Warning: This work has been rated 16+.
Recently my laptop was damaged, so I decided to engage in a project I'd thought I'd given up long ago, to write a 10,000 word, around there, story with my phone, and let me tell you don't try it. My fingers feel like they're going to fall off. This is only the first part and the second should be up in say a day?
I stuck closer against the side of the tall dreary building, pulling my hood a bit lower in an effort to keep the rain from flying in. To no avail, of course, my clothes were already soaked thrice through.
The stone streets I knew so well were a black and grey void behind the veil of pounding water, the rain slammed down on the slate tiled roofs far above and slid down in sheets, pouring down on those unfortunate enough to be caught out in the open on this day, namely me. I rolled my eyes as another surge of roof water fell upon me, sinking through my ragged cloak and into my clothes. Fan-fucking-tastic.
I shivered and wrapped my arms around a bit tighter in an effort to drive out the cold. That blasted woman is going to regret doing this to me when I get my hands on her.
Faintly, barely audible through the roar of rain, there came the sound of horseshoes on stone and rolling wheels. I slunk close to the wall and crept down the alley towards the street, cautious of the coming vehicle. You could never tell if one was from the Magi or just another nobleman. I kept to the shadows and squinted through the veil. The carriage came into view, driven by an unfortunate man garbed in clothes colourless in this weather. The vehicle halted and the door swung open, the warm light within pouring out onto the street and colouring the pavement stones. Silently whooping to myself, I got up and quickly slid into the carriage, planting myself firmly on a nice firm feather cushion. I grumbled, “Could have been quicker about coming here.”
Sitting across from me was a woman dressed in a flowing dress scarlet as blood. Her hair was tied up in a bun, the newest trend among noblewomen, or so I heard. Her hands were folded upon her lap and she looked disdainfully at me.
I swept my dripping hood back and regarded her. She nodded back and gestured daintily at the mess I was making on the soft feather cushions. “Do try not to ruin them permanently, peasant, these fine cushions are so very hard to come by.”
I grinned and replied, “Drop the act, Gal, pretend to be some Magi kissing the King’s ass around our mark if you’d like.”
She returned the grin and she relaxed slightly. Tapping a finger on her knee she chastised, “Not ‘gal’, or ‘girl’, I’d prefer if you used my name.”
“As you say, your majesty Ophelia.”
The girl, just a year younger than me, said, “Remember, today and for today only I’m Geneviève. And you’re my… I don’t know what kind of role that thing you’re wearing would suit. Seriously, Lucian. A coat?”
I smoothed out the wrinkles in my clothes and raised a leg to plant on the seat opposite me, gesturing at my leather boots. “Look at these, Gal, authentic Sharwine bull leather. I take pride in the way I look."
Her eyes widened and after a moment asked, “Is it really Sharwine?”
“Nah, I'm full of bullshit, don’t even know if this is actually leather.”
She scowled at me but I merely chuckled back. She looked down at me in mock-snobbery, “Fine then, you can be my… my servant boy, yes.”
“Indeed, the incredibly ruggedly handsome, dashing and greatly under-appreciated servant boy.”
“Gab all you like, all eyes will be on me this evening.”
Perhaps she was right. She’d gone all out tonight, using only the most premium stolen makeup to accent her already stunning face. Faint accents under the eyes, cherry red lips and skin too pale. Next to someone as handsome as me, she might just gain some attention.
The carriage protected us from the rain but the pounding of it on the wood around us was magnified and seem to echo and resonate around. Ophelia pulled aside a luscious red silk curtain and peered into the world outside. I at least saw nothing but rain and darkness, broken only by the sputtering glow of the street lamps that still worked. Perhaps she saw something more.
I drummed my fingers impatiently on my knee, wishing that the driver would spur the horses a bit harder. This would be our biggest job in years, probably our most audacious yet. I slammed my palm against the door and arched my fingers. I spoke, more to give myself something to do than that we actually needed it. “Let’s go over our plan again.”
She sighed dramatically, “As you wish.”
I’d gone through this with her several dozen times the day before, no doubt she’d learnt it by heart. Good. I started, “So, we present the guards with our completely and most assuredly ‘authentic’ invitation and you proceed to the ballroom. As the security guarding the upper levels will be great I must resort to climbing out a window on the first floor and scaling the mansion.”
