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The Hunger of Gods

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One would think the death of a God would shatter the world, or at least that part of it which contains those who were there to witness the fall. Yet Will wakes, walks, goes about his business and the world continues on. It has not changed. Only he has changed, perceiving the truth behind the lies, the curtain drawn back revealing the secret horror. Knowledge has a weight like a collar round his neck. There is not one there yet – but no physical reminder is needed, and although he is claimed, Hannibal himself remains oddly enamoured by the shadows. He keeps his secrets close. He is True-Blood Royal, and yet he maintains this facade of the ordinary. Will would not dare look deep enough into him to find out why.

In the immediate aftermath, Will is left alone. In fire and fury at the close of battle he had lost all track of space and time whilst enveloped in darkness and god-stuff, and then had been spat forth in his own home with only his mutts for company. There had been no sign or word from Abigail or Hannibal since. He can feel them though, the God's attention from afar, a watchful eye beyond the world. Abigail is drawn in to him now, becoming a part of him. The very thought makes Will's skin crawl and shudder. It is what is wanted for him, he knows. He also knows there is no hope for escape. What he had always feared is come, and if not to be devoured all at once, then to be made a plaything, which is in some ways worse for there will be no promise of an end beyond the torment.

As Hannibal promised, he cannot speak of it. His tongue is a leaden weight, his throat closing in pained spasms. Will returns to his work for Jack Crawford because he can think of little else he might do. If Hannibal does not mean to do anything to him in the immediate moment, then life – as banal as it is – must go on. His dogs must be fed. He must be fed, despite the temptation to let himself waste away to bones and dust. But that would not be allowed, Will is sure. As Toviyah returned him ever to health, sustaining him with his power, so would Hannibal do the same. There is no escape in that or any other way.

Their team is called at one point when Dr Chilton, Head of the Baltimore Hospital for the Criminally Insane, is found dead in the same place the Chesapeake Ripper once left the arm of Jack's trainee Lass to be discovered. Will knows who Jack suspects, but in the end his own particular skills are not needed – Abel Gideon is missing from his cell, the bars wrenched and twisted asunder by some outside force, and when the area around the observatory is searched, his sucked-dry corpse is found strung up in the forest nearby all in pieces, flayed and butchered. The Ripper has ripped, sure enough, but he has left as little to be found as before. No psychic spoor here for Will Graham's mind to latch on to, gnaw at, metabolise and digest.

Jack is displeased, as he always is, but the team to whom Will was never close are now farther away then ever, as though a wall of glass has shut him off from the world, and much as he beats against it, shouts and screams and pleads, it cannot be broken, and he cannot be heard.

Will dreams of water and he dreams of fire. He dreams of a beach, air so cold his breath steams and the waves that roll and break against the sand are slush beaded with larger chunks of ice. Hoarfrost coats the sparse dead trees which become a thicket of thorns preventing his escape from the shoreline. Beyond the ocean is a wall of ice that leaks rust-red blood, and behind it the promise of a flood. It creaks. Pieces splinter. The sense of something coming, lurking on the edge of potentiality, makes the air thick and hard to breath. But it never comes, or not before he wakes. Of the fire he has only flashes.

After that, there is quiet for some time. There are no killings which would occasion a need for his skills. Will returns to teaching, to lecturing, letting the familiar shadows and whispers of the Quantico building surround him, a blanket over the glass. The eager minds of his students are almost refreshing, compared to the horrors he has seen. After Toviyah he had been thin, each rib showing stark through his skin, a web of white scars over his chest and limbs. His appetite is poor, but he has been filling out again and the scars are starting to fade. His nightmares have never included re-enactments of what was done to him, but he has his suspicions as to the cause of that – he doubts the God that has claimed him wants any reminder that another put their mark on him.

Things cannot last as they are. The space, the time he has been given to self-stabilise is a small mercy and only that. Before many more days have passed, one evening Will is startled from his thoughts by a knock at his door. He rises, and notes that his dogs are milling around, confused, perhaps a little scared but not knowing why. He steels himself, already sure what is coming.

Hannibal, wearing his thin-blood guise, is standing on the porch. He is wrapped up against the cold in a thick wool coat, and he has Abigail with him. He smiles, showing the hint of sharp teeth. Will can sense the amusement pouring off him.

“Good evening,” the God says. “I wonder, have you decided which path you will take towards the future?”

