Gregory made his way to the town green, where his employer was in the middle of his meditations. Vathek yn Baurbur, the self-proclaimed Prince and Prophet of the Ghouls, twirled in the center of the field, his silver robes and cloth-of-gold turban flashing in the morning sun, while his small collection of followers played their instruments and chanted.
It was an eerie thing, the Milesian had to admit, watching the Ghoul at his exercises. Vathek moved as if the world depended on him performing just these motions--and looking at him, you almost imagined it did. But Vathek wasn’t what had brought Gregory to this location. It was a tall, handsome blonde Milesian standing nearby, taking in the whole scene with an almost ironical air. Gregory reached his side, and bowed. “Lieutenant de Sang,” he stated. “The Captain wishes to speak to you.”
Cyrus de Sang yawned. “Does he now?” He shook his head. “Did he say what about?”
“I gathered it was security matters,” said Gregory. “But you can ask him to clarify when you go speak to him, sir.” Cyrus stared at him fixedly. As he did so, Gregory was reminded that he was much younger than this man--over a decade. Cyrus had also belonged to another Company before joining the Shrikes, but the one he’d belonged to--the Loyal Friends--had a significantly higher reputation than the Blue Banners. They’d worked for the Flamens, across the River, and then when they crossed over--Gregory had heard a story about a town getting sacked that either hadn’t been supposed to, or had been done so viciously the Faith needed a scapegoat--they’d worked in the Fangs, sometimes for the Throne of Flame, sometimes for the Thorne of Ice. But the last few jobs had been grinds, and then the Fangs had gone peaceful on them. So what remained of the Loyal Friends came down to the Shadow Woods, and joined the Scarlet Shrikes. Cyrus had been their leader. He had a reputation in the Company as a hard man, and nothing Gregory had seen suggested it was a lie.
“So--he expects me to leave our employer unattended?” asked Cyrus, with a nod at Vathek, still intent on his exercises.
“I’ll take over for you, sir,” answered Gregory.
Cyrus nodded. “Very well then.” And then the Lieutenant walked off towards Tolometto’s lone traveler’s inn, where the Captain had made his quarters. Gregory shivered slightly as he left. Somehow, you always seemed a bit colder in Cyrus’ presence, though you often only noticed when he was heading away. Gregory wasn’t that fond of the man--no one was, really--but he had a certain intensity that was hard to resist. It occurred to Gregory that was probably why he didn’t like Cyrus. A man shouldn’t be so intense and withdrawn, focused only on his rather grim job. He should laugh, and joke, and make merry on occasion. But then--what did he know? Cyrus’ fellow Loyal Friends almost worshipped him--though their numbers had been steadily falling over the years, he gathered. When the Captain died--and that was coming soon--Cyrus would probably step easily into his place, and that would be that.
Gregory suddenly wished he was fit for some other employment.
Vathek’s exercises were coming to an end, his followers playing their music rather frantically as they wrapped things up. The Ghoul looked them over confidently, a smile on his weathered, blue-skinned face. “Who is the Prince?” he shouted.
“Vathek, Vathek,” they answered.
Vathek frowned. “Who is the Prophet?” he asked.
“Vathek, Vathek,” came the reply.
The Ghoul gave a satisfied nod, and then turned towards Gregory. “Where is Lieutenant de Sang?”
Gregory looked away. Vathek was as intense as Cyrus in his own way, though his way tended towards a fiery heat, instead of an icy chill. “The Captain wants to speak to him.”
Vathek nodded, and looked away. “An old, sick man, ordering around a healthy young one…” The Ghoul scowled. “Reminds me of Irem.” He chuckled. “Really--your Lieutenant should take care of matters. That’s what we used to do. And what we shall do again, when I have been restored to my proper place.” He looked at Gregory again. “Have you found it?”
Gregory shook his head. “No, sir.” He bit his lip, and decided to venture the question he felt sure most of the Shrikes were asking. “Are you sure it’s…?”
“It is here!” snapped Vathek. “Believe me! The Skull is hidden in this town!” He leaned forward. “The remainder of your pay lies in that skull, Milesian. Of solid gold, and laden with gems. The Skull shall be the coin that returns me to Irem in triumph.” He clapped his hands together. “Both Prince and Prophet!”
“Prince and Prophet!” shouted his followers.
Gregory nodded in agreement. He’d heard that often enough over the last few weeks. It occurred to him that he’d worked worse jobs. But not many.