Secret War 1930

A Strange Twist of Fortune

Wordlessly, the four looked at each other. Their clothes were torn and they were all covered in soot, gore, and unmentionable filth; as they watched, Alice’s grey armoured skin faded away, and she turned back into an ordinary, if dishevelled, woman.
Jake took a hip flask out of his pocket and took a long pull. “Well,” he said, passing it to his right, “I think that went okay.”

Pearl looked at Jake, eyes narrowed. “Are you sure you’re all right? That was a very odd turn you took there.”
“I’m fine!” he replied irritably, slopping coffee out of his cup. “Go on with the story. I already told you I don’t remember what happened after we were talking in Frakes’s office, so fill me in already. And quit giving me that look.”
“Well, if you’re sure,” she said, refilling her cup from the coffeepot, the reaching over to top Jake’s up. “We talked the situation over some more, after you went all quiet and stare-y. I thought it’d be better to keep Frakes on-side for the moment and work out how best to deal with him later. Alisha and Alice were all for doing something about the beasties, though – Alice wanted to try and persuade him to return them to their natural environment, and Alisha wasn’t happy with the security measures, or the fact that he was so certain that they weren’t magic, and she wanted to try change his mind. Well, I wasn’t convinced either of these scenarios were going to happen, but I thought we might as well sound Frakes out.”
“And Alice has the best relationship with him, and also has that whole fragile, charming demeanour going for her. So she looked at him with those big eyes and said that she knew he wouldn’t want anyone else to be hurt like she had been.”
Jake snorted. “Go on.”
“Well, he argued his case: this has never happened before, the location was chosen precisely because it was so secure, no reason to worry our pretty little heads about it, and so on. Alisha turned the screws on him at bit, and he admitted that he wasn’t the only one who’d been involved in bringing them over. Wouldn’t say who else was involved; some crew of big game hunters with more firepower than sense, no doubt. Anyway, she managed to persuade Frakes to give her access to the roof so we can investigate a bit further, and to accept her help from her friends. Which is progress of a kind, I suppose.” She hopped off the desk and started rummaging in the nearby filing cabinet. “Oh, and we’re pooling our resources; we give him everything we know, keep an eye on Alice, and we get a look at his field notes. No photos, though. He’s keeping Alice on the payroll – she really is very persuasive – and we’re to take her to the doctor to get checked out during the week. Isn’t it a little early for that?”
“I’ve got work to do,” growled Jake, screwing the lid back on his hip flask and taking a slug of his Irish coffee. “What’s wrong with Alice, anyway?”
“Apart from the unfortunate situation where she sometimes turns uncontrollably into a hideous grey monster? Oh, nothing much really. Although she’s been having headaches, finds bright light troublesome. Apparently her night vision has improved enormously, though.” Pearl retrieved her hat and coat from the stand. “I’m going to head over to the city library, see if there’s anything helpful, and then I’ll pop in to Alice on my way home. Alisha won’t be in; she’s tied up consulting with those shadowy magic types all day.”
Jake downed the last of his coffee. “Good thinking,” he said. “Well, if there’s nothing happening around here, I’ll head over to McRory’s and do a little research of my own, see if any of my cop buddies know…”
“Ah, you’ve got a gap in your schedule? Excellent!” said Pearl brightly. She retrieved a large stack of dog-eared papers from a corner of her desk and placed them in front of Jake. “I need you to fill out and sign these reports on the cases from the last two months, so that I can send them out with the invoices tomorrow. We’ve got to keep the money rolling in, you know.”
Jake looked with disfavour at the stack. “Isn’t that your job? Or at least, half your job?”
“This is your half.” She belted her coat. “Enjoy your afternoon. I’ll be back later; toodle-pip!”

