A three-legged dog hobbles across the street, chased by a pumpkin-orange rooster with something metallic strapped to his beak. Telisa turns into the alley they ran out of, bumping into a human boy half her height.
“Oh, shit logs!” He falls on his butt and scrambles back like a crab. “Your eyes are lights.”
Telisa sighs and crouches. “I heard there were rebelling zombies in these slums. Help me find one, and I’ll give you a… treat.”
“You a demigoddess? What you a lady of?”
She holds out her hand, curling fingers thin and long to help him up. “I host nothing divine. My eyes shine because my race stores sunlight. Have you never met an olympian before?”
The boy points the way the dog and rooster ran. “Keep going until the Obsidian docks. Follow the water towards the lumber yard. Blackship zombies wander around there with their evil switched on. Killed Freddy, my other dog, a couple days ago. Told the city watch, but they won’t go there ‘cause of the crusader turf war.”
Telisa snorts. “The whole world has been a crusader turf war for most of your bumpkin life.”
“Yeah, my parents go on and on about how great things were before the holy war.” He rolls his eyes. “So, what is my treat?”
Telisa taps an armlet and whispers guttural syllables that bleach color from the boy’s cheeks. Her face shimmers, half transforming into skinless undead flesh.
The boy stutters a whimper and scampers away quicker than the rooster or the three-legged dog.
“That’s cruel,” says a familiar male voice, “and hilarious.”
Slip floats down from a roof, wide grin splitting his light-blue face and still fog instead of legs below the waist. The djinn raises an eyebrow and points at a pair of laborers carrying a barrel towards them.
“Fine.” Telisa taps her armlet, banishing the illusion and returning her face to smooth perfection.
Heads bowed, the men keep their eyes on the street. They grumble apologies as they move past and strain to keep their burden from bumping anything before sidestepping into the nearest alleyway.
Telisa crosses her arms. “So, where’d you go, Slip?”
“Maybe I was here but invisible, like you had guessed before.”
Telisa narrows her glowing eyes and walks where the boy had directed.
The djinn floats to her side and keeps pace. “What’s your plan? It must be more than asserting control. Any old necromancer can do that. As a soured olympian, I’m expecting a truly deviant performance.”
“I don’t perform. I execute. If you approve of my work, then I will join your band.” She jabs a finger towards him like a fencer. “But if you or yours betray me as my peers have done, I will bind you in your bottle until the next age has come.”
The djinn shrinks back and then smirks. “You don’t have the power—”
“What I don’t have is patience for the prattling of a ghost playing at the life of a man.”
“I’m nothing like a ghost.” A wind stirs about Slip, and his hair, bound in a thick waist-length braid, wags like panther’s tail. “But thank you for noticing my mortal performance.”
Seagulls squawk above, and the two wind through the slums until a wider street leads to docks packed with boats and one ocean-class ship that’s black as coal from its planks to every sail. Wrecks of two more ships of the same class and color poke out of the water an easy row away.
Telisa gestures towards the sunken ships. “Not a very friendly port.”
Slip waves at some lounging guards and says to her, “We did let the Blackships deliver most of their cargo before setting them on fire.”
She snorts and wrinkles her nose at a short man shuffling by. “Stinks like the sewer. What is he, a wearerat?”
“In fact he is and also an effective Lute hireling.” Slip waves at some more guards. “I’m surprised a necromancer worries about smell.”
“And I’m surprised your people don’t salute or even wave back.”
Slip chuckles. “Some rule out of fear, some respect, a few love, but only I rule out of a bottle.”
They follow the water past the cobbled ground of the docks to a dirt path that curves around the back of a decrepit lumber yard. Barrels are stacked side by side, creating a barrier up to Telisa’s chin.
Slip floats over it. “Oh, you’re in luck. One wandering Blackship zombie in reach.”
Careful so her robe doesn’t catch, Telisa uses the neighboring building’s wall to climb up the barrels.
A rotting man in a seaman’s tunic and trousers turns towards her and moans.
Slip claps. “Oh, he’s sensed your life aura. What will you do now?”
Telisa mutters a string of sounds and spins her hands, summoning a smoky shadow with veins of red between her palms.
The zombie stumbles over and lifts his decaying arm towards her.
She screams a final syllable, and the veined shadow shoots into the zombie’s face. He shakes his head and blinks with one eye. His other lid stays open, stuck like a rusted hinge, and he lowers his arm.
“Wow. You knocked the fellow out of his awakened state. Does this mean you’ll return him to manual labor?”
“I have more ambition than that, bottle dweller.”
Telisa pulls a skull out of her robe and casts again. Thick smoke forms around the skull and gets sucked into its eye-sockets as she pours her summoned power into the foci.
Slip flies to hover over the zombie. “Have you asserted direct control?”
Telisa lifts her arm, and the zombie lifts his.
“I’ve made him permanently mine for labor, and he’ll actively fight for me for the hour or so until my enchantment fades.” She hops down and walks over to the rotting seaman, pinching her nose. “Let me do something about his smell too.”
Slip waves his hands to cast.
“What are you doing, djinn?”
“Hey look! Some giant crabs hungry for seaman.”
Several dog-sized crabs skitter out from under a rundown shed of the lumber yard. One with a purple-tipped claw drops a human-shaped thigh bone, and skitters forward.
Telisa hisses and stirs dark energy with one hand as she swings the other, casting a ray of darkness that misses the crab and making the zombie swing his club-like fist to bounce off the crustacean’s hard back.
Slip shakes his head. “Not so impressive.”
The second crab joins its friend, and they tear into the zombie’s body. Telisa has him punch down again, but his arm gets caught in a claw and ripped off.
“Freddy, no!” Telisa flicks her hands to quick cast another dark ray that splashes against a crab’s shell.
“ ‘Freddy?’ You named your pet zombie after that boy’s dead dog?” Slip claps. “You are deviant.”
The two crabs fight over the arm and retreat, skittering back under the lumber shed. The one-armed zombie steps after, until Telisa flicks her wrist to freeze it.
The djinn floats down to her. “Freddy doesn’t look useful as a cripple.”
“Show me to the morgue.” Telisa cracks her knuckles, and under her control, the zombie slams a stack of barrels out of the way. “Freddy needs an upgrade.”
Slip, mascot—immature djinn and concierge of Luted Inn
Telisa, necromancer—teenage olympian rebelling with morbidity