A normal evening. A few magical explosions, the occasional shriek – nothing to disturb an officer who was off duty, thank you very much, and on his way to a beer and some affectionate company.
Except there was a light in the graveyard. Even in Scalentine graveyards aren’t generally lively places; and the light had a furtive look.
Before I could get close the light went out and someone ran off. My nose led me to a tomb. Very fancy, all black marble, gold leaf, and weeping females in thin drapery, final resting place of one Antrin Dotrichi.
There was a big chip off a corner, and a couple of implements of a distinctly exhumatory nature – i.e. a pickaxe and a crowbar – lying on the ground.
But the perpetrator had fled, it was late, and I was tired. I picked up the implements and headed for the Red Lantern.
I like a woman who doesn’t do more than raise an eyebrow if you turn up with a crowbar instead of flowers. “Don’t leave it lying where the Twins can find it,” Babylon said. “You might not want it back afterwards.”
“It’s evidence.” I told her what I’d seen.
“Antrin Dotrichi …oh, he paid us a visit,” she said. “He was Voreithian, I think. Dead, then?”
“I hope so. He’ll be getting bored in that tomb otherwise. Think he was the type to be buried with items of power or mysterious maps or suchlike?”
She slid her arm around me. “Doubt it. He was quite a staid sort. Poor old Antrin. I’d have given him a freebie if I’d known.”
I hugged her close, breathing in her scent. Poor old Antrin was right.
The next day I did a little digging. (I detailed one of my officers to keep an eye on the tomb, as well, just in case anyone else decided to do a little digging).
Antrin had no family, only his church. The Voreithians are very concerned with death, and preparation for it – as though life were a sort of minor inconvenience to be got out of the way first. Their temples are big, dark, solemn places, beautifully decorated.
“I remember him,” the priestess told me. “He was most concerned that the proper provisions should be made, of the best quality.”
“All the accoutrements the soul will need in the next life. Furniture. Weapons. And of course the canopic jars.”
“Could I see examples?” I said. It was beginning to sound like a simple case of attempted robbery.
The furniture and weaponry were all miniatures, in wood, nicely made but hardly worth the trouble of breaking into a tomb for. The two women who made them barely looked up from their work.
The jars made me gasp. They were translucent blue stone veined with threads of rose. The stopper of each was a flower, so perfectly carved you expected them to have a scent. “Ordered before Antrin’s,” the priestess said. “But his death came suddenly, in the end.”
The carver, who had sinewy arms and long pale fingers, caught my eye, and looked away.
“Lovely,” I said. “What are they used for?”
The priestess told me.
“Oh. Seems a shame.”
“They are made not for the pleasure of mortal eyes but for the glory of the gods,” the priestess said. “Anything we can create on this lower plane is but a poor shadow of the perfection of the afterlife.”
The words Then why bother making them rose to my lips and I swallowed them back down. I wasn’t here to argue religion, which is one of life’s more pointless exercises in any case.
I felt the carver’s eyes on my back as I left.
I dismissed the guard I’d set on the tomb. We could hardly spare someone for keeping watch over the dead, when the living caused a deal more trouble. But I sat there for a while myself, as the night came on. Someone had gone to the trouble of trying to break into a tomb for some wooden toys and vases full of offal, unless there was more to this than met the eye. I hoped it wasn’t a necromancy thing. I hate necromancy cases.
The carver turned up about an hour after sunset and hung around in the bushes, presumably hoping I’d leave.
“I’ve got your pickaxe,” I said.
He almost bolted, then gave up. “How did you know?” he said, emerging.
“Militia instinct.” I tapped the side of my nose. “Actually, I’m a were. Smelled you. So what’s in there you want so badly?”
“My best work. I’ll never make anything so beautiful again. And it will stay there, in the dark.”
“You weren’t worried the gods would be annoyed at you?”
“If the gods can create divine beauty, what do they want my vases for?”
“Well, that’s not really my area. But see, I can’t let you go around trying to open tombs. It’s against the law, and it upsets people.”
“Are you going to arrest me?”
“Are you going to try and open this tomb the minute my back’s turned?”
He sighed. “No,” he said. “But you don’t understand. I’ve never made anything so good. And no-one will ever see it.”
“The ones in the tomb. They’re the last you made?”
“Are you going to stop, now? Never make any more?”
“No…well…I don’t know.”
“Then how do you know they’re your best? You’re not dead,” I said. “Not like him. Stay away from graveyards, they’re not healthy.”
Babylon opened the parcel and smiled. “This is lovely,” she said. “What’s it for?”
“Putting things in.”
“Biscuits!” she said. “The lid fits really well. It’ll keep them fresh. Where’s it from?”
“New shop, just opened up.”
It sits on the mantel, now, much admired by visitors. It’s made of deep green stone, with a lid in the shape of a flower. A lovely thing.
But somehow I can’t ever fancy a biscuit.