Spy for a Demon
Written in Collaboration with Dragonflight
The trio approached Sun Soul's usual room for meeting with her
employer at a brisk pace: Janunir had to trot to keep up, though Kjolir, damn
the little snack that he was, didn't seem to have any trouble slithering at the
proper speed. It wasn't even that Sun Soul was in a particular hurry, she just,
apparently, walked quickly. Janunir hoped she grew quickly, so she could stop
this embarrassing bouncing along just to keep up. Maybe eventually Sun Soul
would be the one running to catch up with her. Hmph.
At least they hadn't been rushed through getting acquainted with the cat-woman's living quarters, once they arrived. They hadn't come directly there from the ship of her hatching, but had first gone to a leafy jungle place, the location Sun Soul had given their transporting beast. Once he was gone, Kjolir had immediately started asking questions.
"Why did you come here?" he'd asked. "Who was that Alden person? What's a demon? Why were you pretending to be more hurt than you were? Why--"
"I could still eat you, you know," Janunir had interrupted irritably. "I will, if you don't shut up."
Giving her an annoyed look, Sun Soul had pointedly sat down on a damp, mossy tree root and explained. Kjolir listened quietly, eating it all up, but Janunir found it generally dull. Why bother all the sneaking around and pretending when it would have been easier to simply kidnap the girl, or maybe the new bonds, and use them to get the information out of this Alden person? -- Person, demon, whatever.
Sun Soul somehow picked up the question-- or had Janunir said it aloud without realizing it? damn, had she really?-- and answered seriously, "Because then he, and probably she, would have killed me, and then what use would I be?"
Janunir had no answer to that. Let Sun Soul do what she would; Janunir already knew she would never manage something that slow and dull. Sun Soul had smiled a little and said, "We can't all be spies. My employer will find something for you, too, I'm sure."
Her employer. A half-dragon, or so Sun Soul said, by the name of Zu. Surely that wasn't her real name-- and Sun Soul admitted that she doubted it was, too-- but Sun Soul's idle attempts at finding out more had been unsuccessful. "It's probably wise not to look too hard," she'd said. "I have a good position with her, and I don't want to wind up turned out-- or worse, dead."
And now, an hour after their arrival at Sun Soul's home-- and theirs, now; they'd need to get a bigger room-- they were headed to meet her. Janunir wasn't at all sure about this, but she did her best to look confident, anyway. Kjolir was just content to slither along at Sun Soul's heels, mysterious dragon-employer or no mysterious dragon-employer. Stupid morsel; she wished Sun Soul had let her eat him.
Sun Soul opened the door for both beasts, letting them into a small but well-decorated sitting room. Janunir had seen this before-- briefly-- in her new bond's head upon bonding her. Really, Janunir hadn't paid much attention to what was in Sun Soul's head, in those could seconds before making the choice; she'd noted the intelligence and the patience, the subterfuge and misdirection, and observations and shrewd deductions, but largely ignored the memories and flashes of emotion. That she'd done well in the hatching-battle and offered both protection and support for future endeavors-- a compliment rather than a match-- was much more important. Still, she did remember this room, vaguely, as well as its singular occupant.
The pleased expression on the half-dragon's face-- she looked human, for the most part, except for the claws... and the black scales... and the wings... and the tail... well, all right, not very human at all-- turned into blankness when she caught sight of Janunir and Kjolir. Surprised, was she? Well, if they'd managed to get her off-balance already, Janunir didn't feel quite as uncomfortable with the whole ordeal. She did, however, bristle her hatchling-short spines when the dragon's expression went from blank to disgusted, her lip curled sourly, though Sun Soul's well-aimed kick stopped her before she could growl.
"Sun Soul," Zu said, sounding unhappy, "when I informed you of the procedures for boarding that ship, I did not expect you to actually attend one of those thrice-damned hatchings."
"It was necessary for my cover, and I needed to be there to see how the subject behaved," Sun Soul said apologetically-- apologetically! Apologizing, for being chosen by two perfectly good bonds! Well, one perfectly good bond; Kjolir was a waste of beast-flesh, but Janunir most certainly wasn't! "Janu," Sun Soul added warningly when she started to growl again. "Be respectful."
"Maybe if she is, first," one of her side-heads muttered, glaring darkly.
"Be silent, whelp," Zu hissed, eyes narrowed on her. She tried to glare, back-- three sets of eyes versus one; surely she'd win the little staring contest, right?-- but there was something about her, some... thing, she couldn't even put a claw on what, that killed something in her, smothered it in fire and darkness. Instead of growling, she found herself crouching and kneading at the floor unhappily, not at all sure how she wound up not defying the horrible half-dragon, but feeling quite disinclined to try it again. What the hell was wrong with her?
"If you deemed it necessary, then I'm sure it was," Zu continued, looking away at last. Sun Soul didn't seem like she was even listening, looking between her employer and her bond with a puzzled expression.
Stupid Kjolir took advantage of the pause and actually slithered forward, bowing his head to the half-dragon who-- who had done whatever she'd just done. Had she done it to him, too? "My apologies, lady," he told her, young voice still somehow smooth and respectful. "Hopefully we-- or at least I," he corrected, flipping his tail negligently in Janunir's direction, "will be of use to my bond and your goals."
