“And you are?”
Jiori made a show of inspecting the book. The sound of pipes drifted lazily into the hallway.
“I'm afraid there's no Visitings listed. Very sorry,”
Jiori snapped the book shut. His other hand tightened around his dagger. The foppish young man in front of him turned to his date.
“Baelnorn loves to tease me,”
A gloved hand lifted, opening palm out towards Jiori. The doorman peered at the gold for a moment, brow arched. Then he scooped up the bribe and bowed.
“Welcome to Locanda Oulle,”
Poor lighting hid the garish decoration. Amidst gauze curtains sillouhettes moved, drinking, dancing and whispering. Through the candled pathways southern pipes snaked, the music they weaved lulling contentedly. Slowly the couple seated themselves, taking a table midway in. There was the hint of a server, a leathered man who roughly shoved drinks onto the table along with powdered sherbert. He was gone just as quickly, looking more ready to mug than take orders.
If the young woman was discomfited she gave no sign. Her legs curled under her upon the pillows, staring rigidly at her companion. He looked away chuckling.
“I eagerly await your complaint,”
“Who was the woman on the third table?” Her voice echoed slightly, cutting through the music like it was deadwood.
He raised an eyebrow. “Oh, just a friend. I think,”
There was an awkward silence interrupted only by a scarred man padding his way purposefully towards one of the exits.
He broke it once more. “So, what do you think of the roughest tavern in all of Digrel?”
“There was a type of moth I have never seen before by the street lantern.”
“Oh the lanterns were just beautiful out tonight. Like twinkling stars,”
“Its pattern bore a resemblance to the symbol for a decipherment,”
“Ah yes, a metaphor for the mysteries of life waiting to be unlocked.”
“Perhaps a transmutation by a mage is responsible. I have seen three similar cases before,”
“Ah but can they turn gold into love?”
The part of Tatula processing his words overrode her mind.
“You are mocking me,” she stated.
Darken smiled. “Nice of you to join us,”
She stared at him sipping from a cup. She stared at him sniffing the powder. Her mind's wheels turned, cataloguing the moth. Pondering the connection to the symbol. Examining methods to replicate the creature. Her mind drew up memories of herself collecting other moths. A man who had kissed her. Then Darken spoke and his words knifed through her orderly thoughts.
“Well, you wanted to hear them,”
Her mind began working on the stresses of his voice. Resentment, civility, bitterness, desire. From each word sprung forth memories and thoughts. She had to deal with the now though.
“Unclear. The curtains impede,”
“I do believe that to be the intent,”
“You said the nobles plan here,”
“When someone wants something done or is feeling dangerous here they come. Business and bravado,”
Tatula turned her head as a token gesture to acting human. Her eyes had rotted away long ago.
“I cannot hear them,”
“Over there a merchant is hiring an assassin to remove a rival's son,”
Tatula stared in the direction Darken pointed. There was nothing but shadows moving.
“You are not using a spell,”
Darken pulled up a sleeve and waved it around. “To know people is the greatest magic,”
Tatula raised a finger to tap her cheek as a memory came to her. “Then what is that woman planning with those guards?”
Darken frowned. “What?”
He glanced around furtively as he tried to discern what Tatula was talking about. He was about to give up when voices rose on the next table over. There was the smack of wood on flesh and the scarred man appeared from amidst the translucent curtains. He dragged a woman by the hair. Another man joined him and together they manhandled her through the hall. They had passed Darken and Tatula's table before she screamed.
There was another smack. The scarred man had clubbed her in the face. All three disappeared into the haze of the inn, swallowed by the sound of the incessant music. Then Tatula got up and followed.
Darken caught her as she passed through a doorway into an alley. The sun had set by now, losing the street in night. He grabbed her shoulder and immediately let go, the mere feel of that thin bone was enough to leave him shuddering. He stood there shivering as she stepped into the alley. The woman was out there. Tatula sensed rather than saw blood dripping from her mouth, splashing the cobbles with red rain.
“I have said it time and again, Rita. You pay when you're asked. Not when you feel like,”
The woman Rita was trying to speak up but was rewarded with another blow to the face.
“Just because your daddy's made it big on the liveries you think you're one of the old blood now? You treat us like shit and expect us to love it, Rita?”
A thump ended her protest.
Someone touched Tatula's shoulder. It was Darken. He looked at the ground and murmured “Shall we return?”
She lingered listening to the thugs. Finally she followed Darken back into the inn.