It was supposed to be a simple in and out job. One posh dinner, then we were scot free. Protect one itsy-bitsy Senator for one tiny evening so he could show off that he could afford to hire such excellent security. I was the best money could buy after all, not to toot my own horn. Toot toot. Oh and there was my partner, Sascha Luka Pripyat, too. He was okay despite his stunning social aversion. Really would a little human interaction kill him? How were we to know that this itsy-bitsy Senator had ripped off a biker gang of werebears? Security breach. Bully for us. No one had planned for the shapeshifter thug life to get involved, nor on such tasteless decor. Okay, so perhaps one was slightly worst than the other. One, I had the power to change.
“Pink and brown, Senator Keigel? How very…Neapolitan of you.”
My morose partner rolled lavender eyes at me from behind his thin, tasteful bifocals and the hulk of a man standing guard at my back shoved me irritably. No one seemed to appreciate my humor anymore. Wit was going extinct. Werebears just could not take a joke. Sascha, at least, could be excused. Necromancers were notorious for their lack of funny bones. They had distinctly unfunny bones.
“Shut your trap, human, or your girly friend here gets his caved in!”
It came from the smallest, but rather more foul tempered of the six, snarled threateningly, shaking Sascha none too gently. Unfortunately for him I wasn’t threatened. My accomplice didn’t look terribly afraid either, only insulted at the slight to his waifish frame. Girly? I’d have to remember that one.
The Senator looked like he was going to soil himself at any moment. Shouldn’t you be made of sterner stuff if you planned to shaft a group of people that can literally eat you for breakfast? This was the sort of spineless jellyfish they wanted in office right now? His office chair probably gave him nightmares. Stealing from the were-mob must be giving him conniption fits. Maybe I should run for office. A monkey would be better than these weak-willed politicians. Ignoring the set of serrated, lethal claws aimed at Sascha’s exposed throat, I gave him a bright grin.
“Sascha, when we get our of here, call me Mr. President.”
My reward was a flat, disdainful eye.
“I am not encouraging your blatant delusions of grandeur, Eliann.”
“I love it when you say my name.”
He could only shake his head at me incredulously. Contrary to our playful banter, I knew that, just as I was, the Necromancer was assessing the potential exits and enemies. The remainder of the party guests had been locked in the drawing room without phones or technology to alert the authorities. No aid would come from that front. Behind Sascha, the werebear’s leader, a rogue that had identified himself only by the name Tolson, was whispering conspiratorially with two of his tattooed gargantuan partners in crime. They did not look like happy Care Bears. They looked more like gang bangers to me.
The whole crew wore leather and riding jackets like they were going out of style. They were all cut from the same biker chic, aggravated assault cloth, as if they were all inter-related Deep Deep South style. I don’t think it was possible to get more stereotypical. I told them so and earned a shove to the ground for my troubles. It also attracted Tolson’s attentions. He approached with a snarl of sharpened teeth and ferocity. Our ill-tempered captors had apparently reached their witty banter limit. I simply was not appreciated in this day and age.
“Enough!” He spat out through lengthened canines, muddy brown eyes glaring down at our kneeling positions on the hard marble of the Senator’s dining room.
Tolson rumble up with all of the grace and discretion of a boulder through a china shop. He was an obscenely large man, as if his genetics held some mix of Hell’s Angel and ogre. His hair and beard covered him with the entirety of a Muslim woman’s burka, a dark, curling cowl. The skin visible through the mass was like tanned leather, dark and pockmarked, as if the sun had slapped him with a UV stick. He had arms and legs like tree trunks squeezed into a torn, filthy duster ad motorcycle leather. Tattoos covered his massive arms, just as they did his subordinates. I swear, ink was like a uniform to these people.
Caution: Seriously bad dude.
It was pretty amusing actually. What wasn’t a laughing matter was, I suppose in an effort to take the salt out of the room, he reared back and delivered a large meaty, closed-fisted right hook to the side of Sascha’s head. I watched it come as if in slow motion. I watched Sascha, ever calculating and scanning the room, never see it come from behind. There was a thick cracking sound, wet like crushing an egg in your hand. His glasses flew forward, the subsequent crack against the marble sounding as loud as a gunshot in the silence. My partner dropped to the ground without preamble or sound of discontent. The room fell silent and, suddenly, all I could hear was the rushing of blood in my ears. The horror was true and heavy in my chest, it felt like lead on my stomach. I took a deep breath, a stuttering shaking exclamation of life that my friend was no longer making himself. The smell of blood was permeating the air. Just like that, Tolson had kept his underling’s word. He had caved the Necromancer’s head in.
I turned my eyes away from Sascha’s dead body, all jokes falling away from my tongue, swallowing them all back like bile. I wasn’t much in the mood for humor anymore. Not when his fist was smeared with my colleague’s blood and brain matter littered the floor as so much refuse.
“You really shouldn’t have done that.”
