Hatchet couldn't sleep. His room in the Ivory Tower's barracks didn't have a window, so it wasn't the sunlight that kept him awake. It wasn't the hour of the day, either. He'd been on the nightwatch for so long day was night for him. It wasn't the activity of other watchmen that kept him up, either. Day shift and night shift were deliberately housed in different buildings to keep them from disturbing one another. It wasn't the soreness in his arm and shoulder, though it was still bothering him. It might have been that questionable bowl of slop the cooks had served up as "dinner". And he didn't add those mental quotations because most people would have considered the meal breakfast. But, no, if he was being honest it wasn't that either.
Hatchet couldn't sleep because every time he closed his eyes he saw the thing that had attacked Byrd. Sometimes, when he opened them again, he still saw it - clinging to a shadowed wall, or lurking in the darkness with eyes glowing green. Sometimes he thought he heard that chittering hiss, just at the edge of hearing. He sat up in bed and rubbed at his face. He should have been asleep hours ago, or at least it felt like he should have been. And he was nowhere close. He certainly wasn't doing anybody any good here. He got up and got dressed.
The Tower's infirmary was moderately sized, just large enough to provide basic service the garrison. The Tower's physician, whom everybody called Bones, had turned part of it into his own personal apothecary's workshop. The conversion of plants into medicines meant the place usually smelled horribly, but that was fine with Bones. The smell meant only those who were truly ill tended to visit, and it wasn't as if he was kept busy around the clock with injured watchmen, anyway. The worst injuries the Watch had to deal with on a regular basis were bumps and bruises from breaking up bar brawls, a few lacerations if a suspect got uppity with a blade, or maybe a broken bone (accidents did happen). For illness they could usually be given some medicinal concoction or another and sent back to their beds. So it was no surprise that the place was mostly empty when Hatchet arrived.
"Oi!" He called out, hoping to garner some attention. "Bonesy, where are ya?" There was no immediate answer. Hatchet stood, silently waiting. He found himself noticing each shadow in the room, and was surprised at how many there seemed to be. The door to Bones' apothecary lab swung open, releasing a whoosh of foul smelling air into the rest of the infirmary. Bones appeared in the midst of it, heavy leather apron wrapped around his frame. Hatchet blanched, trying to inconspicuously hold his breath until the door swung closed again.
"Hatchet," Bones greeted him with a friendly smile. "Isn't it a little late for you to be up and about? Or is that why you're here?"
"I was hoping for a bit of something to help me sleep," he admitted. "Thought I'd check in on Byrd while I was here, too. How is he?"
"He's healin' up." Bones removed his apron, hanging the ancient garment on a hook by the door. "Looks like the spells are taking well. I've got him slathered in ointment and swathed in bandages to boot. Looks like a godsdamned mummy! Ha!" Bones slapped his stomach in amusement and shook his head. "Come on then. If he's awake you can talk at him."
He led Hatchet into the back of the infirmary, where the beds were. They was one main room that housed most of them in barracks fashion. The room was empty, as it generally was. Off of the main room were a number of smaller rooms, with just a couple of beds each, where Bones liked to keep convalescing patients. As Byrd was the only patient required to stay at the moment, he had his own room. It turned out he was still asleep when they arrived. Bones fussed quietly over the bandages for a moment, making certain none of them needed changing and that none of the wounds had started bleeding again. When he was done, he tossed his head at the door.
"Something I've been meaning to ask you," the physician said once they were out of the room. He closed the door gently behind him. "Cap'n says you didn't get a good look at what did that to Byrd." He paused, giving Hatchet a chance to speak. "Well, I'd like to ask you again," he said when the watchman didn't speak up. "You must've seen something. I looked over the woman who was killed, and some of the other bodies they brought in. All the same. But the wounds... there aren't any bites. Just claws. And the pattern is odd." He peered at Hatchet, waiting for answers.
"Byrd probably got a better look than I did," he deflected.
"Yeah, well, that's the thing. He says he was so scared shitless he can't remember much. Just a big dark blur, all legs and claws. And green eyes... says he remembers those real clear." There must have been something on Hatchet's face, because Bones gave him an odd look and said, "Humph. Well then... you know what he's talking about, don't you? So what was it?"
"I..." Hatchet swallowed, mouth suddenly dry as he remembered staring at the thing the constantly shifting shadow, the animal without a firm body. "Gods, Bonesy. It was weird. I thought I must've been seeing things. Hell, maybe I was. Maybe Byrd was too. But... I don't think it was an animal."
"No?" Bones raised an eyebrow. His forehead wrinkled in concern as Hatchet's eyes darted around the room, lingering suspiciously on errant shadows.
"You couldn't look right at it," he explained. "It just kept... twisting out of shape. Like smoke. Made your eyes want to look somewhere else. It gave me a headache. But the eyes stayed put. Green ones, just like Byrd said. Glowing."
"A demon?" Bones raised both eyebrows now, eyes widening in surprise.
"A what? No, don't be... um." Hatchet frowned. Well, why couldn't it have been a demon? They were terror of stories long past, dark beings from beyond the mortal real that had actually existed to torment the world and do battle with the forces of good. There were historical accounts, and even laws governing how to punish wizards who summoned them. But the Watch hadn't had to deal with one since very near their founding. To hear of a credible instance these days was something that just didn't happen. "It couldn't be," he said. "Could it?"
