Another joint venture of Kaana Moonshadow and myself. We still don't own Bishop, but we still wish we did.
The cat made its way quietly through the silent streets of the Trade Ward.
Although the sun had sunk merely an hour ago, most people had already returned to their homes and this part of the ward looked almost deserted. A movement caught the eye of the cat, and it stopped, its shoulders tensing as it lurked in the shadows of the buildings that lined the street.
Its gleaming eyes were now fixed on the mouse that had just stepped out of a small thicket, obviously searching the ground for some seeds. The cat lowered slowly towards the pavement, ready to leap at its unsuspecting dinner… as the barking of a dog echoed between the high buildings, and the mouse looked up, its dark eyes wide, and hurriedly retreated into the safety of the thicket, leaving its secret observer behind.
The cat cast an indignant look at the spot where the rodent had just vanished, but then simply continued on its way, aiming for one of the buildings farther down the street, passing several shop windows on its way. Every man or woman who could afford an apartment or store in this part of the city had already come to modest wealth, be it either by hard work, luck or a surprising inheritance, and could find comfort in the knowledge that he or she wouldn't have to fear for anything in their lives anymore.
The windows of one of the shops on the first floor were still lit, casting a bright light onto the displayed goods and the pavement, but the cat passed it without as much as a glance, entering a narrow path between the houses that led to a small garden in the back. A large tree grew there, and it took the cat less than a dozen heartbeats to climb up towards an open window on the second floor, its paws making no sound when it entered the dark living room behind it, the chamber only sparcely lit by a trail of light coming from a narrow doorway at its back, leading to the adjacent room.
The cat made its way quietly between the few but exquisite pieces of furniture, stopping only for a moment to flex its claws on the thick Calishite carpet that covered the floor and then slipped gracefully through the gap between the door and the frame into the light behind.
The room looked like a study. Cupboards and shelves filled with books lined the walls, dimly lit by the light of two oil lanters that stood on a large wooden table. A man sat at the desk, his back to the door, and the only sound that penetrated the silence was the soft scratching of a quill on parchment. The cat hopped gracefully onto the table, mewling softly, and the man looked up, a smile softening the harsh lines of his bearded face and smothering the unpleasant glint in his dark eyes.
"Hello my dear", he murmured, lovingly stroking the cat's grey fur. It purred and stretched under the touch. "Did you have a pleasant evening?"
"And what about you, Greyburgh?", asked a soft voice from the door. The man jumped. "Did you have a pleasant evening?"
The man whirled around, one of his hands reaching reflexively for one of the drawers of the desk but relaxed as soon as he seemed to recognize the figure that now stood in the doorway.
"Sir", he greeted with a sharp nod of his head, his voice cool.
The figure stepped farther into the room, lifting his slender hands to throw back the hood of his cloak. Long, silvery blond hair framed a young face which would have been exceptionally handsome, hadn't it been for the cold, greyblue eyes that now wandered lazily through the room, taking in the various books and items on the shelves. The man called Greyburgh cleared his throat.
"Please, forgive my somewhat… hastened reaction, but you startled me."
The young man's eyes returned to the man at the desk.
"Really?", he asked softly, an amused smile curving his lips. Strangely enough, the other man seemed to tense almost imperceptibly at the sight of the smile.
"I have a question for you, Greyburgh", continued the young man, his voice still pleasently light. He slowly sauntered closer, the hem of his cloak swirling lazily behind him.
The man eyed the new arrival warily.
"Yes, sir?", he asked after another moment of silence, and his voice betrayed nothing of the nervousness one could suddenly see in his eyes.
"Tell me, my friend:
How it is possible that I had to pay no less than the small fortune of ten thousand gold for your reliable agent – not to mention the sum of additional five thousand gold to bribe that wizard to send the various search teams astray every time my mother demanded another scrying – just to have my sister return to my family's house at the break of dawn, alive and in excellent health?"
The man called Greyburgh looked aghast.
"Oh yes", the young man replied calmly, the smile on his face not reaching his eyes. "When I left, her fiancé had just returned from his post in the woods." His eyes remained cold, watchful. "You should have seen their reunion – it was such a touching scene, it almost warmed my heart."
Without warning, he slammed his hand hard on the desk, and the man called Greyburgh jumped, his eyes wide. The cat gave a soft, hissing sound and hopped off the table, retreating under a close cupboard.
„Do you think this was an easy decision for me, Greyburgh?", the young man ask, his voice sharp. "To kill my own sister for the good of the family?"
The other man swallowed hard. "Sir, I know if you had seen any other way…"
"You said that man was reliable, Greyburgh", the young man hissed, his eyes now ablaze with cold fury. "You said that he was worth the coin, that your source had sworn that he was the best for these kind of assignments."
"And it's true, sir", stammered the other man, single beads of sweat now forming on his forehead. "I made some descreet inquiries after our first meeting, and that man's reputation in certain circles was truly impressive…"
"But how are you explaining my sister's miraculous escape, then, if that man was as unscrupulous as his reputation?", the young man continued, his eyes still ablaze.
The man called Greyburgh gulped visibly, his wide eyes fixed on his visitor.
"Do you know what story she has been telling, Greyburgh?", the young man continued as if he had not heard the other man's attempt to present an explanation. "She said that she had been held captive for a ransom, and that she had only seen the face of her captor once, for she had been forced to wear a hood most of the time. An elderly man, with a dark, silverstreaked beard and dark, greasy hair… does that match the description of your man?"
The other man's eyes narrowed in confusion. A single droplet of sweat slowly trickled down his cheek, but he didn't seem to notice.
The young man leaned closer.
"Did you make it clear that he was supposed to work alone, Greyburgh?", he demanded urgently. "That utmost descretion was in order?"
The man called Greyburgh looked taken aback for a moment, his mind obviously working feverishly as he stared up into the cool eyes of his vis-à-vis.
"I… I think…"
The young man's eyes narrowed, and for the length of a heartbeat, something close to disgust flickered across his sharp features.
"You are getting careless, Greyburgh", he stated cooly, sounding more than a little displeased. "Do you know what your little botch has cost me?"
The man called Greyburgh shook his head, his hands now gripping the edge of his seat so tightly that his knuckles stood white against his skin.
"Not only that small fortune in gold and jewellery, but now dear Cedric is also determined to hasten their marriage. So, instead of getting married next spring, they are now planning their union for this autumn… which means I have less than four months to avert that misfortune without causing any attention, and now my parents are so concerned about poor Liliana's safety that she can go nowhere without a personal guard, as long as her kidnapper hasn't been found and arrested."
His cold eyes bore hard into the elder man's face.
"I am not pleased."
And with that, he turned around and made for the door.
"But, sir", exclaimed the other man, wringing his hands as he hastily got up from his chair, "that means we still have time to act." His voice was pleading now. "Let me contact my sources, we will find a way to solve that dilemma, I promise you that…"
"No, Greyburgh", the young man interrupted softly, and at the strange undercurrent in his voice the other man paled noticeably. "You have done enough already. I think it is time that I take these matters into my own hands."