So Key speedily, and wisely, withdrew her hand and sat perfectly still, watching Warhag watch her.
After that, the orange cat sat so still for so long that she seemed to have turned to stone. But just as Key began to imagine that Warhag was about to pounce upon her at any moment, the castle cat dropped the thing in her mouth, yawned, and blinked sleepily. Then, with the unhurried movements of a fearless predator, Warhag turned away and padded out of the dungeon as silently as she had come, apparently deciding not to eat Key for the time being since Warhag considered herself a very merciful cat.
From where Key sat, she could see well enough that Warhag had dropped a very little book. However, she had dropped it too far out of reach, as if to be kind at first, and then torture her. She tried stretching and pulling herself to get closer to the little book, but it was no good. The book was too far away and the chain was holding her fast to the wall.
Yet just as she was about to lose all hope, the little book began to move closer, seemingly all by itself. Key had no idea how this was happening. It was as if the little book was willing itself to draw closer to her outstretched hand, as if perhaps by magic. Then she remembered all the things she had seen floating throughout the dungeon, and she remembered the castle servants – the ghosts. With this in mind, Key had a sneaking suspicion that one of the ghosts, although still not appearing before her or speaking with her, was at least helping her.
The little book slid right up to Key and she hurriedly snatched it up, a little fearful that it might wander off by itself. Clutching it, she observed how it was so small that it fit right in the palm of her hand. But it wasn’t the size of the book that mattered, just how she read it. And she would indeed read this great gift. After all, one good book in Despair can be worth a hundred friends with kind words, although one act of kindness for someone in Despair can be worth a thousand books.
Had Warhag given it to her? She didn’t think so. Then who?
The cover was purple velvet with gold lettering. The title was
Wanda Wickery’s History of the Necropolis - A Small Book With a Big Story
Key decided that it must have been a ghost servant who had slid the book closer to her. So she looked up into the invisible air and she spoke to this ghost, this friend in the dark. “I don’t know who you are,” she said, her voice choking with gratitude, “and I know you can’t speak with me, but thank you. Thank you so very, very much.”
There was no response from the ghost, but Key did not need one. She opened the book and was about to begin reading, but she saw a little note inscribed on the first page. It read:
A little light in the darkness. Mr. F
Key did not need to think about who this mysterious “Mr. F” was, for she knew it must have been Mr. Fuddlebee. He had promised to come back, but if some reason prevented him from returning, then the least he could do was send this book. Key was very glad for his thoughtfulness. This was a precious gift indeed.
But then Key wondered aloud, “How did he convince Warhag to deliver it to me?” After thinking about this for a long moment, considering how Warhag did not appear to be a creature who would do many favors, Key came to the logical conclusion that some mysteries must remain unsolved for the time being. With her curiosity at least satisfied at present, she opened the little book to the first chapter, and she began reading.
Key would not have needed much light to read the book in the dark, as her vampire eyes could see much, even at the bottom of Despair. But she did not need her vampire sight for this book because, while it was indeed quite small with very tiny font, the words came alive with lights and shimmering dust. And as she read, the words leaped from the page and swirled around her and formed into shapes of the characters and things she read about.
She began reading about how the Necropolis started off as catacombs for a small group of Mystical Creatures – only one vampire, one witch, one werewolf, one ghost, and one zombie. After Key read this, the bright words leaped from the page and shaped into shimmering images of the story of how those first five Mystical Creatures were buried in an underground chamber.
Key turned the page to read the story of the first undertaker, Skulk, while more shimmering words swirled around her, making shapes of his work. She was not surprised to read how Skulk the undertaker struggled to keep those five Mystical Creatures in their graves. Some nights he was successful, preventing the Dead from leaving their coffins and causing mayhem. But most nights he was not successful at all. At least one of the five Mystical Creatures escaped nearly every night.
Yet they always returned to their graves before sunrise, usually bringing with them one new Mystical Creature, for the vampire made more vampires, and the zombie made more zombies, and the werewolf made more werewolves, while the witch found more witches and the ghost found more ghosts. Soon there were so many vampires, witches, werewolves, ghosts, and zombies living in the Catacombs that a Society of Mystical Creatures formed.
