Mordecai arrived at the cemetery a couple of hours sooner than he had expected. The Gatekeepers conducted their business all over the world, but the head honchos worked out of an old church in Lawrence, which was right next to one of the most feared places in America. The cemetery that sat next to the church was considered by many to be a gate that led straight to hell, and if Mordecai didn’t already know better, he would be inclined to believe it. He had seen some wicked things rise up out of those graves before; come to think of it, that might be the very reason the Gatekeepers had set up shop there. They made it their business to handle evil and darkness that the general public couldn’t understand.
Alistair had explained to him once that the Gatekeepers had been around for thousands of years, and that they were the group that was the primary defense for the human race against the more magical and mystical forces of darkness. He had also said some things about other realms and places, but he hadn’t really understood much of that. What he took away from the conversation was that the Gatekeepers were the good guys, and that was all that mattered to him.
As he trotted up to the church entrance, he shifted back into his human form. He slapped the dust away from his clothes with his hat and knocked his boots together. For whatever reason, he didn’t feel right tracking any kind of mess into the Gatekeepers’ office. As he finished dusting himself off, one of the younger Gatekeepers came outside and greeted him. A clean-cut, dark-haired man, Clive appeared to be in his early twenties, but Mordecai knew that he was well into his hundreds. Something about being a Gatekeeper gave you an exceptionally long lifespan.
Clive reached out his hand as he descended the two steps to the street where Mordecai stood.
“It’s good to see you, my friend,” he said. “I trust you were able to make the trip there and back in relative safety?”
Mordecai chuckled. “Well, I’m here, ain’t I?”
Clive smiled. “Of course; it was a silly question. Come inside and I’ll get you something to drink. Alistair will be pleased to know that you have returned.”
Mordecai nodded, and the two of them entered the church. Clive uttered a quick incantation, and the doors opened. The doors were guarded by magic to keep any unwanted or unexpected guests from entering their base of operations. Mordecai had never bothered to learn the incantation, as whenever he arrived, someone was always waiting and ready to let him in.
They stepped inside, and were presented with a view that always seemed futuristic to Mordecai. The sanctuary had been sectioned off into several rooms with a hallway that led down the middle between them all. Two-thirds of the way to the back of the building, the space opened up again, leading into a wide room with a large table in the center. The scene was something he never really got used to. It was all so organized, yet extremely busy, no matter what time of day or night. People and strange beings hustled and bustled about, caught up in the task at hand. The closest comparison he had been able to come to was that it reminded him of a bank or a newspaper press; people were always coming and going, busy with various projects, and at the center of it all, was Alistair.
Alistair sat at the head of the table, reading out of an old leather-bound book. He marked his place and looked up as Clive and Mordecai entered the room.
“Welcome back, Mr. Tressle. I trust you have good news for me today?”
Alistair stood and motioned for the two of them to sit. When they had all been seated, Mordecai replied.
“Well, yes and no. I know what happened to the spellbinders, but I’m not sure you’re going to like it.”
Alistair sighed. “My suspicions were correct, then?”
“Unfortunately,” Mordecai said. “I was able to track them into the Colorado Rockies. From what I can tell, a band of necromancers has taken them hostage up in the old Indian burial grounds. I would have gone after them myself, but I hope you can understand why I came back here for reinforcements.”
Alistair steepled his fingers and pressed them against his lips for a moment. “Indeed; I would not dream of asking you to go up against necromancers by yourself, especially in territory such as that. You are sure that is where they are being held, though?”
Mordecai nodded silently.
Alistair sighed again. “Very well, we shall put together a team and go in after them. Clive, would you mind bringing in Cecilia and Alice, please?”
“Of course, sir.”
The slender man stood up from the table and walked down the hall to one of the small rooms, returning with the two women. Well, they were both females. Only one of them was actually human. Alice was a tall, thin woman with dark brown hair and piercing brown eyes; she had a faint scar on her left cheek where a gremlin had caught her off-guard with a knife (it didn’t end well for the gremlin, to say the least.) Her looks and mannerisms reminded Mordecai of a hawk; majestic and beautiful, yet terrifying and dangerous. She had been a slave before Alistair had freed her; he had paid a steep price for her freedom, and in return, she had joined the Gatekeepers.
