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And They Shall Rise

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It had been the ninth mysterious death in two weeks and the town of Wilmington was in a state of utter panic. After the second corpse had been found with his heart burnt out of his chest, a charred, rotting crater all that remained, the more superstitious townspeople—which was to say, virtually all of them—had declared it to be the work of the devil. In consequence, Roger MacKenzie was the only clergy left within a hundred miles who was still willing to deliver the funeral services. No one but the very immediate family of the deceased could bring themselves to attend the funeral, so Lord John and Brianna had, by virtue of not being superstitious, joined the mourners at the grave sites.

Brianna shook her head and heaved a rather meaningful sigh. "I can't take it anymore."

Oh, Christ. Grey was intimately familiar with that facial expression. He'd seen it on her father a number of times, just before declaring himself bound on some ill-advised errand and dragging Grey along for the ride. He steeled himself for the worst. "Can't take what?"

"The killing. Look at them." She kept her arms crossed over her chest and nodded toward the two terrified children huddled close to their equally terrified mother. "Everyone in town is that scared, or gone. We have to do something."

"I do understand. That is why your father and cousin rode for help. They should return inside of the next week." They should have been back yesterday, Grey knew. Brianna likely knew that as well and saying so would not have helped his argument.

Brianna shook her head again, this time in decision rather than dismay. "It won't be enough. He could bring Sherlock Holmes himself and the entire Continental Army for backup and I don't think they'll figure it out."

Grey stared at her, having no earthly idea who this Holmes gentleman was. By the set of her shoulders and her tight jaw, her mind was made up to whatever brilliant yet terribly reckless scheme she'd worked out. All Grey could do now was try to make sure whatever it was didn't result in her maiming or murder. These bloody Frasers are going to be the actual death of me… He managed not to sigh audibly, casting his eyes heavenward instead. "Dear Lord," he muttered. "Alright. What did you have in mind?"

Brianna had a smile that could light up a room, and she gifted him with one now, white teeth and sparkling eyes incongruent with the gloomy evening funeral service. Lightning flashed across the sky, casting her lovely face in an eerie blue glow.

Dread slithered down Grey's spine and settled like a cold stone in his belly. What the bloody hell am I getting myself into this time?

 


 

The moon was a parchment-thin sliver and high in the sky when Brianna led Grey to a mausoleum well removed from the rest of the cemetery. The inscription over the door was impossibly weathered and illegible. A chill wormed its way down Grey’s spine and he struggled not to shiver. In England the structure would have been wholly unremarkable. But here, where most everything was no more than fifty years old, the structure seemed ancient and out of place. Of another time.

Brianna stooped and picked up the hem of her skirt and felt around the inside of it until she found a tiny button. Unfastening this, she pulled a bronze key from the hidden pocket and paused inches away from slipping the key into the old door. She rounded on Grey. “I need you to promise not to tell Da about this place.” She winced and added, “And maybe don’t mention it to Roger either.”

Grey’s first inclination was to refuse her flat and demand an explanation. But he’d had enough run-ins with stubborn Frasers to know precisely how far that would get him. Which was to say, driven head-on into a brick wall of defensiveness of a most belligerent and impassable variety. He took a deep breath, squared his shoulders, and nodded. “Alright. Between us, then.”

Brianna gave him a grateful nod and unlocked the door. It opened without a sound beyond the whisper of the wood ghosting over fallen leaves. The tomb within was pitch in the nearly-moonless night. Brianna flicked her wrist and muttered a word, and half a dozen candles ignited, bathing the mausoleum in an odd, flaxen glow.

Grey froze in the doorway, mouth ajar, staring at the mysterious flames. It was impossible. It defied explanation. Surely this was one of her strange inventions. "How… did you do that?" he asked.

"Magic."

Grey laughed. She whirled around to face him, eyes serious and perhaps a touch angry, and he fell immediately silent. His skepticism did not abate. "My dear, you're not serious."

"Remember the stories my parents told?" she asked, taking the few steps toward Grey. "The ones from Paris, before the Rising. They called Mama La Damme Blanche."

