Raulin leaned near the door marked “Do not enter” next to stage right. The musicians, sparkies, and several other workers shuffled past him and he nodded when they glanced his way, hoping he looked like just another masked man among so many others. After about ten minutes, a young man in a feathered black mask came out from the back and saw him, then froze. An apprentice, Raulin thought. Raulin gestured for him to come over, but the man refused. He had to finally go over to him and hold out his hand, waiting until the man finally held out his own and took the two silver Raulin gave him. “My name is Raulin Kemor. Let Kazithu know I’m here.”
“Sir?” he asked, sounding confused.
“Kazithu? That was him playing Darkness, yes? He’s an old friend of mine. I’d like to say ‘hello’ if he’s available.”
“You want me to go get him?”
“Or allow me back stage.”
“No one’s allowed back stage,” he said quickly.
“I know, but sometimes exceptions are made.”
“No. The Master said no one goes back stage.”
Raulin sighed. “Okay, just tell Kazi I’m here and that’s all you’ll need to do.”
He looked confused, looked down at the coins, then went through the door. Raulin leaned next to the door again, prepared to wait the remainder of the half-hour if necessary. It was about five minutes later when the masked man came back and summoned him inside.
The door opened to a large corridor just behind the stage with several doors leading to it. It was lit by screened panels that let in light from above. Raulin was led past the stage down a left-hand hallway, and just outside a door. The young man knocked and he heard, “Come in”.
“Hello again, Kazi,” Raulin said as he stood in the doorway.
“Ah, my adoring public awaits.” His accent was far different than the smooth, even tone he had used on stage. In his natural, deep voice, he forced the harder consonants out with the back of his tongue, giving it a guttural sound, though not as much as someone speaking Merakian did.
“Do they? Should I move out of the way or will they just mow me over?”
Kazithu turned from getting undressed and greeted Raulin with a big grin and open arms. “Glad to see you again, though I hope I didn’t just seal my fate.”
“Not my style and I wouldn’t accept a contract against you or any creveir. You’re too valuable to the world.”
“As opposed to all those rich people you kill? They’re good for something.”
“Exactly.” He shut the door and continued carefully peeling himself out of his costume, which he informed Raulin was worth almost 150 gold. “Not something I want to rip.”
“Me, neither, which is why I haven’t offered to help.”
“Well, I’m not the right gender, if I remember your stories correctly.”
Raulin bowed in response.
Kazi threw on a robe after his shirt was off and finished undressing before tying back his long, coiled hair. He used a wet cloth to remove the dark makeup that had accentuated his thin eyebrows to something thicker and sharper. His pancake makeup stained the cloth almost black, even though it was lighter than his natural skin color. As he inspected his face in the mirror, he gestured for Raulin to sit in his hammock on the other side of the room.
“I really enjoyed your play. I haven’t seen that one before.”
Kazi touched his fingertips to his chest and bowed. “One of my children and also one of my favorites. I wrote it to meddle a little with people and it seems to have worked out well.”
“As Lore-master, I can’t select or coach members, but I can help pave roads, so to speak. The man playing Light, Ewanth, needed a character to give him a little nudge to audition for a major role. So, I made one that was something more to his tastes. No elaborate monologues, a little bit of theatrics, but most of the time spent out of the lights. He tried out and the Cast-master liked him the best.
“Kenri and Malasa, the two lovers, had been making eyes at each other for over a year, but never taking that next step. I saw them rehearse some dance choreography once and knew I had to throw in a little scene for two lovers in my play.” He puffed out his chest. “They just announced that they’re expecting their first child in the winter.”
“Well done,” he said with a polite little clap. “You’re quite the matchmaker.”
“Perhaps, but I did get a little something out of it. I love roles where I get to bask in the attention, but I don’t have to do much work. I love this role. Too bad it’s almost done.”
“You’re not doing the same play for your full run?”
“Definitely not. The house was well-attended, for it being almost the end of our two week run with it, but it wasn’t packed. We only have two more nights until we switch to the next one. Feel free to stop by for a ticket.”
“Thank you, but I’m busy with several contracts.”
He sucked in his teeth. “No killing of our patrons, I hope? The king sponsored us to come over and that would be quite messy, since we’re paid at the end of each run.”
“No, no,” Raulin said, making a placating gesture. “Trirecs never kill kings. It’s too destabilizing. Look at what happened in Arvonne; hardly any contracts where everyone is poor.”
“Good point. Gosh, I miss touring through there. Pretty country, nice people. Anyway, I assume this isn’t just a social call.”
