Tres

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Chapter Three

...in which the Meeting ends in a death threat.

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It was a long meeting, let me tell you, and that was the good thing about the meeting. The bad thing was that today I had to give my report, and it was about the royal balls, for John's sake. The worse thing was that Fredi-that lecherous, thumb-sucking pretty boy-kept winking at me throughout the whole ordeal. And the WORST thing was that, as soon as I sat down, Tatianna, the beautiful, exotic woman visiting Algora with her assassin husband, decided to tell me what the stars told her about my fate. Apparently, we were all going to die.

Which goes to show how things can only go from bad to worse.

"What information can you give us, Miss Eleyna?" the old twit asked me ever so nicely.

"Not much, but-"

But Jeremy had to go and blurt out, "How is Leah?"

Obvious much?

That's when everyone, synchronized and all, raised their eyebrows. Eyebrow raising happens often in Algora. It's become a national tradition that shows the patriotism we Algorans have hidden deep in our otherwise apathetic, unpatriotic hearts.

No, no one knows who started this bloody tradition.

Here, you could raise an eyebrow in shock, shocking dismay, bewilderment, bewildered disdain, or just plain...amusement. I know, what a smorgasbord. From where I sat, I witnessed all of the above. I didn't care much for patriotism, so I was the only one who didn't-of course including Jeremy (victim of the vicious raised eyebrows). He didn't raise anything.

"What?" he asked innocently.

Apparently not even his brain activity.

With eyebrows still raised, George Harvey looked at Michael; Michael looked at old Namus, who looked at Char; Char glared at Eros; Eros looked at Cain; Cain looked at Abil; Abil looked at Fredi; Fredi looked and winked at me; I looked at Char-utterly disgusted; Char glared at Eros once again and Eros...cleared his throat, which ended in a long and violent coughing fit people his age are prone to have.

Abil went over and patted Eros on the back in an effort to stop the tortured-sounding hacks coming from the poor old powerful man, while everyone else started bickering their blackened hearts out over the respected Guild's current life-threatening problem and Jeremy's improper relationship with the young Miss Leah.

I caught the eye of the man in said improper relationship and mouthed, "Leah's fine. I'll tell you later."

He looked relieved. "Thank you." He mouthed back. Wishing I had someone worrying for me the same way Jem was worrying over Leah, I saw him lower his tense shoulders and relax into his chair next to Cain. Cain, on the other hand, was nowhere near relaxed. He was-big surprise-screaming at his brother Abil to stop patting Eros on the back. Abil's efforts were apparently, according to Cain, shortening the man's life span, a seemingly harmless pat equaling an hour of Eros's life.

"Ahem!" Char half-coughed, half-shouted. Everyone stopped mid-sentence. I would have laughed if the silence wasn't so bloody...quiet. Some people were caught up in vehement disputes and had their mouths hanging open when Char had ordered the whole universe to pause for a few moments. I saw the inside of one mouth and cringed.

Under normal circumstances, open mouths didn't make me shiver in disgust, but this one was a notable exception. He shall remain anonymous, but he wasn't the only one room. There were more than a couple of mouths hanging open.

Wide. And gruesome.

As in you could see their rotten black, peasant teeth in their non-existent gums and feel a tidal wave of halitosis coming your way when all of them breathed at the same bloody time, through their bloody disgusting mouths.

Suffice to say, that pretty portrait isn't as nearly as disturbing as Char having this kind of eerie power over people.

"Well," she smiled sweetly. She should really stop that, the smiling sweetly thing. We already knew she was a little sadist monster inside. "Shall we continue?"

Everyone nodded dumbly while Eros still hacked in the background. Abil continued to pat the old man on the back, daring his dearly beloved brother to stop his with his eyes. I looked to the other side of the room in time to see Cain narrow his eyes. I translated the glare. It was-clearly-saying, "You. Me. Tomorrow at Blind Man's Square. Be there."

I then turned to look at Abil. His eyes were saying, "Oh it's on brother. It's on."

Would you blame me if I rolled my eyes?

"Eleyna!" That's when I noticed everyone staring me down. I froze.

"Yes?"

Char shot me. Literally.

No, I'm kidding. It was just her signature you're-being-an-idiot look. Char preferred sharp, pointy things. "You're news..."

