Benjamin is a writer of fantasy and science fiction. His short stories have been published by Third Flatiron Publishing, Chaosium, and Moon Dream Press. He is currently working on a book about Necrolopolis. He lives in rural Pennsylvania with his wife and their cat overlord, the Calico Countess. Follow him at www.benjamintylersmith.com.

 

A Salt on the Rise

by Benjamin Tyler Smith

 

“You want to do what with maggots?”

“Just hear me out, will ya, Addy?” Ferryman tugged at the sleeve of my black robe. “You necromancers need money, too, right?”

I shook off his hand. “Not badly enough to poison people with spoiled cheese.”

“Not spoiled! Enhanced!”

“Maggots aren’t an enhancement!”

Frosty breath escaped Ferryman’s deep hood. “Pah, you’re no fun.”

We walked along one of Necrolopolis’s cobbled streets, bound for our favorite tavern. To our right rose multi-storied mausoleums and cairns that glowed with aethereal torchlight. To the left, the River Styx wended its way westward, cutting the city into two sections. Across its iridescent waters, the towering structures of the city’s south side brushed the twilit sky.

Beneath the river’s surface, colorful balls of light flitted this way and that. Souls from around the world, bound for Lake Veil and the great—or not-so-great—beyond. Such was the fate of all who lived and died.

Well, except for the four million undead in this city, made so through some lingering attachment to the mortal coil: an ambition unfulfilled, a thirst for revenge unquenched, or a powerful love for another. Whatever the reason, they were trapped here until Mortus, the God of Death, could meet with them one-by-one and resolve their issues. At present, the wait time for a new entrant was upwards of seven decades. You get used to the smell.

Ferryman followed my gaze. His expression soured. “Ugly blighters, sneaking off to the Isle of Passage like that.”

“Sneaking? It’s the natural way.”

“Natural doesn’t feed my eighty-seven kids,” Ferryman spat. “I only get a pittance for transporting souls. Why do you think I run a gift shop on the side?”

More like a grift shop, but I didn’t correct him.

“No, the real money’s in the body,” Ferryman continued. “Round trip fare to the Isle, then to the Catacombs. And the smaller, the better! Ashlings are great, since all you’re taking is an urn. But you can cram the ferry full of skeletons if you stack ‘em right and don’t mind the complaints. Even those mummy newcomers wouldn’t be bad once stripped. Look at that burning one coming at us. He’s a stick!”

A smoldering mummy ran past us, almost as naked as a newborn, except newborns weren’t quite so wrinkly. He—I think it was a he, but with how shriveled everything was, who knew—beat at the charred remains of his linen wrappings. “Damn those Cremainder brutes! They’ll pay for this!”

Cremainder? Oh, Mortus, what was Ashwarden’s gang up to now? I opened my mouth to call out, but thought better of it. The ashlings and mummies had been at each other’s throats for weeks, ever since King Farralus and his Court of the Embalmed arrived. I couldn’t deal with a problem this big right now, not after three all-nighters in a row. Keeping the dead pacified was grueling enough without throwing a faction war into the mix.

“Shouldn’t you deal with that?” Ferryman asked as I continued forward.

“Deal with what? I’m off the clock. It’s pint time.”

Ferryman wheezed a laugh. “Don’t let Mina hear that.”

“Hear what?” a feminine voice asked.

We jumped. Mina stood between us, a tight smile on her pretty face. She may look human, with her white skin and blonde ringlets, but her red irises give her away her otherworldly status. She’s the daughter of Mortus, God of Death. More importantly, she’s the director of Necrolopolis. That makes her my boss. She crossed her arms. “Care to explain why you ignored that stricken mummy?”

I looked to Ferryman for help, but he was already running away. “I’ll save you a place at the bar, Addy!”

“Oh, don’t bother!” Mina slipped an arm through mine. “He’s about to have a busy night.”

My stomach fluttered. “What do you have in mind?”

“Just follow me.” She grinned. “It’s going to be a riot.”

*

I landed flat on my back, the wind knocked from me. A mummy stepped up, his club raised to deliver another blow. Before he could, a burning piece of timber smacked his shoulder and ignited his wrappings.