Dean looked thoughtfully at Alisha. He’d heard her story before in brief, which was why he had scheduled this meeting between his young agent and the second-in-command of his cell within the Cabal. It was no less bizarre the second time round, though. “What do you think, Duo?” he asked. “This is outside of my area of expertise… although I’ve heard that great white hunter types have a thing about bringing home strange souvenirs.”
Duo looked very excited. “I can hardly fault his wish to find out more about these beasts,” he said. “Remarkable! But of course, wildlife magic is one of my little hobbies.”
“Have you ever heard of someone suffering a transformation like this?” asked Alisha. Dean was a close colleague and a good friend, but at the end of the day he had little more experience than she had. Duo was a different proposition, though. The Cabal elder was exceptionally learned in matters of the arcane, and was rumoured to be much tougher than his frail form indicated.
Duo rubbed his chin. “Statues coming to life; well, that’s new to me, I’m afraid. I’ve heard of wizards performing summonings, but not from solid stone. This could be some form of curse. I’ve heard of devils performing them. I’m not sure how they work, though; it’ll need a lot more digging. Oh, and I’ll need to see the site, if at all possible.”
“That might be possible,” Alisha said, “but I’ll need to arrange it with Frakes. My other worry is that the creatures will get loose and cause more havoc. Is there any way we could prevent that magically, do you think?”
“Hmm,” said Duo. “That would be old magic, and of a kind I haven’t performed in a long time. Very difficult. We’d need an uninterrupted session; probably would need this man Frakes’s permission, and I doubt he’d grant it.” Duo rose creakily to his feet. “I think, my dear,” he said kindly, “that this will have to be submitted to the Cabal for further consideration.”

Alice hustled Pearl carefully into the hallway of the small, somewhat dark house, and past an open doorway into a cramped living room. Pearl could see the back of a tall chair, partially hidden by a potted palm.
“Sorry about this,” said Alice nervously, looking into the room. “My mother’s asleep, I’m afraid. We’ll have to be quick.”
“No worries at all,” said Pearl in a stage whisper. “How are you feeling?”
Alice blinked. “All right,” she said unconvincingly. “I mean, I haven’t been quite well enough to go back to work yet. I’m not sleeping well, you know, nightmares, and I get these terrible headaches when I go outside in the light.”
“You poor thing,” said Pearl. She presented Alice awkwardly with a bunch of grapes, which Alice took with a whispered thank-you. “When’s this doctor’s appointment? Alisha and I will go along with you, if you like.”
“That would be lovely,” said Alice with relief. She glanced nervously into the living room. “Listen, I don’t mean to be rude, but… my pop’ll be home soon, and I don’t want him to know too much about…” She gestured vaguely.
“I’ll be off, then,” said Pearl, and was manoeuvred out the door with her hat and umbrella without waking Alice’s mother, somehow. Alice closed the door, leaned her forehead against it, and sighed. It had been hard enough explaining her disappearance and injury the previous week from her father and her mother’s day nurse Rose; the last thing she needed was to have to deflect inquiries about why there were strange female detectives calling around to the house. She went into the sitting room, sat down, and took her dozing mother’s hand.
“Mom, how did I manage to get involved in all of this?”

“So then what happened?” asked Jake, through a mouthful of chicken and noodles. It was the following evening, and the team had regrouped back at the office with a Chinese takeout from the Central Kingdom House five blocks over; Pearl had found the place. “You went along to this quack, and what?”

“It was okay,” said Alice, shrugging, and fiddling with the wrapper of a fortune cookie. “Lots of needles and cold exam tables. They were nice, mostly. I talked to some kind of psychoanalyst guy for ages, and then another doctor checked me over and made me run on a treadmill. They were really interested in my eyes, though.”
“Ugh, needles,” said Alisha, shuddering. “Pass me the prawn toast.”
“It was okay,” said Alice. “My mother’s a nurse, so that kind of thing doesn’t bother me. What did you do today, after Pearl brought me home?”
“Meeting with the cabal,” Alisha said. Better not to share too much detail with the rest, she thought; need-to-know was best. Christopher, the head of her cell, was much less approachable than Duo or Dean. He wasn’t easy to read, but he had taken a strong interest in Alice, and was particularly concerned about whether she was a danger to the public. Or to their mission.
Christopher had quizzed her thoroughly, making her feel unnerved and guilty although she hadn’t violated any rules; even though she knew it was just how he operated, it was still alarming. She had managed to convince him that Alice wasn’t dangerous, but he was not entirely pleased with her standing agreement with Frakes. Duo, however, had come to her aid, enthusiastically arguing the case for studying the strange creatures on the roof, and had brought Christopher grudgingly around. The seer of the group, Maria, had dreamily predicted that the girl could have potential, and that Frakes could be a powerful ally or a dangerous enemy, which might have helped persuade Christopher. Or not. It was hard to tell.
“And what did they say?” asked Jake, blinking at the legend from his fortune cookie. Did that say BEWARE ZOMBIES? No, it said BEWARE SOME PEOPLE. Well, that was helpful.
“I have orders to investigate Frakes and his warehouse further,” Alisha replied, “and they’ve authorised me to work with Alice, see if any of our order’s techniques can help her. Meditation and that kind of thing.” She had actually been ordered to keep a very close watch on Alice, and if the opportunity arose, to put her into a situation that might trigger her abilities again, without causing unnecessary risk, of course. But again, that was need-to-know. “In the meantime, they’re discussing her condition and the monsters with the other cells, see if anyone has any knowledge in that line.”
“Well,” said Pearl, rummaging at the bottom of her cardboard carton with her chopsticks, “I suppose we keep our ears to the ground and see what we can find out. Anyway, good news! My cookie tells me we’re going to come into money soon! It must be because of all those invoices you posted out, Jake.”
“Huh,” said Jake.

