The noise of chisels against stone was cacophonous and grated on her nerves. She swept dust from her most recent sigil and assessed what changes still needed to be made. While her thralls were capable of forming the outermost circle and the most basic shapes, the finest work would be entirely her responsibility. It could have been worse, she mused. Her limbs never got tired of the endless chiseling, and while the dust was an annoyance, she didn’t need to inhale it. She still did sometimes, but it was more out of habit than necessity. Not having a functioning respiratory system took some getting used to, she was finding. Blisters were also, apparently, a thing of the past. Whether that was because of her regenerative abilities or some other side effect of her condition, she wasn’t sure. No one explained these things when they turned you, and books on the subject tended to focus mostly on how to kill Children of the Night. No one apparently cared what the experience of living as one might be like. At least, no one who was likely to publish a book.
How long had they been at it? The tedium was mind-numbing and robbed her of a sense of time. It was after sunset, she could feel that. Some primal sense dedicated to self-preservation was always aware of the position of the sun, it seemed. But had they started this morning or the day before? At this rate, it would take weeks to finish. Weeks of boredom and cacophonous chiseling.
Halfway through the next symbol, the monotony was mercifully broken by the sound of heavy footfalls on wooden stairs. As sharp as her senses had become, the background noise must have prevented her from hearing her guest sooner. She stood up and brushed the dust from her face and arms, surprised in spite of herself to not find it sticking to perspiration. Dimly, she remembered a body that hadn’t perspired but couldn’t recollect what she’d been called then. It had been years ago and hadn’t lasted long probably. She turned to face her visitor as he reached the bottom of the stairs and recoiled slightly at the sight. “Wh-what are you…? What is that?”
Taking obvious pleasure in her bemusement, her visitor doffed his ridiculous cap and sketched a mock bow around his ponderous midsection. “I’m Onslo, milady. Pleased to meetcha!”
“Tiresome,” she snapped, having regained her composure. “Just tell me how it went.” While she’d fixed her default mask of annoyed indifference back in place, she was struggling to contain her amusement. Not every shapeshifter had a sense of humour, and those that did tended to use it more maliciously than playfully. An unnecessary flourish, but not an unwelcome one. “Stop,” she directed the half-dozen thralls chiseling around her. “Take some rest and patrol around the property. We’ll start again at sunrise. I need to be able to hear for a while.” She turned back to Onslo, irritation now firmly reasserted, and raised her eyebrows in a show of impatience.
Onslo’s form stretched considerably closer to the floor joists above them, fangs intruding on his doltish smile, skin reddening and stretching taught across inhuman musculature. She refrained from taking a step back from his more imposing form, reassuring herself that her condition made her the more frightening of the two. A few centuries of relative fragility take time to unlearn. “It was surprisingly enjoyable,” he recounted. “They’re not such a bad group, really, as Hunters go. A little slow on the uptake, though. The girl with the eyepatch thought she was supposed to meet someone, and the paladin wasn’t much help.”
Mildly disappointed, she shook her head. “Guess I’ll need to be more specific next time. But they went inside?”
“Eventually, yes. Two more Hunters joined them later, but all of them had trouble with the clock door and eventually just knocked a hole through the floor.”
“Blunt. Not necessarily a bad thing. What about the supplies and our friend in the basement?”
“They killed him and took most everything. He put up a fight, but in an enclosed space, he didn’t stand a chance.”
“As expected,” she said, smiling. “And they’ll be more effective next time now that they’ve inherited the Albrecht Hunter’s equipment.”
He waited for a time, watching her contemplate silently until he suspected she’d forgotten he was present. “Do you have another message?”
“Not now,” she said, dismissing him with a wave. “That’s your first task complete. I’ll find you when it’s time for the second.”
He bowed with an air of genuine deference, all traces of mockery now gone, and wordlessly retreated back up the stairs, hunching considerably to avoid the framing above. He would suffice for his role, she thought. Her Hunters were shaping up nicely, too. If only everything were going that well, she mused as she nudged the chisel with her foot, sending it rolling across the floor until it came to rest in the first leg of a five-pointed star. Some things can’t be delegated, though. She danced several steps to the chisel, turning a pirouette as she came to a stop above it. She briefly considered taking a rest until sunrise but instead sank back to her knees and reached for the nearest hammer. As she resumed her work, she contemplated how much she missed the need for sleep and wished she had greater affinity for spells that affect stone.