One Stone, Chapter 33

Whenever she found herself in these situations, parallel to Rafe, Aderyn couldn’t help but wonder why Rafe always went up. It’d been that way in the Praefoco estate, too – she had very sensibly ducked down out of sight, and he had thrown himself into the rafters. Up was unpredictable, and the human eye did, to some extent, look vertical as it moved forwards. Duck down, duck under things. Perhaps Rafe felt that he didn’t fit under things, or maybe it was his ego wanting to avoid being ‘beneath notice.’

Hah, that would be silly.

Thoughts like these flew through Aderyn’s mind as she flew down the side of the boat. Gravity gave her wings, but her hands caught posts, grips, the mounts for bells and the frames of windows while she arced and swept downwards. Nebrin was behind her, his gun was reloaded, and if he saw her, she was sure, he would unload that massive blunderbuss aimlessly into her direction. Aderyn was confident in her ability to deal with Nebrin personally, but dodging a cloud of metal seemed a solution to a problem she’d rather avoid occurring in the first place.

Landing on the deck wouldn’t hide her; up at the third floor of the boat, the deck had very few hiding spaces. The trick was to put herself under something, or behind something. When the deck rose up to meet her, Aderyn had one hand out, her shoulders loose, and rolled with the impact. One hand caught the edge of the boat, and she flipped her weight up, and over it. The other hand hooked out, catching the edge of the gangway, and held there, swinging her up like a spider underneath it.

Hanging as she was, she could look up and see her braid, dangling a little closer to the surface of the river than she’d like. It was night, with the moon up high, but the river wasn’t reflecting that light. The river was black, a dull blackness with faint bubbles of white, sudsy foam clinging to the very edge of the boat, where it rested on the river. Probably pine tar, mixed with some oil, to give the water a dark cast around the lock, and mask the smell. Not uncommon – and the smear would be washed away by morning. It would, however, stain quite badly.

Holding herself in place, toes in soft fabric shoes hooked over the edges, Aderyn waited, as still as she could for the inevitable swear. Nebrin was not a very bright man, she could tell. While Rafe was right to fear the man as a bully, he wasn’t the kind of bully who learned how to be properly vicious. Further, that missing eye was quite the challenge to overcome with only two weeks of time to do it. It would be a matter of moments before –

“Fuck it!” she heard the yell, the slam of a door, as Nebrin stormed back into the boat, to make his way down to her level, down to the gangway and continue his search for her.

A heartbeat later, enough to be sure, and she swept her weight back up onto the gangplank, stood on the pathway by the side of the riverboat, and checked the book. Such a large tome – almost as big as her chest – was going to be unwieldy to move at the best of times. The straps she’d brought to secure it fit just fine, though.

Luke Cornell had had a lovely library, full of remarkable old books. Some of them she’d never heard of, with titles full of strange, fantastic words like The Modern Prometheus or cryptic names for central characters like Dr Jekyll and Mr Hide. Books with tell-tale water damage around the edges, things that had the sign that they’d been dredged up from somewhere, somewhere forgotten, rather than the volumes, crisp and clear, resting on the shelves up in the Assassins guild library.

It was a little bit of a shame. Burglary wasn’t her job, but perhaps sometime she could return to the boat, treat it as a hobby – examine those books a bit more.

Just as Aderyn was about to move on, to find Rafe, a figure emerged from the party, dressed in green and brown and white, with a veiled hat on her head. Ah, Cornell’s daughter. While most of the partygoers within the building could be seen drifting restlessly, Xenops was moving with purpose. When she saw Aderyn, standing by the gangway to the boat, she lunged forwards, with no weapon, nor skill to hurt her. One hand clutched at Aderyn’s arm, and through the veil, Aderyn saw the glimmer of eyes that were dark of colour, but bright with emotion.

“Ah, Madamoiselle Assassin,” the girl said, holding Aderyn’s arm with nervous strength. “I – wait.” She blinked, and peered so close at Aderyn, looking from her collar to her crown, then peered deep into her eyes. “Ah… oh.” Her eyes widened suddenly and she leant in, her lips an O.

