Sneaky sneaky stuff from Anila here. I love her character; religious zealot, daughter who desperately wants to impress her father, highly-skilled agent. She's great.
Warning: Mild defenestration.
“You let them escape?”
“No, Father,” Anila protested. The scratches on her face caused her pain every time she spoke but she ignored it, pushed it down. It wasn’t as important as this conversation. “You told me he was a Gargorian agent; they helped him to escape! That proves it, doesn’t it? I was attacked. Brought down.”
“By a cat?” Father Hork said. “I know what you said but, Anila, it’s faintly ridiculous.” He sighed. “Maybe I was wrong; perhaps you are too young to assume these duties.”
Suddenly Anila could feel it all slipping away. Hollowly, she said “You can’t be serious.”
“Anila, I have never been more serious,” he replied. He grabbed her wrist. “You have single-handedly brought chaos to a delicate balance, a ballet that has been playing out since before your birth.”
She shook her head. “He’s just one boy! He can’t be that important!”
He sighed and released her hand. “It’s not the importance that matters. What matters is that I gave you a task and you failed.”
Failed. The word seemed to echo around her head. Numbly she watched as her father turned away and looked around the destruction in the throne room. It was a mess; piles of rubble seemed to be everywhere and, even with a small army of palace workers trying to clear the mess it was going to be some time before this room saw service again.
“Perhaps,” he murmured, “perhaps there is a way to salvage this, at least in the short term.”
Anila’s heart leapt. “What must I do?”
“This is, if anything, harder than the previous mission, Anila.” His eyes seemed to bore into her. “I want to give this to you, but…”
“I will not let you down,” she replied, holding his gaze. “Just tell me what to do.”
“Victor Junn came into town with the boy. They travelled with a woman; my sources haven’t managed to find her name yet but it is a simple matter. Find them. Ensure that they haven’t been… tainted by the boy’s presence. Bring them in for questioning.”
“Victor went with Rennin,” Anila said, falling in beside the High Father as he began to walk away from the chamber.
“Neutralise Rennin if you have to,” he replied.
Anila bit her lip. “Lord Rennin is a good man,” she began, but her father cut her off.
“Anila, you must trust me. We cannot afford to get this wrong.”
“Yes, father,” she said. “I will.”
He looked at her sternly.
“I mean, I do. Trust you.”
They were heading towards the quarters they shared in the east wing of the palace. “Once you have Victor and the other accomplice in custody, I want to question them.” He stopped and placed a hand on her shoulder. “I’m sure that you can do this, Anila, but you must understand: this is the most important thing you have ever done. It must be right.”
“It will be,” Anila said. She smiled at her father and waited for him to smile back like he always did.
“I know it will,” he said, then let go of her shoulder and walked on towards their rooms.
Her feelings were a swirl of confusion as she turned away and started to walk towards the nearest exit. One thing came to the fore in her mind, like the calm in the eye of a storm; this time she would not fail.
The harbourmaster’s ledger was tremendously easy to steal a look at. She simply walked in to his office at the same time as a small group of urchins she had paid stole his lunch. The sight of the primped-up peacock of an official chasing them up and down the piers would have been comical had she not been so focused on her goal. Within a minute she had the name of the boat Victor had come in by, and its skipper.
The Brass-Bottomed Belle. Captain: Lauren Mantleson. Registered to North Pid. Anila tapped the entry with her finger, committing it to memory, and then walked calmly away from the scene. Once back on the street she walked up to a boy slouching nonchalantly against a wall.
“Thanks,” she said, tossing him a gold coin. He put his fingers to his lips and whistled; the boys on the pier stopped tormenting the harbourmaster and scattered in all directions.
“You was never ‘ere, I getcha,” the older boy said, then melted away into the crowd.
Anila walked slowly down towards the pier, mulling over her course of action. Talking to the Harbourmaster as an official envoy of the High Father would almost certainly have repercussions, hence the use of the street kids. Security seemed to be quite a lot lighter than it should be on the docks; with a quick glance towards where the official was still trying to put his sandwiches back together, she slipped past his office and down towards the berth that held the Belle.
It was no less impressive tethered than it had been chugging serenely down the river, she grudgingly admitted. It was large, though most of it was probably consumed by the various devices required to make it go, she reasoned. Her attention was drawn to the large crates in and around the wheelhouse and, stepping stealthily aboard, she crept over to one.
It was about the size of a footstool and had ‘fragile’ painted on each of its sides. The lid was only placed on top loosely so, careful not to disturb anything else, she lifted it and peeked inside.
Nestled carefully in amongst straw and screwed up paper were several glass globes, each with a twist of some sort of metal inside it. She picked one up carefully, wary of poison gas or some sort of acid preparing to explode from it, but it remained completely inert in her hand. Frowning, Anila placed it back in and closed the box.
