hwango: (hermit crab)
[personal profile] hwango

"I've found us a job," said Klain as he pulled out a chair to join Wei at the table. She put down her cup and gave him a blank look.

"You mean a mundane task that pays wages?" she asked.

"...no," Klain admitted.

"Then what do you mean?"

"I've found out about some ongoing evil that we can go kill, and then we can help ourselves to anything valuable leftover afterwards."

"I confess myself intrigued. You know how much I like killing evil. But I don't supposed you can confirm that there _is_ anything valuable to be had this time? Because while I'm happy to have killed those orcs plaguing that village, that river dragon that ate passing travelers, and that weird crystal thing that was eating people's dreams, none of those particular endeavors have been very forthcoming in terms of material gain."

"Material gain is transitory," Klain pointed out.

"All gain is transitory, but material gain puts food on the table and a roof over my head," countered Wei.

"It's a necromancer. Necromancy means grave robbing, and grave robbing means treasure," said Klain.

"So we're going to be paid for our trouble with second-hand stolen grave goods? That strikes me as rather morally ambiguous," said Wei.

"But the necromancer is evil, which will surely credit us in the morality department," Klain said. "You know, I never used to have this sort of conversation with my old adventuring group."

"And when we met, you were about to be hanged by the local authorities. Consider how those two facts might be related to one another."

"...sometimes I don't like you very much, Wei."

"That's alright, Klain. I don't value your opinion that much."

* * *


"You're sure that's the right place?" Wei asked.

"Yes," said Klain.

"We know this how?"

"This is where the villagers saw the walking skeletons. That's the only thing that could be a residence anywhere nearby, and no one has ever met the guy who lives there. It has to be the necromancer's lair."

"I can't believe you just called that a 'lair.' It's..."

"Yes?"

"Well, it's not a cave, tomb, abandoned temple, tower, or castle. If I had to pick a word to sum it up I'd have to choose 'estate,' rather than 'lair.'"

"Fine, this must be the necromancer's estate."

Wei rolled her eyes and stealthily crept towards the closest building. Klain followed behind her with equal silence. Once they had both reached the door, Klain tested it and found it unlocked. At this point Wei would ordinarily have kicked it in and prepared to swing her ax at the next thing that moved, but she was still unconvinced they were in the right place. Instead, she simply nudged the door open and edged inside. She risked a little light and was alarmed to have it reflected so much from her surroundings. She'd never seen so much glassware in her life.

"My skepticism grows," she whispered to Klain. He shrugged in reply, then vanished in a blur as something snatched him out of the doorway. Wei emerged into the dim moonlight to find Klain wrestling with a skeleton. It wasn't a style of fighting that suited him. Wei pulled the thing off him and then beheaded it with her ax.

"My skepticism is replaced by contrition," Wei said, offering Klain a hand to help him back to his feet.

"Apology accepted," he said. He sullenly kicked the fallen skeleton, but then he looked puzzled. "That's the cleanest skeleton I've ever seen."

"I beg your pardon?" Wei said.

"I mean, look at it. Aren't the undead usually a bit...grubbier than that?"

"I must admit, I don't have the same experience with the undead that you do."

"Well, usually they still have a little meat on them, or maybe some tattered skin, rotten clothes, or something."

"Delightful."

"What's with all the glass?"

"I have no idea."

They moved on to the main building, the door to which turned out to be locked. Klain fiddled with the lock for a bit with some twisty bits of metal, then stepped back and gestured to Wei that it was her turn. Now confident that they were in the right place, Wei kicked in the door and charged inside.

Something was lurking just inside the door, ready for them. Wei wasn't quite sure what it was, but it seemed to bleed when she cut it, so she kept swinging.

"Any idea what I'm killing?" Wei asked after severing a fifth or sixth tentacle. Klain was busy stabbing something repeatedly with a short knife and did not answer. In the dim light it was impossible to tell if it was the same thing that she was fighting. After several minutes Wei managed to bury her ax in a thicker part of its body and must have hit something vital, because it suddenly stopped moving. Klain must have been fighting the same creature after all, because he relaxed at the same moment. He took out a glowstone and the two of them finally got a look at their adversary.

"I pose my earlier question anew," Wei said.

"No idea," Klain said, prodding the boneless mass with a toe. Dead it seemed much smaller than it had been while alive. And it certainly did seem as if it had been alive. The undead weren't known for having a lot of blood in them, whereas this thing seemed to have possessed an enormous quantity of the stuff.

Something Klain had said tickled Wei's mind.

"Klain, this is the cleanest lair I've ever seen."

"I assume you mean besides the blood."

"Yes. Anything not covered in monster blood is spotless, and I'm assuming the blood is all a recent addition. And there is no skull motif to anything in this room. You're _sure_ this is a necromancer's lair?"

"Why don't we ask him?" Klain said, pointing over her shoulder, and Wei turned to see the light of an approaching lantern flow around the corner. She raised her ax.

The man who turned the corner did not look like a necromancer. Maybe a cobbler. Jeweler? He was wearing a heavy leather apron and thin gloves and had some sort of complicated optics pushed up onto his brow.

"What is the meaning of this?" he roared, which also didn't match the usual dialog for evil necromancers. He looked at the bloody mass of tentacles. "You've killed Herman!"

"Sir," Wei said, lowering her ax, "I believe there has been a misunderstanding. Unless you are, in fact, a necromancer?" She sounded almost hopeful.

"Of course I'm not a necromancer!" he screamed at her.

"But you do have animated skeletons," Klain said in a tone that implied he was catching the man at an obvious lie.

"I grew those myself! They aren't the corpses of dead people!"

"And...Herman?"

"Also grown myself!" he shouted. His attention seemed to wander and he calmed for a moment "I just wish I could get the muscle and bone to grow in the same entity."

"Sir, I must apologize," Wei said, "We have no wish to trouble you further. We were operating under the mistaken impression that you were an evil necromancer." The aproned man's anger rekindled.

"Of course not. Mucking around in graveyards with unsanitary corpses. Disgusting! Foul!" Wei and Klain began to back towards the door. "I'm not going to build my army from the discarded leavings of the past. The future belongs to the new!"

Wei stopped moving and raised a curious eyebrow at Klain. He shrugged and drew a dagger.

"My children! My glorious children! Wendell, Beatrice! Kill them!" He cackled maniacally as two more of the tentacled monsters suddenly shambled around the corner and surged past him towards Wei and Klain.

* * *


In the end, it turned out that that Herman, Wendell, and Beatrice had another four siblings, and that another dozen or so mindless skeletons operated on the property. The definitely-not-a-necromancer had a huge laboratory filled with all manner of bubbling substances and/or growing or preserved bits of animals, plants, and possibly people. Wei and Klain burnt the whole place to the ground on the way out. Some of the flames burned in ususual colors.

"Well. That was...different," Klain said as they walked away from the plume of acrid smoke.

"It was at that."

"Sorry there were no secondhand grave goods," he said.

"That's okay."

"I did find a small cache of coins. Of no doubt equally dubious provenance, though," he said. "Still, they should put meat on the table and a roof over our heads for a while, at least."

Wei thought of the huge glass tanks filled with formless masses of slowly growing meat and even less identifiable things. Even the memories made her feel a bit queasy.

"Maybe just the roof, for now."

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