The Grey Edge: Chapter Thirty-Four

The layout of the Court gave no indication of the magpies’ day-to-day activities. Members of the family sat perched on wires, on damaged statues and on the backs of chairs. Human-looking brethren stood around in small groups, at desks, or hurried through the corridors past her, wearing anything from casual clothes to ornate uniforms.
There was no sense of direction, of order or of duty. Other than the guards, and the rare few she spied on computers or on phones, the remaining magpies seemed jobless, without duty, a drain on resources.
The Courts, Kingdoms and Fiefdoms of the animal families weren’t allotted any resources by any of the major Courts – unless it was a private deal, of course – there were no riches that they could expect over the run of a warden, they were expected to manage themselves, and their ruling style themselves.
And the ruling style of each family varied so widely – some that tried to support their entire family via a range of means, others that offered no such services. Some kept a tight leash on their family and required the staff to do that, others that held meetings on an annual basis, with the warden only acting when absolutely necessary.
The Great Grand Mossy Secretariat – the name the sloth warden gave to their ruling body – did little more than issue a newsletter, and attend inter-family and major Court events when called on.
It would be far too simple to think that all the magpies were just criminals, but whatever the system, it was haphazard, just like everything else her mother did.
The guard was keeping her at a deliberatley slow pace – painfully slow, given the condition that Taylor was likely in – he was dead, dying, or in need of something to punch, and she was being kept at a snail’s pace. Every faster step she took resulted in a grabbed arm, or a shove, or some other hint not to act out of parameters.
Finally the door was in sight.
The door was ajar.
The guard saw it nearly as quickly as she did, grabbed her arm, and held her to the snail’s pace until they reached the door. He released her from his grip, and she kicked the door open. Taylor was there, still on the slab, his large chest rising and falling – he was stil alive.
His status attained, her eyes swept the rest of the room.
He was alive, but he wasn’t alone. The two prostituted magpies that had been throwing themselves at Taylor were there again, but at least this time they weren’t trying to force themselves on him.
They lay in the corner, naked, curled into each other – a post-coital nap. Post-coital with each other, hopefully, else sexual assault was the routine, run-of-the-mill greeting for Agency guests.
The guard didn’t follow her into the room, but she could hear him breathing – he was right outside, not leaving her alone, not giving them another chance to escape. For whatever good another escape attempt would do. Likely, this time, it would end in execution for her commander, and Tenner’s predicted lack of consciousness for her. And that would be that, she would be trapped there forever.
Assuming that they had not been flagged as traitors and already grey-listed or black-listed, there was the chance of a rescue. A slim chance, given that it was unfriendly territory, fae territory, outside the bounds of system safety.
Rescue, however, would only come if there was an agent in play.
Even if they sent recruits, and as expendable as recruits were the risk was not worth it, unless they were going to be able to retrieve one of their own. Taylor died, and she would be at her mother’s mercy, what nonexistent mercy that she had.
She put two fingers to Taylor’s sweaty neck, and felt some of her worry slip away. It was a lot stronger than it had been – patch job or not, the emergency first aid seemed to have saved him – at least for the moment.
She pulled a stool over to his side, and began to take stock of his condition. He was sweaty – his bare chest showed it well, as did the small beads of sweat at the end of each strand of red hair. There was no obvious bleeding, breakthrough, or further damage.
He opened his eyes and stared at her, to which she gave a slight nod. ‘Safe as it’s going to be, sir.’
‘Have you killed them all yet?’
‘Not yet, sir.’
He gave her a sour expression, but it was one of the rare times that there was no malice behind it. He opened his mouth to reprimand her, then coughed. No blood came from mouth, though he looked disgusted at himself for the weakness.
She moved forward and helped him to roll onto his side. ‘Condition, sir?’
He spat off the side of the bed. ‘You can see for yourself.’
