Time for my weekly serial, following the adventures of Ragnar Grimfang, Nordan Twiceborn in the Great City of Myrhn. As always it is written in raw draft style, mostly as practice.
New to Bladebreaker? (start here)
Missed the last one? (here it is!)
“Hello handsome, looking for a wild night?”
The whore in question, a woman who went by the name of Désirée, gave me the kind of slow simmering smile that will have all but the stingiest merchant scion melting reaching for his coin before he realizes he’s cooked. I tore my eyes from full, crimson lips, artfully painted, and focused on the task at hand.
“I’m here on business actually,” I said.
“Too bad, I’m more into play myself…” said Désirée, giving me a heart-rending pout. I was mildly surprised that she didn’t drop the act, or the glamour that made her seem to shine as if standing under the perfect like of the full moons. I found myself wondering if she really had an interest in me. It took me a moment to squash that foolish thought.
“This is about Sapphire,” I said. “I saw you speaking at her funeral.”
Désirée’s face fell, her great green eyes beginning to water.
“Why should I talk to you about that?” she asked. A large tear, diamond-like in the glamour-light, left a shining trail on alabaster skin.
“Madame Glorianna has retained my services to find the killer.” I responded.
“That should be easy enough,” she said, turning away from me. I tried not to drink in the shape of her body, clad in a tight evening dress of cream and crimson silk, accented with white lace and pearl. I tried, but failed. I am only a man, after all and even one death could not cure me of my earthy desires.
“How so?” I asked.
“Sapphire only had one regular in the Guild,” said Désirée. “High up, a rising star among the Nightblades. She liked to brag about him, his wealth and his skills in bed. He gave her little gifts and didn’t seem to mind what she did to get ahead. I guess he just got jealous when she started seeing a lot of that big Nordan lad.”
“Did Sapphire have other regulars?” I asked.
Désirée laughed, a bitter note threading its way into that golden symphony. “To work at the Pearl, my lovely Nordan, a whore has to have at least a few high society clients who are willing to sponsor her. The room fees are far too high for any discount doxy. Don’t let the decor fool you, this place is as cutthroat as the street in its own way. Of course, Sapphire had a long list of regulars who paid to to enjoy her company. Even more than me.”
I nodded, it was pretty much as I expected.
“Did you ever see this Nightblade of hers?” I asked.
“No,” said Désirée. “The Pearl protects the privacy of the clientele, if they so desire.”
“How do they do that?” I asked.
In response, she dug her hand into the desk beside her. She produced an elegant little piece of paper, scented, and covered in gold script.
“It is an invitation,” she said. “The paper gets you into the building. There is a spell on it that acts as a key to the door of our rooms.”
“So if the killer had an old invitation, he could use it to get in?” I asked.
“No,” said Désirée, a cascade of fiery curls. “The invitation is good only for the times listed. We like to control when we see our clients, to avoid jealousy and give us time to prepare. I have one regular who likes me to dance with him, I have to learn Dragmarian Waltz steps. Its complicated even after a year of learning — but that is part of the cost that goes with high class clients. Custom glamours, special perfumes, arranging the room to show off the gifts they’ve given us. Hours of preparation.”
“I’d take you just as you are,” I growled, unable to help myself.
“I wonder if you could afford the fee,” she said, giving me a genuine, friendly smile this time. “Besides, I’ve heard about who you keep company with… I cannot afford to make the Twins jealous.”
“I’m sure I could persuade them to let you join us for a night,” I said.
Her eyes widened. This time I laughed. We parted on good terms.
Later that night I sat by the hearth, drinking. All I needed to do now was identify the killer. The Guild might be helpful. If not I would try to sniff him out by talking to doormen and Sapphire’s other acquaintances.
Désirée had confirmed my suspicions about the killer, and yet the system of invitations used at the Pink Pearl tickled that ornery part of me that dislikes simple solutions. Without an invitation the killer would have to break into the Pearl, a difficult task, but not impossible. One of the reasons Madame Glorianna had hired me, I had no doubt, was to show that she took such a violation of neutral ground seriously. The kind of clientele the pearl attracted: merchant princes, visiting dignitaries, and old family wealth, often took their security very seriously.
The problem is that someone skilled enough to break into the pearl from above, without being seen, heard, or triggering any wards could also swipe an invitation or sneak in a service entrance. The doormen would make sure name on the dance card matched the titles of the person who carried it, but the guild taught all of its members how to disguise themselves.
As this thought occurred drifted through my mind, I suddenly realized that I was not alone in the room. Instinct and a keen nose warned me. The twins were upstairs, sleeping, snoring softly, unharmed, thank Garm. The house was secure, all the locks and windows bolted, the wards silent. 3
I resisted reaching for my axe. The interloper could only be one person.