Kryss is a city with many unusual trades. But the most unusual of them all is plied at the end of a tired, worn street in a tiny house that is hemmed in between two larger houses that lean precariously toward it. The sign hanging over the door is small and solemn, saying simply “Hawke and Johnson, C.N.M.” without even a picture to proclaim the trade. In a city filled with flamboyant merchants of every stripe, and businesses based on such strange talents as fire-eating and custom designed reputations, the small, inelegant black sign was definitely not a stand out. But then not everyone in Kryss can claim to be Certified Necromantic Mages.
Inside the house, tucked up on the second floor at the end of long, dark, narrow stairs, inside of a room lit only by one grimy yellow window, Theo Hawke tipped back his creaking wooden chair. Resting his shoulders on the sagging, worn wall, and with his feet wrapped on the chair legs, he was holding a sheaf of papers up to catch the last of the pale light barely seeping into the room. His desk was orderly and clean, with a silky sheen in the dim light, and not a book was out of place in his bookcase. Hawke was, in short, quite bored. The Kryss Daily Chronicler had very little of interest so he tossed the paper onto his immaculate desk, dropped the chair back on four legs with a thump, and took a look around his small office. He was usually quite messy and missed the clutter.
“Hey, Johnson!” he called across the hallway to his partner. Em Johnson appeared at Hawke’s doorway, carrying the juggling balls that he had been working with all week.
“Yes?” The thin, blonde mage’s wry smile said that even he was having a hard time keeping himself entertained.
“Well, I can do this now.” The mage moved into the room and started juggling, showing off the spells he had been perfecting. The balls changed color and number as he juggled, and he had as many as eight glowing orbs circling in his hands at a time. “Watch, this is new,” he said, and furrowed his brow in concentration. Suddenly one of his items was a kitchen pot and another was a heavy knife.
Hawke raised an eyebrow. “Kitchen utensils?”
“They’re very popular. Unbalanced objects are harder to juggle.” The items changed back to the three glowing orbs and Em caught them neatly in his outstretched hand. He perched on the edge of Hawke’s desk and looked down at the paper that Hawke had discarded. “Want ads, huh? Ready to give up on owning your own business already?” he teased.
Hawke shrugged and looked around darkly. “What business?”
Em laughed. “Granted, business does connote busy-ness, and therefore if we are not busy then we are not in business. Don’t you think?”
“Oh, don’t be so glum. Are you sure that you still don’t want to use my idea? I’ll bet we’d have a hundred old ladies in here before sundown.”
“I’m only smiling at you because I know that you’re kidding.”
“Oh-ho! But I can see it now! ‘Contact the spirits of your deceased loved ones. Private, low cost, discounts for groups!’ It could really get our foot in the door. We could retire to Glendala, rich old business men wearing satins and sipping dragon’s brew.” Em smiled delightedly at his partner’s narrowed gaze.
Hawke smiled languidly. “I ought to start it, just to see you eat your words.”
It was Em’s turn to shrug as he hopped off Hawke’s desk to go stand at the window. The smudged panes did an outstanding job at concealing the rather dismal view of the alley behind the building, but Em stared fixedly as though he could see through the grime. “It doesn’t really matter anymore, does it? Our grand idea just seems like an idea now. And maybe selling out isn’t selling out, after all.” He turned from the window and fixed Hawke with one of his wan devil-may-care smiles. “There doesn’t seem to be much call for Necromantic Investigators in Kryss. It might make the Old Man turn in his grave, but Kryss would probably embrace two cheap spirit mediums.”
Hawke quirked a grin. “Salesmen for the dead.”
“Guides for lost souls,” Em added dramatically.
“Just remember, it’s never too late to make amends with the man you murdered!” Hawke finished off.
The two friends laughed over their old jokes. Hawke sobered. “I think that Varell would like me to point out that he isn’t in his grave yet.”
Em feigned surprise. “I thought that’s where he slept at night.”
“You are incorrigible.”
“No, I am Emmer Samuel Johnson, but at your service all the same.” He executed a flourished bow with a suddenly appearing ridiculous feather hat. “Perhaps I can be of assistance to you in the matters of,” he wriggled his brow, “otherworldliness. I am a certified necromantic mage, you see.”
