Hi, everyone! The usual warning apply here. Bad language, worse grammar, hope you enjoy!
Sue was knitting, the clack of the needles nearly hypnotic against the roaring drone of the Crucible. Stirling wondered why he’d never picked up on the hobby. Before getting into the extermination trade, he’d spent a lot of nights in empty gas stations and guarding warehouses. In most cases, working the night shift meant you had two hours of work to fit into an eight-hour shift, the rest of the time you were just a body in case something went wrong. That left a big chunk of time for other pursuits, things that for other people might include things like self-improvement or hobbies. In Stirling’s case, whatever spare time he had was usually filled with writing in his journals, or when that wasn’t practical, Random Acts of Fuckery.
Random acts of fuckery, or RAOFs, involved things like making dozens of little puppets out of tied-off latex gloves filled with coffee beans, then standing them up in orderly ranks along the coffee bar like soldiers on parade. The next customer at the gas station looking for a caffeine fix would be greeted by rows of the little dolls, their drawn-on magic marker faces abeam, a middle finger raised proudly in a jaunty salute between a pair of latex finger legs.
RAOFs were also one of the big reasons his resume was so extensive. No manager worth their clipboard could ignore an army of coffee bean-filed dick-puppets, no matter how boring the shift.
If he’d taken up knitting instead, he’d probably be an assistant night manager somewhere, either that or the all-comers world champion at knitting genitalia-shaped doilies five years running. When he’d mentioned this to Sue, she told him that knitting was fine, but for yarn-crafted genitalia, crocheting was the only way to go. Stirling wasn’t clear on the difference was between knitting and crocheting, but it seemed he wasn’t the only one to engage in RAOFs.
Since Aleph hadn’t shown yet, Dimitri and Sam had gone off ten minutes ago to find some sleep, leaving Stirling to stay up with Sue. Magnon had stayed perched on the pallet of briquettes and tucked his beak under a wing.
Aside from being a pub, flea market, and all-around meeting place, Strangefellows also served as a supernatural flop house. This little tidbit of information was good to know, Stirling had no intention of going back to his basement apartment anytime soon. They’d already burned down his workshop and made a grab for him once, he wasn’t going to make it that easy for them.
Sue looked up from her knitting and checked her watch with a furrowed brow. “That’s weird,” she said getting up from her seat and walking to the door. “Someone new is at the door, be right back.” She was back in a few minutes and sat back down. The worry on her face hadn’t gone, and she rummaged in her bag of knitting paraphernalia for a tablet. She pulled up a page and as she read, the furrow in her brow became deeper.
“What’s up,” asked Stirling when she’d finished.
“Hard to say,” said Sue slowly, passing Stirling the tablet and giving him a strange look. “A bunch of regulars just came in and all of them were freaked out. They said they wanted to be somewhere safe. Maybe you can shine some light on it.”
“The Sand Network?” he asked, reading the header.
“It’s a tabloid, but they’re so huge that they usually get the scoop on the big stories.”
Stirling read the article and found the artist’s rendition at the bottom.
“Wow, that is scary,” said Stirling, handing back her tablet. “A Necromancer.” There was a slim chance she hadn’t seen the photo-realistic artist’s rendition of him at the bottom of the article.
“So that’s not you.”
Sue shot him a dirty look, scrolled to the picture, enlarged it, and showed him the screen. “This!”
“No. Maybe. I didn’t kill anybody,” said Stirling quickly.
“So that is you?” Sue asked, holding tight to one of her knitting needles.
The roar from the crucible became noticeably louder, and Stirling put up his hands. “Hold on there, let me explain!”
The clay lid of the crucible shifted, and the phoenix climbed out onto the lip. It was even more solid and much larger than it had been earlier. It eyed him balefully with its arc welder blue eyes, hunched its wings, and hissed menacingly.
“You sit right there, I’ll be back. Don’t move,” Sue said, jabbing a finger at him. Stirling sighed and nodded, holding up his hands like she had a gun pointed at him.
“You go. I stay. No following,” said Stirling, giving her a brief nod. The phoenix hissed again.
“Fawks wasn’t this grumpy,” Stirling said to the melon-sized bird. “Fawks was a well-mannered phoenix. You’re an asshole.”
It was three or four minutes before Sue returned with a groggy Sam and Dimitri in tow. Sam wore the same housecoat as he had when they’d met him, and Dimitri was buckling his belt. She handed Sam the tablet and waited for the two of them to read.
