Something growled softly, as it leapt onto his back. Cursing, he twisted as he went down, grappling with his unseen opponent and trying to reach one of his daggers. Suddenly he caught a glimpse of his assailant, and stopped fighting, as he realised what, or rather, who, had jumped on him. ‘Yğarr hræddr inn lífdagar af sik! I almost stabbed you Lady! Again! How many times do I have to tell you, no ambushing me when we are trying to poach the King’s deer?’
Her Majesty, Queen of All She Surveyed looked smugly proud of her prowess as she gracefully untangled herself from the sputtering man and began calmly washing her paws.
It was almost time to visit his father again. Maxim had a leather satchel which was water-proofed and spell-sealed that he carried everywhere. It contained paper, in somewhat ludicrous amounts, and a separate compartment for inks. At this point in time, nearly all of the pages were full. As the son of a noted cartographer, he often travelled all over the country, and his father had a reputation for some of the most accurate maps in the land. In his sons’ satchel, at the moment, were his map drawings, distance calculations, and sketches of the plant-life and animals he had encountered. Maxim had also some pictures of some of his more prominent targets.
It was something of a vanity of his, that, as a professional assassin (though not religiously affiliated), he was able to take the time and risk of both bringing his satchel on the job, and staying with the body long enough to draw the position of his victims’ demise. These pieces he finished, and signed off on with an intricate cross. He would taunt his would-be pursuers by selling them anonymously in cities, sometimes even the home city of the recently deceased. He actually got more jobs this way, by proving his mastery. Half of the reason he was able to still move freely about the country was his unparalleled ability to infiltrate just about anywhere.
Right now though, he was well on his way to being late. He was supposed to have met up with Drust and Skaği over two days ago, but had been delayed with what had seemed like a minor wrinkle in the commission he had been undertaking for some cashed-up son-of-a-bitch who failed to tell him that the target had hired adequate protection, when his hire parameters clearly stated that part of his fee was the details of his targets’ protection, if any, and whether they were hired or family servants.
So he had ended up pausing his departure long enough to both eliminate the target (‘Never leave a job half done’), and then to explain to his employer in painful and lasting detail exactly why he was never going to take another commission from him again, whether or not he was the Baron of Hindmarsh County.
She walked blindly for perhaps a glass or so, fuming still over the altercation she’d had with Drust. Skaği snarled at herself, brushing furious tears from her eyes. -He’s been like this for months now, ever since he found out that I wasn’t just waking before him, I wasn’t sleeping at all-. Why this bothered him so badly, she didn’t know, but she’d be damned before she let anyone dictate to her what to do with her life. She may only have been a slave for a few months, but it was long enough to engender abhorrence for being ordered around by anyone, even so close a friend as Drust was. -What I can’t figure out, is why he stayed with me after escaping Hells’ Chasm. He isn’t that ignorant of this culture that he needs an amnesiac as a guide-
While she stormed along the street, too upset to notice the small group tailing her at an ever decreasing distance, another was making his way into the slowly brightening city. As the gates opened to Moreth for the day’s trading, the first being through was a tall human. Maxim Tregormun had finally arrived. He wore a long, dark green cloak over his travel-stained clothes, and strode into the city, leading his carnivorous mount through the arch of the massive gate. At his heels slunk a black cat of about waist height. She had a bright red collar at her throat, with a chain attached to the saddle-horn of Illska. This she ignored as beneath her notice, and she paced at the side of this human she had adopted.
Maxim gazed about him as he entered the city. -Yep, still a shit-hole- he thought. -Even better, I am late, and Drust is NOT gonna be pleased- as he walked, his cat bumped her head up against his hand, clearly angling for a ear-scratching. He jerked his hand away and grumbled irritably at her. ‘No time dear, we are incredibly late, and the only one who hates that more than me is the one waiting for us.’
Meanwhile, having rumpled his blankets to give the chambermaid something to do, rather than having actually slept that night, Drust was pacing the room. He had not eaten properly, as his body craved, in days. Whilst the inn’s food was plentiful, filling and good, he had been flying often of late, and needed much more to keep his metabolism from devouring his 7’ frame. He looked ruefully at the small, tarnished mirror. His reflection told the tale, looking gaunt and half-starved, as his body ate into what little fat reserves he had.
