One step, two step, three step, four.
How many sins knock at your door?
Five step, six step, seven step, eight.
How do you plead on this night of Fate?
"GUILTY! The whole lot of 'em!" Hargus Haygen Habbernath, the triple H himself, slams the tankard down, ushering in another wave of jeers and applause. He settles back into his seat, rolling a cigar along his lips and adjusting his stained coat, still slick with rain.
"Really, Trip? How many this time?" Teagan Scheherazade, of the Sultan Press, raises an eyebrow at the large man before synching up his thin crimson tie. He leans back, pressing into the booth's cushion, careful to avoid any excess spittle.
"Relax, tea kettle. This one's on me. All I need is a piece."
"Too far, too slim, Trip. Everyone sees you as the lord of conspiracy, but none of it holds water. How deep are you willing to go here?" Teagen sips from his personal bamboo cup, keen to keep as much of himself from making contact with the table.
"Alright, alright. Fine. You want a trickle? Here it is." Hargus leans forward, pulling a wad of parchment from his coat's deep pockets. He spreads them out, opening a quill with his teeth, and begins tracing lines along a sea of names.
Teagan massages his brow. "I didn't ask for a sypher, Trip..."
"No, no, tea kettle. It'll make sense...it's confusin' on purpose. See here?" he points to a name, "This, uh, 'doctor' Cefarion? Yeah? From the hospital two disses up? Yeah...ain't no doctor. I seen her; runs down to the docks - speaks to a man in a dark cloak - trades packages. ...I'm betting it's drugs." He licks his lips, and leans in closer. "I'm bettin' it's Strain."
"Kahna, Trip. No way the caretakers need that crap. Bury it."
"Fine, but what about that Surtur game?"
"Oh Hargus, not this again..."
"I mean it, kettle. The pirate broadcast, the call to arms, and then that wacko storm and the quarantine police!?"
A well-manicured hand rises. "Would you keep your voice down?" Teagan leans in a little closer. "The Guild's shut down; we don't have champions if we need them. Now is NOT the time to have the Horsemen blowing smoke up my ass."
A mischievous grin spills across Hargus's face, broken teeth poking through. "'Cept I know who that new Horse is. I've got his name. Maybe even an address."
"And what of it, Trip? What good comes from-
"They've been lyin' to us, Tea! All of 'em!" Teagan immediately sits back, his eyes deftly scanning the perimeter and meeting a few gazes. He glares until they return to studying their own drinks. But Hargus is far from done. He sways forward, pulling himself over the table, crawling like rabid beast toward the suit. "That weren't no storm, and it weren't no wildfire that burnt up Utriena. It was a coup... In-fighting between the cloaks and daggers." He begins frothing now, backwash and bits of mutton splattering from his words as he growls shy above a whisper. "Ain't ya' never heard of Mr. Curse?"
"...You stink of the pigs and you're as mad as the Druids that spawned you. I'll have none of your alchemy; you can burn on your own." Teagan shoves himself out of the booth, scooping up his fine duster and donning his hat in one movement. A few clip steps and he is gone.
"Hey! Tea!" But he's already out. "Hmph. Pussy." Hargus spits on the ground where his friend once stood, and turns on the table. It echoes its creaking insults and stained laughter...so he drives his fists into it with a roar.
"You! You break Gigi's stuff, Gigi breaks YOU!" The heavy footfalls of the minotaur close the distance immediately...
Welp. There goes a rib. Nothing a bit a' whisky and a nap won't fix. Mama said I always heal quick, anyway...
Hargus rises, bones creaking and chest sore from the beating and the alcohol. Fresh rain patters over his trench coat while he fishes his hat from the overflowing gutter. With a pop and a snap, he stands up, waddling his way down the narrow streets and cobblestones of Spyrelight.
An errant raven cries overhead, and for a brief moment, Hargus Haygen Habbernath, the triple H himself, contemplates how best to spend the gold that will undoubtedly be promised for the truth on the tip of his tongue. At least, this is what he would have thought, had a thunderclap not resounded so forcefully, as if it ratcheted through his own skull and shattered his senses. His knees buckle, and his body crumples like broken twigs.
Any eye that passes assumes another drunkard, face down in a ditch, and no one notices the tiny river of blood draining from a fresh hole between his eyes...
One in the chamber, two at the side, three for a lever, and four to hide.
As blood pools thin, I try to ride,
This rush I feel,
"Is it done?"
"Yes, my Sovereign."
She exhales; a beautiful, satisfying sound - like wind over leaves. "Well done, Sava. You are a sapphire among bedrock. Your next assignment is moving... are you sure you wish to tackle a third this evening?"
