The Impossible Wizard: Chapter 22
If you ended up here before reading the earlier chapters, you can return to Chapter 1 here
Lady Raven stretched and got up off her couch. For the past ten days, since Terra and Detective Chang had discovered her box in the warehouse, Lady Raven had been going from one hiding place to the next, setting additional wards and preparing guardians. It seemed next to impossible that the hiding places would be discovered, but if they were whoever found them would regret it.
There was one more matter to attend to. While her apartment was comfortable and secure for the moment, she couldn’t discount the possibility of her enemies learning about it. If they did it simply wasn’t possible to protect it the way she’d like, at least not without drawing attention that she didn’t want. She needed a secure fortress she could retreat to when the time came to activate the ritual. Somewhere her enemies wouldn’t dream of trying to breach.
She had a location in mind and nearly a year to prepare. However, before she’d fully warded it the building remained vulnerable. Guardians would be necessary for the first month or two, then as a second line of defense. The multiple failures of her shadow beasts had demonstrated their limits in the starkest terms, especially when it came to sunlight.
If she eliminated that weakness, their power was beyond question. What they needed was a shell to protect them from the weakening rays of the sun, and Lady Raven knew exactly where to find such hosts.
She shrugged on her black robe and chanted, “Reveal the way through infinite darkness. Open the path. Hell Portal!” A black disk appeared in the air before her. Lady Raven stepped through it and into the borderland between the mortal realm and Hell. Time had no meaning in this in-between place and distance was simply a matter of will.
With her destination firmly in mind Lady Raven called the name of a demon she knew. A black-winged monster appeared out of the darkness and carried her to her destination. She spoke the spell again and emerged in a darkened corner outside the government building.
It was late and the sky moonless. No figures stirred in the night. Her former place of employment would be empty, but Lady Raven had a different destination. An invisibility spell hid her from anyone she might encounter as she made her way to the city offices. In the basement of that building was the morgue where unclaimed bodies awaited cremation.
There should be a handful of night watchmen patrolling the grounds, not that mere men would have any chance of stopping her, even if they could see her. Five minutes later brought her to her destination. While the guards weren’t an issue, the wards protecting the building were another matter. The moment she stepped through the doors her invisibility would be stripped away. Worse, she couldn’t open a portal inside either.
She smiled. If there weren’t challenges what was the point of doing something? She marched up the steps and stopped in front of the glass doors. Inside, a single guard sat with his chair leaning back against the wall, his feet up on a hard wooden bench.
Lady Raven knew the security routine as well as anyone who had ever worked there. Assuming they hadn’t changed anything, another three guards should be patrolling the other floors while this fool guarded the lobby. In reality they were probably all holed up somewhere napping. That’s what happened when you hired minimum wage workers to protect your property. As long as she made it past the first man without raising a ruckus the rest would be easy.
A hard rap on the glass got the guard to spring to his feet. He stared at the entrance, but of course couldn’t see her. He narrowed his eyes then rubbed them, as if that would make any difference.
Come on, you great buffoon, come investigate.
The guard shrugged and started to settle back in. Lazy, useless excuse for a guard. She thumped the glass again, harder this time. He whirled around and stared again. Finally he pulled his flashlight and started for the doors.
Lady Raven chanted, “Your life is mine.” Her hand crackled with necromantic energy as she stepped aside to avoid bumping into him.
The guard unlocked the doors and stepped outside. He waved his flashlight this way and that, trying in vain to figure out what had made the noise. He was a young man, barely older than Conryu.
When he turned back toward the doors she reached out and grasped the back of his neck. The dark energy flowed out of her hand and into his head. Flesh withered and rotted, leaving nothing but a skull sitting atop his broad shoulders.
The guard collapsed and she left him where he lay, stepping over his body and through the now-unlocked doors. Her skin tingled as her invisibility spell was negated. Lady Raven marched through the empty lobby, her hard heels clicking on the tile floor. She went straight to the elevator and rode it one floor down to the basement.
The elevator chimed and the doors slid open revealing a fully equipped surgical suite. The overwhelming scent of disinfectant mingled with a hint of blood. It appeared someone had just cleaned. She hoped her former servants were in good enough condition to house the shadow spirits.
Beyond the operating room was the morgue. Dozens of niches sealed by stainless steel doors covered the back and side walls. She brushed aside the hanging plastic barrier and went straight to the rear wall. A quick scan of the labels revealed the Skulls’ resting place.
Lady Raven gestured and spoke a word. Five doors opened and the slabs slid out revealing the pale, tattoo-covered bodies of her former servants. Each of their torsos sported a stitched up Y incision. Two of them had nasty burns covering their arms and back and a different pair was riddled with bullet holes.
They made an especially unattractive group of potential servants, not that they’d been much more appealing while still alive. Still, the corpses were sufficiently intact to serve as hosts for her Faceless Ones and nothing else mattered.
