The metal cup, stained from decades-worth of liquid sloshing down its sides, came down on the the wooden bar with enough force to have added more of those stains if it hadn’t, only a second earlier, been emptied into the mouth of the man holding it.
“I liked that bartender, graverobber,” the creature who had been known for so many centuries as Fahsteth spoke flatly, without looking over his shoulder or looking up. His gaze remained centered almost mournfully on his metal cup. “He really knew how to mix a good Pasca. You know how hard that is to find?”
The tender in question, a gray-skinned humanoid with squid-like tentacles at his mouth and three eyes, had been standing ramrod straight for the past few minutes. At those words, he collapsed like a puppet whose strings had been cut, hitting the floor like so much (literally) dead weight.
“How did you notice?” the man standing behind Fahsteth asked while crossing the room of this alien bar on a world far from Earth. Rather than walking directly to where the mercenary sat, however, he crossed behind the bar and bent slightly to take out a bottle of dark green liquid.
Fahsteth regarded the necromancer briefly. If he squinted a little bit, he could almost see the skinny, terrified little kid that he’d known back in the prison they had shared for so long. Himself assigned the number of Fah-Steth, or thirty-seven, while the boy then known as Merakeul had been Fah-Seur, or thirty-four. Fah-Seur, a title that he had eventually taken as his new name. Thirty-Four, Fah-Seur. That had later been misheard by the ancient humans as Fossor, which had literally become their word for a gravedigger as the ghost-wrangler made a name for himself on their world.
Honestly, he couldn’t understand the necromancer’s obsession with the humans. The Seosten, sure. He could understand why they stuck around for so long. They wanted to keep molding the weapons that they had essentially stolen from Fomorians who had created them. But Fossor’s insistence on spending so much time on Earth was just… strange. There was an entire galaxy out there, but he remained focused primarily on that one world seemingly simply because the humans had tried so hard to kick him off of it.
He was dangerous, to be sure. But Fossor had too much of a one-track mind sometimes, for someone as old as he was. The humans and the Seosten had tried to kick him off of Earth, and he still hadn’t moved on even hundreds of years later. He could’ve conquered several other planets in that time, brought entire species to heel the way he had the Meregan and his own race. Yet he chose to focus his attention almost exclusively on Earth.
At the heart of it all, the necromancer was still that little kid that had been thrown into one of the worst prisons in the galaxy. In some ways, despite all his power and strength, he was still that boy who had vowed that no one would ever stop him from doing anything he wanted to do.
“How’d I know he was dead?” the shark-man eventually answered his uninvited guest’s question. “I told you, he made the best Pasca in this part of the galaxy. You’re a good necromancer, but you can’t mix Pasca for shit. Not even while you’re puppeting someone that can.”
Pausing then, he glanced over his shoulder, taking in the sight of the rest of the bar, where bodies lay slumped over their tables or collapsed in the middle of the floor. “And did you really have to kill everyone in here?” he complained. “I actually liked some of those guys.”
“Come now, Steth,” Fossor replied while carefully pouring himself a glass of the green liquid. “I asked them a simple question earlier: whether you had been here lately. They lied. I can’t have people out there thinking that it’s okay to lie to me. What kind of example would that set?”
Fahsteth grunted. So he’d been right. Fossor had killed everyone in the bar and then puppeted them for the past few minutes while he had come in and ordered his drink. “I didn’t touch your precious Heretic-kid, even when she really had it coming, so what’re you bothering me for?”
Taking a long pull from his glass, Fossor set it down before answering. “Call it curiosity. You’ve come face-to-face with my next project, and I want to know what you think of her. I can’t exactly speak to our angel-friends about the subject, after all.”
Snorting, Fahsteth shook his head. “Pah. Angels. Seosten. Between them and the Fomorians, the whole universe is one big fucking toilet, just waiting for someone to flush it and start over.”
“They are an annoying obstacle at best, yes,” Fossor confirmed. “And yet, you were working for them.”
“Nothing wrong with their money,” the shark-man retorted. “At least there wasn’t while they were still handing it out. Second I’m a little inconvenient, do they pay me off and ship me off world like any decent employer? Nope, straight to cutting me out, literally.”
