Author's Note: This week's homework on the writeblr-monthly Discord was to write something about best friends. I also wanted to write a D&E bonus chapter. So naturally, I wrote a bonus chapter for homework.
This one's about Varan and Gialma, because I've become very fond of these walking disasters; with guest appearances from Rivant, who basically demanded to be included, and Dilves, who gets a long-overdue fright.
The Midnight Visitor
At the age of eleven or thereabouts women acquire a poise and an ability to handle difficult situations which a man, if he is lucky, manages to achieve somewhere in the later seventies. – P. G. Wodehouse, Uneasy Money
"I have an idea."
There were few words more likely to strike terror into someone's heart than those three. Many catastrophes, fiascos and embarrassing incidents could have been prevented if someone hadn't said those words. But Rivant did say them, and Gialma listened to her idea.
And that was how he ended up sitting on Chief Counsellor Dilves's roof at midnight, with his sister nowhere to be seen, his way of escape gone, and an angry Chief Counsellor searching for him.
It all began, as so much trouble did, with an unkind remark Dilves made about Gialma. It was at a formal dinner attended by many of the royal family, and Rivant had overheard it. Now, she could and did insult her little brother. But she did not like other people insulting him. And she especially did not like that old hag of a chief counsellor calling him "an arrogant brat".
So she made a plan that very evening. And she dragged Gialma into her plan.
"It's very simple," Rivant said. "Her front door will be unlocked because it's still light, but the servants won't be around until she's expected back. We can sneak in, hide upstairs until she comes home, and then wail and groan like ghosts. Won't she get a fright!"
Gialma strongly suspected that it was his sister and him who would get the fright. But when Rivant had an idea there was no stopping her. So they left the dinner early, and set out for the chief counsellor's house.
He was somewhat disappointed to see Dilves lived in a small, two-storey house. He had almost expected her to live in an ominous castle wreathed in mist, inhabited by who knew what horrors.
Rivant's plan worked perfectly. That was the first warning something was about to go horribly wrong. The door was open and the servants nowhere around. It was easy to creep up to the second floor and hide in a spare room. Then they had only to wait. And wait. And wait.
It was midnight when Dilves returned. The second warning things would go wrong was when the servants locked the doors immediately after her return.
Rivant and Gialma gave each other shocked looks as they heard the doors being locked. The possibility of being locked in had never occurred to them. The full seriousness of this ill-advised scheme finally sank in.
"Let's just give up," Gialma said. "We can go down the back stairs and climb out a window."
His sister took very little convincing. Unfortunately, neither of them realised the thing that would make everything go so wrong.
The back stairs squeaked.
"Squeaked" was too mild a word to describe the noise they made. They screamed like someone being murdered. Gialma screamed too, and almost fell down the stairs.
Within seconds the house was in an uproar. Lights were switched on. Angry shouts rang through the air. The entire household knew there was an intruder somewhere around. Gialma and Rivant fled down the landing, pursued by the clatter of footsteps climbing the main stairs.
"In here!" Rivant gasped, diving into the spare room they'd hidden in earlier.
Gialma didn't hear her. His only thought was of finding a way out. The attic ladder leading to the roof suddenly seemed like a plausible escape route.
Five minutes later, when he was hiding behind the chimney while Dilves and some of her servants searched the attic, it didn't seem like a plausible escape route any more.
"What are you doing here?"
Gialma yelped and almost fell off the roof. He looked up, fully expecting to face an irate chief counsellor, and instead saw…
"Varan! Where did you come from?"
His cousin sat down on the roof beside him. "I was at the palace. Kilan isn't happy with me because of a cake that's mysteriously disappeared, so I thought I'd better leave. I went looking for you. But why are you here?"
Gialma told her the whole sorry story. Downstairs, the voices faded away into the distance as the searchers moved on.
"I hope you know you and Rivant have been our family's biggest idiots since Kilan decided to climb that statue," Varan said when he finished.
Gialma nodded miserably. "But how am I to get down?"
"Easily." Varan stood up and held out her hand. "Or have you forgotten that Reapers can fly?"
Ten minutes later, with Gialma safely back at his home, Varan returned to look for her other cousin. She was just in time to see Rivant climb through the kitchen window and run for her life. Varan looked back at the house, which was still being searched from attic to summerhouse. And she too had an idea.
Chief Counsellor Dilves had not reached her position by being easily frightened. Nor was she easily frightened when someone broke into her house, clearly with malicious intent.
But when a winged creature in a black cape appeared in the main hall… Well, that frightened her.
The thing pointed its bony finger right at Dilves. She instinctively recoiled. Behind her, a gardener fainted and several of the housemaids went into hysterics.
"Your days are numbered," the creature said in a hollow, echoing voice. "Beware!"
The word was still ringing in Dilves's ears when the creature disappeared. It vanished as if it had never been there. But a single black feather lay on the floor where it had stood.
Varan fled the house, trying unsuccessfully to stifle her giggles. She returned to the Land of the Dead, only to be confronted with a sight that drove all thought of laughter out of her head. Death was waiting for her. And she did not look happy.
"I want an explanation," Death said before Varan had a chance to speak. "You were supposed to start gathering souls an hour ago. Not only were you shirking your duties, you were threatening mortals. Why?"
"I didn't threaten her," Varan protested. "I just told her the truth. I said her days are numbered, and so are every other mortal's. And I only did it to help a friend."
Death looked at her silently. Varan gave her the innocent smile that had gotten her out of countless scrapes when she was alive. Finally Death sighed.
"Don't do it again. Now get back to work."
Dilves never told anyone about her midnight visitor. But she was also very quiet and nervous for the next few weeks. And it was a long time before she could see a feather without shuddering.
"Did you do something to the chief counsellor?" Gialma asked Varan when he next saw her.
Varan shrugged and changed the subject.