At the edge of the city proper townhouses and shops give way to cottages, with farms beyond. This particular cottage is home to a large Khatta family, and it shows in the generations worth of knick-knacks and mementos covering every table and shelf, and in some cases dangling from the roof on strings. It also has a distinctly feline odor.
A middle-aged gray-and-white Khatta woman leads her guests to one of many shrines. This one is of an older, plump Khatta fallen over on its side. It's clearly the work of a skilled godsmith. At the base of the shrine is a saucer filled with dried herbs and a few ashes. "Here it is," the woman, Felicia, explains. "Grandfather Rufus has always been quiet and content since he died, but after our Thomas came back from Grunge with some new herbs he said were special. He didn't say they shouldn't be burnt though. And now Granddad has flown the coop! You can get him back, can't you?"
"We'll see," the Reaper replies in a low murmur. To Alptraum, the Reaper points a finger at the incense. "First thing to know: inspect the site. Ghosts and such might be supernatural, but they're tied to the natural and they have their attachments, likes, and dislikes with things. Look here, recognize this herb?" He pokes a finger at the incense burner.
"Incense drives away ghosts?" Alptraum asks as he leans in close to examine the saucer of ash. He licks a claw tip lightly, then taps the ash to get a small bit on the tip. That he presses to his tongue to see if they have any unusual taste or scent that would be identifiable.
It tastes like… well, what would a vampire know about herbs, really? It could taste like parsley or fungus.
"Of the few herbs I've tasted in my life, I haven't tasted this one. Vampires don't have much need for them," Alptraum admits as he wipes his claws on his pants leg. "What is it?"
"Ghost nip," the albino Korv replies, rubbing his talons together to remove the soot from them. "Makes spirits lively, excitable and it's not supposed to be used as incense. Too much of a bad thing, in this case. Now that you know that, what do you think happened to our wayward grandpa, Alptraum?" The bird cocks an eye-ridge up, watching the vampire curiously.
"To use a gypsy phrase … 'De ol' coot wen' on a toot'," Alptraum offers, complete with a heavy gypsy accent. "Or put another way, he's on a bender."
"Oh dear, would he go for his old haunts then?" Felicia asks, worrying her apron.
"Almost exactly what I think except lively in this case requires a knowledge of what the man lived for. The second part of knowing a spirit, beyond where it haunts, is knowing who it was. Know the man before he died, and you'll have a good guess as to what his ghost would do. Or in the case of spirits who didn't have a time alive, their nature can hint." Mortimer turns to the feline woman and nods. "Most likely. What was the old man prone to do, when he felt lively?"
"Oh dear, oh dear," Felicia says. "He always went to his gentleman's club before. My goodness, it's where he died!"
"Gentleman's club?" Alptraum asks, ears perked. Tapping his claws together, he further asks, trying to be somewhat delicate about it, "Now is this a club where people play cards and talk … or is this a club that … well, involves women with little clothing?"
The bird nods, as if expecting just such an answer. "Well there you have it. Ghosts don't tend to be the most creative sort. You don't find them starting new hobbies, as a rule, and they don't tend to grow much. Chances are, he's off doing what he used to love."
"Oh, this is awful then!" Felicia frets, tugging on her whiskers now. "It was such a scandal when he died!"
Alptraum nudges Mortimer and whispers, "Women." He holds up his hands, well, until he sees his right hand (which he hides behind his back!), then says, "Calm. We would try to recover him discretely. Perhaps we should take his shrine along. He should be drawn to it, correct?"
"I… would he?" the woman asks, turning to Mortimer for the answer. "I thought you used gourds and bottles of beer and such?"
Whispering aside to Alptraum, the Korv goes on with his advice, "In our line of work, you'll hear a lot of sob stories, scandals, and the like. It's not really our business to have an opinion on these things, and it is our business to remain neutral and professional. Folks don't like thinking we have something on them, not if they think we could use it. They do like thinking we don't care, so just nod and don't let what you see or hear bother you unless it should. Then, keep it inside." He turns back to the woman and pats the gourd at his side. "His shrine might attract him, then again, might repell him if he doesn't want to go home. Easier to blindside them with something they're not familiar with, or that would draw them naturally. Most folks like beer."
