The mortal world does not like explanations that are not logical, grounded in reality, and clear-cut. As pissed off as I was about the fact that someone had sent a Golem after me, I had to first arrange a completely acceptable scenario that would explain the damage done to my apartment. It would also require the destruction of the property of just about all of the other residents of the building, but that was their problem.

Removing the concrete sealing the stairwell involved a simple teleportation spell, aided by my foresight to have placed the necessary ingredients within the concrete when I mixed it up---I hadn't planned on living here forever, you know.

A short seismic-based spell sent a violent shudder up through the reinforced girders of the building, ensuring the everyone present felt it. Unleashing a fire spell, without focusing it, blasted a giant ball of flame across the garage, through the doors to the stairwell, and up, blowing out the doors on the main floor.

The affects were immediate, the sprinkler system throughout the entire building popping into action to shower each and every room. A second spell involved increasing the pressure within the sprinkler pipes that ran through my own level, bursting them in several different locations, allowing a reason for the excessive water damage done to my apartment.

Shouldering the two bags that I had prepared to take with me, I unleashed several quick blasts towards the wall that contained the gas lines. Smashing the end of my staff against the floor with enough force to shatter the crystal bound there, I vanished in the swirl of magic that was my own emergency teleportation spell, evaporating from my home before the flames of the explosion could wash over me.






The Artimus Towers are a well kept secret in New York. The complex, consisting of two fifty story, circular towers, a hundred yards apart, fronting a third, seventy story tower that was spaced fifty yards back, and centered between, the two front towers, was home-away-from-home to many rich and powerful people. Each floor was an entire suite, and it had taken no small amount of money and magic on my part to secure the top floor of what was referred to as "Artimus Prime", the tallest of the three. Call me old fashioned, but the structure, and its view, reminded me of the Aeries that my family had long ago lived in.

Dropping my bags, I made a couple of quick phone calls and arranged the cover that I had been in Russia for the past two weeks and was, just that moment, landing at JFK. With out the worry of being tracked down by the police and insurance investigators hanging over me, I immediately set to work trying to find out who had sent the Golem after me.

I had, over the years, built up quite a list of marks. Most were dead, but a slight few had been given polite requests to either leave the city (which ever one they had been stepping on toes in), to give up their share of the business, or, in one case, to vacate this realm entirely. Since the living are far more likely to strike back at you than the dead, though that does happen on occasion, I began with them. A quick search through their files (I said it was a slight few) revealed that not one of them had any animating abilities, and I will take just this moment to point out that animating and reanimating are two different fields.

A broader search would be required on the files of the living, one encompassing their friends, family, and known associates. Since that would take some time, I decided to take a moment to start a search through my own computer files on all of my deceased marks for the past five years, using a search program privately designed for my own use.

I was just starting to enter the few key words required for the search when a pop-up screen exploded on the monitor with a flashing red border, showing a view of the balcony behind me and the three heavily armed men that were climbing onto it, each of them covered from head to toe in black covert-ops uniforms.

"Contego," I shouted, grabbing up my staff and spinning to face the wide spread of glass that gave way to the balcony.

The shattering of the glass was louder than the silenced pops of their machine guns, their silenced MP5s both impressive and terrifying. I knew full well what the weapons were capable of, though I had never heard of them being modified with silencers, and I was thankful that I had called up the shield spell in time.

My attackers were apparently quite familiar with magic, as they quit their firing before they had even emptied their magazines, unfazed by the fact that their slugs were slamming to a halt a good three feet before striking me. The trio simply let their weapons drop, fluidly drawing gleaming katana swords from previously unnoticed sheaths strapped to their backs.

The three became near blurs as they bounded into the suite, leaping and spinning with lithe grace that told of how well trained they were. I spun around, trying vainly to keep track of each of them, and with a chill I realized that I was in serious trouble. In just seconds they had encircled me, limiting me in my choice of defenses--and attacks--and had me at the disadvantage. I could certainly drop one of them, possibly even two, but the third would definitely be able to deliver a killing strike.

As sharp and perfect as each katana appeared, I had no doubt that one strike, or swipe, would be enough. I had to act fast, with deadly precision, and in a manner that would somehow be completely unexpected by persons that were obviously even better suited at killing with mundane weapons than I was.

"Bobo, attack!" I yelled out, immediately dropping to the floor.

Very few people have ever been to my suite, and only one of them had ever inquired as to the inflatable punching clown tucked away in the corner of the living room. I had told her that it was a sentimental hold-over from my childhood, the last thing my father had ever given me before he had died. A lie, of course, but she never would have believed the truth, and I would never have given it.

With a scream that would have dropped a banshee at twenty yards, Bobo rocketed from his resting place as if propelled from a violent leakage of the very air that gave him life, on a wildly snaking course for the nearest man. The man twisted and leapt, barely avoiding the wickedly sharp claws that sprouted from the arms that Bobo now had.

