Spy for a Demon
Kjolir clung to the Sun Soul's waist for dear life, glad that he
was still small enough to wrap himself around it and not make her too heavy for
a mount. Janunir, galloping along at the khanryss's heels, had surpassed riding
size almost before she hatched. Thank whatever gods might exist that their
pursuers were limited to the heavy beasts for their transportation, as well, and
that Sun Soul had long since ascertained which one was the fastest and made sure
to steal that one. Too bad Janunir wasn't yet large enough to ride on her,
and escape in the air.
This time, there had been no recovery from the mess the smog-colored beast had made. The past two missions, when she'd gotten impatient with things and tried to hurry them along, Sun Soul had managed to salvage things, keep her cover, and escape with the information or item she'd needed. This time... she hadn't. And so they had a whole tribe of reptilian sahganti on their tails, ready to rend them limb from limb for killing the daughter of a Rhanyss-- their chief. It was possible that the death would ultimately be blamed on the rival tribe that was the eventual aim of the operation, with Sun Soul and Janunir considered just hired swords for the deed... but probably not. And certainly not before they wore out their anger on those hired swords, first.
Kjolir simply did not understand Janunir, sometimes. She was hardly unintelligent, and she did respect their mutual bond's subtlety and patience. She understood the necessity for what Sun Soul did, that it was wise to gather information first and kill things later, and she understood the importance of making their employer happy, no matter how much she hated her. It was their employer, after all, who fed and clothed them, who supplied them for their tasks and kept Sun Soul from perishing of boredom by supplying those tasks, to begin with.
And yet, despite her intelligence and understanding, despite full agreement with whatever plan Sun Soul outlined to them, Janunir could never quite stick to said plan. She was too spontaneous, too impatient, too straight-forward to wait for everything she knew was important to pan out in its slow and deliberate way. She was a liability to Sun Soul, and this time even she had to admit it.
Kjolir, however, was an asset-- quick-thinking, clever, patient, and as careful and methodical as Janunir was spontaneous and rushed-- and he was about to prove it once more. He snaked his head up from where it had been nestled between Sun Soul's hunched shoulders, out of the way of the wind, and laid it on her shoulder. "We need them to think Janunir killed you," he hissed. "That she is not working for you but against you, and that you are as much a victim as that lizard-brat she did away with."
"You think I don't know that?" Sun Soul growled through gritted teeth. "If you've got an idea, please, share it."
"Some beast with coloring similar to yours," Kjolir suggested; she currently had her fur dyed a less memorable sandy brown, so it shouldn't have been difficult. "Give it your clothes and have Janunir maul it up enough, and no one will be able to tell it isn't you. Kill the mount, make sure they see Janunir munching on it, and perhaps this can be made to work, as well."
"I'd thought of that, but we'd have to catch one," Sun Soul said tightly. "I don't think we have time."
Kjolir thought fast. "I might be able to fly to bring one down, myself."
"And get it back here?"
"You may have to come to me. I think it's the only option we have."
Sun Soul didn't think for much longer. "Do it."
Satisfied that at least he was proving his willingness to be useful, well above Janunir's blundering, Kjolir unwound himself from his bond's waist and opened his wings. The wind from the speed they were traveling caught in them and lofted him up. He was a much better flier than Janunir, being so much smaller and with so many less limbs to coordinate, but he was still very young, and it helped to have something to get him going. He couldn't take off well if he had prey to deal with, and his lack of limbs would make hunting harder. Still, he was confident. Even if he didn't succeed, he expected Sun Soul would forgive him, and still think all the better of him, because he'd tried.
He needn't have worried about that, in the end. Finding a beast of the appropriate size and color was simple-- most creatures in this dry place were of the appropriate color-- though he did have to fly quite a ways, actually off the black sands. Killing it was even simpler: a sting from the end of his tail immobilized it, giving him the chance to tear out its throat at his leisure. He didn't take long at it, though; Janunir would be much more effective at mauling the body beyond recognition, and they might not have much time, anyway.
Lifting the thing, though... that was the catch. He wound up dragging it, flutteringly and painstakingly slowly, to the edge of the black sand and waiting there, a beacon for Sun Soul to aim for; though they weren't very good at verbal communication over their bonds, they could all tell where the others were and glean some sense of what they were doing, feeling, and sometimes seeing. He just hoped she wasn't overtaken already... but no, he would have felt that.
Aha, there she was, and no pursuit yet in sight.
"You did it!" she hollered, sounding surprised.
"You doubted?" he purred as the khanryss stumbled to a halt. Sun Soul smiled at him fiercely, swinging off her mount, which, after so much running in the dreadful heat, merely hung its head and panted, not showing even a hint of its previous few of Janunir, despite her being nearly as large as it was.
"Janu," Sun Soul said, hurriedly stripping off her clothing, "we're going to dress this-- whatever the hell it is; an elkariin? They have those out here? Anyway, we're dressing this up as me. You get to tear it up so much that it could be mistaken for me. Then, once the tribe has seen you with it, we get gone."
"Clever plan," Janunir agreed, though the two heads that weren't speaking both had their mouths open, panting in an attempt to catch her breath.
"We need the tail off, the head off, hind feet off... body nicely mauled up...." Sun Soul paused to tug her pants onto the dead creature's spindly legs.
"Torn limb from limb might be useful," Kjolir put in smugly. Janunir snapped in his general direction with one head, but as soon as Sun Soul had the tunic over the animal's head, she fell on it with a will. Even the exhausted khanryss shifted uncomfortably at the attack, tossing its be-horned head.
"You're next," Sun Soul grumbled at it, shoving it away from where it tried to bite her bare shoulder. She sighed in the direction of the camp they'd long left behind. "Zu's going to be furious; we left behind my persona's entire inventory."
"Maybe it will make the tribe less angry about not being able to kill you, themselves," Kjolir suggested. Sun Soul just snorted, not mollified, and Kjolir didn't try again.
By the time the sahganti caught up to them, everything was arranged to look like Janunir had brought down the khanryss at a run, chased Sun Soul down on foot, and then killed her in a spectacularly messy fashion. The blood didn't fall in precisely the right way-- the elkariin had been dead for too long-- and Sun Soul said that she hoped no one would think to cast any divination or time spells, but all in all Kjolir was pleased with the sight the sahganti stumbled across. Janunir looked up from the elkariin body with her body language convincingly startled, and then Sun Soul, who was hiding behind the fallen khanryss with Kjolir, activated her teleport coin and they all vanished.
Then Kjolir got to sit back in the set of rooms the three of them shared and listen to Sun Soul shout at Janunir. He, one of the simplest types of Beast, one of the lowest ranks, had been useful, helpful, and likely to get a commendation for quick thinking... and she, the higher-ranked, an imperial no less, was being rebuked for not only being useless, but being a hindrance.
He was one more step closer to being recognized for what he could be, and not what he had hatched as, and ah, that was sweet....