Chapter 5: Preparations

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“They left the door open,” Patch whispered before pulling his buff over his lower face. She had not thought much about his hood, his buff, when they headed out, because she wore hers as well. Chasers, when dealing in sneaky things, always had them, even if those sneaky things were not about work. And now they needed them.

He pressed his fingers into his patch, and the blue lights whirled about, then randomly flashed. “There are five more guards outside the door,” he told her. “There’s someone else with them, probably a Sister or a steward. They’re standing far enough apart, I don’t think we can take them all out before they alert Gavon.”

“And they’ll notice if we go through this window.”

“Yeah. There are two others, one to her bedroom, one to the bathroom. We need to check those.”

Lapis hustled after her partner as fast as a hunched body allowed. She hated crouching over; her back never let her forget the abuse. Patch never had issues, and she needed to ask him why.

The bedroom window was locked, though the bathroom sat wide open, at a height neither could easily access. The smell of spicy sugar wafted from it, hiding a fouler stench just below, reminding her of Grey Streets’ outhouses. Did the temple not have running water for toilet flushing? Most buildings in Green Castle had automatic tech toilets linked to the Dentherion-built sewer system there, while the lower classes with means had special tanks that collected waste, and paid a pretty bit for a service that emptied them.

“I’m going to heft you up,” Patch whispered. “The bathroom is at the end of a short hall that rests in the middle of the bookshelves.”

“I didn’t see a hallway.”

“It’s there, nearly right across from the guards and my brother. They’ll be able to see you if you leave. Wait for my signal. You can’t miss it. Rush in and grab my aunt and tell her she has to go through the window. She’ll hate it, but we need to get her away from Gavon. If he’s here this late bothering her, one of her sisters let him in, which means it’s not safe here for her anymore.”

“Where do you want to meet?”

“Minq safehouse, in the Kells, Rislin Street.”

She grabbed his arm. “And you’ll be there. No chasing after Gavon or going after your family. Your aunt will need you after we arrive.”

He narrowed his eye but nodded curtly.

He bent down, and she stood on his shoulders, hands planted firmly against the wall for balance. He slowly rose until she could slip the wispy blue curtains back. She peeked inside.

The white porcelain tub sat directly below her, annoyingly enough. Two sticks of incense burned low on the sink counter, the only other source of light other than the window. She looked about but saw nothing to grab onto other than the sill. The opening was not large enough to maneuver about, so she grabbed the top of the frame, stuck her left leg inside, and leaned down to Patch. He held her shoulders as she put her right through as well, and then he pushed her up until she could snag the lower sill. She lowered herself into the tub, her arms shaking with effort, but she could not make a screechy sound and alert a guard.

A thick carpet that protected bared feet after a bath covered the tiles, with another in front of the toilet. Lapis scooted them into a line that ended at the door. The threads deadened her footsteps, and she doubted anyone in the outer room heard her over the argument.

The door stood open but a crack, enough that she could hear the growing panic in Lady Thais’ voice, and the calm maliciousness in Gavon’s. She peered as best she could down the hall, but no other guard stood in the way. Good. Her enemy remained two peons and a puffed-up noble that she doubted did much fighting on his own.

Patch had a knack for commotions. Could not miss it, indeed. The explosion rocked the room, vibrating the wood. The two guards shouted and raced outside, leaving a shocked Gavon in their wake, staring after them and demanding they return in a sulky tone.

Lapis slipped the sleep oil cloth from her pouch, opened the door and padded to her target. Idiot, he completely ignored his aunt, who grabbed the largest thing near her—a book—and smacked him in the head with it. He stumbled forward with a roar, and Lapis ran the rest of the way, slapping the rag over his lips and nose as he straightened and turned, starting a scream. He sucked in and choked on the fabric, dropping his hands from his head to pull it from his mouth, before wobbling about and crashing to the ground.

“Lady Thais, we have to use the window,” she said as the woman dropped the book to the floor. She inwardly winced as it splayed open, the pages bent under the cover’s weight.

“Where is Ae—Patch?”