Ophelia waved irritably, “Indeed, and I’ll keep the dunce distracted while you unscrew the skylight panels and let them fall.”
I nodded approvingly. “Yes, yes, they should fall straight onto the main attraction of the night, causing mass pandemonium and confusion and whatnot. Perfect cover to-”
“-let me slip in and pocket the tiara, right under the nose of that dunce Duke.”
It was my turn to scowl now. I wrung my fingers. “Our man’s no mere dunce, Ophelia, Duke de Cassius is a Magi.”
She paled and seemed to shrink back a bit. “W-What?”
This was the part I’d kept from her. I pulled aside the curtains again to check our surroundings, nothing but rain as usual but now broken by more street lamps, many of them actually in top form and not sputtering, then looked back at her. “Heard me, gal. Magi, a Prelate to be exact.”
Her features were written over with shock and fear, before anger twisted it. She jabbed at my chest with a sharp fingernail, “What the fuck is this, Lucian? The plan was to rob a simple nobleman.”
I smiled. “Figured you’d back out if I told you at the start.”
“And I’m backing out now.”
The carriage heaved and slowed. The roll of wheels faded away. Pulling aside the curtain I saw bright street lamps glaring through the rain. “Look’s like we’re here.”
“No! I am never, ever going to risk entering the house of the lowest Magi, much less a Prelate! I-, Lucian, are you even listening?”
“Sure I am, Gal.”
I slipped out of the carriage, tailed by numerous curses and insults.
Crossing over to the other side of the vehicle I saw our mark’s house, a huge mansion with a wall full of windows. The building must be four stories tall! Grey though it was in the rain I had no doubt it was made of finest marble. There was a brightly lit porch with two curling stairways on either side leading up to it, and outlined by the bright light from within the mansion were two guards keeping vigil there. I pulled open the other carriage door and bowed with practiced formality, gesturing for Ophelia to exit. She got out reluctantly, the guards had their eyes on us now, we couldn't mess it up. As I predicted she didn’t dare retreat this far in. But as she thanked me and got down the carriage I heard a curse from her and she made a discreet but very, very inappropriate gesture with her hand.
She pulled up the hem of her skirt and rushed up the curved stairs to the cover of the porch. I remained in the rain a while longer, retrieving a golden coin from within my coat and passing it to the driver. The man grumbled and I heard him grumble, “Not nearly enough for what me and me precious horse went through.”
But he pocketed it nonetheless. He should be happy he got a tip at all, the coins weren’t strictly speaking mine in the first place.
Bounding up the steps and joining Ophelia I saw her being addressed by the guards. Their armour gleamed in the fiery lamplight and their red military coats were starched and the edges seemed sharp enough to gouge my eye out. Ophelia curtsied and announced herself, “I am Geneviève, second daughter of Baron Gerald of the Western Isles. I apologise for his absence and have come in his place.”
The foremost soldier bowed before turning to me, “And you are?”
I opened my mouth to answer but Ophelia cut me off, “My servant’s name is Olaf, I’m afraid he was born dumb and mute from birth. Couldn’t say a word to save a life, though I doubt he’d say many even if he could.”
This wasn’t in the plan. I smiled stupidly at them. The guard chuckled but his companion advanced. This one seemed older. He said, “I’m sorry ma’am, we’re going to need a formal invitation.”
Ophelia smiled and snapped her fingers. I patted myself down and soon found the letter in a pocket of mine. The paper, thank Gods, hadn’t been soaked enough to make the ink run much.
He read the letter and re-read it. I wrung my hands behind my back, praying he’d let us through. The truth of it was that we’d stolen the letter from the post office. The invitation had been addressed to a Baron Gerald. I hadn’t paid much attention to the letter and realised how many holes it could be picking in our story right now.
I expected the guards to let us pass through, the story should be convincing enough, but he hesitated, resting one hand on his blade. I put one hand into my coat to draw the appropriate tool to 'bypass' these two, but Ophelia barred my way.
She advanced to the guard and lay her palms flat against his metal chest plate and leaned against him, running her slender hands over the smooth armour slowly, teasingly. She leaned forward and whispered something in the guard's ear, and immediately a smile broke his frown. He grinned and signaled to his partner, and the two of them opened up the gates and gestured for them to enter.
