Penny twirled 'round the corner, smacking face-first into a man's chest.
"Omigosh! Sorry, sir!" she said, yanking back. She looked up into the man's face, and froze.
There was no face. There was no head. There was a half-neck protruding from a collar, ruddy and swollen, terminating in a livid cross-section of tubes, muscle, and bone. Penny took three quick stumbles backward, mouth agape, where her brother Cornelius collided with her from behind.
"Penny, what..." he began, before catching sight of the headless body and joining her in a moment of shocked silence. "The devil...?"
Then a man's head came around the corner, in the most literal sense. Dark eyes stared down from a bronzed (and scowling) Arroyan face with handsome features, his black hair swept back in a long tail. Startlingly, the man ended halfway down his neck in the jagged mate to the headless, severed throat. The living head was joined to a ghostly body and a long cloak cinched at his throat hung around the ghostly shoulders to the floor, crimson interior clearly visible through the misty body.
"Insufferable OAF!" The head loomed down on the body. "Again! That's the third time this morning! What on Arroya did I just tell you?"
The shoulders hunched sheepishly.
"Oh, yes. You'd better be sorry. But don't apologize to me," the head nodded emphatically at Penny, "Well? C'mon, show some manners!"
The body cut a short skip and gave Penny a flourishing bow. She grinned nervously. The head smirked. "Oh yes, some gentleman you are," it said dryly. "Now. Go amuse yourself in some corner and try to avoid making any more new friends, hm?"
With a smart salute, the headless one wandered back into the empty lobby. The head shut his eyes a moment and drew a deep breath, apparently recovering his poise before turning and smiling grimly at the Montreys.
Cornelius had managed to clear his face. "Tiago, I... you... you're, uh, well, you're out of hospital, I see?"
"Hospital! HA!" the head tossed back. "Those basarillos at St. Lanigee's, Cornelius! They revoked my work-release, said I am in perfect health and there is no reason I shouldn't return to office. 'Perfect health,' they said!" he sputtered, flinging a ghostly arm behind him to jab towards the body (which gave a little wave), "I. Am. Decapitated! Like hell I'm fit to work!"
"No, indeed," said Cornelius, looking between Tiago's scowling face and his body, which was up again and sidling towards the coffee bar. It was not without a bit of shame that Cornelius felt his moustache twitch, narrowly repressing a smile.
Tiago sniffed. "No indeed is right. They've set me an appointment with a necromancer from Ninges next Tuesday, as if I want to see another necromancer again, ever
" he growled. His glowering eyes fell on Penny, then opened a bit in embarrassment. "Oh. Terribly sorry, where are my manners?"
"Tiago, this is my sister, Miss Penny Montrey. Penny, Ambassador Tiago Caradilla Salspalda of Tricole."
The head inclined with a charming if tired smile. "Prios daros."
"Prios daros," Penny echoed.
"My deepest apologies if you were spooked," Tiago drawled, "bozo there has been sticking his lack-of-a-nose into everybody's faces today, it's been an absolute nightmare."
"Oh, hey, no prob." Penny glanced between the two ambassadors. "Er, not to pry, but how, uh...?" She fingered her throat almost involuntarily.
Tiago snorted and began pacing, a morbid sight with his head trailing both long tail and flowing cloak, insubstantial body almost imperceptible under the fluorescent lights. "Well. I was envoy to Brutin IV two weeks ago trying to garner support for some unpopular legislation. Miserably, I learned that disgruntled Brutinians are fairly gung-ho in matters of foreign affairs
" He rubbed a translucent hand over his throat, wincing. "Uh, for better or worse, there was this... enthusiastic young necromedic in our company who was able to, well, to save my life. However, he missed one detail. He reanimated me..." he drew a resigned breath and spread his arms, "in two." He cast a sad eye on his body which was rooting around the bar.
"And this Ninges necromancer?" Cornelius offered, "He'll be able to set you right, will he?"
"I hope so, Cornelius, I hope so. It has been a ghastly two weeks, nigh unendurable. If only I hadn't drained my vacation time on that cruise with Georgia..."
"How's she taking her husband's undeath, by the way?"
Tiago's face reddened. "Oh, you know Georgia. I dare say she thinks it's all a bit funny."
"Yes! And what's more, she goes on about how idiot there is so much more helpful 'round the house than I, proper. It is really something to have your own body stepping between you and your wife's affections. I tell you, Cornelius, life in the Salspalda household has been a trial."
"I'm sure she's relieved to have you back, in however many pieces."
"Hmpf, I still say-" Tiago turned sharply to stare his lower six-sevenths which had prodded him in the back of the neck. "What? Goodness sakes, what? Can't you see I'm trying to have a simple conversation here?" The body raised a plate with a muffin and a breakfast roll expectantly. "Gods
you're not hungry again?" He turned back to Cornelius and Penny with narrowed eyes. "Blast my appetite. You'll have to forgive me..."