Will grits his teeth. He had been defiant before, letting his tongue loose with anger and hate, and although the God had allowed it then, he may be less lenient now. It is not in the nature of Royalty to let their servants and slaves answer back. “What do you want?” he asks, the words bitter in his mouth.

“You have lingered in your misery long enough,” Hannibal tells him. “You are mine, and there are certain standards which I expect you to uphold. There is much to teach you.”

“There's a lot of things humans aren't meant to know – I'm not foolish enough to drive myself out of my mind,” Will says.

“You were just given permission,” Abigail says, rolling her eyes. She looks... much as she ever has. No changes lurk beneath her pale skin, no subtle wrongness makes itself manifest in her features. Her eyes are older than her age, for she has seen much that ought have been spared her, much that Will would have spared her, if he could. Hannibal's power has caged her, but not warped her, at least not yet. How long can that last? Mortals are not meant to dwell with the Gods.

“Come with me Will,” Hannibal says, holding his hand out to him. “Come and know. You were always one to prefer that to the ignorance of the common flock. You are meant for more than they are.”

Will has no choice. The asking is an illusion of it, but only that. He reaches for his jacket hanging by the door and steps out into the cold of night, with the smell of snow sharp on the air. Hannibal smiles at him again, fond in a way that makes his skin shudder. The warm wool is little protection against the less natural types of chill.

Will takes the hand that is offered him, and Abigail reaches for the other. Around them the world blurs. The moon jumps in the sky and the stars recede to be barely glimpsed. The trees, sparse and bare, take on a wilder aspect, twigs and branches intertwining, growing, grasping. His house behind him is gone, leaving only a trail under their feet.

“Where are we?” he asks. If the point of this is knowledge, then he must be permitted his questions.

“Our destination is the Dreamlands,” Hannibal tells him. He too is changed. Not as far as his true form, that massive, incoherent bulk of shadows, blue flame and sharp-boned limbs, but his skin has taken on that dull deep-sea hue, his crown of antlers rises tall, his fingers become claws long and razored. His teeth are layers of needles behind the mask of his mouth. “This is our entrance to it. We are here to visit friends.”

“Gods don't have friends. They only have acquaintances they haven't killed yet.”

Hannibal concedes this with a slight incline of his head. “Perhaps then I should say allies? At least, we have need of a guide to lead us to a certain individual, for although he is known to me, his location is not. We shall give them our goodwill that we might expect it in return.”

“Why do they know if you don't?” Will asks. Abigail frowns at him.

“The Dreamlands are vast Will,” Hannibal says, soft as a whisper, as a murmur on the edge of hearing. “Vast beyond measure even of my kind. That part of it which is tied to your world has become far stranger since we returned. Gone is the peace which came before – this is a wilder land than it was, and more changeable. Its inhabitants must move and change with it, else be lost.”

“I feel as though I've been here before,” Abigail says.

“You have. This place is mine – a shadow's breadth apart from the Dreamlands. And where I am, so is all that belongs to me.”

“Who are we going to see then?” Will asks through gritted teeth, desperate suddenly to talk of anything else.

Hannibal walks forwards and the woods warp around him. The stars shudder. When Will looks up a new sky has usurped the old, a sky in motion, where the shapes of unfamiliar constellations chase each other across a wet sea of whispering ink. There are no clouds here; there were none before.

“We seek the carrion-eaters,” the God tells them. “For the lost cannot lose themselves any further.”

From the forest they descend a deer-path through the tangled trees and then out into an open valley where long grasses black in the star light ripple in a breeze that only the stalks can feel. There is no moon and nor are the stars bright, yet it is as easy for Will to see the valley laid out below him as if it were high-noon in summer. A shudder runs through him. If he only had a mirror he could check... he had felt nothing, but that did not mean that no touch unseen could not have altered him, remade his eyes for the God's convenience.

But it is better not to know. They have come here questing, and Will would rather this experience be done with as soon as it can be.

The valley is wide, and leads down to a village over rivers and bridges. Hills to each side become mountains of bare and barren rock, and there this unnatural sight seems to fail him as darkness takes them and swallows them, and they become one with the well of the sky. Will looks up again, and for a moment he feels the cold kiss of snow. Then it is gone, as swiftly as it came, and he is left feeling that the void above him is really below, and so wide and vast and deep that it is as though he is about to fall into it.