All around the wide square, two mobs of undead assaulted one another with wild abandon. Linen-wrapped mummies comprised one side, wielding weapons they’d brought from the desert kingdom of Farras. They were led by a pair of gorgons moving through the crowd, exhaling a gray mist that turned anyone and anything to stone. The gorgons were the pets of King Farralus, leader of the mummy faction. On the other side were the ashlings, the risen remains of cremated men and women. Each was colored some shade of gray or white, from skin to clothing, and each had an urn strapped to the hip. Most wore orange armbands, designating them as members of the Cremainder, Ashwarden’s gang.

Mina hadn’t been joking about a riot, nor about my “busy night.” She’d shoved me into the crowd and told me to go find the ringleaders. It had been my intent to ascend the wide marble steps at the far end of the square to get a better view, but I’d only made it halfway before the clubby-mummy got me. The stairs ascended to the pillared entrance of the Courthouse at the top of the hill. Even from here, I could see a squad of Death Knights watching the riot but making no move to stop it. Thanks for the help, guys. Really appreciate it.

There wasn’t a lot I could do to stop the riot on my own, short of using my magic to compel the undead. The problem with that was two-fold: first, I’d have to contact each undead with my blood, and I didn’t have enough of that to go around; second, Mina would kill me if I used such strong magic on her citizens. That left finding the ringleaders.

I hopped to my feet and grimaced at the pain in my stomach. That stupid club was going to leave a bruise. “King Farralus!” I shouted. “Ashwarden! Show yourselves!”

A gorgon charged me, a stream of gray mist flying before it. I jumped out of the way, and a trio of ashlings was hit instead. Their petrified forms struck the cobbles with dull thuds. The gorgon turned and stamped its feet.

A wave of concentrated heat sailed over my shoulder and struck the gorgon full in the face. It bellowed and backed away.

Next to me stood an ashling unlike all the others: where they were monochrome, he looked as he had in life: red hair, pale skin, bright green eyes. A black jacket and trousers completed the look, all done via powdered dyes added to his ash, along with an innate magical power strong enough to properly distribute the color. This was Ashwarden, self-styled leader of the ashlings, and all-around jackass. He lowered his red-hot hand and glared at me. “Adelvell? What’s Grimina’s lapdog doing here?”

“You make that sound like a bad thing!” Mina called. She walked toward us, her mere presence quelling the riot almost instantly. Even if she was normally cheerful, she was still Grimina de la Mortus. One didn’t cross Lady Death lightly.

Ashwarden dipped his head. “Lady Grimina.”

I rubbed my aching stomach. “Couldn’t you have done this to begin with?”

“I would have.” Mina’s gaze hardened, though her smile never faltered. “Had someone not chosen to ignore the issue in the first place.”

Ouch. Point taken.

“As punishment,” she continued, “I leave this to you to resolve.” She scanned the crowd. “And where is King Farralus? Both parties need to be present.”

Mummies parted to allow King Farralus through. He was bedecked in linens much like his followers, in addition to a crown and an ornamental beard braided with gold. His uncovered eye shone with malevolent light. “Lady Grimina, good evening.”

“What’s good about it?” Mina spread her arms. “Oh, you mean the riot? And in front of the Courthouse, no less! You know Father’s work is not to be disturbed.”

This is where I don’t mention that Mortus sometimes sneaks out to the tavern with Ferryman and me.

“But,” Farralus said, “I merely wished to speak with him, one king to another—”

“Father doesn’t deal with city issues. If you’re having a problem with another faction that you can’t resolve, come to me. Or to my assistant.” She patted me on the head like a child. “It’s all yours, Addy.”

Great. I tucked my hands into the sleeves of my robe. “What is the problem, King Farralus?”

Farralus gave me a withering look. “Very well. It all started—”

“Woah, woah, woah,” Ashwarden interrupted. “Never mind him. We’re the victims here! They horn in on our territory, and then they blame us when their jerky gets smoked!”

Farralus stepped toward Ashwarden. “You lie!”

I put myself between the two. “That’s enough! Let’s start at the beginning. Ashwarden, you first.”

Ashwarden pointed at Farralus. “Three times this week alone his kind has been found in the natron beds. Beds we control!”

“Beds my people need!” Farralus gestured at the Styx. “It’s too humid in this city! We need to periodically lay in the natron so that our bodies don’t grow too moist.”

Oh, yum. From smoked jerky to wet jerky. You could always depend on the dead for delectable conversation. “Natron?” I whispered to Mina.

“A mix of salt and soda ash.”

“I don’t care if all of you get waterlogged and rot,” Ashwarden said. “I don’t want your bandaged butts anywhere near my beds.”

