It’s irritating. Even after seven hundred and eighty-seven years on this planet, I still can’t seem to improve at all.
Today, for instance, I stood there in front of him, with Serpent’s Grace around my arm and every sense concentrated on watching his every move — and I didn’t even realize that he was carrying his weapon until he drew it. No, even worse than that, I had specifically noted that he wasn’t carrying it, and wondered why. I knew that Arkesis was powerful, but I had no idea that it could conceal itself from me. Another unpleasant surprise from my old mentor.
At the same time, I can’t say that I was too shocked. He was the most frightening of our select community, before the rest all disappeared. When any of us forgot our duties, and moved against the mortal world in a way that did not conform to the will of the Reaper Lords, he was the one who passed the judgement and carried out the execution. I was certain he had secrets that I would never know, until it was too late.
Zagadactulus Invodotus Gedarasus. Zedda the Inquisitor. From the day I met him, I had always feared him. I was fairly certain that if he realized my current thoughts, he would execute me immediately. And I… I didn’t want to die again.
This was not, of course, the first time someone smashed up one of my shops. It wasn’t even the first time someone shot up this particular one. I had named my bar Cymphica Atri, meaning “peaceful rest” in my native language, which of course no one could speak these days. I was, perhaps, overly optimistic when I choose the name. It seemed particularly ironic today, for all sorts of reasons.
I’m fairly certain Zedda could read the name. I wonder what he thought of it…
There was a certain amount of damage to the bar itself, mostly from when the assassin’s shield overloaded, and of course the front window was a complete loss. The bigger problem was the loss of trust I would incur from my clientele. After the altercation twenty-eight years ago, I lost most of my regular customers, and had to start over almost from scratch. The money wasn’t a problem, and it still isn’t; but I get very uncomfortable if I’m not surrounded by other living people. Those were rough years for me.
And so, I made sure to apologize to everyone as they left, after the police had finished interrogating them. Officer Jack Cross was in charge, fortunately, so everything proceeded smoothly, and no one was singled out for excessive questioning. I personally apologized to each person as they left, as well, and everyone seemed quite understanding.
Well, only the bravest souls were left by that point anyway. He has a tendency to cause the weak-hearted to flee quickly. I only wished that I had that luxury to escape as well.
Cross sent the other officers out, and met me at the door. I prepared myself to answer his questions, but surprisingly he only asked, “Is Mr. Zagadactulus still here?”
“I’m sorry, but I had him leave out the back, to prevent further incidents,” I told him. After all these centuries, I flatter myself to think that I can lie very convincingly.
It must have worked, because he simply nodded, and said, “If you happen to see him, please ask him to stop by the station to answer some questions, please.”
I frowned at him. “I don’t want to tell you “no,” Officer Cross, but please understand that Zed– Zagadactulus is a very dangerous individual, and not especially given to compromise. Please be careful not to offend him.”
Cross gave me a very profession smile, and said, “Please leave that for us to worry about, Miss Metria. Just pass the message along if you have the opportunity.”
I sighed. “If you insist, officer. Just be careful.”
“Of course. Good night, Miss Metria.” With a nod of his head, he left my store. As I watched him leave, I couldn’t help but wonder if he understood the weight of my words. Probably not; I was the sole Chosen of the Reaper Lords he had ever encountered, after all, and I was hardly representative of my kind. Especially when compared to Zedda.
With a small sigh, I locked my front door, and went to confront my old mentor once more.
A little while later, I entered my office to find Zedda sitting behind my desk. He had removed his mask, fully revealing the blackened skull beneath. Fortunately, he had left his glasses on, but the light from the screen on my desk reflected off of them, creating an effect nearly as eerie as his actual eyes. The front of his heavy black overcoat, which had been shredded by the Deathslayer rounds, had been restored. His ribcage remained destroyed beneath it, however, so it hung in a disturbingly irregular fashion on Zedda’s large frame.
In one gloved hand he held a glass of water. For whatever reason, the old undead had a habit of ordering water whenever he had to enter a bar or a restaurant; possibly, he thought holding a drink in his hand would make him stand out less. If so, it was a complete waste of effort, because it was obvious with even the slightest glance that Zedda was the very avatar of death itself.