“Making enough noise we can escape. Come on.”

She grabbed the woman’s hand and yanked her to the window. Lady Thais snagged a large purse set on a glass end table on the way, and slung it over her head, wearing it courier-style.

The doctor proved more agile than she expected and did not complain when the hem of her dressing gown caught on the sill and ripped, then shredded further when Lapis grabbed the fabric and tore it away. She winced as she padded over the grass and to the hidden gate; she wore thin slippers, not suitable for rougher street walking, let alone fast getaways.

Another explosion and smoke poured from the walkway. Patch must have secreted some sort of chemical at the temple because Lapis knew he had brought nothing with him. Did his aunt realize that?

“Lady Thais, we need to get to a Minq safehouse,” she told her as they exited to the other side of the hedge, just avoiding the billowing clouds that smelled of sulfur. “Patch will meet us there. How sturdy are your slippers?”

“They’re not,” she said drily, to cover the start of tears.

“Try my boots.” Not that they had time to retrieve sturdier shoes, but a part of her wished she had noticed the slippers and asked.

She led the doctor further away from the gate before exchanging footwear; her boots were too large but better that, than too small. The slippers left no small pebble to the imagination, and she did not want to think about the state of her feet when they reached the house. She gritted her teeth to hide her winces and led the way.

She took her through the back ways as best as she remembered, though avoiding patrollers took effort. No one appeared overly alert, so the trouble Patch created at the temple had not gone beyond their walls. Lady Thais put a hand to her mouth, and while she cried, they did not have time for comfort. Lapis did set a hand to her arm, so she knew she cared about her state, and the lady patted it in return.

She thanked the non-existent gods that no guard turned the wrong way down a path, and that no snooping others stuck their nose into someone else’s business at the wrong time. They made it to the Kells without incident, and Lapis knew a back way to Rislin Street and the flight of cement stairs that led to a rusting cellar door. No one lingered around the entrance, a relief, and she hastened down, wincing as the hard material bit into her over-tender pads.

She knocked. “Hello, I’m Lady Lanth and I’m evacuating someone for a stake.”

The door swung open, and she recognized Layne, the Minq who took information about Beltin’s capture back to her organization. Faelan trusted her, so Lapis chose to as well, even if her tummy rolled in response to the myriad of things that could go wrong if she were not as staunch an ally as her brother thought.

“Hello, Lanth,” she said with a smile, then eyed Lady Thais. “Patch just arrived. Sounds like you all had a fun night out.”

“If you enjoy explosions, I assume so.” Both she and the doctor sagged in relief; he had not gone after his relations. At least, not yet.

“There’s a meeting going on in the main room,” Layne told her. “That’s why I’m here. Go ahead through and to the change room. There should be something there you can use.”

“Thank you,” Lapis said. Lady Thais smiled wanly, the night catching her now that she perceived herself safe. Then she frowned.

“Did I hear Adrastos?”

Layne chuckled. “Aye.”

She wilted. “Tonight is just not my night,” she muttered, looking down at the dusty hem of her gown.

“There isn’t a back way into the change room,” Lapis apologized.

Lady Thais reddened and waved her hand, and she proceeded the doctor to the main room. She had been at that particular safehouse a time or two; it had a central room large enough for a meeting of a dozen people, with couches and soft chairs in a dark wine red, knee-high tables and brown wood paneling covering windowless walls. Three ways exited from it, plus a trap door with a carpet glued to the top that provided an extra-secret escape. A hallway led away from it and to two bedrooms, a bathing room, and a change room, where those in flight could alter their clothing and appearance with makeup and wigs, in case they needed to slip through the Kells without a fuss.

Patch said the deception worked well if the shanks wanted to get away. If they did something stupid, like return to the scene of the crime, most looked awkward enough in the strange apparel they raised guard suspicion.

Lord Adrastos sat in the comfiest chair, Captain Ryalla stoically behind him, holding a rocks glass that he waved between his fingers. Shara lounged near, with a couple others she did not know. All looked at them as they entered, and the noble shot up as soon as he recognized them.

