The Bard’s Quarters, located in the west wing of the Templus de Ambros, were the furthest quarters from the kitchens and closest to the Forum Publicos in Ambrosia. During the daytime, the sounds of citizens and street vendors haggling in the Forum echoed off the walls, whereas night brought forth catcalls and drunks from the nearby bars. For Fintan, the noise was a reassurance that all was well in Ambrosia. He hoped that Kent would acclimate, after all, the young man was the next bard and one day these quarters and a couple others spread across the kingdom would belong to him.
When the two falcons, Fulco and Aeolus, brought Kent through Sentinel Cemetery beyond the Pissing Puppy Statue and into the Forum Publicos, Fintan was ecstatic. That excitement faded the moment Kent saw Fintan and let loose a string of curses that would have shamed the heartiest of sailors. Fintan had kept his temper in check, saying nothing while attempting to remember how he’d felt when his father had forced the bardship upon him. The rest of the night had passed slowly as Kent refused to hear anything Fintan said. The elder bard had hoped that sleeping in and brunch would change Kent’s mind, but that had been wishful thinking. Mid-morning they had walked in silence through the Gryphon Gardens, near but not close to the armed guard pacing in front of the Phoenix Rose, to the kitchens. While the bards were eating breakfast, the two falcons took the opportunity to fly through the gardens.
“Kent, I know you don’t want to hear—”
“You’re right. I don’t,” Kent turned his good eye away from Fintan and the table to stare at a bus boy that was clearing the table of a scraggly grey-haired man in a toga with a blue belt and a matching blue cape. The old man whispered something to the bus boy, who smiled mischievously and shook his head in the negative. Without looking at Fintan, Kent nearly shouted, “just where do you get off, anyway? I mean, what is this shit? Help. Hurt. Help. I’ve only got one eye left. You gonna drug me again and let your cat have it? Call me the blind bard. Because you decided I have to be. Who are you? What gives you the right to do that to me? I don’t want to hear anything that you’ve got to say. I can’t trust you to tell me the truth.” Kent huffed, then added, “and why the fuck can I see what that damn bird sees?”
Fintan stifled a laugh, coughed into his napkin, and finished chewing. “If you listen, I can explain some things. But, I won’t waste any more breath starting. So. Choose. Either you want me to answer your questions or you want to cuss me out. One requires effort on my behalf, the other effort on your behalf. What will it be, boyo?”
“I want both.”
“Alright. Continue cussing,” Fintan set down his napkin, picked up his fork, and broke open his egg. He used a piece of buttered toast to sop up the bright yellow juice that flowed out.
“Fine. I’ll refrain,” Kent hissed, “for now. Just quit calling me ‘boyo.’”
“Agreed,” Fintan said while he chewed his egg soaked toast. “Our line goes back 1000 years. Do you understand? For the last 1000 years Poterit Don has had a Bard with a falcon companion. That is, you are part of a long and unbroken chain.”
“That’s what you call yours? Companion? I’ve been calling mine shitbird.”
A bit of yellowed toast flew onto the table as Fintan laughed, “I never said not to cuss out the bird. Aeolus and I have traveled far and wide for more years than I care to recall. In that time, he’s been both a ‘shitbird’ and a savior. I guess it depends on the situation. I’ve cussed him up one side and down the other. It doesn’t do any good. Well, I always feel a little better about it. But, the birds don’t feel. Do you understand? They don’t have feelings. Normal birds might, but these aren’t normal birds. Mercury knows, son, we aren’t normal either.”
“What do you mean they aren’t normal birds?”
Fintan looked around the dining hall, “there are too many people here. I’ll explain later. For now, understand that average birds can’t develop a link like our falcons. They’re not ordinary. And, in that sense, neither are we.”
“You’re my first born son. I had no choice. And, when the time comes, you’ll have no choice.”
“There’s always a choice.”
“The line cannot be broken. It is destiny. Mine. Yours. My father’s. And, your son’s.”
“And, if I never have children?”
“Would you kill three families?” Fintan whispered. “I couldn’t.”
“I don’t understand. How is me not having kids, killing families?”
Fintan sighed, “quietly. There are some things that I cannot explain here. When we’re done, we’ll go back to our quarters. I can explain then.”
“I’m done. I haven’t really been hungry since I lost my eye, traveled the underground, got shot, rode a griffin, and met a dragon.”
Fintan slapped Kent across the mouth, “shut up.”