“Why do ashlings need natron?” I asked.

“Commerce, my man.” Ashwarden tugged his jacket lapels. “We sell it to the soap makers and butchers in the Mortal Quarter.” He grinned. “I suppose we could sell it to the mummies. At a discount, of course.”

“That’s not going to happen,” I said. “Deceased citizens can only be charged for luxuries. Their interment fee covers all necessities.”

“Is that so?” Farralus stroked his ornamental beard. “Then, you will give the natron beds to me—I mean, to my people?”

“That wouldn’t be fair to the ashlings.”

Ashwarden beamed. “I knew I could count on you, kid.”

“Don’t thank me yet. I need to think on this. King Farralus, do any of your people desperately need the natron right now?”

“Some, yes.”

“They are allowed into a small section of the beds. All other activities are suspended for a fortnight.”

Before Ashwarden could object, Mina clapped her hands. “You heard Addy! He’ll come up with an equitable solution soon. Until then, off you go!”

The crowd dispersed: ashlings bound for Columbarium Tower, mummies for Pyramid Hill. Mina winked at me and hurried up the Courthouse steps. Farralus and Ashwarden stayed behind with their respective entourages, glaring at one another. “‘Equitable solution,’” Ashwarden said, a sour expression on his face. “The only equitable solution is total control for the ashlings, as it’s always been.”

“Oh, no!” Farralus stepped close. “Adelvell, you heard Lady Grimina! She knows my kind need the natron, and she wants you to decide in my favor.”

“I will decide in the way that benefits everyone,” I said. Seemed fair enough, right?

Wrong.

Ashwarden’s temperature suddenly spiked. Farralus and I jumped back. “I may be a legitimate businessman, but that doesn’t mean I bow to unreasonable demands. I’ll protect my investment.”

A blast of petrifying breath sent Ashwarden and me scrambling. “A businessman you may be,” Farralus said, “but I am a King. I will defend my people.”

Both leveled fingers my way. “Don’t cross me, necromancer!” they shouted in unison.

I sighed. It was going to be one of those weeks.

*

I’d never been to the natron beds before, but it was about what I expected: a bowl-shaped depression filled with white pellets that tasted of salt and ash. The dried lake seemed out of place in this relatively lush section of Necrolopolis, but I’d noticed that the city had varied terrains and even climates within its vast walls. “Father set it up that way,” Mina had said, “so that any who came here could have their needs met.”

That meant ol’ Mortus had known Farralus and his motley crew of bandaged buddies would show up some day. He could’ve at least warned me. Way to let down a drinking buddy.

The mummies were out in full force this morning. Dozens lay in the natron, buried up to the neck. Nearby, a vast carpet had been spread out. A handful of mummies in wrappings nearly as fine as Farralus’s sat at the edges. They were waited on by shabti, burial dolls made with magic similar to what animates golems, only on a smaller scale. Now that I looked closer, it seemed even the buried mummies had servant dolls tending to them with drinks and banana leaves for fanning. No one occupied the center of the carpet. Maybe it was reserved for King Farralus? He always liked being in the middle of everything, it seemed.

Numerous sets of footprints traced a path from the far edge of the natron beds all the way to the carpet, including a set of abnormally large tracks. I frowned. None of the mummies present looked that big, though maybe one of them was buried more deeply than the mounded pellets let on.

Aside from that mystery, everything else looked normal, and had for the last few days. I still couldn’t shake the feeling that something was off.

I was sweating by the time I left the arid natron beds behind. I followed a wooded path back towards the more civilized sections of Necrolopolis, stopping every now and then to drink from a bottle. It was during one such stop I heard a scraping sound, like claws against tree bark. I crouched low, my heart pounding. I didn’t think there were bears or mountain lions inside Necrolopolis, but I wasn’t about to make assumptions.

“Come along, you stone-faced lout!” a voice called.

“Clem, keep it down!” another said. “D’ya want the bandages to hear?”

“Oh, come off it, Jes. This blockhead’s making more noise than either of us, and you know it.”

A pair of ashlings stood about thirty feet into the woods, on a goat trail that ran parallel to the dirt path I was on. The one called Clem crossed his arms and glared at the squat stone golem lumbering along in their wake. Every few feet it either crushed a shrub or shredded bark from a tree with its broad, rocky shoulders. “Ashwarden’s going to toss us out of the Tower if we dawdle any longer.”