"Yes. Your father started the rumor to avoid, um… unwanted advances."

"Not exactly," Brianna said. "My mother really was a witch. She raised me to be one too, taught me everything she could before she died. The rest she left to me here." She waved her hand at a shelf and more candles sprang to golden life, illuminating a collection of old leather bound books.

The candles were an impressive illusion, and Grey couldn't deny the strangeness of this tomb they stood in. But if he looked closely enough, he was certain that he'd see the logical explanation for these things. "Brianna, now, I know that you're—"

"Don't you dare doubt me!" A fiery conviction lit her eyes and her temper flared. "Understand," she said in a commanding voice, and kissed Grey on the mouth. There was nothing sexual or romantic about it, just a deliberate point of contact between them. But she lingered and when Grey tried to pull away, she had her fingers in his hair and held him still in an iron grip.

The thing that happened next both delivered and defied explanation. Images, thoughts, memories, visions, feelings, all poured from Brianna into Grey's mind. He saw, heard, felt it in his bones, knew that she was telling the truth. That the candle flames were arcane, the mausoleum was truly two hundred years old, and Claire had built it herself with her magic. The surety that Jamie had known his wife to be a genuine sorceress but did not believe his daughter was. Brianna's husband knew what she was, but had asked her to give it up and she'd lied about it. And Grey understood with absolute certainty that the solution to their problem was in those books.

Brianna pulled away, leaving Grey gasping and shaken. "You see now," she whispered, the not-right candle glow behind her making her red hair glitter.

It wasn't a question but he answered anyway as soon as he found his voice. "Yes. Alright then," Grey whispered, suddenly wary of the old, hungry things that prowled the night for blood. "What do you suggest?"

Brianna nodded, satisfied, and turned to the little library. Selecting one of the volumes, she flipped through it, the delicate parchment hissing and fluttering in her hands. "Well, I wouldn't know where to begin with an autopsy. And digging up all the victims is a lot of time-consuming work that's really noticeable and frowned upon." Her ruddy eyebrows went high up her forehead. "And I realize no one has been executed for witchcraft on this continent in almost a century but I intensely do not want to start a new trend."

Grey swallowed and conceded her point. "I'm forced to agree with you there."

"So," she said, exchanging one book for another. "We need to ask someone who saw the killer."

"But the only people to see the killer—that we know of anyway—are dead and buried." Grey was beginning to have a sinking feeling about the trajectory of this conversation.

"You are correct," Brianna said. She jabbed a triumphant finger onto the page open in front of her. "Aha!" Picking up a candlestick, she carried the book to the stone table in the center of the tomb.

Grey joined her and peered over her shoulder, but he couldn't decipher the text. It looked to be in some kind of cuneiform. "So, this will let you speak to the deceased's ghost?"

"Well… You can't always trust a ghost to remember how they died, at least not correctly. But, if we can speak with what remains of the body…"

"Wait." Grey pinched the bridge of his nose. "Are you suggesting that we should… reanimate a corpse?"

"Oh come on, it's just a little casual necromancy," she replied, her composure entirely at odds with the topic of conversation. "What harm could it do? And when we're done, we'll leave them nice and dead and tuck them back in. No revenants. No one will be the wiser. And then we can find the killer and stop them. See? Simple as pie."

Grey sighed and shrugged. In for a penny

 


 

When Brianna opened the door of the mausoleum the next night, Grey was surprised that the smell of lavender wafting out was strong enough to almost overpower the reek of the corpse lying on the table. Brianna must have left some to help with the smell after they’d dragged it inside. She made a quizzical hum but said nothing about it as she flicked her wrist to light the candles and began to assemble her ingredients and accoutrement in preparation for her spell. Grey complied silently with all of her whispered instructructions to hold or move or mix something, the quiet punctuated by the sounds of Brianna’s tools and the flipping of weathered pages. A breeze brought dry leaves ghosting over the stone floor, making the candle flames quiver. The hairs on Grey’s nape prickled and he focused on Brianna, trying to ignore the feeling that someone—or something—was watching them. It’s just a little casual necromancy…

“How’s your Latin?” Brianna asked. Her tone was conversational, easy, shattering the eerie hush between them.

