Down the mean streets of downtown Marn walked a woman who was not (she had decided) herself particularly mean, relatively speaking. This woman was, now 'officially' as far as she was concerned, called Soubrette Quinn.
Despite her initial thought that, on leaving the compound she would be able to clear her head and be her the bad guy a little more, Soubrette found her thoughts drifting back to earlier events, and people from the compound. I mean, she was collecting potential employees for a knight templar, that was hardly the usual state of affairs, but it wasn't that. He was just a rather fascinating person, all told, and for the first time, Quinn was actually looking forward to getting back to the compound.
She had just come back from The Hat Cellar where Zanni had been swapping information with her source - she'd given him everything she'd discussed with Sir Aorle and received tactical information about Snyde's gang which would probably make more sense to Zaryel. Then Ears had caught her off guard as she was about to leave by asking her about Panterras.
"What?" Zanni turned around so fast her wig nearly came off, then realised that all he'd asked her about was if she knew anything about the crazy old Lord and a young female spy who'd been spotted around his house. He said it knowingly, though.
She played it cool and sat back down, rather childishly choosing to turn her chair backwards and straddle it, which was one of the many perks of britches and boots under a dress. He probably didn't know, she figured. Probably he had narrowed it down to a few ladies - the alter ego people assumed Zanni to have, 'Lucky' Luki Lepowitz and a few others.
"The spy, Zanni. Do pay attention. There's some female spy been spotted around, dealing with a guy called Lord Barmitheon Panterras. Do you know anything?"
A slow smile came over Zanni's face, and there was a dangerous glint in her eyes that had absolutely nothing of the luvvie in it. "Yes. I know her."
"I know her well - she's Soubrette Quinn."
"It's not a name I've heard before."
"It's a name you're likely to hear again." Ooh, this was fun. "Panterras employed her for a while, but he got nasty. Started making threats. Not long after, an old enemy caught up with him. Now he's dead."
"Fascinating. Do you think there's a connection?"
"Well, you never know, do you?" Quinn was the picture of innocence in a blond wig.
Ears grinned and sat back in his chair, an indication that she was dismissed. "Thank you for the information, Zanni - I probably owe you at this point."
"If you spread that stuff about Snyde being half-finished and vulnerable about a bit - inconspicuously, you know - we're even."
"It's a deal."
She nodded to him and got up to leave. She had taken four steps away when -
She stopped only momentarily and did not turn around. However, if the old man had had eyes everywhere instead of ears he would have seen her grin - Our Hero with no name's game was up. Soubrette was taking her place.
Now she set herself to the task of finding the merceneries, which shouldn't be too hard - you didn't have to know where they lived, just where they drank - and she was on her way to The Drunken Rat, where Zaryel drank, when her wary city eyes spotted a movement in the rooftops.
She stood stock still, scanning the spires and chimneys, or rather the silhouettes the twilight had made them, for any sign of life. Ordinary people tended to treat the city as one level - it was the devious and the dangerous on both sides of the law that realised the whole thing was three-dimensional and used that to their advantage.
There was another flash of movement and for a moment a human female figure was outlined against the night, as was the crossbow she was carrying. Quinn took a running jump into the back wall of a closed shop that happened to be closest and started scrambling up. It was as she took the final step up to stand on the roof that she heard a dull click followed by the quasi-silent whisper of pointy death sailing through the air.
Quinn dropped flat, lying face-down in some rather dilapidated thatch just in time to see a thug on the other side of the road get a bolt in the neck. He flailed and his hands lifted to his throat, but from where Quinn was lying, this all happened in total silence; perhaps whatever would have allowed him to scream had been destroyed. He fell to the floor and another bolt shot into his back, for good measure. There was a long pause before Quinn very slowly got to her feet.
In the semi-darkness, she couldn't make out the markswoman, but she could take a guess. "Good shot, Lucky."
After a moment, the figure moved from its shelter, so she was once again silhouetted against the sky.
"You the filth?" she said.
"Do I look like I work for the Magistrates?"
The light was on Lucky's side and she was able to see more of Soubrette than Quinn could see of her. She took in the the long boots, and Zanni's diva dress and costume jewellery, which she was still wearing. "No," she said finally, "You look like you work for Domanic Snyde."
"But I doubt his girls can climb like that. Who are you?"
"I'm Soubrette Quinn. I've got a job for you."
The gap between Quinn's roof and the next was a tiny alley, barely wide enough to walk down. She leapt it easily, and landed one roof closer to Lucky, with just one narrow-ish street between them.
Lucky didn't move. "What's the gang?"