Hawke couldn’t help but to laugh. “I think that you should be certified insane.”
“I think I am. I’m certified in most everything.”
“Why did I call you in here again?”
Em smiled. “I think because -”
The two stopped speaking as they heard the door at the bottom of the steps creak open.
Em’s eyebrows shot up in surprise. The feather hat in his hand changed to a fancy pipe and he assumed a professional scowl and loud, serious voice. “…but I think that the problem in the Parkinson case is quite simple really.”
Hawke made cutting motions at Em which were rewarded with a raised eyebrow and wave of the pipe while he continued. “When dealing with the Other World one should always consider…”
Hawke and Johnson both turned their attention to the open office door as the figure stepped into view. A charming, young female figure with pale brown upswept hair and wide green eyes.
Liel paused at the doorway where she had heard someone talking. It looked as though she had found the necromancers’ assistants. Two young men met her gaze as though they were shocked at being interrupted. One was tall, thin and fair, and had his mouth open as though he were in the middle of saying something. The other sat behind a desk and was stocky and dark.
“Excuse me,” she said in a subdued voice. “I wish to speak to the necromancers.”
The dark one recovered first and rose to come around the desk. “Theo Hawke, m’lady, at your service. Please, have a seat. Would you care for some tea?”
Liel demurely sat in the offered chair. “You are his son? It is urgent that I speak to one of the necromancers at once.”
The two young men leaned against the desk with their arms crossed and smiled at one another.
“You want to tell her?” the dark one asked of the other.
The fair one replied, “No, please, go ahead. You’ve done so well already.”
Hawke fixed Liel with his gaze for a moment. “We are the necromancers. This is my partner Em Johnson.”
“M’lady,” Em said with an elaborate and formal bow.
Liel took a moment to digest this information. “Tea would be quite nice.”
With another flourish Em produced a delicate cup and saucer with steaming tea. “I hope it is to your liking, m’lady. It’s a charming blend that I discovered while in the Isles of Green. Perhaps a touch of sugar or milk for you?”
She shook her head. “No, thank you.” She rested the tea in her lap with a suspicious glance that said she didn’t trust the magical brew.
Hawke pulled his chair around the desk to sit across from her. “How can we be of service to you, m’lady?”
Liel took a steadying breath before she began to explain.
Hawke glanced at Em as they both sat waiting for the girl to begin her story. He had been a bit shocked to see her standing in the doorway. He didn’t know who she was, but she was obviously of some social rank. She had the look of nobility ‘dressing down’ to pass through the poorer parts of town. Her green dress was simple but of a fine, soft wool with delicate fancywork at the cuffs and collar. She didn’t appear to be a day over fifteen and there were no hints of a dweomer adjusting her age.
"Well, it's my father."
"Your father?" Em asked.
"Yes my father."
"Is he dead?" Em asked. This earned him an elbow to the ribs from Hawke.
Liel frowned. "No. At least he wasn't this morning."
Theo smiled encouragingly. "What about your father?"
"I think he's being haunted."
Em's brows rose. "Haunted? That's promising."
Liel frowned again and Theo gave Em a sharp, warning glance. "What makes you think that he's being haunted, m'lady?"
"He's not been himself lately. Distracted, pale, jumping at shadows."
Hawke leaned back in his chair. "Well, that could mean any number of things."
"When I ask him about it he won't answer me directly. Then, when I was at tea yesterday I found your card under my plate. I took it as a sign."
Em brightened. "Told you those cards were a good idea."
"Em," Hawke said warningly.
Unperturbed, Em asked, "How did the card get there?"
"I'm not sure, really. It could have been one of my friends or one of the servants."
Em continued. "Had you been talking about how you thought your father was being haunted?"
"Not directly, no, but I had mentioned that I thought I heard voices in the portrait gallery the other night and teased that it was a ghost."
"Is there supposed to be a ghost in the portrait gallery?"
"Well, that's an old story that my nanny used to tell but I've never seen any sign of it being true. It just came to mind when I heard voices."
