Summary: Athkatla's only consulting necromancer is given a blackmail case with a difficult client and a secret enemy. Holmes pastiche, in the manner of the case of Charles Augustus Milverton.
A/N: I stuck a similar character arrangement in another fic, but hopefully this story works by itself. The fic 'The Hidesman', by Anonymous, did Holmes/Baldur's Gate crossover first, with a different casting.
An Amnian fog hung outside our dwelling with the curious yellow colour neither quite pea-soup nor pumpkin to smother the city. I flicked through a meagre set of correspondence: my Order's pay-slip, a tome lent me by my colleague Ilvastarr on the components of the mortal soul, a street-notice for an upcoming play at the Five Flagons tavern. At my feet the bull-pup I had taken from the fall of Saradush whined; I bent forward to stroke between Toby's ears and felt the sting of the old injury that had removed me from active service.
"The shards in your shoulder this morning?" said one of my roommates.
His back was turned to me. "Gods. You play the part of a witch well."
"There's nothing more magical than the silvery gleam of a coffeepot in the morning."
Athkatla's only consulting necromancer could be said to keep irregular hours at most. All alertness when he was granted a problem that he deemed sufficient for the focus of his attention and awake at all hours, when no cases fell on the horizon he was indolent at best—and, at times, vulnerable to the cruel call of the black lotus root. Xzar turned back from the silver-plated pot with fierce energy written into the lineaments of his face that suggested the excitement of another unsolved conundrum. By his elbows was a large square of white cloth that he passed along.
"It is not mine, and yet it has the look of the Order's standard linen," I said. "It grows threadbare; on the corner the initials A.D. were crudely sewn somewhere in the early part of its life. It smells slightly of vanilla, and embedded in it are one or two short brown hairs that... It has also been chewed at one corner." I scratched the short brown fur under Toby's chin.
"I rescued it," Xzar said. "A vanilla-scented paladin who did not sew very well five-or-so years ago and yet was cautious of their property. Monty was in when he called."
"I see," I said. "And..."
"His exact words were 'May the snotty bastard get what's coming to him.' But the client is still scheduled to call again."
There was a knock at the door. Xzar's reputation had spread in the wake of one or two practical successes in problem-solving, such as the strange incident of the banshee in the night-time, the horrifying cargo of the barque the Queen Zaranda, and the adventure of the abominable Neb and his twisted brides. Weakened after long campaigns in Saradush and Amkethran, I had returned to Amn as an invalid paladin with neither kith nor kin in Athkatla. The necromancer and his associate Montaron likewise sought a living and affordable lodgings in the City of Coin, and together we had fathomed strange puzzles in the odd corners of the large, dense city.
The prospective client was a tall and bulky man with the face of an impatient terrier, with reddened cheeks above his carefully combed beard. He wore the colours of the Order even in this everyday dealing, a heavily polished breastplate above his clothing and the symbol of Helm ostentatiously around his neck. He looked with a scowl at the common area, which was certainly less orderly than ideal. My rough-and-tumble experiences in the field have made me lax in some respects, but I knew well that the coffee beans were in the polished goblin skull, Montaron's tobacco in one-half of a pair of boots of speed, and unanswered correspondence orbiting a glowing crystal ball. Above the mantlepiece the symbol of Mystra was marked out in throwing-daggers, concealing the old 'Z' of the necromancer's former, abandoned organisation. I have always felt strongly that target practice ought to be an outdoor occupation.
"I am Anomen Delryn." Our guest spoke as if the name ought to be familiar. "You are the necromancer? Then I would speak with you alone."
"Anything you say before my colleague shall be as confidential as to me," Xzar said with a languid wave of his hands. "Please take a seat; you can clear away the gibberling shinbones if you wish."
"Delryn," I interjected, for indeed it was familiar to me. "I know your name from Ajantis Ilvastarr."
"My heroism in the battles against the Hillgnasher Giants, no doubt," Delryn said, his muscles visibly inflating with his own consequence. He was a cleric for the Order; his apparent state of health showed him fit for the field, but Ilvastarr's words of him had not been so complimentary as he had thought. "How do you know of Ilvastarr? He is quite well thought-of in the Order."
