drezda's home 🙫 uptown vienda
during the afternoon of the 18th of intas, 2719
Damnably early for an eighth. He understood the reasoning behind it – wouldn’t’ve had it any other way – but he didn’t have to like it.
Some days were worse than others. Much as he’d known last night that the agreed-upon time was earlier in the day, he hadn’t been able to keep away from the whiskey; everything that’d happened in the past two weeks had left his thoughts racing faster than he could parse them, and he reckoned not even the Circle could begrudge him getting a little help slowing them down.
That afternoon, he’d awoken late. It’d taken him a half an hour of groggy, dizzy searching – fumbling around in the study in his nightshirt, cursing when he banged his head on the desk looking in the compartments underneath it – to realize he’d depleted Anatole’s stock of liquor upstairs. He knew there was more elsewhere, but there wasn’t time; his meeting with the diplomat was barking and biting at his heels, and he was liable to be late as it was. The bell-clear, nervous chatter of his thoughts had started up, along with that icepick driving at the base of his skull. He didn’t want to call on Ecks without anything to fortify him, but he didn’t have much of a choice.
He’d spent the past few days in a haze, but that morning, he felt physically present. Unfamiliarity clung at his every movement. It was cold, and his hip hurt every time he put weight on it. He tried to shake off the feeling as he cleaned up, but when he met Anatole’s grey eyes in the mirror, he felt as if he were coming unraveled. Putting the razor down on the edge of the washstand, he studied the tired galdor’s face.
He drummed his fingers on the marble. “Why the hell did I agree to this?” he asked, but the Incumbent looked just as bewildered as Tom felt.
With a little help, he’d reconstituted the wreck of that morning into the shape of a respectable official. It was a well-combed, clean-shaven and sharply-dressed Incumbent Vauquelin that stood swaddled in his coat outside the diplomat’s house, shivering and bouncing on his heels. When a human servant let him in and took his coat, voice low and manner respectful, he thanked the whole clocking Circle he wasn’t late; he knew he wasn’t a minute too soon, either, but Tom reckoned sufficient was good enough. The diplomat wasn’t down yet, at least.
As he stood there in the foyer, he clasped his hands tightly behind his back, figuring it’d keep him from fiddling with his watch-chain or wringing his hands. He tried to keep a bland, aloof expression on his face.
The human servant was like a dozen others he’d met Uptown since Achtus; it still bothered him, looking up at somebody who wouldn’t meet your eye, but he’d gotten used to it by now. Her tired face, her thin, worn frame and her calloused hands, were fever-dream-clear through the hammering at the base of his skull. There were a handful of things he could’ve said, but he didn’t say any of them. By now, he knew better than to start small-talk. He found himself wondering absent-mindedly how old the woman was – not as old as Anatole, he thought, but more grey threaded through her hair than his. She looked worn, tired.
His hands had once been calloused, too. He pursed his lips, shutting his eyes momentarily.
He could’ve sighed in relief when the young passive came in, but he quickly realized that the two servants’ relationship was turbulent at best. He was praising Hulali’s waters when she suggested something a little stronger than tea. He’d opened his mouth to reply when a fourth voice cut smoothly across the silence.
The voice drew his eyes over and up the stairs.
The phosphor lights caught in the ripple of blue gauze, glistened in the little flowers that pinned up her hair. He watched her fingertips trace the bannister for a moment, feeling unsettled, though he couldn’t say why. He met her dark eyes and noticed the subtle blue smudge – all blue, all matching. As she descended off the last step, balanced admirably in those perilous heels, he realized he was looking up at her by just a hair.
This wasn’t, he thought, the Drezda he’d stumbled around in the cold with last month.
He bowed deeply; when he came up, he was smiling Anatole’s tepid smile. He took a step forward, the frazzled edges of his field passing into range of hers. The perceptive mona seemed to warm at his approach; the gesture all at once put him strangely at ease and disturbed him.
“No need to apologize, Ms. Ecks,” he replied evenly, glance flicking over to watch the passive scurry off. The mention of paper had put him on edge, but he did his best not to let on. “You’re looking very well this afternoon.”
He kept his hands clasped behind his back as he followed her into the parlor, inwardly wrangling with his irritation. What right had she to speak for him? Maybe she was right, though; dancing around her questions would be complicated enough sober. As he took a seat in one of the armchairs, he took a deep breath, trying to ease his nerves. His eyes wandered over to where the passive was tending to the fire, distracted momentarily by the warm glow.
Anatole, she was saying, somewhere in the blur of words, Anatole? Anatole— He blinked, tearing his eyes away from the hearth. Swallowing thickly, he crossed his legs and smoothed a wrinkle in his trousers. Ain’t my name. Ain’t my fuckin’ name.
“Of course. Anatole’s fine, yes. Shall I call you Drezda, then?” He knit his fingers over his knee and kept that tepid smile on his face, studying his host from afar. One eyelid gave the barest little flutter. “The new year’s – well, it’s treating me, eh? Good or bad, I can’t say. How have you been? Vienda's gearing up for rainy season, and I suspect both of us’ll be busy enough then.”
His eyes flicked over to the paper on the table, then back to Drezda’s face. That’s exactly what I think you’re going to do, as a matter of fact, he thought.
“I’ll do you the courtesy of being honest with you, as I have in the past.” His smile faltered. “I don’t know how much use this will be to you. I can’t tell you anything about what I was doing prior to the incident; I can’t even tell you what the incident was. I’ll be as honest as I can, but, ah – I’m afraid I’m in the dark.”