PodCastle 604: No Mercy to the Rest
No Mercy to the Rest
by Bennett North
Sadie parked in the lee of Castle Inferno, where she would be spared from the wind, and sat while the engine ticked, trying to convince herself to let go of the steering wheel.
The castle stood stark against the sky, dark stone walls leaching the saturation from the blue. One tower was burned out and soot-streaked. No sign of repair. Was Dr. Inferno hard up for cash or did fresh tarmac interfere with the mad scientist aesthetic?
Sadie grabbed the swinging St. Christopher medal from the rearview mirror and squeezed it. “Keep an eye on me, Gemma,” she said. “This is for you.”
The stairs that hugged the foundation ended at a pair of wooden doors set into a stone arch that had to be thirty feet tall. Sadie ducked into the corner of the arch, out of the wind, and pressed the plastic doorbell button.
Something heavy thunked inside, then one of the doors opened enough for a woman to lean out. She was white, with frizzy, graying hair, a Red Sox T-shirt, and jeans.
“Sadie Jones?” the woman asked, looking her up and down.
“That’s me,” said Sadie. “I’m looking for an . . . Igor?”
“You found her.” The woman opened the door another few inches. “Come on. If the wind catches this door, it’s impossible to close.”
Sadie squeezed through the opening into a dark, echoing foyer. Igor forced the door closed while Sadie looked around.
The floor was smooth stone, worn down under a thousand years of footfalls. Arched doors led left and right, and a helical staircase rose up ahead. In one corner, a Wi-Fi range extender blinked green.
“So.” Igor clapped. “Right. Hello! I’m Igor, and this is Castle Inferno.” She led Sadie through the left archway to a staircase leading down. “I’m so glad you could make it. Would you like coffee before we start? Tea? Water?”
“No, thanks.” This wasn’t what Sadie had expected. She hadn’t really known what to expect. More of a background check, certainly. Perhaps armed guards or dogs. Barbed wire fences at least. So far, she’d only seen one killer robot and that was down at the entrance to the road up the mountain. She wasn’t even convinced that that one was anything but decorative.
The stairs descended farther down than the level of the parking lot. They debouched into a round tile-paved room with scorch-stained sconces on the walls. The room had been modernized with fluorescent lights, a floor drain, and metal countertops — not quite up to the standard Sadie was used to, but she could made do. Two crates on a counter held chickens, clucking softly. A gurney in the middle of the room held a corpse.
Sadie stopped at the foot of the stairs.
“We’re not interested in your recommendations,” Igor said. She indicated the corpse without looking at it. “We only care if you can raise the dead. I have to admit, I thought you’d be . . .” Igor trailed off.
“Whiter?” Sadie said before she could help herself.
Igor’s eyebrows flicked upward in surprise for a second. “Older.”
“I’m older than I look.” Sadie crossed to the corpse. She wasn’t squeamish around the dead, but she was wary of the situation. Even supervillains get nervous around necromancers, and she didn’t know what Igor expected. “So who’s this?”
Igor waved a hand. “A donation. He died of natural causes, if you’re wondering.”
She hadn’t been. “Is Dr. Inferno going to meet us?”
“No. He’s in the middle of some experiments. You’ll meet him if I decide I’m happy with your work,” Igor said. “The body hasn’t been embalmed, and he died two days ago. That’s recent enough, right?”
“Any time is recent enough, assuming you have what we need.” Sadie cast a clinical look over the tools available. “You don’t.”
“We have the standard reagents,” Igor said. “The blood of several different animals, including humans, in the fridge. A few live chickens.” She gestured at the crates.
“How many people have you interviewed for this position?” Sadie asked, ignoring the chickens.
Igor paused. “You’re the first.”
“I appreciate that you gave necromancy a thorough Googling,” Sadie said. “But I need more than this.”
“I’m willing to donate my own blood, to a point,” Igor said, offering a pale wrist.
“How well did you know the decedent?”
