“What brings you here?” Mr. Skelly asked, ignoring Alice’s baffled expression. “I thought you went to Fuselage with Vur. Does that mean he’s here as well?” His head swiveled and completed one whole rotation around his neck. “I don’t see him.”
Tafel sighed again and raised her head. “Going to Fuselage was the plan,” she said. “But plans never go as you expect them to, and now I’m here. Vur’s here too, but I’m not sure where. I think he’s on the continent, but it’s possible he’s somewhere else.”
“You two know each other?” Alice asked, her gaze switching from Tafel to Mr. Skelly.
“Yes,” Tafel said and scratched her head. “We’re acquaintances.”
“What?” Mr. Skelly asked, gasping and bringing his bony hand to his mouth. “We’re not best friends? My nonexistent heart is crying right now.” He lowered his head to the side and clutched his ribcage.
Tafel rolled her eyes. “What are you doing here?”
Mr. Skelly raised his head and blinked. “We’re hosting a party. Isn’t that obvious?”
Tafel snorted and smacked his skull. “Why are you here?” she asked, placing her hands on her hips. “Shouldn’t you be doing skeleton stuff back at home?”
Mr. Skelly nodded. “I am. For home is where the mistress lives,” he said with a wink.
“Auntie is here too?” Tafel asked, raising an eyebrow. “Then who’s watching over our kingdoms?”
“Ah.” Mr. Skelly exhaled. “A calamity has befallen the three kingdoms. A new power swept through the continent and united it into a single empire while you were gone. We were forced to leave along with the fairies, braving the ocean and new lands. The mistress had been kidnapped earlier by Grimmoldesser, and no one was capable of defending the lands.”
“Did you just say Grimmoldesser?” Alice asked.
Mr. Skelly ignored her and continued speaking, “As such, we took it upon ourselves to depart on a journey to find our mistress. We found her, but Grimmoldesser refuses to let us see her until we accomplish his task.”
Tafel pursed her lips. “A calamity befell the kingdoms? Is everyone okay? What about Sera and the other dragons? Surely they could do something about it.”
“Oh, the calamity is Pyrrhicandra,” Mr. Skelly said and waved his hand in front of his face like he was shooing a fly. “Everyone’s fine, but they had to give up their dignity—something that we find unacceptable. She declared Fridays as mandatory pink robe day.”
“…So you came here because you didn’t want to wear pink,” Tafel said and bit her lower lip. “You’d rather face off against a few holy dragons instead of….” She sighed and shook her head. “I’m starting to wonder if Vur’s taking after you, or if you’re the ones taking after him.”
“Vur’s already surpassed us in strategy and warfare,” Mr. Skelly said. “Of course, we’re the ones taking after him. Also, holy dragons aren’t an issue. If they’re anything like Leiandra, then I bet they’ll be willing to talk before obliterating us. And once we start talking, I’ll win the fight with my smooth, nonexistent tongue.”
“What was that bit about Grimmoldesser!?” Alice grabbed Mr. Skelly’s forearm, causing his bones to creak. “Don’t ignore me!”
Mr. Skelly frowned at Alice before turning his head towards Henry. “You’re right. She does have a stick stuck up—”
“Please don’t agitate her further,” Henry said, cutting off Mr. Skelly. “Guild master, you’re causing a commotion.” He glanced at the surrounding people. They were pointing at the group while whispering to each other.
“I’m causing a commotion? You’re the ones throwing a party to celebrate a necromancer!” Alice shouted and pulled her hand back. Mr. Skelly’s arm snapped off with a loud crack. “What are you going to do if the holy dragons find out? Everyone here will be declared traitors to the throne! What good is your head for if you can’t even use it to think!?”
Henry bit his lower lip. “What other option did I have? You ran away to play adventurer, and the mayor passed away due to the earthquake. The only ones offering to help were the skeletons. Was I just supposed to let everyone die because of the holy dragons’ words? How could I when they’re already proven false?”
Alice gritted her teeth and flinched when someone tugged on her sleeve.
“Calm down,” Tafel said and retrieved Mr. Skelly’s arm. She passed it back to the skeleton. “Despite their deviant behavior, the skeletons aren’t bad people. They don’t kill or do anything to harm anyone. In fact, they improve the qualities of people’s lives everywhere they go.”
“It doesn’t matter how they act,” Alice said. “Their existence is a mockery of life. All undead should be purged with holy fire.”
“That’s some serious propaganda the holy dragons have been spreading,” Mr. Skelly said and scratched his head. “How am I a mockery of life? I feel very much alive if I may say so myself. I remember everything from when I was alive, and quite frankly, I’m glad I was brought back by the resurrector.”
Alice made a face. “How many undead are there?” she asked Henry, causing the man to flinch.
“A-about a thousand,” Henry said.
“Oh, that’s not a lot,” Tafel said and looked at Mr. Skelly. “Can you accomplish Grimmy’s mission with so few numbers?”
“Oh, it should be fine,” Mr. Skelly said. “Overwhelming numbers is only one tactic in our repertoire; there’s a lot more we can do.”
“A thousand undead isn’t a lot?” Alice asked, her expression darkening. She ground her teeth together and jabbed Tafel’s ribs with her finger. “This is your fault.”
Tafel blinked twice and pointed at herself. “My fault? How is this my fault?”
“And fault implies something wrong was done,” Mr. Skelly said, raising one finger into the air. “No one’s at fault because nothing happened for someone to take the blame.”
Alice glanced around at the streets of Anfang. Everyone was still chattering and laughing amongst each other. She bit her lower lip and glared at Henry. “When this celebration is over, we’re having a serious discussion.” Her shield shrank in size as she turned her gaze onto Mr. Skelly. “You as well. When does it end?”
Mr. Skelly cackled. “The party never ends.” He took a jug off a nearby skeleton waiter. “Have a drink?”