For those just joining us, I have been posting the first few chapters of the book in advance of the book's release this Saturday, October 15th.
This is the third chapter of the book. You can read the Prologue, Chapter One and Chapter Two at the links (There is also a "Secret Prologue" that gives the back story of one of the main antagonists, and is slightly spoilerish if you're interested, and if you're like me, you will be.)
You can also access these excerpts by looking for the words "Chapters" or "Excerpts" under the newly added "Labels" bar to the right.
Today I would like to introduce another main character, Lazlo Moríro.
Every story that has a young hero on an epic journey, and mine has at least two, must have a mentor.
We all know the figure of the ideal mentor in fantasy fiction.
He must be older, he must be wise. He must have a great depth of character and resolute strength that is belied by his gentle, playful and sometimes even mischievous nature. He may be as placid and mysterious as a still pond on the surface, but contain cold fire and raw power beneath. He must contain untold fonts of wisdom.
Like Yoda or Mr. Miyagi, he should be unassuming in his outward appearance, but contain multitudes within.
Like Dumbledore or Gandalf, he may appear mad at first, but it must become clear that only he sees the world as it truly is.
His discipline, though mysterious and difficult, must be tempered by kindness, for the great mentor knows that true power comes not from pride, but from humility, sureness of purpose and being true of heart.
The enigmatic riddles he pronounces to the hero in his training must be obscure to both the hero and the reader in the beginning, but by the end of the hero's journey, they must unfold into the sum of the whole adventure, giving the hero the courage and power to prevail in the end.
I wanted Lazlo Moríro to be that kind of mentor.
Then I realized, crap, writing a character like that is frickin' hard.
So I decided to make him an angry, bitter, arrogant, smug, manipulative, ruthless, condescending, foul-tempered, profanity-spewing Spainard instead.
Hope you like him!
“I’m sorry, sir, but you can’t go in there! It’s restricted!”
The nurse on duty chased after the tall, gaunt man, but he paid her no heed. He pushed right on by her, orderlies and other nurses and though no one had ever seen him before, he seemed to know exactly where he was going.
The nurse had worked a lot of late nights at the ER and was used to dealing with crazies, so she was not about to let this one pass uncontested. She ran through the nurse’s station and practically leaped the reception desk to get out in front of him.
“STOP RIGHT THERE, BUSTER!!” She held her ground in front of him with her hand outstretched, panting slightly. She was small in frame, but she had seen a lot in her twenty-year career in Philly. Seeing that much gave you a spine of steel. “You stop right there or so help me I will call security and they will bust your behind back down to the entrance and right into the back of a waiting police car! Do you understand me?” she said forcefully.
The man finally stopped short of her outstretched hand and evaluated his opponent. Whatever he thought of her, it was clear he decided it was not wise to confront her.
He may have been tall and gaunt with narrow shoulders, but he somehow gave off a presence of authority and strength. His hair was grey and closely cropped, as was his goatee, a middle-aged man, hard to place exactly, but somewhere between 50 and 60. His face was hard, lined with enough maturity to be respectable. He wore a large, olive drab double-breasted army coat with broad lapels and collar with brass buttons. His boots and pants matched the coat –worn-out combat boots and fatigues.
It was all old-fashioned though, like the kind of military surplus from several wars back, yet he appeared too young to be a veteran of any of those wars. The oddest thing about his dress was his top, which was nearly, but not quite, obscured by his coat. It was a faded, black doublet, finely made, in black silk thread and brocade, with an embroidered scarlet dagger on each breast. The cloth of the shoulders and sleeves was slashed to allow a very dark, crimson velvet undergarment to show through. It had once had lace collars and cuffs, but the man had cut those off long ago – perhaps to avoid too much attention. It was the kind of thing someone, a courtier or nobleman, from a distant century might wear, but it didn’t faze the nurse. She had seen far stranger get-ups in her time. She just assumed this loon had come from a thrift store by way of the Renaissance Faire.
The most impressive feature on the man, however, was his eyes. His eyes were black and piercing orbs, deeply set, but sharp, and so dark there was almost no delineation between the pupils and the iris. The eyes and face were imperious and stared you down like you were some insignificant bug, but the gaze wasn’t working on nurse Lafonda this night, so the man softened his gaze and adopted a different tactic with the formidable woman. He looked from side to side and then spoke directly.