Grey nearly jumped at the sound of her voice, but suppressed it. "Quod est ipsum bonum," he replied.

"Good," she said with a nod, laying a book down in front of him. Amidst the cuneiform scrawl was a verse in Latin. "All we have to do now is chant that." Brianna tapped one graceful finger over the verse and then laid her herbs and bundles around the corpse. "Help me with this?" She gestured to a gray muslin cloth draped over the cadaver's legs. They pulled it up over the face and Grey tried not to be disturbed by the fact that they could have covered the body earlier that morning when they'd moved it.

Another breeze sent more leaves hissing over the floor, carrying with them a stronger scent of lavender. And they shall rise.

"I'm sorry, my dear, did you say something?" Grey asked.

"Nope," Brianna answered. "Ready? Whatever happens, keep reading until we've finished the incantation."

"Understood," he said. The Latin was simple enough to pronounce, the cadence odd, but he followed Brianna's lead and they soon fell into rhythm. The literal translation was vague in that way of Latin riddles, and after a time, Grey stopped translating it as he went, instead focusing on the sounds of the incantation.

And they shall rise.

That time Grey was certain he'd heard it. Some spectral voice on the wind. He cut his eyes to the empty, open doorway, then back to Brianna. Her eyes were closed in concentration, a wind swirling her hair and gown while leaving his own cloak undisturbed. The smell of lavender was stronger, mingling now with the coppery tang of fresh blood, not the sickly sweet smell of grave rot. But he didn't dare stop, couldn't interrupt Brianna without risking the ritual.

The muslin shroud fluttered and Grey nearly jumped out of his own skin. He stole another glance at Brianna, both of them still chanting in time. Her pretty face was pale and covered in a thin sheen of perspiration, taking breaths in gasps between the phrases of the incantation. Grey could feel the power around her.

And they shall rise.

Definitely a man’s voice, though Grey of course could not recognize it.

Their chanting reached a crescendo and then ended, extinguishing the candles in the mausoleum and stealing the starlight from the doorway. They were plunged into an absolute silence befitting their current location, the only sound Brianna’s labored breathing and Grey’s heartbeat pounding away in his own ears.

For a moment, they kept perfectly still. Far off in the distance, thunder rolled, no lightning to be seen. But Grey could smell the coming storm. And that damned lavender.

They. Shall. Rise.

The corpse on the table groaned.

Its mouth opened, gasping, pulling the gray shroud into a horrible grimace. “Spare them!” it wailed. Its voice was hoarse and crackled, grating like a coffin lid sliding into place. “Kill you!”

Grey froze, staring down at the reanimated cadaver, wanting to run in horror but rooted to the spot. He tasted bile and smelled that coppery fresh blood again. And to his utter horror, Brianna carefully pulled the shroud back. She pulled the goddamn shroud away from the corpse’s goddamn face. Wrong. Wrong. No, wrong. What have we done? A hundred thousand regrets tumbled around his mind. Old, nameless fears, the terrors of a superstitious child, and the consummate knowledge of the truly perverse. Christ.

The face was as horrible as Grey could have imagined. He was no stranger to death. Had long ago lost count of how many dead bodies he’d seen or touched. It was a part of life that people should die.

It was not, however, a part of life that the dead should not remain so. Oh, God, what have we done?

The eyes moved but were unsettlingly lifeless. It wasn’t something he could have described in any scientific way, but he knew there was nothing behind them. They were dull, reflecting nothing. And they stared through Grey.

“John,” Brianna whispered. A prompt. It was looking at Grey, so Grey must speak to it.

“Do you know who killed you?” Grey asked, knowing he would get an answer, having no understanding of how, and no way to reconcile that with what he was looking at.

The corpse went still for a long moment, gaping up at Grey. A hand like a claw, the flesh loose over the finger bones, gripped Grey’s cloak. He fought the urge to grimace and turn away, the blood rushing through his ears, horror turning it to ice in his veins. “Who killed you? Who did this?” It took every last ounce of courage and will he’d ever possessed to make his voice kind, even though it still felt strained in his throat.