"How does a spirit drink beer?" Alptraum has to ask. "Well, if that is the case, beer should be obtainable at the club."
"Granddad really liked his beer," the woman notes. "Just please bring him back before Grandmother gets home from her card game, or she'll go on a tear!"
"No promises, but we'll see what we can do," Mortimer assures the woman. He begins hobbling towards the door, tilting his scythe so it doesn't take out ceiling hangings or rip a slice in the door frames. "Come along, young Alptraum. We're off to visit the gentleman's club and get some beer."
"It's the one on Gnarly Street," the Khatta offers helpfully. "Madame Touche's. You can't miss it!"
"And while on business, I expect I'm not allowed to enjoy the club, either," Alptraum mutters to himself. As he passes the feline, he bows his head politely. "Just try to remain calm. We will do all we can. Good day to you."
Gnarly Street isn't hard to find, but can be tricky to navigate. It loops back around and crosses itself a few times, but eventually the pair find a sign with a bottle perched in what can only be cleavage swinging outside of a windowless building with a very heavy door. The plaque on the door marks it as "Madame Touche's Lounge and Massage Parlor for Distinguishing Gentlemen."
"And about enjoying yourself, it's fine just don't show it," the Korv goes on, having discussed this and that along the way. Alptraum gets the impression he doesn't often get company to talk to, and is making the most of this time by talking non-stop. "People don't like a Reaper with feelings and happiness. We always show up when they're in a bad sort, so they don't want to see our smiling faces. Grim. Be grim. Not sad GRIM." He then raises a talon and raps on the door.
"That sign does not make me think of 'Distinguished Gentlemen'," Alptraum notes as he peers up at the sign, "Looks like a place a friend of mine would enjoy." As Mortimer turns away, the Eee makes strangling motions behind his back briefly, then resigns to having to act grim. "Do you want spooky effects with that grim? All shadow and evil-looking?" he asks.
A slit opens high up on the door and large black eye looks out. It sees Alptraum, and a scythe hovering next to him. A second slit opens further down and a smaller eye notices Mort. Bolts are pulled, and the door is opened by a beefy Rhian bouncer. The lower spy-slit was manned by a Kavi who makes up for his shortness with a piercing stare. He looks like the sort to bite onto an ankle and not let go until the foot falls off.
"Bidness?" the Rhian asks.
"Evil is for necromancers. We want to seem gloomy, akin with death and fatalism, not sinister and dangerous. Sinister and dangerous is as bad as cheery and pleasant makes people think you're a wicked sort, and that leads to pitchforks and hangings," the Korv explains. Turning to the bouncer, the Korv says, "Reaper business, we'll be coming in. This is my assistant for today," he gestures at Alptraum, "the beau or some-such to the lady of the land. I'm a Reaper. You know me, sooner or later."
"These two have cornered the market on grim," Alptraum thinks. He really has to resist the urge to smile at them. Instead, he waves curtly, noting, "We are on official business. We have reason to believe a wayward spirit may be here. That is all you need know."
"Is it now?" the bouncer asks, but doesn't block them from entering.
"Yes," Alptraum notes and walks right past the bouncer.
"You could know more, of course, but that's not usually the best path for a man of this world," the Reaper says as he heads on in past the bouncers. "Never ends well," he adds, shaking his head.
Inside is a large parlor that seems to take up the entire lower floor of the building. Like a tavern, it has a bar. Unlike a tavern, the seats are all elegantly made couches and padded chairs, set around antique tables. The air is full of smoke and chatter, as well-dressed men sit and chat with one another and with the house ladies, all in various stages of undress (although it's difficult to tell with the Eeee women, and the Rath'ani tend to have underwear as complicated as evening gowns). A colorful Kujaku woman greets the Reapers, twittering, "Welcome to the club, sirs. I am Madame Touche." She looks between the two, and asks, "The Eeee is here for his last request, is that it?"
"I will not be dead for a long, long time. No, we are here on official business," Alptraum remarks to the Kujaku. "We have reason to believe a local spirit may be in hiding here. We wish to remove it without disturbing your guests. Have you, perchance, seen anything unusual this eve?"
