“Guards! Toss them out!” bellows de Evore, the Olympian Ambassador.
“That’s not necessary,” Nicodemo counters, “This is not your party.”
de Evore, as it turns out, is just as happy calling Guillermo a dastard, a cad, a despoiler, and a lump of excrement to be scraped off his boot. Antoinette busies herself protesting her innocence in the whole affair, and Guillermo defends himself against the storm of words as best he can.
Amadeus and Eduardo draw up, not quite certain who to side with, and it’s from all the delightful commotion that Marcello’s attention is drawn.
“Amadeus,” he grits through his teeth, slighting Eduardo through refusing to recognise him.
“Lord Marcello,” Amadeus greets him back.
Meanwhile, James enters the party. He does not do so through the front door. He has instead throttled a servant into unconsciousness, and dragged him into a storeroom to strip his clothes for a disguise. The only problem: he’s not the only one who has this idea.
The four bruisers in the storeroom work for Mario Rossi. That Mario Rossi. Yes, the criminal, Mario Rossi. James tries to pass it off. His nod says, hey, I’m doing my thing, you’re doing your thing, we can all get along. Mario Rossi’s men pause to consider that. One of them cracks his knuckles, and that says, with all due respect, we’re doing our thing.
Marcello and Amadeus talk pleasantries a bit, Marcello expressing amusement at Guillermo’s situation, until the rage bubbling under his politeness bursts forth in outright insult against Eduardo.
Eduardo attempts to defend himself, with Amadeus’ help, which only seems to make Marcello angrier. A butler comes to stand next to Marcello with a cushion draped with a little cover and a lump underneath it.
“This is all a misunderstanding, my lord,” says Eduardo soothingly.
Marcello reaches a hand for the covered item on the cushion, and suddenly Guillermo knows what it is: it’s a loaded pistol. “Misunderstand this,” he tells Eduardo, and levels the pistol at him.
James gets his licks in, and they get theirs in. It’s when each side is reaching for knives that James calls a halt: “I just want to talk to Mario,” he says.
“Really,” Edmundo says.
“Really,” James says.
“So you let me up, and he’ll let you up, and then maybe we can make that happen.”
Ten minutes later he’s with Mario, negotiating to help him with his job in exchange for Mario owing him.
“And what’s the job?”
Mario grins, which isn’t pretty in the slightest. “You’ll see. You’ll like it, if you’re on the out with the ponces.”
“You can believe I am that,” growls James.
“Then we don’t have a problem.”
James looks at Mario, wondering if he can push it. “We don’t have a problem,” he says, deciding not to.
“No!” Guillermo yells, and leaps forward.
There’s this moment when the mouth of the pistol points straight at his eye. In that moment everything seems frozen except for Marcello’s finger tightening on the trigger as the inky depths of the barrel promise lead to Guillermo.
But when the bang goes off the bullet hits marble pillar instead, and Guillermo breaths a shaky sigh of relief. Then the anger comes flooding, and he’s hitting Marcello with the back of his glove, “I,” thwap, “challenge,” thwap, “you,” thwap, “to a duel,” thwap, “sir!”
“Yes,” comes a voice from the mezzanine floor above the three below, “how diverting! A duel!” It’s the Duchess.
James holds the little metal clawed thing in his hand. It’s oily, and doesn’t … well, it doesn’t feel right. It feels like it wants to move.
“Shut up,” he tells the noble lord and lady he’s standing over on the bed. They’re half-dressed, and aren’t going to do a thing with James looming over them. The man — whoever he is — is shivering on the edge of tears, and the woman is telling him to do something.
Prove myself on board, James thinks to himself. One little piece of metal, how bad can it be? And it’s for Rossi.
“I’ll pay you to let me go,” quavers the lordling, and that decides James.
“Yeah, right,” and he grinds the little piece of metal into the man’s forehead.
“Now works for me,” says the Duchess, her tone screaming for all to hear: I am close to becoming bored.
Eduardo demurs on the behalf of Guillermo, as politely as he can. “The morrow would work better, Your Grace…”
The battle over timing for the duel between Marcello and Guillermo is interrupted by Amadeus: he’s the only one not watching the scrap. The punchbowl is throwing out tendrils of sickly mist, and something is rubbing his senses raw.
On a hunch Amadeus throws over the table, and there’s all the trappings of a sacrificial ritual laid out underneath it: candles, floor markings, skulls, victim and priestess straddling him with her knife.
The words she was incanting are broken, and there’s a pause as the gathered drunken nobility goggle at her. There is no entry for this in Livio’s Words On The Palace. She throws her knife to slow Amadeus down and bolts for it; Amadeus throws the punchbowl. The lump of crystal is as large as an ironbound chest, and as heavy. It breaks her back, and she dies on the spot.
James creeps out of his hiding place in the Palace. The alert has long since died down, and he knows his brother and his cousins have long gone. What nobles the Duke and Duchess vouched for have stayed on for more drinking.
Mario Rossi seemed to regard the interrupted ritual as the end of their plan and a signal to loot as many small valuables as they could carry.
“Best of luck,” Mario had said, clapping James on the shoulder.
“What was that thing going to do?” James had asked.
“Ask me no secrets,” Mario had warned.
Now you’re mine, Marcello, James thinks as he slips disguised through the tail end of the party.