"Do you have any idea who the voices could have been?" Theo asked.
"It's hard to say. Papa… my father is active in politics and entertains, sometimes at odd hours."
"Politics," Theo said. "That seems like an occupation that could make a man distracted and jumpy."
Liel frowned again and Em cut in, "If you could excuse us a moment?" He dragged Hawke across to the other office.
After darting a glance back at the young woman Em pushed the door of his office mostly closed. "What are you doing?" he whispered urgently.
"What do you mean?" Hawke asked. He looked around to see that Em's office was already beginning to gather clutter, including a stack of soothsayer cards on his desk and a collection of skulls on the floor. Em gained his attention again by stepping closer.
"Are you trying to drive our first customer away?" Em asked.
Hawke shook his head. "No, I want to make sure that she is our first customer. If it is not likely to be a haunting she doesn't need to hire us."
"You..that…" Em waved his hands and walked off for a moment. "You idiot," he hissed. "She hires us to find out if it is a haunting. Then we get paid. It doesn't have to be a legitimate haunting in order for us to be paid."
Hawke gave his partner a dour look and crossed his arms. "I would prefer that our clients trust us because we don't bilk them for money when there is no tangible case to investigate."
Em pinched the bridge of his nose and took a deep breath. "All right. We'll play it your way this time. But if we don't earn enough for rent by the end of the month you are going to lower your standards a bit."
"We have three months of expenses set aside," Theo said.
Em glared at him. "This could be the only likely prospect we see in three months. You're supposed to be the practical one. Be practical!"
Hawke sighed and looked up at the ceiling. The quite dirty, unseemly ceiling. He looked at Em again. "Alright, fine. If we can't make enough for rent this month I lower my standards. Now can we get back to the case at hand?"
The two mages walked back into Hawke's office to find the young woman sipping her tea and attempting to peer out the same window Johnson had stood at earlier.
"Sorry to keep you waiting, m'lady," Theo said with a brief bow. "Would you care to continue?"
She looked over her shoulder with a sad, contemplative smile and then looked down at her tea. "No. No, I don't think I would. I made a mistake coming here." She set the tea cup on Hawke's desk. "My compliments, Mr. Johnson, that is indeed a fine brew."
Theo looked nonplussed. "But Miss… I'm sorry I didn't catch your name earlier."
"I didn't give it."
There was a span of silence as they considered each other. Theo bowed again, "I did not mean to cause offense with my questioning, m'lady. I only hoped to ascertain whether you truly needed our assistance because we would not want to charge you a fee for something better investigated in another way."
Her gaze narrowed, but then she seemed to come to decision. "You want my name? I am Lady Thiereliel."
Em's eyebrows shot up. "That's elvish."
She nodded briefly, "It is. Loosely translated it means-"
Em interrupted. "Daughter of the Northern Woods."
She smiled. "You know your elvish, Mr. Johnson."
"Indeed I do, Lady Thiereliel. And may the moonlight shine forever on the tree of your ancestors."
"You have me at a disadvantage, Mr. Johnson, I'm afraid your elvish is better than mine. I am quite a few generations removed on my mother's side."
Hawke held up his hand to his partner before Em could launch into a discussion of elvish linguistics. "What we still need to know, m'lady, is how we can be of assistance to you."
She began pulling on her gloves. "I don't think you can. I am quite a bit older than I look, bless my elvish blood, but I fear that you are both younger than you look. Whatever is afoot will require a bit more…maturity."
Hawke said, "So we need to prove ourselves to you, and we can do that. You didn't mention your mother before, how does she figure into this?"
Liel shook her head. "She doesn't. My mother is dead."
Hawke countered, "Your mother is dead, you think your father is being haunted, that sounds like it could be a connection."
"Don't be absurd," Liel said. "She's been dead for almost twenty years."
Em broke in. "Time doesn't have the same meaning on the other side that it does here. It's certainly an angle to be investigated."
She pulled a small pouch from her sleeve and set it on the desk. "I will leave you these coins for your discretion over our conversation. Good day, sirs."
She was almost to the door when Hawke called out. "Do you need a demonstration?"
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