Excerpt for Coldest Winter Night by , available in its entirety at Smashwords

Coldest Winter Night


Quintin Fortune


Published by Quintin Fortune at Smashwords


Copyright 2017 Quintin Fortune


Smashwords Edition, License Notes

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FEBRUARY, SOME YEARS AGO

Arthur Inverno left the warm comfort of the theater for the harsh winter darkness. It was later than he intended, but the champagne flows freely after a successful run. The wind began to kick up as he stumbled in the direction he thought was home.

The snow and ice began to build into a frantic flurry. A few feet in front of him became a mere few inches, then all he could see was white. In the midst of this wintery maelstrom, something stabbed into his side. He collapsed onto the snowy bank, feeling his body grow cold just before he blacked out.


FEBRUARY, THIS YEAR.

Deadguy looked over his work with pride: an exact replica of the Battle of Chibi. If everyone involved looked like typical tiny snowmen and everyone fought with twigs. He scrunched his face as if he heard someone say something disparaging, but quickly forgot it once his phone rang. “This should be fun,” he remarked.

He looked at the unknown number. “Who the hell are you,” he answered.

“Deadguy! How the hell are ya,” a thick Brooklyn accent said through a-pack-a-day voice.

“Still didn't answer my question.”

“Randy the Rock,” the voice answered.

“Was 'Billy the Boulder' already taken?”

Randy started laughing until he began to hack. “Still got that famous wit,” he stated. “Look, I'll get right to the point. When I heard you got fired from the Professional Heroes, I told myself 'I need to get this guy'.”

“I was fired back in December,” Our Hero stated. “What took you so long?”

“Well, news travels a bit slower in certain circles, ya know?”

“Then how did you get my number?”

“A little birdie gave it to me,” he replied. “She was more like a raven,” he could hear Randy mutter under his breath.

“I'm sorry. What was that?”

“Nothin'! Nothin'. So, you interested or what?”

“Let me think about it. I can reach you at this number, right?”

“Sure! Sure!”

Deadguy hung up before Randy could say anything else. As annoying as the guy sounded, a job's a job. 'Hold on,' he thought. 'He mentioned a woman like a raven...' He pulled up Lilith's number on his phone and called it.

“Hello,” Lilith answered after a few rings.

“Lilith,” Our Hero questioned. “Who's Randy the Rock.”

“A super villain, maybe? Or a porn star?”

Deadguy jerked his head away from his phone and looked at it for a moment. “When did you start using sarcasm?”

“I learned it from you, okay?”

“Did you give that man my number?”

There was a sigh from the other end. “Deadguy, you haven't had a job in two months. I'm beginning to get worried about you,” she answered.

“Thank you,” he said warily. “But I got this. I'll get a job once everything settles down a bit. Jill kind of did me wrong.”

“Okay. In the meantime, I need your help with something. Can you meet me at Emerson Street? It's the 400 block.”

He huffed. “Alright. It's not like these snowmen are going to do anything.”


Our Hero followed Lilith through a back ally to a snow-covered vacant lot. “Is this your secret place,” he asked, looking around. “Where you come to get away from it all? Is that your rock? That's a nice rock.”

The necromancer looked at him with the normal level of confusion people always looked at him with. “No,” she answered. “There has been a spike in spectral energy lately coming from this area.”

Define, 'lately',” DG questioned.

Past few years,” she responded, making it sound like more of a question than an answer. “The NecroShip had it buried under 'Insignificant'.”

And you took it anyway. Why?”

Lilith looked him in the eyes. He saw conflicting emotions battling behind those tiny steel gray portals of her soul. “Because of you,” she answered softly. Deadguy jerked his head back, not expecting this response. “There's something about you that makes people want to help others. To be better. To...to save the world!”

Our Hero made a face as if to say 'not bad', then nodded in agreement. “I have that affect on people.”

The necromancer slugged him in the chest. “Well stop it,” she fumed. “I was perfectly happy living in the NecroShip's Library before you came along.”

First, you hunted me down,” DG stated. “Second, you can't say we're not having fun.”

Lilith turned her attention back to the vacant lot. “Anyway, there have been reports of sightings that have grown more...problematic,” she explained.

Problematic as in violent,” DG asked.

