When the city guards were gone, the two black robed people distanced themselves from the statues again. They didn't seem bothered at all that the guards might have noticed them or come back to look again.
Instead, the phantom continued with their former topic. Secretly, his hand sneaked into his coat pocket, his tone somber. "You really know them?"
The shadow sighed deeply. "You can say that. But our relationship is not the best, so keep that dagger for someone else please."
At first, the phantom froze, then a short barking sound that might be a laugh echoed over the plaza. "As expected. Well, good for you. In a direct fight I might have won. I would loathe killing you before leaving you in the dust, however. Master."
The shadow shook his head. "Don't call me that. I only showed you a few tricks as a kid. Neither our worldview nor morals are the same."
The other bowed overly deep, his wide grin unseen behind the hood. "As you wish, master."
"Now you are humoring me. We both know you would kill me without regret as soon as you surpassed me." Another sigh. At least he knew he would die with dignity in this persons hands.
After pondering for a second, the shadow added: "If you are really thankful though, you can promise me one thing: however much they offer you - and it might be more than money can pay - you won't work with this organization."
When he heard this request, the phantom didn't answer lightly but instead fell into thought. More than money could pay, how precious would this thing be? There were two things he had dedicated his life to: money and killing. Giving up on something more precious than money before he even knew what it was... But on the other hand he hated to be in someone's debt and however much the other played it down, he had done him a huge favor back then. If not for him, would he be who he was today? It took him a while to from his decision.
Then he nodded slowly. "Alright."
"Thank you." A strange, weighty silence followed the shadows words, until both men started to feel awkward. With a cough, the shadow changed the subject. "Would any of your acquaintances know more about the situation? Preferably someone that isn't under one of the big fishes already."
"Some. But with the second criteria, there's only one left.", the phantom grinned, before going into detail. "Ask for the River Lady in 24th Winding street. Some of her girls have also vanished. Greet her from me, or else she might not say a word. She loves her secrets."
"Alright, I will." The River Lady. He'd heard of her, but every word was of a ruthless and dangerous beauty. Laying traps and breaking hearts wherever she went to squeeze out even the last drop of gold. Then she left, making two of her former lovers commit suicide. He didn't expect her to care for her girls. Maybe rumors were still rumors in the end.
"Nothing for now. Contact me if you stumble over anything that got to do with it. The old method."
With a short nod from both sides, they left in opposite directions, vanishing in the darkness.
Katherine was full of vigor early in the morning. Humming lightly to herself, she walked down the floor with a tray in hand. Just because her and lady Brandon were meeting later, she didn't want to miss the chance to irritate the earl a bit more. She wondered what he would do this time to prevent a shared meal.
"Halt", the palace guards positioned in front of the earl's chambers unexpectedly stopped her by crossing their lances. Wait - palace guards? Weren't the guards supposed to be only outside the buildings?
Now that she remembered it, there were palace guards standing in front of the earl's chambers the last time, too. She just didn't think about it because she was so used to the earl's personal guards inside the mansion. They would also stand in front of the study. However, when they entered the innermost ring, only a handful of people had been allowed to move in with her and Nathaniel. Those were one personal servant and one guard each: Sam, Hazel, Pete, and someone called Dorian.
Sadly, Jack had been appointed as temporary leader of the guards by the earl, assigned to bring everyone else to the earl's house in the second ring and be on standby for any accidents arriving. Katherine didn't know what reason there was to have the guards and servants stay behind when the earl and her would clearly be in the palace for quite some time. And regardless of what might happen, the guards would not be allowed to enter here. Strangely, Jack didn't seem to be upset about such a boring task.
So, her guard just now was Pete, while the earl had this Dorian, who was one of the guards substituting for Pete and Jack back when they got hurt if she remembered correctly. Dorian was nowhere to be seen, but what were the palace guards doing in here watching his door like he was a prisoner? Even preventing her from going in, how audacious!
Staring first at the crossed lances before her then at the grim faces of the guards, Katherine arrogantly raised her chin. "What right do you have to stop me from visiting my betrothed?"
"Milady, his lordship is still asleep." One of the guards told her seriously.
Katherine raised her brows. Was this his new trick? If yes, it wasn't enough to stop her. She knew the earl wouldn't be asleep now, even if it was early in the morning for everyone else. She couldn't even picture him asleep. "And?"
"His lordship told us to let nobody enter."
"Well, I am his betrothed.", she stressed, portraying an annoyed look. "Surely, you don't think this order also expands to me? I'm normally not an early bird but I especially wanted to surprise him with breakfast today. Now this surprise will get ruined because of the both of you."
The guards looked at each other, creases forming on their foreheads, but they didn't retract their lances. Their mood was solemn and formal when the replied: "An order is an order, milady."
"Really now! Do I look like someone this dangerous to you? I just want to bring him his breakfast..." Katherine tried her best to look pitiful, like a wronged little girl. To see the earl, she would even resort to being shameless. Clutching the tray tighter, she looked down on it with a sad expression. "Look, even his favorite fried eggs are turning cold. I... I wanted to see him just this once... You know he got always so much to do and I thought we could at least have breakfast together before he needs to leave again."
Glancing at them out of the corner of her eyes, she saw them hesitating, their grip on their lances loosening. Nearly done! Blinking against fake tears, she bit her lower lip lightly. "If... if you just let me through, I promise, I won't wake him! I will quietly wait by his side until he wakes up himself. So, just this once... please?"