Dimitri groaned. “Well, that didn’t take long. Fuck!”
“You knew about this and you still brought him here!?” Sue asked.
“Hold on,” said Sam, turning to Stirling. “You’re a Necromancer?!” He didn’t sound upset at the prospect.
“Um, ye…” Stirling started.
“Do not answer that!” yelled Dimitri, jabbing a finger at Stirling.
“Why not!” asked Sue, clearly agitated.
“Plausible deniability,” said Dimitri, turning to face her. “Until he admits to it or does something overtly spooky, you don’t know for sure. You know how the Travelling Folk work. The Alchemists Guild always have a few on staff just for this kind of thing.”
“That’s thin,” said Sue.
“It’s not thin, it’s a technicality, and it’s one that you can use to cover your ass. So you,” he said, pointing at Stirling again, “keep your mouth shut.”
“Roger wilco,” said Stirling making a zipping motion over his lips and pretending to throw away the key.
“Roger what!?” Sue spluttered. “No! This is not cool, Dimitri. My job is to keep this place secure and safe, having a necromancer…”
“Potential necromancer,” Dimitri cut in.
“…Potential necromancer here, is not safe or secure. You both need to get out of here before I call in the Duke’s Own.”
“She’s already on her way here,” said Dimitri.
“Well, wait for her outside then.”
“But Sue,” Sam began.
“No, Sam, this is life and death. I’m not going to listen to your conspiracy theories about the poor misunderstood necromancers.”
“Potential necromancers,” Dimitri said again.
“Will you shut the fuck up!” she yelled, spinning on him.
Dimitri put his hands up, “Woah there, Heatmiser, I didn’t even want to be here, it was Aleph who told us to be here. If it was me I’d be hiding so deep they’d need to use mining equipment to find me. Take it up with her if you have a problem with us.”
“Don’t think for a second I won’t.”
“Sue, I work as a char witch here too,” said Sam into the pause. He put his hands on her shoulders, something Stirling thought was quite brave given how incandescently pissed she seemed to be. “We’ve known Dimitri for years, let’s hear him out before we throw him out, alright?”
Sue looked up into Sam’s eyes for a long beat. “Sam, I know you think necromancers are unfairly persecuted. I get that, I really do, and I even agree with some of your arguments. The thing is, even if it’s true it doesn’t matter. The Alchemists have spent the better part of a century tracking down anyone with the knack and disappearing them. What would happen if they found us hiding one? What would happen to all the people here?”
“This is Strangefellows,” he said gently. “Not the Alchemist Guild. You know that.”
Sue’s shoulders slumped and she rested her forehead against her fingers. “You’re right, but this could go wrong so badly.”
“It’s the way it has to be if we want this to keep on being a place for the outsiders. If we bend over for the Alchemists just once, what’s to stop us from doing it again and again?”
Sue sighed and looked over at Dimitri. “I’ll listen,” she said tiredly, “but I want you to know you’ve put everyone here in danger and I won’t ever forgive you if someone gets hurt because of your stupidity. So talk.”
Stirling started by giving an abbreviated account of his ducks disappearing, his workshop being torched, and his meeting with Madame Rag, while glossing over any specifics about his knack. Then Dimitri took over, covering his discovery of people being grabbed by Madame Rag and Mister Bone, the dust-up at the Greys parking lot, and finally the conversation with the crows.
“And that’s when we got here,” said Dimitri. “With Rag and Bone after us I couldn’t think of anywhere else to go, and before you tear me a new one, consider the damage those two psychos have already done. We weren’t the first ones those guys grabbed, we’re just the first ones that got away. At least the community knows there’s a threat now, we can get the word out.”
Sue nodded grudgingly. “Nowhere in there did I hear anything about a murder in Memorial Park.”
“That’s because we haven’t been anywhere near Memorial Park!” said Dimitri. “Don’t you find it odd that there’s a gate to Asphodel right there though?”
“Odd, yes,” she agreed, “but it doesn’t point to anything other than there was probably some kind of arcane fuckery, and we already knew that.”
“As the only potential necromancer here,” said Stirling, “I’m going to need someone to lay on some exposition on me to answer the question, why are necromancers the Nickleback cover-band of the supernatural?”
Sam beamed and rubbed his hands together.
“Oh God, here we go,” said Sue settling back down in her seat. “You should get comfortable,” she said to Stirling.