The necromancer nodded.

One question. How am I suppose to punch a ghost?”

You don't. In fact, all you need to do is be here,” she explained.

I'm bait, aren't I?”

No,” Lilith responded. “No no no. Maybe. Yes.” She pulled Gregory out of her medicine bag. “Just trust me on this one, okay?”

Our Hero threw his hands up in defeat. “Not the worse use of my abilities,” he remarked.

As Lilith used Gregory to search around, Deadguy heard the faint sound of something rustling in the snow. He glanced over his shoulder to see several mounds of snow beginning to form. The mounds popped up as average snowmen. He looked back to see the vacant lot covered in them.

Lilith was oblivious to this all, still using Gregory. A snowman starting waddling towards her. Our Hero ran up and punched the snowman's head off. The snowy body crumpled to the ground.

A few more snowmen began to converge on her. Deadguy grabbed a fallen tree branch and swung, knocking the snowmen into powdery remains.

Getting anything,” DG asked, punching another snowman's head off.

This takes time,” she replied, eyes still closed. “Go build a snowman.”

Our Hero stared down five more snowmen. Their movement sounded like crushed snow. “Really bad choice of words,” he commented.

He growled internally, then charged into the awaiting snowman army. Punches and kicks knocked off heads and caused the bodies to fall into more piles of snow. When one went down, two more took it's place. Our Hero started swinging with the fallen tree branch again, which helped stem the tide of snowmen a bit.

Deadguy stood, panting hard as the mounds of defeated snowmen scattered the vacant lot. “I think I have something,” Lilith announced.

Really,” he huffed. “Does it have anything to do with the malevolent snowmen?”

Hm,” she questioned, then shook her head. “Nevermind. Someone is buried under this tree.”

Our Hero looked over at the young Western Hemlock that had grown out of the destroyed remains of concrete. “Who killed 'em? Poison Ivy?”

All I need to do is aid in freeing the spirit and help it to move on,” she explained, ignoring his comment. She held up Gregory and began to chant. The energy in the vacant lot began to rise as the temperature dropped greatly.

Deadguy flipped the collar of his long coat up. “Next time, I bring a scarf,” he remarked.

The tree shook violently. Deadguy pulled Lilith away and stood in front of her, shielding her from whatever was about to happen.

What's going on,” they asked at the same time. He looked back at the necromancer, worried, then rolled his eyes as he turned back to the tree.

Oh this is going to suck,” he grumbled just before the tree erupted. A blue-white light spilled out from inside the trunk as something shot out. He wasn't able to catch a glimpse as he tried to block the incoming splinted timber from hitting his face.

He pulled his arms down as the light started to fade. Only the shattered trunk and a mess of leaves were all that remained of the tree. “Okay,” he said slowly. “What just happened?”

I couldn't say,”Lilith replied, peaking out from behind him. “I have never seen anything like it before.”

Have you ever heard of it?”

The necromancer thought for a moment. “I'll need to check the library,” she said finally, turning to leave. “I'll call if I find anything.”

And just like that, I'm alone again,” Deadguy commented. “This keeps up, I'm going to have abandonment issues.”


# # #


Deadguy collapsed into one of the booths at Lupie's. Snow fluttered off his long coat and plopped into tiny wet puddles. “Hey Deadguy,” a singsong voice greeted him. He looked up at the woman with navy blue hair and random comic book-themed shirt.

Hey Steph,” he replied. “How's everything?”

It's alright,” she replied. “What can I get you?”

The usual. Coffee and Hero Nachos.”

She jotted the order down and walked off to get the coffee as Our Hero looked out the giant window to the snowy street beyond. 'There's something between this murder victim and the snow. But what? Did he have snow powers to begin with? Was he murdered by snow? Did he eat radioactive snow?' The coffee cup hitting the table momentarily broke him from his thoughts. “Thanks,” he replied, then turned back to the window. “If this had happened a week ago, we could have just blamed it on January James and called it a day,” he commented to himself.

His phone rang just as the nachos hit the table. “Please don't let it be a solicitor,” he muttered over and over as he fished the phone out. “Deadguy. Pro-” He stopped. Old habits. “G'Day,” he greeted.

So, whaddaya think,” a familiar voice asked.