"The boy has it," the Reaper agrees. He waves Alptraum to continue investigating, but adds, "He's assisting me today, Touche. Might have the Reaper in him."
"A spirit? What spirit?" the Madame asks, looking a bit flustered. "We do not serve the undead here. And there have been no disturbances tonight." Of course, right after claiming so there is a crash and a scream from upstairs.
Alptraum's white brow goes up. "The scream says otherwise. Now, if you will excuse us, I think the upstairs deserves a bit of examination," he says, then taps his claws together. "But, before we go up, perhaps we should get a bottle of beer as a lure now."
"We don't serve beer," the Kujaku notes haughtily. "Will brandy suffice?"
"Go ahead, moneybags," Mortimer tells Alptraum, nudging him with his scythe butt. "Get us some brandy."
"Brandy will suffice. I am certain that in payment my Reaper friend here will perform the proper dance ritual of purification before we go," Alptraum tells the kukaju. The look he gives Mortimer screams 'Moneybags, indeed! Time do dance, birdboy.'
"The boy is possessed of an unfortunate amount of humor," the Reaper says, his expression never changing form bland grimness, even when Alptraum looks at him with such mockery. "Have the brandy brought upstairs, we'll be looking about." Turning, the Reaper heads for the stairs, nudging mostly naked women out of his way, stopping only to peer an en exceptionally pale Jupani woman which he pokes before moving on.
"I never joke," Alptraum claims as he follows after Mortimer. Instead of nudging women, he merely sidesteps them and takes the time to get a look; though most of his attention tends to linger on the Eeee.
The commotion is coming from a bathroom, it turns out. A shivering Siamese Khatta is huddled on the floor, flanked by a concerned, red-feathered Korv on the right and a Rhian mare on the left. The Mare is wearing a leather corset and domino mask that appear to be trimmed in poodle fur… and has a whip hanging from her hip to boot.
"Are you sure I can't laugh?" Alptraum whispers to Mortimer. His cheeks are twitching under the strain. "What seems to be the commode … commotion? Yes, commotion. Cause. Yes, cause."
Instead of asking questions, Mortimer simply stands in the doorway and raises an eye ridge as he looks between the gathered persons. It's the kind of questioning look that demands an answer, especially since he doesn't look about to move without one.
"C-c-cold!" the Khatta girl chatters, and shows Alptraum her chest as if to prove just how cold she means. "J-just got into the bath, and it suddenly went icy!"
Alptraum moves to the girl and crouches down, then extends his left hand to her. "Take my hand, please," the Eeee asks.
The mare almost growls at Alptraum, but the feline does extend a shaky hand to him.
Mortimer just shakes his head at all this helping before he steps inside. Pulling a sleeve back, he plunges his arm into the water, eyes narrowing in focus.
Alptraum takes it and looks directly in her eyes. "Relax," he instructs, then tries to feel … just a bit, if a spirit lingers on her or not.
The water certainly feels spirit-chilled, especially when the buckets used to fill the tub are still steaming nearby.
Grandpa Rufus either didn't leave any ectoplasm behind, or else didn't touch the girl in the first place. The chill she has is clearly from the cold water, and not something internal.
"Comin' through ladies!" squeaks a high-pitched voice, as the door-Kavi barges in holding a flask of brandy.
"Good. She is not possessed," Alptraum comments calmly towards Mortimer. He unhooks his panel coat and then drapes it around the shivering feline. To the mare, he says, "If you would fetch her a blanket, that would do much to calm her. I will collect my coat later."
"Yes, yes," Mortimer says impatiently, though he doesn't seem to be talking to anyone specific. He pulls his hand out and wipes it off on his sleeve. "Most likely a watcher, liked the young girls, and she's his kind to boot. I'd put a bottle of brandy next to her or someone like her, then have her or someone like her do something that'd attract an old man."
The mare flares her nostrils, but doesn't say anything as she steps out, presumably to get the requested blanket. "What's going on here?" the scarlet Korvette asks.