The corpse’s mouth worked around the sounds, nothing coming out.

Against his better judgment, Grey leaned closer. “It’s alright. You’re safe now,” he lied. “Tell us so we can make sure he never does this again.”

And they shall—all of them—rise.

“R-red. Coat,” the dead man croaked.

“Redcoat? A British soldier did this?” Grey asked quietly, stupidly afraid to wake the dead.

The corpse nodded, empty eyes falling closed. “Family. Must. See to my f-fa.”

“They’re safe,” Brianna said. She leaned over the dead man, face kind and warm, one hand poised to stroke its hair, like a mother would soothe a frightened child. “Tell me who the redcoat was. And I will protect your family and you can rest again.”

And they shall rise.

The smell of blood and lavender was so strong that Grey’s head ached. But they had a goal. They had to succeed, or how many more innocent people would die?

The corpse’s head lolled to the side, dead eyes staring at Brianna. “Redcoat. B-bl—.” The eyes squeezed shut, papery, sunken flesh wrinkling horribly all over its face. “Can’t. Cannot speak his name. He walks still. Reaping.”

“What does he look like?” Grey asked. Decades of experience had given him a kind of danger sense. It was screeching at him now, the hairs on his neck and arms standing on end. Urgency hastened his words, harshened his tone.

The dead eyes swiveled back to Grey and his gorge rose from the pit of his stomach. It was difficult to watch. But we must do this.

Fools! They shall rise!

The corpse raised a shaking arm, index finger pointed at the door. “Him,” it gasped, then let out a horrendous wail. The body convulsed as if in the throes of an apoplectic fit, choking, gasping, all the sounds of sudden death that triggered the urge to help in Grey. But this man was already dead. He was dying again, its hand still fisted in his cloak, pulling, tugging, gasping—oh, God, please let him die!

And then the corpse was still again. Dead once more.

“And they shall all rise.” The words were spoken aloud this time, from the doorway. Grey and Brianna both startled, attention drawn to the voice.

“Daddy?” Brianna gasped in disbelief.

Lightning cut across the moonless, pitch sky, revealing a man in silhouette in the doorway. The coming storm provided just enough light for Grey to make out a flash of red.

Then the figure was gone.

“Wait!” Brianna said. She picked up her skirts and dashed out of the mausoleum.

“Brianna!” Grey called, giving chase into the cemetery.

Lightning again, thunder. Rain began to fall, pattering on the gravestones. Another flash revealed the figure again. It was a redcoat. An officer. Their murderer.

The ground shook beneath them. Grey stumbled, Brianna pitched forward, and he snatched her arm, keeping her on her feet. The freshest graves shuddered first. Then others. More and more, the grass and dirt and dried flowers left by loved ones churning, falling away.

A man’s voice, the same as before, laughed, a wretched sound. “Foolish child! They shall all rise! They are mine. And they are legion.”

The grave nearest them roiled, the grass withering and dying before Grey's very eyes. The dirt fell away as if sucked impossibly down by an unfathomable, hellish vortex. And a hand emerged from the grave. Waxen, pale, the flesh rotting away from exposed bone. Dark soil clung to it, smeared down the arm that followed, wrapped loosely in a tattered sleeve. The hand scrabbled at the dirt, as if—oh dear God—the corpse was climbing from its own grave.

Another flash of lightning revealed the soldier's face. Scarred, his lips spread in a horrible sneer, eyes blood red and glowing. He wore a captain's uniform, torn and bloody.

Grey and Brianna clung to each other, eyes darting from the graves spewing their contents to the demonic captain coming towards them. Each flash of lightning brought him closer. Grey shoved Brianna behind him and drew his pistol.

"It looks like… but it isn't," she stammered. "Oh God, what is it?"

"I devoured them all," the spectre said. "Their souls have made me powerful."

Brianna rambled behind Grey, working it out. "But he died. He died in Scotland. How can he be here?"

“That’s close enough,” Grey shouted over the thunder, his pistol primed and aimed at the soldier.

“Give us the witch,” the soldier said, still coming.