Our Hero squinted, trying to recall the caller. “Who are you again?”

I'm Randy!”

That's between you and the misses. Or mister. Or whoever.”

There was laughter until hacking again. “That wit of yours is going to kill me one of these days,” Randy said.

Not before the check clears,” he replied.

So you'll do it then?”

Wait, hold on. What is it exactly that you do anyway?” He pulled a chip from under the pile of cheese, the long orange string not ready to relinquish it's property.

It's something that's right up your ally,” Randy explained. “We're a protection agency that specializes in what some people would call 'high risk' individuals.”

You're not part of the mafia, are you,” DG asked. “Really don't want to deal with them.”

No! Of course not.” He didn't sound very convincing. “We help protect those that are, let's just say, very financially stable.”

The rich and elite,” Deadguy translated.

The richer they are, the more they'll pay.”

He let out a deep breath of air. It wasn't as noble as being a Professional Hero, but right now, money's money. “Alright,” he said finally. “One condition. If the person's a jerk, I'm not working for them.”

They're rich snobs,” Randy remarked. “They're all jerks.”

Not all of them. There are some good ones out there. There always is.”

There was some grumbling on the other end. “So when can ya start?”

How soon do you need me?”

Could use you today, honestly, but I'm a bit booked for now, so can you come see me tomorrow morning?”

Fine by me.” Randy gave him the addresses to the business and hung up, leaving Our Hero to finally enjoy his lunch.

He felt something crawling up his legs. When he glanced under the table, he only noticed the snow. “Um,” he said to himself. “That should have melted by now.” He stomped his feet on the floor a few times to knock the snow off.

Everything good,” Steph asked, interrupting him.

Yep. Great,” he covered. “Just...need more coffee.”

She left to grab a pot of coffee as Our Hero felt something latch onto his legs. He looked down to see the snow back on his pant legs. “Oh, come on,” he gripped. He jumped out of the booth, almost knocking poor Steph over in the process. “Sorry. Excuse me a moment,” he said as he bolted out the door.

Once outside, Deadguy stomped his feet hard on the sidewalk. First one leg, then the other, then jumping up and down to stomp both. The snow finally shook free and scattered the walk. He caught his breath for a moment before turning to head inside.

There was a faint rumbling behind him. Looking back, he noticed the snow along the side of the sidewalk started to form a barrier. He arched an eyebrow. The snow barrier grew into a wall, towering over him.

Greeeat,” he drew out just before the giant snow wall fell on him. Inside the pure white pandemonium, Our Hero tried to fight back against the onslaught as he was being hit from all sides. Hands grabbed him and pulled him free. The sunlight shook him out of his fighting frenzy.

He blinked a few times, trying to adjust to the light.

What the fuck just happened,” Amanda asked. Only then did her see her and Steph standing over him.

The snow tried to kill me,” he explained. “Seriously. What kind of city do we live in where snow tries to kill you?”

A northern one,” she replied.

Deadguy started to dust snow off his long coat and glared at the heap of snow that tried to bury him. Something weird was going on, and the snow had something to do with it.


Dusk fell quickly as Deadguy met up with Lilith in front of an abandoned theater. He had a cordless hair dryer tucked into his belt. “What's with that,” she questioned.

If you had the day I had, you would be packing heat too,” he replied.

The necromancer sighed. “I did some research,” she explained. “In that area was a murder around the time that was left unsolved due to lack of evidence.”

And we're here because...?”

The victim was one Arthur Inverno. He was a prominent actor at the time that worked here at the Eisig Theater with the Othello Company”

Our Hero looked over the building. “Falling on hard times,” he questioned.

They closed down soon after Arthur's death,” Lilith answered. “No explanation given.” She began to fiddle with the lock on the door.

Do you know what you're doing?”

Yes. I learned from an Nineteenth Century burglar how to lock pick,” the necromancer responded, trying to move one hairpin around while wiggling another. “He said that locks haven't changed much, just became smaller.”

Deadguy watched her for a few moments, then turned the nob and the door slowly swung open. Lilith squatted there for a moment. “I got it loose,” she defended.

Mm hm,” he replied as he pulled the hair dryer out of his belt and walked in. The backstage area of the theater was a collapsed mess. The smell of musty cloth and rotted wood floated through the air. Light crept in from the holes from the caved-in sections of roofing.