“We’d need something important to him.” Sadie’s gaze settled on the corpse, whose features threatened to resolve into someone more familiar. “A parent, a child, a lover. Even an enemy. Someone who had an impact on him, who could call his soul back from wherever it went.” She caught herself and looked up, stripping the emotion from her voice. “And then we’d slaughter them and use their sacrifice to seal him back in this form. Raising the dead is not easy. I can’t do it with blood and chickens.”
“Why would it matter if it’s someone he knew?” Igor asked. “A life is a life.”
“That’s not how magic works.”
“That’s how reality works.”
“Do you want me to raise the dead? Or should we talk about how it’s not scientifically possible?” Sadie checked her tone. She wanted this job; it wouldn’t do to antagonize people. “Without the proper sacrifice, he’ll be brain-dead.”
A muscle twitched in Igor’s jaw. Her mouth settled into a line, not of anger — disappointment? Sadness? Sadie waited. The room was silent, but for the clucking of chickens.
“Raise him,” Igor said finally. “Without the appropriate sacrifice. I want to see how well you do with what I’ve provided.”
Sadie studied her. Not for the first time, she wondered why Dr. Inferno wanted a necromancer.
“Let’s do this,” she said.
The next morning, after receiving Igor’s official job offer, Sadie put her duffle bag in the trunk and slammed it shut. All of her life fit in this car.
She eyed a handful of drones whining overhead, then eased out into traffic. It would be humiliating to be bombed into smithereens by some two-bit villain looking to make his mark, but such was life. The city was lousy with supervillains. There were the Golden Twins, who lived in an old fort on the ocean, making explosives; Professor Nostredame, who crafted unholy abominations in an alchemy lab at the university; and of course, Dr. Inferno, brooding on his mountain and sending giant robots down to menace the populace. Their battles ground the city to a halt for days, though it had been six months since the last big one. Sadie could name a dozen people she’d known who had died in supervillain attacks.
She’d only ever tried to reanimate one.
Igor met her again at the door. “Time to meet the doctor,” she said grimly as she let Sadie in.
Sadie’s heart leapt into her throat. “Already?” She’d taken Igor’s cue and worn jeans today. Maybe she shouldn’t have. She knew nothing about Dr. Inferno personally; she’d only seen his face in newspaper photos or when he uploaded gloating videos to YouTube. Every other time had been from a distance, wearing goggles, perched in the cockpit of some death machine. He’d never seemed that laid back to Sadie, but maybe that was just his public face. Maybe he was better at separating work and home life than Sadie.
They took the elevator well below where the interview had been. Sadie’s ears popped. When the elevator finally stopped, it let them into a rocky hallway with electric lights strung overhead. Igor strode ahead, shoulders squared. She reached the doors at the end of the hall and hesitated for a breath before shoving them open.
The room beyond was massive, its ceiling receding into shadow. To the right, banks of beeping machinery ran in long rows. To the left, pipes led from pressurized tanks. Sadie stared up at it in awe.
Igor watched her, arms crossed. Her expression was brittle, like poorly made glass. “This is where the magic happens,” she said. Her voice was flat, empty.
“Where is he?”
Igor turned and started walking again. Sadie followed, taking in her surroundings, but she stayed alert, waiting for a trap.
At the end of the aisle, Igor stopped at a glass tank full of blue liquid. A body floated inside, nude, dark hair haloing his head. He was missing an arm and a leg and his chest had been horribly burned, although the wound was bloodlessly pink, like meat from a butcher. His eyes stared at nothing.
“This was how I found him after the last attack by Professor Nostredame,” said Igor. “I put him in the tank. He’s dead, but it’s keeping him in stasis until I can fix him.”
Sadie stared up at the floating man, her mouth open. “Dr. Inferno’s been dead for six months?”
“The tank keeps him from decomposing,” Igor said defensively. “It’s like he only died a few minutes ago. You said it didn’t matter how long.”
“That’s why he’s been so quiet since then,” Sadie said, touching the smooth, cold glass. “I never thought — ” She stopped and let her hand slide off the glass. “So you want me to raise him.”
