November 11th, 1954
Malstefin was in his work room, looking over the numbers and reports Giemm had brought him at sundown. The Demon scratched the base of his right horn, giving a disapproving rumble. It was going to be a long winter. He glanced toward the window at the sound of a few Warmonger growls from the courtyard, wondering how many of his underlings would starve before Spring.
There was a knock at the door.
“Intran,” the Demon called.
Giemm trotted in, his talons clicking on the stone.
“This is non buevo,” said the Demon, gesturing at the reports and ledgers. “Find us some easy-pickings Luminari, and soon. Our stores are not as big as they should be, and the air is getting colder every day.”
“I will keep looking, senierro,” Giemm assured him, “But just now, there’s a more pressing issue.”
“What?” growled Malstefin, as he brooded over the impending winter.
“There is someone at the gate. He go won’t away.”
“He claims he is a hunter, that he can capture or kill anyone you want.”
Malstefin nose flared with a skeptical snort, and he pushed the papers into a stack on the corner of the table.
“Fine.” The Demon rose from the table. “I will see what he wants.” He followed Giemm out of the room. As they trudged the corridors out of the keep, Malstefin asked, “Did you eat when you woke?”
“No, senierro. I have only been eating once a night, to conserve for the long winter months.”
“Come to me after I have dealt with this hunter,” the Demon replied. “I will feed you. You know it displeases me for you to be hungry.”
Giemm nodded, and did not protest.
The two crossed the courtyard, and Malstefin glanced at the Lakvos skittering about, yelping and bickering with each other over the scraps the Warmongers had left. When they approached the gate, Malstefin caught sight of the visitor.
He was hardly a man, looking no more than a seventeen. He was scrawny, with lanky limbs, and Malstefin guessed he would see ribs if he hoisted the young man’s patched black shirt. He came to stand on the other side of the bars from the boy, and the visitor looked up at him with defiant brown eyes.
“Koen sen eler?” Malstefin asked, and the young man’s brow furrowed as he glanced to Giemm.
“He speaks Muldein, senierro,” Giemm explained.
“Ko vel sein?” Malstefin amended. “Who are you?”
“Name’s Falient,” the young man replied, trying to puff himself up as big as he could, although he was almost two feet shorter than Malstefin. “I’ve got something to offer you.”
“What’s that?” Malstefin replied, unable to keep from smirking a bit at the boy’s ridiculous confidence.
“Me,” Falient replied, “I’m the best hunter there is. I can catch or kill anybody you could possibly want. Surely a fellow like you’s got some enemies.”
Malstefin eyed him a moment, then said, “What are you exactly? You smell funny.”
“Smells like Light blood,” Giemm noted.
“I’m a Demon,” Falient replied, and several of the Warmonger guards laughed. “I think you know my mother, Velserka. Father was a Sinvator named Tiermond.”
“A half breed,” Malstefin remarked, looking him up and down. “I did not know they were successful in any of Mortherik’s breeding experiments.”
“You’re looking at the one and only success,” Falient replied.
“Fine. We will go and talk some business,” said Malstefin. He nodded to Giemm. “Let him in.”
Giemm unhooked the ring of keys from the scarf tied around his waist, and unlocked the gate. Falient barged in and started across the courtyard.
“Wait here,” Malstefin told Giemm. “I don’t expect we’ll be long.”
Malstefin caught up to the young man with only a few strides, and led him into the keep. Falient trotted easily at his side, and Malstefin could not decide if his ease were youthful arrogance, or if there was some unseen power in the boy that gave him reason to be so cocky. The Demon led his visitor to a meeting room on the second floor, then went to sprawl in the chair at the head of the table.
“Very well,” he said, crossing his huge red feet on the table. “Let’s talk, Demon to Demon. Why don’t you shift into your Demon shape so we both know who we are dealing with?”
“I don’t have one,” the boy said. He shrugged. “What you see is what I am.”
“What?” scoffed Malstefin. He waved a hand to encompass all of the young man. “How are you still alive? I have eaten things bigger than you.”
Falient put his hands on the table and leaned on it, replying, “I’m good at my job. I might not be big, but I can take care of myself.”
The Demon snorted and rolled his one remaining eye.
“There’s bound to be somebody you hate,” Falient insisted. “Who do you want to see on that torture table out in your courtyard?”
“Noticed that did you?”
“I’m good with a knife,” Falient said. “You could watch.”