“Took you long enough.”

Lapis snapped her head over to her partner, who leaned against the wall, arms folded, one leg up. His nonchalance did not fool her; his relief flavored the air about him. Without a word, she slipped the footwear off and presented the holey heel for his perusal. He winced.

“There were so many guards,” Lady Thais said, her eyes overbright, her voice thick. “But you got away.”

“It doesn’t matter how many guards you cart around if they’re incompetent. They milled about, confused, and the temple’s sentry showed up and they had quite the scuffle.” He settled his hand on his aunt’s shoulder and jerked his chin to the hallway. “There’s a change room. Come on.”

Lapis made it to a chair, flumped down, and looked at the bottom of her feet. Shara grimaced at the blood and rose.

“We have some disinfectant,” she said, walking to a cabinet in the far corner and rummaging around.

“Thank you,” she whispered.

“Patch said Diros sent his son after Thais,” Lord Adrastos said. Lapis nodded.

“Yeah. Gavon.”

He gritted his teeth. “Vicious lad, that one.”

“And seven guards.”

“And the Sisters let them in?” he muttered, outraged.

“Yeah.” She accepted the medical supplies from the Minq with a quiet thanks, though she dreaded the sting when the liquid touched the blisters and shredded flesh. When had she become an injury magnet? Still, she preferred her discomfort to Lady Thais hobbling about in pain. The woman did not need yet another worry on top of her terrifying night.

“It’s unfathomable,” Lord Adrastos said, shaking his head. “Lady Thais is an exceptional doctor. The court loves her, and she has a lot of rich patients that give to the temple so they can visit her. Why would the First Sister jeopardize that income?”

“There was a Sister or a steward with the guards.”

“So Patch said.” He waved his hand, grumbling. “Probably won’t be one for much longer. Thais hasn’t made a secret about how much she hates her family. Not many understand it, but they’ve decided some intrigue or other didn’t go her way, and she plops the blame on their heads. It doesn’t matter. She’d never willingly see anyone she’s related to.”

“Gavon said he has evidence she healed rebels, and threatened her with turning it over to Gall. She told him if the nobles she saw had rebellious inclinations, that was hardly her fault.”

“Her patients won’t take kindly to that,” Lord Adrastos admitted. “Many influential families visit her. If Diros plans to destroy some of the highest-ranking court architects, he’s going to find out that his power-hunger has limits, especially if he goes after one or two Gall relies on.”

“You said he tried to blackmail you.”

“He did. Ambition without brains. He lucked into that extra wealth, and luck rarely happens a second time.”

“He isn’t that smart,” Captain Ryalla said. “He bullies because he can buy muscle, but when confronted in person, he melts into a puddle.” Her disgust indicated that puddle was a literal description of his reaction to a competent guard encounter.

“I left explicit instructions to turn away anyone claiming to be family,” Lady Thais insisted, her voice echoing down the hallway. She and Patch re-entered the room. They had rummaged a long-sleeved white shirt and a brown skirt for her, nothing as fancy as her typical wear, but more presentable than a dressing gown for company. “The steward in charge of the night shift let them in, despite my wishes.” She sucked in a shuddering breath. “Bad luck, it appears the temple is no longer a safe place for me to practice. Diros never took losing well, and if city guards arrest Gavon, his fury will burn long over the slight.”

Patch settled his hand on her back and helped her sit in the second comfiest chair, a plush affair to comfort and soothe a wearied body. He set her purse next to it, then planted his butt on the armrest next to Lapis. The wood creaked but held. Did the others wonder at his interest in seeing the woman safe? In reputation, he did not have close friends, family or associates.

“You are a reputed doctor,” Shara said, setting her cheek against her knuckles as she lounged back in her seat. “It’s unfathomable that the Sisters endangered you. Do they think you’ll return and continue to conduct business after this lapse?”

“Thais, this is Shara,” Lord Adrastos said, waving his hand towards the woman, intercepting any uneasy reaction to the question. “I think you’ve made the acquaintance of her grandfather, Jo Ban Jano.”

