The Ways are dark, and obviously closer to the more volatile parts of Chaos than others. Gone were the tasteful decorations collected over hundreds of years, or stylish points of architecture. The room warps and heaves around him, making him for once, very, veryuncomfortable.
He can feel the eyes on him. Eyes of demons, lurking in the shadows, in the Chaos they called home. He wonders what would happen if he simply tried to leave...
The door swings open, and a man in demon form, eyes red from dwelling in darkness, nails long and sharp, a drifting haze about himů He nods and sits. "Scren... You are too kind to be prompt." His voice grates, and Scren finds himself wishing he would put on his human face.
"Welcome to Mandorways."
Scren looks at the man who sent him the message a few days ago. Or at least he assumes it is him. Go-betweens are not uncommon here.
Stoically retaining his human form, Scren nods and crosses his arms. Powerful arms. His whole human form oozes strength and massiveness. His almost-black eyes contrast with his blonde hair in a disturbing way.
"You want my services. I'm here." he states simply.
He man's demon features melt, and the white hair returns, the slightly tanned skin, the carefully sculptured features. No, this is the man who hired him.
"Are you still houseless?"
He narrows his eyes slightly and looks intently at the man. A very quick and faint memory of the house he was born to flits through his mind, almost subconsciously. It is strange for an employer to ask about his own affairs. Most of the time they start explaining about the situation of the target straight away.
Still, he inclines his head again and says "Yes. Why do you ask?"
"I need you to infiltrate a certain House Minor, and make sure it stays a House Minor, or perhaps, return it to nothing more than a collection of upstart nobles."
He studies his nails for a moment. "You've heard of House Aida?"
/Direct and to the point. Good./
"I have. I have free rein in how I do this, or do you have any preferred way I do this?" Scren asks.
/House Aida. Fairly new house./ He had thought about joining it a while ago, but decided against it. He wasn't a politician and didn't need the support of a house to do his trade. The contrary was true in fact: he would have to keep a lower profile, and within a house which was as 'public' as house Aida right now, he would stick out as a sore claw.
"I have suggestions, but if you prefer another method, then fine." A servant enters and Mandor speaks to it in a strange tongue. It bows and leaves them again.
"Have you ever had any contact with them?"
Scren shakes his head. "No. I know mostly about them from rumours, tales and informants."
He shifts his weight to take a slightly more deferring position, standing a bit straighter, like a soldier at attention to a superior. It would seem he has gotten the task he was sought for, and a small indication of his acceptance of the employer seems in order.
"I would still like to hear your suggestions, sir. I myself prefer the direct, physical approach, but if you like a more subtle approach, I can do that as well."
"I want you to join them." The servant reappears, laden with wine bottles and trays of meat and fruit. "And I want you to demoralize them."
"This Lord Chondan-- oh, wait, Count, now. He's a charismatic man. Most of the younger nobles worship him, or at least respect him. And he's pulling much too many of the lower generation from the Houses Major." His face gains a trace of bitterness.
Scren waits until his employer sits down and then seats himself. He takes the offered food and wine, only checking for the heaviest of poisons in his stomach as he eats.
"Count Chondan." he pauses and thinks. /Probably a few from this house as well, seeing his bitterness./
"Any other figures of significance to be... dealt with?" he asks then.
"If you meet a young petulant thief by the name of Marrek, please, do _not_ 'deal' with him. He is my brother, and I'd rather he lived through this... As a matter of fact, it would be most unpleasant if he did find harm."
"Are you any good at preventing damage?"
Scren nods, both at the confirmation of his hunch, and at the question.
"Yes. I don't like to leave a mess, unless absolutely unavoidable. I don't work with explosives either."
Mandor winces. "I'm not fond of messes. Too much chance of strays getting hurt. But of course, you will be framing someone for this, so you'll have to study him for a while. Are you good at subterfuge?"
"And as for not doing damage, I was more focused on you eventually becoming something of a guardian for my young sibling. These are dangerous times, and my house has already been attacked once."
Again, Scren looks at Mandor with slightly narrowed eyes. "Did you have anyone specific in mind? I have a few targets I can use, but you might have a preference."
Actually, the list of targets Scren knows is very short. None to be exact. It would be nice to have a name, but he doesn't doubt his own abilities in that field.
"As for the protection... I see possibilities there. How long does he need protection?"
"Until he finds his senses and comes home."
Mandor twists his hand about at the wrist, and a piece of paper appears. He hands it to Scren, and he sees the face of a young man, thin boned, sharp pointed ears, and lavender glasses on his face. His hair is black with streaks of colour, and his smile shows the slightest hint of fangs.
"Tolan. Houseless. Befriend him first and find out all you can. He is to receive full blame for this."
