Spy for a Demon
Janunir paced restlessly across the room, left alone by bond and
worm-like "partner-bond" and banished by employer and mentor for the
day, with her thoughts seething and tumbling around in her head. She was too
agitated to keep to her smaller form-- she hated being so tiny, anyway, and only
used it when absolutely necessary-- and needed the vaulted space, small though
it was to someone her size, to move around in and get some energy out. Otherwise
she might wind up setting fire to something out of sheer need to do something.
Surely she hadn't seen what she'd just seen. Maybe she'd been hallucinating, or just confused, or maybe it had been an illusion engendered by that beast in another attempt to subsume her own will under her employer's. Make her seem more familiar than she was, more like her. As if Janunir would ever want to be anything like that creature.
If she were in a better mood, she might have admitted to the lie that was. Zu-- mysterious, nameless, even species less as far as most of her employees knew-- was everything someone like Janunir could want to be. She was powerful, she was respected, she was feared, and she was free. Zu was beholden to no one, feared nothing, and had others to do whatever she didn't want to do, herself. Janunir envied her even as she hated her and struggled to resist the horrible compulsion to do what she said-- struggled and failed, time and again, today like every other.
Only not quite every other.
Janunir and her mentor, a very short, birdishly delicate inuun named Salyatti, had gone to Zu to first prove that Janunir was ready for more intricate missions, and second to pick up a new one of said missions. Finally mastering her singular shape-shift was the last obstacle in becoming a professional saboteur, making it possible to take different-- and more effective-- tasks.
It wasn't as if Janunir was entirely happy with her new career. It was more interesting than Sun Soul's work-- certainly more interesting than tagging along while Sun Soul worked-- but it still required planning, and waiting. But what else could she do? There wasn't enough call for straight-out terrorizing, destruction, and intimidation, which she would have preferred-- and which she made herself available for whenever she caught wind of it; her mentor kindly even kept an ear to the ground for her-- and acting the bodyguard or debt collector required a human guise, which Janunir did not have naturally and which Zu refused to pay to grant her by magic. She didn't have the temperament for an assassin, whether she liked the idea of killing or not, and no desire to go through any conditioning to change her temperament.
So sabotage it was. It wasn't boring-- most of the time-- and required a certain creativity, but it also required so much knowledge that it felt like she was drowning under books and diagrams and schematics half the time. She didn't mind the knowing how things worked and all, but it was so dull learning it all! It would be so much simpler to just bash the damn things-- which more often than not she had to resort to, anyway-- than to find one tiny bit inside the clockwork to break or insert a little bit of charmed thread at just the right place to disrupt magical components. And worst of all, it required waiting, while someone else opened a path for her to slip in and do her thing, which she hated.
"You'll earn yourself that spell for shape-changing soon enough," her mentor Salyatti assured her whenever she got frustrated. He seemed impossibly unruffleable, never got angry in answer to her own temper, and seemed to delight in ruining things. "Then you can go do something more direct."
"You're forgetting how much Zu hates me," Janunir would reply every time, bitterly.
"She rewards good work, no matter how much she dislikes you as a person," Salyatti always said, unshakable in his faith in their mutual employer. Just where he got that faith, Janunir had no idea; it wasn't as if she was a good person-- gods forbid-- and she certainly played favorites.
It was very true, though, that Zu seemed very much to hate Janunir. No matter what she did, it was never good enough. She was only even shuffled off to be apprenticed in various places until she found something she could stand because Zu valued Sun Soul, not Janunir. She'd made it perfectly clear that Janunir herself was an abomination and, worse, a failure in her eyes. And she still had that weird way of keeping her from protesting: though Janunir fought it with everything in her, every she thought she was getting better at it, Zu would just get more intense. It was horrible. She never seemed to do that to Kjolir-- though the little worm didn't ever contradict her or stand up to her, either, and Janunir did at regular intervals.
Zu had not been impressed by the shape-change-- she had, in fact, seemed disgusted by it. At Salyatti's gentle and hopeful encouragement, she had given them something to do, but only reluctantly, and even then, it was a piddly, boring something that hardly mattered at all, visiting ruin on a tiny merchant artificer somewhere on Talma. When Janunir had tried to protest, tried to get something more exciting or even more likely to matter at all, Zu had born down on her with her will and whatever that power she had was, like always.
Except this time, when she fought it and it got worse, like it always did, she saw something. Something big and fierce and looming and black, hovering over and with Zu-- like it was sharing her space even though it was so, so much larger-- and there was a flicker of black fire about her clawed feet and lashing tail that she had never seen before. Worst of all, it looked a lot like she did, except spinier and with only one head, pitch black all over. It had the same underbit jaw, the same scales and belly-plates, the same glowing red eyes. It looked, to be blunt, like the infernal part of her own heritage.
That had been enough to shake her out of resistance and make her flee at her first opportunity. Salyatti had been confused by the exchange and left her to compose herself again-- their task was unimportant, after all, and could wait-- understanding idiot that he was. She certainly wouldn't be much use on getting started on the research for it, even though she would gladly have smashed something given the chance.
She dwelled on the image she'd seen. She still didn't know why she saw such a thing. Zu was half dragon, or so the rumor was; did dragons look like infernals? Did Zu somehow think that the visage of an infernal would make her like her more, respect her more, obey her more? If so, she was very, very wrong. Did Zu think to intimidate her? Well, that wasn't working, either. Janunir just wanted to know.
She had to know. Janunir had to know what she was up against, so she could fight it, or at least understand it and not be left in this confused hole she felt she had slidden into. She would be useless until she could figure it out.
And how was she going to find out? She was going to go through that dark portal that led to Zu's private lair, that's what she was going to do. Zu had something important that she was doing, some task to oversee for the next hour or so-- she'd chased her and Salyatti away in order to do it, after all-- so now was likely to be safer than any other time.
Yes, that's exactly what she'd do. Without another thought, Janunir shifted down to the three-headed, imp-like form that Zu had been so unimpressed with-- so as to be less noticeable, given she was only two and a half feet high in that form compared to her seven feet normally-- and hurried out of her rooms. Sun Soul had warned her to avoid that part of the complex, and so far she had, but she remembered exactly where it was.
Surely down there she would find some kind of answer.