His back was a mass of scar tissue – not the few scars that he kept out of pride, this was ugly patches of scarring, beneath him, beneath how good he really was. She traced the line of the scar up, made a few calculations and pressed her fingers an inch or so above the end of the scar. ‘If he’d struck at a different angle, sir, it would have been much worse.’
‘I’m paralysed,’ he said as he rolled back onto his back, then propped himself up onto his elbows. ‘It’s worse.’
‘You nearly bled out, sir, how is-‘
‘Low, but within tolerance,’ he said. ‘No appreciable movement possible lower than my arms. Liability,’ he said with a disgusted look. ‘Twenty-one hours left on my blue.’
‘And then what, sir?’
A vague look crossed his face for a moment. ‘Withdrawal first,’ he said, his voice a flat monotone. ‘Painful. More so on top of existing injuries.’ He closed his eyes, and she took a moment to retrieve a beaker of water from the sink. She passed it to him when he opened his eyes again, and he drank it all without complaint.
‘Withdrawal, sir?’ she prompted. ‘What can I do to make it easier?’
‘It’s withdrawal from everything,’ he said, his voice distant, ‘there’s nothing you can do. It’s everything that makes an agent an agent being stripped away. It’s everything being stripped away. Again. I’ll lose everything. I won’t be-’
‘Save the painkillers, if they give you any, for after, during, it won’t make a difference.’
‘Yes sir.’
He pushed the beaker toward her with the back of his hand, she slid off the stool, stepped over the reaching hand of the less-responsive magpie girl, and filled the beaker again.
Taylor downed half of the beaker of water, and threw the rest over his face, clearing away some of the sweat. He shook his head as water ran over his eyes. ‘It’s punishment,’ he said.
Guilt twisted in her gut. ‘Sir, I didn’t mean to-‘
His hand slid off the beaker and onto her cold hand for a moment. ‘Withdrawal,’ he said to clarify. ‘Punishment for being weak enough to be captured. Punishment for being weak enough to turn traitor against the Agency. It’s convinced a few traitors to come back before it completely dried in their veins.’
‘It’s that bad, sir?’
‘What does the scale of punishment go up to, Magnolia?’
‘To level seven, sir.’
‘The pain of withdrawal has to be called level seven, just because the scale doesn’t go any higher. And it tends to induce level seven glitches at the same time.’
‘If I were to render you unconscious?’
‘Cowards way out,’ he said with a grunt as he adjusted his position, lifted a hand and wiped the excess water from his face. ‘And it wouldn’t work. It forces consciousness. Inducing it is good if you have no option…even a coma wouldn’t work.’
‘Sorry, sir.’
‘Level seven glitches…’ he said. slowly ‘Are…intermittent. I won’t know what is real and what isn’t. Don’t come near me,’ he said with a growl. ‘It’s not waking up disorientated…it’s being unable to distinguish. Stay away from me, but you could send your mother.’
She gave a slight smile, then shuddered as she felt a tongue slide up her leg. She kicked, and felt her foot impact something soft, and heard a cry as the less-responsive magpie girl hit the floor.
The other was off the floor in a moment, ran across the small room, and went to her knees next to her partner. ‘She didn’t mean it,’ the magpie girl said quietly. ‘You didn’t have to hurt her.’
‘I’m a little touchy right now,’ she said through gritted teeth.
‘We can help,’ the magpie girl said, ‘the boys need permission from Mordred, we don’t. We’re just the whores, we don’t count.’
‘I don’t need what you’re offering, and keep-’
‘Keep what, away from your agent, not a problem unless we’re ordered otherwise.’
‘Did you-‘
‘It’s warm and quiet in here,’ the girl said. ‘No one’s looking in on him.’
‘Would you?’ she heard herself ask. ‘If you’re just lying around doing nothing.’
‘Your cunt might be worth something to Mordred,’ the girl said, ‘look how much we’re worth, think twice about asking us any favours…asking me any favours, Tessa can’t do much anymore, except suck, and fuck and cry.’
‘Can you or not?’
