Dan paused at the entrance to the cold room. He hadn’t signed up for this. He’d been fascinated and desperate and perhaps this magic would give him the status that he had craved as a seventeen year old, scrawny, hopeless kid. He never thought that those vague pamphlets would lead him here, looking at a dead woman on a chilled slab with a husk of a man slumped next to her. The withered remains of a wedding bouquet lay on the bed between them. There was such a depth of sorrow here, he could hardly bear it. He jumped as his boss spoke.
“We need a replacement for Mark,” Edragor said. “There’s nothing left of him. He’ll be dead before the next full moon.” He looked thoughtful. “I can dispose of him easily enough, but I may try reanimating Claire. The enchantments I put in place have kept her in perfect condition.”
Dan kept his face blank but he noted the casual way Edragor claimed the enchantments. Dan had been the one to cast them, siphoning the energy from Mark under Edragor’s direction, using spells and enchantments that he had developed but that Edragor knew nothing about. “Won’t it be tricky with all the cancer?” he asked. His research and experiments had been clear – cancer was one place the magic couldn’t go.
Edragor’s mouth twisted. “You’re right,” he said. “We’ll have to dispose of both of them. It’s more important, however, that we find a new keeper of the Orache Stone. I can’t risk it calling to any of our brethren here.” He smiled thinly at Dan. “You are all far too valuable to me. Besides, it seems to call to werewolves.”
“Getting hold of a willing werewolf could be a problem,” Dan said. “Perhaps we could get hold of a stray?”
Edragor tapped his finger against his chin thoughtfully. “That has possibilities, as long as they’re not too degraded. A creature with enough bodily strength to hold the Orache Stone for some time but perhaps not too intelligent,” he said. “We could use someone with a grudge. They would be easy to manipulate.”
“I suppose so,” Dan said, his eyes drawn back to Mark, silent and still next to the remains of Claire.
“You mustn’t get too attached to them,” Edragor said. “I’ve already had to teach you that with the rats.”
“I suppose so,” Dan said. Some of the experiments with the rats had been… He pushed the thoughts back. He could simulate most of it on his computer these days. “But where are you going to find a stray?”
Edragor’s smile widened. “I think I may have a good candidate,” he said. “It’s a tactic not without risk, but I think worth taking a chance.”
“Are you sure that they’ll take the Orache Stone?” Dan asked.
“I don’t think many could resist it,” Edragor said. “That’s why access to here is so limited. I can’t risk too many people close to the thing.” He looked hungrily over to the stone in Mark’s hands. “The power is amazing…” His fingers clenched on the doorframe for a moment before he took a deep breath. “We are getting closer to controlling the dead. We should have a practice run on Halloween before the full attempt on the eve of the Winter Solstice.” His fingers tapped on the frame of the door. “I’ll arrange for some fresh bodies for Halloween.”
“We don’t have long,” Dan said quietly. “And I’m not sure about all of the wards.”
Edragor waved a dismissive hand. “The power we can channel will hold anything,” he said. “You concentrate on those wards and I’ll sort out the new Orache Stone holder and I’ll keep a watch on the morgues for good candidates.” He turned and strode away.
Dan shivered from more than the cold from the room. He didn’t want to do this but he had seen what Edragor had done to those who had tried to leave before. For a moment he leaned against the door, exhausted, before pushing himself away and dragging himself back to his computer. At least for now he could stick to the simulations.
Lord Marius paced in his council chamber. As it reflected his mood, it currently looked like a Victorian gentleman’s club that had just been raided. Persian rugs were bundled in corners away from the gleaming parquet flooring and several of the rich leather chairs were upturned. A long scratch ran along the polished mahogany table and the picture of Queen Victoria was crooked over the cold fireplace. “This is insupportable!”
Phil lounged on one of the surviving armchairs. “We need to find Mark.”
“And none of the sorcerers are getting through,” Steve said as he stood near the fireplace. “Edragor was always tricky. Now he has the stone and it’s impossible.” He looked over to where Bron was sitting. “But I don’t think Bron would make a good tether.”
“I’m glad to hear that,” Bron said.
Lord Marius shot a speculative glance at him. “We could conjure your spirit into a gem and use that as a tether.”
“No you couldn’t,” Bron said flatly.
“We could get you to try scrying,” Steve said.
“Nope, I’m not doing that either,” Bron said. “That last thing a paladin needs is to open themselves up to influences. It makes you easier to attack.”
“That is true,” Lord Marius said. He frowned. “How about other things that were buried with you? We could go back to your grave and look. That would have to be worth an attempt.”
“If anything’s survived,” Steve said doubtfully. “And if someone took the Orache Stone then they may have already taken whatever else survived.”
“That’s true,” Phil said. “I’ve heard a lot of people talking about finding stuff in fields and selling them online. And if it was one of the strays from Otley, they would have sold anything as quickly as possible.” He looked at Bron. “Can you remember what you were buried with?”
Bron stared at him. “I wasn’t there, at least, not in spirit,” he said. He nodded at Lord Marius. “His lordship might remember, though.”
“It was a few centuries ago,” Lord Marius said, frowning. “It’s hard to think that far back. It was a good funeral feast, Bron, and you would have been comforted by how many missed you.”
Bron shrugged. “It seems like only a few months ago to me,” he said with uncharacteristic softness. “I still miss them.”
“I know an archaeology student,” Phil said. “If you can show us the barrow, they can have a look through and perhaps find something.”
“I know where it is,” Gareth said. “But it’s too late to start out now.”
Phil shook his head. “It freaks me out every time,” he said.
“We’re going to have to go at night,” Steve said. “There are laws about digging up ancient burials.”
“I should hope so,” Bron said. “There’s an evil in grave robbing.”
“I can make some sort of glamour so no-one spots us,” Steve said. “But we had better go when it’s quiet.”
“I’m not sure that the archaeology student will understand,” Phil said. “I’ll have to have a word.”
“Let me speak to them,” Lord Marius said. “I have a way with words.”
“You can’t just threaten them,” Bron said.
“No such thing,” Lord Marius said. “But I can promise them a place on some very promising excavations. I have a few contacts.”
Bron looked at him suspiciously but nodded. “And while you are not threatening someone or making them risk their future, I’ll have a word with Fang’s old friends at the Iron Sickle,” he said. “There may be some offerings that they haven’t sold yet which we could use.” He frowned. “Does the effect wear off if they’re kept jumbled up with stuff?”
“Normally yes,” Steve said. “But this is the Orache Stone. Its effects are not going to fade easily.”
“Good,” Lord Marius said. “Phil, you may take me to this student now.” He frowned. “We can’t delay until Halloween. We can’t risk the potential influences.”
“The sooner we start, the sooner we finish,” Bron said, standing. “I’ll get back to the Iron Sickle now.”
“And I’ll get back to my work,” Steve said. “We can’t risk mistakes and we’ve no time to lose.”
You can read the story from the beginning here