“You never should’ve trusted them,” Fossor informed him while pouring another glass. He slid it across the bar toward Fahsteth, and then poured one for himself. Together, they downed the contents.
For a moment, it was like the two of them were back at that prison once more. Not quite allies or friends, but neighbors through happenstance. Interacting amicably solely because there was little else to do, and with a shared adversary. Then, it was the guards who held them prisoner. Now, it was the Seosten who had so effectively manipulated one of the galaxy’s most adaptable and potentially powerful species into becoming their lapdogs.
“Can’t really argue with you there,” he admitted in a slight grunt. “Can’t see you being all that torn up about that little falling-out, though. After all, it means they don’t have me to ask about my old prison-mate once you make your play to go from nuisance to threat.”
Fossor gave a small, humorless smile at that. “My friend,” he replied simply, “If you were still working with them when the time came for me to take the next step, the angels wouldn’t have a chance to ask you anything before you were dead.” He ran a finger along the rim of the glass absently while adding, “Just business, I’m sure you understand.”
Fahsteth shrugged then. “What’s a little threatened-murder between old prison-mates?”
Rather than respond to that directly, Fossor simply gestured toward the bar that separated them. “Your encounter with my next project didn’t go so well for you, I hear.”
Ah, he wasn’t pointing at the bar. He was gesturing through it and toward the stool that Fahsteth sat on. Or rather, that his mechanical lower-half was seated on. His replacement parts had fashioned themselves into fairly rudimentary hips and legs by that point, since it would take awhile for even his regeneration to repair the damage biologically.
“Your sources are pretty quick,” he replied in an even tone. “That just happened yesterday.”
Smiling faintly, the necromancer lifted one shoulder in a shrug. “What can I say? Angels or humans, they still haven’t figured out how to tell when one of their own people is already dead.”
The words made Fahsteth snort. “You’ve got a dead meatpuppet walking around that island of theirs and they don’t even know it? How’d you pull that off?”
“Uh uh.” Fossor wagged a finger. “My secrets. Let’s just say that magic can accomplish many things. The Seosten have their spies and I have mine. It just so happens that mine happen to die before they become useful. And don’t change the subject. What do you think of my girl?”
“She has shit taste in girlfriends,” Fahsteth replied shortly. “At least as far as life-expectancy goes.” He gave the necromancer a long look. “Unless you think you’re gonna stake a claim on that one too.”
Fossor gave a dismissive wave of his hand. “I don’t care what happens to the Bosch heir. As long as my girl stays out of the crosshairs. And, well, I would suggest that you ensure that your revenge keeps the Merlin Key out of danger too. Let sleeping dragons lie and all that. But that’s just a little friendly advice.”
“No one’s stupid enough to touch the Key of Merlin,” the shark-man retorted. “Even the Seosten aren’t gonna hurt that kid. Too much chance of… well, you know.”
The two of them nodded slightly. No need to say it out loud. They were both well-aware of what could happen if the one they called the Merlin Key was put in enough danger.
After another moment of that, Fahsteth pushed himself up. His metal legs found the floor. “Anyway, nothing for me here, since you had to go and kill my bartender.”
“My girl,” Fossor insisted, his eyes shining with what looked like a strange, demented pride. “She’s something, isn’t she?”
Staring at the man for a moment, Fahsteth finally gave a grunt of acknowledgment. “She’s only been there a few months, hasn’t she? Normal human before that?” When the necromancer nodded, he coughed. “The Seosten already noticed her. She’s progressing faster than they thought. And they can’t figure out why they can’t possess her.”
Fossor raised an eyebrow at that. “They can’t, hmm? I suppose that means they tried.”
“More than once,” Fahsteth confirmed. “Figured you had something to do with blocking them.”
The man chuckled at that, head shaking. “I confess, I’m as baffled by that revelation as they must have been. Pity, I was almost looking forward to ripping out any of them that tried to claim my prize.”
“Yeah,” Fahsteth shrugged before starting to walk out. “Well, it’s got nothing to do with me. As long as you don’t mind me teaching the bitch that did this a lesson.” He gestured toward his lower half as he walked.
Behind him, Fossor reply reached the shark-man just as he stepped out of the bar. “No problems here, old friend.
“In fact, I look forward to comforting my girl and offering my condolences for her loss.”