Kent threw his silverware on the table, shoved back his chair, and stood up, “I don’t know who the fuck you think you are!”
“We’re done here,” Fintan growled as he pushed out of his chair. His right eye narrowed, his brow furrowed, and he said, “back to our quarters, now.”
Cassie’s stomach growled. The Kaiser looked at her sympathetically. Dinner and breakfast were less than ideal, a couple slices of bread and some meat stolen from the kitchens after Preston left for the night. Soon as Imler was sure that the Justices were on the way to Avalona, he’d risk sending Cassie to see Preston. As it stood, they were stuck in the Heart of the Seven Faeries underground lounge. Imler had already checked the peek marked with a gavel three times and the Justices were still in closed session. In the mean time, he and Cassie had explored some. They found the hidden release in the lounge that opened into a passage with a set of stairs that let out at the Heart of the Seven Faeries as well as two rooms. One was quite obviously an interrogation room and the other a viewing room. While pondering the freshly cleaned aroma of the interrogation room, Imler explained to Cassie the wonders of observation mirrors.
“When the ancients built this chamber, they needed a place to question people. In here, the glass is a window that allows people to view the questioning in the other room. From over there, the glass is a mirror. The people in that room can only see themselves in it. Do you understand?”
“I get it. But. Why’d they want it? And, why down here?”
“Everything was built underground back then. Have you ever heard of the Great Global Conflict?”
“Sure. Ms. Darin taught me about it.” She chewed on her lower lip, scrunched her face, and twirled a curl of her blond hair. Cassie quoted, “in the Time Before the Gryphon Kings, the world was connected. The people began to fight over resource control. War broke out. First, in a few places, and then everywhere. When the whole world was in the middle of war, the ancients of Pu’Shing Bhu’Tons began to build their cities underground and inside the mountains. Oh.” Cassie laughed, her head fell down and as she shook her head her bangs waved, “I guess it’s just part of the city.”
“Do you know why they built underground?”
“The Great Global Conflict involved terrible weapons that rained chemicals, blotted out the sun, and—” before he could finish the sentence, the door to the interrogation room opened and in walked Adonis. “Cassie,” Imler whispered, “be very quiet.”
Cassie stared at the Chief Justice. She recognized him from the table in Mercury’s chamber. She tugged on the Kaiser’s toga, whispering, she said, “I kept trying to remember where I’d seen that dead guy,” she pointed to the pacing Adonis, “I saw them talking about the Phoenix Rose and Mercury’s Artifacts.” She looked down at her bracelet but said nothing more.
The Kaiser’s hands were balled up in white knuckled fists. His jaw was clinched and his breathing had slowed. He was desperately trying to stay in human form, but the angrier he got the harder it became. As he contemplated ripping Adonis’ head from his shoulders, the interrogation room door opened again. A slender, black-haired man with brown eyes, wearing the grey uniform of the Poterit Dan, walked through the door.
“You’re late,” Adonis said.
“Not according to my watch.”
“I haven’t got time for games.”
Adonis glared at The Inquisitor, “the vid was useful. The girl is a top priority. You almost had her. Don’t let her get away again.”
“So, you’re hiring me to hunt a girl down?”
“As far as I’m concerned, your original job isn’t over until you find her. That said, I have another job for you.”
“The girl wasn’t the job. I was told to get you information. I did that.”
“The girl has the information, you twit.”
“Call me another name and I’ll end your life,” The Inquisitor put his toolkit down on the table in the middle of the room.
“Whatever. Get the girl and the information that she has, then the first job will be done. As for the second job,” Adonis thought about it for a minute, “as for the second job, I’ll double your fee if you can carry it out within the next 24 hours.”
“What is the job?”
“I want you to kill the Kaiser.”
The Inquisitor brayed, “you want me to assassinate the king of Poterit Don. You know, I’m an informa—”
The interrogation room door slammed open as the griffin king barreled through it. In the second it took for the king to lunge for Adonis, who stumbled backwards against the mirror, The Inquisitor jerked his right arm up releasing the gun he kept hidden in his sleeve. In the small chamber, the gunshots were deafening. Two bullets went into the side of Kaiser Imler’s head. A third shattered the observation mirror. Cassie screamed and instantly teleported. The scream caused Adonis to turn toward the sound, though he was already fighting to stay upright against the weight of the dead king.
“I’ll take the job,” The Inquisitor said cheerily.