“I think not,” Grey said and squeezed the trigger.

The shot rang out. A fresh hole appeared between the captain’s eyes but the impact of the ball had no other visible effect. The captain laughed. “Give us the witch,” he repeated. “I’ll bring her soul to hell with me. Where it belongs.”

It was impossible. Whoever this was, whatever it was, should be dead. Never one to sacrifice ground in a fight, Grey took a step back, hating every inch, keeping a firm grip on Brianna’s arm behind him. “To the mausoleum,” he said. “Bar the door and I’ll hold him off.”

The cemetery ground split and writhed, dead things clawing their way out of the earth.

“Demon,” Brianna breathed behind him. “He’s become a literal demon.”

“You know him?” Grey dropped his useless pistol into the grass. He drew his dagger, lamenting his lack of sword.

“Not exactly.” She’d found a little steel for her voice again. “But my parents did. Shit. Oh, Mama, what do I do?”

The demon-soldier charged them, moving faster than a man ought. Grey raised his dagger to defend them both, but the captain passed directly through the blade. Some invisible force plowed into Grey, sending him sprawling to the ground several feet away. That son of a bitch had his hand around Brianna’s throat. She tried to pry his fingers off of her and failed.

Grey scrambled to regain his footing, and a pair of hands clamped down on his legs. Whirling, he kicked at whoever—or whatever—held him. It was a woman, or it had been. Most of her face had been rotted away, leaving only a stained skull with empty eyes and gnashing teeth. Her equally decayed hands held him, dragged him toward the grave behind her.

Brianna screamed, something John couldn’t understand. There was no fear in her voice, but anger and power. An evocation.

The smell of lavender was overpowering, mingling with the metallic reek of fresh blood and rot and grave dirt.

Another scream from Brianna. Two voices came from her mouth, speaking the same words. “Jonathon Wolverton Randall, I command you back to hell!”

The demon released Brianna and staggered back as if struck. He stared at her, mouth agape with disbelief. “No.”

Brianna stood tall, the odd wind that touched only her swirling about her in a hurricane. Her cloak and skirts billowed behind her, her red hair pulled loose and dancing like living flame. “Jonathan Wolverton Randall, I revoke your power and claim it for my own!”

At the repetition of his name, the demon stepped back again, shocked, angry. But unable to move, unable to touch Brianna.

The grip on Grey’s legs weakened enough for him to move but not free himself.

“Back to hell, you fucking bastard!” A white light surrounded Brianna, bright and pure. It detached itself from her, maintaining the figure of a woman in a white dress. With dark hair.

“Once again I curse you, Jonathan Wolverton Randall,” the woman in white said. In Claire’s voice. But it wasn’t possible because Claire had died years ago. And yet, here she was. “With the knowledge that today is the day you return to hell. And I will drag you there myself.”

“Mama,” Brianna gasped. “No! There’s another way. Just tell me.”

“It’s alright, Bree,” Claire said. “He’ll never hurt anyone ever again.”

Grey finally got his legs free and climbed back to his feet, running to Brianna’s side.

“You bitch!” Randall spat.

Claire thrust out her right hand with a muttered word and Randall was thrown back to the grass. She turned, looked Grey directly in the eye, and smiled. “Take care of them, John. It’s good to see you.”

“Mama, no, don’t leave,” Brianna said. There were tears in her eyes.

“I love you, baby,” Claire replied. And then she was gone in a flash of lightning. She reappeared an instant later behind Randall, her arms around him. He screamed, a horrible, angry, tortured sound. Both spirits sank into the earth, the grass dying and turning black where they disappeared.

“Mama!” Brianna cried. Grey wrapped his arms around her and she collapsed against him, sobbing as she had when Claire had died.

The reanimated corpses stopped their ascent, sank back into their graves, and the earth settled itself as thunder crashed around them.

And then the cemetery was silent, save for the sound of Brianna’s weeping and rain falling on the trees and pattering on the headstones. The smell of lavender and blood faded away, cleansed by the cold rain. They sank to the wet grass, John holding her as she cried. “It’s alright, my dear,” he said. “It’s over. All of it.”