The rain crashed down as soon as Suga entered the tavern, followed by a bolt of lightening so strong that it spilled several glasses of ale. If Suga were sentimental, he could have fooled himself with the thought that Rizla had held off until he got under cover, but he knew better. She’d gone to clean up the mess made by Elymas at the castle while he had another task to do. Tonight, a hunt would come to an end. Thoughts of Rizla flew out of his mind as he surveyed the room.
Bridon hadn’t appeared. He should have, Suga noted sourly, for the rulla games had already begun. Bridon of the Blue Stone, the least isolated of the Brethren, came off his mountain twice a year to play rulla at the Fish Belly and unbeknownst to Bridon, tonight was either his turn to give up the Blue Stone or his life.
The others imprisoned in the glass bottles had given their lives. Of course, they’ had no choice about it. Some had died naturally, others not. Etta, the town gossip, (now confined in the yellow bottle) had had her throat cut mid-speech if only to stop the talk. Anger had lain dying in a field after being set upon by wolves and so he’d clamored in rage inside the red bottle. He’s been the hardest to control. Anger had battened the sides relentlessly until Rizla had threatened to break him apart. Now, the spirit was for the most part stilled, only given to outbursts of rage. Plague had entered willingly, the breath fresh from a young child, until, one by one, all the bottles had been filled but for the blue. This had been reserved for a Brethren of the Blue Stone. They’d been told that from the start.
And so, throughout the years, as he and Rizla collected the spirits so ordered by the Dark, they’d patrolled the Brethren, looking for the easiest mark. Twelve brethren in all, each the guardian of a Sikestran. The Shautu was untouchable and so it had been eleven. Bridon was the most accessible simply because he had a passion for rulla and came off his mountain twice a year. Had they searched for his mountain home? Relentlessly. None could be found. Wherever he lived was heavily warded, and so he appeared and disappeared at will when he came to town.
Suga had questioned Sarles, owner of the Fish Belly, and the man had told him everything. Suga hadn’t had to threaten. He quite liked the owner of the Fish Belly and his staff of girls and so he’d learned . . . nothing. All Sarles knew was that he came in twice a year, paid extra to have the same room, and had once mentioned a cat.
“A cat?” Suga had asked, eyes narrowing. “Whose cat?”
“Don’t know, sir, only said that he had to feed one.” Sarles rubbed at his chin with the bar towel. “Wait, what were his words?”
“Think carefully.” Suga had slid forth a coin.
Sarles thought. His thoughts were slow in coming. Were it possible, Suga would have fished in his head to find them.
Finally, he’d said, “Only that it’s not a good idea to let a cat go hungry for too long.” He put down the towel, beaming. “Them’s his exact words, sir.”
“My thanks, Sarles,” Suga had slipped him another and left the tavern before his own temper flattened the walls.
The comment could mean everything or nothing.
Had Bridon something that bound him to his mountain home? Is that where he’d left the blue stone? Though its power emanated from him, Suga had yet to see it around his neck.
Or was the cat simply a cat?