“We’ll get there when we get there,” Jes said with exaggerated slowness. She smiled. “I know: how’s about you run ahead and let him know his tunneling golem’s on the way?”

My eyebrows rose. Tunneling golem? Its arms were certainly wide enough for the job. What did Ashwarden need that for?

“Good idea,” Clem said. “I’ll be back!”

I followed Clem through the woods to a tunnel in the side of a hill. Two Cremainder thugs guarded the entrance. They discarded their deck of metal playing cards at Clem’s approach. “Got to see the Boss,” he said. “The golem’s been repaired.”

They let him through just as a group of ashlings laden with large sacks filed out of the tunnel. Clem bumped into one of them, sending the man to the ground in an explosion of ash. The man’s sack likewise burst open, spilling white pellets everywhere. Oh, ho. It seemed Ashwarden had a natron mine, in spite of the moratorium. Mina would be interested in that, but I’d need to confirm Ashwarden’s involvement if I really wanted to nail him.

Clem murmured an apology and ran on as the fallen ashling reconstituted himself. The guards left their post to help gather up the cargo. I used this chance to slip into the shadowy tunnel.

The tunnel mouth led into a level corridor wide enough for three grown men to walk abreast, tall enough that I only had to stoop to avoid the support timbers. Glass globes filled with dim, aethereal light hung from sconces at odd intervals. Actual lanterns would have provided better light, but ashlings have a thing about fire. It was kind of funny, considering how good they were at starting blazes with just their body heat. Don’t ever point that out to one. They’re quite touchy about the subject.

I darted from shadow to shadow, passing the occasional side-passage or storage alcove. I ducked into these whenever I spied movement further down the corridor, which happened often. Ashlings moved up the corridor from time to time, either carrying sacks or pushing carts heavy with natron. It was quite an elaborate operation Ashwarden had here. I didn’t know there was so much money to be made in salt production, but when labor and transportation is free you can undercut the competition by quite a bit and still come out ahead. No wonder Ashwarden could afford those dyes of his.

The corridor opened up into a wide, circular chamber filled with carts, crates, and piles of burlap sacks. Ashwarden supervised about a dozen ashlings with pick-axes. Clem stood nearby. “I’m going to go back and make sure Jes doesn’t get into any trouble.”

“She’ll be fine. Take a break,” Ashwarden said with a friendly slap on the shoulder. Raising his voice, he added, “Hear that, boys and girls? Your relief’s on the way! Take five.”

The ashling miners let out a ragged cheer and set down their tools. Undead don’t tire physically, but a monotonous task will bore just about anyone, given enough time.

I crouched behind a crate as the miners spread through the chamber in select groups. A pair of ashlings sat on my crate. I pressed myself against the floor and tried to slow my breathing. I hated this kind of spy work.

Ashwarden walked over and joined the conversation with the ashlings near me. Now that they were distracted, it was time to get out of here. I crept forward.

The ground lurched. I staggered against the wall as cracks formed along the floor. A deep rumble resounded from below. That didn’t sound good.

One of the ashlings shouted “Cave-in!” just as the floor collapsed. We tumbled down into the dark, riding a wave of earth and natron. My scream was lost in the roar, and then I struck bottom as ashlings exploded all around me.

When the dust settled, I was half-buried in a much larger chamber than we’d been in before. Ashwarden stood over me, his eyes narrowed. “Adelvell? Was this your doing?”

I spat out a salty mouthful of natron. At least, I hoped it was just natron. “Why would I demolish a tunnel I’m standing in?”

“‘Cause you’re an idiot?” Ashwarden shrugged. “I’ve never really thought too highly of you, kid.”

“I never would have noticed.” I stretched out an arm. “Mind giving me a hand?”

Before Ashwarden could bend over, a hand thrust out of the natron next to me. A bandaged hand. The mummy pushed itself the rest of the way out as Ashwarden danced back. He barked a command, and clouds of dust rose up from the ground. These clouds coalesced into ashlings who scooped up their urns and once more strapped them to their hips.

More mummies pulled themselves from the natron. When they saw the ashlings regrouping they picked up discarded pick-axes and shovels and prepared to attack.

“What is this?” a voice bellowed from a hole in the chamber’s wall. King Farralus stood there, his burning eye a beacon in the dim light. Next to him, a golem the same size and shape as Ashwarden’s waited. Its wide bladed hands dug at the air for a moment before stopping.