‘Do you even realise you haven’t asked my name yet?’ the magpie girl hissed.
Taylor touched the back of her head, fingers slipping into her hair. ‘I don’t need them.’
‘Sir…’ she said as she turned. ‘I don’t know if I can be here.’
‘I told you not to be.’
‘You’re here because of me.’
‘Ryan could handle it,’ he said as he lowered himself down onto the table. ‘And I’m better than him.’
‘What happened to him, what’s the follow-up treatment? What can I-?’
‘Just more water, and an escape plan, Magnolia.’
She fetched a third beaker of water, and looked around the small room. ‘I’ll do my best to get you a blanket and a pillow,’ she said, ‘and antibiotics, and painkillers, and saline.’
He gave an affirmative grunt.
She leaned in and gave him a quick kiss. ‘Mordred guessed,’ she said, ‘no point in hiding it.’
‘You really should,’ the magpie girl behind her said. ‘However much he’s hurting you, he can hurt you more.’
‘I don’t-‘
‘Trust me,’ the magpie said, ‘you aren’t Tessa, you aren’t me, and you aren’t the ones that are gone, he likes you, so you’re getting off easy. Your agent is alive on his whim, on mother’s whim, don’t push your luck.’
‘I’m cooperating,’ she hissed.
The guard stepped into the doorway. ‘Time to go.’ She gave her commander one last look, wiped her sweat-covered hands on her short dress, and left the room, hoping that the girls would stay away from Taylor.
Once out of ear shot, she looked up at the guard. ‘Take me to mother.’
‘Mordred said-’
‘And he’s in charge of this Court?’ she snapped. ‘Who would you prefer to piss off?’
The guard scowled, and led her down an intersecting corridor. It took much longer to get to Magpie’s quarters than it was back to Mordred’s room, and neither were anywhere to be seen when the guard ushered her in. He gave her a gruff instruction to wait, and it was only after the door was closed that she noticed the man.
For a brief second, she thought he was an agent. He had the suit for it – expensive, impeccable, tailored – would have easily fit in with a convention of field agents or clerks.
Everything else about him was human though – there wasn’t even the briefest question about it, as there had been with Tenner – he was human through and through.
He was human. He was rich. He was in her mother’s quarters.
‘You’re the lawyer,’ she stated.
‘And you’re Mordred’s new whore,’ he said, tipping his glass in her direction before going back to the paperwork laid out on his legs, and on the couch. ‘I expected…trashier, frankly.’A soft accent coloured his voice, nothing harsh, nothing specific, signs of a lot of travel, a lot of fitting in.
‘I wanted to talk to you.’
‘I can’t see about what.’
‘I want to get the terms of this…prostitution down on paper, so that it’s fair for all concerned, and that Agent Taylor can be released.’
‘You even let that thought go through your pretty little head again and the only place that agent is going to be released is to the dogs, or the chefs, or the incinerator.’ He drained his glass, then rose to fill it again.
‘She is risking war-’ she began.
‘The Agency doesn’t look after their own,’ he said, ‘and the Kings’ law is on your mother’s side, so I don’t see what you can possibly get out of this situation.’
‘She can have her heir, Mordred can have his whore, but that’s it, I want it on paper that I’m free after it’s over, and I want Taylor freed now, Kings’ law doesn’t cover kidnapping.’
‘It’s not a kidnapping,’ the lawyer said as he returned to the couch, ‘he came willingly. He’s staying…in your best interest, he would say willingly.’
‘Isn’t this your job?’
He stood and walked to her. ‘I work for your mother, I doubt she would let this go on her tab. I do a service for you, you…would have to service me in return.’ He cupped a breast, his thumb running across her nipple. ‘And given what I charge per hour, and your relative worthlessness, that would be a lot of effort on your part.’
‘Will you do it?’
He returned. ‘No. Maybe if your boyfriend was something other than an agent, but I can’t wait for the day when those fucks are wiped from the surface of the earth.’