Night was fast approaching, and Noman was on his way back to the Barrel. The last rays of sunlight were quickly disappearing below the horizon, and the night was eager to take their place. But the stars and the moon didn't shine. They were obscured by dark, full clouds that had rolled in as evening fell and threatened a repeat performance of the night before.
His walk around the city had been informative. He'd learned, for example, that the spire which rose above the city was called the Ivory Tower, and that it was one of two headquarters for the city watch. It was amazing what you could learn just by listening to people talk on the street.
The Barrel was busier than when he'd left it, which came as no particular surprise given the time of day. The patrons, or at least a good portion of them, were doing their best to sing something. It was mostly unintelligible but very exuberant, and they seemed to be having a good time at it. He wound his way through the crowd, sparing a quick glance at the girl who'd spoken to him earlier. She was busy handing out more drinks, and didn't seem to notice. He continued up the stairs and onto the second floor, where he found his room cloaked in shadows. They hissed and slithered over the walls and across what could charitably be described as a bed, displeased with the light that spilled in from the hallway. He grunted, closing the door behind him. Just to annoy them, he lit a lamp and set it on the small table that, along with a chair, was the room's only other furnishing. It's bright glow sent them scattering, rushing to hide in corners or under the furniture.
He opened the window, letting the cool night breeze blow in. Thunder rumbled in the distance. He sat in the chair and looked out into the night for what seemed like forever. Finally he blinked, realizing the world had gotten fuzzy. He wondered how much time had passed.
Are you ready?
Ah... there it was. "Do I have a choice?" He asked the voice. If the words had been meant to sound spiteful they only came out sounding flat instead. The voice treated his words not as a question, but as an answer.
There's much work to do, it told him. We've made our presence felt to a degree. Tonight we drive home the fact.
Noman's hand went to his pocket, grasping the stone. There was always more work to be done...
"Hey, you're awake!" Hatchet grinned at Byrd as he entered the wounded Watchman's recovery room. "I thought for sure you'd sleep forever. How are ya?"
"Tired," Byrd replied with a wan smile of his own. "And itchy. Bones says not to scratch, though, or he'll strap me down."
"Bah," Hatchet waved away the possibility and leaned against the door frame. "He's all talk. But, ah, if he asks I never said that." Byrd chuckled and shook his head.
"At least he gives me tea," he said, nodding to a tea service that stood on a table at the side of the bed. "Flavors off, though. I think he puts something medicinal in there. Whatever it is, I think it helps the pain."
"Yeah, how is that?" Hatchet asked, a look of concern wrinkling his brow.
Byrd shrugged as much as his bandaging would allow. "Not bad, actually. Bones says I should heal pretty quickly. Guess they laid a few spells on me, but he says I'll have some nasty scars when its done anyway. But hey. It adds a certain something for the ladies, right?"
"Oh, aye," Hatchet nodded sagely. "You can wow them with your tales of daring-do, and show them the scars gallantly earned in defense of their fair city. Makes me want to go out and get a few m'self."
"I... would advise against that," Byrd winced slightly. "Thugs with knives are one thing, Hatch. But that thing last night..." his eyes lost focus for a second, and Hatchet was ready to start worrying when he shook his head and sighed. "It couldn't have been real, but it was, wasn't it?"
"Yeah," Hatchet agreed quietly. "I saw it. Hell, I shot at it. Now I see it everywhere."
"I know what you mean," Byrd said. "I see those eyes in every shadow." There was an uncomfortable silence as both men looked suspiciously around the room. "You going out tonight?" Byrd asked at last.
"Yup. They get sorta cranky when you stop doing what they pay you to do, ya know?"
"Did they get it?"
Hatchet had to shake his head. "Not for lack of trying, though. Damn thing doesn't seem to leave any tracks. We were all over the square after we brought you back but couldn't find clue one. We're on high alert tonight. If it's out there, we'll get it."
"Be careful, then. I don't know what that thing was, but something tells me it won't go down easy. And thanks for checking up on me."
"No worries, Byrd. You concentrate on healing up and leave that beastie to me. We'll be showin' off your scars to the ladies in no time, eh?"
With a nod and a grin, Hatchet left the infirmary. But as soon as he was in the hallway his smile faded. He wanted to catch whatever it was, but the thought of facing it again made his spine shiver. And what if Bonesy was right? What if it was a demon? How do you kill something like that? Well, the Watch had done it before. There were stories. With a little bit of time to kill before he went out on his rounds, Hatchet decided to go visit the Ivory Tower's libraries. Maybe there would be something useful in those old dusty records....
The essential flaw in his plan, Hatchet reflected sometime later, was the books themselves. There were a lot of them. And they had many, many words each. While not illiterate by any means, Hatchet was not the sort of man who often read. Especially not for educational purposes. So his idealized notion of walking into the library, sitting down, and simply looking up an answer had died a quick death. He'd tried enlisting the aid of the librarian, of course. His name was Elstrom, a middle aged fellow who was one of the few scholarly types to enlist in the Watch. Luckily the old librarian had been about ready to retire when Elstrom signed up, so he got the position without much fuss.
"Demons, eh?" Elstrom asked, tilting his head to one side and giving Hatchet a curious look. "Over there." He gestured to a shelf. "You don't strike me as the kind who looks up this sort of stuff for fun... is there anything specific you're looking to find?"
"Well," Hatchet said uncertainly, "I was hoping to find out how you could kill them?"
"Hum." Elstrom thought for a moment. "Well, I think we've got a few things that might be useful. You'd probably have to look through everything we've got just to be sure, of course. And most of our collection is up at the Red Manor, you know. " He didn't ask why Hatchet wanted to know about killing demons. Maybe he didn't want to know. Or maybe he didn't think Hatchet would tell him the truth. Either way, the Watchman was glad he didn't have to provide an explanation.
When it came time to gear up and get out on patrol, he arranged for Elstrom to hold onto the books he was interested in. Maybe he'd find something, maybe he wouldn't. He still had to make the effort.
"Hey, there you are!"
Hatchet jogged into the square, not quite late for the start of his patrol. Anara stood watching him approach, one eyebrow raised. "I thought we were going to have to drag you out here in your pajamas." She was Hatchet's new partner while Byrd recovered from his wounds. He'd worked with her before. She was a good sort, very alert and able to handle her rifle just as well as her sword.
"That'd be difficult," Hatchet snorted.
"Yeah?" Anara asked, her voice implying a challenge.
"Yeah. I don't wear pajamas." He grinned at her, and she rolled her eyes. Thunder rumbled in the distance, drawing Hatchet's attention. Damn. Not the rain again. "Bloody puddles aren't even gone from the last storm," he groused.
"Could be worse," his new partner suggested.
"Oh?" It was Hatchet's turn to raise an eyebrow.
"Yup," she replied matter-of-factly. "Could be snow. One thing I hate worse than getting soaked, it's getting soaked and freezing."
"Too true," Hatchet responded. He spared a glance around the darkened courtyard, searching for signs of living shadows. He found none, though his eyes did linger suspiciously on a few spots. "Well, we'd better get going." Anara nodded. They tromped out of the Ivory Tower's gates and into the night, ready to thwart evil and keep the city safe for another night. From his office window, the Captain watched them go. He had extra patrols out again, hopefully the better to catch whatever was responsible for the recent murders. The Day Shift hadn't seen anything, of course, and there had been no incidents. Which meant whatever was out there was probably nocturnal.
He glanced at the storm that was rolling in and frowned. Another storm would make his people's job that much harder. Silently he wished them luck.