"Supernatural problem, but do not worry, you have two experts here to deal with it. You will be perfectly safe," Alptraum offers. "How many Khatta are employed here?"
"And is your friend usually so little for words?" Alptraum asks as an afterthought and nods in the direction the mare went.
"Four on shift tonight," the Korvette notes. "Missy here, Griselda downstairs, Tilly at the harpsichord, and Jeanie in room 5 down the hall."
Mortimer looks around, then peers at the Korv woman a moment. He seems to listen, then states, "Jeanie."
"Mortimer, if I may offer a suggestion. If the Khatta girls know the dance of the veils, I suggest we gather them all in the same room and have them perform to lure him. Well, unless you have reason to believe he is with her now," Alptraum says.
The mare returns with a big wooly blanket, and switches it for Alptraum's coat. "Th-thanks Buttercup," Missy says, smiling.
"Buttercup?" Alptraum has to ask the mare as he collects his coat.
"Lone girl, same floor. Or girl with a partner. Either way, fewer people, and I don't think gramps likes the attention much. Notice he left when the others came. Too many people might scare him off," the Reaper explains. He begins for the door, then pauses. "Your idea has merit good thinking, that's the right track, but too soon."
"My fur is butter colored," the mare explains.
As for too many people being a problem; the hall outside of the bathroom is packed by a half-dozen girls now. The braver of them are holding candlesticks, fireplace pokers and brooms. Since they're all half-naked though, it makes them look a little less than fearsome.
"I like the outfit. Intimidating," Alptraum tells Buttercup before he heads after Mortimer. "You could be a little more pleasant with them, you know," he tells the Korv.
The red-feathered one crowds in close behind the two men, and takes the flask from the Kavi. "I'll take it, Brutus," she tells the man.
"I tole' Madame to use thistlebark nails, but nobody ever listens to the short guy," the Kavi grumps, and retreats back between the mass of girls.
"No one wants a pleasant Reaper. We represent Death, boy, and while he's a necessary thing, no one wants to get too close to him. Besides, neutrality goes both ways. You don't want to end up on a side if you can help it, if you wander like I do," the bird explains. He peers in each room as he goes, despite them not being 5 yet, and keeps going. "Her friends are better at comforting her than we. They'll be happier with the situation handled."
Except for the Korvette, the rest of the women keep their distance, but follow along all the same. At least they're quiet.
"There is irony in saying I represent death," Alptraum has to point out, "Given what I am. And you should realize, no matter what, you always end up on a side." To the Korvette behind them, he asks, "Would you prefer me polite, or as pleasant as a boulder?"
"You aren't my type," the bird admits.
"I wasn't asking if I was your type," Alptraum points out, then just shrugs, "Never mind. You are used to just being seen as objects by the men here, so of course you would assume that is what I sought."
"I like it when they bring presents," a Kavi girl in the mob pipes up.
"Now if the Reaper were being friendly," the Korvette notes, "I'd have been halfway to the border by now."
"What you are and what others think you are; it's the latter that matters here," the Korv says. "The ghost is arguably more deathly than either of us, but it's the Reaper people look to." Arriving at room 5, he pauses, turning to Alptraum. "Since you want to be friendly, here's a job for you. You're a customer now go inside and make nice nice. If anything happens, say something like, "you're just what I'm looking for.""
Alptraum extends his gloved hand to the Korv for the brandy. "So, you want me to act? Now that I can do," Alptraum agrees.
The scarlet bird hands over the flask without question.
"You'd make a good actor; your fashion sense suits that well." He scoots Alptraum towards the door with the flat of his scythe, glancing at the red Korv a moment before turning to watch the door.
"Thank you. If you want to cuddle Mortimer while I am inside, feel free. He likes eyeballs," Alptraum tells the Korvette, then walks to door number five. There he raps his knuckles upon the door, then calls out, "Please tell me I have found the room of the most beautiful and legendary Jeanie? Will you allow this unworthy soul but just a moment to gaze upon you?"
There is some brief commotion from the other side of the door, and then a feminine purr of, "Enter!"
"Into the chamber of doom I go," Alptraum mutters. He turns the door latch, then steps into Jeanie's chambers.