Scren studies the picture, committing both the name and the face to memory.
"Where can I find him?" he asks, after drinking some wine.
"The Underway, a gathering place of lesser note. Don't wear your dress shoes."
"He travels in the company of a large fellow named Bel'k, and a young sprite of a woman named Klasha. Both are so low in their houses no one pays them any note. Bel'k is hard to miss, and Klasha tends to shift so often pictures are rather pointless."
Scren digests both the information given and the food supplied.
He is silent for a few minutes and then raises his eyes to Mandor again. "I think I know enough, unless you have any more information for me. The last thing I need to know is the matter of expenses."
"And identity. Pick a new name. I've set up a fund for you to draw upon. I assume you're not going to wander about as 'Scren the Hit-man' and expect open doors."
He pours a glass of wine. "What is your price?"
Scren picks up the glass and lifts it to examine the colour of the liquid.
/This could put me in a very comfortable position for a long time./ he muses. /This man is obviously able to pay a lot for this./
"For the duration of both tasks I will need the use of the expense account of course." He pauses as he thinks about the payment.
"My payment will be one full standard year's usage of the expense account after the jobs have been completed, within reason of course. In addition I will be allowed to ask one favour of house Sawall anytime in the future, and lastly one fully trained demon with all securities in place."
He looks at Mandor with a flat stare, as if this was his normal way of doing business. In fact, it is the most outrageous price he has ever asked, but this is no normal job.
Mandor looks impressed. "Do you plan your price ahead of time...?" He nods. "Yes, that's fine. I'll have to find the demon, but the rest can be ready now."
He takes his time with a nectarine.
"What sort of favour?"
Scren shows a slight smile on his lips. "Any favour." he says. "And your promise you will do it. Nothing more. Just the one. See it as supplying me with a resource."
"My new identity will be 'Trennix Dan'Oyle' by the way. It isn't one I have used before."
He nods. "So be it." He stands, and bows. "I'll be in contact, young Trennix." He hands him a key, made of silver and bronze. A number is imprinted on it, and Scren realizes that this is the code to the account. He looks up, and Mandor dissolves into a shimmering mist, leaving behind the scent of sandalwood.
The room vanishes from about him, and around him the sights of lower Chaos take form.
Including a bar, with a very familiar name.
/The Underway/ Scren muses. Looking around, he finds a small alley and moves slowly towards a more shadowy bit. Letting his mind relax, his features flow into a more nondescript expression. A slight reduction in his size and width complete the alterations and he steps out again.
Walking briskly, he enters the underway and finds a spot at the back of the bar, and observes.
He sits for the better part of an hour. Finally, his target wanders in, alone. He looks around for a moment, then heads for the bar.
In the dim light it's hard to see if he still sports the subtly colored hair, but everything else matches the picture. He gets a drink and settles in, idly watching a singer practically begging for tips.
Scren starts the process of analysing the 'scapegoat' as soon as he enters. His mannerisms, which leg he favours standing at the bar, what he drinks, how he lounges in the chair.
Vocal patterns are a bit more difficult to get, but there will be time for that later. Patiently, Scren scans and analyses.
The man seems to have an abundance of energy that doesn't show right away. At first glance, he appears laid back, but small ticks find their way out. Snapping fingers. Shuffling feet. The quick way he turns his head when he hears something.
His voice is impossible to hear over the warbling singer, or the din of voices.
Mentally shrugging, Scren waits a few more minutes and then exits the establishment. He goes into the alley again and changes his appearance into a young female form, not too beautiful, but pleasant enough to look at.
He waits a few minutes and then enters the Underway again. After ordering a drink, he walks over to where Tolan is sitting and motions to an empty chair next to him.
"Mind if I sit here?" he asks, the voice slightly lilting.
Tolan smiles charmingly. "Of course," hears Scren over the noise. "You'd make a much better companion than the thin air." He motions to the seat. "Please. I'm Tolan."
Scren giggles lightly and extends a hand as he sits down. "Trixi. You're funny!" he titters.
"I like singing so much. She's good isn't she? Has she been singing long?" Scren keeps up a continuous stream of chatter and mindless questions. He also starts telling about 'herself' and divulges some personal titbits that pave the way to the most important question:
"So, tell me about you! You know all about me!"
Scren keeps an eye on his pupils and hands, to see which of the things he's going to tell are most likely true.
He smiles. "Oh me? I'm just some vagabond artiste without even a house to torment. I hang around lower Chaos, living off the kindness of strangers."
"And of course there's the shadow hopping. But I much prefer the darker realms, don't you?"
He eyes his (her?) delicate skin, an odd look in his eye. He shakes himself so slightly that if Scren hadn't been watching details, he would have missed it.