Zu looked down at him, unimpressed. "For your sake, you had best hope so. I despise creatures like you."
Sun Soul seemed to shake herself out of whatever had confused her to respond to that, on the speechless Kjolir's behalf-- oh, sure, speak up for him but not Janunir! "Oh, they can't help what they are," Sun Soul shrugged mildly. "I'm sure we can find a use for them. They kept me alive, during the hatching, at any rate."
She finally came the rest of the way in and sat on the other seat in the room. Kjolir, giving Zu a furtive but speculative look, slithered up into her lap. Still shaken, herself, Janunir slunk around to the back of the over-stuffed armchair without a sound and hunkered down, glaring balefully around it at Zu. It seemed the safest place to be, with not only a bond but also a piece of furniture between her and the half-dragon. At least that awful focus was put on Sun Soul now, quite as if Zu had forgotten the beasts' presence.
"Did you have any issues with your memory while you were gone?" she asked, all business now.
"Not that I can recall," Sun Soul said with an amused smirk at the irony. "No obvious holes, anyway, and nothing in the memory crystal that I don't remember putting there. And I still seem to have plenty of information for you on this 'Alden' fellow that I can't imagine he'd want getting out."
"Hmmm." Zu was silent a moment, looking thoughtful; Sun Soul didn't interrupt, she just stroked the serpent-beast in her lap absently, as if needign something to do with her hands. Kjolir thrummed quietly with pleasure, and Janunir was annoyed to find herself a little jealous. Stood up for the little beast, and now petting him-- she really did need to eat him.
"And your personal analysis of the individual?"
Sun Soul seemed surprised by the question, but she answered readily enough. "Sociopathic-- not a surprise for a demon, really. Quite likely psychopathic, as well." The phrase she'd used in her earlier explanation was "batshit insane", but apparently that wasn't professional enough for this interview. "I didn't like him, but I also don't see any real weaknesses. Maybe over-confidence. He's far more powerful than he shows himself to be, and he didn't take me seriously enough to warrant thinking me a threat. Unless he simply didn't see through my act, which I suppose is possible, but even then I wasn't exactly friendly towards him."
"So he was playing with you, then," Zu frowned.
"He was trying to goad me," Sun Soul snorted. "I think he found it funny to try and make me angry, or maybe he was just hungry, I don't know. But yes, he was playing with me. I don't think he realized just how much I saw, or how much I cared about that information-- much less who I was taking it to-- but I would be more surprised if he thought I was who I said I was, than if he guessed I wasn't."
Zu nodded quietly. "If you'd like my full report now," Sun Soul suggested, "I can give it, or I can give it via crystal this evening. I just have a couple things I'd like to tell you up-front, that I think are the most important."
"Now is fine," Zu agreed, and Janunir shrank down a little-- disgusted with herself, but too wary and confused to resist the impulse-- when that equally-red gaze fell on her again. Kjolir ignored Zu's regard, probably didn't even see it, too busy thrumming to himself.
Nodding, Sun Soul launched into her detailed report first, giving an overview of her persona and approach, how she was received, and a summary of each actual contact she made with the demon Alden. Observations were made with little bias-- and she pointed out when she thought bias might be interfering with her judgment-- and associated with each engagement. It was long, and it was boring-- how could she stand having been so slow, thorough, and careful?-- though Janunir could sense Zu's focused attention and, more annoyingly, Kjolir's.
"My conclusions are that 'Alden Kherek' is an alias, that there is some unsuspected association between demonic power and necromancy, that this 'student' of his is a definite danger but, unfortunately, not a weakness to him, and that Alden Kherek is not a typical demon. Just what that means, I'm not certain. Any weaknesses would probably be related to emotional control, his own possible over-confidence, and magic resistance. I recommend investigation with a scholar of demonology, if there is such a thing, and extreme caution. I also recommend looking into his student, and possibly assassinating her before she becomes a real problem. I would not recommend using me anywhere near him again, either," she finished apologetically.
"Your suggestions are noted, Sun Soul," Zu said, gazing at nothing and her voice... distracted. Like her thoughts were definitely elsewhere. "Thank you."
"One last thing," Sun Soul added. "Keishaal Ferathan. First, you should know that he bonded, as well, though only one." Zu actually flinched, and Janunir felt a surge of angry satisfaction; she and her siblings actually made her uncomfortable, not just annoyed. She would have to find out why... somehow. "Second, I think something happened to him up there, about a week into the operation." She frowned. "He was acting... strangely. I don't know whether it was just a run-in with the creature that haunts the halls, or if something else got to him, but he was very nearly a liability, himself."
Zu frowned even more. "Thank you. I'll be sure to take care of that this evening."
Sun Soul inclined her head in acknowledgement. "Is there anything else?"
"No," Zu said after a pause. "That will be all, for now."
"Let me know when you need me again," Sun Soul said, rising-- Kjolir slithering up to her shoulder-- and bowing slightly. Zu merely waved her off, and she slipped out. Janunir scurried after her, looking over her shoulder at Zu and wishing to hell she knew what the dragon had done to her.