I had to know. I always do. Damn it. Damn the illusory comfort of accumulated knowledge, damn my curiosity and damn my inherent psychic frailty. Damn my petty desires for something approximating a normal life.
I found Elsa’s note at Safehouse A. A simple tracking spell, Riley’s favorite, brought me back to the Cathedral. It stood grim and stark in the glowering orange of streetlamps, festooned in yellow tape. An easy no-see-me cloaked me as I entered. As I did, I felt a metaphysical snap, and I knew that I stood upon sanctified ground, not aligned to good or evil, but a stark, amoral unconcern. I stood in the Cathedral that Knowledge had built.
The paper pulled me to a room behind the altar, perhaps a priest’s quarters. My stomach sank as the letter tugged down. That was when I heard Hans.
I felt relieved at first. Surely he had survived! His more embarrassing affectations aside, he remained amongst my inner circle since he reached majority in the late ’50s. I called out to him. He manifested.
A shade. Nothing more. The man was trying, but he hadn’t deserved death.
“Hans,” I said, and gave him a nod.
“Do you remember what happened?”
He gave a brief rundown of his last moments, and then added: “I miss Elsa. Where is Elsa?”
I glanced at the parchment, tugging insistently at the floor. “There,” I said, gesturing towards the floor. I mistook the pain on his face for simply the death of Elsa Ritter, but there was more. I tucked the detail away for later analysis.
“What are you waiting for,” he said. “Get her out!”
I settled down to perform an inelegant earth-moving ritual, the reverse of a spell I’d used far too often.
Minutes later, as sweat beaded on my brow, decay’s reek greeted me as I breached the mass tomb. The sight stirred memories. Memories of a man I wasn’t. Memories I desperately wished would remain dormant, until the day I died.
I covered my nose with a handkerchief and averted my gaze. The wrecked meat that had been Hans, Elsa, and Sam, my driver and the two women I’d grown to regard as lieutenants, lay down there. Little comfort that they suffered only briefly.
“Get her out from there,” Hans insisted again.
I found myself at a loss. Though in youth I’d cut my teeth purging the Black Forest of necromancers, I’d never actually interacted with ghosts that weren’t actively looking to repurpose my face as leather for its Masters’ jackboots.
I called Manuel. A real Voodoo holy man, he’d know what to do. An hour later, I’d picked him up and returned.
“You got a Veil?” Manuel asked. His eyes flickered back and forth. “No good, me being ’round an active crime scene.” I felt for him. No more prison for you, Manny. Not as I live and breathe.
“Manuel and Kasimir, entering as spectators.” The spell construct wobbled like a bowl of Jello before I snapped it down into place. My Evocations hadn’t recovered after The War.
Inside, Manuel regarded the excavation.
“So, you want to talk to them?” he asked.
I felt my throat tighten. “What would I say?”
“I miss Elsa,” Hans interjected.
I missed her too.
Manuel shone his flashlight down into the hole, then scrutinized my face. “How many bodies’re in there?”
“Three,” I said automatically, before my eyes followed the beam all the way down. A whole lot more than three bodies shared that grave, all in varying states of decay. And right under Hans’s room. I felt my gorge rise as Manuel turned to our ghostly companion.
“Hans? Who else is down there?”
“Elsa and Sam. Get them out.”
“Who else, Hans?”
“No one important,” the ghost responded.
“Hans, who were they?” Manuel asked. I felt myself suddenly not wanting to know. Not wanting to hear this. Hans’ shade cared little for my squeamishness.
“We brought Elsa up right. I had to protect my little girl. And she was busy. She did well.”
I felt tears sting my eyes as the postmodern world faded.
Winter 1942. Chelmno Extermination Camp, Nazi-Occupied Poland.
“Behind you,” I yelled. Riley ducked. I shot left-handed and got lucky. The guard’s brains sprayed the utilitarian concrete. Lanzettenblatt’s ice-hot fury shielded me from the stranger’s psychic death-scream.
“So much for stealth,” Riley said with a smirk, and brushed a bit of dust from my cheek.
I scowled back. “Master, do you forget why we’re here?” I felt little but Lanzettenblatt’s anger, crooning in my ears.
Riley’s affection turned to spurned fury, and then immediately softened. “Stiff upper lip. The part that’s hurting. Break it off. Hurt won’t let you think clearly.”
I broke gazes with my mentor, took a deep breath, walled off the part of me worried about my wife and boys. I returned his gaze once I’d mastered myself and knuckled his shoulder. “Right then, let’s go.”
Riley glanced down at my white-knuckled grip around Lanzettenblatt. “Kass, after this, we need to talk about that weapon…”
“After,” I replied.