“Please…” he said it coldly as if he didn’t mean it, but followed it up with, “I’m looking for a departed…loved one. I know she is here.” He spoke with an odd, affected accent; saying his words carefully, as if they were still new to him.
The nurse lowered her guard somewhat but remained cautious. People can get awfully worked up over death, and she didn’t want any trouble.
“All right,” she said calmly, “if you would like to follow me over to the reception desk maybe we can work this out.”
She walked towards the man who gracefully slid out of the way, bowed at the neck and extended his arm as she passed. He had an overbearing and obsequious manner she didn’t like, but she didn’t want to judge anybody that had just lost someone.
Once behind the desk, she regained a little composure. The strange man stared at her, unblinking.
“Name of the deceased please?”
He paused, took a breath and began, “Margarita Zephorah Candelaria Valda de Vasca y Hoffenstedter Holveda…” and then he paused to speak the last name with particular contempt, “Miller.” He rolled his “R’s” impressively as he spoke. The nurse just raised her eyebrows at him. He continued, “Age 42, Ephrata, Pennsylvania …”
“That will do,” the nurse said putting on her reading glasses. Computer monitors always gave her eyes a hard time.
She clacked away at the computer looking through names and search functions on the screen. The man looked at the computer even more contemptuously than he looked at her.
A few short clicks later and the information was on her screen.
“I’ve got her. Margaret Holveda Miller,” she said somewhat defiantly, “Age 42, Ephrata Pennsylvania. She was airlifted last night. Died en route. The doctor on duty confirmed time of death at 12:34 a.m.”
She looked up at the man and spoke, “I’m sorry.”
The man’s expression didn’t change.
“I need to see her. Immediately.”
“Your name please?” she looked at the man suspiciously over her glasses.
The man narrowed his eyes, but eventually spoke.
“Moríro. Lazlo Moríro. I am the deceased’s…uncle.”
The woman lowered her glasses once more. A few clacks of the keyboard later she looked up.
“I’m not seeing anything here in the way of contact information.” She clacked at the keyboard some more. The man curled his lip in disgust. Finally, she spoke, “I’m sorry, you’re not listed as next of kin. In fact, she has no next of kin listed, and I only have her parents’ names, both deceased, and no uncles.”
“I am her great uncle, and her only…” and here he paused awkwardly for emphasis… “living relative. It is absolutely imperative that I see her. I must know. I must see her for myself.”
The nurse looked at him suspiciously. Technically she should refer him back to the coroner’s office, but they were never strict about the rules down here. If anyone came in emotionally upset by grief and claimed to be a relative or close friend, they generally let them see the deceased. The last thing they wanted was a lawsuit over some distraught relative denied access to a family member because of some bureaucratic oversight. She looked at him again intently. He sure didn’t seem to be grieving, but then people grieved in different ways, and he did know the deceased’s name, and there’s no way he had pulled that out of nowhere or gotten it from the newspapers. Still, there was something she didn’t trust about this guy.
The nurse sighed, took off her glasses and closed her eyes while she pinched the bridge of her nose. She just knew she was going to regret this.
“All right. If you could just wait over there, I’ll have an orderly take you down in a minute.”
The man didn’t budge from that spot until the orderly showed up fifteen minutes later.
“Laaz-lo. Moreeroo?” Tim Riggle, the orderly, a slender young fellow in green scrubs read the name from a notepad and glanced around the waiting room.
Moríro turned slowly to look at him, the way a vulture might look at a dying rabbit.
The orderly gulped.
“If you’ll just follow me, the morgue is down this way,” the orderly gestured for Moríro to follow him, but Moríro just spoke flatly.
Tim Riggle rocked back and forth nervously on his feet. He hated being in the morgue. He had found the chart and pulled out the long metal drawer. Fortunately, the body was still pretty decent looking. Some looked like raw hamburger. This one just looked like a dark-haired woman in her 40s. Not too bad at all; surprisingly good shape for a car accident in fact. He had seen far worse, but it wasn’t the body that was making him nervous this time. It was the guy next to the body. The long army coat was weird enough, but the guy didn’t even look at the woman. That wasn’t so weird, a lot of people had a hard time looking at their dead relatives. Rather, it was the way he didn’t look at her. Most looked numb or on the edge of tears, some were even angry. Instead, this guy just stared at the wall with a look closer to contempt. He had to step back to avoid the glare of the man’s creepy, black eyes. It was far more comfortable staring at the back of the man’s head, but even then, Tim got the feeling he was watching him.