Quinn ran full-pelt down the sloped side of the roof, hurled herself full-length into the air over the street, dug her fists into the thatch of the next roof and hung there, feet dangling high above the ground.
"They're called the Lightswords," she said, getting a leg up, "And they really kind of pissed off Snyde lately, you might have heard. Unfortunately, most of their muscle is currently needed elsewhere, and they want some people to help make sure Snyde doesn't recover any while they're gone." Another shove of her arms and Quinn was on hands and knees at the assassin's feet, making sure any increase in her breathing was inaudible.
"It's mercenery work, not really assassination. City mercenery stuff. Seven a day, but you can really clean up on extras. This guy is not in it for the loot, so it's pretty much all yours. If you want in, you have to come with me to meet their leader tomorrow morning. We're meeting at the Drunken Rat at dawn. By which I mean eight-ish. A girl's gotta sleep." Soubrette rose silently and gracefully to her feet. "So..."
"It was them that killed all those guys of his," said Lucky.
"Yes. It was them."
The killer nodded slowly. "They're lucky they got to me first."
Quinn finally made it to the Drunken Rat to find Zaryel encountering trouble, or possibly making it.
The large - very large - ex-military man who was being considered for the role of the Baron in Ina and Morti's opera ('to get some real grit into the show') was looking at Zaryel with an expression that indicated that he was cataloguing the various ways he could make skinny youngsters bleed.
"Look, all I said," said Zaryel, "is that I saw you at that caberet down the road and you were rubbish. I mean the singing was alright. Nobody is arguing with that, you've got a great baritone, but as I was telling Morti, the acting was a bit much."
"That wasn't what you said. That wasn't exactly what you said. Say what you said again, I dare you."
"All right." Zaryel stood up, swaying a little. "All right, I will. I said, 'Hey Morti, do you think he'd like some eggs with that?'"
The potential Baron nodded slowly, placing his drink down on a table and looking down on Zaryel with all 8 inches of the difference in their heights. "And what did you mean by that, Ranzenagin? With what? Would I like eggs with what?"
Zaryel glared. Survival instinct raged against artistic integrity, but drunken honesty won out. "With that HAM! With that HAM, all right? Would you like eggs with that ham, seriously, are you stupid as well as a hack?"
Quinn felt it was time to intervene. "Excuse me sir, I'd like a word with my friend here." She dragged him out by the arm.
"Hey Zaryel, how'd you like to go to a secure military compound tomorrow?"
"You know, thoughts along those lines were just occurring to me myself."
"It's a mercenery job."
"Cool, cool, whatever. So long as that guy can't get me."
Easy. "Do you know where Phinn and Good Boy are?"
"Good idea, if that guy finds me they'll protect me, they went to Pointy's, c'mon."
Pointy's was where the differently legal could get interesting, exotic and concealable weapons for reasonable prices, but from the front it looked like a cake shop. Phinn located the inseperable sellswords, and explained the terms of the contract.
Delphindes Blunt seemed to mull over the idea in his mind. Daggie simply shrugged and whispered something to his friend. It was, 'Up to you. Wherever you go, you know that." Blunt clasped Daggie's hand for a moment, then turned back to Soubrette.
"When can we start?"
The following morning, Soubrette led the four armoured and armed merceneries to the compound. They looked very much like merceneries; no one could have mistaken them for an army because they each looked and were equipped so differently - Zaryel, with the billowing sleeves of a seafarer's shirt emerging from his armoured doublet, and the red bandana around his head, was armed with a rapier and dagger. Lucky chose an all-black leather get-up, the least armoured of the group, and wore her one visible crossbow on her back. Blunt clinked with chainmail under a light breastplate and carried his longsword and original army shield on his back, and Daggie wore studded leather, a chainmail shirt, and a swordbelt. All of them were in a professional frame of mind - they didn't anticipate a fight of any kind at the compound, but they went dressed for one in order to show willing and present themselves as battle-ready and eminently hirable.
Next to them, Soubrette was, depending on how cynical or paranoid you were, either a refreshing sight or a worrying one, depending entirely on how one's mind chose to interpret the idea of a rather small young woman, without a scrap of metal or leather that wasn't boots on her and in fact wearing a rather nice plain red dress, walking ahead of a troupe of the armed and dangerous. The smile probably decided it. It had been specially chosen by its wearer that morning to give off the impression that she was at least as dangerous as her friends, and invite the viewer to figure out the details themselves.
Bravado. It was a fine thing.
"They're getting reinforcements," Luki murmured to Soubrette as they approached. She shrugged, said, "They are expecting us," and explained their presence to the guards.