Second-Hand Rumors~ chapter 20

     Honor amongst thieves wasn’t entirely the myth most people assumed it was. In Liam’s limited experience, it had a higher sliding scale for calculating costs than most people’s sense of honor did. That honor to cost ratio was yet another reason why Liam tended to work alone; because he usually ended up regretting it. Somehow, Liam’s priceless value wasn’t as apparent to your average thief as a diamond the size of his fist. His current cohorts weren’t in it for the money, which meant they were in it for honor or some such nonsense.

     As though to confirm his understanding of the situation, his buzzing phone taunted him with the knowledge that this train was about to go off the rails in a big way. Answering the call, Liam pressed the phone to his ear, “You’ve got Liam.”

     “Hey, Liam.” It was Christopher Goodbody, “I had a thought. JJ told me about one of the Fourteen Kings being here. It’s the dwarf king. Let’s just kill him now.”

     “That’s a terrible idea.” Peering down the hall, he could hear glasses clinking and voices chattering away. It sounded remarkably civil for a party of elites being held hostage via blackmail.”

     “Hear me out, Liam. If we start a fight with the King, everyone will bolt. Our two Revers can catch the bad ones on the way out, and we can destroy the blackmail material before we leave. It’s fool-proof.” Christopher sounded incredibly pleased with his plan.

     “And what happens when someone calls the cops?”

     “All the better. If someone calls in the cops, it will be almost impossible for the Society to call in more goons, and the King won’t be able to escape without attracting attention.”
Groaning, Liam hoped his Dirt Gremlins did their work. His original part of the plan was to help escort innocent party goers from the group, their records expunged by his tiny helpers, “Stick to the plan. I know I’m spitting in the wind, but how exactly do you plan to kill the King?”

     “If I start a fight in the middle of the party, everyone will run. While we go at it in the chaos, Robert will find an opening and strike. I don’t seriously think I can win a straight up fight with him, I just need to give Robert the chance he needs. We can leave during the aftermath and get out before anyone knows what happened This way, we don’t need to escort people out one by one. We can just catch up with them later, and we get to kill one of the Fourteen Kings.”.

     “What do you plan on doing about Adrian Denavi? He’s not just going to let you kill the one guest who probably wants to be here.”

     There was a long pause before Christopher responded, “He’s not here, at least not at the main party. Of the guards I’ve asked, nobody seems to know where he is. Look, I talked it over with Robert, so I’m getting started. Trust me, Liam.”

     The phone went dead. Liam knew one thing. He didn’t want to miss this fight. Not out of some morbid curiosity, but from a genuine fear that everything was going to go wrong. Adrian would never miss a Society event this important. From his limited exposure to the man, Adrian seemed obsessive compulsive about his work. His apparent absence meant he was either somewhere more important, or somewhere out of sight at the hostage party.

     Taking a few turns, Liam found himself standing on the outskirts of the gala. Art pieces had been set up along the walls to provide a veneer of class to the event. Two long rows of tables lay along each wall, most of them filled with finger foods everyone was too polite to eat. High ceilings looked down over the attendees, with murals of cherubic angels losing their cloth diapers in hopes of becoming the next sunscreen baby. The height of the ceilings allowed everyone’s voices to echo around the room, which was having a strained effect on the guests. The attendees had split off into groups of twos or threes, slowly circulating around the room in strange social avoidance patterns. When the groups ran into each other, they would split off and two new, but different, groups would emerge and head off in different directions.

      Liam didn’t know where the King was, so he decided to imagine he was parched and needed to find all the alcohol in the world. If their target was as drunk as Christopher said he was, he would be within standing distance of the largest concentration of alcohol in the building. Even without that mental exercise, the King was easy enough to spot, because he was the only one with a large, and ever-expanding space around him. If the dour sounding name, or the proclivity to drunkenness didn’t give away whose king he was, his stature and appearance certainly sealed the deal. He was short, though not as short as Liam might have expected. He wore his beard in thick braids and twined through it were trophies of past conquests. As a fellow drinker, Liam could certainly see the appeal of his decorations. They were silver and gold decorations taken from exorbitantly priced alcohols he had defeated in the past. Even from across the room, he could hear the Kings booming voice regaling anyone unfortunate enough to be within earshot of further times when he had become inexcusably drunk and done dreadful things to the upholstery.

     Gorge Doomsayer wore his name on his sleeve. When presented with impending destruction, people react most commonly in one of two ways. They either eat, drink and grow merry for they know their death approaches, or they give everything up and set about destroying the world. Those were not the clothes of avarice. There was something utilitarian about his black suit which set Liam on edge. The muscles which bulged out from under his suit weren’t earned in leisure, that’s for sure. The only sparkly thing about him were the bits of silver and gold twined through his expansive brown beard. Though laughter hung around the edges of his voice, like a surprise party about to break out at any second, he had a haunted expression in his eyes which Liam had seen all too often. It wasn’t that he just wanted the world to burn, he had already seen it somewhere in the past.

     Liam didn’t have long to contemplate this before Christopher showed up. He had never been more grateful to know that two Revers lurked in the background, watching and waiting for an opportunity. Christopher hadn’t changed for the party. He still wore the same ratty clothes he had been wearing when he left the apartment. If anyone noticed him, and his ratty clothing, they were too polite to mention it. Abandoning any pretenses of subtlety , Christopher simply walked up to Gorge and punched him in the face.

