Everyone Loves the Undead: Part Four
The owner of the Last Tango, if a place frequented entirely by ghosts could be said to have an owner, was Gregor Fivematch. He was a burly ghost Tonu who drifted behind the bar of the place. He didn't bother pouring drinks, knowing full well that his clientele couldn't handle them anyway.
The ghost Moehog who had greeted Oldnose at the entrance had escorted the Meerca over to the bar to meet the owner.
"And you?" Oldnose asked.
"Martin Shortpike," the Moehog answered.
"He's the closest thing this place has to a mascot!" Gregor joked from behind the bar. "He's here almost as much as I am!"
"It's hard to believe a place like this exists below the city," Oldnose commented. "How have you kept it secret for so long?"
"It's a lot easier now the Catacombs are empty, I'll tell you that much," Gregor explained. "We used to enforce a quietness rule to avoid echoes heading back down the caverns to the inhabited areas. The Last Tango used to be my tavern, back in the day. It sank into the city's foundations during a great flood a few centuries back. After that, I set it up as a haven for ghosts in the city."
"So you're recently dead then?" Martin asked.
"No, no," Oldnose answered. "I died in the Haunted Woods a few years back now, moved to Neopia Central soon after."
"Really?" Martin seemed surprised. "Most ghosts find their way here quickly, drifting down to the Catacombs."
"Oh, I haven't been a ghost for long," Oldnose corrected them. "I was a zombie originally. I lost my body during the riots last month."
"You were... a zombie?" Martin questioned.
"Yes," Oldnose replied innocently.
"That... doesn't happen normally," Martin added. "In fact, I don't remember that ever happening before. When zombies die, they just... die."
For an awful moment Oldnose thought he was going to be thrown out, as he had been with the zombies above them. But then Gregor let out a hearty laugh from behind the bar.
"Well, I've seen a lot of things in my time, and I've never seen a ghost zombie, that's for sure," he announced. "But the world's a big place, with a lot of things in it I haven't seen. All ghosts are welcome at the Last Tango, that much I know!"
Oldnose beamed. "Thank you."
"But it is strange," Martin added. "Rasputin! Rasputin! Have you ever heard of something like that?"
A ghost Zafara at the other end of the bar lifted his glum head. He seemed alone in not enjoying the party atmosphere of the tavern.
"Rasputin works in the magical research department of the Museum," Martin explained. "He's... not exactly the cheeriest sort."
"I heard that," the Zafara moped. "But no, I've never heard of any zombies becoming ghosts. You must be special, somehow?"
"I did used to work for a famous wizard in the Lost Desert," Oldnose revealed. "Alvare Thornpipe. I always assumed background magic from him was why I became a zombie. Maybe it did something more to me?"
"Working with an insane wizard like Thornpipe can do a lot of things, but not that," Rasputin answered. "Zombies and ghosts stay behind, most commonly, because they have unfinished business in their lives. Mostly this is trivial stuff that doesn't get completed even in their afterlives, so ghosts fade and zombies rot to nothing. If you remained even after your body went, you must have really important unfinished business."
Both Gregor and Martin now regarded Oldnose with a strange sense of awe.
"What's my unfinished business?" Oldnose asked.
"How should I know?" Rasputin answered, waving them away with his hand as he returned to his own thoughts.
There was silence at the bar for a moment until the band in the corner started a new tune, and Oldnose gradually felt himself lost in the atmosphere of the place once more.
Jane Entwhistle woke to a hurried knocking on her front door. The striped Lupe slowly made her way downstairs to open up, finding the figure of Robert waiting outside.
"Do you own any shirts?" she asked critically, taking in the same ragged appearance he had the previous morning, after his transformation. "Or any other clothes at all, for that matter?"
"What?" Robert asked, his mind having clearly been on other matters.
"And it's not enough that you stand me and my friends up, but you then have to wake me up early on a Sunday morning?" she added.
"So it was just me?" Robert questioned. "Look, I need to tell you something, can I come in?"
What few neighbours were awake were already giving the green Lupe on her doorstep suspicious looks, so she agreed. Once safely inside, Robert launched into his story.
"I transformed last night," he said. "I was on my way to meet you, and the Change hit me. Right in public. I woke up this morning under the Bundak Bridge near Little Shenkuu."
"It wasn't a full moon last night," Jane said. "You can't have transformed."
