It was surreal, Fiearius found, that it actually was Aiden, the Dionysian’s wise professor, helping him steal jewelry from this man’s mansion. He never thought he’d see the day when Aiden dipped his hand into theft… and yet, as Fiearius stood behind the tall hedge and watched, it was indeed Aiden who greeted Sanilac in the doorway, shook the man’s hand in a forlorn sort of way, and then stepped into the mansion. And it was Aiden who made sure the door was unlocked behind him for he and Corra to enter.
And Aid insisted he’d never become a real pirate. Ha. No one was immune.
After waiting a solid minute, Fiearius crept up the icy porch and held his breath in his lungs as he slid his frame through the front door. Inside, the parlor was warm, gleaming, and richly decorated with paintings and vases. Fiearius felt comically out of place, like a broken piece of furniture dragged in from the alley.
But Fiearius wouldn’t be seen at all if Aiden executed the plan properly, and Fiearius had the powerful sense that Aiden was very keen on doing this job well. And for good reason: before his retirement, Sanilac had been the president of a university — and he’d been the one to fire Aiden for his quiet Anti-Society leanings in the classroom.
Now, Aiden would play the part of a man begging for his old job back while Fiearius and Corra went for the jewelry upstairs. Silently as he could, Fiearius crossed toward the staircase, seizing Corra’s wrist and pulling her along.
Behind them, voices floated from the sitting room: Aiden and Sanilac exchanging awkward greetings.
“Aiden, your message came as something of a shock,” Sanilac was saying, followed by the sound of ice clinking into a glass. He sounded oddly satisfied when he added, “I do wish I could say you were looking better, old friend. You said — you said you needed help. Assistance. Is that right?”
“Yes … I’m afraid so,” replied Aiden’s voice, mournful with regret.
Fiearius felt tempted to forget the necklace entirely and simply listen to the whole conversation instead, interesting as it was. In the years he’d known him, Aiden had never lied, let alone spun stories like this. The man was honest to a fault; he valued the truth. This? A whole fabrication of reality? It was fascinating. Just out of sight, Fiearius paused halfway up the staircase, listening.
“Come on hard times now, have you?” mused Sanilac, clicking his tongue.“Yes … yes, I’d imagine so. That tarnished record of yours … hard to find work on decent planets …“ Fiearius felt a powerful rush of dislike. “Pity, pity. And what is it you’re doing now?”
“Oh, nothing good, I’m afraid,” Aiden said with a sigh. “I did a stint on a ship, traveling, menial work. It was all very unpleasant. Rickety boat. Low pay.” A pause, and Fiearius swore Aiden’s voice raised meaningfully when he added, “Deranged captain.”
With that, a wry, broad smirk spread over Fiearius’ face. He took his cue and continued his silent trek up the stairs. When he reached the first landing, safely out of earshot, he glanced to his counterpart who tailed behind him.
“If you had piles and piles of money,” he muttered in an undertone to Corra, “where would you keep — “
Fiearius stopped short. In front of them, painted across an entire wall of the corridor, shone an enlarged Society librera, nearly as tall as Fiearius himself: the same mark of every Satierian flag, the same mark tattooed on his shoulder, the same proud display of loyalty — or venomous disloyalty, in his case.
The sight of it made his jaw tighten. Even here, on this quiet outer planet, the Society was growing a following. Sanilac was probably a benefactor, donating half his riches to their cause, if Fiearius had to guess. Leta wasn’t wrong — the system really was growing more powerful.
If Fiearius wasn’t eager to steal from Sanilac before, he certainly was now. He turned to Corra. “Where do the fabulously wealthy keep their jewelry?” he asked. When she stared back at him, her eyes narrowed in annoyance, he muttered, “Well you’re no help…”
Rolling her eyes, Corra heaved an irritated sigh and pushed past him to continue down the corridor.
Fiearius had learned long ago that Corra had developed a something of knack for taking things that didn’t belong to her while living under the watchful eye of Goddora. A natural troublemaker, she had more than once snuck out of bed at odd hours to snoop about the quarters of his wealthy visitors. The one story she’d told that actually stuck with him was one that revolved around a classy lady’s tiny dog that started the tale being carried in a bag and ended running around the courtyard with the young ally for many years to come.