Claws close around his throat. “Take care,” Hannibal says, the clotted-blood pools of his eyes moving in between Will and the stars and catching him in their just-as-deep gaze. “Do not stray.”

Will nods silently. The claws loosen, and the God turns away once more. “Follow.”

Abigail elbows him as the side as she obeys, rolling her eyes at him. “Aren't you the one who was talking about taking care of your own mind?” she says under her breath. He cannot answer that. It had been foolish, but he hadn't thought... hadn't realised. Not really. What being here meant. These are the Dreamlands, and here the unreal can become real as easy as taking a breath.

He follows Abigail who follows Hannibal. The path they take is little but earth and dust, as though worn smooth from the fields by the passing of many feet, even though these lands seem almost deserted. No smoke rises from the chimneys of the village below. No lights are in its windows. No movement in its streets. At first it seems that the road they take will lead there, but instead it turns aside and around, marking a loop over the hills towards an ancient high wall of crumbling stone. A low arch leads through it, and beyond... a graveyard. There are pillars and mausoleums, marble and granite, shadowed statues of creatures he does not know and does not think he wants to. The earth is torn up in many places and shattered wood and sundered lead speak of desecration. Abigail hums; a thoughtful sound.

“Claimed of the Charnel God,” she says, offering this up in the way of an objection or some potential obstacle.

“Yet it is not his favour we come asking today,” Hannibal replies. “Their simple knowledge will suffice.”

Simple or not, this is knowledge Will wants no part in. He is human, mortal, and this... this is not for him. Those who go to the Dreamlands do not come back the same. Those touched by Gods do not come back the same. He is happy with how he is – though that's not something he would have ever thought he'd say. But he is already marked; the scars of a God's claws itch on his flesh. A part of a God lay nestled under his ribs for months. He has forgotten none of this, nor the anger that bubbles within him whenever he thinks of it.

“What now?” he asks, the ghost of his wrath spurring his tongue.

Hannibal inclines his head in the direction of a mausoleum at the centre of the bone-yard. Its wide door looms open and empty and steps lead down and in. Then there is movement. A lithe grey figure, not human in its skin or movement, scurries up the steps towards them. It creeps forwards on both two limbs and four, and comes to a stop crouched in a kind of bow. It does look half-way human, but the head is more like a dog and its hands are clawed.

“You know my name,” Hannibal tells it. He is a monstrous, regal shadow in the un-light, a shadow before which this creature pays homage.

“Yes, oh God,” comes the reply. The voice is high and thin, shaping the words oddly in the manner of one who is used to a very different language. “Come, come within, come to the low places, our tunnels are open to you.” It rises and scampers away towards the maw of the crypt, towards the deep darkness. Hannibal follows it, Abigail trailing after him. Will hesitates, but the only thing worse than venturing into the gape of that hole would be to remain above alone. He has better control of the curse of his peculiar mind than he once did, but he does not fool himself – in this place he makes a tempting target for hungry predators. Hannibal, Royal as he may be, at least has an interest in seeing him kept alive.

The stairs that lead to the mausoleum are damp and slick with some indefinable moisture. As Will passes beneath the threshold a rush of clammy, chill air hits his skin, making it prickle. He shivers. The smell here is that of the grave, sickly rot that as of yet is merely a slight perfume on the air. He suspects that as they delve deeper it will become much worse.

Whatever trick of sight let him see in the night above fails him in this world below. Shadows swallow him up and the expanse of his existence is quickly reduced to only his own breath, the movement of his lungs in his chest, the stumbling of his feet over the rough stone. He puts out a hand and his fingers brush against the wetness of a wall. Still the stairs descend, making him hesitant.

“Take my hand,” Abigail says, from but a little way in front of him. Will reaches out and she grasps his wrist, and then he can see again, in much the way as he could in the lands above. “I think it'll be a long walk.”

“How...” Will starts to ask, and she raises her other arm to show the dark tendril wrapped around it, seeming somehow to bite into the very flesh. He does not have to look to see where the other end of it leads. Hannibal looms only a little way ahead of them, looking back with eyes that seem to glow to this alien and borrowed sight. Instinct makes him jerk away, but Abigail's grip is stronger than an unthinking reaction, and she rolls her eyes at him.

“You're wasting time,” she says, and tugs at him to urge him on.