Ophelia lingered a while outside, as if she was scared to set foot inside. There were a myriad of stories about thieves who’d had their feet blown off or fingers incinerated once they crossed the threshold of a Magi’s home. Fairy tales, all of them. I rolled my eyes and gently pushed her inside. She looked back once and winked at the guard. I felt quite sorry for him, promised so much but soon to receive nothing.
Once we’d passed the servants who’d opened the doors and I assured myself we were out of earshot of anyone, I whispered irritably to my friend, “Me being dumb and mute weren’t part of the plan, and the name Olaf sure wasn’t.”
Ophelia had somehow managed to keep her makeup perfect despite being showered upon by the clouds. She muttered, “Oh please, that little thing is barely compensation for you keeping from me the fact that this house belongs to a Magi!”
“They're not that dangerous!"
"A Prelate!" She hissed.
“If he finds out our plot then we are both dead.”
“Oh do lighten up, Gal, everything will be fine if we stick to the plan.”
I left her behind the moment we found our first hallway, splitting away from my friend and walking away. Taking a moment to appreciate the building, I found the walls covered with fancy art and punctuated by tall suits of armour. This setup seemed to continue on eternally in either direction, as if this Magi conjured masterpieces and metal armour for a living.
I leaned against a corner and peered around it, hoping for the hallway to be empty. There was a window at the far end of it, which would suit my purpose well if there weren’t two maids there scrubbing the floors. Cursing, I continued on my way. The second window was, fortunately, unguarded. I advanced to it and unlatched the glass, pushing it out and letting it swing on its hinges.
The wind and rain’s howling returned, screaming at me through the opening. Raising a hand to shield my face I felt the wind attack me in a great torrent, making my coat flap and my hair whip around. I groaned at the thought of the climb I would have to make in this weather and placed my hands on the window sill, then my foot, before twisting around and grabbing the stone sill at the top of the window frame.
Groaning, I heaved myself up to a standing position and balanced precariously on the thin edge. The wind stung my eyes and my coat that had just dried in the comforting warmth of the mansion was now soaked through yet again. Glancing to the right I saw rows of golden windows and at the end of them the porch, the two guards still there.
A sound below me. I pressed my body flat against the wall and peered down. A head was poking out the window, one of the maids I’d seen before. She shielded her face and looked left, then right. If she looked up she’d see me leaning against the wall. But she didn’t, simply slamming the window shut and with a soft click, latching it. I sighed and let my head slam against the wall. Now I was stuck out here.
Reaching inside my cloak I pulled out a favourite tool of mine, a cast iron hook with a barbed tip. It was meant to dig into wood and crevices in stone to pull me up, but it was useful if I had no choice but conflict.
Stretching my arm up and sinking my hook into a crack in the marble just as a strong gale struck and dislodged my footing on the slippery ledge. I scrambled for purchase and looked up, realising that there were three more stories till the roof. It was going to be a long climb.
I weaved between the ranks of noblemen and women, slipping under arms raised with glasses of wine in hand and through gaps in the crowd. A golden crystal chandelier twinkled far above, a glass structure hanging from the middle of a huge mosaic picturing some scene or another. The floor was marble, the walls so white they were like the cores of flames, dangerous to look upon.
Personally, I’d prefer not to get within a hundred feet of a magi, much less present myself to him and try to keep his attention grounded upon me. But Lucien was probably already climbing up the mansion side and if I didn’t play my part in this play the show would come tumbling down. I cursed him under my breath, he knew I’d back out if he’d included that detail in our plans. Scaling a single step I scanned over the heads of mingling noblemen and women, trying to find a Magi.
From my experience as a thief I found that you could learn a lot from a person before he says a word. The way he dresses, the way he carries himself. The way he looks at people or the way he doesn’t, whether he smiles or scowls at you when he sees you. From my knowledge of the few Magi I’d ever seen this Duke de Cassius should be of fair height, garbed in finest clothes money couldn’t buy. He’d have jewellery on him, all his fat fingers stuffed with rings and perhaps one of those new pocket watches upon his chest. He’d be fat, plump bellied, a face so grubby you’d think it belonged to a baby. But I found no man like that, not that that fact didn’t please me. The thought of having to entertain, and possibly seduce, a fat and spoilt Magi was not pleasing to me.