No wonder Goddora had been glad to be rid of her.
Her skills had come in handy in her earlier days aboard. Nowadays there was rarely an occasion to steal discreetly. Most of his tactics had turned to ‘run in and shoot everybody’ rather than carefully slinking his way through houses, but it hadn’t always been that way. Once upon a time, simple theft and resale was how the three outcasts of the Dionysian got by. Corra had always been more than happy to lend her qualified hands.
This time, she didn’t seem so pleased. Though happy to be here or not, she moved down the hallway, peering into doors with the careful precision he’d come to expect of her.
As Fiearius followed, Sanilac’s voice rose from downstairs. “You’re here looking to return to the university? Aiden, if only it were so easy … “
Corra halted so sharply that Fiearius nearly walked right into her.
“Here,” she said, indicating to a slightly cracked door. “It’ll be in here. I’m almost sure of it.”
Fiearius peered through the crack in the door. Inside was a bedroom, although it didn’t look like any bedroom Fiearius had ever lived in. The handsome four-poster was impeccably made, the rugs swept neat on the floor, flames lit in the fireplace. The curtains were drawn back, allowing the cold light outside to flood in over the warm mahogany nightstands and resting table. Nothing in particular caught his attention except —
“The vanity, look,” said Corra, indicating the intricately carved desk and drawers just under the window. “This must be the lady’s room. If the necklace is anywhere, it’s here.”
Sound logic, indeed. Giving her a quick nod, Fiearius gently moved her aside and made to slip through the door. But before he could make it inside, he halted, his breath jumping into his throat: there was a flash of rich blue fabric past the doorway. Someone — Sanilac’s wife, no doubt — was inside. In a flash, he recoiled back into the hallway, out of sight.
“Hello?” called the woman curiously. Then the voice whispered worriedly, “Marsden? Is that you?”
Fiearius froze in place. The woman, apparently deciding she was hearing things, disregarded the noise and stepped toward the vanity — the exact spot they needed to get to, of course. Standing hidden in the shadows, Fiearius exchanged a glance with Corra, who was watching him in alarm. So clearly she had no brilliant ideas …
But he thought he might. Aiden had mentioned she and Sanilac did not seem to like each other much. So with all the confidence of someone who had no idea what he was doing, Fiearius suddenly stood tall, threw open the door and strolled into the room, speaking conversationally to Corra, “Hallway’s clear, let’s check in the–” And then, he stopped to stare at the woman in the room, looking only mildly surprised, like this was a minor inconvenience, nothing more.
“Who – just who are you?” the woman demanded, stumbling over her words as she swept around and grabbed the edge of the vanity defensively. “What are you doing in here?”
“Oh I beg your pardon, ma’am,” Fiearius said at once, inclining his head. Corra, who had thankfully decided it was best to play along, did the same politely. “I thought no one was up here. Please, excuse the intrusion. I was given permission to search the upstairs. I didn’t know there were–”
“Why do you need to search the house at all?” she interrupted, her tone less fearful and more hostile now. “Who are you?”
Determined to smooth this over, Fiearius provided her his most glowing, charming smile. “My apologies ma’am. My name is Oron Levistus. This is my associate, Petra Thiano.” He gestured to Corra. “We’re on security detail for Mr. Artura.”
She narrowed her eyes in distaste. “Mr. Artura?”
For a moment, Fiearius worried perhaps she’d actually heard of Aiden. Perhaps she knew the name. Perhaps that dumb look on her face was skepticism that a fired professor would need security. But no, it wasn’t recognition. It was confusion. So when he said, “Yes, Mr. Aiden Artura? Chief diplomat of the Tarin consulate?” she didn’t laugh in disbelief. She gasped in awe.
“That’s who was at the door?” she whispered. “What is he doing here?”
“Not my place to ask, ma’am.” There was something rather satisfying about this lie. Aiden would get a laugh out of this one; he’d have to remember to tell him later. “I’m just assigned to ensure that the property is secure while he speaks to the man downstairs.”