It was several seconds before I managed to get my thoughts together enough to respond. “What are you doing here?” I said, somewhat coarsely. “I thought you wanted nothing to do with Aseoto.”
Black just shrugged. “What can I say,” she said. “A friend of a friend sent me a message, and I just couldn’t resist the opportunity.”
“Sit down, Silf,” Livia interjected, gesturing at one of the few open chairs at the table. “And close the door.”
I obeyed, feeling a bit numb as I settled into the chair. It was more comfortable than it looked, but I barely noticed; I was too fixated on trying to figure out what was happening. What would bring this group of people together? And what on earth was Black doing here when there was a bounty on her head that made the one on mine look minor?
“I’m sure you have a lot of questions,” Livia said. “They’ll be answered in due time, but first I have to make something clear. Whether you choose to be a part of what we’re planning or not, I need you to swear that you will say nothing of what you see or hear inside these walls to anyone but myself and Black. I cannot overstate the importance of this – or the consequences if you fail to abide by that agreement. Do you understand?”
I nodded. “I swear,” I said, my voice tight. It wasn’t something I did lightly – I took my word seriously. But I had to know what was going on here, and I could tell that she wasn’t going to budge on this.
A bit of tension seemed to run out of the room as I said it, as though everyone had released half a breath. They were still holding the other half, though, and it wasn’t hard to see why. An oath was nothing but empty breath if it was spoken by someone who didn’t care, and they had no way of knowing whether I did or not.
“Excellent,” Livia said. “Oh, and so you know, this isn’t how we would normally go about this, but several of us are already familiar with you. Black, in particular, vouched that even if you don’t wish to participate in our plans, you won’t betray us.”
I glanced at her and then nodded my understanding. I had no idea why Black would have vouched for me on the basis of the handful of days we’d spent together, but I was willing to wait and see.
“Excellent,” Miles repeated. “Now, as you might imagine, we’re gathered here for a reason. Specifically, we’re here to discuss whether our fair city mightn’t be a little bit fairer were it not for a certain and rather prominent member of it’s government.”
I stared at him for a long moment before it clicked. Then I stared a moment longer as I tried to grasp what it was he was saying.
“You’re talking about assassinating the emperor,” I said, my voice sounding shocked even to myself.
“Assassination is such an ugly word,” he said, his tone mocking. “We prefer removal.” He didn’t, however, tell me that I was wrong.
“It’s a better fit for what we need, anyway,” one of the noble-looking women said. “It doesn’t really matter whether he’s dead or just removed from office. What matters is that he not be in a position of power or authority.”
“So you say,” one of the ones I had pegged as a criminal growled back. “Personally I’d rather see him dead after just in case….”
“We’ve been over this before,” Miles interrupted, inserting himself smoothly into the exchange. “No need to drag our girl here into that business, now, is there?”
The criminal looked at him with a combative glint in his eye for a moment, then relented. I spoke up in the ensuing silence, having finally recovered my wits enough to string words together. “Why tell me?”
“Well, my dear, it just so happens that we could use someone of your skillset if you were so inclined as to assist in our little venture,” Miles replied.
“Not as an assassin,” Black interjected, perhaps guessing where my mind was going. “We have people to do that. What we need is information.”
I snorted. “What do I know?”
“It’s what you’re in a position to learn that we’re interested in,” Livia said. “You see, we have relatively few contacts among the upper nobility, and they aren’t particularly prominently placed. And it’s not as though they can ask all that many questions without it seeming rather suspicious. You, on the other hand, are well placed to transition from being a dancer into also being an escort and private entertainer to the nobility. There’s a long tradition of such people being used as spies in Akitsuro, and for good reason – people tend to overlook them. It’s very easy for a person in that position to pick up all sorts of tidbits.”
“Not to mention that it’s lower risk than the actual assassination,” Black said. “I’d prefer not to expose you to more danger than necessary.”
“Oh, don’t let her fool you,” Miles said, his tone remarkably casual for someone talking about getting caught committing high treason. “If the imperial inquisition catches us, we’ll all die together. And in such creative ways, too.”
Black rolled her eyes, but what she said was, “He’s not wrong. I won’t tell you this isn’t risky, and I’d prefer you not to have any part in it. But you’re an adult, and I knew you’d want to at least have the option after what the legions have done to you in the past.”
I thought for a long moment. Then I pulled out a chair and sat down. “Tell me what you need,” I said.