I catch her hand gently between of my own two. I can feel her tense up in front of this odd and human gesture as I gaze directly into her eyes.
— Miss Lamy, I can’t thank you enough for this service. After tonight we are even in all meanings of the word.
Her discomfort is a tangible, living thing. This is not how people behave in the Scarlet, save them being young lovers or close members of the same family. We are neither and she just doesn’t have a code how to act in this situation.
The city is a rotten thing. I was just a clueless, enslaved genius of a boy who happened to wander here. The man who I was is what the city twisted of me.
I let her go of her misery and give a heartwarming smile. She thanks me plainly and seeks quickly something else to do, leaving me with my plannings of the evening to come.
The outfit and the instrument are the first ones to go for. I have to be quick, as I need to be ready to secure my spot near the booth long before the guests will arrive to the tavern. Usually this is the olive and bread of my work, but traditionally I planned it all beforehand. I also need to take care of possible shadows that are tailing me, by going around in circles, over the houses, sometimes even under, through some hidden passageways in the cellars of the almost sunken buildings. There are some such hidden passageways that are not yet submerged.
When finally doing my costume I have to apply it far from the tavern, hidden from prying eyes. I choose one such cellar for this job and when ready I act my part as a downbeat musician going for his evening drizzle.
Miss Lamy has done her part as the staff handle me with quiet effectiveness. A stool is brought for me in the corner beforehand specified and they even give me a glass of cheap wine to complete the picture. I try to orientate myself, fiddle with my gurdy for a while as well. Easier to play my part as a man who handles such an instrument in daily basis, if I familiarize with it better. Luckily I have always been keen of different objects. From earliest childhood I can remember playing with sticks of different lengths and builds. An attribute that have served me well when I graduated to objects with points and edges.
I got so carried away with my own thoughts that I am surprised when the first guests of the evening start to flow in. I push my memories and thoughts aside and focus on here and now.
As the Lantern is one of my typical hangouts, I am very familiar with the type of people coming here. In hierarchy of places to go in the city, the Lantern is among the top ones, without being exclusive enough for the virtuous men. Just like Ruby Dancer is as well, actually.
The place starts to fill out, when a young, brash gentleman takes contact with me. He asks for a certain song, half-jokingly. I am unwilling to accommodate his request, which irritates him immensely. He is a sort of men who relish and blossom on situations where they can force their power on someone under their social standing. It might be that I have done that on some occasions as well, when I started out in the endsman game but even then I instinctively drove off from that scene. And current me, he makes sick. My knuckles grow white holding the gurdy but nothing else in my body language betrays me.
He letting the matter go is a futile hope as my downbeat behavior just fuels his self-conscious wrath upon me. People around are starting to notice and I go through my options quickly. There is no way to take him out without getting noticed, and if a lowly musician does an act like that upon a gentleman the results could be …. precarious.
Then, multiple things happen at roughly the same time. The doors of the tavern are thrown open and in comes Albin Whitehair with his two companions. He is a man who can’t, or more precisely won’t, blend in with the background wherever he goes, be it that he is coming to a secret meeting or not. His lanky, tall frame covered in brash, brightly bleached evening-suit with flashly colored ruff and sleeves. The expression is morbidly offensive and over-the-top, perhaps humorous even, for people who do not know him. White hair and red eyes complete the picture. Still in all of its macabrity I have to envy his presence when he arrives. Even with all the bells and whistles there is not a moment where he seems to be out of his comfort zone. People turn and stare, and that is when I figure out what I must do.
The bully next to me is turned towards the door as well leaving me right behind him, but I sit behind a corner of the booth in shadow. A soft kick to the back of his knees delivers him down to my lap. I am ready to receive him, my right hand coiling around his neck and left supporting his head from behind and tightening the grip. Only few seconds later he is lying in the ground, next to me, unconscious. A small fingerful of the Flower is enough to make his stupor deeper, something that will take few hours to sleep off.
The Lantern is an established place. No drunkards allowed, without an exception of a lone gurdist anyway. The gentleman is carried out of the dining hall, discretely. He’ll raise hell when he comes to, but I will be long gone by then. For a moment I feel sorry for Miss Lamy, but I reckon she can deal with this. If she couldn’t, the Lantern would have been closed long ago.
From there on things start to flow in the right direction. Albin and his friends are guided to the right booth and soon Niccolo enters with a few companions of his own. Niccolo’s entrance strikes a strong contrast with Albin. He looks more normal, but his body language screams of discomfort with every step and his burning, fanatic eyes do not feel at ease anywhere.
I focus to listen to the conversation taking place at the booth. I can’t hear everything, as some ambient of the restaurant bothers me now and then but still I can make out most of what goes on in the booth. The party starts with light wine and silence that borders on awkward. Finally Albin starts, with a hint of frustration in his voice.
— How are the arrangements going on? Speak! My master has a lot riding on this and he will not tolerate failure.
— Everything is proceeding as planned. The tasters are ready. They know what is being asked of them. They are our holy warriors and martyrs. The place of the dinner is set and the chosen Virtuous Men have signed their attendance.
— Yes yes, we will deliver the poison. It is slow enough for the job, but quick enough to get the job done in the premises. And we are arranging few … backups as well. Just to make sure they do not escape.
I get an impression of Albin as a lion negotiating with a pack of rats. How on earth has Niccolo been involved with this plan. What does he get out of this, Pseudoduke will surely crush the whole Unbroken Circle in aftermath of such villainy. Niccolo doesn’t strike me as a guy who can be bribed or seduced.
Shivers run through my spine. For deeds such as this the retributions will be horrible. Plotkin can be happy if he has his head on his shoulders after all of this is over.