Saturday, March 22, 2014

Hound Hunting - Chapter 8.



Waiting outside along with the risen rays of sunlight was the honey haired SpellHound; Wynna Snowsong. In my current mood I wasn’t sure which of the two the more unpleasant sight was. On the one hand, I had an unsettling headache currently being agitated by one of them. And on the other I had too much on my already strained thoughts to deal with any more distractions. Still couldn’t decide which one was promising to be more promising in the impending pain department.

“Morning Wynna,” I decided to try to be at least some manner of polite and greeted her. She was tall for a woman by most estimates, meeting me about at my brow. Wynna was all lean muscle too; she had always had a runner’s build even in her youth and as she aged her athletic nature had only given way to the curves of a feminine physique begrudgingly. Her hair was cut in a loose straight fashion that hung even with the base of her neck and parted along the middle to frame her face in a curtain of brown warmth.

In the morning sun it only managed to amplify her smile and set her emerald eyes shining. She was still wearing a winter white cloak trimmed in blue to match her customary light leather armor and official uniform. Wynna had always been a fan of preserving speed and mobility over protection when it came to performing her duties. It was something I used to point out to her when we argued over who had been faster in the chase of a captured criminal. Always did manage to ruffle her feathers if I implied that she needed every edge she could get to keep up. Even if the truth was that she was almost as genuinely fast as me regardless.

“Well don’t you look rested and ready for the day,” she scolded, her mouth wrinkling up in disapproval. I was in no mood for playful arguments let alone a lecture so I shot a hand up to dismiss the matter before it went any further. As a testament to our long history she graciously caught my meaning and gestured her head to one side in a show of surrender.

“Been a rough night,” I offered as an explanation. Wynna seemed to welcome my words as all the answer necessary. That was at least one measure of relief I could welcome and relaxed a little with a sigh. “Decidedly bizarre and puzzling affairs to be sure, please do endeavor to keep your voice down.”

In reply I received a broad wolfish grin from Wynna that was immediately followed up by a deep throated chuckle at my own expense I was quite certain. The sound of her hearty humor swept through my skull like the thunderous waves of summer storm. And I was promptly resenting her presence even more.

Wynna hadn’t changed much then, because she had always relished any opportunity to take pleasure at my pain. She had to be really enjoying my current condition then. Which made me doubly determined to provide her with as little entertainment as possible. So I sucked in a deep breath and tried to stand up as straight as I could. It would be best to keep myself from being an easy target by looking anywhere near as bad as I felt.

“Spare us both the song and dance; we both know you didn’t come just to enjoy the show,” I challenged, figuring it was best to go on the offensive. “So, let’s review: I run into some unexpected issues while on a case and bump into you already last night. Now, come morning I walk out to try and sniff up some idea about what I have gotten myself into only to find you waiting for me. We can save us both a fair measure of our valuable time and forgo coincidence as an explanation.”

“That we can,” Wynna confirmed, her face returning to a more stern and serious look of someone on official errands. At least she wasn’t disputing the fact that she was not here by accident. But she also hadn’t volunteered an explanation either. Knowing Wynna she could be trying to make me sweat before taking me in for questioning just as easily as she was having a good time making me wonder.

When Wynna left me last night she had been in the company of Stane Stormaxe, Corrin Cindercleave and one badly broken legged Butcher. I couldn’t even begin to believe they had any knowledge of my visit to Maeredith Starseer or Lillian’s situation. That had all transpired after the fact and not only could I count on Lillian’s fragmented mind to base my assumption – I could trust Maeredith’s word as well.

No, by my own reckoning and everything my gut was telling me this could only be about one of two things. Either they had found something curious when they examined the Butcher or they hadn’t bothered and came calling on me to provide an easy repository for any blame. I had to face it, as the only living SpellHound permitted to leave the service that I knew of I was in a prime position to hang a noose around. Everybody already had plenty of suspicions enough about me and this would be all they needed to seal their opinion of me.

Seizing on that train of thought I refused to retreat from my initial attack. “What story are you saddling me with then,” I snapped into a violent verbal volley. “Corrin is probably beside himself with glee, unable to wait to celebrate. Is he even bothering with an explanation to justify himself, or did he simply send you straight away to put me in shackles?”

To Wynna’s credit, she had actually improved her skill at maintaining a mask to keep her reactions from her face. It wasn’t perfect, by any means; I noticed her flinch just a bit for a second and it took a visible effort for her to keep her expression empty. But there was a time when Wynna couldn’t have even told a white lie with a straight face. Some people just aren’t terribly talented at such things, its part of their nature.

I fanned at the flame in my belly, if for no other reason than to displace the other feelings lodged there. “Or is it you, my old friend, who is enjoying this bit of sport. Am I to entertain you by this encounter,” I spat with more spite than I had aimed to.” But even so overshot my barb managed to strike true and I saw Wynna stumble once more. Either it was working well enough, or perhaps I had struck a nerve somehow. My mood and my aching head both cared little which it was.

“Hold your tongue,” she announced with a full measure of authority. Her voice carried with it a ring of restraint that washed over me and I had to shake it off with a conscious effort. Once a SpellHound has been sworn into the oath of duty their commands can carry with it a subtle power. In a way, it is a kind of compulsory enchantment that allows them to enforce others to respect their granted influence. But it is also the kind of thing SpellHounds are taught to defend against. It wouldn’t do to have the official arm of the kingdom administering law and order if they could be easily swayed by the will of others.