Igor hugged herself, the planes of her face washed in light from the tank. “Just like he was.”
Sadie pressed her lips together tightly. Dr. Inferno was inches away, defenseless, as she had fantasized so many times. She could come back tonight when Igor was asleep and pull the plug. Drain the tank. Destroy the bastard in a way he couldn’t come back from.
But she hadn’t taken this job to waste it on a frivolous act of revenge. “I already told you what you’ll need for it,” Sadie said, turning away. “Someone who was important to him. A friend. A family member.” She paused. “An assistant.”
Igor’s brow pinched. “Or an enemy,” she said. “I’m working on that.”
It had been an unseasonably warm November day when Gemma died. The outdoor cafes were packed, the drones flew high under the cloudless sky, and the first detonations at Professor Nostredame’s lair could have been firecrackers except for the smoke that didn’t stop.
Dr. Inferno’s missiles pinpointed a few strategic places at the university. Professor Nostredame’s alchemy lab went up first. The second missile took out the library, obliterating the records of countless experiments. The final few missiles rained down on the bunker where the professor’s specimens were stored. Even the layers of poured concrete couldn’t save them.
Sadie had been in the dining commons and got back to the lab too late. The doors had shattered outward, singeing the papers right off the bulletin board.
Inside, the roof had half-buried Gemma’s body. Sadie shoved the debris off her — and maybe that was what killed her, blood loss, not blast damage. Sadie couldn’t have waited. There was no time.
Blood loss or blast damage — Sadie would lie awake every night for the next month wondering which it had been. But that first evening, when Gemma sprawled in a chalk circle on the floor, Sadie would repeat the ritual two times with increasing desperation. She’d never tried to reanimate a human that mattered before. All she had to sacrifice was an abomination that Gemma worked with and Gemma’s pet betta fish. Gemma had no living parents, no best friends. Gemma’s heart beat, pushing borrowed blood through her veins, but her brain refused to work her lungs, and Sadie couldn’t keep her on life support forever. Sadie had nothing left to sacrifice except herself, and to her shame, she wasn’t willing to go that far.
Professor Nostredame’s retaliation came an hour after Sadie’s last attempt with Gemma. Unlike Dr. Inferno’s high-tech missiles, this was old-fashioned alchemical fire. Whatever it touched burned for weeks. A pair of dark-winged abominations flew the package up the mountain. The next day, smoke streaked the morning sky.
Raising the dead takes herbs and unguents, expensive reagents. The university where Sadie had worked had an impressive endowment and liked funding quirky projects that played well in alumni newsletters and fundraising drives. She’d never have been able to afford necromancy on a postdoc’s salary.
Igor gave her a credit card and told her the sky was the limit. The Inferno family had been old money, and all that money went to Igor if Dr. Inferno was officially declared dead. If it was his, she imagined he’d want her to use it, and if it was hers, she would use it to bring him back.
“So if this doesn’t work, all his money is yours?” Sadie asked, pocketing the credit card.
Igor stared at her, her eyes hollow and blue. “If this doesn’t work, I don’t want it.”
It was late spring, just past commencement, and the university campus was deserted. Sadie was depending on that. The damage had been too extensive to continue Nostredame’s program, so they’d closed for repairs while the professor took time off to regroup.
But not all the reagents had been kept in the lab. Sadie let herself in by the side door. It was locked, of course, but she’d never turned in her key. That would have been too final. As long as she still had it, she could believe she might one day come back.
The hallway smelled like floor polish and paint. The lights clicked on as the motion sensor caught her, illuminating the new set of double doors leading into the lab.
Sadie stopped at the doors. Unlike the original set, these were rolled steel. If she inhaled, she could taste the faintest scent of ash. She pressed her hand gently against the door, then let it drop.
There was a storage room down the hall. Its door yielded under her key, and she stepped into the small, dark room. Plastic shelves sagged under crates of yew leaves and bottled pig fetuses. She tapped a tank of preserved eels, then opened her canvas bag and started browsing.
