107 - Grave Matters

The first breath upon returning from the grave was always the hardest. Max Gallian filled their lungs with air, the freshest they’d had in days, in a single desperate intake. Fingers clasped fruitlessly against the cold steel of the gurney.

They lay, naked except for a thin blue blanket, on a hospital gurney. They weren’t strapped down. Opening their eyes hurt at first, but it helped that the room was dark.

There was a sound, people coughing.

“Who’s there?”

They couldn’t see, not quite yet. This was troubling.

“Rosa Rook’s not done with ya,” a man’s voice answered. “Get up. We were just able to bring ya back accordin’ to the procedure, but you gotta do the other two.”

Other two?

Max squinted against the darkness. Outlines emerged out of a dark blur. Human figures. More gurneys. People on them.

“Wha- what?” they croaked.

“You gotta revive these two,” the man’s voice came again. A hand pointed from one silhouette down at the gurneys. “He said ya could. Ya knew how to bring people back, from a state like this.”

Max was not precisely a necromancer. Truth be told, they were more of an anti-necromancer. The curse of the ghost-blooded was a horrible thing, the veil a torment to pass through. Breaching it was simply… wrong. So what had happened here?

Both bodies had toe tags. One read “Roksana Mahdavi - aka Facet”. The other read “Kamley Saunders - aka Iconoclast”. Both about the same age. Both apparently dead. No breathing. Skin pale, everything motionless.

“What happened to us?” Max asked.

The man answers after a moment’s hesitation. “Rosa Rook. Made some kinda deal with someone on the Other Side. Put you three into a death-trance, I guess it’s called. Like you’re dead, only you’re not. AEGIS had custody of you three, but no point in holdin’ onto a corpse. They turned ya over to their Department 42 for autopsy. That’s how we gotcha.”

Max nodded. But made a deal with who? This is concerning.

“I can bring them back. I require solitude.”

The men looked at each other.

“It means, leave.”

The apparent leader gestured to his fellows, and the pack departed. Max began to speak the words, in a language known only by the dead and dreaming gods of the Afternight.

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The two women drew their own shocked breaths at the same time. Max was ready, with reassuring hands on shoulders and low whispers. “You live - you’re safe - just breathe for the moment - you’re frightened, but this will pass.”

“There’s… there was… screaming.” This from Roksana Mahdavi, the girl whose body showed widespread surgical scars.

“Yes, well.” Max thought of how to explain what lay beyond the veil. “Just think of them as nightmares.”

“I need my hearing aid.” This from the other girl, Kamley Saunders. “Don’t bother talking to me until I have it.”

Max looked around the room. Had their Rook benefactors thought ahead to these considerations? There were changes of clothes, stacked on a chair in the corner, but no hearing aid. While the other two recovered their senses, Max dressed themselves, and dragged the chair across linoleum flooring to sit between the two gurneys.

In time, everyone was dressed. The Rook men were still outside, presumably. Max wanted a few more minutes alone. They positioned themselves so Kamley could lip-read - and hoped she could - and tried their best to explain.

“Rosa Rook. Rook Industries. We were captives. It seems she made a devil’s bargain to make us appear to be dead, as a means of extracting us from AEGIS custody. I suspect she will want a quid pro quo. Her men are outside this room.”

The two seemed at least groggily to get it, and Max went on. “Listen. I don’t know your histories, but I know something is terribly amiss here. I am going to ask for your help in getting to the bottom of this mystery. I expect they will want to keep us together. Your lives were literally taken from you, by something that ought not have been invoked. Please. Will you cooperate with me on this?”

“This was never in my contract,” Roksana muttered. “I was just supposed to demo the tech…”

Kamley seemed more aggressive. “Nobody has any business messing with human lives like that. I’m on your side here. For now.”

Max nodded, gratefully. “Very well. Then let’s invite these men back inside, and find out what they’ll tell us.”

Max moved toward the door, flanked by their new allies of the moment. Whatever was to come next, at least there was now a chance.

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This puts our villains back in play, and sets up a new mystery to think about. Any other villains we want to hear about?