How Not to Poach a Unicorn

Interlude 2

Syd felt empty.

Days ago, he had been a feared sorcerer. Now he couldn’t even remember why he had wanted to be. He remembered the feelings of glory and power, but he couldn’t figure why he had possessed the ambition to seek those things.

Rationally speaking, he knew what had happened. His familiar had been killed. He remembered that clearly. He had a crystal-clear recollection of the last moments of his other life, as a shadow descended upon his other half from above, throttled him and bit him clean in half. He had lived long enough to feel the molars bite down and crack his skull. That memory would probably haunt his dreams for the rest of his remaining life. The knowledge, however, still did not do anything to fill the hole that had been left. The hole which he was now trying to fill with liquor.

He had woken up after that horrible fight in the most insulting place possible, in a bed next to his hated enemy, Pragmethion. Those he was trying to destroy the night before had spared his life and laid him next to a man he wanted dead. Or a man he had wanted dead. He knew that he should have been bothered by it, but he couldn’t rally the gusto to be hateful. It was a part of him that seemed to have left.

The wolf king and a dark-skinned girl had interrogated him about who had hired him and then as they were discussing what to do with him and his broken soul, Pragmethion had told them to let him go. That was the sort of slight that Syd should have spent the next decade plotting revenge for, but that part of him was gone. He couldn’t even remember what had made him start hating Pragmethion in the first place. He just shuffled off to the bar and started to drown the memories of his terrible actions of the past.

That was where he stayed. He spent the better part of three days watching bottles drain in front of him. Still he felt no better except for the slight comfort that the company of the equally empty bottles at his side offered.

He must have passed out for a time. When he stirred, the bar was unusually quiet. He looked around blearily to see that there was only one table full. A rather odd gallery of rogues were sitting at it. There was a man wearing a Haelian dress uniform with an ornate metal pauldron covering his far shoulder, which from Syd’s angle appeared to be quite missing. Next to that man was a gorgeous and noble-looking woman stroking an enormous black cat. A second look noted huge paws and made Syd think that it wasn’t a large cat, but rather a small panther.

Sitting quite properly across from them, back straight, left leg crossed over the right, sipping tea, was a pale man whose age was hard to figure. His face looked young, but his eyes too knowledgeable and his hair a pure silver. He was dressed quite oddly, with a tight black vest and comfortable black slacks with a fitted black shirt. Something about him made Syd very uncomfortable. He seemed somehow to be the definition of whatever he was rather than an example of it. It was a very unnatural feeling so he moved his gaze on quickly.

The fourth man was both the most mundane and the strangest of them. He looked to be an ordinary common man but he was dressed as an officer of reasonable station in the Ashunian army.  If he was an Ashunian officer, he was hundreds of leagues from anywhere he should be and he was quite definitely serving the others tea.

As he was trying to figure the group out, he tasted it. There was magic. A lot of magic. The undeniable sound of velvet and a taste like a mountain horn washed over him. He turned to ask the barkeep who they were only to find that the portly man he’d come to know had been replaced with a huge and ancient-looking stone statue with gleaming silver arms.

As Syd stared dumfounded at the statue, the silver-haired man glided over to him and spoke into his ear with infinite malice. “I heard that you had a bit of a tussle with a wolf and a princess. You wouldn’t know where they might have gone, would you?”

As Syd went pale, the statue smiled menacingly and proffered a bottle of whisky and in a voice like an avalanche asked, “Another round?”

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