“It is, but it can also be a business call.”
“I don’t suppose you have what I’m looking for? Some of these plays are turning stale and I need some fresh material. Especially since we’ve had to do twelve here in Gheny.”
“Actually, I might be able to help. Are you looking for elvish lore?”
“Elvish? Well, definitely not for Gheny, but for Noh Amair, certainly. You know someone who’s an elf?”
“I know someone who is half-elven, though she was raised in an elvish village ’til she was ten.”
“I think that will do. Anything else?”
“An Amandorlam-trained wizard?”
“Hmm,” he said, stroking his chin. “I doubt I’ll get much.”
“He’s very smart; graduated valedictorian in seven years.”
“I’ll give it a shot. Anyone else?”
“Mmm, I don’t know,” he said, drawing out the surprise. “How does a grivven sound?”
Kazithu’s thin eyebrows shot up. “A real grivven? You know a real grivven?”
“He was sitting in your audience about fifteen minutes ago.”
“No!” he yelled, laughing. “Go get him before he vanishes in a puff of smoke!”
Raulin laughed. “There’s no fear of that; I’m his guard and he won’t be leaving the city until we all do.”
“What’s the story there?”
“Publicly, I’m the guard of Mr. And Mrs. Auslen and their ledgerer, who deal in antiques. Privately…let’s just be dramatic and say the gods are manipulating things and leave it at that.”
Kazi gave a dramatic sigh. “Please promise me that in the future, some day, you’ll tell me that story.”
“No promises, but likely.”
“All right. So, three interviews…”
“I need to be fair and ask, but likely, three interviews.”
“…and what does the greatest trirec to ever live want in return?”
He pulled out his notebook and flipped several pages in to the contracts in New Wextif. Raulin didn’t need to say anything to Kazi; he knew that his friend understood the rules and the stakes and trusted him almost to the same degree he trusted Telbarisk. “I have a runaway, possibly a kidnapping, of a young noble man. Family name is Kiinvar, boy’s name is Fietro. Has a birthmark in the shape of a fish on his left forearm, hazel eyes, brown hair.”
Kazi shook his head. “Sorry, I can’t help you there.”
“Something to keep in mind. I need any information you have on West Schoolinghouse Incorporated, any bribes or known embezzlements, and anything on the Cumber.”
“The Cumber! Are you breaking into the Cumber?”
“That is highly confidential information, but that is the plan.”
Kazithu couldn’t hide the surprise on his face. “I’ve never heard of anyone taking even a pebble from the Cumber. That is a serious vanity case; if you can break into the Cumber, you can do anything.”
“The price was right,” was all he said. He actually hadn’t chosen it to prove he was the best; he couldn’t care less about his professional reputation, so long as it didn’t effect his work. No, the price had honestly been right at a cut of one thousand gold, his highest contract to date. It would be nice to have a few more orange beads added to his pouch, but he also relished the thought of something challenging and virtually harmless taking up a chunk of his time.
“Well, I’ve only heard rumors. It’s in the sewers, it’s in Shingden, it’s in the sewers of Shingden. I’ll discreetly see if I can find anything concrete for you.”
“Thank you. My last seems the most likely you can help with. I need access to the home of Theyon Akistle. He’s an aristocrat, so he might take interest in patronizing the arts.”
Kazi snorted. “He does more than that. I recognize that name; he’s had a few creveir parties since we got here in March. He’s not picky about his characters, so long is there’s one interested young lady to pay extra, if you know what I mean.”
“I didn’t think the rumors were true.”
“Most of the time, no. We entertain at parties, not prostitute. However, so long as it’s covert, we turn a blind eye if one of the apprentices or extras wants to make a little side money. They have to approve it with the Soiree-master on set at the party, and it has to be very hushed. We do not want our circus to be tarnished by a cheap reputation or else we won’t get sponsored by kings.”
“But it does happen. And in this case it’s likely enticing Akistle to host more parties.”
“Does he have anything lined up?”
Kazi narrowed his eyes in thought. “Not that I know of. As a principle player in this two week run, I haven’t had to chaperon parties. But, I’m just an extra in the next run, so I get back on the roster. If that name pops up again, I’ll be in touch.”
“Excellent. I’ll be back with the interviewees on Saturday, if that’s all right.”
“That’s even better. I’ll still be off the roster and I can rest a little that night. Just, skip the kid and grab a gaffer instead. He’s new and he still doesn’t understand how things work.”
“Will do,” he said before leaving.