As the Mostly Dead population grew, the Catacombs turned into a village. In time, several Mystical Creatures rose from their graves to start a Grave Owners Association, which they called the “G.O.A.” for short. Eventually there was so much development that the G.O.A. renamed the Catacombs, “Necroville.”
The G.O.A. hired Dwarves to carve deeper into the ground, developing neighborhoods, schools, playgrounds, libraries, and general areas for the Mostly Dead to practice their sorcery, necromancy, and golf.
As time passed, and as countless more Mystical Creatures came crowding into Necroville for burial, or at least semi-burial, more Dwarves were hired and more space was carved out. The Dwarves carved down into the ground for the Mostly Dead while they built up for themselves so that they would have a place to live, as they were constantly working, for many Mystical Creatures were constantly dying – or at least mostly dying, either naturally or supernaturally. Thus the grand structure of Morrow Mountain began to take shape.
The population growth became a great deal of work for one mere undertaker to handle, as many vampires made many more vampires, and many werewolves made many more werewolves, and many zombies made many more zombies while many witches found many more witches and many ghosts found many more ghosts. Also, Mystical Creatures of all kinds were moving in and making homes among the Dead – creatures like Goblins, Hobgoblins and Bedgoblins; Elves, Dwarves, and Fairies; Brownies, Boggarts, and Pixies; Trolls, Ghouls, Poltergeists, Gremlins, and many, many more – and all of them either Partly Dead, Mostly Dead, or Fully Dead – Partly Dead like the Narrowly Departed Dwarves of Durham, the Slightly Slaughtered Pumpkin People of Paris, and the Nearly Annihilated Nymphs of Wales – Mostly Dead like the Hardly Headless Harpies of Hong Kong, the Barely Bloodless Boogeymen of Baton Rouge, and the Sort of Massacred Satyrs of Savannah – and Fully Dead like the Roughly Lifeless Zombies of Los Angeles, the Almost Alive Elves of Exeter, and the Nigh-Dead Pirates of Mexico.
As the population grew, Skulk the undertaker was quickly overwhelmed, for the village was overrun with the Dead not staying in their graves. Even the Fully Dead would sometimes rise from their coffins to pop down to the pub for Unhappy Hour.
The village soon became so over-populated that Necroville expanded into a city – The City of the Dead – the Necropolis. And as Key read on, and as the shimmering words danced all around her, making twinkling images of the story of the Necropolis, she learned that it soon became the burial place for any and all Mystical Creatures, but no mortals. The G.O.A. put up a sign that read: NO MORTALS ALLOWED! They even went so far as to put a skull and cross bones on the sign, telling themselves, “That’ll scare them mortal folk.”
Yet almost overnight the Necropolis became so popular among the Mostly Dead that it was soon jam-packed with graves and tombs and crypts and mausoleums. Reading between the lines, Key found it quite interesting that graves were not graves at all, but more like apartments; and tombs were not like tombs at all, but more like houses; and crypts were more like mansions; and mausoleums were more like estates.
It was with the accumulation of such residents, and with the formation of such residences, that the G.O.A. finally asked Skulk the undertaker to retire. As a retirement bonus, he was given a gold watch and a free trip to Hawaii.
After his retirement ceremony, vampires took on the role of undertaker. They hired the Dwarves to build the Necropolis Castle and they gave themselves the title “Keepers of the Dead.” Beginning with the first Queen of the Necropolis, Modwenna, the Necropolis Vampires kept the Dead inside the Necropolis ever since, especially when the Dead had no desire to stay dead.
Key read and read until she began to feel very sleepy. She tried to stay awake because she wanted to read more, but her eyelids grew heavier and heavier, until she fell fast asleep on the dungeon floor, surrounded by the shimmering shapes of the book, for the sun had risen somewhere outside Morrow Mountain, where the dead were kept far out of sight underground.
— CHAPTER TWELVE —
A Bloody Business
Key also learned from her little book that, when the Dwarves of Morrow first began digging deeper for the Dead, they preserved the Catacombs from being knocked down by progress. And when they built the Necropolis Castle, they began by building the dungeon on top of the Old Catacombs, to prevent them from ever being knocked down in the future – for Dwarves truly cherish maintaining history and saving ancient secrets.
