Case File: Oleg Ironfoot
Mrs. Ironfoot was a short, chunky dwarf drenched in leather, with just enough facial hair to be considered a stubble. Her husband, Oleg, was a weaponsmith whose head had an unfortunate meeting with an anvil.
I implored Mrs. Ironfoot to put him in a casket, preferably with the lid closed, but dwarves are very particular. She demanded Oleg be sent out to sea and burned on a funeral pyre like his mother and father had been before him. The service was scheduled for tomorrow, but Mrs. Ironfoot insisted on having a private viewing with her twenty-seven children today. (Dwarves don’t believe in contraception.)
Oleg’s portly body, caved-in face and all, was already set upon the pyre in the funeral parlor. He would have to be moved tomorrow, but for now, his wife leaned over him, weeping and wailing in typical grieving widow fashion. “Oleg! My Oleg! He's gone! Gone! GONE!”
I stood in the official funeral director’s pose, hands clasped in front of me, on the other side of the body. “I'm very sorry for your loss, Mrs. Ironfoot.”
She looked up with an abrupt sneer, her face drenched in huge tear globs. “Oh, that means nothing to me. I'm paying you to say that.”
“Actually, I offer condolences on the house,” I said with a gentle smile. “A hug is gonna cost you extra, though.”
That was my go-to line when some of my more combative clients accused me of profiting off the death of their loved ones. It usually got at least a much needed and tension breaking chuckle. Mrs. Ironfoot just snarled, ignoring me to turn her grief back to Oleg’s corpse. “He was such a good dwarf. A dedicated husband, father, and weapons maker. Not to mention unbelievable lover.”
"I really didn’t need to know that detail," I said, trying to think of pizza, cars, music, anything to keep myself from picturing the two wart-ridden dwarves entwined in a naked wrestling match.
It did explain the twenty-seven kids, though. I wasn’t particularly a fan of children to begin with, but these youngsters were exceptionally annoying. Only three of them, two teenage girls and a younger boy, were comforting their mother. The rest either looked bored out of their minds or ran around the parlor playing tag.
Mrs. Ironfoot didn’t seem to care, though, and let out another shrill wail of despair. “And he was only four hundred and thirty-seven years old! Oleg had his whole life ahead of him.”
She was entering the verbal diarrhea stage of mourning. Suffering through it was an unfortunate requirement of my job. I prepared myself for another helping when the bell at the front desk rang unexpectedly.
“We were supposed to take a trip to Shangri-La-La Land next month,” said Mrs. Ironfoot, drawing my attention back to her. “Now we’ll never get to go!”
The bell rang again. Twice this time.
I contemplated going to check on it, but Mrs. Ironfoot was a paying customer. As much as I would’ve loved to be saved by the bell, I had a professional reputation to uphold. My guest would just have to wait.
“Not to mention his business,” Mrs. Ironfoot lamented. “Who’s going to take it over? Certainly not one of these idiots behind me, that’s for damn sure.”
Ring. Ring. Ring. Whoever was by the front desk wasn’t going away.
After looking back and forth between the dwarf and the door to the lobby, I reluctantly turned to Mrs. Ironfoot and put on the best apologetic face I could muster. “I'm terribly sorry about this but just give me one moment. Please. I'll be right back.”
I quickly scuttled to the door, briefly glancing back over to the pyre before walking through to the lobby. I’m glad I did, too. Mrs. Ironfoot sneakily pulled something from her leather top and tucked it into the wood. She had her back to me and the object was small enough that I couldn’t see what it was. Obviously it was something she didn’t want me to know about. I couldn’t deal with that now, though, and simply reminded myself to check it out later.
I was surprised to find a striking, twenty-something-year-old woman waiting in the lobby by the front desk. I was even more surprised by her outfit. She wore a tank top and shorts way too inappropriate for a funeral home.
Every once in a while a human strolls in here looking for my services. Not that I blame them. I don’t exactly advertise as a “monster-only mortician,” so I politely tell them I’m not taking on any new customers and steer them away. I assumed this woman was here for the same purpose and had already prepared myself for turning her down as I approached.
“Can I help you?” I asked.
She turned around and I was almost knocked down by her beauty. She had long, curly red hair and the most striking green eyes I had ever seen. Her cheeks were flush with life yet perfectly smooth at the same time. I would’ve been turned on right then and there if not for the whiff I got from her hair as she spun around. It smelled like the ocean. But not the tropical beach kind. More like a noxious seaport of foul, rotten eggs. For all the money this girl spent on beauty care she really needed to buy a new shampoo.
“Oh, hi,” she said, her voice soft and nervous. “Ummm. My name is Clarissa and I was told this was Oleg Ironfoot's funeral.”
I guessed she wasn’t a customer, after all. If there was one thing I had learned in this business it was that looks could be deceiving. I should’ve known better than to write this girl off from the start.
