He came back to himself with a rapid, indrawn breath, almost a gasp. As he exhaled, looking around, he noticed that the hunger had heightened his senses. Colours and sounds were amplified to almost painful clarity, and he knew that he’d put it off for too long. Again. Damn it by all the breathing Gods he was sick of this side to his abilities.
Drust slammed a fist to the slates beneath his feet, as he left the rooftop he’d been perched upon for the last glass, watching to see where their hired guide had taken himself. He knew intoxication in all of its forms and scents, and Grimmr had been sober as a monk when he’d left the inn that night. He had lost him for a brief time during his efforts to get aloft and follow on the wing, but when he had located the mercenary’s outline again, he was just leaving a small lean-to in the back of a narrow alley.
Well this was a turn for the unexpected. He had expected a mere reconnaissance flight, over and done before turning in for the night. As it was, this was a forlorn hope, and he would need to replenish his energy before returning to his room to rumple his untouched sheets for authenticity. The silver light of dawn graced the horizon, evidence of his prolonged surveillance.
Perching like a gargoyle on the gutters of the city, while not his favourite pass-time, was certainly illuminating whenever he did so. He now knew that Grimmr was, while loyal to his next paycheck, certainly answerable to someone higher in the foodchain. He grimaced as a sunburst of colour obscured his vision for a moment. Definitely time to get a grip. He reached down to his side, where hung two large flasks, attached to his sword-belt. They sloshed as he jostled them, and he pulled the stopper from one before slamming the contents. After he had finished, he replaced the stopper and the flask at his side, before reaching for the second.
This he consumed at a more leisurely rate. It tasted better than the first, even magically preserved as it was. He re-attached it to his belt, and wiped his mouth, before rising and turning away from the little street to get a run-up. As he leapt from the roof on the opposite side of the building, he unfurled his wings with a snap, and blew on the talisman around his neck. The magic enveloped him and lifted his body even further, and he began to fly back to the Amber Goose.
He inhaled deeply, loving the varied scents that the city gave off. Even the acrid smoke from Smith’s Row was not unpleasant, redolent of metal and forge-work. He hated the crowded streets, to be sure, but when he was flying, he tended to forget his distaste for cities in general, and enjoyed the smells they generated. While he made his way over the now quiet market squares and artisans streets, he was thinking hard. Not least among his thoughts was trying to find out exactly who Grimmr was answering to, hopefully without tipping him off in the process. He was still preoccupied when he landed in the courtyard of the inn, towards the back where the shadows lay thick.
‘You’ve been gone some time now Drust, find out anything interesting from Grimmr?’ Skaği stepped from the shadows and helped him undo his sword belt, taking charge of the flasks and grimacing at how empty they were. ‘Were you flying the entire time? That was pretty foolish of you, you know how bad you get if these run out like this.’
He only grinned. ‘I knew you would take care of it when I got back. Besides,’ he continued on a self-deprecating note, ‘This town must have very few second-storey thieves, the roofs purely suck if you need to tail someone or cross town.’
She laughed as she slung the flasks over her shoulder. ‘I’ll go to the kitchens now and have them make that syrup up for you. The other one will have to wait until we can get out of this place. I may have something by the time you get back from the under-city with Tregormun. Speaking of which, wasn’t he supposed to meet us here by now? I thought you had contacted him days ago, where is he?’
‘I do believe he said he would be delayed until morning. It is likely you will not see him until we get back anyway. He said something about having another contract to take care of, and I am sure he will be visiting his dealer here before us, to get rid of his commission picture.’
She shook her head at this. Skaği and Tregormun had animated discussions about the proper way to take out a target. ‘You know, I don’t know how he has managed to stay alive all these years, given how he treats his contracts. He is going to get caught one of these days, what with sticking around to draw his deader. That is batshit stupid of him, and arrogant.’
He looked at her sharply. ‘And your addiction to stimulants in place of sleep is not?’
Skaği looked at him steadily, anger sparking in her gaze. ‘You know why I don’t... sleep is hardly restful, to me... especially if... damn you, you KNOW this. Why do you persist with tormenting me?’