They heard something creak above them, then a scampering of footsteps. “A little big for a rat,” Deadguy commented.

Not a rat,” Lilith stated. “Come on.”

The two followed after the noise, over fallen rafters and crumbling backgrounds. The chase led them to an actor's changing room. The name on the door was faded by time. Deadguy leaned on the side of the door with the handle as Lilith leaned in behind him. He glanced over at her and pointed to the other side of the wall. She quickly slipped over. He placed his hand on the handle and silently counted to three.

On three, he threw the door open and charged in. He had his hair dryer ready. Lilith shot in behind him, hands formed to start casting a spell. Across the room, an old man with a long beard and wild hair cowered under a broken makeup desk. He held his arms out as if to protect himself. “Don't hurt me,” he cried out, his voice raspy.

Deadguy lowered his hair dryer. He then reached out and lowered Lilith's hands as well. “Okay,” he asked. “Who squats in an abandoned theater?”

When you're branded as a murderer, there's not many places to live,” the man replied.

Small world,” DG cried. “We're investigating a murder.”

The man's eyes grew wide. “I didn't kill him,” he yelled. “Arthur was like a brother to me.”

People have killed their own brothers before,” the necromancer stated. “That statement means nothing.”

But I swear I didn't,” he insisted.

Okay, fine,” Deadguy said. “Then who did, Mister...?”

Manning. Presley Manning,” he introduced. “And Arthur was the Estragon to my Vladimir.”

Lilith and Deadguy looked at one another. Our Hero shrugged.

We were a great duo,” Presley continued. “No mater which on of use led, we both knew how to make a scene work. It was just after our successful run of...the Scottish play when Arthur left, drunk with happiness and wine. Can't say which he had more of. I told him not to leave, but he wouldn't listen. When I didn't hear from him the next day, I began to worry.”

The ceiling creaked under a sudden strong wind.

I followed his walk home from the theater only to find him laying dead and half-buried in snow in a vacant lot. I did the only thing I could.”

Called the police,” Lilith questioned.

Presley sadly looked up at her and shook his head. “I should have, but I was afraid someone would blame me for the murder, so I buried him in the area that hadn't been paved over yet.”

Let me get this straight,” Our Hero interrupted. “You followed the route your friend might have taken, found him dead, went back to get a shovel, BURIED HIM, and you don't think that's suspicious?”

The wind started to pick up outside. It roared over the holes in the roof, causing a how to echo throughout the theater. Presley shrunk farther under his desk, muttering “He's come for me,” over and over.

It's just the wind,” DG stated.

Lilith turned her attention to the roof. “No,” she said slowly. “There is a voice. It's faint, but angry.” The roof began to tremble. Deadguy held up his hair dryer. There was the sound of something big smashing against the walls of the theater.

Sounds angry,” the necromancer commented.

Sounds like we got a fight on our hands,” DG replied. He pulled the trigger on the hair dryer. The two ran out of the dressing room to find a massive amount of snow flooding the hallway. “Is it bad that this is EXACTLY what I was expecting?”

What kind of day have you had,” Lilith questioned.

A weird one.” He held the hair dryer out, ready to melt whatever the snow threw at him. The snow responded by launching a huge snowball at him. Our Hero went crashing down the hallway as Lilith threw up a spell to protect her from any further attacks. The snow flowed past her and started heading into the dressing room.

There was a scream from inside. Lilith rushed back in to see the snow trying to bury Presley. She yelled out a spell, causing ripples to course across the snow. She tried again, but the snow still was trying to bury him.

Suddenly, the roof came crashing down as Valkadaidan landed in the room. He glanced over his shoulder at Lilith, then unsheathed two crimson katanas from his collection of six different blades that clung to his waist.

I'm on your side,” she said quickly.

He snorted, then went after the snow. With a few quick slices, he had Presley freed from the attack. Another few hits saw the snow beginning to retreat. Lilith muttered an incantation and flung her hand at the retreating snow. There were footsteps, then Deadguy almost feel into the room.

Hey Lil, are you-” He stopped, staring at Valkadaidan. “And what the fuck are you doing here?”

This is Professional Hero business,” Jill declared, storming up to them. “Stand aside or I will have you removed.”

