Sheng took another sip of his hot sake, as the person he had invited to join him finally arrived and slipped into the other seat.

“Apologies, guild business cropped up.”

“Doesn’t it always,” Sheng signalled the waiter and bade him bring another another bottle of the sake. It was ridiculously busy tonight, but he didn’t have to wait long, and he tipped the waiter for his consideration.

“So, you said you’ve made progress?”

“Look behind me, over at the plaza,” Sheng had chosen this spot on the balcony very carefully, so that his back was to the crowd, but the table had a very good vantage point over the celebration below, “Young man, in the bright blue, towards the centre of the dance circle.”

Zhu peered over the edge, without appearing to move, “Short hair?”

“That’s the one. I believe that is number Four.”

He gave another critical eye, whilst sipping at the rice wine, “I’ll never get used to how young they can get.”

“He’s not the youngest.”

Zhu passed him a glance, “No?”

“No. Girl in green, the rather short cheongsam. Should be near to the boy.”

Sheng could see him casting his eyes around, widening slightly when they found her, “That is a particularly short skirt.”

“Delightful, isn’t it? I am rather certain that she is also a member of the twelve, currently the youngest. Seven, if my investigations are correct.”

“Do you know how young?”

“Second year.”

“Of her third cycle?” Zhu passed a hand across his short beard, “That is young. Speciality?”

“Poisoner, with a delightful backstory of incomplete oiran training.”

Zhu raised an eyebrow at him.

“I’m still finding out all the details, but I have one detail that makes her particularly interesting to, well, I would say us, but it is more important to me personally, although I am hoping you will see the opportunities it presents.”

“And this detail would be?”

“Romantic involvement with my cousin.”

He leaned on the railing of the balcony, looking down at the crowd below, presumably focusing in on one particular person, “Now that could be an intriguing possibility.”

“If I could confirm it, it would be.”

“You called me out for a rumour?”

“I would call it a strong possibility. You asked to be kept abreast of my little project, so I am informing you of progress. Besides, I thought that you might be glad for an hours escape from the confines of the guild? Relax, drink, I’ll pick up the tab.”

He didn’t look entirely pleased, but he did lean back in his chair and take a lingering sip of the sake. The sounds of the celebration were drifting up from the crowd below, and there was bubbling conversation from the tavern behind them. Zhu seemed to relax as he got further down the bottle, and Sheng was calling for more when Zhu frowned and leaned forward.

“Something wrong?”

He nodded down to the crowd, “Talk of a mogwai, and it shall appear.”

Sheng couldn’t help himself, he turned around and looked at the crowd.

“On the edge, by the stalls, dark red tunic.”

“I see him,” Sheng’s eye were fixed on his cousin, who was leaning against a wall, half in and out of the shadows, watching the centre of the celebration. The continued to be fixed on him as he moved, disappearing between building, only to reappear a street over, making for the large pond that was a feature of the town.

Sheng frowned as he ducked beneath the bridge that spanned the pond, and stopped. It didn’t last long, and a smile broke over his face as he saw his cousin reach out and take the girl’s hand, drawing her in close and wrapping an arm around her back.

“I believe you have your proof.” Zhu said.

Sheng tried to control his smile, but it was hard to contain as he watched his cousin lean down and kiss her. Two lovers meeting in the privacy of the shadows, or so they thought.

He turned back to the table, and raised his bottle, “To plans slowly coming together.”

Zhu tapped his bottle against Sheng’s, and they both drank deeply.

“I need to get back to the guild, coming?”

“No, I think I want to enjoy the festivities a little more.”

Leaving the empty bottle on the table, Zhu got up, making his way out of the tavern, as Sheng moved seats, taking the one that allowed him to look out over the town, including the two people he was most interested in, under the shadow of the bridge.

He still had one arm wrapped around her, but the other one was handing her a box, wrapped with red ribbon. It might be more serious that he thought, his cousin had never been one for gifts before.

From this distance he couldn’t see what it was, but when she raised her hands to her hair, and then shook it out, he surmised it was some sort of hair ornament. She seemed pleased with it, they were kissing again.

Sheng continued to watch as they spent several more minutes with each other, before she turned to leave. He leant against the frame supporting the bridge, and watched her as she walked away.

Taking the bottle off his table, Sheng raised it once again, to the man below, “To your downfall, cousin.”

 

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