"Maybe a Gallisan actor," the Reaper says, shaking his head again. The bird then licks a talon, holding that digit in the air to check the temperature of the wind.
"I'm Scarlet, by the way," the Korvette introduces herself to Mort. "I like pickled eyeballs best. Or ones soaked in gin. They get rubber and you can peck a hole in 'em to get the juice out… "
There is a slight difference in air pressure, with the air moving into the room. It's too subtle for a non-avian to pick up on however.
"Hmm," Mortimer mumbles. His eyes dart to focus on Scarlet, and he stares at her for a long moment before saying, "Mortimer. I like red." He then goes back to monitoring the air current.
The room is small, and lit by fabric-hooded lamps for that romantic feel. Jeanie is a tiger-striped Khatta girl, and her green eyes seem extra-large until she takes off her glasses and sets them next to a book. She's sitting on the bed, wearing a transparent negligee and forcing a smile. "Hello," she says. In the corner, a rocking chair seems to be winding down, as if someone had just abandoned it.
"Ah, yes. She doesn't want to be doing this. Much less with an … Eeee" Alptraum thinks. He walks further into the room, then bows low, dropping to one knee, "The stories speak must true; a beautiful woman with fur striped like the ancient rocks of the mountains." He nods towards the book, then the nearby chair, "I hope I have not interrupted anything? Or perhaps if you are already tending to someone, well … I must concede the victory to them."
"Ummmm," the girl goes, seemingly frozen for the moment. There aren't many places in the room to hide; just a small wardrobe and probably under the bed itself. "Wh-what makes you think I'm not alone?" she finally asks.
"The boy's too dramatic," Mortimer says with a bit of a sigh, his head now against the door. He waves the red Korv over, pointing at the door. "Join me. I hear him saying she wasn't alone has she had visitors lately?"
"Not that I know of," Scarlet says, and presses her head against the door. "She's only just started receiving clients again, after having a bad scare last year."
"Instinct," Alptraum says as he stands back up. His eyes momentarily unfocus as he tries to feel in the room for the icy feel of a spirit. "But, no matter, if another has won your time, then they are lucky." He lifts the flask of brandy, asking, "And if so, perhaps the lucky man would join us for a toast to his good fortunes?"
The girl looks around the otherwise empty room, but nobody else pops up to take the offer.
"Bad scare, you say? Did an older gentleman happen to leave the this mortal coil around her?" The white Korv shifts to get a better listen.
"May I sit, then?" Alptraum asks and motions towards the bed with his hand. He offers her a gentle (and not fangy), smile. "I do not bite; I just wish to talk."
More head shaking. "Too dramatic and too obvious," the Reaper adds.
"Why yes, one of her regulars," Scarlet says, bobbing her head. "An older gentleman. She said he'd just sit in the rocker while she read to him. Died in it though. Gave her the willies. She was fond of the old man."
"Of course sir," Jeanie says, patting the spot next to her on the bed, and apparently relieved that he didn't gesture towards the rocking chair.
Alptraum heads to the bed and settles down on it, keeping some distance between the girl and himself. He looks around the room now, his iris seeming to dialate some. "What were you reading, if I may ask?" he asks. "If you do not wish to say, that's fine."
The girl picks up the book and clutches it to her chest. "Oh… just a story about a man who tried to find a place he'd seen in a dream as a child. It was a gift from… from a friend. I used to read it to him, because his eyes weren't so good anymore."
The Reaper snaps his talons, nodding. "Of course. Any interest in a girl named Missy? Not that it matters, from what I'm heraing I think our wayward spirit has come back to his young reading friend, and is likely nearby," he tells Scarlet.
For Alptraum, the colors of the room fade into various shades of silver. And there, on the rocker, is an older Khatta gentleman, sitting very still and watching him.
"That sounds like a lovely story. I am sure he must have appreciated hearing it very much," Alptraum says. "Did the man ever find the dead place?"
"I don't know," Jeanie says. "We never got to the end."
"How close were you to the end?" Alptraum asks next, eyes shifting about. He never lingers them for long on that rocking chair.
"Let's just listen for now," Mortimer whispers aside to Scarlet. "I think the situation will resolve itself shortly."