She was digging snake skeletons out of a box, frowning over a crack in one of the skulls, when a raspy voice came from the doorway.
The thing in the doorway was an abomination, sewn together from mismatched parts. Its eyes — both human, but different colors and shapes — held unabashed delight. It was only three feet tall, childlike in size if not appearance. Gemma had named all the abominations back when she’d started working. They loved her for it. Sadie couldn’t remember this one’s name and felt oddly guilty.
“No,” she said, putting the skull in her bag. “I just needed a few things.”
The abomination’s face, such as it was, fell. It shuffled closer. “But you’re coming back?”
Sadie closed the box. “I’m . . . not sure.”
“Where have you been? We’ve missed you.” It reached out a scarred hand to touch her arm.
Sadie pulled firmly out of its grip. “You have to move on,” she said. “There’s no one around to give you orders anymore. You’re free to do whatever you want.”
The abomination bobbed its head miserably. Sadie stalked past it into the hallway. There was no one else to hinder her. Slinging the bag onto her shoulder, she turned back.
“Don’t tell them I was here,” she said. “Leave me alone.”
“Of course,” the abomination whispered, eyes downcast. Sadie left.
The heavy steel doors to the alchemy lab were coming up again, and this time she could feel their pull. It couldn’t hurt to glance inside. She wanted to see what repairs had been made, just to soothe her curiosity.
The key probably wouldn’t work. It was a new door. If it didn’t work, she’d just head back to the castle and—
She cursed to herself at the sound of the lock opening. She couldn’t suppress the leap of dread in her chest. She pushed the door open and stepped inside.
Last time she’d been in here, everything had been on fire, and the ceiling had been so destroyed that if it weren’t for all the smoke, she would have seen the sky. Now it smelled of paint, and the ceiling was rebuilt. It was no longer the Gothic Revival room of before, with thirty foot ceilings and skylights. Instead, the ceilings hung lower, made up of square foam tiles and regular fluorescent lighting. It was probably closer to code now, even if it had lost its charm.
It’s okay, Sadie thought. I’m not coming back. It doesn’t matter.
A footstep scraped in the doorway behind her. Sadie glanced back and saw the abomination hovering there.
“I told you to leave me alone,” Sadie snapped.
“There’s a, um,” the abomination said. “Um.”
“Go on, get it out,” said a familiar voice. “There’s an intruder.”
Igor stepped inside. She held a gun, which she used to prod the abomination in the back, forcing it farther into the room.
“What are you doing here?” Sadie asked. “I’m not late getting back.”
“I was out to fetch our sacrifice,” Igor said, looking around “So where is he?”
Sadie glanced at the abomination, who stared back with wide eyes.
“The professor?” Sadie asked.
“Of course, I mean the professor. He was Dr. Inferno’s nemesis. He’ll work the best as a sacrifice.” Igor focused on Sadie again. “Yes, I did a thorough Googling. I knew you worked for him. I hoped, when I saw you coming here, that you’d be coming to meet him.”
Sadie crossed her arms. “I don’t work for the professor anymore.”
“Then you wouldn’t mind telling me where he went.” When Sadie hesitated, Igor prodded the abomination more forcefully. “Or I could torture the information out of this thing.”
“It can’t tell you anything,” Sadie said. “It was created to be loyal. It can’t be anything else.”
Igor shrugged. “Can it feel pain?”
Before Sadie had met Gemma, the abomination’s pain wouldn’t have mattered to her, but Gemma had cared for these things. Her shoulders slumped. “Come this way,” she said.
Igor and the abomination followed her across the lab that no long echoed majestically with Sadie’s footsteps. At the far end of the room, there was another locked door. The nameplate read “Professor Nostredame.” Below that were the words, “Spare those who surrender. Show no mercy to the rest.” Strong words for someone who’d never gotten the hang of the office Keurig.
Sadie used her key to open the door. Inside was a small office. This, at least, retained the grandeur of the original building. The windows, hung with ivy, looked out onto the grounds. The heavy wooden desk was neat, with all the papers filed away.