Tolson released a large booming laugh from deep within his chest, an unrestrained roar of humor bursting forth from the enormous figure. He brought his fist up to lick away the blood there.
“Oh? What are you going to do about it, tiny human?”
He really had no idea who he was dealing with, huh? Shame. I released a button on a metal guard on my wrist, discharging a small, metal disk into my hand where it had been oh-so-cleverly concealed up my sleeve. The miniscule machine was no bigger than my palm and as thick as my thumb. It vibrated against my skin at the touch. A hiss began to come in and out in my mind, like barely perceptible static, moving on a tide. I fought against the frown wavering on my brow.
‘Not yet. Wait.’
‘The liche-born. Use the liche-born.’
I shook my head to clear the static and the voices of those long gone receded. They shouldn’t be there. The blocks on my mind should have kept them out. I shouldn’t have been able to hear them at all, but I couldn’t be bothered with it then. There was too much to focus on at the moment. Like I needed any more distractions. A set of wicked claws at my throat was plenty. I had to refocus. Perspective.
“He won’t like it.” My voice was even and flat.
I couldn’t look at the corpse that use to be my friend. It was too much. I didn’t care how many violent deaths I saw in life, it never got easier to swallow, easier to stomach. You couldn’t let it get easier. Once you allowed that numbness to creep in, you were already half-way down the road to becoming one of the monsters yourself. In a world where fairytale and mythical creatures were the reality, the boundary between altruism and depravity was still as convoluted as it ever was. Like the quivering excuse for a Senator over there. A thief hires us with stolen money to protect him from the thieves he stole from. Just like Tolson, who hadn’t bothered to kill the hired help, us, to begin with because he thought himself so much better and superior than humans. Bad idea, chump. It was a mixed up, merry-go-round world we lived in.
Tolson’s smirk dissolved, his face warping into an animalistic snarl of fury. As if I were a naughty, errant kitten, the shifter seized me by the rather expensive front of my shirt, dangling me in the the air ad thoroughly wrinkling my fine tailored oxford.
“Let’s have the truth out of you, scum! You working for this maggot, gettin’ a cut of our money to protect his soft hide? Tell me and maybe I won’t have my boys here eat pieces of you.” Spittle flew from his mouth as he shouted in my face, getting caught in the course hairs of his beard.
He should really consider a shave. The thing was like an animal living on his face. There was no way that mass was sanitary.
“I work for myself. Myself-employed, if you will, and let me tell you, I don’t appreciate you breaking my employees. Good help is hard to come by and I’m sure he appreciates it even less.”
The disk hidden behind my back latched open one sharp, spindly leg and began making quick work of the rope that held my arms wrenched behind my back. Rope? Really? This was 2013, could they not have sprung for handcuffs? These guys needed to go back to criminal college and learn their ABC’s. Assault, battery, cuffs. Simple. A bloody figure was sitting up slowly off of the white polished marble floor, his back bowed as if in offering to the world around him and the spirit of vengeance that was surely about to break free.
“You would be correct.”
A sick crunching noise filled the air and I was privy to a sight rare few had the opportunity or displeasure to share. Sascha was sitting up on his own and the gruesome mess that had been the side of his head was open, a chunk of brain matter was laying on his shoulder. Hooray for preternatural strength. It moved. Suddenly, it was as if the lethal injury was working in reverse. Shards of skull and brain bits began to wiggle and slink back toward him, inching across the floor like demented worms. The piece on his shoulder had already begun sliding back up his neck. One of the Werebears made a pitiful sound of disgust. The acrid scent of vomit soon joined the smell of blood.
Where his head had been crushed in began to reinflate as if it were a grotesque child’s balloon. Tolson looked as if he had swallowed a lemon. It wasn’t everyday that your murder victims sat up to get cold-hearted revenge upon you. Sascha’s eyes had faded from the lavender to a jaundiced yellow-white. They would remain so until his body’s needs had been replenished in one way or another.
“Talk about pulling yourself together, Pripyat.”
My resurrected employee gave me a baleful expression. His only response was to open his mouth and allow the blood that had collected there to fall out over his front. Show off. My bonds snapped and I stood, not bothering to worry about our supposed “kidnappers”. They were too focused on the ex-corpse now picking himself up off the floor in their midst.
“Cease and desist your prattling. Cameras?”
I gave him a small smile, holding the mechanical disk up for everyone to see, flat in my hand. Eight thin, spider-like legs popped out without moment’s notice and a small, dark interface screen buzzed on, an excitable trill emitting from the thing. The tiny screen showed two digital eyes that peered out at them all, even blinking every few moments. The strange combination of spider, crab and machine crawled quickly as a lizard up my arm, making happy little pops, clicks and whizzing sounds. My best creation to date.
“You know I like it when you’re demanding. Makes me feel all tingly on the inside. Java had them down ages ago.”
Sascha’s blood coated mouth broke into a slow toothy grin, a grisly image straight out of a horror movie.