Still, I had to disappoint her. “I’m sorry, but the funeral is actually tomorrow down by the harbor. This is just a private viewing for the family and they're not accepting guests.”
She twisted her lips into a grimace. “I see. Well, it's just that Oleg and I were pretty close and I needed to tell him one last goodbye.”
I wanted to say something but my mind was too distracted by that odor still lingering in the air. It smelled like rancid tuna and made my nose twitch.
“Is something wrong?” asked Clarissa, apparently concerned by my expression.
I tried to look her in the face but was distracted by her legs. It wasn’t that they were long and gorgeous, which they were, but there was something else that bothered me. It hurt my eyes to stare at them, almost as if I was straining to see what was right in front of me.
Then I remembered what I had just told myself not a minute earlier: looks could be deceiving. Her legs weren’t really there at all. They were a glamour caused by an illusion spell.
Combined with the fish stench permeating through the air, it was easy to put two and two together. “Oh, God. You're a mermaid.”
“What?” exclaimed Clarissa, embarrassed by unexpected accusation. “No! I... uhhh...”
She was caught off guard, but it wasn’t just the mermaid-thing that surprised her. There was a familiar guilt in her face that I actually saw pretty frequently in my line of work. It allowed me to realize why she was really here. “And you were sleeping with him?!”
Clarissa was too shy to deny it. She just smiled nervously and shrugged her shoulders. “ ‘Swimming with him,’ is what we call it. Skinny dipping, to be exact.”
“Thanks for the visual,” I said, rolling my eyes.
Clarissa didn’t register my sarcasm. “You’re welcome. Oleg was a very capable lover.”
“I'm hearing that a lot lately. Maybe his name should have been Iron-something else.”
Clarissa looked at me sideways as the joke went completely over her head. I didn’t have the patience to explain it to her and moved on to change the subject. “Listen, as much as I’d like to help you, his wife is having a tough time in there and I don't think bringing her dead husband's fishstress in to say ‘hi’ is a good idea right now.”
She widened her eyes like a puppy dog begging for a treat. “Please. I spent the last of my seashells paying for this glamour to come here. I just wanted to... ya know... finally meet his family."
The way she put her emphasis on the word “family” was my first trigger. The second was the guarded way she held her hands over her belly.
"You're kidding me?" I asked in disbelief.
Again, she confirmed my suspicions with a nervous smile. The mermaid was pregnant with the dwarf’s baby and I’m not ashamed to say my first thought was of what such a bizarre combination would look like.
“You're a mermaid,” I tried explaining to her. “You're supposed to seduce and then kill people. Not seduce and then bear their offspring.”
Clarissa held onto her sweetly innocent expression as she answered. “I know, but Oleg was special. He knew how to tinkle my fin in just the right way.”
The more I heard about Oleg the more I wished I could’ve gotten pointers from him while he was alive.
I rapidly tried thinking of how best to handle the situation when Mrs. Ironfoot’s voice bellowed from back inside the parlor. “Get out!”
That couldn’t have been anything good.
I turned back to Clarissa and held up a finger with a friendly smile. “Just give me one minute, okay? I'll see what I can do. I promise.”
“Thank you,” she said, sounding genuinely appreciative of my help.
I went back into the parlor and found Mrs. Ironfoot, with all twenty-seven kids behind her, facing off against a seven-foot-tall elf. He was dressed in a green tunic which, to be honest, I think is the only type of clothing elves own.
I didn’t have many elves as clients. They tended to be very secretive and took care of their ceremonies in-house. But when an elf funeral came my way… cha-ching! They spared no expense, even when burying someone they hated.
However that didn’t mean I was very happy to see one just suddenly appear out of thin air in my parlor. “What in seven hells is going on?”
Mrs. Ironfoot stuck a firm finger in the visitor’s chest. “Tell this stinkin' elf that he's not welcome.”
I didn’t know why Mrs. Ironfoot wanted him to leave, but dwarves and elves weren’t particularly fond of one another. So instead, my curiosity was focused on something else. “How did you even get in here?”
The elf looked shocked that I had asked the question and replied as if the answer was obvious. “Teleportation spell.”
“Great,” I said, rolling my eyes. “A mage.”
Despite the disdain in my tone, the elf proudly bowed. “Cryos Drexler at your service.”
I straightened up tall and put on my official funeral director’s voice. “Mr. Drexler, this is a private service. So unless the family requested your presence, I'm afraid I'm going to have to ask you to—”
“GET OUT!” yelled Mrs. Ironfoot, finishing my sentence with a bit more… enthusiasm.
The elf kept his composure, replying in a modestly diplomatic manner. “I'm terribly sorry for the intrusion. It's just that Oleg and I were such good friends. I was hoping to express my sympathies to his family in private.”