“Farralus!” Ashwarden stomped toward the opening, his Cremainder thugs surrounding him. “What’s going on here?”

“I should ask you the same thing, Burning One!” Farralus pointed at Ashwarden’s crew. “Digging for natron, are you?”

“So are you! And why is that? The surface is yours, thanks to this nitwit.” He hiked a thumb my way.

“Hey!” I tried to push myself free, but only managed to sink deeper into the natron. “It’s not my fault the two of you can’t share resources!”

“Share?” Ashwarden shrugged. “Where’s the profit in that?”

“Isn’t good will among neighbors its own kind of profit?”

“With this neighbor?” Ashwarden indicated Farralus.

“A fair point,” I admitted.

Farralus struck the side the golem with his fist. “Such impudence from individuals of low-birth!”

Ashwarden pushed up his jacket sleeves. “Come down here and I’ll show you just how low-birth I am.”

“A king should never sully his hands on those lesser than him.” Farralus clapped his hands, the noise muffled because of the bandages.

The mummies surrounded Ashwarden and his men, but they didn’t close in. Even in the dim light the ashlings shimmered with heat. As dry as the mummies had to be after dealing with so much natron, they’d go up in a flash if they weren’t careful.

Things would only escalate if that happened. I tried to wiggle free again, but slid even deeper. Damn, this stuff was like quicksand! “Stop fighting, both of you!” I shouted.

They looked at me, clearly unimpressed with a necromancer buried up to his chest. “Or you’ll do what?” Ashwarden asked.

I ignored him. “King Farralus, you don’t want me to report this to Mina, do you?”

Farralus shrugged. “Report what? Your good Lady Death already knows about our disagreements.” He looked sidelong at Ashwarden. “Though, I suppose she would love to hear that you’re violating her orders by being here.”

“So are you,” I said.

“I am not sure what you mean.” Farralus’s eye narrowed. “What are you implying?”

“Oh, come on, Farralus,” I said, not even bothering with his title this time. “It’s obvious what you and your nobles are doing. You’re making a show of using the natron beds, but really you want to harvest it and sell it to your own people at a premium. Those of ‘low-birth,’ I assume.”

“That’s a lie!”

“Is it? Then why are you here? With a tunneling golem, no less?” I shook my head. “That’s disgusting. Not even Ashwarden would treat his own that way.”

“Watch your mouth!” Ashwarden snapped, then added, “Kid’s got a point, though. This is low, even for you.”

“Of all the—”

“We can still resolve this peacefully!” I said, talking over them both. “Get me out of this, and we’ll sort it all out.”

“Sort what out?” Ashwarden said. “Let’s turn this crook in.”

“He will report you, too!” Farralus exclaimed. “We’re both in violation of Lady Grimina’s orders, remember?”

Ashwarden hesitated. “What do you propose we do about that?”

“There is a saying amongst my people: dead men tell no tales.”

“We have a similar saying,” Ashwarden said with a grin.

I pushed against the natron, my guts churning. “Don’t you idiots realize this is the city of the dead? Dead men tell lots of tales here!”

“Oh, we have ways of dealing with that.” Ashwarden patted the urn at his side. “More than just ash can be sealed in here, you know.”

“Then we are in agreement,” Farralus said. He raised an arm. “Kill the necromancer!”

Ashling and mummy alike turned my way. Damn, they really were going to kill me! I pushed against the ground, but my arms slipped deeper into the loose natron. Something sharp cut my hand. I winced at the pain, but started digging. Hey, a weapon’s a weapon, right? My hand closed around something hard and smooth, and I yanked it free. A broken femur? “Any of you lose a leg?” I asked with a nervous chuckle.

No one smiled. Well, maybe one of the mummies did. Hard to tell beneath those bandages.

I dropped the femur and examined my hand. Blood ran from a neat slice along the palm. Perfect. If I could just touch one of them—

“Stand back!” Farralus shouted. “He bleeds!”

Everyone froze. Damn. Well, at least they couldn’t kill me now.

“Now what?” Ashwarden asked.

“Finish collapsing the ceiling. Let all this rock and sand take care of him.”

“You know, for a guy with his brain in a jar, you’re pretty smart.”

“Could not the same be said of your brain, urn-dweller?”

All right, maybe they could kill me. I cast about for something, anything, to help. If only I could touch one of them! My eyes fell on the blood-soaked femur. Well, it was better than nothing. I snatched it up and hurled it at the closest ashling, Clem. It struck his face in an explosion of white powder that quickly turned pink as the dry, thirsty ash absorbed my blood.

