Edgeminster had become a prison with a thousand guards and a single prisoner. Poz pressed his back against the bell tower he had escaped too. Those strange flying monsters of the Alohym screamed through the air, their stalk-eyes scanning the ground for any sign of Poz’s huddled form. Alohym troops patrolled the street, relaying their orders through song stones built into their helmets. The worst was the omnipresent buzzing sound that flitted about the sky on gossamer wings.
Poz’s pursuer, the human that wore the skin of an Alohym, had arrived in Edgeminster.
Ratflesh was not the kind of flesh that was given over to hatred. Ratflesh was fear and cunning and curiosity, not love and hate. Those were the emotions of the High Flesh, of Crowflesh and Squidflesh and Apeflesh. Ratflesh was the cleverest of the Low Flesh, and still the most useful for right now.
This bell tower was well hidden from the ground. If Poz had crow, he could go for Crowflesh. Right now a Middle Flesh might fit better – cat or fox or hound – but the difference wouldn’t make enough of an impact to be worth the risk of trying to acquire the meat.
Also, those fleshes could know hatred. Right now, if Poz could know hatred, he would be distracted by feeling it for that flying bastard. He’d followed Poz across the continent twice, from the battlefield where he’d found the deathegg to the Barony of Axburg in the north and then again to the south at Edgeminster.
This thing had hounded Poz, and Poz strongly suspected that it was ultimately responsible for Nicandros turning against them.
If I could kill him…
Poz pushed the thought down. Ratflesh made it easy. Rats did not think of harming their predators to scare them away. Rats hid and only bit if cornered. It was the correct call to make here. That man could fly in the sky and fire beams of unlight from his hand. He was as dangerous as a true Alohym, and with the cunning of a human. Poz had no hope of defeating him.
Poz reached into his pouch. The egg was still there, but he pushed that aside. There was something else there, a leather tube, tightly wound. He’d been carrying it since Axeburg.
No. Poz thought firmly, pulling his hand out of the pouch. It would be the height of folly to take that risk. There was no guarantee it would even give him what he needed to defeat the flying Alohym.
It would be enough to escape, though.
That though stopped him cold. The temptation…Poz leaned over to peer out of the bell tower. There were Alohym soldiers along the walls, and imperipods watching each of the gates. There was no escape for him, not right now.
He leaned back before a flight of Skimmers could pass by again.
It couldn’t be all about the egg, Poz realized with growing horror. The egg couldn’t possibly be that valuable. Even if it was, the Alohym had sent an entire battalion down to Edgeminster to claim it. There had to be something else they wanted, and Poz was gradually becoming certain he knew what it was.
The last remaining deathegg would be an appealing target, especially if the Alohym knew better than Poz what it could do. Even if they didn’t, it would be a useful lever to have over the Dragon Princess that sought to reclaim her throne, the one that had killed one of their own. Yet…that couldn’t be everything. Not for this much.
Why did they pull the rest of my people back? Poz asked, for what had to be the hundredth time. Like the previous ninety-nine times he’d wondered that, he had no answer. As far as Poz knew, he was the only one of the Underfolk to remain on the surface. He’d thought it was because the Underfolk had feared the Alohym, but now…now he had to wonder if the Alohym might want some other prize.
The only sample of the Underfolk they could reach.
Poz shuddered and curled up into a ball around himself. Tears began to well in his eyes. It was too much. Too much. An entire army was waiting to keep him from breaking free of the city, and the only thing he could provide were more questions. Questions he couldn’t answer because he was not smart enough.
Not right now…
Poz reached into the pouch again, drying his eyes with his free hand. His fingers brushed against the leather pouch and, delicately, he removed it. He nearly dropped it from how badly his hands were shaking, terrified at the thought of what he was contemplating. Breathing slowly and steadily, Poz focused to forcing his hands to obey his commands as he unwound the twine that held the leather pouch shut.
Back when the flying Alohym had attacked him in Axeburg, Poz had been forced to crawl along the ground, searching for an exit. The Baron had already been hit by shards of glass and sliced to death. He’d been bleeding a few feet away.
Poz hadn’t been able to ask before taking one the Baron’s discarded fingers.
For weeks now it had been in his pouch, wrapped in leather and covered with salt so it wouldn’t turn or spoil. The finger was a brown and shriveled thing by now, the color of a mummified corpse. There wasn’t much flesh on it, but large quantities of flesh weren’t needed to trigger a transformation.
Manflesh. He was contemplating committing the great sin and eating on Manflesh. Again.
There were three Forbidden Fleshes. Man, Sylvani, and Dragon. Poz suspected that if they had not fled underground, the elders would have declared Alohym flesh forbidden as well. The flesh of other beings that were on part with the Underfolk in intellect.
He’d tasted it once before. It had been the most incredible experience he’d even encountered. It had also been terrifying. He’d understood why it was forbidden, understood so much he’d fed on Ratflash to stop the terrible, unstoppable understanding.
And now he was considering tasting it again. Of turning into…that again.
Poz wanted to scream. He wanted to be sick. The idea of that was…monstrous. If it was just his own survival at stake, he’d never even been contemplating this before. Yet there was something that the Alohym wanted. Something they wanted so badly they’d dispatched an entire army to retrieve it, turned Nicandros against his former friends with the promise of a resurrection, and sent the man who wore an Alohym to retrieve it.
Maybe it was the egg. Maybe it was his flesh. Maybe it was both.
It did not matter. The Alohym could not be allowed to have whatever they were after.
Even if it meant committing this sin.
The finger tasted of salt as it passed his lips.