Silk and Steel
Ok, here we are back at The Cross Keys where Xander left Vraxi. Hopefully this one will bring all those dangling threads together then…. for a little while at least! XD Wishing you all a most fabulous safe and healthy weekend! xx
“Penny for your thoughts?”
Vraxi nearly jumped out of his skin as the Doctor and Fey seemingly materialised out of nowhere and slid onto the bench opposite him, banishing all thoughts of Xander immediately from his mind.
“Forgive me,” he said quickly, “truly, I was miles away.”
“That much was evident,” the Ghani said, “but you have not answered my question.”
Vraxi smiled nervously as he felt his mouth go dry, the last thing he wanted to do was upset the doctor; it no doubt would be the last thing he ever did. “You may have them for free, of course, they are worth nothing as is usually the case; I was only reflecting on the sorry lot of my friend.” He turned to Fey, “If you’ll forgive the observation, he carries his soldier’s legacy with more difficulty than your good self.”
Fey smiled, “It’s no small thing for any of us, kid,” she said, tilting his tankard towards her and smirking at the bobbing bones. “But Xander was much younger than I was when the world ended, I had over two decades of fighting under my belt – in some ways, the longer you’re in a game like that, the easier it gets, you know?”
Vraxi smiled grimly. “Yes. Yes I do.”
Fey pushed her own mug of kvass towards him and waved to the bar tender to fetch another.
“How long have you known him?” the doctor asked.
Vraxi shrugged, “More years than I can easily number…” he began but seeing the ghani’s colour begin to rise in frustration he quickly pressed on “…since I started working for Mendicci.” He took a nervous sip of kvass, why was the doctor so interested in him and Xander all of a sudden? “After the world ended, well, myself and my co-workers found ourselves suddenly without a place of abode…”
“Although hardly without a trade,” Fey teased.
He gave a wry smile, “I wanted something better. My Mother died when I was twelve so…”
“Died?” The Ghani asked incredulously and Fey rolled her eyes and gave him a sharp kick under the table. He frowned at her, utterly perplexed, and then turned back to the yag, “Your mother, like all ro’njai – the veritable serfs we used to be – was, I assume, marked with a sigil which prevented her death.”
“Just so,” Vraxi replied, trying hard to keep his tone even. “It was no different for us than for any factory worker or miner or, as you say, any ro’njai; our Doamnâsi saw the benefit of paying the church to ensure her workers could not succumb to illness, fatigue or brutality.” he took another sip of kvass, buying some time to get a grip on his own emotions, but he couldn’t prevent the flames beginning to swell slightly beneath the surface of his skin. “But with a soul-blade, of course, it is possible to deliberately kill someone who is soul-bound.”
“She was murdered then?”
Vraxi nodded. He took another swig of kvass and shrugged, “It was a common occurrence.”
The doctor waved his hand dismissively, “I see, so having no family to concern yourself with… you did what? Went straight to Mendicci?”
Vraxi shook his head. “No, at that point I had never heard of him. I was already a passable finger-smith so I decided to try my hand at house breaking.” He shrugged. “I managed for a few years on my own before I caught Mendicci’s attention.”
“That man has a way of hunting out wafes and strays and bringing them under his wing.” the doctor said darkly.
Vraxi nodded. “He is a good businessman,” he said carefully, still unsure as to where this interrogation was leading, “anyone who thinks they can strike out on their own and start cracking cribs or cutting purses without him having a hand in it will soon find their mis-assumptions corrected. But he looks after his own; I have lost count of the times I have been spared the consequences of my enterprises thanks to his influence over the city watch.”
“And Xander knew him already?” The ghani pressed.
“For perhaps a week or two? Mendicci put us together for our first job, gave us a room to rent… set us up the way he does for all his…” he hesitated, taking a moment to push back the sting, “all his employees.”
The doctor nodded, either ignoring or not noticing the yag’s discomfort. “And Ros?”
Vraxi looked confused, “I met her at the shop, when we finished the job and came to drop off the painting we’d taken she was there…”
“No, no, no!” The doctor snapped irritably, and Vraxi’s eyes widened in alarm. “I mean how long had Ros known him?”
