The bells tinkle leisurely, not a note of concern present in their voices. This customer will be calm, measured in action and low of voice; Nepenthe can hear it already in the steady way they pushed through the dividing curtains. The footsteps sound evenly, but with an inconsistency in heaviness.
Limp… longer hip on one side, torn muscle, shattered kneecap, extra cane—but no, no third leg…
Hands flattened to her brow, forehead screwed up in concentration, black eyes narrowed on a frayed rainbow knot of marionette strings, the puppeteer slouches at her work-table. The customer is new, she knows, and this is always a bad sign—her shop is wedged so deeply in the labyrinthine streets of Cinncinox that only the invited or the seeking ever pass under her doors. The first have an unfortunate tendency to be politicians and-or murderers; the second, even worse.
Her hand grabs the knife secured under the table. “Ira…” Voice pitched low, she calls for her Sableye and rises to greet the unsteady-footed visitor. (Ira’s eyes gleam from the darkness of an undusted corner.)
A slant of light crawls across the floor, flashing briefly as the heavy, moth-eaten separation curtains are drawn back with the stranger’s entrance. The shadows resettle uneasily as the curtains slip closed again, robbing the dank room of all illumination but that of the incense and candles scattered unstrategically across the room.
“I’m here for puppet strings.”
“As are most. You’ll have to be more specific, sir.”
be the sort of man who has puppets dangling from his fingers, but no strings. He stands at an odd angle, one hand gripping the apothecary jar-covered shelf at his side dangerously close to a garland of envenomed Seviper fangs; if he shifts just one
finger…. Weakness, inherent in his form. Yet he holds his head with a faux-coy tilt (grease-slick hair over face, shadows in the eyes) that belies the quiet assurance of one with power over others.
“Red. Scarlet.” He lifts his head and the hair falls away; the unveiled features are more stone than flesh, sharp, hooked and craggy in all the wrong places.
Ira gives a restless shift; flame glitters in his gem-eyes.
Foreign dress, but poor—capitol bourgeoisie, not native country folk. Cinncinox teems with rich filth. And Ira is wary.
Her answer is slow, too slow to be natural—the customer’s eyes twitch. “I am out, I’m afraid. Gave the last to a Soul Rent back in the capitol. His harp was in rather urgent need.”
At this, the stranger gives a brief shudder. The chainmail-slung hand clenches on its perch, eeking ever so closer to the Seviper fangs. “The way they treat those people is abominable.” His face is tense, now; he has said something that could get him killed if the wrong sword-slinging crony were within earshot.
Nepenthe wants to play with him for a moment, make him fear for his safety as she feared for hers. Then she realizes he’s by far the more powerful here, and that his Pokémon has yet to show its face—which means it’s likely larger than Ira. Ignorant, then; for this man, she will be one of the masses who knows little and seeks to understand less.
She shrugs. (Play the role, spin the role… puppet strings are at her fingertips, weaving a shroud for his eyes. He will not see a thing.) “It’s not as if that filth does a thing for society, anyways. Their bodies are weak because they have no will to live, and their minds are incomplete, lacking any semblance of higher thought—with the loss of their soul comes the loss of all that makes humanity good and decent.”
The man’s bearing folds in on itself, deviating from soft confidence into acute discomfort. (Ira’s eyes gleam brighter, and Nepenthe sees that this man is making a blindfold of his own.)
And then something shifts. His form tilts upward; his bad leg snaps straight; his hand drops to his side and his shoulders are even. The face is no longer stone, but fire, leaping in the shadows. “The harpist chose you, you know. He saw through your soul, saw straight into your Sableye’s eyes to the window of your own.” His voice is imploring, honest, as if he is sharing with her the only Truth but knows she will never believe. They are obviously having two very different conversations.
“Oh? And what exactly did he see
?” Her voice is mocking, now. She will usher this man out of her shop as immediately as possible. Wherever this came from, she has no desire to follow. The words are clearly meant to draw her in, to excite her with vague possibilities that she will construct within the bounds of her own imagination.
“There will be three—the beggar has seen them. You are one of those three. You are the
one of those three. But within the conclusion of this fortnight, you must be the only one—the scholar and the mime must die. If you are to perish, their rule will be tyrannical, brutal.”
Nepenthe snorts and smiles a sideways smile. “Good day, sir.” And her hand shows him the door.
“You must rid us of the others…” His retreat hesitates, but he leaves, gait once more crooked and hair once more concealing his face.
(The wood near the Seviper fangs is saturated with purple slime. It reminds her of a Ditto she once saw…).
Originally Posted by I WAS NOT INSPIRED
Uh, so, inspiration from Vagrant Knight, ‘cause I read it, and was all, OHLOOK, HIS BEGGAR HAS A WEIRD LEG. And then I started writing this and realized that I started imagining the visitor with a weird gait. …Which, although lacking deliberate…ance…ness… is certainly inspiration. So.
Incredibly rushed. I'll probably be back to edit.