Cecilia, however, was almost the complete opposite. She was very short, barely three and a half feet tall. Her long golden hair was tied back into a ponytail behind her head, showcasing her fair complexion and soft features. She was an elf, from one of those “other realms” that Alistair had told him about. Her quiet, calm appearance was rather deceiving, however, as Mordecai had seen her fight her way out of a bar once with nothing but a deck of cards. When it was all said and done, she had levelled thirteen full-grown men, cow-hands no less, without even mussing up her hair. Needless to say, neither of these two girls was someone to tango with. They could more than hold their own.
When Alice and Cecilia had taken their seats at the table, Alistair laid out his plan.
“Alright, Mordecai has told me that the missing coven of spellbinders has been taken hostage by a group of necromancers, and they have holed up in the Indian burial grounds in Colorado. I’m assuming they have retreated into the caves there?”
Everyone looked to Mordecai, who nodded, and Alistair continued.
“The five of us will travel out there as quickly as we can and free them. As I am unsure of the skill level of these necromancers, or exactly how many of them there are, I will be coming along. I can’t have my best agents getting themselves killed by walking into a trap. If you are going into an ambush, I would much rather be with you, if only to ease my own conscience.”
Mordecai cleared his throat. “While I was up there, I only seen a handful of them, maybe five or six at most.”
Alistair nodded. “We must assume that there are more of them in the caves. Between the five of us, I believe we could take on upwards of twenty of them, if need be. I have full faith in each of your abilities in the mystical arts as well as your own self-defense, but please indulge me; I would feel much more comfortable coming with you. If I were to await your return, I would be sitting on pins and needles until you came back.”
Alice cocked her head to one side and squinted at Alistair. “I don’t mean any disrespect, sir, but what aren’t you telling us? We’ve gone up against worse than just necromancers before, and you never batted an eye. What’s different about these guys?”
Alistair rubbed his eyes. “In all my years, I have only known necromancers to kidnap the magically gifted for one thing, and that is for sacrifice in their dark rituals. If that is indeed what is going on here, not only are their numbers going to be higher than reported, but they will be stronger than those you have faced in the past. If you add that to the fact that there has not been a report of a band of necromancers east of St. Louis in almost one hundred and fifty years, you will come to understand why this entire situation makes me uneasy.”
Cecilia sighed and shook her head. “It does seem curious,” she said, her soft voice floating over the room like the sound of a wind chime. “Where did they come from, and why are they performing this ritual now? It is not the full moon, nor is it the harvest, the times when the dark arts are the strongest. I agree with Alistair; taking immense caution in this situation is the best course of action.”
Alistair smiled softly. “Thank you, Cecilia. I have always valued your wisdom and your judgement, and the fact that you agree with my assessment of the situation bolsters my confidence in my decision. Now, I would like you three to finish whatever tasks require your immediate attention, and meet back with me in several hours. As for you, Mordecai, you look exhausted. We will get you a warm meal and you need to get some rest before we make the return journey. We have quite a task ahead of us, and I want all of you to be well rested and prepared for it.”
Everyone stood up as the meeting was adjourned, and while Mordecai made his way downstairs to the guest room that had been his home for the last several years, the others quickly got back to work, finished up their immediate projects and packed for the trip ahead.
Mordecai awoke to see Alistair and the other three Gatekeepers standing over him.
“Up and at ‘em, sunshine,” Alice said with a grin. “We’re going on a hunt.”
Mordecai jumped out of bed and jogged over to the water basin to quickly wash the sleep from his face before they left. As he patted his scraggly face dry, he noticed Alice was watching him with a thoughtful look on her face.
“What is it?” he asked.
She shook her head. “Nothing, really. I just noticed that even when you’re not in your other form, you move around like a wolf.”
Mordecai furrowed his brow and tilted his head. “What do you mean?”
Alice shrugged. “You move around quickly and quietly, almost kind of stealthy. I don’t know, you just remind me of a wolf or a coyote on the hunt.”
Mordecai laughed softly. “Thanks, I guess.”
Alice cracked a sly grin. “You’re welcome, I guess. Now, hurry up; we’ve got work to do.”
The five of them met outside, and the Gatekeepers mounted their horses. Alistair glanced around at them all. “Alright, are we ready?”
Everyone nodded, and he continued, “Very well; Mordecai, lead the way.”
Mordecai shifted into his canine form and took off running, with the Gatekeepers close behind, the five of them leaving a trail of swirling dust behind them as they sped off into the night.