I closed my eyes and reached for my magic. In the darkness of my mind I could detect all the unlife surrounding me, from the mummies and ashlings to the animal souls powering the now idle golem. They appeared as bright lights against my eyelids. One in particular shone brighter than the others, the one who now had my blood in him. Clem, I whispered through my blood. Clem, you’re mine.

Under my command, Clem reached for his face and tore out pieces of his chalky flesh. He threw these at the ashlings closest to him, who in turn did the same to their companions. All it takes is a drop, and virtually any undead can be compelled like this. Mina wouldn’t be happy, but I’d be damned if I let these jerks kill me just to cover up their illegal activities.

“Guard yourselves!” Farralus shouted as my ashlings rounded on the mummies. One struck a mummy with a bloody fist while Clem snatched up the still-wet femur and stabbed a second mummy. This mummy was right next to Farralus. I compelled it to rip out the femur and put it against the king’s bejeweled neck. Clem ripped another bloody clump from his face and held it to Ashwarden’s head while the other ashlings under my control boxed their leader in.

I had a mummy pull me free of the natron and dust off my robes. I held up my bloody hand and approached. “Ash, Farr, let’s chat.”

The two glared at me. “A King does not beg,” Farralus said.

“Nor will I.” Ashwarden spat what appeared to be actual saliva at my feet; impressive, for someone made of dust. “Always knew you’d do me in like this, so just get it over with.”

I patted Ashwarden on the shoulder with my unwounded hand. “Oh, it’s nothing like that at all! Mina’s instructions were clear: find an equitable solution to this problem. I can’t very well do that in good faith if I’ve enthralled you, now can I?” I held my bloody hand to each of their faces and smiled as they shied away. “Just don’t tempt me.

“Anyway, I think I fully understand the situation now. Both of you are in this purely for profit. One of you wants to sell the natron to his own people—a gross violation of Necrolopolis’s code of conduct, I might add—while the other wants to sell it to craftsmen within the city. That’s a legitimate enterprise, except that it’s denying a necessity to a faction of the undead. Also a violation of the city’s code. Similar goals, similar violations.”

Ashwarden stared at me balefully. “Get to the point.”

“While we are still young,” Farralus added.

That was rich, coming from a two-thousand year old mummy. I cleared my throat. “If money is all either of you care about, then I have the perfect solution. One that would allow the mummies use of the natron beds and turn a nice profit in a certain market.”

The two looked at one another, and then back at me. The skepticism was evident on their faces. I raised my hands and said in my best Ferryman voice, “Just hear me out, will ya?”

*

“Addy, I can’t thank you enough for this.” Ferryman set the crate into his boat, next to several others. The clinking of crockery echoed from inside the box. “This mummy salt’s selling like crazy. Tourists can’t get enough of it.”

“Glad to be of help,” I said, reaching for the last crate.

I still couldn’t believe Farralus and Ashwarden went for the idea: Farralus and his mummies would use the natron beds, then Ashwarden would harvest it to sell at specialty stores like Ferryman’s, stores that catered to visitors and eccentrics. Ashwarden couldn’t sell to his usual customers anymore, but salt that a desert king was mummified in sold at quite the premium. That was enough to get them both enthusiastic about the joint venture. That, and the alternative was confessing their crimes directly to Mina. Under my not-so-gentle compulsion, of course.

I untied the berthing rope and tossed it into the ferry. “This certainly beats maggot cheese.”

“Oh, that’s still on the table, my friend!” Ferryman slapped one of the crates. “We can pair it with the salt. A value pack, if you will.”

I rolled my eyes. “Right. And while we’re at it, we can roast and salt the maggots that get loose.”

“Hey, that’s not a bad idea.”

“It’s a horrible idea!”

“Pah, you’re no fun!” Ferryman took up his pole. “Anyway, I’m off. See you at the tavern!”

Before I could respond, an arm slipped through mine. “Not tonight!” Mina sang, her red eyes gleaming in the light of the quay lamps. “The city needs its expert negotiator.”

Oh, Mortus. “Who is it now?”

“The banshees and skeletons.” Mina grinned. “Just follow me. It’s going to be a riot!”

I let her pull me along. Why is good work always punished with more work?

 

Copyright 2017 by Benjamin Tyler Smith