In a city that was, relatively recently, stolen by giant bats, a young man wakes up in a holding cell. There's a guard standing watch, though a rather scrawny one.
He smiles at his mandrake. What a good mandrake.
"It's funny," he says, "I didn't even mean to hunt the Vake, I just thought a singing mandrake sounded like a fantastic idea. But then it tried to kill me, so maybe I'm going to end up hunting it after all."
He scoops Edward up and puts him in his jar, telling him affectionately, "But I would love you even if you were no use to me at all."
Off he goes, giggling.
For some reason he finds that he is deeply reluctant to go anywhere near the Palace.
But he is even more deeply reluctant to be defenseless against the giant bat that wants to eat him, so off to see the Morbid Under-Secretary it is.
Well, fair enough. He shrugs and walks away.
So how is he going to see the Morbid Under-Secretary if walking in the front door won't do it...?
A woman in a navy-blue suit steps out of the shadows and falls into step next to him.
"You know, I expected some interesting things from you, but 'trying to get back into the Shuttered Palace' wasn't one of them."
"After the lengths we went to getting you out? I'd think this would be the last place I'd see you."
"—wait, you know me?" He stops in his tracks, staring at her intently. "Who the fuck am I?"
"-Christ's blood, I thought you were acting off, but I never imagined - if we're going to have this conversation, it won't be in the middle of the street. Follow me."
She strides off down a sidestreet.
Oh, he is sure as hell following.
She leads him over Hood's Bridge, into the Forgotten Quarter, through streets lined with crumbling statues, into a ruined temple. There, she sits on an ancient, blood-stained altar and regards him.
"How much do you remember?" she asks finally.
"I woke up in a jail cell with no idea who I was or how I got there and I haven't remembered anything more since."
"Well. You were once called the Wayward Prince. Son of the Traitor Empress. When London Fell, your siblings were turned into monsters. Your mother tried again, and you came out just as monstrous as they. So you were all locked away in the cellars of the Shuttered Palace. You occupied yourselves in depravity, in the pursuit of forbidden pleasures; this satisfied the rest of her brood, but you felt trapped. I happened to be assigned to the Palace at the time, gathering intelligence on certain persons - and I ran into you. We had... a rocky start to our working relationship, but eventually came to respect each other, or at least what we could accomplish together."
(When she says a rocky start there's a flash of tentacles reaching out to examine, to plunder - a cold look in her eye, a ratwork pistol in her unshaking hand -)
"I happen to be an artisan of the Red Science - the arts which break the Chain. There was a quirk to your curse, which made your reflection appear human; I stole your reflection from Parabola, the land behind the mirrors, and transferred you into it. Once that was done, I left the hulk of your former body to rot in your chambers and smuggled you out of the Palace. I've kept an eye on you since, but evidently not a close enough eye - I didn't realize the blow you suffered in that bar fight had rattled your brain so thoroughly."
"I almost remembered something there..." But the memory slips away, and he shakes his head slightly. "Anyway, now there's a giant bat trying to eat me and I'm supposed to go ask a Morbid Under-Secretary to give me one of its teeth."
"Ah, yes, the Vake-hunt. Hmm... I could smuggle you in. The Palace always has need of new valets, and making an identity for you would be child's play. But if I do you this favor, I want you to do one for me. Does that sound fair?"
"Suppose it does. What kind of favour do you want?"
"His Amused Lordship is doing some research into the extension of human life which I find very fascinating. Regrettably, he doesn't trust me, due to my lack of a soul. I'd like you to arrange a mutually beneficial exchange of knowledge - replace his research with my own, and bring his to me. I'll copy it out for my own use and send back the originals."
"Well, I have no idea how to do that, but so far every time I can remember trying something I had no idea how to do, I managed it somehow or other."