"I… just started reading it again tonight," the girl admits. There's a long leather bookmark that she opens too, quite near the end of the book. "Just… a few more pages, really."
"I'm sorry your friend isn't here to hear the end of the story. I know how hard it is when things are left undone," Alptraum says then looks towards the rocking chair again. He sets the brandy bottle on the nearby nightstand, then picks up the girl's glasses. Slowly, he brings them over and gently rests them on the bridge of her nose. "I imagine I'm a poor surrogate for your friend, but would you like to finish reading the story? I bet even though he's not here, somehow he'll hear it anyway. Friendship always tends to transcend, you know? And besides, you have me interested in how it ends." He flashes her a brief smile.
Jeanie returns the smile, and then opens the book. "And so he went on, into the blizzard," she reads. The unnamed protagonist has finally ventured into the Vykarin Wastes, and gotten lost. He hears voices from his past as the cold seeps into him, and finally collapses. A Vykarin tribe comes upon him, and bury him in the ground to try and warm him up, just leaving his face exposed. The circle around him and sing to the Procession, which curves down to touch the ground at the man's buried feet. Suddenly he can stand up, leaving his body behind, and knows that this is the path he's been searching for. So he follows it, up and up into the sky to the land he dreamed of.
The girl closes the book and hugs it to her chest, not looking up at Alptraum or at anything at all really.
Mortimer lifts a talon and rubs at the bridge of his beak. "Looks like he'll be going home, after a sort," he murmurs to himself.
"Hmmm," Alptraum muses and draws up one of his legs. He wraps his right arm around it and rests his chin atop his knee. "That's the thing about death; it is a new path, a new journey. But, it's also hard to leave behind those you care about and walk away from things undone. But every now and then someone gets a chance to find closure. To say goodbye to a friend." He now looks pointedly towards the rocking chair, brow arched slightly. "I know you are there; I can see you. I'm not here to hurt you or force you. I'm here because your family is worried about you. You came here tonight to hear the end, didn't you?"
The rocker creaks as the spirit of Rufus stands up. He gives Alptraum a playful grin that hints at what the man was probably like in life, and then he leans over the bed to whisper something into Jeanie's ear, making her ear flick at first before a smile breaks out on her face. "Yes, that's a nice way of putting it," she says to Alptraum, as if she didn't hear him address the ghost at all. Rufus winks to Alptraum again, and then sticks a finger into the open flask of brandy. He sort of flows into it, and the sudden chill causes beads of condensation to form on the outside.
Alptraum reaches over and carefully lifts the cold bottle from the nightstand. With his free hand, he pats Jeanie's leg, saying, "I think I should go. Enjoy your book and the memories of your friend. It was a pleasure to meet you, I can see why he liked to come hear you read."
"Oh… of course," Jeanie says, coming out of her reverie a bit. "Come visit any time, Mister… uh… I don't think I caught your name?"
"Oh, I'm no one of consequence," Alptraum offers as he stands. "Just an Eeee named Alptraum."
"Nightmare?" Jeanie asks. "Funny, you don't look like a wraith. My grandma told me the word is named after wraiths called 'mar-ay' that would come and suck out your life while you slept."
"That's that." Mortimer leans away from the door, taking a moment to shakes his head feathers out now that they're a bit smooshed. Turning to Scarlet, he says, "The ghost has had its fun, and will be going home now. Anything to do around here?"
Scarlet turns and caws at the other girls, who have mostly fallen asleep in the hallway. They jounce, jiggle and jerk back to wakefulness, holding up their makeshift weapons. "Show's over, back to your rooms!" the Korvette snaps at them.
"Well, you certainly don't have to fear that from me," Alptraum says as he heads towards the door. "Who is your grandmother, if you don't mind me asking?"
"Oh, she was a gypsy," Jeanie says. "I don't know if I ever heard her actual name. She was always just… grandma."
Alptraum pauses at the door. Glancing over his shoulder, he asks, "What tribe?"
The girl just shrugs. "Dunno. She was living in a house."
