Dawn found Poz emerging from the sewer in the slender, more flexible form offered by Ratflesh. He had a tail, which he wrapped around his waist so it might appear like a belt. His sense of smell was greater, his hands nimbler, and his mind was clearer. Not the crisp rationality of Crowflesh, but a cunning that was still infinitely better than the dull mind Horseflesh offered. It was a mistake to rest, Poz thought. Horseflesh was dull, but it would have been far smarter to have found Nicandros first and then changed flesh.
Too late for recriminations. All that was left to do was to get to the Gleaming Gullet and hope he was not too late.
Moving about in daylight would present its own problems. In the harsh rays of the sun, without the cloak, no man would mistake him for one of their kind.
Fortunately, Ratflesh offered other options. Glancing back and forth to make sure he truly was alone in the back alley, Poz scampered up the wall of the two-story Inn towards the roof with an inhuman ease.
From up here, Poz could see Edgeminster laid out beneath him. The city had few buildings over two stories, and the wall surrounding it wasn’t even that tall. It was…what Poz had come to expect from human cities under Alohym rule. The buildings were still stone with sloped roofs of wooden tiles, but Alohym towers – often five or six stories tall – jutted out of the skyline like jagged towers of broken glass, full of alien geometries. They would have watchers in them, but experience had taught Poz those watchers were focused on the outside, looking for insurgent armies approaching over the horizon. They wouldn’t be watching for Underfolk skulking about the rooftops in the dawn haze.
Still, it was best not to linger too long. Moving on all fours, Poz started scampering across the rooftops, leaping over the alleyways.
Humans never looked up. It baffled Poz to no end – but growing up in the caverns of the Underfolk, he’d had to learn to constantly watch in all directions. Failure to look up could mean overlooking a slinking ekkoh, ready to extend its prehensile tongue down to grab the unwary wanderer. On the surface, they had aerial threats – dragons and aeromanes and sharocs and now the Alohym’s vessels – but humans never seem to adapt the need to watch the sky for those threats.
Perhaps it was why they favored dwellings with coverings over the top. Or maybe that was just to keep precipitation off their heads.
Regardless of the cause, both rooftops and humanities fixation on the two-dimensional plane worked in Poz’s advantage right now. He was able to continue his path unobstructed as humanity milled about beneath him, rousing to start their days and go about their routines to start the day. He only paused to check signs, trying to spot his destination. With the Inn he’d just left behind him, it had to be some distance to the Gullet – Edgeminster was a decently sized port town, but not large enough to support two Inns in close proximity.
At least, not in the center of town.
Poz diverted his path, heading towards the docks.
He was certain he’d find what he was looking for there.
Although the Alohym could move objects vast distances through in the air in their flying vessels, they did not yet have the number needed to make it possible to keep up with the sheer volume of goods needed to sustain a kingdom. As such, goods were carried across land by Skitters – and in some places still, horse drawn carriages – and when water was available, they were still carried in large barges that could carry tons and tons of goods.
Even this early in the day, the port was bustling when Poz arrived, swarming with sailors that were disembarking from their vessels and carrying crates of goods. Some carried the crates with sheer raw strength, sweating and straining under their burdens. Those that worked for a ship captain that could afford it took advantage of arcloaders, suits of imperiplate that lacked the protective armor and had gauntlets twice the size of a human’s hands, perfect for carrying the immense weight.
Poz crouched on a rooftop, watching them come and go. There seemed to be some resentment brewing between those that had arcloaders and those that relied on brute strength – at least, resentment on the part of those that lacked the inherent advantage. The men and women in arcloaders were laughing and joking as they worked, the ones carrying with their actual muscle and sinew were swearing and glaring at the first group.
That could come in handy, Poz noted. Rats were more social than humans often gave them credit for, and the Ratflesh had Poz’s mind spinning with possibilities. A thrown spherical object under the foot of an arcloader could easily make it trip and stumble. The muscle-reliant group would laugh. Someone would say something sharp, something callous, and tensions would flare. A fight could break out. In the ensuing chaos, Poz could…
…gain absolutely no advantage that stealth didn’t offer. Poz brought up his foot and took the long claws to scratch behind one of his ears. It was a fun thought, but it wasn’t a useful thought. It wasn’t what he was here for.
Arcloaders or muscle-reliant, there were two things sailors universally loved, and that was food and drink. Well, three things, but Edgeminster’s port was too heavily regulated to allow for the third source entertainment. The sailors would have to go further into town to find that kind of company or happen upon someone working at one of the inns that served the first two loves.
Poz slunk across the rooftops, keeping his profile as low as he could. Humans did not look up often, but as the barges were coming in from the river, their captains would have men on the masts, calling out what they could see through spy glasses. They wouldn’t need to look up to see Poz, and if any of them had a way to Sing to the guards he’d be caught in an instant.
It took another twenty minutes of creeping from rooftop to rooftop before he saw it ahead. A large wooden sign with a caricature of a jolly, rotund male holding up a glass of amber liquid, emblazoned with the black letters The Gleaming Gullet.
Poz made his way onto the gutter of the roof, holding his breath as it creaked under his weight. Craning his neck as much as it would allow, he peered into the window below.
This one housed a young woman, her skin and hair golden, asleep and snoring loudly. A sword lay on a table, and the clothing she’d left strewn across the table marked her as a sailor. Poz carefully pulled his neck back behind the gutter and crept along to the next spot where he could peer down.
Four windows later, he found his quarry. Nicandros was awake and sitting at the table, cradling his head in his hands.
Hand shaking with sudden trepidation, Poz tapped on the glass pane.