"Do not worry, my Sovereign..." Another casing slides into place, the receiver clicking closed. I rest the stock while I pull back the hammer and a rush of breath catches, waiting for another release. "I could do this all night..."
Hampton rolls his cigar in his mouth, a thin veil of sugar and saliva congealing over his lips. A dry cough bubbles up as he spews smoke toward my face. "What do you make a' this one, Bolt?"
I slide my disgust back inside my duster, fishing the gloves from within. Their silk and leather stretch across my fingers; a shield from the leeching tendrils of his aura. How this man ever made captain, I will never understand. Useless humans and their fringer habits.
This city has an anathema. A far cry from my Feathertongue. From the stone inlays to the cracked cobblestone, everything here...is wet. A thick film already sticks to my coat; I am slick with it. The stink of liquor, tears, and regret. No wonder the dragonborn left.
It is a girl this time. Eyes still open, gazing up at the stars when life left her. It seems she was smiling when she died; a curious dichotomy to the twisted mess of flesh and bone that lay beneath her, like a gnarled bit of discarded meat. The spriggan, a frail stick of a creature, was snapped several times - no cuts, no bruises, just...broken. The girl; fine silk and cashmere, beautiful rings without the sigil of a house, circlet and bracelets that hold the dress of sky and water together, framing her fine corset and flowing curves. A young maiden - fleeing from the confines of her noble city to consummate her brigand of a boy.
They thought they were safe. A pretty, pretty princess playing too far from the eyes of her guards.
I tug at the fingers of my glove; the last one yielded so little. Will this one yield more? I'll never forget it...but it may provide another piece to this spectral puzzle. I exhale long and slow, then rip the glove off, pressing two fingers upon the girl's forehead. I poor my will through the conduit forged of my precursor and wait.
Hammering rain. Soft flutters of breath. A suppressed giggle. Soaked feet. Blurred sight. A tiny chill, but too late to act.
The images are slow at first, like trickling water. But the flood increases. I feel her heart rise, her blood boiling in anticipation. Excitement. Terror. Uncertainty. Absolute fear. Ecstasy. Numb. Falling and staring. A woman; clad in leathers and covered in blood. She paints the wall, singing to herself, as I feel life drain from me - blood washed away by the rain, seeping between the stones. She finishes her symphony upon the wall, and watches me with dread curiosity in my last moments. Her eyes transfix me - hold me there, too big, too bright, too alive.
I return, and my hands are shaking. That woman...never blinking. I suppress the shudder, but the words escape me before I can bite my tongue. "...Druid."
"What'd you say?"
I pull the glove back on as I rise, stealing one last glance at the princess. You never should have left home, little girl. These nights are cold and full of murder. Spinning on my heels, I address the captain. "This was a mercy killing, my dear Hamp. ...Now, be a good boy and close her eyes for me."
"Excuse me? Why?"
"Because... I do not sully my hands with the bodies of traitors."
Copper and salt. A curious taste. A hint of ash, eyes cold and calculating; much calmer than the flock he keeps. Is he to be my next brush?
My mind wanders these streets, eager and hungry. Such rapture carries on the wind; a feather of rushing anticipation. It flows on the wind, dampened by the rain, and settles on the rivers between buildings. Ripples of displaced water, summoned by thousands of impacts, push and pull it down a meandering path. It glides through whispers, steps, and regrets; gazes upon the secrets held in dark alleys and thrown down deep holes.
A couple dashing past in the night, giggling under soaked parchment stacks in a stolen embrace. They splash through rain hammers, and though she stammers, he insists upon another kiss. The feather floats by, a single prying eye, and I linger just a bit longer on her neck.
A slight tug, a simple caress, I trace the line down her back, holding firm her hair and tasting her lips once before the gentle prick. Warm rivulets of paint flow from her form, flooding my palms with inspiration while I hold her in the kiss. Her body grows weak in my arms, unable to resist the warmth ebbing out of her. She gives me her brush willingly, and I prune its threads with a simple snap, her hair cascading down with her frame, folding like silk upon the crumpled rags he brought to the symphony.
I dip the brush, and in the strokes I see my mistress, soaked to the bone in wine and gold. She turns and laughs, effervescent and heated, rising steam from the trenches and parapets of stone. Taunting and challenging, she wields me. I know myself to be a weapon in her eyes. But it is My Beloved whose feathers I follow; it is his call to the night that guides my step. And it is his face that finishes the sonata I have scribbled upon these walls.
I sigh at the splatter; a red canvas to enjoy. My city and its tears - they cry for me, cry out for my art - and send a spectrum of color over the stone. Oil and water and blood and ice.
Now she is beautiful. Now she is mine.