Ill Met in the Necropolis: Part II

William T. Thrasher

Continued from Ill Met in the Necropolis: Part I

“Still no casket,” Phokas wheezed, hefting his shovel once more.

            “There’ll be a casket. No one goes through the trouble of erecting a monument like that,” Timon waved his torch under the nose of the leering statue, “without burying someone important in its lee.”

            Phokas paused in his labors, taking a moment to grip the charm hanging from his neck by a short hemp rope.

            “Don’t waste time with that old trot’s fetish. There’s only so much night to be had in which to conduct our trade.”

            Muttering a brief rune – and pronouncing it badly – Phokas gripped the shovel in his calloused hands and set back to his task. “Must we always dig at night?” Phokas groaned. “Trade that torch for a shovel and we’d dig up twice as much in daylight.”

            Timon gasped in a pantomime of shock. “My dear Phokas, night is the proper time for our profession. Disinterring the honored dead by light of day is dishonorable, careless, and thoroughly lacking in poetry.”

            “Still, I prefer the sun on my back to the chill of graveyard mist, and it’s well known the restless dead fear the rays of Helios,” Phokas said with a shudder.

            “Do I perceive a shiver of fear? You heard Parthenia’s drunken boasting at the Minihouse of Broyhoysel. Her gaggle of battle-mad rogues slaughtered their way through the necropolis, clearing it of all things living and dead that creep, crawl, lurch, lurk, slink, slither, or slurp. It will be years before another cult dares to perform a blood rite here and decades before enough necrotic energy congeals to cause old bones to rise of their own accord. And when you consider . . .” Timon’s theatrics were interrupted by the hollow thonk of new shovel striking old wood.

            “Sturdy,” Phokas said as he leaned forward on the shovel to test the coffin lid.

            Timon squatted down at the edge of the excavation, dipping the torch for a better look. “Of a fine wood as well. A person of quality is interred here, to be sure. What say you climb out of that pit and relieve me of this torch? I’ll gladly dirty my hands clearing away the last of the soil so we can crack that necromantic nut.” So saying, Timon pulled his pry bar free from its belt loop.

            “And give you a chance to pocket the Ferryman’s coin? We’ll split the goods fairly this time, if not the labor.” Phokas turned to face Timon, then hastily lifted his shovel like a man unsure whether to use it as makeshift ax or club.

            “Why this betrayal, Phokas?” Timon asked with bemusement. “I’ve always played you true.” Timon made to stand for another theatric gesture only to feel a warning bite of steel at the back of his neck. This at last stilled his tongue.

            From over Timon’s shoulder Volg husked, “No need to rise. I prefer dealing with men on eye level. That goes for you too, brute.” The dwarf leveled a gaze at Phokas with eyes like agates. “Toss that shovel aside or I prune this verbose beanpole.”

            “Do as he says Phokas,” Timon said, giving a wink that spoke volumes to his burly companion.

            Phokas made to toss his shovel away from the open grave, but mid motion swung the dirt encrusted tool in a wide ark towards Volg. Iron-cold reflexes impelled the dwarf to pull his blade from Timon’s neck, sweeping the blade up and out to turn away Phokas’ blow. Before the first clangor of fighting man’s steel on workman’s iron, Timon made a tumbling leap on from his crouch to the left side of the grave.

            The time for words now gone, the formerly verbose grave robber swung his torch in a low ark towards Volg, the blazing club missing the dwarf by a well-calculated inch. His cavern-accustomed eyes dazzled by the crackling brand, Volg took a pace back and drew his sword in defensively. Phokas pulled himself from the grave and rose to his full height, almost eye level with the statue of Thanatos.

            “Pup!” Volg called into the dark as Timon and Phokas advanced.

Continued in Ill Met in the Necropolis: Part III