Niklas was so wrapped up in his own thoughts that he was startled when a Seraph stopped him as he rounded the corner for home. There was a small flurry of activity outside the front door, and his heart sank.
“I’m afraid you’re going to have to take another route.”
“I’m afraid I can’t, as I live here. Did something happen with Beverly?” He peered anxiously around the Seraph. Of course he knew that something had happened the instant he stretched his magic out towards the house. It wouldn’t take much of a Necromancer to feel the death that lingered there.
The man frowned and consulted the paper in front of him. “Hmm. Are you Niklas Glock?”
“I am. I rent the apartment around back, and do a few things around the house for her and so forth.” Nik clasped his hands in front of him, mostly to keep them still.
“I see here you’ve been gone for a few days.”
“Yes, I was doing research for the Priory.”
“What sort of research?”
Niklas smiled wryly. “Research on venomous spiders. A research team found some exciting artifacts, but turns out some spiders were nesting there and very unhappy about being disturbed. I observed the researcher after they were bitten, as well as identified the spiders to see if they would in fact be a risk. Turns out they were a species of funnel web spider, whose bites are painful but not medically significant–”
The Seraph’s eyes were already glazing over. “That’s fine.” He wrote a note.
“Beverly seemed like herself when I left. Forced me to eat breakfast and everything. Do you know what happened?”
“I’m afraid I can’t release any information at this time,” the Seraph said gravely. “Do you have anywhere else to stay tonight?”
“I do,” is all Nik said.
“If you let me know where, I’ll be sure to let you know once we’ve concluded our investigation and you can return.”
Niklas weighed his options for a moment. He could go to his parent’s, or his sister’s place, but neither had much room. It would also come with a lot of fussing. Hmm, perhaps not. “The house of Lady Thalkor. Or the Ladies Thalkor, I should say.” He gave their address and watched the Seraph raise his eyebrows slightly and make note of it.
Ambrosine greeted him with a child under each arm. Which begged the question how she opened the door, but Niklas didn’t have time to ponder it because a third child dove for his knees.
“Hello, Corbin.” (Niklas started to wonder if he’d made a mistake.)
“NIK,” the other two, a year older than Corbin, chorused.
“And hello, Holly and Jasper. Ambrosine, I’m sorry to interrupt–”
“My life is a series of interruptions–”
“MOM PUT ME DOWN.”
“–but something has happened and I need to stay here for the night. Is that okay?”
“That’s fine. Would you like to take a child with you when you leave?”
“No thank you.” He stepped inside.
“You can’t give us away, that’s against the law.”
“Give Corbin away, he’s annoying.”
“…spare room down the hall to the left. Let me know if you need anything.”
Niklas suddenly didn’t need anything but sleep. “Thank you, Ambrosine.”
“MOM! I’M HUNGRY.”
Ambrosine dragged him out into the garden the next morning in order to have a quiet word. It didn’t work, because Iris finagled her way out the door and followed at her mom’s heels.
“I’m sorry,” Ambrosine said.
Nik picked up the toddler and threw her over his shoulder like a sack of potatoes, to a chorus of giggles. “I’m not. She’s fine.”
“So what happened?”
“Well, apparently Beverly passed away while I was gone. I’m guessing one of the other neighbors found her.” Nik slid Iris off his shoulder only to dangle her upside down by her ankles instead.
“Well of course. If she doesn’t show up at your door with a basket of eggs to pawn off on you because she can’t possibly bear to part with any of her chickens, you know something is wrong.” Ambrosine smiled wistfully. “I came home with at least a dozen eggs after you had me check on her last summer.”
Niklas stifled a groan. He ate so many eggs. And brought so many more to the Priory to pawn off on other people. “Other elderly women collect cats, and she collected chickens. Oh, I hope someone is watching them.”
Ambrosine frowned lightly, then grabbed Iris’s hands so she could flip down to the ground and run off to do…whatever it is that a two year old wants to do in the garden. “Well, the Seraph were likely only called in because she was alone at the time. She doesn’t have any other family, does she?”
“Not a soul. Oh goodness, not only do we have to worry about the chickens, what about the house? I don’t know if she had much in the way of savings, there’s no one to arrange a burial–”
“Mmm.” Ambrosine, who knew an anxiety spiral when she saw one, clasped Nik on the shoulder. “Hey. I’ll look into it and take care of anything that needs to be taken care of, okay?”
“Oh you don’t have to do that, you hardly knew–”
“It’s not fair to expect you to spend your money–”
“Nothing about this is fair. It’s about doing what’s right, which in this case means making sure that she doesn’t end up with a pauper’s burial. I don’t mind spending some money to see that happen. She was always very sweet.”
“I can do it.” Niklas set his jaw. “I’m not a man of many expenses. I have savings. I was arguably the closest to her, since she insisted on cooking for me and stealing my clothes off the line and mending them.”
At that moment, Iris toddled by happily babbling toddler things, and covered head to toe in mud.
“…tell you what,” Ambrosine said. “If you scrub that mud pile until my child emerges, I’ll use my contacts to get it handled, and we’ll settle the bill later.”
Niklas, who wouldn’t even know where to start with the paperwork but had wrangled many a niece and nephew, readily agreed.
“So here’s something interesting,” Ambrosine said two days later, walking into the kitchen with a toddler clinging to one leg. It was Ash this time. “I found out what’s happening to Beverly’s house.”
Nik looked up from where he was assembling a puzzle with Holly and Corbin. So far he’d kept Iris from eating five pieces, and she was thankfully now playing with the dog. “Is there a distant third cousin who is inheriting?”
“No, she had a will laid out. There’s even a little bit of money set aside for the chickens, hysterically enough–the neighbors have been feeding them, don’t worry. Since she accidentally seemed to supply the entire street with eggs, they don’t mind.”
Now Niklas was rescuing a puzzle piece from the dog. “If she didn’t have any family, who did she leave the house to? The chickens? Please don’t tell me it was the chickens.”
“No, actually. She left it to you.”
Niklas looked up, blinking. “What?”
“It was very clearly laid out.”
Niklas sat down heavily, blinking. “Is that why the Seraph haven’t cleared me to go back yet? Are they suspicious–”
“No,” Ambrosine interrupted smoothly. “She very clearly died of natural causes. They’re just busy, and one old lady dying is not very high up on their list. I stood on some toes, though, so I imagine it’ll be tidied up soon.”
He remained blinking. Ambrosine patted him on the shoulder, and then picked up the dog and pulled a puzzle piece out of his mouth.