Strings

4th October - The Lilac Lounge, Highholm - Evening

Edward walked down the narrow stairs into a dimly lit waiting area. The door before him was closed and a beast of a man stood guard, dressed in a suit that seemed fit to burst. He eyed Edward up and down and raised and eyebrow when he noticed the that Edward was carrying a weapon. He offered an outstretched hand and gave a grim smile,

"I will take the side arm sir, if you dont mind." the mans voice was gruff and though friendly it held an edge that Edward had come to recognised amongst the muscle he managed within the ministry. That edge of impending violence. Edward shrugged and handed over the pistol grip first. The man appraised it and gave a short nod of approval.

"Double Barrel," he commented, "A nice weapon."

"Deadly." Edward replied with a tight smile and the man reached out and opened the door for him to enter.

"Thank you." Edward said as he stepped into the dark entrance hall. A girl in a booth to the left was collecting coats. She looked over at him and he shook his head and walked on. The bar area was dimly lit and soft music was playing in the background. There was no dance floor but a there was a raised stage at the front of the room on which male and female dancers moved in sinuous lines a hairs breadth from the erotic. He stood and watched them for a while. There was a true grace to their movements. Edward closed his eyes and allowed the music to sooth him. He was still on edge from recent events. He had questions for Mavromichali when he returned from his trip. If he returned.

"It is an interesting venue, is it not?" came a voice from nearby.

Edward opened his eyes and turned to see Benjamin Montclaire standing close by with a drink in each hand. He offered one to Edward with a smile and the high inquisitor took the glass with a nod of his head.

"Councilor Montclaire." he greeted him.

"Shall we sit?" Montclaire gestured towards a booth near the stage and Edward followed.

"The First Citizen is not happy with you."

Those were not the words that Edward had been expecting so he remained silent, allowing Benjamin to continue,

"He believes you have become distracted, irresponsible even."

"Josiah might take a look closer to home before making such accusations." Edward replied before taking a sip of his drink. He savoured the warm burn of the alcohol has it slipped down.

"Indeed." Benjamin raised his glass with a grin, "These are troubled times for the city."

"That is something of an understatement. I have spent the day overseeing the confinement of several hundred dissidents in the Sprawl compound."

"The plague pit?" Benjamin asked in shock, and Edward gave a nod.

"Josiah goes to far, what is he thinking." Edward shrugged and leaned forward.

"I am more concerned with what you are thinking Councillor. What is the purpose of this meeting?"

Benjamin stiffened for a moment, but then shrugged off the offence and placed down his glass,

"The Montclaire family is old. Older than most. Our roots run deep, and our influence. Well you saw the effects of our influence in the swearing in of Stella Corbet. Without the Moncliare vote to lead the way you and Josiah would have had a tougher time raising the woman to power."

"Your support was appreciated." Edward conceded.

"Consider it a gift, no strings attached."

"There are always strings." Edward replied leaning back in his chair. For the moment the pain that had been slowly returning had abated and he was back to feeling the strength and confidence of previous days.

"Well, as to that. My continuing support comes at a price. Josiah is failing and soon he will need a scapegoat. Who better than the High Inquisitor, the hated Edward Hanton. The Spider."

"I can take care of myself." Edward growled.

"Is that why you have taken to carrying a fire arm?"

"I..." Edward stopped. Why had he bought the weapon? He had never carried one before, he had never felt the need. He used other tools, darker and deadlier. Perhaps it was the new found vitality given by his medication that had urged him to it, or perhaps...? No it was not fear, and certainly not fear of Josiah.

"I have an offer for you." Benjamin interrupted his train of thought.

"Go on." Edward replied.

"I represent a group. An underground fraternity if you will. It is as ancient as the walls of Dusk and just like those walls it now has a weak spot." Benjamin took a deep breath as if reluctant to go on, "My son."

"You do realise," Edward spoke carefully, "that I am personally responsible for the weeding out and destruction of underground societies and cults in the City."

"It is not a cult!" Benjamin slammed his fist down on the table his face growing suddenly red, he took a deep breath and spoke in measured tones, "We both know Mr Hanton that the Council is a farce, there are forces at work beyond our reckoning. Forces both above and below that seek to control and exploit the people of Dusk. We are at the mercy of powers we have never even imagined, some of them at work in this very City, beneath our very feet. The group I represent is not concerned with taking power, it is not concerned with revolution, it is concerned with survival. The survival of our very species."

"I have heard enough." Edward spat as he made to rise. Benjamin gave a brief gesture and the music stopped. The dancers left the stage without a word or a second glance and all around the room patrons turned to look at them. Edward counted around thirty individuals and noted that they were armed. How had he not picked up on that? Gods he was slipping. The brute of a bouncer that had met him at the door came walking over and stood behind Benjamin. The councillor reached back and the man placed Edwards gun in his hand. He turned it this way and that studying the weapon. At last he placed it on the table in front of Edward.

"I want your help Edward, I want you to guide Tate and save him from his impulsive behaviour. I want you to save him from himself. He is making terrible choices and I am powerless to stop him. Everything I do seems to drive him deeper into rebellion and foolishness. He has become the weak link in my dynasty and if he fails then this whole damned city will fall to ruin."

"I am still not sure how I can help." Edward replied glancing from the gun to the numerous armed onlookers.

"You will arrest him, you will break him and then Edward you will rebuild him. He will work for the Inquisition and he will become the man he must be. A man like you."

"Councillor you are asking me to turn your son and heir into a monster."

"Gods forgive me, yes I am, because believe me it will take a monster to save us from what is to come."

"And in exchange?"

"My continued support in the Council, my protection from Josiah and most importantly access to my network, access to knowledge."

Edward thought for a moment before standing. Benjamin stood with him his look intent. The moments passed as they watched each other in silence before Edward offered his hand,

"You have a deal." In response Benjamin smiled broadly and took his hand.

As Edward turned to leave the bouncer picked up his gun and offered it back to him hilt first.

"Keep it." Edward said, it was time he returned to what he did best.

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