Marcus was rather tall. He just barely fit on the wooden palletes and stuffed cushions that passed for a bed. Unlike his more successful brother, he avoided useless tufts of facial hair unless they were glued on for a dramatic role, on the stage or otherwise. Similarly, he kept his brown hair cut rather short, but not so low that he could be mistaken for a newly-shorn criminal. His face, at the moment, was pale, and his hazel eyes glazed with a deepening yellow. His shirt was already peeled away, the ribs of his wiry frame plastered with oily patches of brown paper, almost hiding the stab woulds beneath save for the small dark red blooms spread across them. Wren took the little jar that his uncle gave him and waved it under his aquiline nose.
Marcus shot up in his bed, taking a deep wheezing breath. As he coughed, the girl picked up a dark blue jar and a teaspoon from the nightstand.
"Welcome back, Daddy! Take your medicine!"
"Erm...urgghhh.." He waved the spoon away with a numb hand as he shuddered with each ragged breath, his blood rushing in protest back to his heart and outwards in all directions like liquid fire. He coughed. "No thank you, dear. I'll be fine."
"I thought you were going to give up on knife-and-candle, Daddy?"
He leaned foward and groaned as he stretched out his arms. "My friends and I have been doing it for years, Love! I have to stay in practice!"
"It's rather queer that you call them your friends when they keep killing you!"
"Well, mostly we chase the new recruits these days...teach them some manners..."
"Did you see the boatman. Daddy?"
Marcus froze in mid-stretch. "Yes, Wren. I saw the Boatman."
She bit her lip nervously. "Was he...asking about me again?"
"Just think," he said as slid his ivory queen to the knight's square, palming the other piece, "some day, old man, with enough of my metal hearts, you can actually retire!" He smirked at what should be the face of the featureless shadow. "Checkmate!"
"Mmmm...you were mentioned."
"OH! DADDY! I almost forgot! I think we found a MATCH!"
"A match?" He turned and planted his feet on the bowing floorboards in the cramped room and stumbled forwards a few steps to the opposite wall. Wren turned his head to listen, smiling as he fell against the wardrobe and sank to his knees. "Are you sure, Wren?"
"Yes! Just watch!" Wren opened one of the closet doors and rummaged through the pile on the bottom. She covered her hand with a motheaten scarf as a precaution before pulling away the charcoal tattered silks retreived from the Forgotten Quarter.
In her veil of darkness, the stack of bottled souls, in three neat rows of eight against the backboard, shone clearly to her in blue clouds (or was it green? Those names stopped having meaning for her) more vibrant than anything she ever seen when her living heart was beating. She watched the essenses inside squirm and sigh. Meanwhile, she heard Marcus the scrape of wood against wood as he pulled open the drawer beneath the cabinet.
Marcus leafed through a handful of parchments, crowded with row after row of red ink scrawled in the finest and most arcane handwriting. Weighted at the end of each page were smears of impure red and black wax upon which were imprinted seals of the most obscene configurations, forever imprisoning oily ribbons of loathsome hues between the layers. He held up one document and held it close to the souls, as if giving them the opportunity to read.
The inhabitants of the glowing bottles did nothing but continue to stir in their gloom, save for one.
"That's the one!" shouted Wren as she pointed. "I put that paper on top! It's that one! See? He's pointing!"
Indeed, it thrashed about in its glass prison so forcefully that the bottle shook, but not enough to risk tipping over the translucent chambers of the other unfortunates around it.
Marcus put the other contracts away and pulled a green candlestick from the table. He blinked and squinted as he skimmed over unholy stipulatons and contingencies.
"Alright...his name is Anthony Griffiths...lived...lives? It's a year old...in Veilgarden...owner of establishment...a steakhouse? Oh yes, I remember! Tried to compete with the Long Spoon. Place went downhill quickly. Poor bastard must have been trying to save his business!"
After a brief silence, he put the candle stick back on the table and rolled up the parchment. He pulled his pocketwatch from his trousers, flipping it open to glance at the time. "Get me the frock coat, will you sweetie? We're going out for supper!'
Anthony's Steaks had a fading sort of lavishness. The curtains were a bit dusty. In fact the creases on the immaculate but faded tablecloth where Marcus and his daughter sat clung so tightly to the corners that it may have been laying there unused for a year. That is until Marcus spilled his glass of mushroom wine across it, leaving a stain resembling a gray ghost.
"No worries Mister Mason!" Bellowed Mr. Griffiths as he waddled out from the swinging double-doors. He wore a freshly bloodied apron over a white uniform two sizes larger than he had once been. His cheeks burned the deepest red from being forced to smile again, revealing yellow crooked teeth. "I'll get you a bottle from the top shelf!" He placed his tray on the table and presented them with the platters.
"A porterhouse medium rare for special friend! And a filet cut small for the pretty lady! With real potatoes and white asparagus!"
The steam rose from the plates, and that smell along with savory odors that escaped from the kitchen caused a stir in the street outside. Urchins and gentlemen alike pressed their faces to the newly-polished glass, leaving imprints of grime and saliva behind as Marcus taught Wren how to raise a glass to toast.