“Sydney,” he said some time later, “you don’t have to tell me your power if you don’t want, but I need you to understand something. I’m going to do everything I can to beat Eli, but he’s not an easy opponent. His power alone makes him nearly invincible, and he may be crazy, but he’s cunning. Every advantage he has makes it harder for me to win. The fact that he knows your power, and the fact that I don’t, puts me at a disadvantage. Do you understand?”
Sydney’s steps had slowed, and she nodded, but said nothing. It took all of Victor’s patience not to force her hand, but a moment later, that patience was rewarded. The two of them passed an alley, and heard a low whine. Sydney broke away and turned back, and when Victor followed, he saw what she had seen.
A large black shape stretched on the damp concrete, panting. It was a dog. Victor knelt just long enough to run a finger down its back, and the whining faded. Now the only sounds it made were shuddering breaths. At least it wouldn’t be in pain. He stood again, frowning the way he did whenever he was thinking. The dog looked mangled, as if it had been hit by a car and staggered the few feet into the alley before crumpling.
Sydney crouched down by the dog, stroking its short black fur.
“After Eli shot me,” she said in a soft, cooing voice, as if speaking to the dying dog instead of Victor, “I swore I’d never use my power again. Not in front of anyone.” She swallowed hard, and looked up at Victor. “Kill it.”
Victor arched an eyebrow. “With what, Syd?”
She gave him a long, hard look.
“Please kill the dog, Victor,” she said again.
He looked around. The alley was empty. He sighed and pulled a handgun from its place against his back. Digging in his pocket he retrieved a silencer, and screwed it on, glancing over it at the wheezing dog.
“Scoot back,” he said, and Sydney did. Victor took aim, and pulled the trigger once, a clean shot. The dog stopped moving, and Victor turned away, already dismantling his gun. When Sydney didn’t follow, he glanced back to find her crouching over the dog again, running her hands back and forth along its bloody coat and its crushed ribs in small, soothing motions. And then, as he watched, she went still. Her breath hovered in a cloud in front of her lips, and her face tightened in pain.
“Sydney—” he started, but the rest of the sentence died in his throat as the dog’s tail moved. One slight swoosh across the dirty pavement. And then again, right before the body tensed. The bones cracked back into place, the chest inflated, the rib cage reformed, and the legs stretched. And then, the beast sat up. Sydney backed away as the dog pushed itself to its four feet, and looked at them, tail wagging tentatively. The dog was... huge. And very much alive.
Victor watched, speechless. Up until now he’d had factors, thoughts, ideas about how to find Eli. But as he watched the dog blink and yawn and breathe, a plan began to take shape. Sydney looked cautiously his way, and he smiled.
“Now that,” he said, “is a gift.”
She petted the dog between the ears, both of which stood roughly eye level with her.
“Can we keep him?”
* * *
Victor tossed his coat onto the couch as Sydney and the dog wandered in behind him.
“It’s time to send a message,” he announced, dropping the Vale self-help book he’d bought onto the counter with a flourish and a thud. “To Eli Ever.”
“Where the hell did that dog come from?” asked Mitch.
“I get to keep him,” said Sydney.
“Is that blood?”
“I shot him,” said Victor, searching through his papers.
“Why would you do that?” asked Mitch, closing the laptop.
“Because he was dying.”
“Then why isn’t he dead?”
“Because Sydney brought him back.”
Mitch turned to consider the small blond girl in the middle of their hotel living room. “Excuse me?”
Her eyes went to the floor. “Victor named him Dol,” she said.
“It’s a measurement of pain,” explained Victor.
“Well, that’s morbidly appropriate,” said Mitch. “Can we get back to the part where Sydney resurrected him? And what do you mean you’re going to send Eli a message?”
Victor found what he was looking for, and turned his attention to the hotel’s floor-to-ceiling windows and the sun beyond them, trying to gauge the amount of light that stood between him and full night.
