Ars Gohetia (Lapseus)
The Serpent’s Den
“How many times must I ask you to keep your little pups in line Antonio.” The high-pitched sardonic soprano sang out. Melodia’s cold gaze lingered, unblinking, and set unshakable upon the tanned forest eyed tower of a man. The noble’s nostrils flared as she huffed, her eyes lazily coming to a close as she turned back to the man’s desk.
“Ya’ can’t expect me t’ do this by myself, boss. The other families cannibalizing now that th’ war has set off. Not t’ mention we lost about a hunned good men when we set off for th’ border.” Antonio Ascanio muttered back, his tone reserved into a hush as the small pale girl happily occupied his throne. His brown hair fell just past his eyes, and stuck along the brow as beads of sweat began to trickle down.
“None of those men and women were of your blood— by my name, I recall you actually requested I send some of Paolo’s forces. [We are too busy fortifying the coast. You wouldn’t want to lose your precious marine research facility, would you boss?] or am I misremembering in my old age?” Melodia’s toxic tone amplified just a bit. If her prior statement was the knife’s lunge, this would be the twist of steel in Antonio’s stomach. A smile spread across her face and pinned itself at each of her ears, squinted eyes remained upon the don as her hands clasped together to support Melodia’s chin.
“Right, so whada ya’ want me t’ do, boss?” Antonio’s low grumble stirred in his throat, the flattened frown pressed tightly as teeth clamped down on his tongue behind the lips.
“Spinone, is he still here in the city?” Melodia asked, still beaming her Cheshire smile.
“You keep my fuckin’ son out of your games, monster.” Antonio broke from his calm, the truth finally showing in his expression as his brown knitted and his teeth flashed out. Like an angry dog backed into a corner.
“My-my-my, you’ve always been the quickest to bite amongst the pack.. Watch your tongue, don’t forget what happened to the snake who used to sit in this chair. The Maggiatore crest remains carved onto this chair for a reason, and I’ve a fondness for Spinone and Gregio. They’re far more loyal than you are— but which of them will take tour seat when you die I wonder?” The noblewoman’s expression softened, a genuine sadness seeming to overtake the cruel mask she wore. Upturned corners of her lips dropped into a deep frown as she looked upon Antonio and dipped her head.
“Do you doubt me, Antonio? The one who helped you climb the mountain of corpses that landed you here. The one who paved the streets outside your estate. The one who defended you when the Bardo sought to relinquish your family’s claim. Where would you be— where would your wife be?”
The mention of Phoebe extinguished the flames of anger in the man as images of his dying wife comes to mind. His chest swells as oxygen is drawn in and broad shoulders sink as he slowly exhales the embers of resistance. He was completely indebted to Melodia, and as much as he knew that sending his son out on this mission would put him in danger.. what else could he do?
“Spinone has been bartending at Wise Guy’s for some time now, he actually intends t’ distance himself from th’ families. But— you know how that one is. Not a patriot, not a soldier, but he is loyal to ya’ because of what you did for his mother.”
“Unlike you, he knows the merit in settling debts. But, he is aware that if he separates from the families he loses financial support from the house?”
“He intends ta’ travel. With the war starting, he figured now is the best time to see the world for what it truly is.”
“I am mistaken then. Spinone may be talented, but he is a fool.”
Antonio paced towards the desk where Melodia sat. His breathing slowed into a sigh and he leaned forward to rest his elbows on the smooth oaken surface of the desk. “He takes after, which is why I’m worried about whatever it is ya’ have in store for ‘em.”
“He is an asset to Lapseus, and I don’t let those go to waste so easily— now I have other matters to attend to. See to it that he meets with Minora.”
“Aight, but ‘f anything happens to him!”
“If anything we’re to happen to him. I’ll—“ Melodia pauses to contemplate her offer. Her hands unclasp and fall to the surface of the desk as she pressed herself up and off the large wooden chair behind it. The ghostly girl steps away, the clack of her small boots against the floorboards matching the rhythm of her hum as she dwelled on that thought.
“What is a son’s life worth? Of course, you could have the head of my Chief Executioner.. but that would only remedy the pain in short term.” Her advance brought her around Antonio’s back, and there she stopped only to lean a bit closer to the towering man.
“Ovid’s Library, and claim to the red orchid on the territory surrounding it. A loss for Lapseus, and a gain for your family itself— is that enough?”
Antonio busts out into laughter, but does not turn to regard Melodia behind him. Instead he cackles with his green eyes aimed straight onto the serpent symbol etched on the large wooden chair before him. “With an offer like that, I’m sure he’ll be safe. He’ll meet your lab rat by sundown tomorrow, wolf’s honor.”
Melodia spins on the toes of her boots and stomps off towards the door without a word as she takes her leave.
A few days later…
“We need to move quickly, their patrols head dockside at sunrise. How many canisters do we have left?” A husky northern man with long bronze hair falling past his shoulders barked out. He was a sailor of some sort with the smell of the ocean cling to every inch of him. His hands were marred from shop work and his brown and silver beard was messy.
“Yes cap’n.” A unanimous answer roared back from the men and women operating the [Nightchaser].
The ship was a trade vessel typically intended to carry goods to the other northern territories. And on this night it would display much the same, or at least it would be perceived that way. The strongmen of the crew hoisted large metallic barrels with a blue line of paint striped across their tops. They were mixed with the typical wooden crates and plastic wrapped pallets that sat out in the open for onlookers to see.
“Captain Wily..” A gruff female’s voice shouted out.
Wily turned on his waterlogged boots to face his first mate. The woman was a goliath standing a good foot taller than the grizzled captain. Scars decorated her face, split her browsed and an especially gruesome one bisected through her nose and down her top lip. At her side was an ornate tuck with a polished violet gem sitting decoratively in the pommel. She was a former soldier, and a seasoned one at that.
“Gerdy, welcome back to Widow. What’re the orders from the house?” The captain asked.
“We’re expecting three more imports before we set off. One of the twins spiders, a scientist, and a member of one of the families.” The first mate responded back, standing at attention the moment she reached Wily’s side.
“By the tits of a siren, WE HAVE A JOB TO DO! Faaaaa! Are we taking them across the border?” Wily’s anger flared up and burned out within a few moments.
“We’re to set them off before our mission sets off, they’ll be equipped with diving gear. They will only be out responsibility for a short while, captain.” Gerdy chimed back, her smile was warm but strained— the muted happiness one might expect from someone like her.
“Right then, when will they get here?” The captain sighed out.
“They’re already here, someone will bring them down to the wharf once we have finished loading the cargo.” Gerdy replied with a cackle.