“Ah, yes.” Lady Thais nodded as the Minq underboss bowed her head. “I may take him up on his offer.”

She smiled. “He has a way of making his offers hard to turn down.”

“Hmm. But he must realize, I’ll not forsake the Meint. I’ve been helping them acquire supplies, and I plan to continue.” The steel returned to the lady’s voice.

“Of course. The service the Meint provides is much needed in our fair city.”

Lapis hissed at the sting of disinfectant. Lady Thais looked over and rocked up.

“Lady—”

“I am a doctor,” she reminded her tartly. If the act helped her regain a semblance of herself, why not allow her to help? Of course, she rarely won a battle of wills with the woman, so why try?

Lord Adrastos tapped at the arm of his chair. “You mentioned something else, Patch?” he asked.

Her partner dug into his pocket, withdrawing a stiletto with multiple dings and scratches. He gripped the leather-wrapped black hilt; the blade, along with a blaze of lightning, shot from the thin slit in the crossguard. The knives Jhor described that Bov Caardinva’s men wielded matched this one. “It looks like the shank that fought Lanth wasn’t unique in his tech. Either Diros is giving out tech to shanks, or they’re getting their weapons from the same person.”

“Thais, I’ll put you up,” Lord Adrastos said, eyeing the item in distaste. “If your brother is going after you with such things, the temple isn’t safe.”

“No, it isn’t. I thank you for your offer, but I will not let my things molder under their care, either.”

“So move them,” Patch said.

“Packing medical instruments correctly takes time,” she snapped. “It will be days before I can pack my personal—”

“So pack your med supplies and hire help for the rest.”

“And who might you suggest?”

“Linz and her crew. They’re efficient at cleaning out living quarters for stakes without damaging anything.”

“I’ll send guards with you,” Lord Adrastos promised. “Hmm. Maybe I should tell the court, if they want to see their doctor, they need to come to the estate—and then tell them why.”

A ghost of a smile played on the lady’s lips. “I’m certain most will enjoy such a visit.”

He chuckled with more glee than Lapis thought he should.

The knocking slowly brought her awake. Lapis squinted about the room she and Patch shared at the rebel House, noting the thin rays of sun peeking beneath the heavy curtains. How early did the person pounding on the door think they should rise, after their exhausting night?

Well, exhausting for her. Patch did not seem much affected, and she appreciated laying back and letting him smother her in kisses and snuggles and vigorous lovemaking. The tingle at the memories triggered bubbling happiness.

Grumbling, her love grabbed a pair of pants and hopped into them before striding out the door. She enjoyed the view, though the lust died with the increased throbbing of the bottom of her feet. She retrieved a too-large shirt and waddled into the bathroom to retrieve the pain reliever Lady Thais gifted her the night before, to slather on the pads when they began to ache.

She grabbed the glass jar and heard a sizzle, so whoever knocked was someone Patch felt comfortable showing the stiletto to.

“You want me to what?”

Lapis frowned, the lid half-opened, and hobbled to the door, peeking out through the dust particles dancing in the soft yellow glow emanating from the edges of the wide, curtained window. Her brother stood with her partner, envelope in hand, a hard look darkening his features. She glanced down, decided family did not care about her state of undress, and padded into the room.

Faelan looked at her, and his hardness fell into concern. “How are your feet?” he asked, as she walked on the outer edges of them to a soft sitting chair.

“Sore.” She flumped down and set the jar on the carved end table, before lifting her left foot up and onto her thigh, intent on unwrapping it. He must have already discussed the night before with Lord Adrastos, to know about her injury.

“Lord Adrastos says Lady Thais wants to move everything today.”

“Everything?” The bookshelves themselves would take a day to properly settle into a crate. Lapis thought of her poor feet, standing for hours stuffing volumes into a wooden box, and groaned. Patch eyed her, then retrieved the gauze before helping her with the wrap.

“She’s offering to pay a silver to every rat who helps.”

Lapis’s eyes popped at her brother’s casual mention of the pay. “That will make sure she’s overrun.”