Lady Raven began the summoning spell. “Spirits of death and darkness, faceless foes of the living, appear and serve me.”
The already chill air dropped another twenty degrees as she tapped the corrupt energy of the netherworld. Her spell reached a crescendo and five humanoid figures made of living darkness appeared above the corpses. The Faceless Ones oozed into the bodies, filling every pore and orifice until it appeared the bodies had been dipped in an oil slick.
Slowly the nether spirits worked their way into their new hosts. All around her the other niches began to rattle. One door popped open and a foot emerged. Like a sort of bizarre birth, a mindless zombie worked its way free of the narrow slot. In short order a second and third emerged, animated by the residual energy of her summoning spell.
These weak, stupid creatures were of no use to her beyond the annoyance they’d cause her enemies when they came to work in the morning. A simple command spoken in Infernal sent the newly made zombies out of the morgue and out of her way. They’d shamble around in the basement, maybe a few would find the stairs and work their way up, following the scent of the guards patrolling the upper floors.
Before the Faceless Ones finished integrating with their hosts twenty of the lesser zombies had shuffled out of the morgue. The clumsy things sent tools crashing to the floor in the surgical area as they made their way out.
When the last of the crashes sounded and the moans had faded to nothing, Lady Raven checked on the progress of her guardians. The black essence of the Faceless Ones had sunk fully into the bikers’ bodies. The wounds had sealed, leaving the flesh smooth and free of punctures. This wasn’t done for aesthetic reasons, but to keep any light from reaching the spirits and potentially weakening them.
The process of entering the flesh would also serve to transform it, making the skin durable enough to withstand bullets and the bones hard enough to survive the impact of a truck. When they reached her soon-to-be fortress Lady Raven would make further improvements to her guardians.
“Rise,” she commanded.
The five once-faceless spirits forced their hosts up off the slabs. Their movements were stiff at first, though already smoother than the zombies. That was to be expected. The spirits had been bodiless for a long time. It would take weeks for them to grow fully used to having a physical form again.
She grimaced at their thoroughly ugly, nude bodies. That would need to be remedied as soon as possible. “Follow me.”
* * *
Orin sat at his desk and held his head in his hands as Adam finished his report. The night before someone had broken into the district office morgue and raised all the bodies inside. The undead had proceed to kill the four night watchmen and a handful of employees before the security forces were called in to destroy them. They’d gotten lucky in that the creatures were among the weakest sort of undead and required only a bullet to the head to put them down permanently.
“So that’s it,” Adam said. “Five bodies are still unaccounted for. We’ve searched the whole building so our working assumption is that whoever made the zombies took the bikers’ bodies away with them.”
Orin looked up. “You mean she, not they. Can there be any real doubt that Mercia is behind this?”
“I agree that she’s the most likely suspect, but since we have no proof it’s still speculation. Do you have any further orders?”
He sighed and shook his head. “Not for the moment. Though we’ll certainly want to increase our patrols and make sure no one walks their route alone.”
“I already made the adjustment to the schedules. If there’s nothing else I’m going to make a final inspection of the building so everyone can return to work.”
Orin motioned him out. When did his life get so complicated? It didn’t seem that long ago that his biggest worry was Maria getting another ear infection. Now he had the first male wizard to deal with, a deranged former employee breaking in and stealing bodies, and his little girl going off to college in five weeks.
He rested his head on the cool wood of his desk and sighed. That felt good.
The door opened and he looked up to find Terra striding toward him, looking grimmer than usual. She stopped in front of his desk and leaned forward. “I found where she opened a portal. There were footprints in the grass leading up to it.”
“When did you become a tracker?”
“The tracks killed the grass right down to bare dirt. A blind person could have followed them.”
“Fascinating, but I hardly think dead grass is our biggest concern right now.”
“Then you’re mistaken.” Terra’s scowl deepened. “Whatever Mercia transformed the bikers into has a powerful enough dark aura their presence alone was enough to kill the grass. That means they’re also strong enough to drain the life from a person and there are five of them god only knows where out there.”
Orin rubbed his face and swallowed another sigh. “What do you propose we do about it?”
Terra’s expression softened. “I’ve been thinking about that ever since I found the tracks. The truth is I have no idea.”
“That’s not what I was hoping to hear from my chief researcher. Speaking of which, have you made any progress on the box?”
“I understand the function of the box itself. It was designed to hold something, hiding its aura until a specific condition caused it to open. In this case the spell has been modified so only a specific individual would be able to open it. I assume the missing boxes retain the initial enchantment.”
“Does any of that help us?”
Orin thumped his head on the table. Of course it didn’t. This summer had been a comedy of errors, why should it change now? They just needed a tiny bit of luck and it would break everything open, he knew it in his bones. Luck, unfortunately, had been in short supply.