No disrespect to Ms. Tess Gerritsen, but she isn’t in my line of work. You see, I investigate the strange, the unusual, and the impossible.
For example: the dead are quite capable of putting a beating on a fellow with the right motivations and incentives. Let’s say you’re dead and a guy promises he can bring you back to life. By guy, I mean necromancer and by dead, I mean recently killed, less than four or five hours. He says it’s going to take a little time and he starts off by making you his undead thrall. In an effort to escape that state you work for him, taking care of nosy interlopers.
Being a necromancer and more than a little dishonest, he neglects to tell you that he won’t be able to bring you back to life and after a few weeks as an undead minion, you sort of forget you wanted to be a real boy again. Being dishonest, he won’t remind you, either.
You remember he is in charge and there is a reason you listen to him but you can’t remember and end up doing what he wants because its all you can remember to do in your brain-decayed state. So yes, the living can hurt you. But the dead can do a pretty bang up job, too.
Speaking of crazed necromancers with no moral compunctions about raising the dead for just about any reason, my host is about to start ranting in three, two, one…
“Mr. Engram, I am happy to find you made your way down to see us. I am sorry about your accommodations. So difficult to get mausoleums really free of that stench of death of which you are far too familiar with, I’m sure.”
I hate being underground. The fact that so much of my work takes me there makes me question my occupation, regularly. Now let’s add the mysterious theatrical nature of my enemy, the pinching of my new shoes and kneeling in my freshly purchased suit and you have a cocktail for really pissed off public servant.
I make my living debunking supernatural events, mediums, psychics, and charlatans. But the irony doesn’t end there, because most of the time what I investigate is just someone trying to get over on the ignorance of their fellow man. Sometimes, and more often of late, there is an event that cannot simply be explained away as swamp gas, late night pizza, or an overdose of medication. I know magical things happen and most magic is at best, dangerous in the wrong hands. I have never known anyone who had the right hands. Anytime I’ve seen magic and its real, its influence is always corrupting, its purpose nefarious, and its results deadly to the innocents in the crosshairs.
“I thought this was a lodge meeting and I was turned around. You know all cemeteries look the same in the dark.” I wasn’t feeling anywhere near as sparkly as I was trying to sound. Mystery voice’s goons worked me over pretty good when they caught me outside. Creepy fellows, too. Never said a word. They gave me a solid beat down. They were strong and fast.
“Come now, Mr. Engram, you know you are exactly where you meant to be. You have been following me for quite some time. Still looking for the Prussian boy, eh? I will save you the time. Yes, I do have him. Kidnapped him right off the street, in fact. Do you know in this time of birth control, population management and two career families, the seventh son of a seventh son is very hard to come by. Bring him to the crypt. All will be revealed, Clifford Ingram. Very soon, indeed.”
I can barely see where we are going, but my cold-handed friends seem quite capable of making their way around. The mausoleum was barely lit with smoky candles and filled with the scent of ceremonial sage. I tried to take a better look at my handlers. The dim light did not fill me with confidence. Their eyes were almost entirely white, their jaws slacked and hair unkempt. They showed dark bruises where I managed to get a few blows in before I was overcome. One fellow’s jaw was clearly broken, and in a position which should have been incredibly painful. He did not seem to be distressed in any way.
I could only assume I was in the hands of the living dead.
The crypt opened into a wide room where nine robed figures stood around two wide stone tables. On one table, lay the Prussian lad I was sent to find, on the other a woman I did not know. Her suit was expensive, her feet were bare, but in torn stockings. Her white blouse had blood on the front of it. The right side of her face was swollen, her eye completely shut and purple. Her hands were bloody, her knuckles raw. She did not go with them quietly. Her chains lay slack and she seemed to be asleep. At any other time, I might have considered her pretty, but right now I held myself away from thinking anything about her. She might not survive the next few minutes.
The boy looked good, no injuries I could see. He also slept. His snore told me he indeed had allergies, probably exacerbated by the coldness and moldiness of this underground lair.
The thing which had my attention after I checked out my client was the arrangement of the room and the object they were all standing around. It might have been a lava lamp in another life, but there was something wrong with the blobs moving around in it. They were too active, too colorful. I felt uneasy as I stared into it. The green glow did not seem even remotely healthy to be near.
“Mr. Engram. May I introduce you to our organization? We are the Guild of the Sigil.” He walked up to me and put his hand on my face. I could not see into his hood, so I only had my impressions to work from. He was a tall man, powerfully built, his robe showed his massive form, barely contained within. The others in the room were equally impressive specimens, making me wonder if I should be spending more time in the gym. These guys must have a hell of a cult-gym membership plan.
He grip my chin, turning my head, his robe was made of a finely crafted linen, with decorations woven, likely in silk, throughout it. I tried to follow the patterns, but it slipped uneasily from my consciousness. These weren’t ordinary clothing. They had spells woven into the fabric, but I couldn’t discern what they were meant to do.
His sleeve slipped out from under the robe showing a fine cufflink and well-tailored jacket. His shoes showed both corresponding wealth and little wear, even at the heel.
He reached into my shirt and pulled out my necklace. That surprised me. Normally no one is able to see it, sense it or even be aware of it. And what that necklace held should surely never be in hands such as his. He pulled it over my head, as if he could sense it’s nigh-indestructible nature.
“It’s everything I expected.” He was looking at the small stone on the chain. He turned away from me as if my purpose had been served and walked back to the lava-lamp of doom. “Don’t worry Mr. Engram, all will be revealed in a moment. Or would you like to tell me what you have already figured out since you got here? You are, after all, what your agency calls an ‘Intuitive’.”
I must admit I was feeling a bit conflicted and despite my lack of struggle, don’t get the impression I was not upset. It just didn’t make sense to use up my strength before I had decided what I was going to do. I was still learning.
“Tell me your name. At least this way I can stop calling you ‘The Mysterious Voice’.”
“My name is Abrams, Walter Abrams. I have no fear telling you, Mr. Engram, because you will serve my every whim before this night is over.” His voice was coiled menace as he stood before his strange orb.
“You might not want to bring my necklace too close to your lava lamp. It might react badly, Mr. Abrams.”
“Do you know what this is?” He held the necklace and stone out moving them slowly toward the orb.
“No, it’s just a family heirloom given to me by my aunt before her passing.” I lied.
“And we were doing so well. You have been so honest up to now. Don’t ruin it. Tell me what you know and we may have room to negotiate.” He turned to one of the other robed figures, “Brother Hawk, I have need of you.”
One of the men stepped forward, his robes covered with hawk images, which appeared and disappeared as he approached the orb. “I live to serve, Brother Obsidian.”
“With this, we are one step closer to bringing the servants of our Dark Master home. Are you prepared to herald his arrival?”
Brother Hawk pulled out a knife something with a small curved blade and lay it across his left hand. With a quick movement, he pulls it across his hand and lay it upon the lava lamp. The lamp began to throb with a deep purple light, in what appeared to be a heart beat-like rhythm. It sped up and Brother Hawks body began to tense as he threw back his hood. His face was twisted in a paroxysm of joy.
I watched as his hair grew long, down his back, first blond, then white. His nails grew both on his hands and bare feet. A beard appeared on his face as it aged, grew wrinkled, his body, once mighty, grew wizened. The orb’s beat grew faster and faster and Hawk’s aging accelerated until in a single gasp he threw himself from the orb and fell to the ground, a cluster of dusty bones, hair and skin, still wearing a very fine robe.
I knew this was going to be one of those days I charged overtime.
Time to get to work.
End of Part I.