“Linz smirked when I told them Patch said they and their crew knew how to break down a living quarter. The rats will need to listen to them, do things when and how they say.”

“For a silver, they’d do a lot more than remain well-behaved.” She jerked her chin at the envelope. “What’s up?”

“A not polite letter to Meinrad and Rambart.”

Faelan’s fury burned low, if he wanted to send a nasty ultimatum. “And you want Patch to deliver? That’s not a good idea.”

Her partner glared. “It’s a great idea,” he countered.

“Not if you plan to keep them alive.”

Faelan’s exasperation, coupled with Patch’s wide, vicious smile, made her sigh.

“He’ll also retrieve Gerrit,” her brother muttered, shoving a hand through his black bangs before slipping another envelope out from under the top one. “But I have something else I need you to do. Something your feet won’t complain too much about.”

She sulked; overprotective older brother, after living so long without one, annoyed her. “What is it?”

“There’s a lot of interest in the Fools and Ghouls’ celebration from Ambercaast. It’s a perfect time to introduce Ghost, Sanna, Kathandra, and whichever terrons want to make an appearance. Midir will be at the Lells with his family, and so will Lord Adrastos, the Minq, and Imaralis.”

Imaralis. Lapis had forgotten about her, considering all the excitement of Ambercaast. “So she’s serious about becoming an ally.”

“She is. I’ve sent word to Istak that I’m confident she’s sincere. Jarosa is still hesitant, but she also thinks Imaralis is sincere. We’ll see, what comes of it.” He set the envelope on the end table next to her. “It’s going to be a strange Fools and Ghouls. I thought we should warn the Lells owners about it.”

Oh. That would be a good idea. Maydie and Movique would appreciate the heads up.

“The muddled gossip about Ambercaast has made it to the court, and no one believes anything said by shanks concerning a failed endeavor, so we won’t have to worry about throne interference, but there are other concerns, like what happened at Mimstone Square and Ruddy’s. The Minq have offered to run security, so they won’t have to find guards on short notice.”

“Have you talked to Lady Thyra?”

Faelan could not look unhappier. “I asked her what she was thinking. She said that so many people pulling away from her hurt Merika, and she planned to tell her why.”

“Like she’s going to believe her beloved son had anything to do with being a traitor.”

“Perben ran interference because he guessed why they met. I told her he isn’t above a sneak attack to get rid of an inconvenient witness. She told me that once Merika gets through with him, that won’t be an issue.” He rubbed at his eyes. “She’ll be devastated, once Thyra tells her. But she won’t turn from him.”

Of course not.

“Though I’ll be shocked if she doesn’t rein him in with a hand made from iron. She’ll believe it a sworn duty to her son, and Meinrad and Rambart will lose their golden child.”

Lapis lifted her lip at the description. Lady Merika would attempt it because she would see it as the only way to keep him alive. He did not deserve the help, and she wondered at Lady Thyra’s insistence. Her daughter died because of his traitorous act.

Or maybe that pain prompted her to save another parent from the emotional punch.

She rubbed at her face. The old, debilitating agony of loss and despair and helpless anger threatened to surface, and she desperately smashed it down, to wallow in the grungy waves of repressed emotions that, hopefully, would never erupt. “So ask the rats about helping Lady Thais and give a polite warning to the Lells owners. And how is this supposed to help my feet?”

“You can take a cart.”

Lapis hoped her ill-humor drowned her brother. Patch leaned over for a kiss, as amused as her sibling, though his relief probably had more to do with her being sent elsewhere, rather than sneaking after him to his confrontation with the ex-rebels. Her partner did not walk hand in hand with kindness towards those who endangered her, and, as a woman interested in his safety and wellbeing, she wanted to keep him as far from temptation as possible.

The Lells empty of rats had the merchants gossiping—and laughing—about getting them into a semblance of order to help with the unexpected move. Lapis noted a few jealous remarks, and she could not blame them; a silver would be a stars-boon for any of them.

