“Forgive my deception,” the man said, in a smooth voice. “I told your butler that I was Schussel, and he was my companion. I did not want you to worry unnecessarily about the well-being of your friend.”
“I would hardly call this man a friend,” Markus said, snappily. ”I merely have him under contract.” He had been a noble his whole life; his tutors had taught him well in the ways of nobility, and it would take more than a simple surprising twist of circumstance to rattle his nerve. Sighing lightly at the imposition, Markus made his way to the small drinking cabinet next to the pistols.
“Can I offer you anything?” he asked, politely. “I’m afraid I don’t have much beer left, but I suppose I could stand to part with some port, if you were interested.”
A thin sliver of metal, no thicker than a folded sheet of paper, flew past Markus’s throat, and buried itself into the wood next to the Port bottle. Slowly and carefully, Markus turned about. The man hadn’t moved.
“Please step back from the pistols,” his smile flickered like a leaf in the wind. “I am not quite a fool, and I know you aren’t one either.”
Markus nodded slowly, and raised his hands in a passive gesture of submission. He carefully strode to a large chair next to the fireplace, and settled himself in it.
“I suppose you won’t tell me who you work for? Malvanya, perhaps?”
“I’m afraid not,” the man shook his head.
“Or who told your employer about the expedition?” Another shake of the head. Schussel looked ready to faint. “Please let that man sit down,” Markus drawled, gesturing towards the large couch that faced the fireplace, blocking one half of the room. “I would hate for him to break something if you should drop him.”
The room held its breath for a few moments before the man, with a sneer, shoved Schussel onto the couch without even glancing in his direction. He stared at Markus, his eyes sharp as ice. Markus steepled his fingers as he sank backwards into his chair.
“You know why I’m here,” the man said, his hands flexing near his belt. “The expedition you funded found the Clockwork Spider, and now it’s mine. If you want it, you will have to pay a hefty price.”
“Hundreds, I should think,” Markus muttered, his brow furrowing.
“Thousands,” the man countered as his hands slipped behind his back. “Or I will take it to my employer as promised, and the treasure you value so highly will slip from your hands like sand in the wind.”
“A lovely double cross,” Markus nodded, after a pause. “I can only presume that you will then fade into the mists of Cliffside, never to be seen by me nor by your employer ever again?”
“Just so,” the man cocked an eyebrow.
“How mysterious,” Markus smiled, rubbing his mouth with his hand. “Especially since you appear to have aped your conversation from the words of ‘The Harlequin Affair.’ Just re-printed this last week, I believe.”
The man flinched.