Ill Met in the Necropolis: Part I

William T. Thrasher

Uli and Volg stepped lightly through the grounds of the necropolis, their stealthy motions churning up tendrils of mist from the clinging fog, the moonlight only faintly glinting off the blackened steel of their drawn swords.

            “Watch your step, Uli,” the dwarf muttered to his companion.

            “Watch my. . ?” The tall man’s grumbled reply cut off as his foot connected with a toppled marble tombstone obscured by mist. Volg’s hand clapped over Uli’s mouth, stifling the yelp of sudden pain.”

            “Don’t give us away, pup,” Volg grumbled as Uli swore into his gloved hand.

            “Give us away?” Uli hissed, pulling away from Volg’s hand. “There’s nothing about but ravens and vultures. You heard Paros at the Four Winds. His posse cleared the necropolis out of cultists and monsters alike. Or do you worry the grave worms may gossip and tell all and sundry of the depths to which we’ve sunk in pursuit of coin?”

            “Paros is a braggart. I wouldn’t trust him to tell me the time of day without embellishing it into a fanciful tale of victory over gods and monsters. Now, slow and cautious. That’s how I survived to see one hundred years, and that’s how I’ll survive to see one hundred more. A good thief always suspects . . . “

            “. . . a pair of eyes are upon him, a dagger in the dark, a lurker at the threshold, etcetera, etcetera,” Uli finished by rote. “But we’re not thieves tonight, long whiskers.”

            “Coin is coin, pup. That scholar is paying us well to take rubbings from whatever intact gravestones we find. He won’t be disappointed.”

            The pair continued in silence, passing under the subtle moon-cast shadow of a pillar topped with a statue of Nike and over the remains monument’s toppled twin.

            “But why at night?” Uli whispered to his mentor. ”I know we lost time waylaying that grain merchant on the road outside of Platani, but we could’ve camped outside the necropolis gate and hunted dead names with the sun on our backs tomorrow.”

            “Never wait for daybreak when you have nightfall,” Volg chided.

            “I may have to wait for daybreak. I don’t have your cave-trained eyes, or your instinct for stone.”

            “All the more reason to acclimatize your senses to the darkness. A good thief can see by starlight, but . . .”

            “. . . a great thief sees by darkness alone.”

            The dwarf gave a satisfied grunt, then turned left off the overgrown path. His companion followed. The two stepped lightly for a time, passing between and over monuments turned to rubble by the crude chisel of time. As the two rounded a caved-in mausoleum Uli stopped and placed a restraining hand on Volg’s shoulder.

            “A light,” Uli whispered. “Do you see it?”

            “I didn’t need to see it, Pup,” Volk said. “We’ve been following the sound of their careless shoveling for some minutes now.”

            “Trust a dwarf to wander off towards a dig,”

            “No time for jests now, pup. The night’s just livened up. Tell me what you see.”

            Uli, thankful for the mote of light in the distance, focused on the scene. Two men, one with torch held high, shedding light on another man heaving great shovelfuls of grave soil from the shallow pit wherein he stood. Except for a dirk sheathed in the torchbearer’s boot, the two appeared unarmed. Standing upon a high plinth at the edge of the pit, a statue of Thanatos looked down, the ruddy torchlight giving its marble face a look of disapproving witness.

            “Grave robbers,” Uli muttered. “Why didn’t we think of that?”

            “Because we’re thieves, not blasphemers. Now, listen well, pup. You circle around to the east and I’ll circle west. We’ll ‘catch them in the act’, and divest them of any valuables they’ve found in the dearly departed.”

            “I thought you said we weren’t grave robbers.”

            “We’re robbing grave robbers, which is a completely distinct and lesser sin well within the practical morality of our profession. And should you stub your toe . . .”

            “I’ll watch my step, Volg.”

            “Don’t bother. One of your pained yelps is sure to turn their heads in your direction so they won’t see me come within striking distance.”

“Hmph,” was Uli’s only reply. The two parted.

Continued in Ill Met in the Necropolis: Part II