One Stone, Chapter 12

Buildings in Timoritia were built in classic Tiber style, because they defined classic Tiber style. Enough wealth sluiced around in the city’s pockets that when a trend happened, whole districts could change character for a generation, such as that fad for thick white plaster interspersed with black wood. Aderyn always loved those houses. They were pretty, and expansive, and had sloped rooves and handholds all over them, and they were designed to try and emulate a style of the nobility four hundred years gone, with only impressions and ideas. The modern throwing on a cloak of the past – it was so very Timoritian, to Aderyn’s eye. Now the row of Tudor homes around the town-house estate mirrored it. They were nice houses, but the Praefoco estate was nicer.

Once, it had been owned by a baron, who had lost it to a lawyer, who had lost it to his own mortality, and the valuable property still showed the signs, under its nouveaux riche aspirations. There were spines at the windowsills to discourage climbing, hardy metal juts that sat on the edges of the rooftop like a crown of thorns. It was another contrast with those houses around it – they had balconies and windows and shutters – but they didn’t have bars on those windows, didn’t have hard metal frames on their balconies with thick glass to keep even the sound of the city from touching its owner.

It was beautiful, beautiful because it showed the lengths to which the rich would go to keep themselves that little bit above, that little bit detached from those people who they still considered lesser.

“What a fucking shitheap.” Rafe said next to her. Aderyn was still unsure just how to deal with him. Most of the poor people she had interacted with personally had been hard-working, polite, and scrubbed themselves clean enough to make soap blush. Rafe was her first real interaction with someone from the criminal class. It was dreadfully awkward the way that none of her studies had prepared her for him. He didn’t even have a cheeky accent.

“You think so?” Aderyn asked, diplomatically as she could, walking along the rooftop, past row after row of tightly packed flower-pot chimney-tops.

“Yeah, look at it.”

“I am.”

“You have there how much of a guy’s money spent buying space to hold shit that doesn’t do anything?”

“Ah.”

“Ah what?” Rafe shot back, turning and squinting at her. Glaring at her, his hands bunched up by his sides, he planted his fists on his hips as if to hide that he had formed them into fists. At least he didn’t look so much like he’d been dragged out of a pipe.

Technically, she had not yet graduated from her studies as an Assassin, but this sort of work could be a very useful little extracurricular feather in her cap. In a manner of speaking. Rafe, therefore, was her partner in grades, and as with all such group work, she was determined to rise together – and not let his truculence draw them both down. All she had to do was set him useful, workable tasks, and she could take care of the rest.

Hm, there probably wouldn’t be an essay to write after this one. Aderyn wasn’t sure if that made her pleased or slightly sad.

Rafe had come out of Draftfane prison wearing rags and hadn’t been well-washed or fed, three things that the priest and his pet knight had addressed. No blessing had come without a challenge, though; bread and butter were plenty to fill his belly but the water had been tepid and flat, and shortly after feasting he’d had to belch like a pig in mud. The bath was welcome and feeling his hair without knots of blood and mud in it was wonderful, but he had had to bathe arse-naked in the room with the knight standing in the room, for fear that he escape out a window narrower than his head.

Briefly, he considered she might not have been watching, and he wasn’t sure if that was a relief or even more embarrassing.

Then he’d dressed, and Rafe’s natural prickliness had a hard time explaining the feeling in his chest for his new gear. They were robes, stout and woollen and grey, in the same style as Brother Fratarelli’s. The sash around the waist was a tight red cord, stout and tied not with a knot but with a loop and knot system, fitting in snug and keeping it from sliding down over his hips. The shirt of the robe, when pulled up, folded over in front to cover his chest entirely – and hide the woollen seam – but he’d let that hang undone, down off his hips – which gave his lower body the impression of greater mass than it had. To keep the sleeves from trailing, he’d tied them off at his waist, and his undershirt – a simple black sleeveless with a high neck – sufficed to hide his immodesty. If there was any immodesty in his nipples, he wasn’t honestly sure. Around his throat, he’d tied the last vestige of his first clothes – the scarf he’d been allowed to keep in Draftfane. Rafe wore shoes from the priest’s own set – almost sandals, with the toes and heels open, leather straps that ran up his calves. With his hair washed, it’d come out to a much cleaner white than the disgustingly brown mass it’d become – and he felt the overall effect was more than a little bit dashing.

Nobody would ever hear that thought spoken aloud, though.

Aderyn was dressed conservatively by comparison; she had on suede boots that met her leggings and kept going well past that point, a looped belt with a sashed end that hung over one of her hips, a white shirt tucked into her pants with some freedom to leave her chest to the imagination, and long sleeves that tied off at the wrists. Looking at Rafe as he both strutted, and tried to not look like he was strutting, she couldn’t help but wonder if the boy had ever worn clothes that fit him before.

“Ah, that’s your… genre of… outlook.” Aderyn attempted, diplomatically.