Quickly, Scren moves in with another question "Ooh! What shadows do you like? I like the pink and fluffy ones myself."
Looking at his own skin, Scren tries to determine if anything has gone wrong with his shape-shift. He also keeps his eyes on the eyes of his target. If they betray any recognition of someone past him, he wants to know.
"Pink and fluffy?" He quirks an eyebrow. "Not my style. Hate anything too bright."
Scren checks his skin quickly, and can find nothing wrong. Still feminine and smooth.
"I like the wild ones. The hunting is better."
/Hunting./ Filed away under hobbies. Scren shudders slightly. "Ooh. That sounds very scary. What do you hunt?"
Scren keeps up the inane but probing questions for a while. But he doesn't want to stay too long. When the conversation falls silent, he stands and says "I've got to see what is keeping my friend. She should have been here ages ago. It's been nice meeting you." and he extends his hand again.
He takes it, and pulls it to his mouth, kissing it lightly. As he smiles again, Scren makes note once again of the fangs.
"I hope to meet again, lovely."
"You're a sweet one."
Scren smiles sweetly and moves to the door and outside.
He moves back to the alley and shifts back into his own form. This time he decides to see if anything can be seen by keeping an eye on the door. Maybe the big fella will turn up soon.
The big guy doesn't, but a woman does that catches his eye. Down the block she's a normal redhead, perfectly human. As she walks, however, she changes with a bit with every step. The fair skin darkens until it's pitch back. The hair starts to lighten, then glow. Her eyes go from round to slanted, to shadowed.
Her clothes are a glamour, just enough to hide what she has to... Most of the locals pay her no heed, though some to chance a stare. She smiles at them, and that changes too... Benign. Charming. Devilish. Cruel.
She passes Scren and heads inside.
/Such energy! If I were to do that, I'd be exhausted after five minutes./
Scren debates if he should follow, but decides against it. /I'll wait here, and see if they come out and go somewhere./
The wait is long, and Scren actually begins to get tired... He leans against the wall, as his lids grow heavy...
They fly open as sees them go by again, her chattering away at a dizzying speed, the vampire simply nodding vaguely. They seems to be heading to the lower ways.
He curses his bones and quickly moves into the crowd to follow them.
He follows them easily, the girl being surprisingly easy to follow. She seems to attract attention no matter where she goes.
They avoid the named ways and head towards the ways made by the houseless-- formless things, close to chaos, kept together more by sheer will than any talent.
Scren slowly shifts more towards his demon form, but keeping a human aspect as well. He wants to keep his winged form just within reach so he can shift to it quickly.
Keeping to the shadows, he keeps the two well in his view and looks around for any sign of being watched or followed himself.
As the district deteriorates, people become more and more involved in their own activities to be following anyone. Most look to be other the lower castes of Chaos.
Tolan and Klasha make their way to an opening, fashioned to be like a mirror. He waves a hand at it, and it disappears for a moment, allowing them through. Quickly, it shimmers back into being.
Walking slowly up to the mirror, Scren debates the wisdom of following. Slowly bringing up his logrus-sight, he scans the mirror for lynch-pins, traps, activation points, alarms, anything.
He curses inside as he realizes the lynchpins are passwords, and he hadn't head the twosome utter anything.
The mirror shivers a bit as he tests it, and he pulls back his tendrils.
/Okay, I'll keep this one for later. No need to rush things now./
Walking slowly back up the road towards better areas, Scren begins plotting his next move. /I've gotten an impression of the guy I have to blame and one of his flunkeys. Next: get into house Aida, get on good terms with both Count Chondan and Marrek... and I'll see from there where it goes.../
Then, he slowly reaches into a pocket of his coat, and takes out the key Mandor gave him. Turning it in what little light there is, he scans the number and memorizes it.
/Well, guess I'm off to the bank then.../ and he heads on.
The account is sizable... He's quite pleased. This Mandor is rather well off, isn't he?
Taking an amount with him, he thinks about his attack plan to get into House Aida...
Sitting down in the small temporary apartment somewhere in the anonymous recesses of Chaos, Scren looks at the small table in the middle of the room. Mentally, he projects the players in this assignment.
/At the top, Mandor. He's quite willing to pay and pay much for this thing to happen. Cold man, stuck in the old ways a bit./
Next in the mental diorama appeared Chondan - or at least a silhouette of him, since he didn't know what the man looked like yet. /Head of house Aida. He's the mark. Easiest to just kill him and blame it on Tolan... Probably too easy./
Slowly, Tolan flickered onto the display and moved off to somewhere besides the rest. /It'd be nice to see where this Tolan connected, except for him being a lowlife scumbag bloodsucker./
Directly below Chondan a face appeared. Marrek. /Again this one points back to Mandor. But then it would, since he is the employer. Marrek is to be shielded from the fallout and even protected after the event. Strange request, but a good money bank./
The images of the main players stay in Scren's mind a few more minutes, revolving around each other, plotting out the connections between them. Then, stretching, Scren focussed on one face, around which the others faded.
