Dear readers, tonight we transcribe the records of a psych evaluation of a customs investigative officer. It seems like her job involves rather more magical relics and ancient horrors than is normal, and she has turned into a merciless killer.
Now Ms Deshar – you’ve been assigned to me for psychological assessment and we’ve been warned about you in advance, hence the bars. I am a professional, however, and mean to do my job properly. So – let us start with your childhood. Where did you grow up?
I grew up in a small town just outside the city of Su Dregir. Da always joked that we had to live there because he wasn’t allowed in the city and… well. Turns out the commander of a famous mercenary company isn’t exactly encouraged to visit and take in a show.
All the same, it was a nice place to grow up, if you didn’t mind all the drinking and fighting. I was the luckiest girl in town of course, no one messed with me. I grew up around (and learned from) some of the more evil and dangerous reprobates in the world. By the time I was sixteen, men knew not to mess with any other girl in town too.
And this explains… ah, the way you are? The trauma of being in this violent world from an early age?
Oh nice try, but for this daddy’s girl the upbringing wasn’t traumatic, it was perfect!
All the same, I wish to explore it a little further. Tell me about your cherished memories from childhood, your favourite toy perhaps.
Whenever Da came home from campaign, it was like a whirlwind hit. Almost the entire Red Scarves company lived there so it was like every feast day rolled into one! It seemed magical to a girl who loved chaos, but I remember the small stuff just as fondly. My brother whispering at night about city-ruins and monsters. Creating elaborate plans to steal treats from the pantry, building secret dens. As for toys, there were two. A doll Ma made – she had red hair just like me and went on all kinds of grand adventures. I also had a Duegar relic Da had picked up on his travels. A metal box with a lens in, look through it and it’d draw patterns with the stars, the constellations of a dead race.
And now? This happy little girl, active and imaginative, albeit rather spoiled perhaps, became… um, well, what is your job exactly?
Oh you know, this and that. I’m a girl who doesn’t like to get bored. I do have an official job title, customs investigative officer, but I’m rarely found on the docks of Su Dregir. My boss appreciates talent and after I stopped a gang war, he decided my skills could be put to use elsewhere. My hobby of relic hunting means I wander far and wide – if on my travels I hear information that might benefit the city or I accidentally kill someone who deserves killing, so much the better.
And you are quite comfortable with this role in life? It doesn’t give you a moment’s pause? Your latest adventure for example, can you tell me about it? Do you have any regrets or qualms about what you’ve done? The, ah, Princip of the Assayed Council in Grasiel was involved I believe.
Involved only briefly and they’ve scrubbed him off the pavement by now. Oh all right – fine. Well, regrets? Not a one, but I do accept this time it may be I’ve bitten off more than I can chew…
Our friend the Princip was making a deal with some bad people. Religious fanatics with guns. I decided to stop him and needed a group of hired guns to make sure I got away. Unfortunately for me I managed to hire the most troublesome, idiotic, contradictory bunch of maniacs I could possibly find. They brought their own baggage along for the ride and THAT proved problematic so I needed to get creative. After that, well, I’d fired the first shot in a war and say what you will about the Cards, those boys and girls know how to break stuff.
At what point did you think you’d gone too far?
Gone too far? I’ll never admit to that. Made life a little complicated? That would have been as I chucked a grenade down a miles-deep chasm to wake up an ancient horror. Don’t look at me like that – It made sense at the time.
You like to present a fearless front so indulge me. What has truly frightened you in all this?
Did you not hear me mention the huge ancient horror? Oh fine, you got me. It scared the piss out of the Cards, but… yeah well, I may be a bit broken on that front. Early on in my career I got betrayed, left underground by a real piece of… ahem. Anyways, that scared me. Walking for miles in the pitch black, spending days trying to find the way out. No doubt about it, I went a bit mad with terror. After that though? I reckon I left fear behind me down there.
How about your conscience? Doubts? Regrets about where you’ve found yourself or the life you’re leading?
I live on the open road most of the time, it’s hardly a life of ease. When someone’s not trying to kill me, I’m trying to keep the Cards from killing themselves. Not long ago, one of them fired a burner at the deck of the boat we were travelling on! That was meant to basically be a holiday for us yet the city was a smoking ruin by the time we’d been there a few weeks.
Tell me, do you enjoy what you do then? Do you do it for duty or indulge your darkest desires?
Darkest desires? What, the one with the three… oh I see! Why do I do it? Simple – because someone has to. The alternative is living under the boot. Show me someone better at this than me and I’ll step aside. But yeah, I enjoy being better than the rest – proving myself. It’s just me and a few dozen idiots against half the world. The fact it lets me explore some of the greatest underground ruins ever discovered is almost a bonus.
Tell us a little about your friends.
It’s a miracle any of them are still alive – and I’m not talking about the fact they’re mercenaries. Put them in a fight and they’re the toughest, most specialist crew around. Put them anywhere within three miles of a pub and they’re the most useless bunch of cretins ever to punch each other in the face. Some are okay by themselves. There’s Aben, who I trust with my life and Lynx who’d never let anyone down if he had his way. I don’t make friends as a rule though – that gets dangerous.
Any of them you are particularly close to? Romantic involvement perhaps?
Why? Who’ve you been talking to? Which one of those gossipy …?! Oh fine. Yeah, broke one of my own rules there, but… Didn’t think much of Lynx when I first met him. A bit overweight, a bit too serious, but the man’s got iron in his soul and there’s… ah, it’s stupid, but you want to know what gives me pause? Sometimes, I admit, I hold back because I know what he’ll think. Just don’t tell anyone that or I’ll cut your face off and wear it as a mask next midwinter festival.
The betrayal you mentioned earlier. Does it drive you? You said all the fear was driven out of you, but how about its close kin, hate?
I hate being told what to do by bullies. Laws of a city, there’s got to be rules if you’re going to share a space with others so that’s different. Someone like a priest with a gun however? Not while I still breathe.
What about the betrayer you mentioned?
*audible obscenities continue for some considerable length of time*
Yeah, there’s one. A swaggering streak of piss called Sotorian Bade who claims to be a renowned relic hunter, but does more than murder on behalf of his masters – The Knights-Charnel of the Long Dusk.
You seem a woman obsessed with your job and your rage. A crusade against the world that can only consume you over time. How do you not go mad with it all?
Strong drink and an eager man – I’m a woman of simply pleasures. Out on the road you take the moments when you can. And I genuinely enjoy relic hunting. Even when the local wildlife is trying to kill me, the thrill of the chase is always there.
What does the future hold for you?
World peace and retirement? Squealing brats, society dinners and cutting remarks perhaps? Hah, you reckon there’s a happy ending for folk like me? There’s always something more – always someone else who deserves to be accidentally thrown out a window.
An idealist to the end? Very well then. Our time today is drawing to a close I feel, but first – indulge me. Share a secret of some sort. Something you’ve never told another?
A secret? I suppose it doesn’t matter now so lean close and I’ll whisper it to you. Here’s something I’ve never told anyone before. There’s a scar on my arm, just here, only it’s not really a scar. A trick I picked up years ago. Very useful thing if you need to hide a lock-pick. And yes, you’re right, your time’s now at an end.
Tom Lloyd was born in 1979 in Berkshire, UK. After a degree in International Relations he went straight into publishing where he still works. He never received the memo about suitable jobs for writers and consequently has never been a kitchen-hand, hospital porter, pigeon hunter, or secret agent. He lives in Oxford, isn’t one of those authors who gives a damn about the history of the font used in his books, and only believes in forms of exercise that allow him to hit something.
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