We were here first,” Lilith defended.

Yep. Calling dibs,” Our Hero added.

Jill glared at him, then turned her attention back to Lilith. “You have no authority in this matter.”

Yeah we do,” DG remarked. “I'm a private investigator.”

No you're not,” Jill spat.

Damn it! She saw through my ruse.”

Stay out of our way from now on,” Jill growled before she turned and left.

Deadguy turned to see Valkadaidan walking out of the dressing room with Presley slumped over his shoulder. “Hey, we need him,” he protested.

He's coming with us for safety reasons,” the Dragon-Blooded replied.

Why are you guys involved in this,” Lilith questioned.

We're getting paid for it,” he answered before following after Jill.

The two looked at each other with concern.


# # #


The next morning, Deadguy sat in the cramped, dingy office of Randy 'the Rock' Ferguson. The stout man had a buzz cut that made his head box-shaped. A cigar was firmly clamped to the side of his mouth. “Alright,” Randy said. “Just gotta fill in a few things and we'll be good to go. Name?”

Our Hero looked confused. “Deadguy?”

Randy looked up for a moment. “Name?”

Deadguy,” he repeated.

Name,” Randy growled.

Title character. One word. Deadguy.”

Randy huffed. A plumb of smoke jumped from his mouth and tried to escape into the ceiling. He scribbled the name down. “Age?”

How old do I look?”

Fine! When's your birthday?”

Deadguy shrugged. “August 29th.”

What year?”

Every year.”

Randy stared dagger at him. “You're Twenty-nine,” he snapped as he wrote it down. “You have a Social Security number?”

Our Hero's eyes grew wide for a moment, then looked around the room. “Yeah. Sure,” he responded. “How many do you need?”

Randy's shoulders sank. “You don't have a Social Security number, do you?”

No no. I have one. It's...two.”

Randy blinked in disbelief. “I'll get you a number from one of my sources,” he said finally. “You have an address?”

I actually do have one of those.” He rattled off his address.”Anything else?”

Nothing a medical exam won't answer, but we'll deal with that later. “Randy tried to reach across the desk to shake Deadguy's hand, but came up short. Deadguy had to stand up a bit out of his chair to shake his hand. “Welcome to the team.”


Our Hero laid out on a park bench. His first day at Rock Protection Agency was a long one. Trying to help people without back up was exhausting. “You can say that again,” he muttered, pulling his cap over his eyes.

Did your landlord kick you out,” Lilith's concerned voice asked.

Deadguy eased his hat up. “Eh?” He looked up at her worried expression. The look only a little sister knows how to make. “No. Not yet. Why?”

The necromancer regained her composure. “Oh. No reason.” Deadguy sat up on the bench as she sat down next to him. “Why are you lying down on the bench then?”

First day of work.”

Hey! You got a job. Good for you,” she exclaimed.

Yeah, and it already sucks.”

That seems a bit harsh.”

When did being a hero involve all these rules and regulations,” he questioned. “Can't do this. Can't do that. 'Don't throw chairs at people'. 'You can't Justice Punch someone through a window'. What's the use of being a hero if I can't Justice Punch someone through a window?”

Lilith's face was blank. “O-kay,” she stammered. “Anyway, I think I was able to pin down where they took Presley.”

Great. Let's go get him,” DG replied, springing up from his seat.

Small problem,” she continued. “He's being guarded in the Professional Heroes' office building.”

Our Hero plopped back down on the bench. “What are we going to do about it then?”

The wind began to kick up a bit as the sun was setting. Lilith pulled her hood down further on her head. “Something's not right,” she muttered.

The snowy embankment across from them began to shuffle around and form into something human. “Oh no, not again,” Our Hero remarked flatly.

The human form began to grow in size, towering over the two and touching the top of the trees. There was suddenly the sound of sirens piercing the air. The park was flooded with police lights as Jill, Valk and Kiri came running into view.

It's okay,” Our Hero called out to them. “We got this. Go back to your office building.”

This is officially Professional Hero business,” Jill yelled at them. “Get the hell out of here.”

It just showed up,” Lilith defended. “We were not even looking for it. It...” She paused, thinking. “It found us,” she said quieter.