The castle was built so long ago that, by the time Key was thrown into the dungeon, the Necropolis Vampires had completely forgotten about the Old Catacombs. So they had no idea that the first five Mystical Creatures – the first vampire, the first witch, the first werewolf, the first zombie, and the first ghost – were still buried far below, deep down in the darkest vaults of the dungeon, where the Old Catacombs could be found. The Necropolis Vampires simply thought of the dungeon as Despair, and not as a vault of fascinating ancient history.
Yet Key could sometimes hear those first five Mystical Creatures still knocking on their coffins, still trying to get out again. And she could also hear Skulk the undertaker, who took up surfing during his Hawaiian holiday, still trying to do his old job too, as he would drag his heavy chains Tuesdays through Sundays, since Mondays were his day off.
It was clear to Key that the Necropolis Vampires did not care much about the dungeon. They considered it to be more of a place of waste. But, as the old saying goes, one person’s trash is another person’s treasure. Key had begun to find a small amount of treasure in Despair because the vampires were also completely oblivious to the fact that several groups of Mystical Creatures had long ago moved into the dungeon and were running moderately successful businesses.
There were, for instance, in the northern quarter of the dungeon, the Near Dead Druids of Denmark, who had built a small factory for making cough drops, lemon drops, and nasty drops off cliffs. On the south side of the dungeon were the Somewhat Sleepy Sorcerers of Scandinavia, who had started a small dentistry practice, specializing in capping fangs, which was very popular with ogres, trolls, and Warhag the cat. In the east were the Mostly Murdered Gremlins of Germany, clockmakers by trade, whose cuckoo clock business was not as successful as they would have liked, due to the principal problem of highly carnivorous cuckoos, which sprang from the clocks to tell the time and eat the nearest living thing, making teatime rather murderous.
Many more Mystical Creatures worked in the dungeon due to the fact that the Necropolis Vampires, being so clueless of the mischief-making that occurred inside their own home, never interfered with business practices that some Necropolis citizens might call “diabolically doubtful.” Key rarely ever saw the majority of these other Mystical Businesses, as they were either too far away in the dungeon, or too good at hiding their diabolically doubtful work. You see, if the castle was huge, then the dungeon was twice as large, more like an unfathomable cave, considering that the size of the dungeon had grown in proportion with the spreading of Despair. And as the depth of Despair had many levels, the breadth of the dungeon expanded far beyond the horizon.
However, Key did come to know quite well one group of Mystical Creatures – the Partly Dead Brownie Folk of Boston, who had a successful blood bank business not too far from where she was chained to the wall. She began to see them quite often reading tiny newspapers and carrying small briefcases on their way to work. The Brownies were less than six inches tall. They were not considered mischievous – except after devouring large amounts of chocolate. As a large amount of chocolate for an average Brownie was a thimble full, whenever they gobbled up too much chocolate, they lost complete control of themselves, laughed wickedly, doused themselves in milk chocolate, and went screaming madly through the Necropolis streets, in search of something they called, “The Great Fizzy Wonder-Bang!”
The Brownies collected all the blood in their bank themselves. They would go out into the Necropolis to gather blood from all kinds of Mystical Creatures. Some kindly volunteered their blood. Others kindly volunteered their blood only after being knocked unconscious. Some blood came from the Vaults of the Mostly Mutilated Ogres in the Marsh District. Other blood came from the Barrow of the Somewhat Slain Banshees on Bell Tower Street. And other blood came from the Crypt of the Bonemen, in the Jazz Quarter of the Necropolis – a blood that most vampires found irresistible due to its deliciously dry aftertaste.
The Partly Dead Brownie Folk sold most of their blood supply to the ghost cooks in the castle kitchen. The ghost cooks prepared every bloody meal for the castle vampires. They paid the Brownies in heavy sacks of cacao beans, which the Brownies would grind into cocoa powder and mix with butter, sugar, and blood for their side business –
Snuckle Truffles the Bloody Bonbons
. The Brownies would sell Snuckle Truffles at the Mystical Market, and helpless masses would devour the Bloody Bonbons with the ravenous intensity of a Toag.