Being a night watchman isn’t exactly the barrel daring espionage-thwarting some of the more manic serials make it out to be. Ever since the treaty with the Straits a decade and a half ago, the job mainly comes down to keeping up appearances and making sure the land outside the city doesn’t up and disappear when no one’s looking. Spent the better part of six years doing this job and the most interesting thing to come of it was putting an arrow between the eyes of a troll that had come down from the mountains chasing a merchant who figured his life was worth less than the idea of getting the years harvest to town a couple days earlier.
Simple gig. I liked it.
Leave it to Ol’ Greco to take it upon himself to change all that. See, in lieu of, say, taking on the raising of goats or some other worthwhile venture, Greco figures his sixtieth birthday the perfect time to run off to become an adventurer. Sold his home and everything inside it and disappeared into the Forests of the Odd.
Except he didn’t sell everything. Not quite. See, he had this dog, tiny, mud-colored thing his wife use to love before she passed, an ankle-biter by the name of Butkis. Couldn’t bear to part with the thing and at half a pound the damn thing wasn’t useful in scaring alley cats let alone the like of blood faeries and tree lizards that hang out in the wilds.
So naturally, as his neighbor and drinking partner it became my problem. Shows up at my door step, full drunk and jiggling with the coin he scored from selling three score of memories. Starts weeping about how the missus wouldn’t stop haunting him, told him how if he didn’t keep the dog in good before he left she’d personally drag to him down to Hel herself, and—now I got moppet by the name Butkis.
When I decided to take on the role of sitter I didn’t figure it’d take much out of me, just one more reason not to go home. What’s one in a flood of thousands, yeah? Turns out little Butkis has a thing against being left alone for long spans of time. Gets a bit free with his bladder while he’s amusing himself by chewing through the sideboard.
So now I get to take him on watch with me. I make periodic strolls along the wall and think about how I’ve got a month, maybe two before dear Greco comes back beaten, poor, and asking about the thing and how it wouldn’t seem very neighborly if I had to tell him I’d bludgeoned it to death after he pissed through the boots I’d spent two weeks salary on.
I come back after from most recent tracing of the wall to find Butkis gnawing through the leather bracer I mistakenly left on the table before I left. I move to take it away from him, but as I step forward I notice the man sitting in my chair.
He’s dressed in a green flannel coat and a pair of blue denim pants that hang from him like they’ve not entirely certain they wouldn’t rather be a kilt instead. He’s just sitting there, eyes furrowed as if whatever he’s reading is in the middle of making a series of unsettling demands.
“I help you?” I take a step back, a part of me reaching for the knife on my left side.
The man doesn’t look up from his book. Instead he raises his finger to me like I’m the one bothering him. I feel my face peel back into a snarl as I move towards him, blade already half-drawn from its sheath. I’m about to jam in to the table beside him—get his attention that way—when his hand falls off, like clean off.
If the separation of his hand from his body doesn’t startle him, the sound does. I look at his wrist and notice he’s not bleeding. It’s not rightfully doing much of anything. It’s just a stump. A clean metallic stump.
He leans sideways and looks at the piece of himself now settled on the floor. He blankly looks at his wrist and then back at the ground, genuinely confused.
“That’s…” his voice is soft, masculine but insecure, “unfortunate,” he finishes, picking himself up from the floor with his good hand.
“What the hell are you?” I try to make the words sounds tough, but I feel myself fail by about a mile.
“I’m not entirely sure of that myself. Suffice it to say that I am a friend of Mr. Greco’s and he’s sent me here in order to retrieve his pet.”
“You’re here for the dog?”
He looks and his hands and besides to just set it on the table, “I—yes. I believe that is what he called it, yes.”
I turn to look back down at the mop, its teeth half mangled in the cured leather.