The wall was warm underfoot, Semari’s shoes thin enough for her to feel the heat the stone was releasing. Beneath her, Stathis and Janaxia were bickering, Stathis gesturing at Janaxia’s latest clothing. It looked spooky, uncomfortable and a bit evil around the edges, but that was pretty much Janaxia all over, and it wasn’t as though Stathis had to wear it.
The door was far too obvious for a real thief’s hideout, the snake’s head knocker a loud sign that something shady, but not too shady, was going on. The door was opened by a robed figure, looking fake-eldritch with a plain robe and a flashy belt led them down a long hallway, full of dramatic lights, and lined with creepy-sexy statues. Semari paused, trying to work out how practical they were, bodies shaped and contorted around and into each other in all sorts of interesting ways. Small slots revealed side chambers, for those that liked an audience, or to make a show. Giant metal doors, showing more people fucking, blocked their way, some magic sliding them open as they approached.
Semari nodded to herself in satisfaction. This was what a shady casino operated by dodgy folk should look like – cheap gold paint on the walls, massive chandeliers (that looked sturdy enough to bear her weight) hung from the high ceiling, shallow pits filled with cushions and cavorting entertainers dotting the floor, shady looking guards glaring at them from the walls. The floor was sticky underfoot, cloyingly thick incense not enough to cover the scent of spilt booze, sweat and other fluids. She eyed up the guards, all mean-looking, but a bit too comfortable, more used to poking fat merchants and nobles rather than proper violence. This place looked like it could be fun – no fighting pits, at least not yet, but lots of things to break if she needed a weapon.
She waved at Kamarni, enjoying a game of dice. For a noble, she seemed OK, although a bit fluttery. But she knew nice places to eat, and was friendly without being too weird about it. Although she’d been odd recently, suddenly really boring and stiff and cold, like Misutira.
The bosses were up above, the usual set-up, somewhere they could see and be seen. Two, twins, both with creepy demon arms, pointy teeth, probably not entirely human. The only surprise was that none of their boys had mirrored the red arms – if you get a thing like that, work it, make it the gang marker or whatever. Seemed a waste, really. But they had their boys well-trained, letting them through without even some token barking or staredown, up into their private bar.
Janaxia hugged them both, apparently trusting them enough to get close. Although they didn’t have any obvious weapons (other than claws on those creepy demon arms), both had a few scars, their clothing smart, but practical to move on. The guy was definitely a brawler and a looker, tight trousers and open shirt, easy on the eyes. Might be worth fighting, see if he could move, or if the muscles were just for show. He sat down, showing himself at ease, typical gang boss chilling in his domain. She grinned at him, getting a tight smile in return, as a lackey handed her a shot. She knocked it back – sweet and thick, slightly bitter, probably some fancy noble thing. Tasted good, although she’d rather have a beer.
Stathis spoke, sounding irritated and tired. ‘Look, I don’t really care about the gambling. But, Demons. They will destroy everything, destroy the world, all that stuff. So, unless you want to be devoured by howling monsters from the endless chaos outside of existence, it would be helpful if you were to tell me anything murder-cult related that you might have seen. Ritual circles, creepy murders, that sort of thing.’
‘And what may we expect in return from you, Stathis of the House of Iristari?’ The woman approached Stathis, squaring up against her in an open challenge to see if Stathis would back down.
‘OK, I’ll make you a deal. You tell me what I need to know, and I don’t tell Carissia about this place.’ Semari made a face. Carissia just showed up, stuff happened, and she’d bought that magical demon-goat. Goats! Weird furry horned bastards, always plotting something.
As they bickered, Semari took another shot, the taste seeming better this time, looking out over the casino and brothel. Looked pretty classy, in a fun, trashy way – must be fairly well run as quite a lot of the staff weren’t just thugs in suits, the cauliflower ears and broken noses being reserved for the guards. There were some side-rooms equipped for some of the weird stuff nobles got up to, but still no fighting pits, which was a shame.
Stathis and Asai were staring each other down, at the point they were either about to fight or fuck. ‘There are certain… considerations we must take into account. I’m sure certain associates of ours will have taken note that a Knight of the Sun paid us a visit, for example.’
‘OK, so we have a big dramatic fight, you make like you threw us out, then you tell us? I’m sure you know we’re at Janaxia’s place, send a letter or something.’
The man reached behind his chair, pulling out some knives, balanced for quick, nasty cuts, the sort of thing people would survive, but have big, nasty scars. His sister pulled out a sword, clumsily swinging at Stathis, who blocked the attack.
The guards below reacted impressively fast, gathering together and making a beeline for the stairs. Semari leapt from the balcony, grabbing hold onto the chandelier, swinging it once to gain momentum before letting go to let herself sail through the air, slamming into the ground in front of a group of guards. Her guess was right, they weren’t used to fighting, as she spun and ducked through them, punching out, knocking them to the ground, stopping them getting past.
She broke a chair, using the legs as paired clubs, flicking out and striking vulnerable points, trying not to do anything too permanent. More of them kept coming, goons and thugs spilling out of side rooms, so many they got in each other’s way. Well, that just made her life easier!
The brawl continued, as Stathis slowly shuffled past her, sword against Janaxia’s throat, a rather sloppily-caught hostage. Knives were better for that! And most hostages didn’t look like they were enjoying quite so much, but, then again, nobles were weird. Stathis was mostly normal, except for the occasional wings and stuff, and getting all weird when asked about it. It was so unfair that she couldn’t give her wings away, when she clearly didn’t want them! And she still hadn’t taken Semari flying!
Semari struck her bracer, lightning streaking through her, vision flicking white for a second. With the burst of strength she jumped forward, landing on the roulette table and hooking the spinning disc with a foot, kicking it up into the air and catching it. The ‘clong!’ it made when she clocked a guard across the face was deeply satisfying, before she spun around and then released it, sending it hurtling just above another cluster of guards, smacking into the wall and distracting them enough for her to charge in.
She’d always wanted to try that, but Kethys had always told her “no” before. Stathis at least was less controlling, although worse at hugging.
Get a move on!
Janaxia’s head-talk thing was weird, but kinda cool. Why couldn’t Semari learn that? Everyone else could do cool stuff. Still, the amount of damage she’d done was fun to see, loads of guards groaning on the floor, several tables reduced to kindling, the staff picking up stray chips and coins when they thought no-one was looking. She grinned at Lady Kamarni, a stray snatch of music coming to mind, “There was an old wizard of menace, who had quite the extraordinary…”
As soon as they were outside, she started running, having experienced this part of a heist before, when they most important thing was to get away, as fast as possible. Even Stathis knew this bit, although the closest thing she had to a treasure was Janaxia, slung over her shoulder and bouncing up and down with every step, costume flapping, magical shimmering the only thing keeping it in place. The expression on her face was curious, the crimson tinge to her cheeks seeming more than entirely justified by being bounced up and down on Stathis’ shoulder.