Necromancer’s Birthday Surprise
By SJ Himes
Angel huffed out a breath, watching as it fogged up before dissipating into the cold spring night air. The cemetery was quiet, and his breathing and the scuffing of his boots on the stone mausoleum’s roof traveled farther than was wiser considering his errand that night. It was also way too bright, the moon full overhead, not a cloud in the sky, the stars almost as bright as the moon, illuminating the whole of the graveyard. So Angel decided he would be in plain sight, but hidden—and as long as he waited until his quarry was in range and in the act before leaving his perch, he would remain invisible behind his spells.
For the last two weeks, cemeteries around the greater Boston areas and surrounding burbs had been visited by grave robbers, digging up the recently deceased and taking everything from jewelry, clothing, and even organs. The last part was what made BPD finally call Angel, Detective O’Malley briefing him with a look of disgust on his face and confusion in his eyes.
“We’ve got 20 bodies desecrated, Angel, and no leads,” O’Malley had grumbled to him yesterday morning when he stopped by Angel’s studio, file an inch thick in his hands. The detective looked frumpier than usual, his red hair lightened by strands of gray and the lines on his face seeming to be deeper, etched by exhaustion instead of age. “I’m at a loss about what to do—and I finally figured if we couldn’t track the stolen goods, we’d follow the stolen organs. But that was a bust as well, and now I need you.”
It wasn’t a bad idea, considering. Most grave robbers went after what the dead were buried with—as Angel was a sorcerer, and his people cremated their deceased, he was still floored by normal humans burying their dead with valuables and mementos. Since the cops couldn’t track the sale of the stolen goods, that either meant the thieves weren’t selling them yet, or the goods weren’t taken for monetary gain. Along with the stolen organs, Angel had a theory—ghost calling.
It was a cruel, harsh, and complicated process, but boiled down to its essential pieces it meant pulling a departed soul back from the Other Side. Then it was anchored to an item that soul had a connection to as a mortal—like a favored watch or wedding ring—and then using the summoned spirit for some task. Historically, that meant revenge hauntings, guards for territory or homes where a ghostly warden would scare intruders off, even as spies.
In the modern era, it involved stolen identities and password theft. In the days and early weeks after death, unless the deceased had a definite plan for closing and freezing financial accounts after death, rarely did anyone handling the affairs of the departed think to change passwords or financial access codes. Angel’s theory was that the organs were used to in the spells to call up the ghosts, the items to anchor them on this plane, and then the information forced from the returned souls was used to rob the dead and their families.
Angel sighed, wishing he had thought ahead and brought something to sit on, but his desire to get out of the apartment for a night alone had overwhelmed his better sense. Angel came prepared for almost anything, and his traps were set around the two most recent graves in the cemetery, ready to go with a thought. This cemetery was one of the first to be hit, so the police had discounted it, but a car accident several days prior that killed an elderly and wealthy married couple had to be too much temptation for the thieves. At least in Angel’s opinion. The police were on a stakeout at a few other cemeteries, but Angel was sure tonight, this cemetery, and these graves were too prime of a target for the culprits to pass up.
And Angel wanted, no needed, to get out of the apartment. Isaac was skulking about like a wraith, though his little brother was hardly dead, just not quite alive. He was still grieving for his boyfriend, killed five months before by a rogue vampire. And Daniel, his apprentice, was the type to hover around Angel as if afraid Angel would disappear if Daniel let him out of his sight for longer than a minute.
And Simeon, his lover, the vampire Elder, was busy at the Tower, handling clan matters for The Master. And while Angel loved Simeon more than he had ever loved anyone or anything before, he needed to be alone. Especially tonight.
It was his birthday tomorrow, and he would be thirty years old. And he felt ancient. He hadn’t had a happy birthday in over a decade and didn’t know how to handle having one now.