On the wall by the door was a coat hook, where a heavy black cloak hung. An empty plague doctor mask dangled from its strap, glassy eyes blank.
“The professor retired,” Sadie said, indicating the cloak.
Igor reached out and pulled the mask off the hook, then stared down at it. “To where?”
Sadie shrugged. “There was no forwarding address.”
“Do you think he’d come back if he heard his assistant was taken hostage by his enemy?”
Igor smiled. “No? I have an inkling about the mentor-mentee relationship.”
“You think Dr. Inferno would put himself in danger for you?”
“He’d do everything he could to keep me safe.” Igor’s eyes focused inward. “How do you think he died?”
Sadie felt an acid heat in her stomach. “How?” she asked quietly.
“We were both in the tower,” Igor said slowly. “The one that was firebombed. The stairwell was destroyed so we couldn’t descend, and the flames were rising. He had one of his machines with him. He told me to hold onto its back while it climbed down the outside of the tower, then send it back for him.” She paused, her eyes scanning back and forth, like she was watching the scene again in her head. “There was another firebomb before we reached the ground. When the robot came back with Dr Inferno, he was—” She cut herself off and shook her head. “He sacrificed himself for me.”
The acid in Sadie’s stomach burned hotter. She looked down at the abomination, which still cowered between them, waiting for them to make a move.
“Professor Nostredame wouldn’t do that for anyone,” she said.
“What about you?” Igor nudged the gun into the abomination’s head. “How noble are you? Enough to give me information to keep this thing from getting hurt?” She shifted the barrel to its shoulder, then the middle of its back. “Are its organs similar to a human’s? I’m not used to working with organic matter.” Her finger tightened.
“Wait—” Sadie said.
Igor pulled the trigger. The abomination’s elbow exploded into blood and bone. It screamed, jerking away from Igor, clutching its destroyed limb. It plowed into Sadie in its frantic escape. She held it against her chest as it struggled, tightening one hand around its upper arm to keep it from spraying blood.
“Stop it,” Sadie shouted at Igor, who tracked the abomination with the barrel of the gun. Sadie pressed her other hand against the abomination’s back like her bare touch could heal it. “Not again.”
Igor lowered the gun. “So where’s Professor Nostredame?”
“I’ll fucking show you,” Sadie snarled. “Move out of my way.”
Igor hesitated, then stepped aside. Sadie pushed the abomination ahead of her, supporting its weight as it staggered. Blood splattered to the ground despite Sadie’s attempt at a tourniquet. The lab was empty — it would have been so much easier if she’d had the tools at hand — so she pushed on. Halfway across the room, the abomination’s legs gave out. Sadie hoisted it up onto her hip like a toddler.
“Where are we going?” Igor asked, right on her heels.
“Get the door for me,” Sadie replied.
Whether it was from years of being an assistant or just because she wanted to see where this was going, Igor moved ahead and got the door. Sadie strode into the hallway and headed for the storage closet again.
Inside, she let the abomination slide to the floor. She yanked open a drawer of dried herbs, then moved on to the pots of oils. It felt like the room was filling with water — angry magic currents frothing at her ankles and then her knees, the air pressure rising as the room got too small for what it contained.
Sadie heard Igor curse when Sadie pulled out the ceremonial knife, but it was distant, and Igor didn’t make a move to intervene. Sadie thumbed a smear of oil across the slick, bloody flesh of the abomination’s arm, then matted a fistful of herbs against it. She sliced the knife across her own forearm, just deep enough to draw blood, and wiped it up with her bare hand. She closed her hand around the abomination’s wound.
The pressure squeezed down on them, the magic tangibly angry. It was so powerful with rage that Sadie might choke on it if it wasn’t coming from her. The abomination yelped, but its whimpers subsided as Sadie withdrew her hand. The wound knitted itself, torn muscle fibers seeking their other halves, veins sealing together. The flesh went last, zipping together into a neat scar.