It was time to go shopping again. What he needed right now was very similar to what regular humans needed to survive sub-zero conditions. Drust had run out of pemmican, a dried meat that was mixed with liberal amounts of beef tallow and honey or dried fruit. He would form this into balls of about half the size of a fist to store. He ate around three per day when he was flying, one when he didn’t. This was in addition to the amount of food it normally took to sustain a man of his size. It took less than a weeks’ worth of flying without them to starve him to dangerous levels.
He stopped pacing the room, and left to descend the stairs. In the main taproom he greeted the sleepy looking barmaid on morning duty, and departed into the courtyard. Once there, he began doing a series of mild stretching and leaping exercises, loosening the stiff muscles from last night's adventure. As his body warmed, he began to twist in the air as he leapt, twirling his body like a dancer, and landing precariously with wings half-outstretched. With a final leap and thump-THWAP of his wings, he cleared to the roof of the inn, where he jumped across the narrow lane between the stable-yard and the inn’s courtyard.
Drust dropped lightly to the ground from the stable roof, flaring his wings to slow his descent. Fluffing them, he preened them briefly, combing through and settling any that were out of place. Then he checked his kit, setting the straps and belts straight, and balancing his blades and purse with what might have seemed unnecessary care. However, if you asked anyone who flew, balance is everything. Hrafn-folk were taught from the time they first fledged that everything they carried must be properly balanced. Sloppy kit was more likely to kill a fledgling than anything else.
Satisfied now that everything was in place, he set off at a brisk pace, wanting to reach the market-place before the morning crowds did. Drust and his companions had stayed in The Amber Goose more than once whenever they had business in Moreth, as it was in a quiet corner of the market district, and relatively central to most of the places they frequented.
As he walked, he was going over what had happened earlier that morning, trying to get a handle on Skaği's reaction. She had always had a bit of spark to her, a hint of snap when a sensitive subject came up, like memory, but lately her temper had been getting shorter and shorter. Less and less significance was needed before her fuse lit, and the explosions were more fiery and numerous. He was concerned that she was burning up, the vital element of her self was being consumed before his eyes. She had become strained, you could see the tension in her every movement. She was also stubborn to a fault, and would break before she admitted the need to bend.
Going by her response to his impassioned plea, she was at a stage where her fury was starting to get destructive. Usually confined to vitriol, it would be worrying if she was that far gone that her temper engendered violence towards her companions, those who cared for her. He wondered cynically if this was what his mentor was hoping for. -Hope? Pah! He has forgotten what hope is, that he stoops so low-
Mentally condemning all mystics to the Void Beyond, Drust arrived at his destination. There were a few early morning market-goers, having had the same idea as he, but the bustling crowds had not yet arrived to add their noise to the sounds of the waking city. A hot, fatty smell delighted his nostrils, and led him over to one of the central food stalls of the square. An elderly woman was just dipping her ladle into the smoking fat and pulling out golden lumps of dough, flicking them with the ease of long practice over to a tray which already had a small pile of the gently steaming dumplings. Deftly, and without concern for his fingers, Drust snatched one out of its tray-bound trajectory, and, quickly passing it from one hand to the other, cooling it slightly, he asked; 'Babushka, how much for this?'
'Piroshki has meat this day, 2 copper dres for two, or you'll be back for another my dear.' She smiled knowingly as she said this, as if it happened all the time.
He grinned, flipped her the coins, and after she had bitten them, she wrapped another dumpling in a small napkin and passed it to him. Tucking it into his belt, he bit into the first, savouring the smoky taste of the lightly seasoned filling, a mixture of peppery meat and cabbage. Drust quickly finished it, and grabbed two more coppers from his pouch. 'Two more my good woman, these are to die for.'
The old woman laughed as she wrapped another pair in a napkin and handed it over to the winged man. As she did so, something tugged the other piroshki from the belt under which he had placed it, and before he could react, a cat's head thrust itself under the hand he was reaching to fend off the thief. A rumbling purr further distracted him, as the man who had swiped his breakfast bit into it.