"I work part-time in the healing wards," I said, "but we are here to talk of your problem."
Delryn's face grew set like stone. His clothes were of good quality but showed signs of repeated use, as if he were less well off than he wished to seem; I had an impression that his name was a noble one, and thus either his family had fallen on ill times or he felt himself estranged from them.
"There's at least one ghost on your shoulders," Xzar said. "A young girl. Your belt is an Athkatla mourning-colour; has it been a year or so since your sister's death?"
"You must have heard gossip." Delryn's expression set still more firmly. "My sister Moira died these eleven months ago, and I have grieved for her and continued in my life. She has nought to do with this meeting, and I would thank you not to abuse her name. They say that you have aided in desperate cases for a fee."
"A standard rate; except when the problem is sufficiently intriguing. I note, by the way, that the colour of some of the mud on your boots is that vibrant red shade of the clay of the Bridge district. I was recently digging there for traces of a murdered herbalist. I see dead people," Xzar said.
"I was visiting the noble estate of an acquaintance," Delryn said, waving it away. "In fact I am soon to be married, and my bride would prefer a match with some ceremony and witnesses to it. Therein lies the matter I bring to you: my wife-to-be is wealthy, and a vicious fiend wishes to extort coin from me prior to the wedding." Redness plumped Delryn's cheeks like a cockerel.
"You are being blackmailed," Xzar said, leaning forward.
"A vile crime," I put in. "Why not involve the guard?"
"For the subject matter is— One of your terms of employment is that you must destroy the material in its enclosing box within my presence or return it to me," Delryn said. "I will not be placed in the position of answering to a second demon in humanoid form. Helm's wrath will attend me, and I suppose you must have some standards—"
"It loses clients, and necromancy really doesn't teach you the art of extortion," Xzar said.
"Would not honesty be the best policy with your fiancee?" I suggested. "Who is she, by the way?"
"The Lady Nalia de'Arnise. Nalia," Delryn repeated. For a moment a look of softness crept across his boastful, harsh features, but then he recovered his pride. "She is the daughter of a noble and good family, and the marriage will enable her to protect her right to her own land. She is also a woman of strong and righteous principle. Even to a fault. The crime is committed against both of us, with she as unconscious victim; I commission you to retrieve the material from the cruel devil who torments me."
"I have heard it said that there are few lower than the blackmailer," Xzar said softly. "They who bleed the victim drop by drop, smiling cold as marble with a heart of golem steel. Freedom from them is never gained, until they are drained dry and the poisoned teeth find a new victim in their icy grip."
"—You are quite correct," I said. "We will aid you, Delryn."
"Very well." Delryn hastened on to give the remainder of his circumstances as if he feared that slowing would make his liver turn altogether to water. "The fiend is the notorious Viconia DeVir, that foul dark elf who—"
"My index-cards, if you please." Xzar held out a hand; he habitually kept them below the alembics, their thick leather covers stained with miscellaneous fluids. "D...Dhampir, half-offspring of a vampire or partially completed vampire, rare, usu. sparkling in sunlight; Deril, club-footed lich in the complicated case of the druid's offspring; Degardan, of the scandalous events of the Thayvian—" and here came the typical pause of reflection on the woman, or man, who had truly matched us in a game of wits. "DeVir, Viconia," Xzar said. "Dark elf of Shar; roomed in the graveyard a while; removed from it due to marriage to the noble Baron Zaragosia; attended husband's funeral there a year later."
"That succubus is accounted a noblewoman of great wealth," Delryn said. "I know not how many other victims of extortion, or indeed the fortune she inherited from her conveniently late husband. She has made me the offer of twenty thousand danters for the return of her proofs, but I confess that the most I should be able to raise would be five thousand. Less, of course, your fee. You may negotiate with her if you choose. If you cannot, then I ask you to end her evil ways."
"Case accepted," Xzar said.