Needless to say, I didn’t have the courage to tell him so. I doubt many would.
While wondering why he bothered bringing the glass into my office, I approached my own desk, successfully hiding my own trepidation. I opened my mouth to speak, but of course his own words arrived first.
-You sent all your minions out. I presume they are investigating on your behalf.-
I changed what I was about to say. “They are called employees, not minions, Zedda. And I sent them home.”
-The exact term is immaterial. Why are you not utilizing your resources?-
“They are only mortals, Zedda, and the attack today frightened them. Besides, they are just my staff for the bar and restaurant. I have…other methods…of gathering information these days.”
-Is that so. Then why do you maintain this…establishment? You have no need of mortal accoutrements.-
It was always hard, to face Zedda’s questions. He spoke with a unique magic, using a form of natural necromancy that I couldn’t replicate. There was an inhuman buzz beneath his words, and they never, ever, had the slightest bit of emotion attached. I have known many cold men and women, both living and dead, but compared to a single sentence from Zedda, they were paragons of warmth and emotion.
How could I explain, to this emotionless, merciless man, my desire — my need — for human contact, human support? At best, he would see it as a weakness, to be overcome and set aside. At worst? He might see it as treachery to our Lords. I had to keep him from realizing my attachment to life.
Fortunately, Zedda could be rather easily diverted. I thus played my trump card, and said, “It is something Lord Baera requires of me.”
-Ah. Well, it is of no consequence then.-
For the most part, Zedda spoke of the Reaper Lords with great respect; but when it came to Lord Baera, he seemed instantly dismissive, as though anything Lord Baera said was beneath his notice. If it was a grudge, it was absolutely the most human reaction I had ever seen from him.
More likely, though, it was a reflection of the relationship between Lord Baera and Lord Jurisanti, and the rest of the Reaper Lords. In secret, other Chosen refer to Lord Baera as “The Traitor Lord” and to those like me as “The Apostate’s Chosen.” I’ve never been able to learn the details, though, because Lord Baera won’t tell me and Zedda only refers to the matter as “meaningless.”
As a result, the friction between the Reaper Lords tended to spread to those of us who served, and Chosen of Baera were treated with a certain amount of suspicion by our brethren. As for me, the suspicion tended to be mixed with contempt as well, due to my…feminine appearance, and habits of dress. In a disturbing way, it was almost fortunate that I had been assigned to assist Zedda; he always treated me the same way he treated the rest of our brethren. And even if he treated me coldly, at least the only thing he judged was my loyalty, and not my personality.
Somehow that almost made it worse, though. Whenever he was nearby, I was always simultaneously soothed and agitated, and it took me years before I was able to hide that discomfort. Years, I was well aware, that he decided to allow me. My gratitude felt bitter.
-Enough of that. Tell me about Irine Bellvaunt.-
I nod my head, while in my heart I sigh in relief. “I’ve left her family’s information up on my screen. You probably don’t know yet, but humans have engineered a new way of exchanging infor–”
-I cannot use screens.-
I blink. “What? Why not?”
-I do not intend to explain.-
And that was that. Zedda would never willingly speak of his own weaknesses, whatever they might be. Pushing for an answer would be useless.
“…Very well. Please let me have my seat back, and I’ll print out the data. And… I’ll tell you what I know about Irene…” And try not to feel like I’m betraying her, is what I carefully did not say aloud.
-Very well.- Zedda stood and moved to one side. He gently, almost idly, shifted his hand and caused the water in his glass to spin; even this mundane action seemed to have some terrible, unknown significance when performed by Jurisanti’s greatest Chosen. Even I, his own student, had a hard time repressing a shudder.
I sat gratefully at my desk, as Zedda circled around to the other side. Feeling much more comfortable in my accustomed place, I raised my left hand to manipulate my screen. But it was at that moment that Zedda finally noticed.
-Metricarisenicai. What is wrong with your right arm?-
A/N: One of the minor themes of this story is “perspective.”
Next chapter will still be Metria’s POV, and possibly the chapter after that as well. I’m really sorry, but I just can’t get them to talk about the main plot. New elements keep adding themselves, and I have to explain at least a few of them, right? Right?