The orderly didn’t like the uncomfortable silences either. Those were common too, but this seemed…oppressive. He was about to say something when the man spoke.
“Excuse me?” Tim nearly fell off his feet when the man spoke. It was a voice like a sepulcher door opening.
“I have not seen her since she was a young woman. Our family was…estranged.”
“Oh…” Tim said softly. Ah…family trouble. Well that explained everything. Family trouble was the worst. That probably explained the weird vibe he was getting from this guy. Tim had a brother he hadn’t spoken to in five years after a blowout over a deep-fried turkey one Thanksgiving – well, a deep-fried turkey, a burned down carport and the ‘68 Caprice that was parked in it at the time.
“Yeah,” Tim began awkwardly, “Pretty sad about the kid too.”
The man didn’t turn around and kept his back to the orderly, but slightly turned his ear in the orderly’s direction.
“Un niño?” the man whispered, and then more flatly, “A child?” the man asked abruptly, as if this was news to him.
“Um, ye-aah,” Tim began, “Her kid. Pretty beat up I heard, but she made it. One of my friends is an EMT on the flight for life. They sent her in to Harrisburg, but the mom got sent here. Pretty rough – get in a car accident and wake up an orphan.”
Tim could have sworn he heard the man’s teeth clench so hard it sounded like he was breaking a molar. Darn it, he had said too much. He was always saying the wrong things at these times.
“Yes…of course,” the man said calmly, “But she is not an orphan. She has me.”
“Oh, no, of course not,” Tim sputtered out flustered. He waited for a second or two and decided to make his escape. “Well, maybe I should…um…give you a moment. I’ll just…I’ll just wait outside.”
After a long pause, the man said simply, “Thank you,” and Tim made his retreat for the double swinging doors. Technically, this wasn’t exactly regulation to leave someone alone with the body, but it happened all the time, and Tim was glad for the opportunity to bolt. Once outside the morgue, he leaned against the double doors and breathed a sigh of relief.
Inside, however, no one was sighing, or even barely breathing. Moríro looked at the body of Margaret Holveda Miller and felt nothing but rage. Suddenly, he slammed the metal drawer that held her body shut and began pacing angrily back and forth. Under his breath, he swore oaths and curses in Spanish, Basque, Catalan, Hungarian and Arabic, and in many infernal unknown tongues as well. He stopped, stiffened and trembling with rage, raised the second knuckle of the index finger on his left hand to his teeth. The knuckle bore the scars of his teeth many times, but it had been a long time since he had bitten it this hard. He gazed upon the rows of stainless steel drawers and could sense the bodies inside and bit down so hard, his knuckle began to bleed.
He walked past the drawers and dragged the newly bloody knuckle over them as he went by, smearing his blood on each one. Even without opening them, he knew exactly what they held and counted over the dead remains in his head, sorting each by their utility and nothing more.
A child, eight, dead of leukemia…not suitable. An old woman, heart failure…worn out…bah! Seventeen-year-old meth addict… worthless!! He paused on the next. This drawer held a man in his mid-thirties, tall, slender, stabbing victim. Moríro pulled open the drawer violently and looked down….yes, this one would do.
He walked down the next row, as he passed each his mind read off the contents as pitilessly as if he were reading off a shopping list. Car wreck victim, mangled…ungainly. Liver disease, bloated. Brain tumor, pneumonia, complications from surgery, all worthless!! Finally, he paused again: young, mid-twenties, large of stature, thick arms and legs, gunshot to the head, drive-by shooting. He yanked the drawer open…yes, this will do nicely.
He went to the middle of the floor and pushed the metal carts and tables out of the way. He placed the bloody knuckle to the floor and uttered out words in Spanish in an ancient accent and dialect unheard in nearly three centuries. As he scraped the bloody knuckle across the floor, he scrawled a name in hieroglyphics, and spoke a name in a language unknown outside of ancient Egypt.
“Hokharty-Ra! Come forth!”