"People these days," Bones scoffed. "You know my great great grandfather fought the demon Omerin with the Clerics of Daistrom? Don't you tell me it couldn't be. I've still got one of the thing's claws as a family trophy. Just 'cause we haven't seen one in my lifetime doesn't mean they aren't still out there."
"Thanks, Bonesy," Hatchet said dryly. "That'll really help put me to sleep."
"Heh. You and Byrd actually seen a demon, falling asleep is the least of your worries. Still, let's get you some herbal tea." He led Hatchet back to the front of the infirmary, where he rummaged around in his apothecary lab for a time. "How's the arm?" He asked when he finally emerged. He handed a small bag of tea to Hatchet.
"Still sore," the watchman admitted.
"Take some of this too, then." The physician pushed a small vial of liquid into his hand. "Brew up that tea, have some of that painkiller, and if you still can't sleep just come on back here. I'll hit you over the head with a club." He laughed to himself, but Hatchet had the sneaking suspicion he might not be joking.
"Thanks, Bonesy." Hatchet left, and Bones kept the smile on his face until he was out of sight. Then the smile rapidly rotated into a deep frown. Demons, was it? And after what had happened at the temple? Not good. Not good at all.
The voice tended to be silent during the day. He was grateful for that. He liked to think it gave him some measure of privacy. Whether or not that was true... he shrugged mentally. A moment later, with just the tiniest smile, he made the gesture physical. Nobody noticed or cared. He sat in the common room of a combination tavern and inn, where he'd paid in full to stay for a week. He was fuzzy as to where the coin had come from. He didn't remember having it on him, yet when he'd gotten here the weight of it had been in his coat pocket. Of course, there was a lot he was still fuzzy on. Moments of awareness seemed to come in bits and pieces, here and there with little rhyme or reason. Perhaps, later, he wouldn't even remember being here, thinking these thoughts. The notion erased the tiny smile, and he went back to looking mildly annoyed.
The place was called, amusingly, The Barrel. It functioned well for what it was. The common room took up the entire first floor, minus store rooms. A bar was tucked into one corner, running alongside half the west wall. The two serving girls went to and fro, carrying orders to tables or bringing back empty dishes, dodging overly amorous patrons all the while. Above were the rooms customers could pay to stay in.You had to pay extra to get one to yourself, which is exactly what he'd done. The proprietor had looked at him oddly, but took the money and showed the room without comment.
Now he sat in the common room, watching the patrons and thinking. It tickled his memory, this place. It felt... familiar. The rickety tables, the stench of alcohol and body odor, even the dirty floor. As usual, he got no farther than that fleeting feeling. It irked him. One of the girls approached the table he occupied. She looked nervous. He knew what she wanted. Or, rather, what her employer wanted. He'd been here for hours and had ordered nothing. He looked over at the proprietor, standing there behind the bar and trying not to look like he was watching."What?" he asked as the girl drew near. She glanced at her boss. The man pretended not to notice.
"Would you like something to drink, sir? Or something to eat? You haven't had breakfast, and... I thought..." She trailed off. He looked her over. She was young. Younger than the other girl, anyway. The two might have been sisters, to judge by their unique looks. She had curly black hair and an olive complexion. It was obvious she wasn't native. Probably the child of a trader who'd settled in the city.
"Go away," he told her. He wasn't mean about it. His tone was level, his expression neutral. The summary dismissal seemed to take her by surprise. Some of her nervousness disappeared. Here was not a man who was interested in propositioning her. Or, apparently, in getting fall down drunk. That combination was unusual in this part of town.
"You don't want anything?" she asked, tilting her head slightly.
"Nothing at all?" It was more a statement than a question, her parroting his opinion back at him. He frowned at her. She shrugged. "Well... OK. But if you want anything, just let me know. My name is Daine." She smiled at him. He continued to frown as she withdrew, giving a small shrug to the proprietor.
For some reason he couldn't identify the brief conversation left him feeling more disgruntled than usual. The shadows that haunted the corners of the room drew as close as they dared in response. Not caring for their company he exiled them back to whence they'd come with a barely audible growl. He found himself watching not the patrons now, but the girl who'd approached him. When she noticed, she smiled again and raised her eyebrows in question. He looked away. Exasperated as much by his own behavior as anything else, he stood and left The Barrel.
On the street, the sun was bright and warm. Moisture steamed from the ground, threatening to make the day muggy. Despite the early hour, people bustled up and down the street. He took a deep breath... and smelled the foul stench of a city racing to industrialization. Magic was a powerful and reliable source of energy, but to harness it you needed magicians. Not only were they getting scarce, they were expensive. So they were burning coal instead. For a moment, his angst had a focus.
He realized his thoughts were echoing the voice. Hatred for technology, longing for the old ways... If only they knew what harm they brought upon themselves. The spoiling of the air was but a symptom of a larger illness. It made him remember something. The voice, speaking to him. Not now, but back then... back when it had first started...
A small sacrifice, a small price to pay. You will be my champion. Together, we will turn back their doom...
"For their own good," he said softly. He wished the rain would come back as he squinted at the city's skyline. There, in the distance, a white tower rose above the rooftops. On an impulse, he started walking towards it. If he couldn't sleep he could at least get to know the city better. He had the feeling it would come in handy to know all the side streets and back alleys. "Come along," he said to no one in particular.