“That's absurd,” scoffed Mrs. Ironfoot. “My Oleg would've never made friends with some uppity, good-for-nothin' elf.”
Despite being several feet taller than her, Cryos spoke softly to appear on equal footing with the dwarf. “We weren’t always cordial, ma'am. I'd been a customer of Oleg's for nearly a century before we started growing fond of one another. He often said he would save me some of his best creations, weapons that have prevented me from perishing on more than one occasion.”
“Well, yes,” said Mrs. Ironfoot, almost surprised by the elf’s sincerity. “That does sound like Oleg.”
Cryos clasped his hands gently in front of him, making his posture seem even more humble than before. “So I was wondering if... perhaps... he left anything behind in his workshop after he died... you know... maybe a dagger or crossbow... that wouldn't be too much trouble if I asked you to part with it?”
Aaaaaand there it was. The real reason he was here.
It was strange (and kind of amusing) to watch the soft features of Mrs. Ironfoot’s pudgy face morph into a hardened scowl. “You greedy, pointy-eared son of a banshee!”
She clenched her hand into a fist. Not that I thought she would actually punch him. Cryos could’ve taken her with just his pinky. But Mrs. Ironfoot wound up anyway, ready to strike, when Clarissa screamed from back in the lobby.
The door burst open a second later and Clarissa came running into the parlor followed by a clan of five orcs.
Great. This day just kept getting better.
I knew the orc leading them, too. It was Braxen Forlog, a loyal customer of mine, although I wasn’t too happy about that. Orcs eat their dead as a way to mourn them. I have yet to get through one of their receptions without vomiting.
As a general rule of thumb, orcs were pretty much angry all of the time, though Braxen looked more peeved than usual. “Um looking fore rotten korpse of Oleg Ironfoot!”
“What are you doing here, Braxen?” I asked, more annoyed than frightened by his intrusion. “You know better than to burst in while I'm conducting a service. Especially with a clan behind you.”
He lifted up his green finger with a crusty, yellow fingernail and pointed it toward the pyre. “Extenuating sir-come-stances. That ded dwarf over their bought tons of iron frum me on kredit months ago and hasn't payed it back. Now I'm hear too c’llect what’s owed me.”
Mrs. Ironfoot spread her short arms out as wide as they could go to put a barrier between the orcs and the children behind her. “I put all my savings into this funeral. I don't have any money to give you.”
“A’right,” said Braxen with a devious grin. “I will just take won of thoze chill-dren in stead.”
A light wave of giddy laughter rushed over the orc clan, and Cryos stepped up to put himself in the middle of the confrontation. “If you even disturb a hair on those younglings' heads—”
Braixen shook a clenched fist in front of the elf’s face. “Stay outta this, tree-hugger.”
The parlor had seen its fair share of tension in the past, but the air in the room was getting a little too thick even for me. It was time to deescalate the situation. “How about everyone just take a deep breath and calm down?”
Braxen wasn’t having it. “I have bin com fore weeks while that to-timing dwarf hides from me. Now is time fore his wife too pay bill.”
“How dare you hold this woman accountable for her husband's mistakes,” Cryos said.
Mrs. Ironfoot stepped out from behind him to come to her own defense. “I can speak for myself, elf.”
She then noticed Clarissa standing awkwardly off to the side of the room and decided to include the (seemingly) out of place girl in the argument. “And who in tarnation is this floozy?”
Offended by the insult, the glamoured mermaid’s jaw fell open. “Floozy?!”
“E-nuff!” yelled Braxen, stomping his foot on the parlor’s hardwood floor. “If you want too d’fend Ironfoot's on her then you ken pay his debt.”
Cyros puffed out his chest, refusing to be intimidated. “I defend justice … which your whole species is an abomination of.”
Braxen snarled, bearing his thick tusks. He then reared back and lunged forward at the elf. Cyros quickly waved his hands, creating some sort of energy shield between him and his attacker.
Braxen was stuck in the spell and fought to break through while addressing the clan behind him. “Wut are you dewing just standing there?! Grab one of them chill-dren!”
The other orcs cackled hysterically as they took off after the young dwarves.
“Don't you touch my kids!” yelled Mrs. Ironfoot.
In an instant, chaos erupted around the parlor. Braxen continued to launch an onslaught of punches at Cyros, but the elf casually blocked every one with a series of magical defenses. Meanwhile, the orcs chased the twenty-seven dwarf children around the room. They ran between chairs, behind the pyre, and around Clarissa, who spun in circles and yelped whenever someone rushed by her. Mrs. Ironfoot tried her best to throw herself in the middle of the commotion to protect her children. She was just too slow, though, and wound up always a second behind her target.