A sharp chirp came from above, and the familiar flapping of wings warned him he had company. Eroch came winging in from above, slipping through Angel’s illusion of a bare roof to the mausoleum, and landed on his shoulder. Angel held still while Eroch pulled his wings in, the tiny dragon chattering up a storm, poking at Angel’s cheek with his snout, sniffing in his face. Eroch sounded annoyed and affectionate at the same time, probably scolding him for leaving the apartment without him when he left for the cemetery.
“Shhh, I’m trying to catch bad guys,” Angel whispered, scratching under the dragon’s chin, Eroch purring like a cat. The little dragon was the size of a housecat, with mannerisms to match, but he was sentient and as smart a human. More intelligent, some days. “Think we’ll catch them?”
Eroch chirped, and Angel chuckled. “I think so, too, my wee beastie. Won’t the cops be happy I got the bad guys first?” Eroch tipped his head, yellow eyes flashing, and Angel grinned. “No, I didn’t think so either. At least, O’Malley won’t mind all that much.”
Angel shifted, his ass numb, glad the dragon took it upon himself to find Angel. The dragon was his familiar though Angel had yet to use the wee beastie in that manner. It smacked too much of ownership, and he wasn’t comfortable making Eroch serve that purpose, no matter that the dragon apparently decided he would be doing so on his own. The tiny dragon gave off a surprising amount of heat, warming Angel even through his weather-proof sweater. Eroch draped himself over Angel’s shoulders, head on one shoulder, tail hanging down Angel’s opposite arm like a living shawl. He had to deal with a wing messing with the hair on the back of his head, but he was used to it by now. Eroch hung on him all the time unless the wee beastie was begging for scraps from someone’s plate.
The wind picked up, whistling through the cemetery, the headstones almost glowing from the silver light from the moon, and Angel felt cold. Colder than he should be wearing a dragon and a magicked weather-proof sweater, but it wasn’t the wind that chilled him to his bones.
A sound that wasn’t the wind moaned long and low, seeming to echo off the stones upon which Angel sat. Careful not to move too much and disturb his illusion of an unoccupied roof, Angel peered through the distant shadows, checking the periphery of the cemetery. Eroch growled from his perch, and Angell agreed with him. Off to the east, near the direction of the groundskeepers’ gates, came a shift in the black, a flicker of light. The moaning rose to a thin wail, the wind carrying it across the full field of graves, and the hairs all along Angel’s body rose in one sweeping realization.
Angel reached for his bag where it was braced behind a statue of an avenging angel, out of reach of the wind, and pulled his athame from its depths, eyes locked on the gravel road that wound its way through the headstones and plots. Figures appeared from the blackness, two walking with an easy gait and carrying what seemed to be shovels, flashlights in hand. The other figures moved with a disjointed pace and pattern that was more a struggling shuffle, bodies bent and twisted as the spells that animated their corpses.
Two men, probably sorcerers and the likely grave robbers, and six zombies.
“Shit, I picked the wrong night to be the Lone Ranger,” Angel muttered to himself, tucking his athame under his belt, and reaching for his bag. The sorcerers and their minions were getting closer, heading for the graves Angel had marked as the likely targets. And once they hit his spell traps, they would know they weren’t alone.
Angel had underestimated his quarry. Expecting it to be a pair or small team of low-ranked practitioners, he had come alone and with minimal supplies. He had expected to catch them in his trap, call the police, and then release them once the cops were on site. He might get lucky and take out some of the zombies, and with enough time he could wrest control of them from the sorcerers, but he was unlikely to get that time. Neither man was a necromancer; he would be able to sense their affinity for death, but they were still sorcerers, and creating zombies was within their reach, especially if they pooled resources, and that made them dangerous.
A buzz and a sharp vibration on his hip made Angel gasp and jump, and he grabbed his cell before it could go off again and give away his position. The group was heading for the fresh graves, and Angel would have only a few minutes before his traps were set off. He glanced at the screen, and answered it, keeping his voice low.
