Undead Chaos, page 7
“He didn’t do anything,” I said, but Cerrus ignored me.
“Finally, your son here performed magic in front of Normals—”
“Which has been allowed for over two decades,” Mom growled.
“—and battled the undead in public, which led to the injury of at least four innocent bystanders. Were that not enough, he allowed both the abomination and the Necromancer to escape. Then he topped it all off by assaulting a uniformed guard.” She leaned back. “You ask me, this is every bit his fault.”
“However,” Bennet interjected, catching the murderous fire in my mother’s eye, “we are not here to pass judgment. We’re here to collect data and report back to the Council. Nothing more.”
“Fine,” Cerrus retorted, “but I have every confidence the inquiry board will agree with me.”
I glared at the woman and wondered how someone so smug was able to stay on the Council. Apparently our standards were slipping.
“What I don’t understand, Marcus,” Bennett said, changing topics quickly, “is why you took Simeon to the morgue in the first place. It seems that allowing a man with his past to practice any magic in that environment is asking for disaster.”
It wasn’t an accusation, per se, but of all the charges Cerrus threw at me, it was the only one that appeared to bother the Wizard.
“At the time it seemed logical.” Sitting in the study hours later, it still did. “Simeon was a Master Summoner in his day and a leading authority in Necromancy. Despite his past, he’s still considered an expert in the field. Who better to dig into the decayed mind of a reanimated corpse? I doubt many could. Besides, he said himself that his parole barred him from practicing Necromancy, not researching it.”
“That’s an extremely thin line,” the Wizard said. His face remained neutral despite the hint of accusation in his tone. “And you have to admit that it may not have been the best choice. Especially considering that he and his daughter are now missing.”
Bennett had a point. Simeon Fawkes might be a free man, forgiven for his past sins, but the truth was no one trusted him. Taking him to the hospital had placed him in an unfair situation. Too many important people were already speculating on why he and Quinn had vanished during the incident.
“I should have seen that angle,” I admitted, “but at the time I was too excited at the thought of finding answers.”
“That’s understandable.” Bennett’s voice relaxed once again. “And it’s easy for us to judge the situation in hindsight. Maybe there were some poor decisions, but there were plenty of good ones as well. I, for one, am impressed with how you handled the hostage situation. A lot of witnesses gave testimony to how calmly you dealt with everything. From the sounds of it, you saved that little girl’s life.”
“Thank you,” I said, genuinely pleased. I thought of the cute redhead in the purple cotton dress. Would the incident scar her, or would it be lost in the memories of early childhood? I scratched absently at the line down my neck and hoped that it was the latter.
“Did anyone interview her?” I asked.
“I did,” Cerrus replied. “Why?”
“Things were so chaotic that I never had the chance to talk to her. I wanted to make sure she was okay.”
Cerrus made a nonchalant wave of her hand. “The Normal is none the worse for wear.”
“I’m also curious about what Banks said to her.”
Bennett and Cerrus exchanged glances. Bennett was the one who answered.
“He said he was sorry.”
I blinked in surprise. “Come again?”
“She claims that the zombie told her he was sorry.”
“Yes,” Cerrus added, “but obviously she was mistaken.”
“Why do you say that?” Mom asked coldly. She could have killed Cerrus with her glare, but thankfully even the Skilled didn’t have that power.
Surprisingly, the Witch didn’t seem to notice. “Because the coroner’s report listed that the creature died a month ago. There’s no way it still had the ability to speak. The deterioration of the vocal chords alone would ensure that, not to mention the decomposition of the brain itself.”
“Seems a little early to make assumptions,” I said.
“They are not assumptions,” Cerrus snapped. “Even the Skilled are subject to the laws of science. A little girl’s statement holds no water against generations of magical and medicinal facts.”
Heat rose in my chest. “Well, I know for a fact that I blew some major holes in Banks before decapitating him, yet he seemed perfectly fit to storm through the hospital like an untamed bull. Medical fact or not, that shouldn’t have happened, so it’s equally probable that he was able to talk.”
“We’re still conducting our investigation,” Bennett said quickly, cutting Cerrus off. “There are many things about the incident that seem...odd. We will do everything in our power to make sure that they are recorded and analyzed by the experts. Now if you’ll excuse us.” He stood. “Candace and I have our reports to compile.”
He offered his hand to me. “Thank you for your time, Marcus. Witch Cerrus and I will take your statement back to the inquiry board for their review. I doubt there is much they will have to say on the matter. It sounds as if you were nothing more than an indirect catalyst.”
“We shall see,” Cerrus muttered as she heaved herself out of the chair. She offered a wet, clammy hand to me, then nodded to my father.
“Christopher,” she said flatly.
“Good to see you again, Candace,” Dad replied with equal sincerity. “Tell Rudolpho I say hello.”