Malstefin leaned back in his chair, and took in the young man. Falient didn’t look much like Velserka, but he had her swagger. He was a bony thing, and Malstefin could see the edges of a large scar through the front laces of his shirt. He wore his dark brown hair in a ponytail pulled to one side over his shoulder, and had a belt around his waist that was almost too big. On it was a holster, carrying a pistol with a fine wooden grip and brass fittings.
“You please me,” Malstefin said after a moment. “You have a lot of nerve strutting in here. Not many people can keep up that cockiness around me. I’ll tell you what,” he took his feet off the table and folded his arms on it instead, leaning forward to match the young man, “I will give you a job. There is a Demon named Levyra. You can find her at Ovcranoth, up in Ohio. Years ago, she betrayed me to another Demon, and I lost everything. I would like to make her death last for days. Bring her to me, and I will you give you whatever food, weapon, or other supplies you want.”
“You got yourself a deal.”
“Excellent.” Malstefin nodded. “I will show you back to the gate.”
The two wandered back through the castle. Falient’s worn shoes were silent on the stone floor, passing over the last chips of red paint as if he were nothing more than smoke. They crossed the courtyard and Giemm opened the gate for the young man.
“I don’t know how long it will take,” Falient said as he left, “But I will be back, hopefully in a matter of weeks.”
Malstefin nodded and shut the gate behind him. Giemm gave him a curious look. Malstefin turned for the stairs, taking them up to the ramparts, where he leaned between the crenellations to watch the boy wander back down the road. Giemm came to stand next to him, the stale wind ruffling his charcoal feathers.
“We won’t have to worry about him anymore,” Malstefin said.
“Why?” Giemm asked, cocking his head.
“I sent him after Levyra.”
The two exchanged a glance, then their cackling laughter echoed out of Kotelgrym at Falient’s back.
December 6th, 1954 • Kotelgrym
Malstefin sat in the great hall, near the one fire still burning. He was in his human shape, wrapped in a thick, tattered suede coat, a few of his own magical flames lapping around him for warmth. One of the hall’s doors creaked open, and he heard the clicking steps of Giemm.
“Senierro, you are not going to believe this,” said the Runner.
“Don’t tell me Jana’s party has come back empty-handed,” growled the Demon, glaring into the fire.
“No, senierro. Falient is back.”
“Who?” Malstefin’s impatient eye scowled over his shoulder toward the door.
“Velserka’s string of a boy.”
Malstefin growled. “Come back to beg, has he?”
“No, senierro.” Giemm paused, his taloned hands working over each other. “He has Levyra.”
“She is alive, tied up, stumbling on a lead line behind him.”
“You are shitting on my feet,” Malstefin scoffed.
“No, senierro, it is her. Come and see.”
Malstefin waved a hand at the fire, snuffing it out to conserve fuel, and followed the Runner out.
“What did you promise him, senierro?” inquired Giemm as they walked.
“I told him I’d give him whatever supplies he wanted.”
“We cannot afford this, senierro. Shokereth has bled this area dry. We can barely feed ourselves for the winter–”
“If he has brought Levyra for my vengeance, we will make do.”
“I am not a miracle worker, senierro!” Giemm hissed, lowering his voice as they approached a few guards at the end of the hallway. “We can’t–”
“If he did what he said he would, we must pay him. I am only as good as the reputation I have left. We cannot let word get out I can’t even pay this beanstalk upstart. It is only fear keeping us safe these days, and only my ability to make good deals that keeps us from starving. We will pay this boy.” As they passed into the courtyard Malstefin said, “Tell Mortherik he needs to pay his rent soon, and make a list of the unhealthiest soldiers, in case we grow desperate later.”
Giemm nodded, and the two fell silent as they reached the gate. Sure enough, Falient stood there, proud as a rooster, towing a battered Levyra behind him. She was gagged, but her white eyes glowered at the boy’s back. As Malstefin approached, her eyes widened in a satisfying look of terror.
“Well done,” the Demon told the young hunter. “I have to admit, I did not think I would see you again. I am impressed.”
“Good. Then you won’t mind letting me resupply in your storehouse.”
“I could use a good gun like you,” Malstefin remarked. “Stay, work for me. I will pay you well.”
Giemm’s brown eyes snapped at his employer, but he said nothing.
“I have no master,” said Falient. “The road is my home. I’ll just take what I’m owed and be on my way.”
“Giemm will show you to the storehouse. You may take whatever you can carry.”
Falient nodded and passed Malstefin Levyra’s leadline. Giemm motioned him toward the nearest storehouse, and Malstefin led his prisoner toward the black table in the center of the courtyard.