He lifted his knuckle from the floor and the designs he had scrawled there. At first there was nothing, but then the blood began to smoke, at first thin, red, wispy smoke, like that of a candle that has just been snuffed out. However, as it rose, it grew, red and writhing like snakes. It darkened and slithered across the ceiling until it floated over the body of the stabbing victim.
The snake of smoke plunged down and poured into the body through the ears, mouth and nose. The chest heaved and drew a long raspy breath; as it did it was transformed. It kept some of the form of the original body, but stretched to fit the soul that was called up to inhabit it.
As the body came to life, Moríro was already writing another spell and name on the floor in blood, this time in old German.
“Graber! Come forth! I summon thee!”
This time the blood did not turn to smoke and writhe towards its destination. Instead, it bubbled and darkened like a tar pit. Then it began crawling across the floor like a giant amoeba. It reached out pseudo-pods and tendrils until it came to the wall of drawers. It oozed and inched its way towards the thick, heavy-set, muscular body of the gunshot victim and crawled up his nostrils, mouth and into the head wound until every vile drop was gone. The body stirred as if from a slumber, the already massive muscles swelling and distending even further to accommodate the dark soul that had just crawled inside it. The wound over its left eye became larger until it consumed most of the top of its head.
The two corpses stood up, turned towards Moríro and each bowed solemnly towards the one who had summoned them. The thin one placed his hand over his chest and bowed, tilting his head elegantly, while the heavy one just bowed stiffly and quickly from the waist.
The thin one spoke in utter deference to Moríro, “Necromancer,” though as he said this, his eyes flitted to the door.
Moríro turned. He could see the nose and wide eyes of Tim peeking through the small, square window on the morgue door. Tim had heard the clatter of metal and decided to take a peek to see what was going on. He wished he hadn’t. The eyes disappeared from the window, and the two corpses and necromancer heard frantic footsteps fleeing down the hall.
“Fetch him,” Moríro said coldly.
The thin one didn’t hesitate, but sprang towards the door. Mid-leap, he turned into a dark, thick plume of red smoke that poured through all the empty cracks around the door’s edges. The large one merely plodded over to the door and thrust it open.
Tim hadn’t gotten twenty steps down the hall before the smoke overtook him, passed him and reformed into the corpse of the thin man, blocking his way. He backed away slowly from the suddenly appearing, naked corpse in terror, and came right up against a solid wall of flesh behind. He turned around, gazed at the thick head and the gaping head wound and tried to scream when the large ham hand of the corpse closed around his entire face, covering his nose and mouth, stifling the scream into a faint mumble.
The two corpses came back into the morgue. The heavy one first, dragging the poor orderly by the face like a rag doll. Tim was flailing about, clawing at the fingers, desperately trying to get free or even catch a breath, but his captor was as impassive as a stone statue. The tall, thin one came back by the more conventional means of walking this time, the prey more than secure.
The two took up their previous positions and bowed again to Moríro. And the four of them stood there, the gaunt man in his army coat, the orderly flailing impotently at the end of an arm, and two completely naked animated corpses, as if nothing remarkable had happened.
Moríro considered the orderly as if he were a bug.
“Graber, let him breathe,” he said flatly in German to the larger corpse.
The corpse looked down at the writhing man on the end of his right arm as if he had forgotten he was there. He reached down with his other hand, lifted the orderly up like a toy and slammed him down hard onto the tray of the metal drawer that he had just gotten up from himself. He removed his right hand from the orderly’s face just long enough to let Tim get one desperate breath then he slammed it back over his mouth, leaving the nose uncovered this time. Tim’s eyes darted between the thick monster holding him in place and the other two and decided that, for the moment, he would just sit as still as possible and try not to piss anyone off.
The three began talking then, but Tim couldn’t catch a word of it. Moríro spoke to the large one in something like German, who only replied in nods and grunts. The tall one was more talkative, but he couldn’t even begin to guess what language he was speaking.
“Necromancer…Master,” the thin one spoke almost reverentially towards Moríro in an ancient Egyptian dialect, “How may we be of service?” His voice was polite but toneless, emotionless. He placed his hand on his breast and bowed slightly, but his eyes never wavered.
