was warm and soft. “Come on in.”
As I passed into the condo, the barrier of the place pressed against my Skill with a force far superior to the one at Carly’s. In addition to the natural protective layer from his persona, Simeon had reinforced the perimeter with the magical equivalent of claymores and landmines. Heaven help the moron who tried to break into the place.
Once inside, I was overwhelmed by how underwhelming the unit was. The walls were a light yellow and the floors a dark hardwood. The furniture was bland, and the soft, muted lighting accentuated uninspiring paintings on the walls. It was a nice two-bedroom, but certainly didn’t seem like the kind of place the greatest dark Necromancer of the modern era would live.
“Daddy will be out in a moment. Can I offer you anything? The tea is ready, or I can put on coffee.”
“No thanks.” I continued inspecting the condo.
“How about something to eat?”
“Uh, I’m good.”
I blinked and returned my gaze to the woman.
She smiled. “I just wanted to make sure you were paying attention. Most people are interested in their host and not the décor.” She examined the surroundings as well. “Which, by the way, sucks.”
“It’s fine enough for me,” a man said, appearing from a bedroom. He was tall and impressive, dressed in casual slacks and an expensive dress shirt. His thick black hair was combed back, the temples beginning to show signs of gray. His face was lined and his eyes blue. He stood proud and erect, yet his expression was that of a boxer who’d stayed in the ring one round too many.
Despite being stripped of his credentials by the Council, there was still an energy surrounding Simeon Fawkes that crackled with electricity. He exuded a frightening amount of Skill, which radiated from him with surprising force. I could feel it even from the other side of the room.
His appearance also ratcheted up my tension level a few thousand degrees.
“Hi, Daddy.” Quinn trotted over and pecked him on the cheek. “Can I get you anything?”
“Tea, please. With honey.”
Quinn nodded and sauntered into the kitchen. I tried not to watch, but failed. Simeon glared at me and I grinned sheepishly.
“Won’t you have a seat?” he asked coldly, motioning toward a set of leather chairs.
“Thank you for seeing me,” I said once we were settled.
“Nonsense,” Simeon replied with a more genuine tone as he accepted a cup of tea from Quinn. She sat on the couch and curled her feet under herself.
“I hold your father in high regard,” Fawkes continued. “What can I do for you?”
I explained the events from the night before. Simeon listened intently, his face completely devoid of emotion. When I finished, he set his cup down without once taking a sip.
“You’re positive this was not a hoax?”
He inhaled and leaned forward. “How familiar are you with Necromancy?”
I grinned. “I have a subscription to Necromancy Today.” Simeon stared at me and sweat trickled down my back. “So, yeah,” I added quickly, “my knowledge is pretty thin.”
“Most people are in the same boat. The art of Necromancy is complicated, which is why so few Summoners choose its path. Suffice to say, I spent a lifetime studying ancient texts and learning the ways of old. Yet what you describe goes well beyond my knowledge and capabilities.”
“Oh goody, I was hoping this would get more complicated.”
Simeon actually smiled at my sarcasm. “Well, you got it. The window for reanimating a corpse is small, maybe several months at most. Reviving one capable of conscious thought, however, is miniscule. We’re talking hours. Even then, it takes a surprising amount of power to accomplish the task. What yo
“Allow me to put this into perspective. My first experiments were with cats...”
My stomach churned and I forced down a wince.
“The feline physiology is closer to humans than most animals,” Simeon continued. “That being said, it took days of channeling power into the feline brain just to activate it enough for basic movement. Yet despite my abilities, the toll it took to keep it alive for more than a minute nearly killed me.”
“Indeed. Reanimation is not simply a flick of a light switch. It takes years to master, and even then, it can drain the most powerful crafter. Like all magic, you impart yourself into the spell. To fully restore a being back to life, especially one as complicated as a human, is more often lethal than it is successful.”
“I didn’t know that.”
“That is partially the fault of society. The idea of the undead has developed a cult following in recent years, but that’s nothing more than would-be practitioners and angry teens obsessed with sexually frustrated vampires. Even most publications are focused on the melodrama of the practice more than the reality. True Necromancers are few and far between, and those that are not officially sanctioned by the Delwinn Council are watched like hawks.”
“Makes me think I should cancel my subscription,” I muttered.
Simeon waved dismissively. “I’d keep it. It might not be ‘pure,’ per se, but it does a better job than most periodicals.”
“But to pull this off, someone wasn’t screwing around with Necromancy Today, were they?”
“No. They would need Skill that was off the charts.”
“And be able to keep it hidden from the authorities.”
“That would be difficult, but not impossible,” Simeon said in a sardonic tone. “The Delwinn Council may be a paranoid entity that keeps a close watch on anyone who flirts with darkness, but they aren’t infallible. There is a chance that a rogue person is operating outside their view.”