“When you want to get someone’s attention,” he said, “you wave, or you call out, or you send up a flare. These things are dependent on proximity and intensity. Too far away, or too quiet, and there’s no guarantee the person will see or hear you. I didn’t have a bright enough flare before, a way to guarantee his attention short of making a scene myself, which would have worked, but I’d have lost the advantage. Now, thanks to Sydney, I know the perfect method and message.” He held up the news article and with it, the notes Mitch had made for him on Barry Lynch, the supposed criminal from the foiled bank robbery. “And we’re going to need shovels.”
The shovel hit wood, and stuck.
Victor and Sydney cleared the last of the dirt away, and tossed the shovels up onto the grass rim around the grave. Victor knelt and pulled the coffin lid back. The body within was fresh, well preserved, a man in his thirties with dark, slicked-back hair, a narrow nose, and close-set eyes.
“Hello, Barry,” said Victor to the corpse.
Sydney couldn’t take her eyes from the body. He looked slightly... deader... than she would have liked, and she wondered what color his eyes would be when they opened.
There was a moment of silence, almost reverent, before Victor’s hand came down on her shoulder.
“Well?” he said, pointing to the body. “Do your thing.”
* * *
The corpse shuddered, opened its eyes, and sat up. Or at least, it tried to.
“Hello, Barry,” said Victor.
“What... the... hell...?” said Barry, finding the lower two thirds of his body pinned beneath the bottom half of the coffin lid, which was presently being held shut by Victor’s boot.
“Are you acquainted with Eli Cardale? Or maybe he goes by Ever now.”
Barry was clearly still grasping the exact details of his situation. His eyes snapped from the coffin to the wall of dirt to the night sky, to the man with blond hair interrogating him and the girl sitting at the grave opening, swinging her small legs in their bright blue leggings. Sydney looked down, and was surprised and a bit disappointed to find that Barry’s eyes were an ordinary brown. She’d hoped they would be green.
“Fucking Ever,” Barry growled, banging his fist against the coffin. He flickered in and out of sight a little each time, like a shorting projection. The air made faint whooshing noises, like far-off explosions every time he did. “He said it was a tryout! Like, for a Hero League or some shit—”
“He wanted you to rob a bank to prove you were a hero?” Skepticism dripped from Victor’s voice. “And then what?”
“What the fuck does it look like, ass hat?” Barry gestured down at his body. “He killed me! The bastard walks right up in the middle of a demonstration he told me to do, and he shoots me.”
So Victor was right. It had been a setup. Eli had staged a killing as a rescue. He had to admit, it was one way to get away with murder.
“I mean, I’m dead, right? This isn’t some shit prank?”
“You were dead,” said Victor. “Now, thanks to my friend, Sydney, you’re a bit less dead.”
Barry was spluttering curses and crackling like a sparkler. “What did you do?” He spat at Sydney. “You broke me.” Sydney frowned as he continued to short out, lighting up the grave in a strange, camera-flash kind of way. She had never resurrected an EO before. She wasn’t sure if all the pieces would—could—come back. “You broke my power, you little—”
“We have a job for you,” cut in Victor.
“Fuck off, does it look like I want a job? I want to get out of this fucking coffin.”
“I think you want to take this job.”
“Blow me. You’re Victor Vale, right? Ever told me about you when he was trying to recruit me.”
“It’s nice that he remembers,” said Victor, his patience wearing thin.
“Yeah, think you’re high and mighty, causing pain and shit? Well I’m not afraid of you.” He flickered in and out again. “Got that? Let me out and I’ll show you pain.”
Sydney watched Victor’s hand tighten into a fist, and felt the air hum around her, but Barry didn’t seem to feel anything. Something was wrong. She’d gone through the motions, given him a second chance, but he hadn’t come back the way the ordinary humans had, not all the way. The air stopped humming, and the man in the coffin cackled.
“Hah, see? Your little bitch messed up, didn’t she? I don’t feel a thing! You can’t hurt me!”
At that, Victor straightened.
“Oh, sure I can,” he said pleasantly. “I can shut the lid. Put the dirt back. Walk away. Hey,” he called up to Sydney, who was still swinging her legs over the side of the grave. “How long would it take for an undead to become dead again?”