Cerrus blinked. “Yes. I shall.”
Rudolpho Isetti was a close friend of the family and someone who had worked with Dad on several Council subcommittees when they were younger. He was also the head of the Magical Investigations division, which included the inquiry board. Cerrus reported directly to him.
I smiled. Take that, you pompous bureaucratic ass.
Dad escorted the council members to the entrance, then returned moments later.
“That Cerrus woman rubs me the wrong way,” Mom said as he entered. She handed me another glass of scotch and poured one for herself.
“She rubs everyone the wrong way,” the Healer said. It was the first time since tending to my newest injuries that he’d spoken.
Dad accepted a drink from my mother. “Unfortunately, there is some merit to her concern. We’ve made great strides these past twenty years to merge Normal and Skilled communities together, but we are still in the infancy of the peace accord. Cerrus, for all her faults, is passionate about maintaining good relations. Something like this can cause a huge PR storm if we’re not careful.”
“How bad are we talking?” I asked as twinges of guilt tugged on me.
Dad shook his head. “Honestly, I don’t know. The Council will undoubtedly give this matter its full attention in an effort to head off concerns about Normal safety. Thankfully, like most bureaucratic systems, it will take them weeks to analyze the situation before initiating an action plan. That gives us plenty of time.”
I frowned. “For what?”
“To find Simeon Fawkes on our own.”
The alcohol warmed my insides, but the cold reality of my father’s words was sobering. I stopped swirling my drink and stared at him.
“I don’t mind operating on my own, but I’m not comfortable screwing the Council directly, especially if it means jeopardizing your chances of being elected as an Elder.”
“I appreciate your concern, Marcus,” he said. “But let that be the last of your worries. Besides, we’re not working against the Council. Think of it more like helping them find the right answer before they know what it is. Fawkes and his daughter vanishing will have a lot of important people questioning his level of involvement. Cerrus hinted at it, but I can promise yo
“But he didn’t do anything. And Quinn was just an innocent bystander.”
Dad inhaled and released a long, heavy breath. “Sadly, neither is a factor anymore. There are plenty of Council members who claim we were too forgiving last time. Now they’ll demand an appropriate level of justice for him, as well as Quinn for aiding him. If we can get to them before anyone else, we may save two innocent people.”
“That won’t be easy,” I replied. “He’s had at least half a day to disappear.”
“Nevertheless we must try,” Dad said grimly. “Better we find them than the Council. If they beat us to him, there will be no forgiveness this time.”
The Old Cart before the Horse Cliché
Word travels fast in the magical community.
By the next morning, every publication, blog, website and social media forum was brimming with the news that Simeon Fawkes and his daughter were at large. Most of the information was based on hype and rumor, but more than a handful of sites were spot on with facts from the hospital.
The amount of sensationalized attention the media placed on the whole ordeal annoyed me, but I was also a little impressed. Normals were actually talking about the incident like it was news and not some crazy hoax. I was just a kid when the Skilled and Normal communities officially reformed, and it took a few years before the mainstream media opened up to us. I’d seen the world before magical people and paranormal creatures were known and accepted, so I appreciated how far we’d come. Granted, we had a long way to go before everyone was fully integrated, but at least people weren’t being burned at the stake anymore.
Hell, maybe some day the Council would even allow nonhumans into their ranks.
Assuming the paranormal side of the house wanted to, of course. Technically creatures like Elves, Dwarves, were-people, vampires, and many others weren’t part of the Skilled society, but rather a loose conglomerate of independent tribes. Yet we’d included them into the peace treaty nonetheless. Personally, I think it was a political move by the Council to garner favor with the paranormal factions, but to date, the majority of beings seemed perfectly happy to stay off the radar. For their part, the Council didn’t seem particularly motivated to force the issue. Besides, those bureaucratic stiffs had more important things to worry about than paranormal equality.
Like containing a PR nightmare.
Refreshed from a good night’s sleep, I was munching on a bowl of Corn Crunchies when my ears pricked up to the Skilled news channel that was droning on in the background. Wizard Carlo, the public relations guru for the Delwinn Council, was standing behind a lectern outside a drab official building. I paused mid-chew, set my spoon down, and increased the volume of the boob tube.
“...vanished last night after reanimating a corpse at the Allenby Memorial Hospital in Fairfax, Virginia. Fawkes,” the man said as cameras flashed around him, “is a former Master Summoner and convicted dark Necromancer who spent almost two decades in prison for his crimes. He has been on lifetime probation for practicing Necromancy and has spent the years since his release in seclusion.
“There are few facts to the case as yet. However we do know that he and his daughter, Quinn, were last seen entering the hospital yesterday and have been on the run ever since. There is a substantial reward being offered for any information that leads to their arrest. The Delwinn Council classifies the pair as highly dangerous and recommends no Skilled or Normal persons attempt to detain them.” Carlo examined his notes with a practiced expression of concern, then cleared his throat. “The Council will release more details as they become known. I will now accept any questions you may have at this time.”