"Well, I did!" Robert snapped. "I know the Change when I feel it! That's why I came over here, to see if had happened to you as well."
"Well it didn't," Jane answered. "And I'm sure if a Werelupe had been rampaging through a built up area last night, we would have heard about it. Are you sure you didn't dream it?"
"I know the Change!" Robert repeated. "Something must have happened to me, first moving territory, now this. I need help, Jane... that's also why I came. What do I do? What if I transform again tonight? I could manage it when it was just one night a month – control it, even, but this? I won't be able to cope."
Jane relented a little in her scepticism.
"I'm hardly an expert on Werelupes, really," she told him. "But if you are really sure about what happened, I know who you should go to see."
"The man I went to when I first got the curse," she told him. "Dr. Franks."
"Well," Craven announced. "I think we can count that out as a titanic failure."
The pair of vampires had retreated to the darkness of the sewers as soon as dawn had arrived and Robert had reverted. The Korbat was not impressed with the smell in the slightest, and it was putting him on edge. Frommholtz, however, seemed quite happy.
"A failure? Certainly not," the Ogrin replied. "We narrowed down the search area, and concluded that our target is moving around the city, even at night. I am confident that in a few more nights work, we can find the culprit."
"We have to tangle with that beast for a few more nights?" Craven asked.
"Sadly so," Frommholtz confirmed. "I believe if I up the dose, he will become more focused on tracking our prey. Hopefully then we will be able to find him."
"Good," Craven said, holding his nose. "Now, I believe there is a sewer access grate in the cellar of my home. We should wait there until nightfall, unless you like it here?"
Frommholtz seemed to realise where they were for the first time, "Yes, let's do that. But judging from where we are, my house would be closer – I have a sewer access too, you know. Helps with the experiments."
Mr. Jennings leaned heavily on his cane as he watched the Defenders raise the front wall of their building across the Plaza. They still had a few weeks of rebuilding ahead of them, but it was an encouraging sign. Once the Headquarters was back in working order, Judge Hog could focus on rebuilding other areas of the city – and that would make Jennings's job far easier.
The green Krawk was joined after a while by his assistant, Mr. Black. The green Grarrl stood by his silently for a few moments as they both watched the building works. It was Jennings who broke the silence with a sigh.
"I had hoped that the theft alone would encourage them to talk to each other," Jennings told Black. "I had not counted on the vampires being quite so egocentric. I fear it will take more."
"We are going to steal something else, sir?" Black asked.
"No," Jennings answered. "We've already stolen all we need."
He took the small vial of liquid from inside his jacket pocket. The contents shone silver in the morning sun.
"Perhaps an epidemic will be enough," he considered.
"You're going to use it?" Black asked, slightly horrified. "What if it doesn't work?"
"I have faith in Frommholtz's abilities," Jennings said. "A better question is, what if it does work?"
"Sir, normally I don't mind following orders, but this..." Black protested. "It seems a little risky. What if there isn't a way back?"
"Then the city, and indeed planet, is quite doomed," Jennings answered. "It is a high stakes gamble, Mr. Black, I will not lie. But we must have faith in the undead. If you disagree, I will of course give you a head start and let you flee. If the worst comes to the worst, you could always detonate a few cavern entrances in Moltara. That should give you the best chance of survival."
Black seemed to consider this for a few minutes.
"I'll stay, sir," he said at last.
"Good," was the answer, as Jennings uncorked the bottle and took a swift glug.
"Well, certainly not a pleasant taste," Jennings remarked. "But it is done now, regardless. Our last hope now lies with the undead. I would imagine it will be more painful if you try to resist in the coming moments, Mr. Black."
"Understood, sir," Black answered, as Jennings began coughing and fell to the floor.
The Krawk's skin was rapidly greying, while his frame was bulking up, making him almost the size of Mr. Black. Matted hair erupted from what parts of his skin were now not decaying, and Black heard the distinct crack of bones as they slotted into new positions.
Jennings's coughing abruptly stopped, and he stood once more, the cane being disregarded. The creature that had once been Mr. Jennings stood with a stoop, still as tall as Black, and pierced him with fearsome red eyes that seemed to glow. Two fangs now protruded from his mouth, and the creature smiled and evil smile.
Black gave a small sigh.
"Right, sir, let's get this over with," he said.
The creature pounced.
To be continued...