"Have anything else you need taken care of, Scarlet?" The Reaper taps a talon along his scythe, then leans over to peer at her, adding, "I hope you like it here. This place doesn't suit you."
"Pity. I used to be a gypsy. I was wondering if I had met her," Alptraum says, as he flashes the girl another grin. Finally, he opens the door and steps out into the hallway.
"I'm head masseuse here, and senior to all but the Madame," Scarlet notes, puffing up a bit. "No more ghosts though, that I know of."
"Maybe Mortimer would like a massage," Alptraum offers as he heads towards the pair.
"We have a dress code, if he wants to come back as a customer," Scarlet points out.
Mortimer peers at the woman a little longer, then shakes his head. "That won't be necessary. We'll meet again soon enough." He nods to the woman, then to Alptraum. "Have it? Ah, I see you do. Time to go, then."
"I'll escort the ghost home if you want to … become a customer," Alptraum offers Mortimer. "I'm sure I can manage carrying a bottle."
"No, no need to impose," Mortimer replies. "Besides, this is another sort of thankless duty, let's not make it harder on them than we have to." He nods to the woman again. "Good day," and then he's hobbling towards the stairs.
Some of the girls smile to Alptraum as he passes, and Madame Touche is waiting at the bottom of the stairs. "You may keep the brandy," she notes with a twitter, once she learns the ghost has been captured.
Alptraum shrugs slightly to Scarlet, noting, "Sorry." He waves to the girls in passing, then nods to Touche at the bottom of the stairs. "Thank you. I do not think he will bother you again," the Eeee explains.
"I should hope not," the Madame says. "My girls are very delicate, and not used to such… intrusions."
"Life's full of surprises," Mortimer murmurs. He glances around the room one last time, then heads for the door.
"I'm not sure Buttercup could be called delicate," Alptraum says, "But I do understand your concern for the rest." He shakes his head at the retreating Mortimer, then follows after him.
"You haven't read her poetry, young man," Madame Touche says, and then her feathered fan is up as she goes to talk to a well-dressed gentleman by the bar.
"Perhaps some day, never been with a Rhian," Alptraum muses momentarily. He then shakes his head and says to Mortimer, "I know you're probably going to lecture me the entire way back on how I didn't handle that 'right'."
"Nope," The bird replies as he makes his way on out. "Too friendly for my tastes, and I'm not much for those sorts of ladies, but you did what was needed and ultimately that's what matters most. Some of us chose to align ourselves with one group or region, and this one's yours, I figure."
"The best way to deal with 'these sorts of ladies' is to treat them like people. They have far too much of being treated like objects, or things of disgust. You could have at least been more polite to Scarlet, she was trying to be friendly," Alptraum comments, then shrugs. "Anyway, best to get Rufus back before 'Grandma' goes on a tear, as it were."
"I was being polite," the Reaper insists, and by his tone, Alptraum might think he actually means it.
Back at the cottage, Grandpa Rufus is returned to his shrine by the simple expedient of pouring the brandy into the offering saucer (since cleaned of ghost nip) and setting it on fire. "I swear, if Thomas brings home any more strange things from his travels, I will toss them out straight away!" Felicia notes. "It's bad enough he goes to Phlegmberg to buy Magic Cheese. But I am very grateful to you both," she says, giving a little bow, and offering a small package to Mortimer.
"Oh Gods not magic cheese. Please tell me that's not magic cheese," Alptraum says and shuffles far away from that package.
Mortimer takes the package and nods his head. "Always happy to see the dead find their place," he says. The package disappears into his robes, and clacks his beak a little. "We'll be off now. See you again, some day."
The woman blinks at Alptraum, and says, "It's pickled Rughrat eyeballs, if you must know. Thomas sells the cheese to the Countess. Trying to earn enough to marry that Jeannie girl he's always going on about."
"Ah, whew. Magic Cheese is vile," Alptraum comments, looking relieved. "Well, good day to you. I hope all remains calm for Rufus now." The Eeee bows, then heads for the exit.
As they walk out, Mortimer removes the package from his robe and holds it where Alptraum can see. "As it happens, Scarlet will get a 'ghost' visit. Funny, that." He waggles the package, crows a cackle.