“She’s dead.” Moríro spat out contemptuously, pacing angrily back and forth across the floor. The two corpses exchanged furtive glances but said nothing. Moríro went on to explain. “She who was my heir. The one who was to be the next necromancer.”
“Not possible.” The thin one said utterly impassively. “The Great Master would never decree it.”
“Decreed or not it’s true! She’s lying there!! I saw her myself.” and with that he gestured towards the drawer he slammed shut just moments before. The two corpses turned to look at the drawer, but neither moved, they could sense the lifeless body inside and knew that what the Necromancer had spoken was true.
The thin one replied first, “How is this possible? No Necromancer may remain without an heir; it is inconceivable. The Great Master would never allow it.” His words conveyed disbelief, but there was not a trace of surprise to his voice.
“There may yet be an heir.” Moríro said absentmindedly more to himself than to the two cadavers standing in front of him.
The two corpses looked nervously at each other.
“May?” The thin one asked. “How is it that Necromancer does not know?”
“Do you think to question me, Hokharty?!!” Moríro suddenly bellowed.
“Apologies, Master,” Hokharty replied, and he gave another small bow, “We do not wish to offend, we are only trying to…” he looked up at the thick one and narrowed his eyes and spoke the next word carefully, “understand.”
“Understand this,” Lazlo spoke forcefully, “Margarita had a child, I don’t when or how, but she had a child, a girl apparently, and this child is the heir and it must be found, at all costs, before someone else does.” Then more softly, “Someone is trying to upset the balance between our two worlds,” Moríro muttered, thinking aloud, biting his knuckle in frustration.
Hokharty spoke carefully, “At all costs?” He repeated. The two corpses exchanged subtle glances once again “What is it the Necromancer wishes of his servants?” Hokharty spoke solemnly.
“Find the child. Bring her to me. Do all in your power to protect her.”
The two corpses were silent for a moment. The large one seemed to smile, slightly. The thin one was more cautious.
The two corpses were silent for a moment. The large one seemed to smile, slightly. The thin one was more cautious.
“Does the Necromancer knows of what he speaks?” the thin one sounded slightly irritated.
“Of course I do!” Moríro said, affronted, “This child could be the new heir. If so, then she must be found, before she is harmed.”
“It is not that simple Master,” The thin one raised a thin finger as if to admonish Moríro. “The Great Master can not be compelled as a common lackey. If the original heir has died, then he has willed it and no man can go against that.”
“The child is in danger!” Lazlo replied testily.
“If Death is after the child, then Death will have her.” The thin one replied in a matter-of-fact tone. Moriro’s face blanched in anger but the corpse continued before he could speak. “The Necromancer can not stay or force the Great Master’s hand without grave consequences.” The corpse paused as if to collect the thoughts in his still rotting brain. “Death… must… remain… neutral.” He spoke each word with particular emphasis. “No servant may take the power of the Great Master unto himself lightly. Good or evil, rich or poor, all must come under his heel, the balance must be preserved. His powers are given only to his champion.” And with that the skeletal finger pointed directly towards Moriro’s chest. “And then only to maintain that balance. If you seek to thwart that, the balance will be undone.”
“Don’t patronize me you old courtier. The child must be found!!”
“Does the Necromancer know what he asks?” Hokharty said once again, this time more forcefully.
The two were frozen in a tense moment; the bony finger of the corpse remained outstretched towards the chest of the Necromancer.
Moríro seemed lost in thought. He dropped his gaze to his feet and uttered an almost silent whisper, “Sí.”
The corpse relaxed and dropped the outstretched finger. “Then command me, Necromancer. Release me. Give me full charge and I will do all in my power to find her and protect her and restore the balance between the worlds.” The thin corpse gave another slight bow. Moríro didn’t like the tone Hokharty had used when he spoke the title, “Necromancer,” and he wasn’t certain what the old mummy was driving at, but he needed him now.
“Hokharty, I charge thee in all things, use all your powers to find the girl, protect her, and bring her to me, safe.”
Graber moved forward slightly, but Hokharty put a hand to his chest to stop him.
“And what of the hunters? And night stalkers and other minions? What of them?” Hokharty inquired.
“I doubt there are many left, but whatever you may find, call them. Use whoever you need to find the girl.” Lazlo said, and then in a lower voice, “Do all that you need to to restore the balance,” and then as an afterthought added, “But see that you harm no living soul.”