I was aware of time ticking away, second by second that I didn’t find Cassius. I wondered how Lucien was doing in the storm outside. I lifted a slender crystal glass filled with white wine of a servant’s tray, taking dainty sips of this premium drink. Might as well make as much as I could from our venture.
I took in the mumbles and spoken words emanating from all around me. There was talk of uprisings in the Poor District, but most steered clear of that subject. The Iron Gates kept the riots out of the Rich District, and away from them. There were conspirative whispers of the war effort in the North, secretive mumbles of the treasures in others’ coffers and then talk of the guard being doubled in the Poor District. I frowned, that was bad news for my kind of business.
I knew I was running out of valuable time. I sped through he crowd now, skimming over the profile of every noble I saw. Dresses, suits, parasols and top hats. I spied a middle aged woman in a long green gown that tried desperately to appear young and failed horribly at it. Her face, a smear of heavy makeup, had a smile too wide and bright. I grimaced, that face would look more at home on a child's clay mannequin. She spoke to a tall man with his back to me. Just looking at him from that angle I could tell he was rich. He wore a black suit with two long coat tails that reached down to the back of his knees. The back of his head was covered in sleek black hair, oiled and swept back.
I skirted around to his side so as not to interrupt his conversation and was taken aback by his mere appearance. A handsome face without scars or blemishes, a strong chin and no facial hair. A smirk played upon his thin lips and his blue eyes twinkled and danced like fire. His black hair was pulled back and gave him a sleek, polished look. The man had a kind of effortless beauty to him, as if he didn’t mean to appear stunning, he just was. He bowed to the woman who seemed even more horrendous next to his looks and apologised, saying, “I’m sorry Lady Heidi, I must attend to the other members of the audience here today, can't let you have all of me."
Lady Heidi smiled her unnatural smile. “Of course, of course.”
The man turned to leave so fast he trod on my foot and some hard object in his suit struck my fingers. I bit my tongue to prevent myself from crying out as I felt the bones in my foot roll painfully and wrapped my other hand around the injured one in an effort to stifle the pain.
The man hurriedly apologised, “I’m sorry, m’lady, I failed to see you there.”
His strong guiding hands wrapped around my own injured one and he pulled it to his lips, laying a soft kiss upon them. I felt myself go weak at the knees at that action. He gave a smirk and looked up at me. “I am Duke de Cassius, and your name, fair maiden?”
Once I’d stop hyperventilating I curtsied and managed, “I, uh-, ahem, I am Lady Geneviève of the uh, Sou-, West, West. Second daughter to Baron Gerald. Honoured to be in your presence, D-Duke de Cassius.”
He laid another hand over my injured one and bowed, “Charmed.”
I felt my breath coming out in ragged gasps as he straightened up. The Duke smiled.“I remember your father well. You’ve come in his place, I presume?”
“How did you know?”
He tapped the side of his temple and smiled. The Duke’s brows furrowed then. “Forgive me, m’lady, but last I’d met your father, fine man indeed, he informed me he had no less than seven sons, and no daughters to speak of. So how is it you name yourself Second?”
I felt my heart stop for a moment. We should have done more research into that letter we’d filched. I racked my mind for an answer and said on a whim, “Yes, my seven brothers do indeed command the attention of most associates of my father. Me and my sister have been studying abroad of late and sometimes I feel that my father forgets I exist.”
The Duke’s frown lifted. “Ah, I see. I empathise well, m’lady, I was actually born into a family of twelve children, eight boys and four girls. On another note, where is your sister? I assume you did not reach this establishment of mine alone?”
I sipped on my wine and replied, “I fact I did reach here alone, unfortunately. My sister, ah, she… fell sick during our stay. Dreadfully ill, though I’m assured she is in best hands.”
He raised an eyebrow. “In best hands? Bring her to me at once, I shall assign my doctors to her. Never in a thousand years will I allow one of noble blood to-”
“Don’t worry, Duke de Cassius,” I said. “The doctor caring for her is a trusted friend of the family.”
He seemed disappointed for a moment, but smiled again. But this time it seemed not that sincere. I realised I was losing my grip on him. He said to me, “Deepest apologies, m’lady, I must-”
Reaching up I placed a finger on his lips, silencing him. I reached over and picked up a glass of wine off a tray, handing it to the Duke. “Share a drink with me first.”