Another little morsel of a larger whole. Slightly longer than previous offerings but hopefully no less palatable.
A waft of jasmine on the warm spring breeze, tickled the dark hairs that protruded from Braska’s beak-like nose. He absentmindedly swiped at his face with the back of his sombre, woollen sleeve and continued pacing, dust swirling around his boots and clinging to the hem of his too-heavy cloak. The meeting, that he had so painstakingly set up, and waited for all these months, could not come quickly enough. The distant hubbub of the crowded market, only streets away, was the annoying buzz of an insect to his ears: a reminder of all he hated about the Seven Cities. All the more reason to get this necessity out of the way.
A stealthy noise at the far end of the empty side street signalled the arrival of his contact; a weasel of a man with no honour and a big mouth – for the right price. He scuttled towards Braska, watery eyes fixed, as always, on a point marginally to the right of whatever he was looking at. The soles of his cheap, brown boots flapped softly as he came to a hurried stop, bobbing like an apple in a barrel of water.
“Well?” Braska growled, impatiently. “Have you found her?”
“Did you bring my payment?” Greed gleamed from his wretched face making him – if it were even possible – more ugly than usual.
“If the information is good, you will get your payment. Must we go through this every time?” Braska’s hand fondled the hilt of his blade, a more tender caress than he had ever bestowed on another human being.
“I found her. Found the babe too. I know where they stay and where they shop, even how often she bathes.” He leered at this last and received a disgusted slap for his troubles. There was nothing about Katya that lent itself to lust.
“Tell me all and tell it quickly, lest I lose my patience and cut it out of you.”
“No. Please…” The weasel hunched lower, hands raised in supplication. “They live with a woman, Vaenah. Her house backs onto the west side of the Market; two stories; no sign of any defensive precautions. Just the two women and the babe. Shouldn’t present a problem for a man like you. They shop in the Market every couple of days or so but not always together. Sometimes just Vaenah and the babe. Where your girl goes on her own, I’ve no idea. Slippery bitch she is. I did well. You don’t have to hurt me.” He was snivelling, crouched so low he was practically kissing Braska’s feet.
“When I have Katya and her whelp in my hands, then you’ll have done well but you’re a fool if you think that taking her will be easy. She’s a Hype and she’s on her guard.” He drew his foot back and swung it viciously into the weasel’s pathetic, grovelling face. Blood spurted from the man’s ruined nose, coating the tip of Braska’s boot and inflaming his righteous anger. Relinquishing a copper to the ground, he turned in a swirl of black and stalked away, mentally detailing the preparations he would still need to make before he would finally have Kat and her deformed brat in his hands. One step closer.
As Braska stepped through the rear door of the Gull, he hesitated. Instinct warned him that something was out of place but he saw no physical signs to account for it – no misplaced shadows or off-key noises. Despite his misgivings, he hastened quietly up the narrow stairs. He slipped into his room unseen but as the door closed, his relieved sigh was interrupted by a sliver of cool metal that snaked across his throat and pressed into his skin.
“Don’t turn around.” He recognised the silky tones and musky scent and relaxed a little, placing his palms flat on the rough wood of the door to communicate his compliance.
“I know where she is. She’ll be in your hands by the end of the week.”
“This is not the first time you have promised me such. My employer grows weary of your failure.”
“If it weren’t for me, your employer wouldn’t even know about Katya. I brought this to you so that we could all benefit. Now you act as if I am your serf and not a valuable partner. Mayhap I am the one who grows weary?”
“Do not try me, Braska. Your petty desires are nothing compared to the security of the Seven Cities. A natural Hype, roaming around without guidance, could destroy everything the Guard have built.”
“Not to mention cutting into your profit margin and undermining your stranglehold on the Generics.” Braska parried.
“You make it sound so crass. You, with your Grasslands and your antiquated customs. You would have us all grovel at the feet of the Naturals.”
“Not I, the Chief and his ilk. Old men, every one of them.” Braska picked at the peeling wood beneath his fingers, resisting the temptation to draw his blade.
“You will soon be rid of your old men and there will be one less Hype in the world. Mutually beneficial, yes?”
“A week. That is all I need.”
“Be sure that is all you need.” The blade at Braska’s throat vanished: a fine line of tiny crimson beads the only evidence that it was ever there. He spun round in time to see the corner of a velvet cloak disappear through the open window. By the time he reached the sill, there was no one in sight: no outer sills on the windows below or stairs leading to the ground and no way a Generic could have moved so fast. A loud thump echoed through the room as his fist slammed into the crumbling plaster of the bedroom wall.
“Bitch.” He muttered.