Doesn't matter,” Jill retorted. “We're here to stop it, and we have someone that can help.”

An armored truck pulled up from out of the snowy mess. Kiri pushed a button on her smartphone and the tail end eased open. Inside sat a woman of indeterminable age in a simple black dress that exposed her shoulders and had long sleeves that flared open as they went down the arms. On her head was a witch hat that appeared larger than her small round head. Even with her eyes closed, she looked as if she was mad at the world.

Her eyes snapped open. Her gaze passed over them like a tigress looking over her prey. The necromancer crinkled up her nose, as if she just smelled something foul.

Huh,” Deadguy exclaimed. “Never thought it possible.”

Thought what,” Lilith asked.

They found someone angrier than Valk.”

Valkadaidan growled, staring at him.

This is Allysa,” Jill introduced. “She is a Chaos Mage.”

Thought so,” Lilith remarked.

There was a massive snowy fist that slammed onto the ground mere feet from them. They all looked up at the mass of angry snow. “Fine,” DG said. “Whatever. Just do what you gotta do.”

Allysa pulled a long dirk out of the sleeve of her dress. She slashed the air as she aimed at the swirling snowy maelstrom. “Qjgc hcdl,” she yelled. Little flickers of flames started to dance within the storm. In seconds, the blizzard was replaced by a blazing tornado.

Ooo, pretty,” Kiri cooed.

Yeah, that's nice and all,” Deadguy agreed. “But when does it start melting?” They all watched as the fires continued without any sign of melting the snow. “This isn't going to end well.”

I think not,” Lilith responded quickly.

The flames whipped around and around as something within started to roar. Fires began to lash out of the tornado, scorching the ground and charring parts of trees.

Our Hero pulled Lilith out of the way as a flame whip slapped the space where she once stood. They both watched the growing inferno. “Any ideas,” he asked her.

It's Arthur,” she replied. “He's causing this. But...how?”

Deadguy noticed that Allysa hadn't moved from her spot in front of the burning blizzard tornado. The witch hat was tilted up. He ran off towards her. “Figure out how to calm him down,” he shouted.

Where are you going,” she yelled after him.

To get Pippi Goth Stockings out of the way!” He ran up and tackled her out of the way just as a tree was ripped out of the ground and slammed into the place she stood a few seconds before.

Unhand me, cur,” she yelled.

Deadguy threw his hands up in defeat. “Yeah, whatever,” he said. “I don't have time for you anyway.” He looked up at the snowy golem as Valkadaidan and Kiri began trying to combat it. “I have to figure out a way to punch snow in the face.” Our hero looked around, then broke a branch off one of the fallen burnt trees. He charged into the fray, only to be knocked aside by a massive snowy arm. He landed before the necromancer.

Arthur the snow golem moved to crush him, but Lilith stood between them.

She locked eyes with the elemental. “You don't need to do this,” she said, calm yet stern.

The croaking raven doth bellow for revenge,” the elemental roared.

And I bet you were expecting 'revenge is a dish best served cold',” Deadguy quipped, slowly standing back up.

The elemental lifted one of its massive hands and began to bring it crashing down on the necromancer. Within seconds, there was a flash of crimson as the hand was eviscerated down to the wrist. Valkadaidan suddenly stood between the elemental and Lilith, his crimson katanas in each hand. A dusting of snow fell on them.

Thank you,” she said. The Dragon-Blooded simply grunted in response, then ran back into battle.

Figured anything out yet,” DG asked her.

I need some time to find his essence, then pull it out,” she answered. “It's mixed in with the snow somehow.”

Then back into the hellish snow fight I go,” he remarked, following Valk.

The snowy golem wasted no time knocking Deadguy back, slamming him into a statue mere feet from Lilith. The sound of shattering spine rippled through her ears. The necromancer hurried over to the slumped over body. “Hey, wake up,” she said, slapping his cheek.

Why are you slapping me,” he garbled as he came back to life.

I think I figured out a way to take him down,” she announced.

Great. Does it involve a giant glowing weak spot?”

Masamune,” Lilith declared. “Can you call it?”

Would if I could,” Our Hero stated. “It doesn't listen to me.”

Then I shall bring it here.”

Careful. It's fickle,” he warned. “Only someone with the Heart of the Hero can wield it.”

