Never and always: a collection of myriad adventure

There are perils to intruding upon Eglantine Fox. Some of those perils, admittedly, depend greatly upon one’s business, and how easily shocked one is, and it’s a measure of this latter gauge that grants Passionario access to the home even now. They don’t think he’ll be terribly easy to shock.

It’s just as well, too - there are men in this city who start to sputter at the mere sight of bare ankles. Such men might just have an apoplexy if escorted as Passionario is into a parlour where Eglantine reclines on an ornate chaise longue for the benefit of a painter.

The picture appears to have taken some liberties, if such a phrase can even be used where Eglantine is concerned; after all, the expression of languorous contentment is Eglantine’s own, and so is the flimsy linen serving to replicate the chiton of some ancient Greek youth - but Eglantine has not the devil horns seen in reflection in the mirror painted into the scene, or the curling tail raising the hem of the chiton into further suggestiveness with a judicious hint of thigh. The hand holding the goblet, in the painting, is free of claws, but the mirrored one behind sports the brass nails Eglantine does indeed possess.

From the front, simply an androgynous Greek youth, of the sort much-loved by certain artists; in reflection, a creature of Hell, made for temptation and damnation. Someone has commissioned this, surely, and it no doubt provides all sorts of insights into that someone.

Eglantine rises, ending this sitting, and the painter hastens to pack up and leave, his canvas left to wait for another session. It seems very nearly finished, in any case.

They smile brightly and draw near on bare and silent feet, seeming to care not a whit that they are still covered only from shoulders to knees. &quotI thought you might come today.&quot Eglantine grins. &quotIt’s just as well you did, actually. Come, sit?&quot They beckon him to the chaise longue, bringing wine and offering it to him.

&quotAnd I say it’s just as well, because there’s a man in my cellar who has apparently been hired to kill you.&quot Eglantine laughs suddenly. &quotHe’d been complaining of his failures in attempts at getting you with poison, so I thought you might prefer it if he was delivered into your hands before he could improve his attempts.&quot

They do seem awfully lighthearted for a person who’s abducted a luckless poisoner, but perhaps that’s to be expected?
edited by Eglantine-Fox on 11/8/2016

&quotGrace and peace be with you.&quot Passionario intones the formal blessing, even though today he’s chosen to eschew his customary deacon’s robes for a financier’s suit. A careless slip of the tongue, or a deliberate statement?

The painter hurriedly moves past the newcomer. As they pass by, a brief interlude plays out on their faces: a hint of eye contact, a shade of acknowledgement, an implication of a message being received and understood. A moment later, it’s gone and so is the painter himself.

As Passionario turns towards the host, Eglantine’s earlier surmise is proven correct. There is no hint of shoulder-and-ankle-induced outrage, shock or judgment in those lilac-tinted grey eyes, for they have seen far too many bodies that were entirely bereft of clothes, dignity, skin or flesh to afford their owner any illusions about the sanctity and mystery of the human form.

&quotIt is good to see you in such a sanguine mood.&quot Passionario comments as he approaches the offered seat. &quotI can only assume that your good cheer results from the fact that you have already completed your…&quot He pauses and casts another sweeping gaze around the room before reestablishing eye contact. &quot…homework.&quot

Eglantine’s smile is just a little more thoughtful in the few moments of the painter’s departure, as they read the hints seen in passing, before the bright smile resumes as they give the news about the poisoner. They have caught a man who uses poisons, and yet they offer wine all the same. Passionario is a careful man, but he will know, certainly, that the cup passed to him from Eglantine’s hands does not carry death within.

(Perhaps they have kept the poisons for some purpose, but not this one. Even if one were to discount the agreement, the promise, the lessons, only a fool would try those poisons on a man whose previous encounters with those substances had elicited only complaints from the poisoner about failure. This is not that fool.)

There’s a bright clear ripple of laughter, and Eglantine whirls, moving light-footed and merry away to fetch a wooden box and return. &quotMy good cheer results from any number of things, but this?&quot They meet Passionario’s eyes again, and smile anew. &quotI have everything you asked for - and a few things you didn’t, but might want anyway.&quot Their smile becomes a grin, and then settles into something calmer, though there is still mirth (and something else beneath) in their eyes.

&quotHere.&quot They open the box, voice and manner a little more brisk now. &quotIn Veilgarden, the Great Game must do without its Italian players for a while.&quot One cipher book. Three signet rings, acceptably intact; one not nearly so well-preserved. Five official reports of departures - in one manner of speaking or another. One indignant advertisement by a landlady seeking a tenant gone without paying rent.

And not a whisper of anyone to blame.

Of such trifles are proof constructed, for those who know what they see.

There is a sheet of oil-paper in the box, and beneath it… ah, beneath it are the surprises. Drawn in a neat and careful hand, five faces stare unknowingly into becoming known. Beside each, information. Names, aliases, habits. Concise summaries of men.

&quotYou will have seen some of them. You may know them already.&quot Eglantine’s voice has dropped to a murmur. &quotThey seek you, in particular. That part, they might have concealed from you until now.&quot A soft, self-deprecating smile. &quotOr this might just be corroboration of things you’ve already heard. Either way, it’s yours.&quot

Passionario accepts the cup offered by Eglanine without comment or hesitation. While a certain measure of tension that was present during their first fateful encounters still remains, the worst edges have been abraded by the relentless passage of time and replaced by a mentor-student relationship based on mutual respect.

He runs his finger along the signet rings and quickly flips through the cipher book before briefly remarking in a flat voice: &quotCommendable.&quot He expected little else, of course.

The things that lie under the oil-paper… ah, now those are unexpected, if not entirely unfamiliar. &quotWhat an unlikely band of scoundrels,&quot he muses aloud, &quotI have to admit, it is somewhat gratifying to be such a unifying force. To think that they’d drop aside their differences just to get a shot at yours truly.&quot

He takes the first picture. &quotOld Ashton is back, I see. I’ve used his services from time to time myself, back when he was still a practicing detective. Last time I’ve heard, he swore off the craft, Game and politics entirely and retired to Port Carnelian. It’s a shame that he’s working with this crowd.&quot

He sets the picture aside and holds up the next two portraits. &quotCalendar enforcers, these. High-ranking ones, too.&quot His finger moves down to the pair of identical dates scribbled beneath each illustration. &quotThat was a Decemberist meeting. Inner circle only. I wonder what their compatriots would say if they knew they’re conspiring with this one…&quot

He points to the fourth portrait. &quotA former assistant of mine who still serves the Masters. Presumably trying to regain their favour after inadvertently imbibing some Bottled Oblivion while on duty. Just before some intrepid citizens liberated a certain Elias Lowe, too.&quot A corner of his eye twitches: a mere tic or a suggestion? &quotI see they’ve visited the Face-Tailor since then. Remind me to teach you how to recognize his handiwork, it will come in handy.&quot

As he picks up the last picture, his hand trembles, almost imperceptibly to an ordinary eye - but not to Eglantine’s perception, which has been honed to a razor edge by their training. &quotSpeaking of faces, this one proves that it’s not just an alliance of convenience - it’s personal. I remember him from the Surface, you see. From the old - no, the oldest days.&quot He pauses for almost a minute, and when he speaks again, his voice drops to a whisper. &quotThe other bastard.&quot

Silence reigns. Finally, Passionario puts the evidence back into the box and snaps it closed.

&quotWe’ll deal with them later. Now, I believe you’ve mentioned a poisoner? Sounds most delightful. Would you care to make the introductions?&quot