With Coalpaw’s right to do business in the Undermarket restored, we spent several more hours meeting and speaking with various characters, each one less savoury than the other, and by the time we were finished I was exhausted. My body ached from our earlier battle with the monster and the exertions of the last few days were beginning to take their toll on me. What I wanted, more than anything, was to lounge in a hot bath, curl into bed, and just ignore the world for a decade or two. None of those were possible in the immediate future, I knew. There was no way I was going to visit a public bathhouse, certainly not while maintaining my low-born act, so a bath was out of the question, but while the bed at the Anchor was hardly comfortable it did seem extremely inviting in my mind’s eye.
Having found a fence to work with, and reassured by Coalpaw’s endorsement of him, we had handed the satchel and its precious contents over to the leering asura. The floppy-eared pirate had grinned viciously, but assured us our payment would be forthcoming the next day as he handed us what I understood to be collateral in the form of a heavy bag of coins. It was strange, not having the sword hilt with us anymore, and as we left the bustling stall I felt as though we had forgotten something with its absence.
Coalpaw, slightly cheered by the bargain and the pouch of coins at his waist, brought us to a less chaotic corner of the Undermarket. Here, he decided, we were to celebrate at long tables that had been set up, near numerous stalls that offered a variety of food. In my exhaustion, it was difficult to sort through the chaotic array of eyes there, but to my relief we chose the far end of one table, a little further from the madness than other seats. It wasn’t ideal, but it was better, and as the threat of a headache passed I realised I was ravenously hungry.
I selected, with some hesitation, strips of thoroughly cooked tuna served on a wooden plate and seasoned with freshly squeezed lemons. For further flavour, they were lathered in a delicious but hellishly spicy white sauce of mushrooms and spices that brought tears to my eyes, forcing me to awkwardly wipe them away from under my spectacles. A light, oaky ale helped wash it down, and though I’d rather have had a wine I didn’t trust the vintage of these pirates and I trusted their water even less.
“I told you earlier that The Covenant was grounded due to an accident, remember?” Coalpaw was explaining as we ate, keeping his voice low, forcing us to lean in close to hear him. “Well, that ‘accident’ was something a lot like what you two saw earlier today.”
“The creature?” Baen said, setting down her small tankard of dark beer. “You had one of those on your ship?”
“As I said before, it was little over a year ago now. We were moored off the coast, not far from here, celebrating the anniversary of our independence from Levaunt.” His lips curled into what I imagined was the charr version of a smile that came and went as his expression sobered again. “There was something on board with us that night, probably snuck on during the festivities though Foefire be damned if I know how it got to us. It slaughtered the sentries while most of us lay passed out from the drink we’d enjoyed, but I remember hearing someone scream. It’s what woke me. I was lying in a hammock on the deck when I saw it, and I damn near jumped overboard when I did.”
“You’ve really no idea what it was?” I asked.
“None.” He said. “Like you, I didn’t get a good look at it, it was… it was dark, and it moved so fast.” He shook his head back and forth, a gesture oddly human in its vulnerability. “There were bodies, bodies everywhere. The rest of the crew was waking up now, of course, but it didn’t matter – the thing didn’t seem too intimidated by our numbers, at least not right away.” He sighed. “What I did see, I’m not sure I can describe. But it was big, black with green parts that seemed to glow, much as you described. And it was strong.” Baen looked the charr over, and I knew she was thinking the same thing as I. His tone clearly indicated just how shaken he was at the mere memory of the thing, and something that made a powerful charr like him almost shudder was nothing to take lightly. I couldn’t blame him, having encountered it myself, but I understood his reaction was a lot more emotion ridden than ours, given that it had apparently killed off more than a few of his comrades. “We tried to fight it, of course. Our bosun, Yanna Swaedottir, was an unlikable hellion and I didn’t agree with her on much, but I have never known anyone better with a sword. She led the charge, and it tore her in half before she could land a blow. It didn’t gut her, it didn’t slice her open, it tore her in half.” He clenched his teeth at the memory. “She was norn, strong and well trained, and she didn’t so much as slow it.”
“How’d you survive?”
“I shot it.” Fotti said, her voice catching me off guard. I’d almost forgotten the asura was there at all. “Four times, in point of fact, from the upper deck. Two shots hit the torso, one glanced off what I believe to be some manner of armour on its back and the final shot hit its left shoulder.”
“Aye.” Coalpaw nodded. “Fotti’s shooting slowed it a little, or at least made it realise just how many of us were against it, and when the rest of us started laying into it with pistol and rifle fire it fled. We searched, but the creature was gone, probably went into the hold where it made that big hole you used to sneak in the other day.” He sighed. “We did what we could to patch up the ship, tend to our wounded – which included Captain Aurcattio – and barely managed to limp back into port, but since that time we’ve been landlocked.”
“We lost seventeen sailors that day.” Fotti said, glaring over the rim of her tankard. “A further three succumbed to their injuries by the time we got into port. All because of that thing.”
“Do we think it’s the same one?” I asked, and Coalpaw shook his head. “I can’t imagine there’d be many of those creatures running around without someone else having seen one.”
“No way of knowing if it’s the same one, but in both situations it seemed to be doing Levaunt’s dirty work. Or the Mis’s, assuming they’re not one and the same.”
“Where’s it been all this time then?” I said. “There’ve been no sightings of anything like this in the city since?”
“None that we’ve heard, and we’ve been paying very close attention to the sort of rumour that would lead us to it.”
“So it’s Levaunt’s pet creature.” Fotti said, a terrible smile on her face. “Or the Misericorde’s. It is entirely irrelevant to me because no matter what we are going to find it and then I am going to annihilate it.”
“With enough firepower, and a well laid plan we could do it.” Coalpaw rumbled in agreement, sharing the vicious, toothy smile with his diminutive companion. “I’m sure the captain and the rest of the crew’ll feel the same way.”
I considered it for a moment, thinking of Fotti’s heavy rifle. My pistol was powerful for its size, yes, but there was no way it could compete with something as large as the asura’s gun. A weapon of that calibre would do significantly more damage, though according to the story it had not been enough during The Covenant’s first encounter with the monster. Perhaps if it could be trapped, we could bring it down without me having to reveal my powers. I noticed Baen was looking at me, as if reading my thoughts, and I could practically hear her argument already.
Our mission was to identify The Misericorde and report back to the Order of Whispers, this creature was none of our concern and a confrontation with it seemed like an unnecessary risk.
I forced a shrug, taking another sip of my ale. “If it comes to it, I’d like a rematch myself.” I offered. “I don’t like to leave things unfinished.” Baen, I thought, was now nursing a tiny smile. “Besides, we have some time to kill while we wait for the money, right?”
“‘Atta girl.” Coalpaw grinned, his mood clearly improved, and even Fotti seemed to regard us with something warmer than her usual combination of disdain and mistrust. “Do we have any idea where to start looking?”
Baen nudged my boot under the table and I gave a tiny, almost imperceptible nod. Something no-one would assume was anything but an innocent, natural movement. “We might have a lead.” She said. “Kaede here saw Sahir.”
“Right when we saw the monster.” I finished, giving a smile of my own. “Leave this to the two of us. Go tell Tatianna what happened, Baen and I will make him talk.” Baen’s smile widened.
“We’ll make him bloody sing.”