"Oh! Yes. About that..." I had absolutely no idea what she was talking about, but I do remember that it might've really important. "Umm..." my mind was blank. Think Eleyna, think! What were you going to tell this weird congregation? Jeremy caught my eye and out of nowhere I blurted, "Leah's pregnant!"

Everyone gasped, synchronized and all.

Jeremy's eyes lit up and he gaily repeated, whilst running his fingers through his hair, "Leah's pregnant! Leah's pregnant...I'm going to be a father!" to the unfortunate people sitting next to him right before he fainted and fell to the ground.

Oh dear.

No one bothered to help him up. They left him there and ignored him instead. "Anything else? Something less scandalous, perhaps?" George Harvey ventured to ask.

Oh! Now I remembered. How could I forget? I had even specially labeled it as the Bane of my Existence earlier.

"Balls." I coldly announced.

"What kind of balls, dear?" Mrs. Krauk asked tentatively. She was of those sweet, kindly type of wrinkled persons. She was married, but with no children and she gave away sugar cookies. I always wondered why.

No, not about the cookies. I meant the no children part of her life story. With a husband named Eros, you'd think-nevermind, let's not go there.

It screams "bad images beyond this point".

And yes, Eros the honorable Guild's almighty Leader and top assassin man is the sweet-lady-who-gives-away-cookies' husband. Go figure. I think they're perfect for each other. Maybe the rumor about Eros using a praline-encrusted cookie to poison an earl had at least more than a crumb of truth in it. Pun intended.

I heard the said earl died a slow and painful death.

So, back to the current situation not involving cookie-poisoned-earls, what kind of balls were I talking about? Big, important ones? They were royal balls after all.

"Balls vital to our survival as a Guild." I said finally.

"I don't like balls." Namus stated darkly from his self-claimed corner of the room. Hardly anyone ever noticed Namus during the Meetings, but when he did talk-usually making some dark, ominous (but wise) comment-everyone listened. He has successfully assassinated at least more earls than even Eros.

Char, because she loved me so, attempted to appease the bitter old man on my behalf. "No one likes them, Namus, but-"

"To even think about cavorting around in one with guilds," he spat with passion, "is a disgrace to our honorable Guild." Now, I admire Namus for his occasional wisdom, honor, and all that, but no one-absolutely no one-interrupted Char without being disemboweled at a later date.

You could cut a slice of tension-filled goodness in the room. I'm surprised no one did; we were all carrying a vast platoon of knives here. I glanced Char's way to make sure she wasn't brandishing any sharp, pointy, potentially-lethal objects. Cutting off part of a Guild elder, even if everyone hated the guy, wouldn't be ideal.

"But," she continued icily, ignoring Namus' dissent, "we all know the number of clients we have are dwindling. My sources tell me that hardly anyone even knows about our Guild's existence at all. We cannot rely on our past reputations." She reasoned. "If we want to survive, let alone be superior, among the other competing guilds, it is imperative that we make our presence and availability of services know at these balls."

Namus harrumphed, but was contented with limiting his brooding within the vicinity of his own personal corner.

"Therefore we must go. Especially now." Char finished. I half-expected someone to stand up and clap their hearts out. Not. But, hey, anything's better than the oh-no-he-didn't atmosphere.

"I agree completely!"

Everyone turned to the door and gasped for the second time that evening, synchronized and all. I'm not proud to admit it, but I actually gasped along with the worst of them. Standing at the door, was a little man I used to know quite well. A memory of him standing over my father's dead body flashed in my mind.

"By John's! It's John!" some random person in the room exclaimed.

"Of course it's John, you dimwit!" Some other random person whacked the first on the side of the head for his obvious stupidity. "Why else would everyone gasp at the same bloody time?"

The cause of all this gasping spoke up then. "It seems I came just in time."

"Aye, you did." By now, Eros had recovered and the entire room was safely under his command once again. That coughing fit earlier and the startling increase of grey hairs on his head had reminded all of us that not even assassins who could assassinate with a quill lived forever. I daren't imagine how we'll manage without him. "Welcome back John. Did you enjoy your time in the Land of the Dead?"

"I did actually." And that's when he spotted me and my sister.