The stairs become a spiral as they descend, widening out into a vast chasm above and below. Here and there other paths come down to meet theirs or rise up away to vanish into the rock, but as far as can be seen they are all alone here in the depths. No other creatures like their guide seem to traverse these routes, but then Will can feel the fear that pours from this one, sweaty and salty, bitter as vinegar against the back of his tongue, even though he's not particularly trying to get inside its head. When a God walks, best get out of the way.

By the time they reach the bottom of the cavern it seems as though they have been walking for hours, although if that were the case then Will thinks he ought to be more tired than he is. There is no burn in his muscles even though he has been moving ceaselessly all this while. Yet Abigail does not seem to find anything odd about this, and he suspects that the reason for is the kind of knowledge that she has been gifted, and that he himself has been promised were he only to bow his head to the creature that has claimed him.

He will not. Knowing does not matter as much to him as his life and his mind, and those he will keep safe as well as he can, even if the effort can only be futile in the end.

Their guide leads them on over the rough surface of the cave to a high opening in one wall, where the surroundings become less the work of nature and more the work of a guiding mind and clever hands. There are tall pillars, and doorways cut into the rock at many heights so that that the new cavern which they pass into seems to be holed with burrows as if it were some great termite-mound. A low sussurus of conversation in some whistling, meeping tongue fills the air, but ceases quickly as they pass into view. A few grey-green creatures which had been gathered in the large open space leap away back to their homes; others simply freeze silent in place.

“I wish to speak to one who knows of the uplands,” Hannibal tells their guide.

“There is one among us who came from the lands above,” the creature replies. “She resides nearby.”

“Huh,” Abigail says thoughtfully, catching Will's attention.

“What is it?” he asks.

“If you weren't so stubborn you'd already know,” she tells him. “There's really nothing to be afraid of.”

She looks so certain and self-assured that Will cannot find it in him to argue with her. He will not move her; she has been too long in the God's influence. Abigail is lost, and although he has tried very hard not to think on it too much, he can't help but blame himself for this at least a little. If he had been more perceptive, if he had paid more attention to the way he had always felt a little bit off around Hannibal then... but what would he have done then even if he had known? What way does he really think he could have stopped any of this? It was already too late from the very first time he met the God in Jack's office.

Abigail makes an annoyed noise when she sees that he isn't about to make any reply to her, and tugs at his wrist harder than necessary as they head off again in search of this person from the uplands who it seems can tell them what they know.

Said person turns out to be a young girl in her twenties, more human in appearance than the rest of the inhabitants of this underworld, although altered in a way that speaks of something eldrich back in her blood-line. Will doesn't know that he could call her a thin-blood exactly. This seems like something else. A transformation brought on by a kind of background radiation of wyrd, of Godly presence. In a way it is what he fears will happen to him, will happen to Abigail, if the pair of them spend any significant amount of time in Hannibal's presence. She is introduced as Georgia Madchen, a pale youth with yellowed skin, a little plump with grave-gas, skin peeling in rents of greater or lesser size to reveal muscle in some places and in others the greyish flesh of her compatriots. Her eyes have yellow irises ringed with red. Her clothes are tattered and grimy odds and ends, worn with decay. When she is introduced to Hannibal, she bows in the way that mortals are trained to do.

“Of course whatever you need I'll help with,” she tells them. “But my memory isn't the best these days, not when it comes to my life up there.”

“That life is like a dream to you now, I understand,” Hannibal says, his voice a low rumble that might be soothing – had once been soothing – if only Will didn't know what he is. “You wish to forget the events that drove you to seek out this place and your mind obliges you. To consider a return to the world above is painful to you, but I must ask this of you.”

“What are you looking for anyway that you can't find yourself?”

“A certain individual that I have cause to believe you once knew. An acquaintance of mine in a distant past. He may have been known to you as Sutcliffe.”

A look of fear seems to come into her eyes. She hesitates. Will could reach out and read her, open his mind to hers and see, but he does not wish to. Not here, in the dark and the depths and the dreaming.

“I know him,” she says in a whisper. “I... remember knowing him.”

Hannibal does not move, yet somehow seems to loom all the same. “Then you can take us to him.”

