Adelric Biermann didn’t want to do this.
That was the thought that ran through his head as he sat in the carriage, on his way to the Imperial Opera House. While Klara stared out the window, watching the world pass by with her signature slightly bored expression, resting her hand on her chin, Adelric stared down at the knife he had been ordered to use. A dagger, with a damascus steel blade and leather-wrapped handle. The perfect length to strap to his forearm, out of sight and out of mind. Looking at it made his stomach twist into knots.
I can’t do this, he thought to himself as he stared. I can’t do this; I can’t do this-
“Not gettin’ cold feet, is ya?”
Adelric looked up. Klara was looking at him, an eyebrow raised.
He tried not to squirm under her gaze. He hated that look she had, the one that made it feel like she was looking directly into your soul, seeing all the bad you’d done. Or were about to do.
“O-of course not,” Adelric stuttered. “I’m just… nervous, is all.”
Klara didn’t believe him: her eyes narrowed, suspicious. She didn’t say anything, at first. As if she were waiting for him to make the right decision and confess.
“That’s good,” she said flatly. “Cause y’ know what I’d haf t’do t’ya if ya did.”
He saw it in his mind’s eye when she said that: two men in a theater box, laying in a pool of their own blood. One of them was a fat lord. The other was him. Klara stood over both of them, the dagger in her hand, blood splattered all over her white ballgown, all up her white gloves. Not a hint of remorse on the infamous Bruiser’s face.
“...I still don’t understand why you can’t be the one to do this, anyway,” Adelric said.
Klara scoffed, looking out the window. “You ain’t makin’ Bator money; that’s why. ’Less you wanna visit from someone like me in the middle of the night. Don’t want that, do ya?”
Adelric shook his head.
“Good. Now: be a good boy n’ strap up: we’s almost there.”
This is the last time I do this, Adelric thought to himself. I’ll starve before I fall behind with Bator’s payments, again!
It wasn’t long afterwards that the carriage turned a corner onto Metternich Street, one of the grandest thoroughfares in Königstadt.
Adelric couldn’t help but stare out the window in wide-eyed amazement.
He’d been on Metternich Street a thousand times, but never at night. And never on an opening night for an opera. The streetlights seemed to turn the world gold, made the silk clothes of the fabulously wealthy people who walked the street glow. The restaurants and shops that lined the street were filled to the brim with people enjoying themselves before the opera started. The women wore dresses in every color imaginable: white, red, orange, blue, green, yellow. He even saw violet dresses. Carriages lined the streets, pulled by immaculately manicured horses. Horses that he knew for a fact lived in more comfort than he did. He even saw a few motorcars, driven by men in sharp, dark green suits.
And at the end of it all stood the Imperial Opera House. At the head of Operplatz Circus, at the northernmost point of Metternich Street, the building stood in all of its splendor. The white stone was awash in yellow light, the golden statues of angels that sat atop each corner glowing. Even from the other end of the street, he could see the ornate pillars, the steps leading up to the front doors, the archways. People dressed in clothes worth more than everything he owned made their way out of carriages, walked up the steps to enter the building. The Imperial Opera House was the crown jewel of the city. Some said its extravagance was only matched by the Keiserpalast.
That was hard for him to believe: he could hardly wrap his mind around the fact that a building as grand as the Imperial Opera House existed. Let alone, that the Emperor of Vorbereich lived in a house that was even bigger. Bigger, and richer.
Klara didn’t seem to share his wonder: instead, she stared out the window, glaring at the people on the streets. Her arms crossed over her chest, fingers drumming on her forearms.
“What’s your name?” Klara asked after a few minutes of tense silence.
It took Adelric a second to realize that she was talking about aliases for the night. “…Emil Montparnasse. A minor lord from Rochereau.”
“And who am I?” She turned to him, giving him the look, again.
He blanked for a few seconds. “…M-my wife, Charlotte Montparnasse.”
An eyebrow raise: that answer was wrong. “Nobility don’t take their husband’s names when they get married.”
Adelric winced. Right. “Charlotte Denfert.”
“And what are two young nobles doing out on the town in a foreign country, tonight?”
“H-honeymooning. My father has a summer home, here, and we wanted to catch an opera at the Imperial.”
Klara sighed, looking back out the window. She seemed disappointed. “You’d best let me do the talkin’, tonight: you’ll blow our damned cover if you say anything to anyone.”
Adelric looked down at his hands, embarrassed. “S-sorry: I’m not used to… this.”
Klara snorted. “Clearly.”
The carriage rolled to a stop in front of the opera house. Adelric went to grab the door handle-
Only to have Klara smack his hand away.
He recoiled. “What-?”
“You stupid or somethin’?” Klara demanded. “Nobles don’t open their own damned doors!”
Adelric shrank into himself. He was going to get them killed. “Sorry.”
“Don’t apologize: just do your goddamned-”
The door opened. The change in Klara’s demeanor was instant: her posture went from slouched to perfect, the expression on her face changing from angry to starstruck.
Elisha, the elderly man acting as their chauffeur, offered his hand. “My lord, my lady: the Imperial Opera House.”
Klara took his hand, and Elisha helped her out of the carriage. “Oh my stars! Have you seen anything so beautiful, before?”
Adelric shook off the whiplash from the change in Klara and took Elisha’s outstretched hand. Elisha helped him out of the carriage. Don’t act impressed, Adelric thought to himself as he examined the building hailed world over as an architectural marvel in all its splendor. Noblemen aren’t impressed by anything.
“…I thought it’d be bigger,” Adelric said as he took a step away from the carriage. “It doesn’t seem much bigger than the Palais Lafayette.”
“I’m told that the size of the theater seems impossible once you are inside, my lord,” Elisha said as he closed the door. “What time am I to be back to collect you?”
Klara spoke up before Adelric could. “I think being here a little before the curtain call would be sufficient. So, if it’s 6:30, now… perhaps 8:30? Does that sound right, dearest?”
Adelric nodded. “8:30, Mr. Cohen.”
Elisha gave a low bow. It took every ounce of self control Adelric had to not act as uncomfortable as he felt. “Very good, my lord.”
Elisha climbed back onto the carriage to leave.
Klara took Adelric by the arm. He found himself stiffening at the feel of brass and gears rather than flesh and bone that lay underneath her right glove. Brass and gears that pressed the knife under his sleeve deeper into his skin.
She gave him a starry-eyed look. “Let’s go, my love: I want to get settled into our box before the show starts!”
Adelric managed a smile as he looked down at Klara. That same mental image as before flashed before his eyes as he looked down at her doe-eyed face: her standing over his and his mark’s respective bodies. Blood soaking the creamy white dress and gloves. Not a hint of remorse on her face. No matter what, he couldn’t forget the cold, hard truth: Klara wouldn’t think twice about killing him if he showed any hesitation about his mission, that night. And she certainly wouldn’t lose any sleep over it.
Despite the loving looks, the glamorous clothes, he was a prisoner of Fekete Halal, and she was his jailer.
“Of course, my dear,” Adelric finally said.
The two of them walked up the stairs and into the bright, rich world of Vorbereich’s upper crust.
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