There had to be some clue as to where the woman could be. A quick search revealed that the nearby crates held the same odd glass globes, and outside there was only a large object covered in a tarpaulin; closer inspection revealed it to be a pile of some sort of armour pieces, completely useless.
Anila retreated back into the wheelhouse. She stood, well aware that she could be discovered any minute. Perhaps that’s what I want, she suddenly thought. I can take her down here and… then what? Walk back to the palace with an unconscious woman in my arms? No. There had to be something.
Almost as she thought this, as if the Arbour itself guided her eyes, she spotted the thin envelope sticking out from behind the wheel itself. She grabbed it and unfolded it, quickly scanned the contents and replaced it back exactly where it was.
With one last look around to make sure she had disturbed nothing, Anila disembarked from the boat and made her way towards the palace. A smile curled across her face as she walked faster, then broke into a jog. Under her nose the whole time, right there in the palace; Lauren Mantleson was due to present her work to the Duke during tomorrow’s court session.
Anila crouched in the shadow thrown by one of the large potted trees that lined this floor of the palace.With her eyes on the door that Lauren had just gone through, Anila marked her current location on her mental map of the palace. Lauren’s quarters had been easy to locate considering her own access to the palace. She was just about to begin the hunt for Victor when she spotted someone walking up the corridor. Anila pressed herself back into the shadows, sure that she was unnoticeable, as Lady Emmeline, the Duke’s daughter, stopped outside Lauren’s door. Anila’s eyes narrowed. The girl seemed to dither outside the door for a long minute, then pecked at it with her dainty knuckles, far too quiet to be heard.
Then she tried again with a little more force and Lauren came to the door. They exchanged words in hushed tones, then Lauren stood to one side to allow her visitor to enter. The door hushed closed behind them.
Finally standing up, Anila frowned. How was Lady Emmeline involved in this?
Filing the girl under ‘Possible lead’, Anila turned and began to head in the direction of Lord Rennin’s quarters. It was time for a little acting.
Rennin worked out of an office in the basement of the palace. It was dim and dreary, but his fire was always burning and the assortment of odd pieces of memorabilia on his desk and shelves leant a warming atmosphere to it. Anila stood outside his door, listening for a moment; the lanterns were lit and the fire was crackling, so she carefully blanked her face, widened her eyes slightly and parted her lips. Then she knocked.
“Come,” came the instant reply. She went in, enveloped suddenly in warmth, and trotted up to his desk. The carpet on the floor was threadbare in the centre and she made sure her feet made a little noise.
“Ah, you’re the High Father’s daughter, yes? What was your name, hm,” Rennin said. He took out a pair of gold spectacles and placed them on the end of his nose, going from peering closely at her to sitting up straight as he brought her into focus. “What can I do for you, young one?”
“I…” Anila began, then bit her lip and blushed.
“Go on,” he said, a little more gently.
“I heard that Victor, the great hero, is in Fennica,” she said. “I saw that you two were friends, and I wondered if…”
“You want to meet the Victor, yes?” he said, his eyes twinkling in the light. “He might surprise you, y’know. Not at all like the books.”
“Oh, I’ve read all of the books,” she gushed. “I just want to meet him, or at least see him.”
Getting up from behind his desk, Rennin crossed over to a hatstand and took down a cloak. “Well then, let’s go. I can always use the chance to-“
“Oh, please don’t let me disturb you from your work,” Anila said quickly. “You’re so terribly important and, well, I know you have a lot to do. With the Duke so ill.”
Rennin had stopped, his cloak in his hands. “Well, yes, but-“
“If you tell me where Victor is, I’ll just pop and see him myself.”
The old knight sighed and hung the cloak back up. “I suppose that is the best solution, young lady. As smart as you are beautiful,” he said, and chuckled. Then, much to Anila’s relief, he sat back down.
“Mr Junn is currently enjoying lodgings, courtesy of the Duke, at the Silver Unicorn, a few streets north of the palace. Do you know it?”
“No, I don’t really go to places like that,” Anila replied, already thinking about the quickest way in and out. Rooftops, probably.
“Well, I’m sure you can ask one of the guards at the palace gate. They’ll direct you, young lady.”
“Thank you so much, Lord Rennin,” Anila said, already reaching for the door handle. He picked up a piece of paper and started to make notes. Anila turned the handle and was halfway out before he spoke again.
“Oh, and next time you’re down at the docks you might want to wipe the mud off your boots before you come in here,” Rennin said, still looking at the paper. “Smells, that mud. Like fish. My carpets don’t get cleaned all that often.”
Damn. It was her turn to freeze, just for a moment too long, as Rennin finally looked up and raised an eyebrow.
“Was there anything else, Anila?”
“No, Lord Rennin,” she said,
“Give my best to Victor, would you?”
Before he could follow up with anything else, she was gone.