The crowd of reporters jostled and barked for attention. After several moments of hysterical clamor, Carlo singled someone out and the mass quieted.
“How dangerous is this zombie?”
“The Council recommends that people within ten miles of the hospital be on the lookout for the undead and do not approach. It is considered relatively dangerous, but Normals will be safe inside their homes. On a side note, we have professional teams already on the hunt for him, but any information will be helpful.”
“Is there a chance he’ll turn others into zombies?” another reporter asked.
“Unlike Hollywood’s depictions,” Carlo said with an entertained smirk, “the only way to become an undead is to be resurrected by a Necromancer. The general public has no need to fear a zombie plague sweeping the city. In the unlikely event that anyone is bitten, the Council encourages the victim to seek immediate medical attention.”
Someone else raised a hand. “What does the Council have to say about the rumors that the undead-being was already banished once?”
“The case is still under investigation, so I cannot comment on that at this time. Next question, please.”
“Wizard Carlo,” a pretty blonde cried, waving her recorder. “Wizard Carlo, was anyone hurt during the incident?”
“There were some minor injuries to Normal bystanders. They were tended to immediately and are recovering quickly. Otherwise, there are no serious injuries to report.”
Another reporter jumped in ahead of his peers. “Don’t you find it odd that only Normals were hurt?”
Several people groused at the interloper, but a few nodded.
“We should be thankful that there were no serious injuries at all,” Carlo said evenly.
“Do you think this incident will affect the relations between the Skilled and Normals in any way?” someone else asked.
Carlo aimed a wide, toothy smile at the camera. “Not at all. The Delwinn Council has worked hard with our Normal counterparts to build bridges over the years, and we intend to partner with them for every step of the investigation. Since this is a Council matter, we have the lead—however we will cooperate fully with any inquiries they may have. We have come too far to allow a small incident like this to shake the foundations of trust and friendship.”
There was truth in his statement, but I noted a hint of concern in his voice. Since the official reformation of the Skilled and Normal worlds, our societies had expended a lot of effort to rebuild generations of burnt bridges. Granted, each culture benefited from the truce, but a lot of people on both sides were still cautious. Public mishaps strained relations and provided ammunition for the small opposition movements. Recovering from something like this required a lot of PR sweat.
I didn’t envy the late nights Carlo had ahead of him one bit.
“What about the damage to the hospital?” another asked hotly. “Who will pay for repairs?”
“That is also under investigation,” he said with a neutral expression. “The Delwinn Council will ensure that all repairs are taken care of by the appropriate party.”
I grinned. What he meant was that the Council had no intention of paying to fix a Normal facility and would, instead, lean on the hospital to file an insurance claim. The Skilled may have come far in our relations to Normals, but we were still capitalistic humans at our core.
“Wizard Carlo,” a shrill woman with large hair called, “what do you have to say about the rumors that someone within your community snuck Simeon Fawkes into the hospital?”
Give Carlo his due—the man barely flinched. “I say that they are unfounded at this time. The incident is still under investigation and until the official inquiry is complete, all other names associated with the case are confidential.”
The woman would not be deterred. “There are a number of witnesses who claim that this ‘confidential’ person not only placed Normals in grave danger while engaging the undead being, but also assaulted a security guard.” Her smile was confident and smug. “Now are you willing to release the name?”
He backed away from the lectern and the reporters exploded into their usual chaotic mess. Some demanded to know more, hurling questions at the old Wizard like cannon fire. Others wrote furiously on notepads or spoke into recorders, transmitting every detail they could to ensure their story was the first to hit. Carlo nodded off camera and a security detail escorted him back into the building. The scene switched to a studio newsroom where a female reporter and a panel of talking heads debated the details of the conference.
The cereal had gone mushy in my mouth. I swallowed, grabbed my phone, and dialed the Homestead.
My father answered.
“What the hell was that?” I demanded.
“I take it you just saw the press conference.”
“That,” Dad said with some bitterness, “was a cart before the horse.”
“Cart or not,” I growled angrily, “it sounds like the Council just placed all the blame for last night on Simeon.”
Dad sighed. “The Council had to report something, Marcus. But I agree that they jumped the gun with their accusation. Worse, they’re being cryptic with their information, and the media hates feeling left out of the loop.”
My stomach flip-flopped. “I don’t like the sound of that.”
“Nor should you,” my father said, “The media will pursue this deeper than they would a case with all the details aired to them.”
“Which means eventually someone will put my name to the incident.”
I grimaced. The last thing I wanted was a bunch of news-hungry media hounds beating down my door. “What should I do?” I asked.