Bobo's trajectory abruptly altered to spin him back at his intended target, and it was truly an amazing site to see this man dip, duck, dodge, and lean out of each vicious swipe from Bobo. Though Bobo had yet to succeed in his attack, he was carrying it on relentlessly, and I had no doubt that he would eventually be victorious, which left me free to concentrate on the other two assailants. A realization that saved my life as I turned my head in time to see one of the gleaming swords making a downwards arc towards my neck.

I felt a red-hot burning spread across my cheek as I rolled away from the strike, and I swung my feet around in an attempt to knock the man down. A side-ways flip not only kept him from being struck by me, but also landed him back on his feet, his arms already bring the razor sharp katana down in a second assault. The blade gouged a nice chunk out of my staff, which I brought up to block his attack, and I whispered "inflatus" as I focused on him.

The blast was small, draining the residual magic that had been stored in the staff for my teleportation spell, but it was enough to throw him back to the floor, his chest smoking slightly.

His companion launched himself at me, bringing his own katana down in a stabbing motion, moving into the fray before I could even draw a breath. Resorting to blunt force, the laws of kinetic motion, and an act of sheer desperation, I raised the tail end of my staff, which ended in a sort of dull point with the shattered remains of the crystal that had contained my teleportation spell, and let the other man's momentum do all of the work.

It was also to my advantage that the staff was a good foot longer than his katana.

I will confess that it was due to no small amount of dumb luck that my response caught the man off guard and that, even though he tried at the last moment to alter his trajectory, he impaled himself on the end of my staff.

To my utter astonishment, the man simply looked down at the staff protruding from his chest, then back to me, and growled something unintelligible but full of fury. In that instant I also noticed several things. What skin was showing, just a hint of it around the eye holes in his mask, was a moldy grey. There was also the stench, which until that precise moment I had not acknowledged, and one which I was all too familiar with.

It was the smell of the dead.

Fucking great. I was fighting for my life against zombie ninjas.

First it was an animated, bronze juggernaut. Now it was reanimated corpses hell bent on my death. Somebody was dealing out some serious magic. I had harbored the hope of keeping one them alive to answer some questions, but that was not a luxury to be afforded me--getting the dead to talk took a necromancer, and I was not in what you would call good standing with the Necromancy Guild.

It didn't matter that it was simply a business move on my part when I had needed to dispose of a couple of their members that had been trying to call up one of my assignments.

It also meant that I was going to have to move the Necromancy Guild to the top of my lists of suspects.

The fact that I was dealing with zombies led me to develop an entirely new strategy in my defense. Raising the dead was one thing, but controlling them and directing them to carry out an attack such as the one that was happening was an entirely different matter. It took a continuous connection to direct them in this manner, feeding them magically energy to keep them going.

With zombie one still dodging Bobo's attacks, zombie two slowly rising from the floor, and zombie three spinning awkwardly around as it struggled to pull my staff from its chest, I drew in energy of my own and uttered "fateor".

The air shimmered and I could suddenly see the strands of sparkling blue energy that were channeling into the zombies, like tiny brooks of flowing water that tumbled and churned from some point of origin far from my building.

Drawing my wand, I focused my own magic and commanded "abrumpo" at the stream of energy pouring into zombie two. The connection was severed, the magically energies wildly dispersing through the area, splashing everywhere but into zombie two, and the creature dropped to the floor like the sack of useless bones that it now was.

Zombie three had managed to finally remove my staff from its chest, with a wet sucking sound and trailing strands of gore, and flung my prized possession across the room with an amount of anger that you usually don't see in a zombie.

"Abrumpo", I shouted, severing zombie three's flow of energy as it was drawing its arm back in preparation to take a swipe at me. It crumbled to the floor in a heap, the various fluids leaking from it hinting at how recent of a corpse that it was. That only made sense, as only the recently dead would still be flexible enough to move about as these three had been.

Leaping to my feet, I scanned the room to find zombie one, ready to sever its magical connection, and chuckled softly as I saw what had become of it.

Bobo was setting with his back against a wall, not an easy task for an inflatable clown punching bag, using his tongue to pick at something in his teeth. Black, tattered and torn clothes were lying in a pile next to him, along with zombie one's remaining weapons.

"Thanks, Bobo," I offered, nodding at the clown.

"That's two, Gideon," whispered Bobo, with much less affection than one would have thought. "One to go."

I nodded solemnly. I won't go into details now, but suffice to say that it would only be under hopeless circumstance that I would use Bobo a third time.

When the golem had attacked me, causing me to abandon what I had foolishly started considering my home, it had made me mad. Now, with the attack of the zombie ninjas, I was fucking pissed.

I was going to find the son of bitch responsible for this, and I was going to have more than a little fun with them when I did.