That Lady Thais made a point of asking for rats intrigued her. Had her experience with them at the Eaves changed her mind about urchins? The wealthy normally thought them beneath contempt, a dirty blight only good for menial, underpaid work at a docks warehouse. Her reading circle, however, proved that bit of snobbishness a foolish belief.

She perused the bright folk art hanging from the dull wooden walls before glancing at Maydie and Movique whispering in the corner of their small, stifling office. Their excitement confused her; she expected resentment at the conscription of their celebration. Instead, they saw profit.

Maydie straightened and cleared her throat, dusting at her dappled velvet skirt before gripping the scrolled front of her chair’s arms. “Well, Lady, we were worried,” she began.

“After that incident in Mimstone Square with the Dentherions, them shootin' up Ruddy’s, and that attack on you yesterday, people were thinkin’ we shouldn’t have a celebration,” Movique interrupted, her loose grey bun flopping around on top of her head. “But if the Minq wants to guard the Lells, that’ll make people feel safer.”

“We’ll just not tell them they’re Minq,” Maydie said.

“And we don’t have to pay for them!” Movique said, enthusiastic glee lacing her tone as she clenched her hands, raised them to her shoulders, and bounced.

“There’s another reason for the guards,” Lapis said.

“Hmm. Yes. This mentions visitors.” Movique waved the letter about. “We’ve heard so many rumors about Ambercaast this, and Ambercaast that. I didn’t even know it existed until Rin told his stories.” She leaned forward, eyebrows raised in disbelief. “Lizards larger than the carrion ones, and metal horses?”

Lapis smiled. “Yes. Many of the terrons I met are larger than the Pit’s lizards. And the metal horses are not horses, but have horse bodies and human torsos.”

“How fantastic!” Maydie thrummed, beaming so bright her wrinkles faded. “So many more visitors will come if they think they’ll get to see somethin’ wild!”

Lapis had anticipated their resentment and even wondered how to handle a firm ‘no’. Instead, they saw an opportunity for money, which they should; Faelan bluntly offered to cover unexpected expenses up to ten metgal. They would milk that resource dry.

“We need commemorative somethin’s,” Movique declared. “People will want to brag, that they were at the Lells this Fools and Ghouls.”

“We’ll build it up, say somethin’ special’s happenin’ this year, but not what. Get ‘m curious.”

“I’ll leave you to your planning,” Lapis said, rising.

“This Faelan. He’s your brother?” Maydie asked.

“Yes.”

“I wouldn’t trust a shank or syndicate, but your brother? You’d not have brought this if you thought him untrustworthy.”

“That’s true. I trust him. He won’t mislead you, and after the Dentherions made life like the Pit for a while, he thinks we deserve a bit of festiveness as a reward.”

“You know, Maydie mentioned it, about havin’ a memorial for Ruddy’s customers this year,” Movique said. “Maybe set up a Ghoul’s altar where people give the ghosts some food, like the rich do for their dead kin. I know Ruddy’s not a Lells place, but the killin’s hit hard, here. Them Dentherions reminded everyone that the throne don’t see us as worthy of life. We know it, but havin’ it shoved down our throats, well, it’s hard to swallow.”

Definitely a sentiment her brother and Midir could use against Gall and his supporters. Deep fears concerning safety would make the rebel acts against the puppet seem forthright and necessary.

“I wonder if we can hit up the Night Market for donations, food-wise,” Maydie mulled. “Put in a good word for the places that donate food, so people don’t have to buy what they can’t.”

“You know, the Lells celebration is popular enough, the Night Market might be itching to take part,” Lapis said.

“Maybe we should invite other businesses in the Grey and Stone Streets,” Movique said. “Offer them a chance to set up a booth in the squares. Prove to them Green Castle nobles that we’re more than fodder for Dentherion soldiers.”

How much hard anger did the Grey and Stone Streets harbor against the throne for the incident? Lapis had not been around to gauge, but if the ugly hate underlying the two Lells owners filled others, the throne had misjudged the legacy of their casual cruelty. People only suffered so much indignity and pain before they broke, and the beginnings of that break peeked out.

“I think a celebration honoring all of us is a fantastic idea,” she said.

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