King of Fools

5 Years Ago - East Twins - The Blackthorn Estate

The black carriage came to a screeching halt before the tall iron gates of Blackthorn House. The four horses kicked and worried over the sudden end to their charging pace and the driver fought furiously to bring them to order. Thunder tore through the Maelstrom over head and in the distance forked lightning crashed into the city with unfettered rage. The carriage lurched as a huge figure jumped from its rear and lumbered round to open the door.

Following an order barked from within the dark carriage, a wide umbrella was raised to protect the occupants from the worst of the rain. The first figure that stepped out was a tall imposing man, sporting a pencil line mustache and top hat. His suit and cape were flamboyantly adorned in all manner of decorations and he carried a thick black cane that he struck against the cobbled ground as he stepped out into the rain. The creature that followed him out was a short grubby thing with a hunch back and lank grey hair that only sparsely covered his head. He shuffled to the side of his employer, glancing up with one bulging eye and a warped grin.

"My friends." the man in the top hat announced in a voice fit for a concert hall, "Did I not promise you wealth and fame!"

"You did Mr Rust." croaked the little fellow, while at the same time the hulking brute growled, "S'right boss."

Barnaby Rust opened his eyes wide just as a fork of lightning split the sky above the manor house. He laughed at the sight of the Blackthorn Estate illuminated by the sickly green light of the Maelstrom. His eyes danced with glee.

"This is it my friends, my Blackthorn Imaginarium. Let us enter!"

Fishing in his pockets he held out a large iron key with the tips of his fingers, as if afraid of picking up filth from their touch. He lowered the key down to his diminutive companion and dropped it into the mans outstretched hands.

"Open her up Alexander."

"Yes sir." the hunchback bobbed his head and scuttled forward to the gates. He was forced to climb up to reach the lock as Barnaby and his giant protector stood and watched. Alexander handled the climb and the lock deftly and in a moment of flamboyance he flipped himself backwards from the gates to land on his feet a few meters away. The gates began to swing open and Barnaby clapped heartily as Alexander turned and gave a rain sodden bow.

"Come Borga, let us enter out new home." Barnaby clicked his fingers under the nose of his huge companion and they made their way forward through the gates into the estate beyond.

***

Wonky Donkey - October 11th - Evening

Tate sat opposite Emily with a serious frown on his young face. She returned the look but with a slight smile to soften it. Their plates were empty and mugs close to it.

"So you are a spy." Tate said quietly and seriously, his eyes locked on Emilys own.

"I would not call it that." Emily replied in a hushed tone, she glanced around to ensure that no unwelcome ears were close by and reached forward to place her hand upon his. "Besides you knew I was in the business of... gathering information."

"Yes but..." Tate was lost for words for a moment and then he returned the grip on Emilys hand and pulled her closer, "Gods damn it, I thought it was for money, for your employer, so he could play the market, make investments and the like."

She laughed at that, "Oh Tate, you are so young and..."

"Do not say that." he growled pulling back. "I am old enough to know that being member of the Rising Star is a fucking death sentence."

"I would never..." she began to say but he cut her off.

"What? Implicate me? Use me? What Emily... where is the line? what is it that you would never do?"

"It was a mistake to tell you." she said flatly. She had brought Tate here to a place of her own choosing. Away from the trapments of his affluent life style to finally tell him the whole truth about herself. It was partly an act of desperation. With Jonathan gone she needed someone to confide in, someone to trust. Her network was gone, she was cut off from her cells and unable to report back. The only contacts she knew to be still alive were in Graymire doing gods knew what. Then there was the other reason.. the real reason and it was from that, that she was hiding now as Tate glared her across the table.

"It was a mistake not to tell me sooner, before I... before.."

"Before what?" she demanded and he met her eyes with the answer she was so scared of hearing. They had said the words in the throws of passion, but letting it in, really admitting it was another thing entirely. She turned away.

"I love you Tate. What we have..." she turned to meet his eyes once more, "It was not part of my plan, I did not expect it." The fool actually started to grin, gods he really was young. He should be turning her in to the Regent, or at least storming out to let her drown in her betrayal.

He clasped both of her hands in his and held them tightly and she drew comfort from the strength in those hands. They were silent for a long time then, until at last he released a deep sigh and shook his head.

"This is what you are? It will not change?"

"It will not." she confirmed. The work of the Rising Star, the birth of a new enlightened age both above and below was her lifes mission. To claim otherwise would be a lie and there had been enough of those.

"My father was the leader of a secret organisation." Tate said, "I was a member, I was set to lead and..." he let go of her hands and looked away.

"What is it?" she asked.

"I am not a good man," Tate half whispered and shook his head, "But I met you and all that... all that crap just doesn't seem to matter any more. My father wanted to change the city for the better and now my sister is in the Delve, she will probably die there! We wanted to bring Dusk to glory and protect its people, that is not so different from what you work for."

"I suppose not." Emily said trying not to let the doubt sound in her voice.

"So I will help you." Tate announced, "I will join the Rising Star."

"Hold on there, you cant just sign up. If they knew I told you any of this they would probably just kill us both. But you can still help me."

"How?" he asked.

"Come with me to Graymire. I have contacts there and..."

"My sister!" Tate interrupted, "Could they help my sister?"

Before Emily could answer the doors of the Tavern slammed open and a cold breeze slipped into the room. A motley group stood in the open doorway with a tall man standing at their centre. He wore a top hat and had a pencil thin mustache above a wide condescending smile.

His smile grew wider as he opened his arms wide, pointing a thick black cane with a silver handle towards the where the bar maid stood gaping.

"Drinks are on me good wench! Fill up those tankards and keep the wine and ale flowing." he turned to the side where a short hunch back stood holding a coin pouch, "Alexander if you would be so kind."

The small man gave a bow and flipped up onto his hands revealing his bare feet. He threw up the coin pouch to catch it between his toes and walked on his hands over to the shocked bar maid.

"Borga, Gullid clear us a table." the man in the top hat gave the command and two hulking fellows lumbered into the room and appropriated a wide round table from a couple of local. There was little argument.

"Who the fuck are you?" one of the displaced locals slurred in drunk tones as he stumbled past and far from being offended the man in the hats grin became wider as he addressed not the drunk but the whole room,

"I am Barnaby Rust, master of entertainment at the Blackthorn Imaginarium, East Twins."

He gave a low bow before straightening and sauntering over to his chosen table. His motley crew followed and soon began to dominate the room with their drunken revelry. Most people were amenable due to the free ale, but some of the local began to drift away into the night to avoid the commotion.

Tate and Emily watched the performance with some interest and accepted their free drinks. Tate raised he tankard to the troop and one of them, an Ashen woman by the looks of her came sauntering over. She was scantily clad and Emily was impressed with the effort made by Tate not to stare.

"Good evening." she greeted them in her thick accent "We would like to invite you to our grand opening."

She handed a small green flyer down to the couple with a likeness of Barnaby etched on the front and the words Blackthorn Imaginarium written above.

"We open tomorrow night and the Regent herself will be in attendance!" the woman explained and that certainly did get their attention.

"Really? the Regent?" Tate asked, and Emily squeezed his hand trying to urge him to curb his enthusiasm.

"I do not lie." the woman replied and to Emily's relief she moved on to the next table to repeat her invitation.

"How would you like to catch a show before we head out to Graymire?" Tate asked.

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