The atmosphere in the room popped like a bubble. Sadie’s ears popped with it. She started to wipe her bloody hand on the leg of her jeans, then thought better of it. She looked up.
Igor had the gun leveled two-handed at Sadie and stared at her with the look of someone who suddenly understood a terrible truth.
Sadie had never intended to tell Gemma her true identity. The Necromancy department had adopted Professor Nostredame as a mascot; not technically a tenured professor, but enough of a celebrity to qualify for a lab on campus. The fact that the professor was terrifyingly unapproachable and swept through the halls in long robes, an ancient plague doctor mask and a voice modulator gave campus administrators all the more reason to leave things be. Sadie Jones, by contrast, was a postdoc who served as the professor’s spokesperson, and if the two of them were never in the same room at the same time, no one commented on it.
There had been a handful of graduate assistants over the years working with Sadie, mostly working to fund their studies, with no real interest in the professor’s politics. Gemma was merely the most recent. Yet unlike many of the others, she wasn’t unnerved by the cloud of foul arcane magic surrounding Professor Nostredame.
One evening, a year or so into their friendship, Gemma invited Sadie out for drinks, and when the Golden Twins staged an attack on the university two hours into their bar crawl, it was hard to pretend that Professor Nostredame wasn’t a bit drunk. Gemma connected the dots.
The intimacy of another person knowing her secret identity was intense. As Professor Nostredame, she knowingly made decisions that led to innocent deaths, and she was okay with that. But when Gemma knew it was her behind the decisions — it didn’t make her a better person, but it made her want to be one, and that was a start.
Igor had come to the university with two killer robots, which were waiting outside in the parking lot. When Igor, Sadie, and the abomination emerged from the doorway, one strode up to them, its eyes glowing red.
“Take that thing back to the castle,” Igor told it, pointing at the abomination. “Don’t hurt it. Yet.”
The robot picked up the unresisting abomination and caged it inside its barrel chest, then locked it shut again. It strode off in the direction of the mountain.
“If you complete the ritual successfully, I’ll let it go,” Igor said. “If you don’t, I’ll mail a piece of it to every professor at the university, along with a note about your identity.” She gestured at the other robot. “Take her to the castle.”
“There are more reagents in the trunk of my car,” Sadie said. “I need them all if you expect me to do the ritual.”
Igor held out her hand to Sadie, who tossed her the keys. She popped the trunk open and, wrinkling her nose, hefted out a large, heavy duffle bag. Igor frowned and shut the trunk.
“Go,” she told the robot.
Trying to resist the robot was like trying to arm-wrestle a car. It folded Sadie into its chest cavity, which was roughly the size of a refrigerator. When the door slammed shut, Sadie was dropped into pitch-blackness.
It took an hour to get to the castle. Sadie heard Igor’s voice, then felt the sensation of descending in an elevator. When the robot stopped, Sadie knew where they were.
The robot opened its chest and light flooded into Sadie’s prison. She squinted, eyes watering.
Igor waited outside with the gun. “Out,” she said.
The abomination was there, held in a robot’s firm grip. They all stood in the massive underground chamber beside Dr. Inferno’s tank
The duffle bag and the bag of reagents were both on the floor, along with a number of Castle Inferno’s supplies. A slip of paper that Igor had filled out had names on it so Sadie could reference Dr. Inferno’s loved ones in the ritual, an important step to calling back his soul.
“Start setting up,” Igor said. “Don’t even think about sabotaging the spell. If it varies even a little from the resurrection you did for your interview, I’m going to take your abomination and start cutting.”
“Understood,” said Sadie. The abomination looked at her pleadingly. It wasn’t begging her to save it. It was begging her to let it die for her. She’d made sure to instill that loyalty in all her abominations, although right now the thought made her sick.
Sadie set about organizing her reagents, setting up a mise en place so she didn’t have to scramble during the ritual. The robot that had carried her up the mountain loomed over her, watching. Meanwhile, Igor wheeled a gurney to the tank and set the tank to drain. The fluid level began to drop.
“Why did you apply for the job, Professor?” Igor asked, her back to Sadie.