“There are two of you?”

Well, Aderyn considered, in this particular environment, there were a number of noble targets acting in what they considered safety for no particular purpose. It was, in her mind, a target-rich environment, where if Aderyn had had the contract, she could have killed almost anyone. Really, for a city with an Assassins’ Guild, people were just not prepared for assassinations. Statistically, however, Aderyn knew very few other active assassins. Which meant that she almost certainly was talking about Rafe.

Well!

Aderyn could improvise, if she had to! “Yes,” she answered, in a heartbeat. “You have met my associate?”

“Ah…” Mint-green gloved hands closed around Aderyn’s hands, as she tried to turn her, tried to move past politely. “Forgive me. I am preparing to make flight from my faszeire. Please, do not let me delay you – I am just trying to get to my faszeire’s library.”

“Oh?” Aderyn turned, looking over her shoulder at the boat, and steadfastly refusing to be moved. “Oh! Oh, you’re Xenops?”

“Ah! Ah, oui, She told you about me?”

“No.” Aderyn said. The book on her shoulder was heavy. Why would she have to learn about Xenops Cornell from Rafe? She’d had two weeks to plan this theft. Seventeen year old girl, daughter of Luke Cornell and Zapata Dewitt. Vitiligo, bilingual, probably bisexual, one hundred and seventy cims tall, forty-five keegs in weight. Most recent dressmakers’ commission put her measurements at eighty-five-sixty-eighty-five cims, and her dresses were most often chosen in pale shades of green. Like this one. How in the world would she have obtained any of that information by asking Rafe. Really, people did not have any appreciation for the work she did.

“Um, ah –well, you see,” Xenops said, stepping to the side, and into Aderyn. Why did people try that. Goodness. “I, um, I was planning on making my escape in, um, in case it does not work out,” she managed, gesturing at the boat. “And I wanted sze book my moszeire left me.”

Aderyn stepped to the side again, her steps in time with Xenops’. Blinking when Xenops, did, she considered her options. “Ah, well, the library is currently unlocked.”

“Oh.” Xenops cleared her throat a little awkward. “May I… please… move past?”

About time. People really should pay better attention to the rules. “Of course,” Aderyn said, stepping aside and hoisting the book on her shoulder as Xenops hurried past, onto the boat she’d lived on for what was probably the last time. What a lovely young lady.

Stepping off the sidewalk, Aderyn slid off to the side. Unlike Rafe, she was not dressed for a party. Of course, a bit of flair could cover that little sin, but here, the women were dressed quite extravagently – she couldn’t rely on the perception of Lleywans as bumpkins to carry her like she had at the Praefoco party. If she was to blend, well, she’d have needed a dress like Rafe’s dress, which would also limit her legs, not to mention the way heels would interfere with a climb. Also it would clash with her belt.

Thus, the party was out.

Fortunately, there were always alternatives. When people partied downstairs, they rarely looked upstairs. Rafe was upstairs, too, but he was also moving. The estate wasn’t very remarkable for homes along the Benjamin Court – chances are it had been designed with a series of hallways with smaller rooms spreading off it on all sides, and a stairwell at each end. It was a workmanlike design, something that the people who bought it could call classic and that Aderyn could appreciate for its mathematical simplicity. It was like dividing up a box.

Rafe probably didn’t know that, but Rafe did know to avoid a room when he could run down a hall. Also he probably wouldn’t be climbing outside the building – as Aderyn started, hopping from the sidewalk to a post designed to hold coiled rope. Still, the boy had an instinct for up. While Aderyn would normally head downwards, to the servant’s quarters, and slip out through the bottom of the lock, Rafe would probably head upwards. That seemed to be one of his rules.

Gripping the brickwork tight with fingers practiced at lifting weapons, lifting coins, and lifting her entire body, Aderyn pulled herself vertically, a slow, steady climb. It was like the tower back during her exam, all those weeks ago, except this time, she had to avoid windows. A shame, really – window-frames had such useful hand-holds.

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