“Good evening, a ghra,” Simeon purred in his ear, sexy as hell and the best thing Angel had heard all night. “Are you ready to celebrate your birthday?”
“Where are you?” Angel whispered, eyeing the group as the sorcerers directed their undead troops, making them shuffle out among the headstones. He ignored the mention of his birthday, as the company he had in the cemetery was more pressing. Two zombies headed in his general direction, and would be able to smell him once they got close enough. His illusion did nothing to prevent his scent from escaping. “Tell me you’re near Heaven’s Gate Cemetery.”
“Angel, did you take that case?” Simeon asked, and Angel could hear the frustration in his lover’s voice.
“I took that case. Yes, I went off on my own. Yes, I am an idiot, and I need to make better life choices. And now instead of a ragtag crew of half-rate wizards, I am looking at two sorcerers and half a dozen zombies. And they are going to know I’m here in less than a minute.”
“I am on my way, Leannán. Stay in one piece until I get there. Ten minutes.”
“You better make it in five,” Angel whispered, clicking off his cell as the two zombies came within a few yards of the mausoleum. Eroch was growling on his shoulder, and Angel tucked his cell away in his pocket just as the two undead below him began to snuffle, their decomposing heads twitching left and right as they detected the presence of living flesh. They wouldn’t attack their masters, not unless the bonds were broken holding them in thrall, and Angel reached out for the cloud of death magic hovering around the zombies.
Shovels digging into cold earth came to his ears, but Angel pushed aside distractions. He had seconds before his traps were set off. The zombies below him finally zeroed in on his location, growling and moaning as they shuffled forward, and Angel threw off caution and reached for the veil, opening a direct line to the maelstrom of infinite energy past the dimensional wall, and sent his will out.
The two sorcerers sensed him at the same time he opened the veil, shouts and deep growls from the other zombies coming just at the moment a shovel triggered his trap. A boom reverberated through the cemetery, the ground rolling and lifting in a wave as the ground beneath one of the sorcerers opened up, and the man fell into a gaping void beneath him. The other sorcerer pointed and yelled something, and the zombies all lost their disjointed pondering walk and raced over the distance between them and angel’s perch.
Angel gained control of the two zombies closet just as the others came scrambling over, and Angel sent them after the sorcerer who hadn’t fallen into his trap. Eroch launched himself from his perch, screeching, and Angel tried to grab the tiny dragon before his familiar dive-bombed the nearest undead.
Angel dropped the illusion, and stood, throwing up a shield between himself and the other sorcerer, just in time to catch a red fireball flung his way. It splattered and hissed when it hit his shields, tails of fire whipping through the air as its remnants fell to the ground. Fingers, crooked into claws tried to find something to grab as the zombies clustered around the base of the stone mausoleum, and Angel cursed his lack of foresight in not taking a higher perch. He’d wanted something he could jump down from, but any minute now that would be his undoing once the zombies figured out how to get up there with him. He could keep them out with a shield, but even with the veil powering him he couldn’t maintain it forever and deal with his opponents.
A roar and a wave of flame arched up from the ground, and Angel stumbled back on the roof, hands up, holding his shields in place as another roar and burst of flame cascaded up and over the gutter. The zombies that had been trying to crawl up the mausoleum disappeared in the fire, and Angel gaped, confused. He heard a shout, and Angel looked up to see the two zombies he’d sent after their former master chasing the sorcerer across the cemetery, the fool screaming, and tossing fireballs at the zombies, but they kept after him.
Angel crept to the edge of the roof, and looked down, but the beast that stood up…and up….and up made him jump and swear. Eroch huffed, a puff of smoke escaping his nostrils, and he tilted his head to the side, staring at Angel from one melon-sized eye. Eroch was huge, no longer his wee beastie, but a dangerous and devastatingly beautiful dragon of ancient lore. Crunching came from beneath Eroch, and Angel looked down to the ground, to see his familiar standing on the crushed and charred remains of a handful of zombies.