Thursday, two in the afternoon. Jake and Pearl were walking back to their office building from an unproductive early-morning stakeout outside a grungy betting office downtown. The day was warm for a New York winter, with a glaringly bright sun, and there was a shimmer hanging in the air, along with a strange smell. The odour became more intense the closer they got to the building. As they approached, they noticed Alisha and Alice waiting for them outside, Alice holding a handkerchief over her mouth, and Alisha wearing a disgusted expression.
“I think you may have a problem with your drains,” said Alice, politely.
“Oh, fantastic,” said Pearl with annoyance. “We’ll have to call the landlord, again.”
Jake said nothing, but sniffed the air thoughtfully. “I don’t like it,” he said at last.
Cautiously, he went through the building’s main door, and slowly climbed the stairs; the other three grudgingly followed.
The smell definitely got worse indoors, and got stronger, as Jake had feared it would, as they made their way toward the office. Jake drew his .44. When the door of Spencer and Stanhope came into view, Alisha and Alice looked at one another, having both noticed the same thing. “You’ve had a break-in,” said Alisha.
Kicking the door inward, Jake stepped into the outer office, holding his gun poised and ready at his hip. The stench was nearly unbearable at this point, and the door to the inner office was ajar. “I think this is one of your cases,” Pearl hissed at Alisha, as they gingerly approached the interior door and pulled it open.
Sitting, or rather crouching in the client chair facing Jake’s desk, was a bizarre apparition. It wore a ratty trench coat and a fedora, and had a lot of long black hair. There was no doubt about where the smell was coming from.
“Reach for the skies, bozo!” barked Jake, gesturing unnecessarily with the Colt. The person turned around. He was wearing a large scarf, a clearly false beard, and dark glasses, which fell off as he moved, revealing milky, yellowy-gold eyes.
“Ah, it is you!” he declared with evident delight, seemingly unworried by the presence of the gun. “You are the ones that help, the ones that watch! You are in! You will help us!” He bounced up from his seat.
“Office hours are nine to five, Monday to Friday, sweetheart,” said Jake. He coughed and took a step back.
The apparition blinked. “The money. Yes. You will help us?” He withdrew several fistfuls of slightly stained cash from the pockets of his trench, and offered them hopefully to Jake; the top of his head only reached up to Jake’s chin.
Pearl and Alisha exchanged glances; Jake had that look, the one that said he was nearly just about sold. It was the request for help that did it, every time, no matter how freakish or odorous the client. “Just leave it in the sink and tell us what to do,” he said, putting his gun back in its holster and surreptitiously waving a handkerchief in front of his nose. “Or the trash can.”
The creature obediently deposited his cash in the bin, and perched on the edge of his seat. The others took up positions around the room, attempting to be polite while keeping as far as possible from the source of the smell. “There’s your money, Pearl,” said Jake under his breath. Pearl gave him a look.
“I store many things in trash can!” announced the creature, grabbing Jake’s hand and pumping it in a vigorous and friendly manner. “Many legends about you underground! I am Matthew!”
“Uh, nice to meet you,” Jake mumbled. “What are you, exactly?”
“We are trogs!”
Something stirred at the back of Alice’s mind; strange tales from her childhood, told on the playground by the kids with the patched clothes and scabby knees. There was something about people who lived in the sewers. Whole underground civilisations of them down there, living in the filth.
“We live underground,” said Matthew, confirming her recollection. “Trouble with man. One eye. No mouth. Attacked us.”
“How?” asked Jake.
“Hands, only. Groaned.”
“What were his clothes like? Were they nice?”
“Surface clothes!” said Matthew. “Of course nice!”
“So, what do you want us to do, exactly?” asked Jake, as politely as possible.
“Protect us!” said Matthew fiercely, grabbing Jake’s lapels with his gloved hands, causing him to rear back in alarm. “The elders send me to get help! Surface people hunt us, but you protect us!”
Pearl and Alisha exchanged another look; this time Alice joined in. “Down into the sewers we go, I suppose,” said Pearl.