/Let's get chummy with him first. He might as well be my ticket into Aida./
He takes off his jacket and lies back onto the bed. Marrek's image floats in his mind long after he's gone to sleep.
The following day is spent buying new clothes, a few toys and trinkets and renting a new up-market house for the time being. In short: a new identity is in the making.
Preening himself before the mirror, 'Trennix Dan'Oyle' actually looks a lot like Scren. Keeping up a shifted shape for a long time is very taxing, and he didn't want to risk detection in that area.
His hired servant, who only knew him as 'Lord Trennix' is instructed to ask visitors to return later in a friendly voice, and keep the house looking pristine.
Taking a rather foppish hat and a purple cane, Scren saunters off in the direction of house Aida. Once there, he asks the servant who answers the door that it is 'simply life-shatteringly imperative' that he speaks with Lord Marrek.
The servant, a none too bright imp of the outer ring, is duly impressed with Scren's urgency. He informs him in broken Thari that the Lord Marrek is indeed in Amber, guarding the youngest of the royal family, Ryoden of Sawall.
He immediately rushes into a veritable typhoon of information regarding a rumoured attack on the princess, and stories that the Prince Jurt is hurt... Some say dead.
/Ryoden, Jurt. He keeps high company./
After the rant of the lowly servant descends into conjecture and babbling, Scren holds up his hand and imperiously says "Very well, very well. Can you at least tell me how I can get in contact with his lordship as soon as possible?" He frowns and over-acts the thunderstorm in his eyes and in a mock growl adds "I would not want to /walk/ all the way to Amber, would I?"
/Amber, how the hell do I get myself into this again?/
The imp looks nervous. "Eh--- Trump work no... not this far." He shakes, and seems to remember something urgent that he has to do, ending the nattering session.
He almost trips a young noble as he scurries back in the ways. The man, in partial demon form, regards Scren warily.
"Why do you seek young Lord Marrek?"
Sighing exasperatedly, Scren throws up one gloved hand in despair. "Why do I /always/ have to explain everything three times to get things done. Never mind! I will suffice to leave a message that Trennix Dan'Oyle has called on Lord Marrek. But _please_ make sure this reaches him as soon as he returns, yes?"
A quick bow and Scren is outside. /No good pushing it too much at the start. For Amber I have to go a bit higher. Time to give Mandor another visit./
A while later Scren arrives at Mandor's ways and politely asks to see the man himself.
He is led through a number of twisting hallways, assaulted by odd lighting and smells -- sculptures and paintings abound. Finally, the small quiet, drifting servant finds Mandor in one of his studies, looking over a glass bauble.
"Trennix. What can I do for you?"
Scren smiles amiably. If keeping up appearances is what Mandor wants, it's okay with him. "My lord Mandor, I am trying to reach your esteemed brother Marrek. I have heard he is on a mission of some importance in Amber, but I still think it would be advantageous for us both if I meet with him as soon as possible. Would you be able to facilitate a transport for me to Amber?"
Mandor chuckles at some private irony, and studies Scren's clothing. "Do you like balls? Because Amber is having one that I plan on attending."
Scren smiles and nods. "It would be a pleasure to attend the ball with you, my lord. I assume you have transport to Amber?"
Mandor shrugs. "Transport is unnecessary. I have a contact." He holds up a card depicting the young and surly prince Jurt. "He's in the castle now, and no doubt willing to pull us through. He may not be cheerful about it... but that is the core of my brother."
/Jurt. Memorize him./ Scren thinks as he takes up the image in his memory.
He nods and asks "When do you plan on leaving?"
"Find something appropriate soon. I'll be leaving as soon as possible." Mandor motions to his own clothes, dark, modern, and terribly formal. "I'm sure you have something that is not quite so... foppish?" He throws a critical look at Scren's purple hat.
The smile temporarily flickers away from his face. He nods and states "I will be back in two hours." Then the 'foppish' grin and demeanour reappear and he moves quickly from the house.
Two hours later, A slightly more soberly dressed Scren stands once more in Mandor's rooms. "Better?" Scren asks, without much humour.
"Much." Mandor is now in one of his galleries, studying something made of glass and fire. He takes out the card of his brother once again and concentrates. He says nothing, apparently preferring his contacts silent. A moment, and he touches Scren's arm, and steps forward.