We wove between the buildings, eventually losing our mortal pursuers. A foreboding pall hung over the whole area, making it difficult to see ahead as Riley used one of my wife’s earrings to track her whereabouts. It led us behind the meager residences, out into a blasted area still within the fences. A sudden stench assailed us and we both recoiled.
That moment cost. Glowing blue runes arced around us in a circle just as a cacophony of guns clicked. Ambushed.
“Well, well,” gloated an Aryan poster-child commandant. “Allied intruders? Here I was expected the Bears.”
“Ah, Helmut,” Riley said. “Good to see you again. Up to your old tricks, I take it?” He gestured cavalierly towards the circle we shared with the corpses.
“New ones,” Helmut said, gloating. “You White Councillors, always so gull—”
I struck without warning, electric from Lanzettenblatt’s infinite capacitor. The bolt pierced the circle and slammed into Helmut. I did it four more times, just to be sure. Necromancers can’t be killed too hard.
A weave of air propelled my voice to Helmut’s cronies. “I am Reichsgraf Kasimir von Eisenberg. Disarm. Sit opposite the pit from us. Keep hands visible. Do so, and you may live.” I gestured towards Helmut’s smoldering body. “Care to guess what your other choice is?”
“God above, Kass. You killed him. You broke the First Law.”
“I’d go that far for them, but ask yourself. Is a necromancer still human?”
My eyes narrowed. “You a Warden now?”
“Apprentice, these things, they. are. not. done.”
Helmut’s scorched remains scrabbled at the dirt, then righted itself. Riley turned and emptied his revolver into the necromancer.
“No Lawbreaking there,” I observed. I didn’t get the Laws, but I obeyed them. At least… I had. I felt out Lanzettenblatt: its satisfaction after blasting Helmut, its anticipation of more violence. I grew uneasy.
Riley shrugged. “No harm, no foul. But remember, we’re better than shit like him.”
“Did you lose the tracking spell?”
Riley followed the earring. Followed it down into the pit. My stomach lurched. Steel flashed amongst the guards. I heard a bang. Riley fell, rich red blood spurting from a chest-wound. I reacted, too late, with an air evocation slamming into the guard’s chest.
Riley’s eyes were already glazing over. The earring fell from his hand and rolled, settling by a decomposing woman. It took me several breaths to recognize her. I felt Lanzettenblatt thrumming in my grip. The urge to kill nearly unmade me.
“No Lawbreaking today,” I murmured and marginally relaxed my grip on Lanzettenblatt. Louder, I growled out, “Who did this?”
“Who did this?” I yelled louder, gesturing at the pit.
One of the guards balked at me. “We… we were just following orders…!”
“Cogo! Calligo!” I spat. The guards crunched together, and as I dragged my gripped left fist towards me, they fell into the pit.
“Adhuc,” I intoned, and they were bound still.
I repurposed Helmut’s circle, and then re-empowered it. Bent stone to my will. The earth swallowed the too-obedient soldiers and their victims alike, leaving nothing to indicate their passing. I only stopped once I’d reinforced the stone to my exacting standards.
In due time, Science did Magic’s dirty work for it.
I shook my head, clearing away the unwanted memories and an even more unwanted bout of nausea. Protein spill on the crime scene. No, thanks!
“Could you at least get my bones out?” Hans pleaded.
Manuel said something about active crime scenes, something that made good sense.
“Too big of a risk,” I seconded, and, with that too well-practice spell, sealed the grave. Let the lion lay with the lamb and all that. I took savage glee in Hans’ discomfiture. With Manuel’s instruction, I disappeared any traces from the scene. I dropped him off at his place and then returned to Safehouse A.
Home. A first story apartment in Sammamish. Home now. My manor, even were it still standing, would hold nothing but painful memories.
I’d returned home in time for Venture Brothers. I flicked on the TV, which promptly blew out. Right. Hexing. I had maintenance to do…
…and no inclination to do it. I stared at the blank screen, feeling suddenly, inconsolably alone. Everything I’d built since the end of the War, the false comforts I’d contrived. Gone. Not just gone. Slain with memories tarnished beyond repair.
Gah! People! Why fight monsters when people are enough?
I should have known. Hadn’t I seen humanity’s callous depravity not once, but twice in one century? Forget monsters. People suck. If you don’t believe me, just read Youtube comments sometime!
I think, somewhere along the line, I forgot that when I left the hidden world behind, I didn’t leave the darkness in man behind too. And truly if there is evil in this world, it lies in the heart of man.
Where’d I go and put that scotch?