“Xander?” Vraxi asked, still feeling utterly perplexed.
“Mendicci,” Fey said quickly, trying to lend a hand.
“Forgive me.” Vraxi held up his hands. “It is my understanding,” he said carefully, “that Ros and Spyro have known eachother since the beginning of the end of the world. Ros and little Ziga are Jai’Yantra so I assume…”
“Yes, yes we all know what bio-mechanoids are,” the doctor said impatiently, waving a hand, “I am not interested in your assumptions I want facts. Stick to the facts.”
Vraxi took a deep breath, “forgive me,” he said again; silently wondering how many times he was going to have to use that phrase this evening. “All I know for certain is that which Ros has told me; that when the world ended she and Ziga were in a very desperate situation and that Mendicci was too. Together they built Silk and Steel up from nothing, hoping to benefit both themselves and the wider community.”
The dusk djinn looked frustrated but he nodded and took a pensive sip from his pint.
Vraxi breathed a mental sigh of relief and took a long draft from his own tankard, wondering why the hell he was suddenly facing this strange inquisition.
“Keep ’em comin’!” Fey hollered at the bar tender, draining her own jug. “Count yourself lucky, kid,” she said, “if nothin’ else you had the good fate for the world to end when you were young and fit and still had your looks. Pitty us old cuckolds for whom the lines and the rheumatism had already begun to kick in.”
Vraxi smiled, taking the cue that his ordeal was over and he could relax a little. “I have said it many times, Fey, you are and will always be one of the most beautiful women of my acquaintance.”
“Comin’ from one who notoriously finds beauty in just about anyone that’s quite a unique compliment I’m sure!” Fey chuckled.
Vraxi shook his head and his eyes twinkled, “There are many forms of beauty, it is everywhere and in everything, the art is merely to look for it.”
“Sentimental hogwash,” The doctor grumbled.
The doors of the tavern suddenly swung open and a large crowd of sky-dock Frâţjani bowled in, singing loudly the songs of revolution and demanding the musicians take up the tune.
“Kvass for the house!” cried a familiar voice from the midst of the throng, and Vraxi’s heart sank even as his colour roiled suddenly and uncontrollably beneath his skin.
“Well, this has been a very pleasant evening,” he began, getting to his feet. The last thing he felt capable of at this point was to spend the next few hours with Spyro Mendicci.
“Not leaving are you, darling?” Ros asked, appearing out of the crowd and sliding onto the bench beside him.
Vraxi took a deep, calming breath and fixed a grin on his face, “just stretching my legs,” he said breezily, “do you want anything from the bar?” he shifted his gaze to incorporate the doctor and Fey in the question. “I was just about to say, this pleasant evening could perhaps be made more so with a round of tzujka?”
“Excellent idea!” Spyro said, clapping the yag on the shoulders and pushing him back down into his seat. He waved a hand at the bar tender and called for the drinks to be brought over then slipped onto the bench beside Vraxi. “Pleased to see me?” he asked.
“Always.” Vraxi lied, with what he hoped was a convincing grin.
Spyro laughed and shot him one of those devillishly sinister smiles. “No Xander tonight?”
Vraxi shrugged, “He does not seem to favour my company at present.”
“I can’t imagine anyone holding that opinion for long,” Spyro said, giving his thigh a quick squeeze under the table.
A serving maid brought over the tray of drinks and Spyro paid her and made a great exhibition of distributing the glasses.
“I would like to make a toast,” he said, getting to his feet, “to the Frâţjana; to the rights of all workers in this fair city, to equality and prosperity for all, to solidarity, to unity and,” he swept his glass around the table in a gesture which carefully encompassed the doctor, fey, Ros and Vraxi in turn, “ to friendship.”
Clever, Vraxi thought as he touched glasses with the others and knocked back his drink.
“Practicing your campaign speech?” the doctor asked dryly as he knocked his glass against the antiques dealer’s.
Spyro smiled, “merely voicing my support for the dockers’ union and observing that the values they are fighting for on the streets are the same values that make our own organisation so successful.” he said smoothly.
“And how do our most recent plans unfold?”
Spyro spun his empty glass on the table, “speaking for the threads I am responsible for…”
“You can hardly speak for those you are not.” the doctor said, matter of factly.
