Authors: Nicholas Olivo
Tags: #General Fiction
By Nicholas Olivo
Copyright © 2014 by Nicholas Olivo
All rights reserved.
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either products of the author’s imagination or used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
No part of this publication can be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, without permission in writing from Nicholas Olivo.
Cover art by Ronnell D. Porter
Editing by Holloway House Editing and Proofreading
Bargain 665945: Provided a lich with a secondary phylactery. Payment consisted of a crop of worms that eat organic matter and weave silk that provides defensive properties against the organism that was consumed. Experimentation revealed that when one strand of the silk is laid alongside another, each strand gains the defensive properties of the other, even if they came from different sources. These will make effective armor against those individuals who fail to deliver what they’ve promised us. The lich also provided an artifact that compels the dead to do one’s bidding. And to think, he believes he got the bargain.
—From Keeper Laras’s Transaction Journal
Screams coming from a graveyard in the middle of the night are never a good thing. It’s worse when you realize the screams are coming from the dead. And even worse still when you realize the dead are being tormented by something else. If you’re smart, you run the other way when you start hearing that sort of scream. If you’re me, you’ll run right to it.
The name’s Vincent Corinthos, and I have no idea what I’m getting myself into as my partner, Megan, and I rushed toward the gates that close the cemetery off from the rest of Boston. I brushed my hand against the chain and Master padlock that held the gates shut, and the lock popped open with a click. Opening things is a particular gift of mine; locks, doors, pickle jars, you name it, I can Open it. We pushed through the gates and ran to where the screams were coming from.
“Third attack in three days,” Megan said as our boots crunched across the snow-crusted ground. So far, this winter hadn’t given us much in the way of the white stuff. I was grateful for that; it would’ve been impossible to run through a graveyard in the dark if the snow was up to my knees. As it was, the cold stung the insides of my nose every time I took a breath. The cold didn’t stop Megan’s rapid-fire questions, though. “Three’s a magical number, right? Think there’s some significance? Maybe this is some kind of winter ritual?”
“Not sure,” I said as the scream sounded again. Between our high-powered flashlights and a full moon reflecting off the thin layer of snow, we had plenty of light to see the skeletal hands exploding through the frozen crust of snow. Shards of powder-covered ice scattered in all directions as the hands broke through the surface. Another followed, then several more. The skeletons scrambled up from their graves, their glowing red eyes locking right on to us.
“Sugar,” Megan cursed as she bit the finger of her right glove and pulled it off with her teeth. Then she rolled her wrist and a 9mm pistol appeared in her hand.
“Will bullets be any good against skeletons?” I asked.
In response, she fired off several shots, expertly blasting out knees and spines. The skeletons clattered to the ground in heaps as the sent of gunpowder and bone dust filled the air. You had to respect a person who could hit very small targets with such precision in moonlight while being advanced on by undead. She gave me a sidelong smile.
I grinned back. “Okay, my turn.” I snapped out my hand and telekinetically flung five of them backward. I couldn’t help but grin as they shattered on impact against one of the larger headstones, making the cemetery momentarily sound like a bowling alley on league night. “Strike!”
“Show off,” Megan called as she stuffed her glove into a pocket. “I want psychic powers like yours.”
My smile widened. “They are a lot of fun.”
We dashed on. Just ahead, a shadowy figure was crouched over a grave, tracing glowing shapes in the snow. The scream sounded again, louder this time. A spectral skeleton materialized above the grave for a moment, its hands pressed to its head as if in pain, and the scream sounded again. Then it was gone. Holy shit, what was that?
“Hands above your head,” Megan shouted as she conjured a fresh 9mm from her pocket dimension.
The man, at least I guessed it was a man, waved a dismissive hand at us. A wave of sheer terror skimmed across the surface of my mind. For half a second, all I wanted to do was run, run and never look back, just get away from this person. The feeling was over as quickly as it’d begun. Megan gave her head a shake; she must’ve felt it, too.
The figure stood and regarded us. “Caulborn,” he hissed.
“That’s us,” I replied. Megan and I are agents of a supernatural police force known as the Caulborn. There were lots of legends and superstitions around what someone born with a caul can do, but the reality is a caul protects you from mental compulsion, which this joker had just tried. “Now like the lady said, hands above your head.”
Megan had her wrists crossed so that she was both steadying her gun on the man while simultaneously keeping the beam of her flashlight on him. He was dressed in a black jumpsuit so dark that it seemed to be absorbing the light. A black mask completely covered his face and head; he didn’t even have eyeholes, which was a bit disturbing. He raised his hands and muttered something I didn’t catch. A moment later, skeletal hands exploded from the ground and grabbed us by the legs. At first, I thought they were just going to hold us, but then they actually began pulling us down into the earth.
Megan’s pistol cracked as she shot at the hands holding her. I lashed out telekinetically, forcing the hands away. One of them hit me in the back of the knee, and I lurched about, trying to regain my footing. The frozen earth heaved and cracked as Megan was pulled down, sinking into the ground as if it were quicksand. She couldn’t risk a bullet’s ricochet at this range and was now using her flashlight like a club, bashing at the hands holding her. The figure was gone. I blasted Megan’s assailants with bolts of telekinesis and hauled her up next to me. More hands pulled at my ankles, and we went back down in a heap.
Bones creaked and rattled as more skeletons approached us. Hands erupted from the earth, pinning us. Megan was facedown next to me. I was on my side, my wrists held painfully behind my back.