You think you are the only one in history to match that description?”

Deadguy sheepishly rubbed the back of his head. The sound of Valkadaidan roaring shook the snow at their feet.

I'm guessing the previous owner is no longer in the Mortal Realm,” she questioned.

I guess,” he answered. “There wasn't a 'if lost return to' sticker on it.”

Lilith cupped her hands and breathed out a wisp of energy. “Masamune's Iseot,” she ordered softly. The wisp bolted into the air and hooked a left towards New Tao's famous five block graveyard known as the Necropolis.

A gigantic fist almost came down on them. Deadguy pulled Lilith out of the way. “How long is it going to take,” he asked.

A cloud of snow suddenly erupted in front of them. As it settled, the ghostly image of a portly man stood before them, Masamune in hand.

I thought I buried this thing,” the man said, his voice sounding distant.

It's a long story,” DG replied. He held his hand out. “May I?”

The ghostly man handed Masamune over to Our Hero. As he grabbed it, there was a surge of power. The snow beneath them melted away. He flipped the bat to catch it by the grip, then swung it through the air a few times.

Heart of a Hero, huh,” the ghostly man questioned.

Yeah. We're still around,” he answered.

The man chuckled as he faded from sight. “Good thing I was wrong,” he said before completely disappearing.

Alright, back to the action,” DG remarked, running after the snow golem. The creature reached down to crush him, but was quickly thwarted by the swing of his weapon. The attack knocked away a mass of snow, leaving only a nub. The creature stared at the remains. It tried to crush him with the other hand, but Valk stopped him by slicing off the arm. That arm grew back quickly.

Deadguy and Valkadaidan worked to fight back the icy effigy of Arthur. Lilith and Allysa chanted to banish both physical and spiritual forms of the adversary. Kiri maintained the barrier, keeping everything in while Jill shouted orders from the sideline.

Nice to see Jill hasn't changed,” DG stated as he knocked away an icy fist. It went soaring away from the battlefield over the trees. Another quickly grew in its place.

She's gotten worse,” the Dragon-Blooded replied. He sliced an incoming icy hand into several pieces. Another hand shot out from the nub.

Qpcxhw xrt,” Allysa yelled.

Mesno Frem,” Lilith exclaimed.

Within seconds, the icy effigy shattered into millions of little ice chips. A tiny wisp fled away from the frozen scene and landed in Lilith's waiting hands. She held up Gregory. “Open up,” she commanded.

<It seems a bit small/I am not hungry at all>,” the skull complained.

Open,” she ordered. The skull's jaw snapped open, and the necromancer popped the wisp inside.

Jill stormed up to Deadguy. “I should have you arrested,” she hissed.

For what,” Our Hero protested.

Interfering in police business.”

Since when did the Professional Heroes count as part of the police force?”

Since Mayor Llygredd signed an executive order,” she replied harshly.

The two former friends stared each other down.

Can we go please,” Kiri squealed, breaking the tension. “I'm freezing my shiri off.”

They kept eye contact for a moment longer, then Jill turned to leave. “Stay out of our business from now on,” she warned.

As Deadguy watched the people he once called family walk away, he found a wave of emotions wash over him. Anger. Pain. Rejection. Fear. He saw Kiri pause, look over her shoulder, and give a small wave before she turned back to catch up with the others.

Everything alright,” Lilith asked.

He breathed a deep sigh, then turned to her and gave her a bright smile. “Fantastic,” he replied.


A few days later, there was a knock at Deadguy's door. “Pizza's early,” he remarked. He opened it to find Lilith standing there, a wooden box in her hands. “You're not pizza.”

You're observant,” she replied. “I have something for you. “She thrust the box towards him.

He opened it to find a pair of fingerless fighting gloves covered in strange, swirling runes. “Belated Christmas present?”

They're called Spectral Hands,” she explained. “They will help you when fighting ghosts and spirits.”

He slipped them on. They felt like silk. He threw a few punches in the air. “These are really sweet,” he remarked. “Why are you giving them to me?”

Because we're friends,” she sighed. “And because when I need your help again, these will help you.”

Deadguy pulled her in for a hug. The necromancer was unsure what to do, but instinct took over and she hugged him as well.


END


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