Version 2.0, now with character development, foreshadowing, and a relatively consistent plot for no extra charge!
And I might actually finish this time...
The Sanguine Sea
Six shall go, three men, three not,
All in masks of Falsehood wrought,
Bearing a piece for every Queen
Into the Land of Light Unseen.
Make the Three of Dreams align,
Worm shall fall at Three, Six, Nine.
The Silver Phoenix
—The City of Brysail—
The Silver Phoenix had seen better days, to be sure. It was a wonder how the tavern—a gloomy, grimy establishment that looked to be on the verge of sliding off of its foundation and falling into the Murkintir River—managed to stay in business. Perhaps the proprietor kept its doors open out of the hope that one day it would burn to the ground and rise from its ashes as its name suggested. It couldn’t have been a good omen, therefore, that the decorative wooden phoenix that had once perched atop the tavern’s hanging sign had snapped jaggedly off to be replaced, in this particular instant, by a large black bird, which had glided out of the night to adopt the vacant position.
It was a raven—a big one, at that—and if one had observed it carefully, one might have noticed that it seemed to take a decidedly unbirdly interest in the strange trio that entered the tavern at precisely nine o’ clock on October 27, 1216, A.R. For that, you see, is the date upon which this peculiar account begins.
There weren’t many in the tavern on that dark, cloud-streaked autumn night. This meant, of course, that there were few present to witness the arrival of these three strangers. They were of an unfamiliar sort in these parts, and seemed out of place in the dusty, rotting corpse that was the Silver Phoenix. Well-dressed they were, like rich people. And their eyes…there was just something about their eyes. The regular customers, seated at the bar, glared at the newcomers over their tankards of watery ale, brows furrowed in suspicion, as the three selected a table in a shadowy corner and sat down.
Outside, the broken sign creaked and swayed slightly in the wind, but the raven remained motionless, waiting, as if it knew that the group was not yet complete. It sat as still as a statue, and though the breeze buffeted and battered at it, every one of its feathers remained in place. Entirely undisturbed.
At the table, the youngest of the three—a tall, thin, nervous-looking man with a pale complexion and straight, light brown hair cut evenly just below his jaw—produced a pocket-watch and glanced at it anxiously.
His right eye was blue and his left eye was brown.
“He’s late,” he whispered.
The raven on the sign needed no clock to know this—and know this it did.
“He’ll come,” replied a woman, the only female of the three, sweeping her long, white-blond hair over her shoulder and blinking her wide blue eyes, one of which was distinctly darker than the other. “D’thon’t vorry, Henry.”
“But he’s late!” Henry stressed, voice rising. “I do not like it when people arrive late. It’s irresponsible and inconsiderate!”
“Henry,” pointed out the other man, a swarthy fellow on the early end of middle age, with short dark hair and striking eyes, one green and one golden. His voice was gentle but firm. “If you expect the world to conform to your standards, you set yourself up for perpetual disappointment. Relax. Have patience.”
“Have patience? Patience? I don’t think you understand, Alasdair. If he doesn’t have the diligence to appear on time, how can I trust him with my brother’s life?”
“Chss!” the woman scolded him, flapping her hand in his face. “You speak too loud’th.”
“Sorry,” Henry muttered, looking down at the table.
The swarthy man, Alasdair, smiled grimly. “You worry too much, Henry my lad. From what I’ve heard, he’s apt enough for the job—and bright too. Best detective in Brysail, they say. Can see through just about anybody.”
Henry flinched at this final remark and tried to conceal it by checking his timepiece again. “Well, that may be, but this isn’t exactly detective’s work, is it?”
“He’s the best available option, Henry.”
“My brother’s life is at stake, sir! I fail to see how employing a slimy, snooping, green-skinned newt is going to help matters!”
“Chss!” hissed the woman again. “Shouting no good’th here.”
Alasdair sighed, rubbing the corners of his catlike eyes. “Thank you, Mia, my dear. Henry,” he continued, turning back to the younger man, “you forget that I, too, have something at stake in this matter. I want Seoc back as much as you want Simon back. He may be my nephew, but I’ve always seen him as a son.” He paused. “If I didn’t think I could trust the merman, I would have never arranged to meet with him. But I’ve done my research, Henry, and I sincerely believe he’s the best we can get. Give it a chance, will you?”
Henry opened his mouth to reply, but in that very moment the tavern door opened with a swift whoosh of wind, sending dry leaves skittering across the dirt floor, and his reply, whatever it may have been, was forgotten as all three turned to look at the creature that had just swept inside with the wind and the foliage.
The being that Alasdair had called a ‘merman’ and Henry had referred to as a ‘newt’ was neither of these things, really. He was tall; so tall, in fact, that he had to stand with his head bent to avoid grazing it on the low, sagging ceiling. His skin was shadowy in the lantern light but still distinctly greenish, stretched tight across his bones in handsome impoverishment. His large, green eyes almost seemed to glow in the dimness, glinting sharply as they flicked about the tavern before they alighted upon the three in the corner. He smiled, the white of his teeth flashing briefly between his lips, and started briskly towards them, smoothing his wind-spiked obsidian hair as he went.
“Lord Henry of Carvil, I presume?” the creature greeted the nervous young man, taking the human’s slender, pale hand in his own large, flat, webbed one and shaking it firmly.
Henry nodded curtly in reply. It was unclear which had irked him more: the “newt’s” tardiness, or the fact that he, Lord Henry Thomas Mantoux Edmund of Carvil, had been denied the opportunity to introduce himself.
The other man was more assertive. “Alasdair MacQuarrie,” he said, seizing the “merman’s” hand roughly. “Alt-Mage of Murkintsen. And this is my wife, Mialina.”
“Pleasure to meet you sir,” he replied before turning to Mialina and kissing her hand. “And you, miledi. I hope you are well?”
“I am, Meester d’th Vinter.”
“Please,” he instructed. “Call me Seymour. Much simpler.”
Introductions out of the way, he sat down and propped his elbows on the table. A barmaid came by, distributing four tankards of ale between them. None of the humans seemed to have any interest in theirs. Seymour de Winter, however, picked his up by the tarnished metal handle and drank deeply. Then, with a sharp clunk, he set it back down on the table and leaned forward once more, resuming his previous position: elbows on table, hands folded. He raised his eyebrows, looking from one set of mismatched eyes to the next.
“Now,” he pressed on with the slightest of smiles. “What do three wealthy and powerful mages need with a desperate, destitute young detective like me?”