It turned out the entrance to Matthew’s unpleasant underground realm was only a few blocks away, through the subway and down one of the train tunnels. The group attracted a few funny looks on the way down, but Matthew’s aura turned out to be helpful; nobody was interested in looking too close or interfering in their business. The five stood looking into the mouth of a dark subway tunnel.
“Creature came up near our homes,” said Matthew, and ventured into the dark, his voice echoing off the tunnel walls. The others started to pick their way along after him in the pitch blackness. “Other surfacers come down, wearing very nice clothes. Bring not living surfacers with them, carrying hands and feet.”
“Were they like the creature who attacked you?” asked Jake, puffing. The air down here wasn’t the freshest, and Matthew’s presence was not helping much.
“A bit like sleeping surfacers. Moans. Claws. Trogs ran away.”
“How many of the nice-looking surfacers came down?” asked Pearl.
Matthew had taken them off the main tunnel and was leading them through winding brickwork passages, grimy but dry; some were partially collapsed, some with low ceilings. He stopped to pull aside a grate and took them into a tunnel where the ceiling was lower, and a trench full of dark liquid ran down the centre. Brickwork walkways ran along either side, and the group worked their way along these until eventually coming to a sort of crossroads in the sewer.
“Must swim here,” said Matthew, and hopped into the trench, the wings of his trench coat trailing behind him as he crossed over. The others looked at one another.
Jake mustered his courage and strode into the water; conveniently, it was only up to his knees. The others followed suit, Pearl taking slightly longer in her high heels. Climbing onto the opposite bank, they continued through the tunnel until they reached a vaulted door, on which they could see a long scratch mark; passing through, Pearl noticed a similar scratch on the other side. These tunnels were dry and had clearly been unused for a long time. Eventually, they led out onto an enormous sub-basement, clearly some kind of massive storm drain constructed against the possibility of flooding. This room was dimly lit, revealing scores of dark shapes watching them through the same golden-yellow eyes that they had seen on Matthew.
“Those who help have come to protect us!” announced Matthew to the throng. “We will take them to the monster!”
“We said we’d investigate,” put in Jake. “We can only promise so much in the way of protection, you see…”
Matthew nodded several times. “Yes!” he said, and turned to the audience, translating. From their cheers, it appeared that Jake’s message had not quite gotten through. Two more trogs approached; one possibly female, another probably male, and wearing a ragged tie wound round his neck and chest and knotted.
“Trog chieftain,” said Matthew. “He says welcome! Hopes you are pleased with our home and with our offering of money.”
“Let me help you with that,” offered Alisha, and leaned in to retie the chief’s tie. He glowered at her, and she took a step back, embarrassed. Matthew stepped in diplomatically.
“I show you to the creature!” He marched out of another tunnel opening off the cavernous chamber.
“Well, on we go,” said Pearl, and followed him, as did the rest, more slowly. Pearl had adjusted to the unpleasantness of the ambient smell by this stage, and it was no longer bothering her as much; the others, however, were still suffering considerably. Matthew led them up to a large door and then paused.
“He through here,” he announced. “We come back when safe!” He then turned on his heel and scuttled at high speed back up the passage.
Jake gripped his pistol and opened the door. Blackness was beyond; it was impossible to tell how large the room was. One by one, the party tiptoed inside and made their way forward; there seemed to be a double line of pillars leading from the doorway, and they followed these.
A few yards in, it became apparent that something was in the room with them, towards what seemed to be the back wall. Jake approached the source of the low grunting noises, with Pearl following closely behind, sword in hand.
A loud, baleful moan could be heard, and a zombie stumbled into view, arms thrashing, aiming for the two in front. Startled, Jake got off a shot to the creature’s head, and he stumbled backwards, allowing Pearl to run forward and slash at him with her longsword. The creature dropped, rolled over, and was still.
“That was almost too easy,” said Pearl, wiping her blade on the creature’s clothes. Alisha and Alice moved cautiously forward and looked at the corpse.
“These things, I’ve heard of,” said Alisha. “This is necromancy. The reanimation of the dead is bad magic, no matter what culture it’s in.”
“He looks like he’s been dead for a while,” ventured Alice. Jake wiped his brow, and nodded. Above their heads, just visible through a space in the upper part of the wall, a train rolled by.
Matthew poked his nose around the door, and was overjoyed at the news that the creature who had attacked his friends was out of action. Alisha, however, was more concerned about the necromancers who had raised him.
“I bring you to where the surfacers are,” offered Matthew, and quickly ducked down a side tunnel. This was wide and dry, probably for bringing in vehicles in emergency situations, and was illuminated by weak natural light filtering in from a grate somewhere high above. “Come at darkness time. Up and down here. Always go down that way.” He pointed down the tunnel.
“Well, show us where,” said Jake. Matthew shook his head, eyes wide.
“No! Don’t know where. Too dangerous for trogs. Always we run away. Surfacers hunt trogs, maybe kill if they see.”
No amount of persuasion would convince Matthew to join them, so eventually the group proceeded on their own down the dim, quiet tunnel. Alice was beginning to notice evidence that others had been this way; her sharpened night vision was identifying traces of soil, fibres, some tracks, and something she thought might be blood mixed in with the floor dirt. At intervals, they passed blank doorways.
Eventually the tunnel came to its end and the group found themselves in an open chamber with a deeper level below them; a concrete walkway ran all around the room’s outer edge, with metal ladders leading about ten feet down to the lower level. Additional tunnels could be seen, wide and spacious on the upper level, and on the lower level, narrow and covered with chicken wire.
Below on the lower level were twelve more zombies, milling around. “Oh no,” said Alice, gulping. “Oh no. This is not good.” She backed away, moving toward the mouth of the nearest upper-level tunnel. The others looked grimly down at the scene.
“What’s that down there?” said Pearl, pointing to a lower-level grate, near one of the corners of the room. It looked as though the chicken wire had been clipped and pulled back, leaving the tunnel open. “It looks like someone’s been through there. I think we should look closer. We might find our necromancers.” Jake peered at it; he thought he could see traces of damaged mortar, and something caught in the wire.
“Uh, no!” said Alisha. “Are you crazy? You’re going to go down there, with twelve zombies, and crawl up a disgusting tunnel in the dark?”
“Come on, it’ll be fun!” said Pearl, already half way down the nearest ladder.
“I’m not going down there,” said Alisha, as Jake followed Pearl down the ladder. Alice skirted around and spotted a lump of something red and sticky near the entrance of the nearest upper-level tunnel; she hurriedly made her way to the ladder and climbed down after Jake.
The zombies somehow remained unaware of the figures sneaking past them toward the open grate. Jake reached the mouth of the tunnel first; it was dark and slippery, and angled sharply upward. Cursing under his breath, he managed to successfully climb the tunnel on his second attempt. Alice scampered after him and followed upward into the dark. Pearl, however, found all of her martial arts training useless ; no amount of struggling would get her up the slippery tunnel. Sliding back downwards, she landed in a gooey heap.
Alisha, who had climbed down as far as the base of the ladder, rolled her eyes. “Get back here!” she hissed, and climbed back up to the upper level. Pearl followed as quietly as possible, but thought she could see one or two zombies looking around, sniffing the air. “Now what?” said Alisha.