Rafe looked like he was about to have A Moment, or possibly An Argument, there, on the rooftop high above the well-lit streets that surrounded the Praefoco estate under an otherwise starlit sky. This high up, the sky was a lovely violet colour – and Rafe and herself stood out against it. Not the best time for him to start shouting – but instead, he just sagged at the shoulder.

“Got a knife?” Rafe asked as he walked along the rooftops.

“An Assassin comes prepared,” Aderyn responded primly.

“That’s not an answer.”

“Then yes, Rafe. I have a knife.”

Rafe straightened up, rubbing his neck with both hands, walking a little along the rooftop to look across the street at the estate. It was too wide to easily jump – and down at the ground level, there were guards and dogs, not to mention lights. The secret of stealth, Rafe reflected, looking down into the streets, was not in being hard to see. It was going to the places nobody looked. Nobody was looking up. People walked the streets down on the ground, even the barneys whose job it was to watch the rooftops and protect the homes here. People didn’t look up. Why would they look up? Nothing they cared about was up.

“Two targets… getting in’s a bit of a hassle, but nothing too hard…” he said, mapping his way across the street, the movement of the barneys. Ground level really was a risk. Clucking his tongue against the roof of his mouth, he gripped a chimney pot and hoisted himself onto it wholly, balancing on the heels of his feet, knees out, squatting like a frog. “Out again might be hard during the party. I’ll need to get in to make the hit.”

“The hit?” Aderyn asked, blinking at him with the wide-eyed sincerity of someone who wanted to ensure nobody was being a fool.

“The kill.” He grumbled. “What’s the word you use for them?”

“Well, typically, the target, the strike, the removal. And anyway , I’m sure I can take care of that-“

“What?”

Aderyn’s face took on the cast of a student trying to explain things to their stupid task partner. “Brother Fratarelli did make it quite clear that he knows you haven’t killed anyone-“

“Where the hell did he get THAT idea?”

“I’m not sure, but he did seem quite confident.” Aderyn raised one hand, fingers curled in, a finger timidly half-raised.

“And you’re confident YOU can do the hit? You killed many people so far?”

“As many as is appropriate for a young lady.”

“… That is…?”

“It isn’t polite to say.”

Rafe threw his hands in the air. “I cannot believe we’re having this conversation. We were hired for an assassination, right?”

“Well, yes, and-“

“Annnnd if we fuck up, I go to jail and you go back to Sheepland.”

“Lleywa, but -“

“Right.” Rafe drew in one long breath that seemed to make every part of him bigger, which just as quickly whistled out of him in a defeated gasp. He didn’t know the word ‘asymmetrical,’ but if he had, he’d be spitting it like a swear. Without that erudition he had to make do with a few choice words that hit the floor between him and Aderyn, then biting the knuckles on his left hand.

“Okay!” Rafe finally spat upwards, holding out the gnawed hand, fingers spread wide. “Okay, okay. Fine. So. It’s on me. I fuck up, I go to jail. You fuck up, I go to jail. And you’ve probably never killed anything bigger than a fly.”

“How many people have you killed, Rafe?”

Rafe narrowed his gaze sharply. “What’s that supposed to mean?”

“It’s a straightforward question.” Aderyn said, coolly, smoothing down her blouse without breaking eye contact. “How many people have you killed? Deliberately or accidentally?”

Rafe met the gaze, but it was of such different type. He could feel his fury boiling around his eyeballs and Aderyn’s gaze was just a sheet of glacial ice like the river in the coldest winters.

But then he blinked, and looked back at the Praefoco estate. “In by the roof. That balcony’s got a broken snib, you can see how it sits in the frame.”

“Snib?”

“The little metal locks on windows. Y’know? Lock from the inside?”

“You know, that’s rather an interesting word.”

Rafe tried to stop his eyes rolling, dropping from the pot and picking up a loose roof tile. “I go in alone. I take care of it. You sit here and don’t ruin shit for me.”

Aderyn tried to take what he said in the spirit it was intended – of a young man who had no faith in her ability and knew she had very little to lose if things went dreadfully wrong. On the other hand, the intention didn’t stop Rafe from sounding like an arrogant little – ahem.

“That window there, yes? Little off-kilter?” she asked, smoothing down her shirt.

“Yeah..” Rafe murmured. “I might need a rope-“ he said, to the empty space where Aderyn wasn’t standing any more.

Houses like these had high sloped roofs, and that meant momentum when you ran. You just had to make a decision.

Briefly, Aderyn strode across the sky. Rooftop. The rail of a lamp-post as thick as her wrist. The sky again, the other lamp-post, and then, with all that momentum slamming out of her in a gust, the wall, her fingers hooked onto the wooden crossbeam, jutting from the white plaster. Toes found a lower beam and she shimmied immediately sideways towards that ‘un-snibbed’ window.

She really did love this style of house.

Comments are closed.