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This Unspeakable Pursuit

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In all fairness, most paladins are disappointingly cliche with their anger, Wilde has found. And Grizzop doesn’t seem particularly artsy or creative, so he’d likely take a day or two to brood on a rooftop somewhere before any sort of confrontation. Wilde assumes he’ll have time to actually get some work done before being stopped in public for an impassioned lecture or the like.

Wilde puts a book down on a nearby shelf and tries to move toward his desk only to find that he can’t. An arrow pierces through his shoe leather neatly, down into the floor. Wilde hadn’t even felt it land. There’s a confused moment where he’s embarrassed, as if he somehow missed it during breakfast, as if he has been walking around like this all morning.

Grizzop is impressively fast. Wilde hasn’t even taken another breath before there’s a knife pinning his left sleeve to the wall. Grizzop uses the motion for leverage, lets it ricochet him to pin the other sleeve to the opposite wall. The force from that second knife lets him push up against the wall and dig the claws of his feet into the wood on either side, which is a very creative and impressive way to end up looming over Wilde, not to mention holding a third knife to his throat.

Wilde often finds himself cornered in this line of work, but it’s rarely so delightfully literal. He says as much to Grizzop’s snarling face, a few scant millimeters from his own. It receives no reply but a firmer press of the blade against his throat, and Wilde lets it tilt his head back.

Wilde’s not dead yet and feels confident in assuming this isn’t his time, either. Time to see what this is about, then. “Never knew you to favor a blade when a shaft would do.”

“Well, depends what you’re going for, right?” Grizzop’s tone is as conversational as Wilde’s. Contemplative, even. They could be discussing the weather. “This case, Mister Wilde, I’m making sure you look me in the eyes proper.”

“They’re quite pretty,” Wilde offers. They’re not, obviously. No human would accuse Grizzop’s eyes of such a thing. Cute, maybe, in the way that especially hideous newborns or elderly beloved pets are called cute. Grizzop’s eyes are dark red with a small pupil: round and akin to the eyes of foxes and coyotes, of taxidermy lions. The level stare of a wolf, actually, and much the same sort of teeth.

From this angle, Wilde can see those teeth glinting in Grizzop’s mouth as he speaks. Some are smaller than others, but all of them are clean, white, and sharp. “My name, Mister Wilde, is Grizzop.”

Each syllable is bitten off and with it, Grizzop comes closer and closer. For a moment, Wilde thinks their faces will bump against each other, and won’t that be awkwardly erotic, but Grizzop veers off and ends up speaking into Wilde’s ear. “Grizzop drik acht Amsterdam. And I am here, on this job, as a paladin of Artemis Parthenos, Artemis Agrotera, Artemis of the deer, Artemis of the golden reins, far-shooting queen of beasts Artemis.”

All the quips Wilde has die on his lips at the invocation of the goddess. The silence gives him the time to hear Grizzop’s steady breathing, time for the awareness of one of the ways Wilde has misstepped to settle on his shoulders.

Paladins, honestly. At least clerics have the good taste to take their gods off the pedestal now and again.

“Usually, I don’t really care what posh types like you think of me,” Grizzop goes on, and the only reason Wilde can suppress a bitter laugh at that is Grizzop’s bared teeth pressed against his cheek when the goblin pauses for a breath. “But I’m here as Her representative, and you will not disrespect Her choices.”

A sudden motion and for a moment Wilde’s magic rises in a panicked defense. Grizzop ducks out, down, out of it; Wilde never even sees it happen.

But he’s gone.

Wilde stares at the dagger beside his head, still vibrating from being slammed into the wall.

It takes him a bit to wriggle free of his jacket and then carefully free it from the blades pinning it to the wall. His magic quietly mends the threads back together, strong as if they’d never been sliced through. His shoe might be a lost cause, though.

The door to his bedroom is ajar, Wilde realizes. He shuts it. Locks it, leans on it. One hand rises to stroke the skin on his cheek, and he thinks about the way hard enamel felt against it. He stares at the corner where Grizzop caught and held him. The last knife is still embedded in the wall.

Wilde’s heart hammers against his ribs like an animal slamming against the bars of its cage.