Spyro spun his glass again and held the doctors gaze steadily, “it is still early days, of course. The Frâţjana are putting pressure on the duke, as you can see, and our key players appear to be doing well in stiring the other unions to action.” He looked to Ros.
“The ‘stokrai are already agitated about the rise in crime in The Groves,” she said, “but we are holding back until the right moment to bring the matter to bear upon the duke.”
“And for your part?”
The doctor waited until the loud chorus of “Oprahno Prahli, Oprahno Frâţjana!” had died down a little before answering. “As promised, we have managed to extract the diterpinoid from the fungus – which, as I predicted has proved to be a potent k-opioid agonist – and combined it into a resinous form using fossilised ericaceae honey, which itself is a mild hallucinogen. We are ready for testing,” he said, reaching inside his waistcoat and handing over the small leather pouch.
“You could not have handed it to Edmund yourself?” Spyro aksed.
The doctor arched an eyebrow at him, “You think it would not invite comment for a senior member of staff to be seen handing out new hallucinogenic substances to his students?” he drained his glass and clicked his fingers at the bar tender for another round.
Spyro passed the pouch to Vraxi, “Take this to Edmund….” Then he raised his eyebrows enquiringly at the doctor, “How many hits are in this?”
“…Tell him to find five of his customers from the Rocchana Den who are willing to try something new. Give it to them for free and watch the results carefully; we need to know if the ride is a good one and if there are any adverse side effects.” He waited until Vraxi had slipped the pouch into his shirt and stood up before placing a hand on his arm, “Don’t get distracted,” he said, in his usual unfathomable tone, “and do not be tempted to try it yourself; we wouldn’t want to lose you, would we?”
Vraxi grinned nervously, unsure exactly what Spyro was implying, and Ros shot him sidelong smile as he squeezed past her which was in no way reassuring.
“We are walking a very tight line here,” she said seriously, after the yag had disappeared. “Our friends in Pav’shmah have already signed the trade agreement for this new substance…”
“You worry needlessly, my dear,” the doctor said, “I have already done extensive testing on crows, tonight will merely confirm that which may almost be taken for granted; that the hybrid substance we have created provides a perfectly safe and enjoyable experience.” He knocked back his drink before continuing, “And Arden has constructed an ingenius method for mass prodction at a rate which will not disappoint our customers.”
Ros took a pensive sip of her own drink, “Speaking of your godson, love,” she said “do you have any idea when he will be able to go home?”
“I’m afraid his father is still being a little difficult but I have spoken to Tarmaturge Blondell of the Vesperai Host and he has agreed to talk to him about Arden’s potential and the benefits to the Vesperai of integrating more with wider society.”
“Tricky when the church is activly persecuting them, doc,” Fey pointed out and the Ghani nodded in agreement.
“Tricky indeed,” he said gravely, “but all the more necessary. The more people who can claim positive and amicable acquaintance with the Vesperai, the less the mud the church is throwing will be able to stick.”
A sudden cheer rose from the dockers’ union members, now gathered around a woman with wild curling hair who was standing on a barrel giving a rousing speech and waving her fist in the air to illustrate her points.
“She’s wonderful,” Ros said admiringly.
Fey drained her next kvass, “Told you,” she said with a wink. She pushed up from the table and wove her way towards the barrel, arriving just in time to catch the woman in her arms as the she jumped down.
“You’re wonderful, aparently,” she smirked, swinging her lover round in her arms and planting a row of kisses down her neck.
“Doubt it, did’yer?” Via teased, grinning as several dockers clapped her on the back and began calling again for the fiddlers to strike up a new tune. “Get uz a drink will yer? It’s gone on a storm but I tell yer I’m parched!”
Fey waved to the barman for a tank of kvass, “And then you promised me a dance, remember?” she said, swaying playfully to the sultry violin music that was sidling through the haze of pipe smoke and chatter and slowly gaining tempo.
On the other side of the room, Spyro offered his hand to Ros and soon many couples had taken to the floor and were stamping, clapping and twirling the steps of the Ro’njai Buleria; the traditional dance of Ro’njai rebels.