“I wanted to know why he disappeared.”
“You didn’t think you’d killed him?”
“My attacks had never killed him before.” Sadie shrugged even though Igor couldn’t see it.
“And once you found out? Did you ever intend to do the ritual?”
Sadie hesitated, measuring the crushed honeysuckle blossoms. “I did,” she said.
“Why?” Now Igor did turn to look at her.
“I didn’t think it was fair he died where I couldn’t see it.”
Igor smiled bitterly and turned back to the tank. The fluid had finished draining, and Dr. Inferno lay on the bottom of the tank, limp as a jellyfish out of water. Igor unsealed a door on the side and climbed inside to pull him out.
“Professor,” whispered the abomination. “Just leave me and run.”
“I don’t need your loyalty anymore,” Sadie said. “When you go back to the others, tell them they need to move on.”
“Shut up,” said Igor, hauling the doctor’s body onto the gurney. “That’s enough of that.” She carefully tucked a folded towel under his head.
“Strap him down,” Sadie said to Igor. “His resurrection could be violent. Sometimes they have seizures. You don’t want him falling off the gurney and cracking his head open.” Igor didn’t look happy, but she buckled the straps across Dr. Inferno’s chest and thighs.
Sadie chalked the circle on the floor, her mind racing. Once the ritual started, she’d have trouble ending it without a sacrifice. But she had no intention of sacrificing herself for this. Igor, of course, would make the best sacrifice, but how could Sadie get to her? She had no weapon other than the sacrificial dagger. Igor had a gun and two killer robots.
Igor wheeled the gurney into the middle of the circle. “Does this match the setup in the lab upstairs?” she asked the robot. Its eyes glowed green.
“Setup is complete,” the robot intoned.
“Then let’s get on with it,” Igor said, gesturing for Sadie to get up.
Sadie cursed to herself and got to her feet, brushing the chalk off her hands.
“Fine,” Sadie said. “Let’s begin.”
A flash of unease went across Igor’s face before she recovered her equilibrium and nodded. Sadie could understand that. She’d been mourning Dr. Inferno’s death as long as Sadie had been mourning Gemma’s.
“Remember, if this goes wrong—” Igor started again.
“I know,” Sadie interrupted. “For a supervillain’s apprentice, you don’t know the first thing about threats. Don’t overdo it.”
Igor glared at her and stepped out of the circle. “Go on, then.”
She’d done this many times. The abominations, of course, all came from a similar process, though they had never been human to start with. She had raised the dead as part of her studies. And then, of course, there had been Gemma.
The feeling of rising water was slower but more powerful this time, less like filling a bathtub and more like the swelling of the ocean reaching high tide. She anointed Dr. Inferno’s body with the oils. Wisps of smoke began to rise from the runes. Sadie picked up the piece of paper.
Igor hugged herself, standing outside the circle. Her gun pointed at the floor. She would probably shoot Sadie as soon as the ritual reached the correct part. If only Sadie hadn’t shown her the ritual during her interview. Igor knew exactly when the sacrifice should happen.
“Dr. Obadiah C. Burns, known as Dr. Inferno,” Sadie said. “Son of Cornelius and Gertrude Burns. Husband of Katherine Edwards-Burns. I call to you.”
She lit the candle. It flared green as she painted the next symbols on the body with gritty paste.
Igor paced around the circle to get a better view. Sadie tried to keep Igor in her range of vision as she worked.
“Dr. Obadiah C. Burns,” Sadie said. “Mentor to Inga ‘Igor’ Rupertsson. Nemesis of Sadie Jones. Murderer of Gemma Browne. I call to you.”
She saw Igor’s eyes narrow at the last name, but Sadie ignored it as she painted on the next set of runes. The candle hissed and spat. More smoke rose from the circle and now from the runes on Dr. Inferno’s body. Sadie picked up the last bowl of powdered bone and dashed a handful onto his chest.
“Dr. Obadiah C. Burns. Master of this castle. Creator of these machines. I call to you with this sacrifice.”