A static tingle still clung to my skin as the majority of Wynna’s summoned majesty dissipated away. It wouldn’t prevent me from continuing to speak against her, let alone from acting in any way hostile towards her. What it had done though was provide her with a temporary pause to my rage building ranting. Which, I had to admit was a clever tactic considering the circumstances.

“Now, if I might be offered the polite opportunity to speak my piece,” Wynna offered unapologetically. She didn’t wait for me to regain my verbal footing and compose myself. The witty woman was making use of my own similar strategy; it was just like old times. I had to smile despite myself at that.

“I have come seeking you out, former SpellHound Vaen, because your talents are needed – you are called to be of service again.” The words reached my ears but somehow my head hadn’t heard them. Instead, in their place was a swirling whirlwind of nonsense that refused to be understood. What was she saying, I tried to ask myself but my eyes cautioned me that her mouth was still moving.

“You are to return with me for a formal audience and your compliance isn’t optional. I am here to escort you back civilly or drag you back using any means necessary. So, which is it to be? Can you behave yourself or must I muzzle you like some savage?”

“Could always give it a try,” I challenged with my hand already at the hilt of my sword. “But we both know how messy that could become, and how well I react to threats. That is why you decided to use that approach.” My eyes narrowed at her, she was trying to manipulate me.

“We are both aware that I am no longer bound by any act of summons. I have done my duty and been released from service. The throne holds no command over me any more, nor do I have any desire to return to its leash. Make any threats you want Wynna, I will not willingly walk back into those ranks. Call as many others as you think you need but be prepared to be responsible for each one. I won’t be cheap to capture.”

A half smile started to show on Wynna’s face and I had to curse myself at seeing it. She was still yanking my chain, playing around with me. Here I had a task of some importance to be getting on with and despite claiming to be likewise engaged she was toying with me. This was a waste of time and the more of it I let slip by the more likely it might cost other innocent people their lives.

“I haven’t the time for these games,” I roared, riding the warming wave within me. “There is actual work for me to be seeing to, I have an obligation to my client to deal with a problem and that is precisely what I intend to do. Stand aside SpellHound Snowsong lest I mistake your intentions as an attempt to prevent me from plying my profession.”

Hesitating for a long handful of breaths, Wynna stood in my way with a look of confusion mixed with curiosity. But as I took a few steps forward she moved to the side to allow me to pass. When I wasn’t even three paces past her I heard her voice call out once more and I had to push my irritation back down long enough to listen.

“They haven’t told me everything,” Wynna revealed reluctantly to my back. “But they did want you brought in to talk to. The whispered word is that they might want to hire you for some unknown reason.” Pausing to take a long breath Wynna sighed before she continued. I could almost hear the pretext fall away from her as she did.

“Please,” she politely pleaded. My conscience counseled me that it might be worth looking into if she might be telling me the truth. But my ego still was rather unhappy at being threatened first and confided in only as an act of desperation. Given time enough my mood might improve but I have long suffered with the strain of my own morality.

I tried to weigh my warring feelings between the two and found myself sighing as well. Pinching just between my eyes I tried to find anything to placate the little voice inside but it was quite insistent. In short order it had managed to stifle my stubborn hold on my pride that wanted nothing to do with being royally requested.

Groaning, I begrudgingly conceded to my conscience. It would wear me down sooner or later I had learned, so it was far better to forgo the torment and surrender. Saves time and in my current condition I could do without any additional agony. Even so, I had no desire to provide Wynna with the satisfaction of showing up with the claim that she alone had brought me in. There was only so much I could stomach after all.

“Tell them that if I find myself in a charitable mood that I will try to pay them a visit later today,” I mentioned. “Currently I am otherwise occupied with pressing business and if they seek some of my time they will have to be patient. However, I can make no promises.”

Not wanting to waste any more time, or allow Wynna any implication that I would doubtless show up to at least investigate what reason I had been summoned I once more set my feet into motion. She made no action to follow me, and for that I was grateful. If I was being requested by royal command, and especially if it was connected to what I was already involved in it wouldn’t do me any favors to ignore it let alone put it off.

Nothing could ever just be easy could it, there had to always be complications thanks to my luck. I suppose if fortune was a lady she had never been granted the virtue of mercy. A fact I could painfully attest to. Thinking it over I realized that I simply had to prioritize my options. This meant seeing to the things that could manage to be the biggest problems first.

An appearance for an audience could wait awhile; the more uncertainty they had of me showing up the more Wynna could worry. Well, that, and the better the odds were that they might deal with me in earnest if they were also seriously interested in dealing with a dangerous problem.

And as much as I hated to admit it, my investigation deeper into Lillian could stand to be postponed perhaps temporarily. It wasn’t something I would enjoy delaying, especially since the longer I did the more any clues might become even harder to find. But there was one thing I couldn’t avoid if I wanted some breathing room to deal with everything else.

My rent was due, technically over due if I were being honest. And if I didn’t do something to deal with it while I had the coin I would have the added pressure of it on my mind. Not only that, but I couldn’t afford the additional antagonism of people making my life miserable over owed money.

First thing first, I had to square my debt. Then I could find out what was so important about needing to try and bring me in. Once I had those two things off my back I could then get myself focused back on figuring the rest of this mess out. Of the three I didn’t welcome having to deal with the first. But at the least, I could try to get it over with I tried to tell myself. It didn’t help my motivation much.