The corner of Hokharty’s mouth moved minutely, as if suppressing a smile. He looked satisfied. The thick one looked disappointed, however.
“Then it will be done, Master,” and this time, both Hokharty and the thick corpse bowed slowly.
“Start with this one,” Moríro pointed towards Tim lying still as a dead fish on the metal morgue drawer. When Moríro pointed at him, Tim hoped all that angry language he couldn’t understand wasn’t about him. “He knows where she can be found, but go quickly, others will be searching.”
Hokharty tilted his head at the word “others,” but if this was a surprise to him, he said nothing. Moríro turned to go.
“You’re not coming, Necromancer?” Hokharty said tentatively.
“No,” said Moríro, stopping mid-turn, “I have questions that need to be answered.” If Hokharty knew what he meant by this, it didn’t show.
“Wait ‘til I leave before you go. I don’t want any trouble.” He turned to go and walked to the swinging door, then stopped and looked back at them. “And find yourself some clothes…” and then as final thought, “and find Graber a hat!”
Moríro stormed out of the door and left them behind. They stood there watching silently as the swinging door went back and forth and back and forth and finally came to a stop. Graber reached up with his massive, free hand and scratched the gaping wound on his head.
Hokharty turned slowly and folded one arm across his chest. The other hand he raised close to his face and rubbed the fingers together as if thinking.
“Lift him up,” he said to Graber in perfect high-medieval German.
Graber unceremoniously lifted Tim by his face and set him on his backside in a sitting position. Tim’s eyes frantically darted back and forth between the two nightmare corpses, but he didn’t resist otherwise.
Hokharty then spoke to Tim in perfect English, but with an indiscernible lilting accent. On the surface it was nearly a perfect Oxford English accent with a touch of something foreign, eastern, exotic and ancient. “I am going to tell my friend here to let go of your mouth. If you think to scream or run, he will crush your skull before the thought has had a chance to reach your limbs or your voice box.” In actuality, this wasn’t true. The Necromancer had charged them to harm no “living soul” and Tim was definitely living, but he doubted this man could speak any of the ancient tongues that were spoken just minutes before. “Do you understand?”
Tim looked towards Graber, who returned a discomfiting smile, then looked back at Hokharty and nodded as well as he could through Graber’s gigantic paw.
Hokharty lowered his gaze towards Graber. That was the only signal that Graber needed. Graber removed his hand from over Tim’s mouth, but placed his other hand firmly on the back of Tim’s neck. Tim gulped in a few free breaths, but other than the panting, was silent.
“Good,” said Hokharty, “Now, first, we will need clothes. Where can we find them?”
Tim looked around nervously, not certain if he had permission to speak, but decided to chance it.
“Th-th-there’s some scrubs and things in the custodial closet just down the hall.”
“Will anyone see us?” Hokharty inquired, as calmly as if he were asking directions to a local pub.
“N-no. I don’t think so,” Tim was rubbing the sweat off his palms onto his pants.
“Good,” Hokharty looked pleased. Pleased was ok, thought Tim. He hadn’t expected zombies to be this polite, so that was something at least.
“We will retrieve the clothes and ask you more about this girl, but in the meantime I have a question for you.”
Tim raised his eyebrows, but said nothing.
“How would you like to live forever?”
Tim wiped his palms some more and thought.
“Well, for the moment, I’m just concentrating on living through the next hour.”
Hokharty smiled slightly, and Tim thought he saw a sharp fang slip over the lower lip when he did. Hokharty dropped the smile quickly though, and rubbed his fingers together close to his face.
“Good.” Then he turned to Graber and spoke in Old German. “Put him back in the drawer…but gently this time.”
Tim felt the heavy hand of Graber on his back pull him slowly down into a lying position on the metal drawer. Hokharty leaned over him and spoke, “We will return for you shortly. Until then, please, try not to make any noise.”
Hokharty turned and went out of sight. Graber, with his massive hands and huge gaping head wound, leaned over Tim, put his finger to his lips and went, “Shhh.” Then he shut the drawer with Tim inside.
As Tim lay there in the complete darkness inside the morgue drawer, wondering about all that had just taken place, he thought to himself, “I really ought to call my brother and apologize about the Caprice.”