Sadie flung the rest of the contents of the bowl in Igor’s face and dropped to the ground, not waiting to see if they connected. A shot exploded overhead and pinged off a wall. Igor, grabbing at her eyes, staggered back.
Sadie rolled to her knees and lunged, grabbing Igor’s gun hand and forcing it down before Igor could shoot again. She dragged Igor toward the circle, but even with her streaming eyes squeezed shut, Igor fought, digging her feet into the ground.
“Shoot her,” Igor shouted. “In the circle.”
Behind her, Sadie heard the robots moving. A laser powered up. She hauled Igor around, holding her between herself and the robots, and forced her over the chalk line.
“Tell them to stand down,” Sadie said.
“Fire,” said Igor.
Both robots fired. The first shot went through Igor’s collarbone and into Sadie’s chest, punching through her right breast and lung. The second went in Igor’s gut and out Sadie’s. They dropped to the floor in a wash of blood.
The chalk circle blazed and Dr. Inferno’s body spasmed. He dragged in a gasping breath. His flesh knit itself together, scarring over. An arm budded in the empty socket.
Sadie still held Igor’s body, although the woman had gone limp. The fact that the ritual had worked meant Igor was dead.
It was the worst pain Sadie had ever felt. She couldn’t get enough air, and when she coughed, blood sprayed out of her mouth. Her gut was on fire, and she smelled ruptured bowel.
She rolled onto her back. Perhaps this was a fitting end, to be killed in Dr. Inferno’s resurrection. At least he’d know the pain of losing his assistant, as she had.
The robots stood still, their commands completed. Sadie focused on breathing in and out.
The hand on her arm made her flinch, which set off a chain reaction of pain.
“Sorry,” the abomination whispered. It held a fistful of herbs. It peeled her clenched fist open and pressed the herbs into it. “Here. Do what you did for me. Heal yourself.”
Sadie let out a loud, angry sob. It hurt so much. “I can’t,” she said.
“You’re not done yet,” said the abomination. It took her hand again and began painting the runes on her itself, using her bloody finger as its tool. Sadie let it.
Despite the blood spilled everywhere on the floor, the abomination cut its own arm and used that to complete the ritual, pressing its hand on her bleeding chest.
The heat flared through her, worse than the wound. She cried out and started choking. She rolled over onto her stomach and coughed out the blood in her rapidly healing lung.
In a minute, it was over. Sadie was bathed in blood, her own and Igor’s, but she was whole again. The abomination patted her shoulder.
The gurney rattled. Dr. Inferno, still strapped in, craned his neck around, trying to see them.
“Igor? Igor, are you . . . ?”
Sadie rose. This time she didn’t hesitate when she wiped her bloody hands on her jeans. “Dr. Inferno,” she said, and spat a glob of blood on the floor.
“Who are you?” he said, squirming in the restraints. “What are you doing in my castle? Is that—” He spotted Igor’s body and choked off.
Sadie limped to her duffle bag. She carried it into the circle, then set it gently down. Glancing around, she checked the chalk circle and the state of her reagents: plenty left for a second attempt.
She unzipped the duffle bag. The corpse inside had mummified over six months of storage. Sadie picked up her jar of oils and began to anoint it.
“Gemma Browne,” Sadie said. “Mentee of Sadie Jones. Victim of Obadiah C. Burns. I call to you.”
About the Author
Bennett North is a technomage, artist and rock climbing enthusiast whose work has appeared in F&SF, Escape Pod, and Beneath Ceaseless Skies.
About the Narrator
C. L. Clark
Cherae graduated from Indiana University’s creative writing MFA. She’s been a personal trainer, an English teacher, and an editor, and is some combination thereof as she travels the world. When she’s not writing or working, she’s learning languages, doing P90something, or reading about war and [post-]colonial history. Her debut novel, The Unbroken, came out at Orbit last year, and her work has also appeared in FIYAH and Uncanny.
Rated PG-13 for super-villainous violence and attempts to raise the dead.