Jake and Alice found themselves looking upward into a high-ceilinged room, the floor of which sloped downward toward the tunnel they had just come up from, and which was looking more and more like a drainage chute. Immediately above their heads was a platform that jutted out into the middle of the room, consisting of a metal grid. There was someone up there.
Alice braced herself against the wall, trying to blend into the background as much as possible. Jake decided to try and get the attention of the person pacing up above.
The person stopped pacing. “Go down!” he ordered.
Jake waited a few moments, then tried again. “Graaaaaaaah!”
“Go down!”
A zombified corpse lurched off the platform and fell across the slanted floor towards Jake. With great presence of mind, Jake leaped over the zombie and watched it slide helplessly down the chute.
The person up above, surely the necromancer, peered over the edge of the grating. Jake took a
quick shot at him. The man fell backward, clutching his cheek.

The sound of gunfire echoed through the upstairs chambers. Alisha’s head whipped around towards the wide tunnel, the one with gore at the entrance. “That way!” she yelled, and ran for it. Pearl drew her sword and followed. Spotting light coming from a side-passage, the two women skidded to a halt and turned, to find themselves in the same room as the necromancer.
A good distance behind them, a group of zombies slowly began to climb a ladder.
The necromancer, bent double and clutching his face, was on the metal platform Jake had seen, which was linked by a metal walkway to the doorway in which Pearl and Alisha were standing. He straightened up and began to swiftly perform some kind of rite upon two cadavers that were laid out on tables in front of him. As they watched, one began to twitch, then sat upright, swung its legs over the side of the table and lurched towards them.