The punch rocked Gorge back and almost pushed him straight off his feet into a table covered with bottles of hard liquor. Regaining his balance, Gorge blinked a few times and shook his head, an expression which must have crossed Liam’s own face many times when reality interfered with his drunken stupor.

     “Ha!” That one laugh, barked out loud enough to echo from the walls of the ballroom, was not the reaction Liam had expected. Christopher took a step backwards and raised his fists. His confused expression told Liam that he hadn’t expected the King to react so quickly to that punch, despite his status and reputation.

     “Now this is more like it! Who sent me the party favor!?” Gorge ripped his black coat from his shoulders and tossed it to the ground. His massive shoulders bulged as he rolled the sleeves of his shirt up, random alcohol trophies jingling with every move.

     Christopher smiled, the excitement of a good fight overtaking his common senses, “Does it really matter? I’m going to kill you.”

     Gorge nodded appreciatively, a smile dancing around the edges of his lips, “You must be a Goodbody. Those blue eyes and that absurdly sturdy body give you away. I hope you can show an old dwarf like me a good time.”

     Having said that, he launched himself at an impossible speed towards Christopher, like a human battering ram with a beard. Gorge must have been more drunk than he realized, however, because Christopher was able to step to the side and grab the dwarf by his arm and leg as he hurtled past. Using Gorge’s own momentum against him, Christopher spun around in place and whipped his cargo towards a wall. Hitting it at full speed, he broke through the wall and into the next room. If Liam hadn’t been so worried, it would have been comical when Gorge popped his head back through, his beard slowly popping back out like a glittery brown flower blooming in spring.

     “Oh, you’ll do nicely. I hope you’re ready for what’s coming.” Gorge hardly waited before attacking once more. Rather than slipping back through the hole he had created, Gorge simply walked through the wall. Liam was no stranger to violence. He had seen, and been on the receiving end, of some barbaric acts which still made him shudder to think of it. He had seen fights so fast, his eyes could hardly keep up with them. This fight was entirely without class. It was brutality personified. Christopher, being a Goodbody, must not have been used to fighting someone who could go toe to toe with him. Gorge’s fighting style focused mostly around body blows, as one would expect from a dwarf. When he punched Christopher hard enough to send him flying back a few feet, Liam could feel it in his bones.

     Christopher doubled over and coughed. When his hand came away, it was slick with blood. Gorge wasn’t about to let him rest, however, and ran back to the table he had been standing near. Liquor bottles make convenient rockets in the right hands, and Gorge was a skilled Makers Marksman. Bottles whirred into Christopher, shattering into sparkling showers of glass and high-end liquor. Turning his back to Gorge, Christopher huddled down on the ground and made sure only his back could be hit.

     That wasn’t the worst idea Liam had ever seen. Getting killed by a random bottle to the face felt like an anti-climactic way to go, but that tactic did require him to take his eyes away from Gorge, and the dwarf proved incapable of ignoring such a taunt. Rushing his opponent with a speed which Liam found impossible to believe, given his stubby legs, Gorge leapt into the air, a hitherto unseen dagger in his left hand. He was speeding downwards like a dwarven bullet when he suddenly swung forward gently. Grasping at his neck, Gorge dropped his dagger and swung backwards. Squinting his eyes, Liam could make out the barest glint of metal hanging from the ceiling. He had been alive long enough to notice an assassin’s handiwork.

     That wasn’t the only metal noose hanging from the ceiling. The longer he looked, the more he could see, darted around the ceiling and hanging towards the floor, just waiting for someone to occupy them. Liam wondered whose work that was, Jenny or Robert’s. Given their impracticality, Liam decided that it was likely Jenny’s work. Gorge turned a bright red color and started to bounce up and down. Breaking that filament would be impossible, but the ceiling was less prepared to deal with the exuberant death rattles of a dwarven king. With a resounding crack, a large portion of the ceiling came loose and rained down all around them. With the tension loose, Gorge managed to get the wire from around his neck. Breathing heavily, he was in no state to do any fighting.
Christopher rose to his feet and brushed the glass from his shoulder in a care-free manner which reminded Liam of Sam. Turning to face Gorge, he started advancing slowly, watching him carefully and noting his every move. Reaching into his pocket, Gorge produced a figure of a wolf from his pocket. With a start, Liam realized that figure looked incredibly familiar. He had seen a very similar one amongst the figures in the Nair family vault. That was around the time when Adrian had managed to rob the vault of a few figures. He had no idea what was going to happen, but he knew it wasn’t going to be good.

     Gorge tossed the wolf figure onto the floor and it sprouted, growing rapidly into a living wolf with razor sharp yellowed teeth, about the size of a large grey hound. It stood between Christopher and Gorge, allowing the King a few moments to catch his breath. When Christopher took a step back, it lunged at him, chasing him across the entirety of the room and pressing him into a wall, snapping at his face.

     In his moment of triumph, the dwarf king had failed to watch his own back. Robert, appearing from thin air, materialized behind Gorge and tugged him roughly to his feet. Pressing his own dagger to his throat, he held his captive close and yelled, “Call the wolf off! Now!

      Liam’s blood ran cold as Gorge began to laugh, “Now we’re having a party!” Taking a step back, Liam tripped over nothing and fell to the ground. The sudden movement caught Gorge’s eye, and his eyes registered an expression of recognition which Liam hardly liked the look of. This job was over. Everyone needed to get out right now.

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