Except for the tiny flicker of recognition with a dash of sadness, there was no change in his haughty assassin façade. The little man strode towards us nonetheless, took my hand, and kissed it. "Why it's a pleasure to see you again," he said, and then added, in a whisper I almost didn't hear, "Your Highness."

To be honest, I wish I hadn't heard.

Char's cheek flushed an indignant shade of tomato, so I'm fairly certain she heard what he said too. This "John" also took her hand, but he didn't kiss it like he used to when she was Princess Charlotte Estelle and I was Princess Eleyna Renée-back when almost everyone I ever cared about was still pretty much breathing air in the Land of the Living. No, he did something insanely ludicrous.

Right then, that gesture of his merely made me mad. If Char's metaphorical shield of I-will-kill-you-if-you-try-anything wasn't in place, I would've strangled this little man called "John" by now. Unaware of my homicidal thoughts only a few feet away, he pressed her hand against his forehead and whispered the words, "Your Majesty."

Like he used to.

To salute Father.

"You three are acquainted, John?" Eros raised an eyebrow. You wouldn't know it, but Eros prided himself with being the most patriotic assassin in the land.

"Yes, in fact, I often did business with their parents a few years back."

"Why Miss Charlotte!" Eros turned to Char. "You never told us."

Char smiled sweetly, like she always did whenever she wanted to murder the guts out of someone. "My apologies. I had no idea you knew...John, but I should've guessed you both ran in the same circles." I noticed her pause. You see, to us, this man they called "John" wasn't John. To us, he was Cedric. Father's spymaster. Traitor number one.

"Indeed. Same circles. Ha!" Eros shook his head in mirthless humor with others nodding their agreement at him shaking his head in mirthless humor. Namus harrumphed and continued sending bad vibes through the room. "It's quite alright. No need to apologize. The bloke doesn't even let anyone know he's alive for years," he threw a pointed look at John/Cedric. "Just drops by every now and then to help us out or scare people."

"I see." Dear Char kept her smile expertly plastered in place.

"So, about these balls, John...what do you thing we should do?"

"The young lady's right. We go."

A few nodded in assent, muttering among themselves, "If John says it, then it must be right."

I inwardly rolled my eyes. I couldn't believe them! What were they? Little schoolboys in fancy pants, attending King Alfred's-may Great-Uncle rest in peace-Royal Academy for Aspiring Scholars, studying those stubborn, blasted geometrical statements?

I was so contentedly wrapped up in my cynical, we're-doomed-the-sky-is-falling thoughts, I hadn't heard what Eros had said next. By now, he was taking the general consensus, for his proposed plan-whatever it was-with twenty-four accepting and one rejecting. The one rejecting was Namus; he always voted nullus. We all knew what a happy-go-lucky gentleman he was.

Now only Mikal, Jarvis, Char, and yours truly were left.

"Mikal?" Eros asked, while Abil added Tatianna's vero to the tally like a good little assassin's apprentice.

"Vero."

"Jarvis?" Jarvis would always vote the same as his master; like I would always vote the opposite of mine.

"Vero." Ecce! I was right.

"Miss Charlotte?"

"Nullus." Now I began to worry what Eros's proposal was. Char hardly ever disagreed with the wise man's plans.

Now it was up to me. Three nullus meant Eros would reconsider. I'm sure the plan wasn't that bad. Was it? If it was, there'd be knives, bullets, glass eyes, and a dozen other things flying around. And like everyone else, I was bound by my own foolish traditions: If Char votes vero, I vote nullus. If she votes nullus, I vote-

"Miss Eleyna?"

"Vero."

"Well," Eros said. The Meeting was coming to a close. "That settles things. I'll have Abil deliver your specific parts in my master plan. Expect them in the next week or so." He was looking right at me when he said "your".

Wait, what did I say yes to exactly?

As the whole room got up to leave and give their sore bottoms a good stretching, Char turned to me and smiled sweetly. "Remind me to give you a five-second head start when we go out under the wonderful night sky."

"Why?" I asked.

"That way, you might have a slight chance of avoiding being killed by your beloved sister for your idiocy this evening."

URRRGGGHHHHHHH!!!! mini tantrum....but nevermind. it finally uploaded. As always, please review! Reviews = Life

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