A few rays of morning light fell on her face and Selissa reluctantly returned to the land of the conscious, just to immediately regret this development once she became aware of the violent pounding in her head.
Some distant part of her mind noted that she usually slept in a windowless room. She reluctantly opened an eye, fearing what she might see.
The goat staring at her wasn’t the weirdest thing she had ever woken up to, and judging from the look on the goat’s face, an unconscious mercenary wouldn’t have attracted much interest if she hadn’t been laying in its feeding trough.
“I’m never drinking again,” Selissa groaned as she pushed the goat away and gracelessly dragged herself out of her makeshift bed. She wasn’t exactly sure how she had ended up in the stable, but at least it beat passing out in the snow and waking up after losing a couple of toes to frostbite.
The goat was still staring at her, its strange slitted eyes unblinking.
“Don’t judge me,” she told it sullenly.
Her head was killing her and her memories of the previous night were fuzzy at best, but she was pretty sure she hadn’t achieved much in the way of information gathering. Unless you counted the fact that some of the mousy little mage researchers were far better at handling their booze than she would have given them credit for . . .
The last thing she remembered was challenging the Professor of Archaic Artifacts to a drinking match, and while she would already have been pretty inebriated before suggesting such a thing, she had clearly underestimated the spindly, bespectacled mage.
‘You also tried to pick a fight with a hat stand later,’ Cadeyrn informed her helpfully.
“Shut. Up,” Selissa said. The hangover was bad enough; she didn’t need the voices in her head right now.
Fighting the urge to stay on the nice cold floor, Selissa decided she better get moving before the owner of the stable showed up to chase her out with a pitchfork.
It wouldn’t have been the first time.
Nadia’s shoulders slumped and her voice was quieter when she answered, “I don’t know. They came searching for him. They weren’t interested in me.”
She fell quiet and Selissa had no idea what to say. Nothing she could think of seemed like it would be of any comfort. Luckily, Ardeth cared very little for sensibility and broke the silence.
“Either way, he’s probably long dead by now.”
“Look around,” Orrell said. “He’s usually here somewhere.”
The room appeared deserted, but there was no telling what might hide behind the heaps of rubbish balanced on every surface. Selissa walked past a pile of old laundry on the floor and, on second thought, gave it a prod with her foot.
“Sod off!” it yelled angrily.
“I think I found him,” she called to Orrell.
The pile squirmed angrily and a head poked out from between the folds of the dirty clothes. It was small, scarred, blind in one eye, and probably human, but Selissa didn’t want to jump to conclusions.
“What’s ya deal, ya great big lout, kicking sleeping people in their own home?” it said, untangling a set of scrawny arms from somewhere inside its robes. Selissa watched in fascination.
“You the alchemist?” she asked.
More squirming, and a pair of legs in crumbled breeches appeared. “‘Course I’m the alchemist, ya idiot. Who else would I be?”
Her first thought was ‘leprechaun’, but Selissa wisely kept that to herself.
“Get up, Ebeus, you old kook,” Orrell said gruffly. “We need your help.”
“What’s so important that ya burst in here at the crack of dawn?” the alchemist said, getting to his feet. Considering he wasn’t that much taller standing up, he might have saved himself the struggle.
“It’s nearly dinner time,” Selissa said, slightly puzzled.
“What’s ya rambling about, woman?” the man – Selissa was now pretty sure that it was, in fact, a man – said irritably.
“Don’t even bother,” Orrell said tiredly. “All the fumes have melted his brain. I would be surprised if he knew what year it is. Hey, Ebeus—” he tapped the alchemist, who had wandered over to a table to inspect something simmering in a flagon, on the shoulder “—pay attention. We need you to identify some powder for us.”
The stuff in the flagon made a loud hissing sound as it bubbled, and Selissa politely took a step back.
“What powder?” Ebeus said distractedly, grabbing something from the vast pile of rubbish on the table and adding it to the flagon.
“This powder,” Selissa said. She put the pouch down on the table, then hastily retreated as the mixture in the flagon released a puff of steam.
“We think it’s some kind of explosive chemical,” Orrell said, watching the alchemist dispassionately. “How long do you need to figure it out?”
Ebeus opened the pouch and held it up to his good eye for inspection.
“Three days,” he said brusquely, then went back to his potion.
Orrell bristled. “Three days? Half the city might be blown to pieces by that time! Can’t you do it faster?”
Ebeus glared at him as only a man with one eye can glare. “When I say three days, I mean three days, ya pansy! Ya just earned yourself the honor of paying an extra fee.”
Selissa grabbed Orrell’s arm before the captain could strangle the smaller man.
“It’s fine,” she said. “We’ll just have to make do.”
Orrell clearly wasn’t happy about it, but he let the matter drop, even though he continued to glare at Ebeus as if he wanted to give him a good kick.
“Anything you can tell us about the substance without testing it?” he asked through gritted teeth.
“Smells explosive,” the alchemist said simply, not looking up from his work.
“We already told you it’s an explosive!” Orrell said, clearly about to lose his temper again.
“Good for ya!” Ebeus said sarcastically. “Since yar so smart, there’s no reason to stick around, is there?”
He began hustling them toward the door with surprising ferocity, ignoring Orrell’s spluttered protests. Opening the screeching door, Ebeus quite literally kicked them out of the shop.
“But—” Orrell started.
Ebeus wasn’t listening. “See ya in three days, ya bastards!” he said and slammed the door in their faces.
Selissa blinked at the closed door, before turning to Orrell.
“I sort of like him.”
Orrell’s office was located in what Selissa had privately named ‘the Barracks’. The buildings carried absolutely no resemblance to your typical military facility as they were as grand and luxurious as any other building frequented by Var’nori’s mages, but since they were home to the city’s battlemages and contained sparring yards and other areas dedicated to physical training, Selissa could overlook the shiny walls and the lack of dried blood and sweat on the floorboards.
Selissa acknowledged Kindra with a nod as she passed the young mage, then threw Orrell’s door open without knocking. Seeing as she had been with them during the fight against the Horsemen, Kindra didn’t even bat an eyelash at this scene. The first time the mercenary had barged into the office of the captain unannounced, Orrell had reacted like any good soldier and knocked her unconscious with a spell before he realized what was happening, so the only thing that really surprised the mages in the Barracks was that Selissa kept doing it.
Selissa had no time to answer. Grabbing Rowan around the waist, she threw both of them out of the way as something came barreling past. As she tried to keep the stumbling Rowan from falling, Selissa took another look, because she couldn’t possibly have seen what she thought she had.
“Is that a Hellhound?” she muttered, but with all the screaming currently going on in the hall, her question drowned in the noise.
“What’s going on?” Rowan demanded, clinging to Selissa to keep her footing.
“I have absolutely no idea,” Selissa said honestly and pushed the other woman against the wall. “Stay here. Try not to look tasty.”
“What?!” But Selissa had already left her, dodging between the panicking guests and running toward what, undeniably, looked like a rampaging Hellhound.
Who the hell let a demon in here? Selissa thought frantically. Admittedly she didn’t have that much experience with fancy banquets, but she hadn’t expect the entertainment to be quite this unconventional.