Spy for a Demon

Chapter Nine


Sun Soul chewed on a claw as she looked over the list of possible runebrands for her two beasts. Back on the Twisted Fate-- this time with no demon in sight, thank the gods-- three years after her bonding, and it was time to give her bonds their reward for working hard at learning their respective trades. Even better, the reward was free for her, a gift of the Fate for those who happened to want to claim it.

And what a gift, too! Kjolir and Janunir had been granted permission to choose brands that gave them new abilities-- nothing pointless, useless, or wasteful, but abilities that could only help them in their lives and duties. The little charms the lab assistant had grudgingly given them were worth a lot: two black obsidian charms, two heavy gray iron charms. That was enough for four small-ability runes-- called "iron runes" to go with the charms-- two medium-ability runes-- called glass runes, the next step up-- or a large and small-ability rune each. The large-ability runes, of course, were obsidian runes. The list ran from something as simple as increasing speed and stamina to something as complex as seeing the future or survive underwater, through a fire, or in a total vacuum. Some of them she'd known of and remembered from her first stay here, when she'd researched this very perk of bonding on the Fate, but others she certainly hadn't. It had been three years, after all.

"Thoughts, you two?" she asked the beasts, who both looked on with an eagerness even Kjolir could not quite hide.

"Shape-shifting," Janunir said immediately. It wasn't a surprise; Sun Soul knew she'd been wanting a spell to give her a more human shape-- or just a more native shape-- ever since she learned it was possible. It would open up a huge realm of possibilities for her, professionally, and Sun Soul was inclined to let her have it, even if it was a major ability, taking up the entirety of the high-ranking obsidian charm. She deserved something that would make her happier than the stealth work and occasional terrorizing she was confined to now.

"Done," she nodded, and Janunir looked pleased.

It had been a long three years for Janunir. Half of one had been spent trailing after Sun Soul, being bored and ruining her own jobs. The rest of that one had been spent bouncing around from teacher to teacher until the little inuun Salyatti took her in and managed to not only deal with her without complaint, but also keep her at least a little motivated. Sun Soul suspected Janunir liked Salyatti rather more than she liked her own bond-- not that she didn't like her bond, but they didn't see a lot of each other, and Janunir was constantly jealous of Kjolir; it was simply easier to distance herself than to try and outdo the more suited beast-- but she didn't begrudge her that. Sun Soul never claimed to be easy to get along with or particularly good at mediating difficult personalities-- not unless she was acting the part, anyway. 

And after that, she'd endured two years of working at a career she was only halfway suited for and only marginally enjoyed. Worse, Zu gave her terrible assignments, and never praised her for a job well done or gave her rewards for good performances. Worse than that, Janunir had gotten even more uncomfortable in their mutual employer's company in the past year. Kjolir said it was because she had learned something she didn't like about her, but he was remarkably closed-mouthed about what that was, no matter how much Sun Soul questioned him about it.

"It isn't something you need to know," was all he said, or, "It doesn't really concern you. After all, you didn't even look too deeply into her name, did you?"

Sometimes he was an annoying little beast.

But only sometimes.

Speaking of the annoying little beast, however.... "Kjolir?"

"Even if it is rather irritating to look like I think Janunir has a good idea once in a while," he drawled, casting a side-long glance at the larger beast, "I would have to say shape-shifting, as well."

"What in the world for?" Janunir snorted. "You're perfectly happy being an invisible little snake, aren't you?"

This time the sideways glance he gave was at Sun Soul, and she coughed lightly. "There are plenty of things he could do better if he could change his shape, just as there is for you," she temporized. "He could be a more overt listener, for example, or talk to people who I would have a hard time talking to."

"Oh, I'm sure that's exactly what he was thinking," Janunir grumbled. "Spy work, uh huh. Right."

Neither one of them said anything, because of course she was right. The first thing that came to Sun Soul's mind, when it came to Kjolir in a different shape, was not the benefits to her or his career. In fact, the glance he'd given her had reminded her rather forcibly of the night before, when he'd been rather, er, attentively proving that though he was perfectly able as he was, there was much more he could do if he was given hands or skin instead of scales or a different body entirely. It was nearly enough to make her flush, right then and there, but she clamped down on the urge ruthlessly, as always. Now was not the time. 

Sun Soul knew better than to think Kjolir actually cared for her, as a person, no matter how "attentive" he was. He respected her talents and her knowledge, he fitted himself seamlessly into her career as a partner, he might even enjoy their working partnership-- but want to make her happy, just for the sake of knowing he was happy? No, of course not. She knew him well, probably better than he thought she did, and she knew he was much more likely to be trying to win her trust and make her more likely to favor him over Janunir, maybe try something new to keep her likely to want to keep up their partnership. That wasn't something she needed, because they did work well together-- and hopefully would work even better together once he didn't have to hide-- but she wasn't going to turn him down if he wanted to give her pleasure, on top of it.

Of course, his tendency to bring it up at inopportune times, like when she wanted to think straight or objectively, was irritating.

"Two shape-shifting runes, two obsidian charms," she said. "That leaves the two iron charms, enough for two of these," she pointed at the iron-ranked ability runes, "or one of these."

Two of the iron-ranked abilities would be more fair, one for each of them. Sun Soul knew that. But....

"I don't know," Janunir began thoughtfully, two of her three heads frowning, "maybe--"

"Tongues," Kjolir interrupted smoothly. "And telepathy."

"Tongues I can see," Sun Soul agreed. The ability to understand any language, no matter if you've never heard it before, if it were a technically dead language, or if it were a magical language? That was very useful for a spy. "But telepathy?"

"Imagine being able to lift secrets right out of an enemy's head," Kjolir purred, sliding over to drape a coil over her shoulders, looking at the glowing screen and its rune-ability information hungrily. Janunir snorted derisively at him-- probably thinking he was trying to seduce an agreement out of her physically-- but he ignored her, continuing, "So few of Zu's minions have that kind of talent... imagine how invaluable that would make us...."

Though Sun Soul knew he meant how invaluable it would make him, but so far they came as a pair, and unless he severed the bond himself, she could probably ride on his ability, as well. She was perfectly capable of using him, back, after all, and giving him such useful abilities guaranteed that she and he would stay at the top of Zu's spy hierarchy. That was almost worth irritating Janunir. "That's a good point," she agreed, frowning herself, now, and trying to think whether she wanted to deal with the angry beast.

"So, what, he gets three and I get one?" Janunir growled behind them.

"Is there a rune here that you particularly want?" Sun Soul asked.

"Lots of them!" Janunir spat.

"And can you pick just one?" Kjolir asked her dryly. "We don't have all the time in the world, Janunir."

"I could just eat you and take them all," Janunir threatened, and Kjolir, no idiot, coiled himself more firmly around Sun Soul, who Janunir wasn't about to try to eat and who Janunir wasn't going to try and anger. The threat of eating him was an empty one just then, and they all knew it. 

"There won't be any eating going on here," Sun Soul said wearily. "And Kjolir is right, we only have a few more minutes to make this decision. Janunir, you're getting the ability you've wanted for years, and you don't know where you'll be going with it. Trying to pick a rune without knowing whether it will be useful or not is foolish. Kjolir at least does know how each rune he wants will be useful. I think this might be more efficient."

"I knew you'd side with him," Janunir's side-head muttered.

"It's not 'siding' with anyone," Sun Soul told her sternly. "It's a better use of resources."

"All right, fine," Janunir growled.

It didn't help Janunir's temperament that Kjolir looked far too smug about the whole thing. Annoying beast.


Chapter Eight - Chapter Ten



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