‘Because I care. You foolish woman!’ As he said this, his wings puffed out and he rattled them like an angry hawk. ‘I am trying to keep you from burning out in a year, and for that you need some way to rest. Your physiology cannot continue to handle the stress you are putting it under and if you do not slow down, you are going to crash hard! I wish to the nine Hells you would cease with the drugs and stimulants and get some damn sleep for once!’ He shut his mouth hard after the outburst, as if he had said more than he intended to.
The spark of anger in her eyes flared into full rage. ‘Dammit Drust, what the fuck right do you have to dictate to me what I need? You aren’t even HUMAN! Fiani’s Tits!’ She swore at him, shaking in fury and visibly holding back from violence. ‘I am perfectly capable of taking care of my health without some fluff-winged, bird-brained savage fucking idiot poking his gods-damned nose into my substance use!’ She stopped, panting, and took a deep shuddering breath before stopping again, shoulders slumping in fatigue. ‘Just... just go alright? I’ll have your damned blood for you when you get back. The syrup’s easier, you can have it tonight.’
‘I am sor-‘
‘Go I said! Don’t apologise, I don’t give a tinker’s damn about your apologies. I said I’d take care of this. Don’t wait up for me tomorrow. I’m gone.’ With this, she stormed off, heading out of the inn-yard and into the streets beyond, as the sun peeked over the horizon, and bathed the city in its morning glow.
‘Are we certain this will work? Keeping her memories locked?’
‘And it won’t keep her from doing what she must, what we need her to do?’
The voices came from a room which looked much like a large cell. If you went inside, you would see that it was bereft of all personality. Lit by only a single candle on a blocked up windowsill, it had two uncomfortable chairs, only one of which was occupied. There was a stained and pitted table between the chairs, and a small, dull black bowl that was smoking gently set in the centre. Against one wall, there was a silvery sheen, like water constantly streaming down, but never quite hitting the floor. It emitted a phosphorescent glow, hardly enough to illuminate the figures of the two beings that were conversing there. The taller one, who was standing, was close to the boarded window, facing away from the chair’s occupant, who was hunched in a sort of arthritic crouch, perching awkwardly on the edge of their seat.
It croaked; ‘Sulry, you have had precedence over this project since it was started, and we still do not know anything about this woman. How long until she breaks again? She is an addict, and you can see the toll it is taking. Will she even last as long as we need her to?’
The standing being, now identified as Sulry, emotionlessly stated; ‘Yes. She is... much more than she appears... stronger. We have only broken her soul, and her sanity. But when we took that memory, she became... stable. The only real danger to us is if she recovers.’ He/it grimaced, as if in distaste, and continued; ‘There would be no telling if this respite from insanity has healed her mind or merely hidden the damage. The only way to find that out is to take down the wall, and once done, we cannot replace it. No, better to wait, and hopefully never have to do so.’
‘Why her though? We thought-’
Sulry cut the other off impatiently. ‘Never mind that. It has nothing to do with why she was chosen. She was a suitable tool. Strong enough to be broken to our purpose. Enough. We did not answer your summons to explain our history again. We have no more connection to her than any craftsman his tool. Why did you call for us?’
‘It is Morgan. He has driven her away again. We need him to stay by her side, to steer her where we need her to go. It is not yet time for her to be isolated.’ The figure hunched further, as if in pain, or as to avoid a blow, which was not forth-coming.
‘Foolish to waste our time with this. It has happened before. It is of no consequence. In a few days, weeks, she will return, or he will find her again. She cannot hide from her handler, it is against her conditioning.’
Incredulously; ‘She does not even recall her conditioning, how would she know?’
‘And you call yourself a Suborned. It is a physical and mental conditioning we have forced on her. It is deeply implanted in her psyche and cannot be uprooted without severe damage to neural pathways essential to regaining her memories. If she broke that conditioning, she will never be as she was, and we will have failed. Again. It does not bear thinking about. Need we remind you that this is our last chance? No, we have shackled her effectively. It would take a deity’s intervention to break that down, and they are not interested. We must go now. Notify us when they rejoin. And this time, do not disturb us with trivialities.’
Having given his orders, Sulry stalked from the room. The door swung silently shut, and the latch clicked as it fell, locking the other in. Footsteps echoed and died away as he strode down the hall, disappearing into the gloom of what appeared to be an abandoned manor.
The Watcher returned to the smoke and the eldritch mirror.