Of course, the nice thing about psychic powers is they work hands-free. I sent waves of telekinetic force out, shattering bones. “How do you like that?” I shouted, laughing.
Something pierced my leg. Hard. Something else pierced my shoulder. I spun my head enough to see skulls rising from the ground, biting into me. As great as L.L. Bean coats are at keeping out the cold, they’re also surprisingly thin. The skulls were able to bite right through it, and I cried out as they tore through the fleece lining and into my skin. Red seeped through the fabric of my coat.
Another voice cut through the air in a language I’d never heard before. The skeletons paused and turned to look at the newcomer. I couldn’t move my head enough to get a good look at him, but I could just make him out in my peripheral vision. He opened his hands and glowing characters of blue light spiraled up from his palms. They shot forward, striking the skeletons in their sternums. Blue sparks exploded around the skeletons and drove them a few steps back. They snarled—I’m not entirely sure how they did that given they didn’t have lungs—and began advancing. The newcomer called out in that strange language and sent two more glowing characters, these a dull yellow, into the ground just in front of me. Moments later, two more sets of hands burst from the ground in front of my face. These were different though. Instead of skeletal, these were covered in a pale translucent flesh.
A moment later, two men clad in shimmering pilgrim outfits pulled themselves out of the ground. Glowing blue eyes stared out of their hard faces as they regarded the other undead. They tossed their hats to the side in unison, which vanished upon striking the ground, and advanced on the skeletons. The skeletons rushed at the spectral men, wildly swiping clawed hands at them. The pilgrims blocked and pummeled the skeletons with their fists. Bones snapped and cracked as the men laid into them with well-placed haymakers and uppercuts. The newcomer knelt down next to me. He pointed at the hands holding me down and muttered again in that strange language. The hands crumbled to dust. He repeated the process for Megan. I turned my attention back to the pilgrims. Their eyes still glowed a bright blue, but their features had blurred, and the pilgrim outfits were much less defined than they’d been a few moments ago. Each time they hit a skeleton, they became less substantial; I could see through them in places now. As the last skeleton crumbled into dust, they faded away.
“Thanks,” I said to the newcomer. “You saved our bacon there.”
“My pleasure,” he replied. His voice was a little nasally, and he sounded like he had a cold. “Are you okay?”
“Fine, thanks to you,” Megan said as she put the flashlight so we could see the stranger. He was a few inches shorter than me, and a tad on the pudgy side. Brown hair poked out from beneath a black wool cap, and he brushed snow absently from the front of his long wool coat. The cold had turned his cheeks and nose as rosy as Santa Claus’s, and I pegged him at about my age. The angle of the light let him see Megan’s face, too. She was just as rosy cheeked and her ice-blue eyes shone brightly.
“Golly,” they said softly in unison. They both took a step toward one another.
“I’m Herb Wallenby.”
They’d introduced themselves simultaneously and then started giggling. The dimple in Megan’s cheek was so deep that I thought it might go through her face. They just stood there, smiling like a couple of thirteen-year-olds at a junior high dance.
I cleared my throat. “My name’s Vincent Corinthos,” I said as I extended my hand to Wallenby. He shook it absently, his eyes never leaving Megan. “While we definitely appreciate the help, what were you doing out here tonight, Herb?”
Herb gave himself a shake. “What? Oh, sorry. Yes. There have been a bunch of attacks against the dead lately. I wanted to help.”
“That’s so noble,” Megan said. Her voice was dreamy.
Herb’s face colored further. “Thanks,” he stammered.
“So what makes you want to help the dead? Necromancers aren’t generally concerned with their zombies’ well-being.” I said. Herb looked at me incredulously. “Come on,” I said. “I saw you raise some zombies just a few minutes ago.”
“Not zombies,” Herb’s attention was fully on me now. “Lifeless. Big difference.” When I didn’t reply right away, he continued. “Just because I have powers over the dead doesn’t mean I’m cruel to them. Most deceased want to stay that way. If they’re in Heaven or whatever they believe in, they don’t want to leave. Most necromancers force the dead back to our world; that’s why zombies and ghouls and wights hate the living so much. I’m not like that.”
“And yet, you summoned—”
“Lifeless,” Herb reiterated, more firmly this time. “Look, I appealed to their memories of humanity for aid. I don’t force the dead back to our world, I ask if they’ll help defend it. There are hundreds of dead in this cemetery, and only two came back when I called. I could’ve forced them back, like that other guy was doing, but I didn’t.”
Megan put a hand on my arm before I could say anything else. “He’s telling the truth, Vincent.” Megan’s voice had returned to normal, and I took that to mean her mind was back on business. She used to be a diplomat who negotiated peace treaties with forces that weren’t human, or even terrestrial, and I’d come to trust her judgment when it came to discerning lies.
“Did you see the guy who was tampering with the grave?” I asked him.
“Not clearly. He was facing away from me, and then I saw you guys getting attacked and wanted to help.” He glanced back at the disturbed earth.
“Can you ask the, um,” Megan gestured at the headstone, “occupant of this grave what he was doing? Maybe find out who he was? Or where he went?”
Herb shook his head. “No. The dead who have been attacked like this refuse to communicate with the living voluntarily.”
That sounded awfully convenient to me.
“Thank you again for your help,” Megan said to Herb. “Let’s get a closer look at the grave; maybe that’ll give us a clue about what was going on.”