After several futile attempts at climbing into the upper part of the chamber, Jake looked over at Alice. “It’s no good.” he said. “I’m going back out there!” Holding his gun in front of him, he dived back into the chute and slid down toward the lower levels at high velocity, coming neatly to a stop just before the tunnel’s exit.
Alice screwed up her courage and followed him, but stumbled at the top of the chute and lost control of her descent. Flailing wildly downwards, she came to an abrupt halt by smacking full-tilt into an obstacle blocking the mouth of the chute: Jake.

Alisha shot at the necromancer, who ducked; her fireball burst itself out against the opposite wall. In retaliation, the necromancer shouted “Go after her!” to the zombie he had just raised. It lumbered towards her and slashed at her, ripping her clothes slightly as she jumped backwards.
The necromancer shouted some arcane words, and a flickering green aura sprang up around him. An explosion rocketed outwards from his direction, and Pearl let out a momentary shriek. Gripping her sword, she brought her wits back in line, and just in time, for low groans were suddenly erupting from outside of the doorway.

The pair sprawled over, Jake landing flat on his back on the concrete floor of the sub-basement, Alice landing prone on top of Jake. Both were momentarily breathless and stunned, looking into each other’s eyes.
“Er, pardon me, ma’am,” said Jake. Alice blushed furiously and scrambled up as quickly as she dared.
Several zombies were approaching. Getting to his feet, Jake ran backward a few feet and shot twice at the nearest, who dropped to the floor. Panicking, Alice felt herself undergoing the same transformation as before, solid grey skin and claws erupting.
Again Jake shot and killed a zombie. Valiantly Alice joined the fight, striking out at a nearby zombie, who stumbled backwards, but appeared otherwise unharmed. Her efforts attracted the attention of some of the other creatures, however, who lumbered towards her. As Jake took aim again, four zombies bore down upon her, concealing her from view.

A flurry of fireballs ricocheted around the chamber as Alisha attacked the necromancer savagely. Behind her, Pearl fended off the attacking zombies, slashing and disabling one. The necromancer ducked away, but Alisha angrily ran after him. Pausing in the centre of the room to aim, she blasted him with a fireball that knocked him backward. After that he lay still. Turning, Alisha spotted another zombie about to attack Pearl from behind; with an expertly-time fireball, she reduced it to a pile of ashes.
With a shout, Pearl managed to dispatch the final zombie, leaving a pile of corpses by the doorway. Pausing, she heard an ominous silence echoing through the halls, and then from a distance, a scream. Alisha, recovering her breath, looked at Pearl, and the two dashed back down the hallway toward the main underground chamber.
As they approached the ladder, they could see down into the lower level where the struggle was taking place. Alice, transformed, was fending off zombies from all directions, yet her claws were doing minimal damage to the zombies’ decayed forms. As they watched, Jake carefully took aim and got a clean head shot on one of her attackers. The zombie’s head exploded, spraying Alice with gore.
Alice struck out wildly at another zombie, bringing it down to the floor, where it lay still. One of the zombies turned and lurched toward Jake; as Pearl and Alisha hurried toward the scene, he shot at it, missing. The zombie swiped heavily at Jake, nearly knocking him to his knees. Alice struck again, distracting a zombie but not harming it.
From the top of the ladder, Alisha took aim at the zombie attacking Jake; her fireball blew its upper half clean away, spattering him with viscera. Jake staggered to his feet and took aim at the two zombies with which Alice was struggling. Before Pearl and Alisha could reach them, he had blown them both away.

Searching the bodies of the necromancer and the remaining corpses revealed a small number of miscellaneous valuables. The necromancer owned a pocketwatch, and his chamber contained an interesting grimoire (retained by Alisha) and a number of medical texts, anatomy and basic biology. Alice turned over one zombie corpse to discover something odd; his body and clothes were riddled with bullet wounds, and on closer examination he was found to have a strange talisman in his pocket. It was a smooth, faintly glowing stone, marked with a strange unidentifiable symbol, and it was definitely magical. Alisha parcelled it up with the grimoire, for examination by the Cabal.
Matthew was overjoyed to see the team return relatively unscathed, and his people were equally happy to hear that the zombie menace was for now neutralised. Accepting thanks as gracefully as possible, they promised insincerely to return to visit in the very near future, and started on their long, unpleasant journey back toward the light of day.

“Well,” said Jake cheerfully, “we may be completely disgusting, and possibly suffering from Legionnaire’s Disease, but let’s focus on the important things: we got paid, just like you wanted!”
“Shut up,” said Pearl.



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