No-one would ever, except in a heavily sarcastic way, accuse Aelfgar of being brilliant, or even all that smart, but he was, having survived this long in a dangerous vocation, very canny, with a nose for trouble. No one had to tell him that something was wrong in this strange school of Regine’s, which was handy, because no-one was telling him anything at all.
And while he was slow to reach conclusions normally, the old warrior had been fighting dragons for a very long time, and knew more about their habits than any scholar or ink-stained book-lover could imagine knowing. It had taken him a few days of stalking the halls to put it all together, but as he gently relocated a slumbering girl to a couch, the final bolt shot home.
“Bulltits and cowballs!” He tugged a fur over the girl – she was lovely, heavily swollen with pregnancy, looking nearly like a goddess at rest – and hurried down the hall to Regine’s office. She’d be there; the girl was always working.
Except, it seemed, today; even her secretary was gone. Aelfgar glared at the closed office door for a moment, thinking. The dragon had vanished. He’d never seen a monster do that before, and he’d been killing monsters forever. Dragons were, by definition, shape-shifters. And now there was something going around the school, and children were falling down, like they were getting sucked dry by a Devourer. By a Dragon.
Sure, a really bad student might be able to do some of this – and he had no illusions about the students here; some of them were bad to the core – but to go on that long without getting caught? There was a reason people had been burned as witches. Finesse, as he well knew, was hard. And these kids still hadn’t made their first kill yet, much less graduated to those sort of tricks.
So it was probably the dragon he thought he’d killed. Which meant he’d somehow brought the beast here, to Regine’s sanctuary, to these kids’ homes. You couldn’t get further from being a good guest without burning down your host’s house and stealing their children. He had a reputation, as well as his own pride and honor, to uphold; he would have to make this right.
He strode back to the guest room he’d been given – how these people lived underground for years at a time, he’d never understand – and dug into his saddlebags.
The Spear that he’d been Named for, or its successor, since the original had long since fallen to dust, was there, unshipped into several long portions. Also at the bottom of the bag, less expected, was a handful of chewed, shredded paper and mouse turds.
“Little shit,” he muttered. “That’s how he did it.” Right in his saddlebags, right up next to him. And now he was prowling the halls of Regine’s school, preying on children.
He assembled his spear, and tested its strength against the wall of his room. The point was still sharp, the chips of rowan and hawthorn still set properly for maximum damage, the shaft still firm and straight. The new metal-working techniques made for light weapons that lasted far longer than his old tools.
Armor? He wouldn’t need it for a mouse, and it wouldn’t work against a Devourer’s powers, anyway. Blade? He sheathed three, and hung the sheaths off belt and harness. This time, he’d make sure the damn critter stayed dead.
Armed and ready, he thumped out into the halls. Now, how to track something that small? By its destruction, rather than its spoor. So backwards from the fallen students. Now, where had that girl been? He hefted his spear –
- and was rewarded by an echoed, piercing scream. He whirled, looking for the threat –
- and saw two redheads staring at him in terror, their screams cut off as abruptly as they began. They could be sisters, although all redheads started to look the same after a while, the one cute in a just-budding fashion, the other one fully ripe, the sort of girl happiest on her back.
None of his get were redheads, at least none he’d ever met. They all threw blonde, somehow, though the book types told him that was wrong. They were both wearing pretty little necklaces, sure, but there was no man nor pup hanging around to scowl at him.
He leaned the spear very carefully against the wall, scooped the younger one up in his arms – ah, a runner, that’s why she looked so young, she was all muscle – and kissed her the way a woman ought to be kissed, set her down carefully and repeated the process with the second one.
“Ladies.” He tipped an imaginary hat to them. “I’ll see you both later, when I’m done hunting monsters.” He recovered his spear and thumped off in search of prey.
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