He’d thought he’d have trouble moving among humans. He’d never had a particularly normal upbringing, after all, and then he’d spent decades in a sealed enclave of Ellehemaei society.
But humans, now, it seemed, were more interested in basic survival and less interested in shunning someone for odd behavior and, besides, for all he’d been cloistered away, he’d learned people. He could move from settlement to settlement, talking with his – Regine’s, really – contacts there, following the trail – without anyone suspecting he was anything more than a Mysterious (Human) Stranger, one of the Outriders who connected the sparse settlements. After all, that’s what he was.
He followed the trail for four months, the urgency growing with every stop, every step along the way. They’d known it would take some time to find his quarry, but they had thought a month, maybe two. Not four. While he’d traveled away from the enclave plenty of times since the Devastation, but never for more than two months. The distance, the separation, was beginning to wear on him as the months passed, and it made him a touchy, cranky Outrider, short with his contacts and cold with strangers. Someone who had known the young Ambrus, if they’d still survived, would not have recognized him in this cold and angry man.
His contact – her contact, but willing to talk to him – in the cold Northern township of Regina Beach was a young woman, at least in appearance, a blonde blue-eyed waif with a smile that reminded him of someone from a long time past. He worked through the required rituals with his best manners, transported for a moment to a time even longer past, when he was a child in his master’s home. And then, the spell broken with the bitter herbal tea, he cut to the chase before she could distract him into something Regine might regret.
“I’m looking for someone.”
“I know.” She gestured at the blue bowl on the table, the covered mirror. “I saw you’d come this way.”
“Then you can point me to his path?”
“I can do better than that. But there’s a price.”
There was always a price. “It’s not my mission, and there are only so many things I can promise on her behalf,” he warned her.
“This, you can give me.” He’d last seen that smile on the most poisonous child he’d ever sired. Was this sweet-looking girl her offspring? He suddenly wanted to see her Change, to see her ears.
“What is it you would have of me?” he asked instead. Wondering if she was his granddaughter, his great-granddaughter. Wondering if his orders would allow him to deny her, if she asked what he was afraid she would.
The look on her face, the sly twist of her emotions, told him she knew what he was thinking. “Not that. I imagine someone ought to ask you for something else, especially someone who has already had that blessing in her family line once or twice.”
So she was his descendant. Not surprising, all things considered; he allowed his relief to show in his face.
“It’s not your only skill, I’ve been told. When you’re done with this mission, in the next six months, come back to us. There’s someone here who could use… your other skills, and your knowledge.”
He nodded slowly. “I will do that,” he agreed. No use in pretending to promise. “I can do that.”
“He’s North,” she told him. “One village up, about a day’s travel. Avoid the old warehouse; you don’t want to know what lives there. “
“Thank you.” Anxiety dropped from his shoulders. “Thank you.”
“I’ll see you within the next half a year?”
“You will,” he nodded, and left, not stopping to sleep, not stopping to eat. The pressure of the mission had gone too far for that.
He found his quarry where she’d said he would be, in a cottage in a small town, with a young wife and a young child. He had no room left for even the smallest niceties at this point; “Regine needs you,” is all he managed.
“Regine can bite off and die,” Abednego answered just as bluntly.
Ambrus leaned weakly against his horse. It had been a long night, and the creatures in the old warehouse were nocturnal. “Of course,” he said, summoning up some fragment of his legendary charm. “But her enclave serves a useful purpose.”
“Others do, too, without being evil bitches for spice.” The lanky man paused, reading something in Ambrus’ face. “I know you love her, but…”
Ambrus shrugged uncomfortably. “I’m aware what people feel.”
“You would be, wouldn’t you? I wouldn’t be in your shoes for anything.”
Ambrus looked down at his dusty boots; right now, he didn’t want to be in them, either.
Abednego misread the gesture; his voice softened. “Why don’t you come in, stay the night? I’ll hear you out on her ‘needs,’ at the very least.”
Ambrus pushed the need into a little corner, and nodded tiredly. “Thank you.” Given all night, he could do what his mistress needed him to. And then he could go home.
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