I just stepped back and let the whole scene unfold. My father had taught me early on that humans, usually families, fought at funerals. They were supposed to be events that brought people together. Occasionally it drove them apart. Monsters were no different.
Grief caused old resentments to bubble to the surface, and sometimes arguments just had to run their course. It made no sense trying to get in the middle of things. Especially if it meant losing a limb for the sake of keeping a few windows intact.
Besides, that was what goblin insurance was for.
It didn’t take long for one of the lumbering orcs to crash into the funeral pyre and knock poor Oleg to the floor. Nobody missed a beat, though. Everyone kept on doing what they were doing despite the corpse lying in the middle of everything.
Another orc, maybe even the same one, bumped into a table of flowers and spilled several vases. Unfortunately, Clarissa was close by and the water inside the vases splashed all over her. The glamour around her legs slowly faded, morphing them into a giant, scaly fin. Unable to keep herself standing, Clarissa flopped to the floor, drawing the attention of two of the orcs.
“A mer-made?!” said the first, his face lit with surprise.
The other chuckled as well, giddy with glee. “Hoo wants some sue-she?”
They crept forward with huge smiles on their faces, reaching out like children for candy.
“No!” screamed Clarissa, futilely trying to push herself away. “Please!”
Okay. Maybe now this was getting a little out of hand. I had to do something. But what?
That was when I noticed a silver and gold object next to Oleg’s body. I reached down to grab it and realized the object was some sort of steam pistol of dwarf design. This was probably what Mrs. Ironfoot had shoved under her husband’s body when I left the room.
Now it was time to put it to use.
I aimed and pulled the trigger just as the orc was about to grab ahold of Clarissa’s fin. The bolt of steam blew a hole in the floor right between the orc’s legs, causing him to jump back startled.
The shot caused the chaos to stop instantly, and I took advantage of having the attention of everyone in the room. “I would suggest everyone stay exactly where you are unless you want to become my next customer.”
Nobody moved a muscle or said a word, waiting for me to continue. “Now, Braxen. I seem to remember hosting your late Aunt Glonda's feast last year, correct?”
Braxen bowed his head. “May she rest in piece.”
“And did I or did I not bill you for the repairs on my roof after your cousins got drunk and lit it on fire?”
The orc slumped his shoulders, almost bashful by the reminder. “You did knot.”
“Well, I'm billing you now and passing that debt along to the Ironfoot family. That should make you even.”
The orc sneered but didn’t put up a fight. “Grrrr. I guess so.”
Mrs. Ironfoot smiled at me, looking surprised by the help. “Thank you.”
I smiled back but only briefly. There was still work that needed to be done. “And Cryos, you came looking for more of Oleg's weapons?”
The elf nodded. “I did.”
“Would this suffice?” I asked, holding out the steam pistol.
He smiled, ecstatic by the prospect of owning such a weapon. “Absolutely.”
“No!” protested Mrs. Ironfoot. “That gun was my husband's favorite. It should be burned along with him.”
“Maybe,” I responded, smugly. “But you should've asked me before sneaking it in here. There are no weapons allowed in my funeral parlor. Even the orcs respect that rule.”
Braxen, as well as the rest of his clan, all nodded. “We due.”
“Which means I'm confiscating it,” I told Mrs. Ironfoot. “Unless you want to set fire to Oleg yourself?”
All gratitude she had for me was gone, but I didn’t care. She agreed all the same. “Fine. Take it.”
I tossed Cyros the gun. “Good. Because I plan on trading it to the elf in exchange for his services as a mage.”
He caught it and was eager to hear the rest of my offer. “And what service shall that be?”
I motioned down to the helpless mermaid on the floor between us. “A simple glamour will suffice.”
Cyros smiled. “Consider it done.”
The elf casually waved his hand and a magical aura lifted Clarissa from the floor. The shimmering light then wrapped itself around her fin, transforming it back into the legs she had before.
“Better?” I asked.
She answered while doing a very uncoordinated dance. “Not as comfortable as a tail but it does help being upright. Thank you.”
I exchanged another brief smile with her before turning my attention back to the room as a whole and resuming my funeral director’s voice. “Now please. If you will all wait outside for a moment while I reassemble the pyre, it would be most appreciated.”
With the excitement over, everyone slowly made their way out of the destroyed parlor and back to the lobby. Everyone except Cryos, who teleported out of the room in a puff of smoke.
Mrs. Ironfoot and Clarissa were the last two people to leave the room and I followed them to the door. Once they were back in the lobby, I saw it as the best time to settle a promise.
“By the way, Mrs. Ironfoot...” She curiously turned back to me. “This is Clarissa and she's pregnant with your husband's minnow.”
I shut the door just as Clarissa’s face widened with surprise and the dwarf opened her mouth to scream. “WHAT?!”
Like I said: families sometimes fight at funerals.