----

It makes for another long and difficult journey. Will has cause to wish that the God in their midst might at least use some of the power of that Royal blood to carve a smooth and easy way through the tangles of space and time to save them the trip. A quick path, even so tainted, would be less harrowing than the sickening weight of the vast spaces beneath the earth, the empty wastes whose heights or depths cannot be seen, where unknown things chatter and shriek from far away and even peaks that would be called mountains had they sky above them have space to rear their bare and sharp-edged heads. Eyes follow them, tracking their movement with impersonal and implacable concentration, like predators picking the weak members from a herd. Even if Will knows in the abstract that he is safe from them in Hannibal's presence, this means little to the mortal prey-instincts of his body.

But there is no easy route. If he does not know all that they might wish him to, at least he knows that on occasion even power cannot match the twisted path correctly followed.

Abigail seems oblivious to it all. He envies her that much. She has joined Georgia at the head of their small procession, falling into step with her and making conversation. He can make out only about half of it, but it gives him something to focus on rather than those sounds upon the edge of hearing.

“I don't think anyone should fear what they are,” Abigail tells the girl, “or what they're chosen to be.”

“I had family though, up there,” Georgia replies. She sounds wistful. “But even though I know they loved me, when I told them... when they saw that it was true...”

“Change can be scary,” Abigail says, looking back at Will to make a point. He ignores it. “But if you hadn't, would you really have been happy?”

“If I could have had both, I would have,” Georgia says. “But I couldn't hold back the hunger, or what was going on under my skin when I gave into it. How can someone who hasn't felt that understand it? I didn't understand it, not at first. That's how I met Dr Sutcliffe, you see. He was meant to fix what was wrong with me. He didn't, couldn't. He told me what was going on, what I was becoming, but he didn't do it to help. He did it because he saw me as a thing, as a specimen for him to observe and experiment on.”

“We might be seeking him out for answers, but Hannibal's not going to let him try something like that,” Abigail replies. Will is liking the sound of this less and less. The God would not have him here without purpose, and people like this man are just another of his deep fears. People who will look at him and say, isn't he interesting. Let's get inside his head and see what makes it work. Even if this Sutcliffe is a mortal rather than one of the Blood, the urge is the same, and the lengths they will go to.

But they have brought him too far to make any escape. He must trust – as if a God knows anything of trust! - that Abigail's words are the truth, and that Hannibal does not want him damaged in the search for whatever this knowledge might be.

They emerge at last into the light of day – a light blinding in its suddenness and intensity, after the long dark of the deeps. Will rises, blinking, from the stair that emerges in the midst of a circle of stones, worn with long ages past the memory of his own kind. Hannibal makes a low, satisfied noise that might almost be a purr. His sea-deep hide glistens like an oil-slick beneath a cold sun. Not that it is the cold of winter, but perhaps some far-north summer where even an endless day cannot truly deliver warmth.

The land about them is sand and stone; the worn-down remains of some great city swallowed up by the desert. A little way off, one building yet remains whole, some dark temple standing tall against the blue horizon. Georgia Madchen gestures towards it.

“You'll find him in there,” she says. “But if you'll allow it, Royal One, I'd rather not go any further. This isn't my world any more.”

Hannibal nods. “You may return below. I have no desire to cause you distress.”

With a shy glance towards Abigail, Georgia turns back down the stairs and is swallowed in stygian gloom once more.

And so onwards, Will thinks, and follows like a leashed dog as the God leads the way.

-----

Inside, it is warm and the air is perfumed with the scent of rose and ancient books. It is silent and still, dry in the way of dead things. From the high hall that is the entrance chamber, tall stairs rise up into darkness, leading to floors and rooms unknown. Although it has all the appearance of a temple, there is no altar and no idol, only tall thin pillars that fatten out near the floor like drops of fossilised water, and hanging banners of white sheer linen suspended motionless between them. Hannibal takes them up through corridors to a floor where every wall is carved with shelves for books, scrolls, parchment, vellum, papyrus... here is knowledge, in this secret, half-sacred place. Will can feel the power of it weighing down the world itself around them.

Faintly, somewhere, someone is whistling. The tune of it is lost at first in between the thickness of stone walls and heavy, dead air, but as they draw nearer to this sign of life it begins to resolve into something of meaning. Not that Will recognises it, but at least it sounds like real music, which is more than he might have expected.