"Not at all, we were just moving along," Cornelius said, beginning to herd Penny across the lobby.
"Oh, Cornelius," Tiago said, overlapping the ghostly body with his solid one, now seated at a table, "before you go, I hardly need tell you that Brutin negotiations were less than triumphant. Senator Li has been left in an unfortunate position and I much anticipate the Senate voting his propositions into an early grave." The two halves of the ambassador's neck fused along a jagged, cherry-red seam with an unpleasant sizzling sound. "I should respectfully suggest you do the same."
"I've already had a talk with her. Seems she's throwing her support behind Gainsley- to the left, you lump." The last was directed at his right arm which finally succeeded in holding the muffin where Tiago could take a bite.
"Unlikely?" Tiago said, mouth full of muffin. "An' why mfght tha' be?"
Cornelius shook himself out of his reverie. He smiled at Ambassador Salspalda and straightened his cloak, shooing Penny into the doorway.
Tiago swallowed loudly. "Oh-oh; hush-hush senatorial politics, now, is it?" He grinned wickedly as his stomach growled appreciatively at the muffin.
"Let's say I fill you in after I speak with our learned colleague myself, and in the meantime, ah," he smiled graciously, "do get well soon."
"Ah shall tfry." Tiago said solemnly around another bite. "Take fare o' yurself, Montfrey."
"Take care, Tiago."
"And nice to meet you!" piped Penny before being ushered out into the hall.
"Well, that was something else," she said as they resumed their course, now deep in the labyrinthine halls of the ambassadorial wing. Brass-framed doors in smart black paint studded the walls, many with flags mounted above them, many of which Penny was embarrassed not to recognize. Not much traffic here, only a few underlings loitering around watercoolers and the occasional ambassador strolling along with coffee in hand and face buried in memos.
"Yes. Possibly not the strangest thing that's happened to Ambassador Salspalda, believe it or not. Tiago does tend to land some of the more unfortunate assignments. You can be certain he's got a bone to pick now with the Department of Brutin Foreign Affairs for dropping him into such an obviously volatile situation. Urg," he said, running a finger under his collar, "surviving your own beheading, imagine that."
"Eh," Penny agreed, crinkling up her face.
"I'd been told he'd made it back to us alive, but I had no idea, no idea, he'd been reanimated in two. Ha!" He broke down and chuckled aloud. "In two! What kind of bungling necromancer..." he sobered under Penny's withering look.
"You know, I don't think it's a very funny situation."
"Okay, hey now- hey. Tiago's a friend, I'm relieved that he's alive. He's a survivor, and he's been though worse before, he just needs to, ah ha, to keep his head on his shoulders..." the senator cracked up, startling a passing pack of clerks. Penny lowered her head and raised an eyebrow at her brother.
"Seriously, Cornelius? Ha, well, I suppose it's about as silly as coming to work five meters long, half-blind, and amphibious, innit?"
Cornelius' chuckle dissolved into a cough.
"Remember Lady Gnoccie, Corn? I don't suppose we're ever going to see her on Amoth Elarg again... I only wonder how they managed to pry her off the ceiling?"
"And who knew an old geezer like Lord Gnoccie could be so dangerous with an umbrella?"
"Thank goodness you don't take scars in that form or you'd have a few fun ones now, huh?"
"Thank you, Penny, that's quite enough. Remember, you're not technically employed yet, and if you wish to remain in candidacy you'd be wise to watch your words."
"Pfft, candidacy? You made up the position for me yourself, don't even."
"So I did."
"Must be nice to just snap your fingers and make jobs and stuff fall out of the air."
"My dear naive sister, even as High Commander I didn't 'just snap my fingers' and make things happen. There's something called a Senate? And a High Parliament? Perhaps you've heard of them? And every division of every level at every tier of government down to the cleaning personnel has to pass action through some kind of system for approval."
"I know. It's your fantastic little bureaucratic world at its best."
"Small wonder we never get anything done, hmm?" Cornelius gently elbowed her in the side. She grinned and pushed him back.
"So how did you get the okay to hire on another minion?"
"Cashed in a favor with a colleague. Most of Elarg owes me a favor or three, whether or not they care to remember it these days. Usually a friendly visit from a five-meter crime-against-nature is enough to jog their memories..."
"And they say you were even more frightening before the accident, however you managed that."
"I find my political prowess is now crippled by a conscience."
"Can't fathom what people find so endearing about the things," he sniffed. "Dreadful company, bickering, ever pointing out problems but offering no solutions..."
"Maybe you're using it wrong," she laughed as they turned the corner.