'Bloody Hel these are good Drust. You get them from this old biddy?' The man turned to the vendor, 'Old Mother, how much for a pair? Oh and I'd best replace this one for my friend here, or he will be more upset than he already is at my tardiness' Maxim grinned as he said this.
'I had almost given up hope altogether that you would appear Maxim. What happened? You said you would be here a week ago at latest. We have been here for two days already, and you only now show your face? I thought your contract was an easy one.'
As he flipped 3 coppers over to the old vendor, and grabbed his food, Maxim replied, 'I didn't account for human stupidity my friend. My last employer? Ósælligr, skreyja kǫgursveinn. A more useless man I cannot imagine. Well, I had to show him the error of his ways.'
Drust snorted, disgusted at his smirking tone. 'Had to? My friend I think you enjoy hurting people for money. You always were a vengeful man.' As he moved off, Maxim and his cat following, he enquired quietly 'Any news on the Jarl's daughter? I know that you have been gathering information on your journeys, and we need to wrap this one up. Jarl Herkonig is getting vexed at our seeming inability to bring her home. He has been talking to the little lordlings hereabouts, trying to negotiate a bride-price, saying she is indisposed when they inevitably want to see her. I want to finish this contract.'
Maxim looked around them as they walked, taking in the sights, inhaling the scents. Cataloguing everything even slightly abnormal. Not finding what he was looking for, he still paced even closer to Drust and replied quietly; 'All signs point to her voluntarily staying with the mercs. I don't know whether she's fallen for one of them or what, but somehow Ella has wrangled herself a lieutentants' comission with them, and has been doing very well for herself. Extricating her will be difficult, if not impossible, and chances are she'll just run away and rejoin them, even if we do manage to abscond with her and return her to her fathers' house.'
'I do not care if she runs away again, as long as she stays until we get our full payment from the Jarl. If he loses her after that, well, that was not in our contract, I would see no reason to stop her. In fact, if we were to inform her of this, we might find she is more willing to return with us, at least for a while. Getting close to her on the other hand, may be the difficult thing, as she most likely already knows we have taken out that contract for her return. We will still have to locate them, mercenaries have an unfortunate tendency to be always on the move.'
As they walked through the market, one quietly reporting to the other, Drust would pause now and then, forcing Maxim to pause in his de-brief, while the winged man purchased the materials needed for his pemmican. Not finding honey at less than five silver Zols for a comb half the size of his fist, he instead went for the dried cherries nearby, and the candied citrus peel.
'Not this time, I have actually gone the extra step and found them too. It wasn't difficult, Grianne's Hawks are contracted to a Duke that we both know and love... Gotthard is back in the business of land disputes. Our West Lord just so happens to be after the vineyards of Freudson, that wine-maker lordling a few days north of us. He has a shoddy little nothing castle with about half the defenders he needs, and no money to pay for what he does. I'll give him a week before he either surrenders or makes a suicidal sally from his keep. So we have a day or so to replenish our supplies here, and go see that weird old mad-man in the sewers he-'
Interrupting him mid-word, Drust haggled briefly over the dried beef and tallow before paying the trader, and walking on. 'The Under-City is not merely sewers Maxim. It is also all the under-streets and old cellars from the last city to rest on these foundations. You should know this, I thought you were something of an expert on old city ruins and such.'
'Well yes, but the whole place reeks worse than an over-turned dung cart on a hot day. It's turned into a fucking sewer Morgan. It used to be something. Used to have class. Now it's all slavers and drug-whores, clinging to the edges and scrabbling for the next hit.' Maxim, being fastidious in his cleanliness, wrinkled his nose at the thought of the un-washed masses they would be wading through later that morning.
'Remember not to call me that will you? I haven't been Morgan for.... a long time. Best get used to it. Skaği doesn't know my real name just yet. She can't. If she delved into my past at all, we could have a catastrophe. All we need is a memory cascade, and she is not ready for that yet. It'll either break her or make her useless for the purpose it was wiped for in the first place.'
'Alright. But I still don't like this one bit. A man is his memory. Without it he is but a husk, pushed to and fro by the whims of others.'