The whistler is finally revealed when they come out into one of the upper rooms of the library, where the corridor suddenly opens up into a space filled with tables of all kinds, piled high with relics and trinkets under half-fogged glass. The man is unremarkable at first glance, neither tall nor short, neither fat nor thin, a receding hairline above a nearly trimmed beard of auburn flecked with grey. He sits reading with such deep concentration that he does not notice their arrival; some feat given that Hannibal is not performing his usual trick of hiding the presence his bloodline gives him. He looks up when the God coughs politely, and goes very still. Then he removes the pair of old-fashioned pince-nez and sets them down with a click of metal on wood that is very loud in the silence.

“Yours is a face I did not think I would ever see again,” the man says, addressing the God.

Hannibal smiles. It is one of his smiles where Will can feel the threat simmering under the surface, but not in a way that promises anything imminent, merely conveying the awareness that it is there, to become manifest were anything displeasing to happen.

“It was indeed in another life for both of us,” the God replies.

“How did you find me?” the man – Sutcliffe – asks wearily. “I chose this place with very particular criteria in mind.”

“My kind are not easily kept away. We have the leisure of the endless expanse of time to find what we seek – as does your own kin.”

“As we used to. Ever since you changed the stars and stopped this planet in its tracks...”

“Does it really mean so much to the race of Yith?” Hannibal asks. It's a therapist's question, the kind to which he already knows the answer and merely wishes to see which way you will cut yourself when trying to retreat from its sharp point. Will recognises those very well. “You have traversed your minds across the gulfs of space before.”

“We had a very coherent plan for the continuation of our civilisation. If my people have managed to formulate another one then I cannot know of it. The walls you have built in time will not let me return from this host body.”

“But nor will you perish here.”

“I thought there was an understanding between yours and mine. Yith-kind have always been respectful, have we not, and yet...”

“The Yith do not have any claim on this system,” Hannibal says, his voice cold and hard and flat. Well, isn't that always Royalty's position? We'll do what we want with our property – by which we mean you – and you'll just have to put up with it. Will is not about to feel sorry for whatever this thing is that's wearing a stolen human shape.

Sutcliffe looks away, thinking better of whatever reply he might have thought to make. “What reason did you have for seeking me out, anyway?” he asks, changing the topic with all the deftness and subtlety of an ocean liner coming into dock.

“To ask your opinion on a topic regarding which you have a particular expertise.”

“Something to do with one of these humans,” Sutcliffe says, seeming to notice Will and Abigail for the first time. “I don't recall you being one for disciples.”

“This is Will Graham,” Hannibal says. “He is the bearer of some very particular gifts which are not precisely as one would expect to find in a mortal. It began with a simple empathy; an unusual flexibility in his thinking which allows him to view the world through the eyes of another, work his way between the cracks of their mind, even if that mind is as alien as that of a thin-blood. However even when I first met him I knew that there was the potential for more. I had intended to coax this out very gradually, but a confluence of events led to an outcome so unlikely that I had not even looked down its path into the future.”

It grates to be talked about in this way, as though he isn't even in the room, but Will isn't going to say anything. Even if he thought that was a good idea or that objecting would actually work, he has to admit to a certain amount of curiosity. What Hannibal says about his capabilities here is more likely to be the truth of what he thinks than anything he has said thus far in what might laughably be called their therapy sessions.

“A physical ailment was one of the elements,” Hannibal continues. “Auto-immune encephalitis. The scent of it clung to him like smoke rising from a fire; a fevered sweetness. I soothed it with an eidolon of my blood placed in his flesh to seep the heat. Then came the day that he chose to look into the mind of a God. His mind was tinder awaiting that spark. It awoke.”

What? Will doesn't allow himself to react, but that isn't easy. Encephalitis? There hadn't been any sign of illness; he hadn't felt unusually tired or in the grip of some unfamiliar malaise. But to make up this kind of fabrication... he cannot see any reason to do so. Hannibal wouldn't gain anything by it. So it must be at least something like the truth.

“It is not unknown for the rare human to have some psychic abilities,” Sutcliffe points out.

“It remains a possibility that that is all this is,” the God says. “And that Will simply has a particularly strong talent to accompany his pleasing penchant for blood-shed. However perhaps you will oblige me by considering all the options for yourself.”

Sutcliffe stands up, looking at Will in a thoughtful and analytic manner that makes his skin crawl.

“At least doing this favour might potentially be interesting,” he says to himself.