“You’re sneaky, little beastie,” Angel murmured with a smile, and he chuckled when Eroch grumbled and shoved his massive head into Angel’s chest, demanding scratches. “You have any more secrets I should be knowing?”
Eroch just sighed and let Angel scratch his scales; the dark emerald green lit up by the moon. And the red and blue of police car lights.
The cops screamed into the cemetery, and Eroch pulled away, hunkering down, and Angel laughed in delight as his familiar shrank rapidly, becoming once again his wee beastie dragon. Eroch chirped and flew up to Angel, who caught him in his arms and hugged him tightly. “I won’t be leaving you behind again, my friend.”
Simeon ran into the cemetery, blurring as he came, following Angel’s scent. Angel had a second to prepare himself before he was whisked off his feet and swept into Simeon’s arms. Simeon jumped, carrying Angel and Eroch to the ground and away, past the cop cars and out to the street. Simeon put them down, hands running over Angel, looking for injuries.
“I’m fine! Simeon, I swear I’m fine,” Angel said, trying to reassure his lover. “No one touched me, and the zombies never got to me.”
“I had faith you could handle yourself a ghra, but I worried none the less,” Simeon said, cupping his face and kissing him deeply, as if he would only believe Angel was unharmed if he examined every minute inch of him, including his tonsils.
Finally, Simeon let him go and hugged him again. Angel snuggled back, watching as the cops swarmed the cemetery. “You got here quickly.”
“I called Detective O’Malley immediately and told him what was going on,” Simeon said, voice rumbling under Angel’s ear. “I wasn’t that far away.”
“Heaven’s Gate Cemetery isn’t on the way home from the Tower,” Angel said, thinking. “What were you doing out this way?”
“Stopping at the 24-hour bakery nearby,” Simeon said, and Angel looked up at him, confused.
“A bakery? But you don’t eat.”
“No, I do not, but you do,” Simeon said with a wicked grin, making Angel peer at him in suspicion.
“What did you do?”
Simeon backed up and blurred away. Angel grumbled, but Simeon returned in less than 15 seconds, a small box in his hands. Angel groaned, and rubbed his face, flushing in embarrassment. “No, please tell me you didn’t…”
“Of course, I did. Turning thirty is a grand occasion, and should be celebrated,” Simeon said with a grin, peeling back the cardboard box’s lid to reveal a giant cupcake. It was a chocolate monstrosity that was covered with a mountain of frosting, sprinkles, and a single unlit candle.
“Says the undead man who’s over 400 years old.” Angel rolled his eyes. “That’s not a cupcake. That’s death by chocolate.”
Eroch chirped in agreement, eyeing the giant cupcake hungrily.
Simeon looked at his watch, and walked over to Angel, kissing him on his cheek. “It’s after midnight. Happy birthday, my love.”
Simone pulled out a lighter and lit the candle, holding the box up toward Angel. He tried to glare, but the love and joy on Simeon’s face were impossible to resist. Angel bent down and blew out the candle, making a wish.
“Now I am a little bit lax on human custom. I should not ask you what you wished for, correct?”
“Well,” Angel said, dipping a finger in the decadent frosting and sucking it off his finger, Simeon’s eyes heating with lust as they tracked his movements. “You can, but you already know what I wished for.”
“I do?” Simeon’s voice was husky and deep, and made Angel shiver.
“It’s something I already have,” Angel teased, going for another lick of frosting.
“What’s that, a ghra?”
Simeon blinked, and bit his lip. The old vampire was usually smooth and sophisticated, always in control, but Angel saw beneath that hard veneer to the real man.
“I love you, Simeon, and you in my life is the best present I could ever ask for,” Angel said, and leaned in, kissing his lover.
Simeon broke the kiss after a moment, and said, “I love you, too.”
“I want another cupcake, though,” Angel said, frowning.
“Why? What’s wrong with…Eroch!”
Angel laughed as the tiny dragon chirped from the box, covered in frosting, his belly fat from eating half the cupcake.