The liquid had tasted bitter, like the last dregs of an ale barrel that had passed its time a week before. Still, Corthos marveled at the effect as he passed over the rooftops unnoticed, heading for the Lion. It had not taken much more than the letter and the fact that Lena had told him she handed it to Charmaine for Corthos to put two and two together. Now, he intended to pay a brief visit to the Whore Queen herself, and he had spent time making certain that he could do so easily. Lisbeth had moved into Merry’s previous room, at least according to his information, which had eliminated one route of entry. However, the potions of invisibility provided his with another route – he downed one to get in, and planned to use one to get out. He dropped down into the street, following some John into the Lion calmly. Moving after the man, he slid past the silken curtains calmly and took his time walking up to Charmaine’s office. Entering the room, he leaned against the wall behind the door and waited. It took some time for her to come back, and he waited until she had shut the door and sat down at her desk before he made his move. Dropping the facade, he stood between her and the door. “Madame Charmaine. I believe we need to have a conversation.”
Charmaine paused, the pen falling from her fingers as she looked at Corthos. The color drained from her face as she felt her breath catch, and she took a sharp intake of breath. Her mouth opened and closed without a real noise coming from it as Corthos grinned at her. “Why so silent, my dear Madame?” She moved away from her desk, reaching for a small alarm bell that Corthos knew was attached to her desk. He moved rapidly, grabbing her by the wrist and spinning her away from the desk, pressing her to the wall. “Were you afraid that I had left your company for good?” For a very brief moment, images of violence flashed through Corthos’ mind – a dozen ways to solve the Charmaine issue once and for all raced through in a moment, and he felt his free hand move towards his rapier. Trying to quiet his own thoughts, he let her wrist go and glared at her. “Sit.” He gestured at a chair away from the desk, and Charmaine nodded quickly before sitting and glaring over at him. Corthos leaned himself against the desk, crossing his arms. “We have a few things that we need to talk about, Madame.” Charmaine spoke quickly. “I already sold you her contract. There is nothing else to do with her here. I don’t know anything about her life once she leaves the Lion – it’s not my business. And, arguably, it’s not yours either, Master Mondragon.”
Corthos took in a deep breath. “The day that her contract was paid, I sent a letter. I sent it with one of my most trusted allies, and she stated that she had handed the letter to you personally. What happened to that letter?” Charmained smiled thinly before replying, trying to regain her control. “Corthos, I have no idea what you are talking about. Your girl came here to deliver the money alongside your other goon. They handed me the bag of gold, and I handed the contract. That was the sum of our exchanges. If something seems amiss, perhaps you should talk to them.” Corthos stared her down, then laughed. “You are surprisingly poor at this for someone with as malleable of a moral code as you have. When you need to create a story, your eyes glance up and left. I am not a man with the patience to be lied to. Let me put it you another way. I’m going to ask the question again, and I want the honest answer, or I will ruin whatever is left of my good name destroying this place in every fashion that I can. What happened to the letter, Charmaine?” Corthos’ glare hinted at an anger that was just barely being held back. Charmaine sighed and gestured to the fireplace with a glare. “It’s ashes, Corthos. I didn’t open it, I didn’t read it, I didn’t care. Whatever you said in there would have only hurt Merrigold more, and no matter what you think of me, I try to protect my girls. Don’t you think they have had enough misery before they come to me? She’s happier without whatever reminders of her former life you planned to give her.” Corthos bit his tongue. “Perhaps you are right. I doubt it, but perhaps.” He looked down for a moment before his next question.
“The day that I came, she was clearly already distraught. What did you tell her before I arrived?” Charmaine raised an eyebrow, a faint smile reasserting itself. “I told her of your insistence in asking about her contract even after I clearly stated my desire to not discuss it. I told her that you brought your rough-looking friend along to our first meeting and pressured and intimidated me into taking a deal that was less than the full debt that was owed. I told her you acquired fourteen thousand and five hundred gold in a weeks time, delivering a portion of it here while drenched in blood. Was any of that a lie? I told her the truth, Corthos. I thought at least one of us should.”
Corthos saw red for a moment, turning and clearing her desk with one arm before turning back to Charmaine, a very different look in his eyes. He spoke in tone that was low, fast, and commanding. “Listen to me and listen closely, you vulture. You cannot sit here and claim that you tried to tell truths when your entire business has been built on deceit and lies. There is no hiding place for people like you – the stink of your own malevolence will always signal you out to whatever creature waits to take the putrid essence that you call your soul. Now, unless you decide to answer me with more respect, I will personally send you directly to whatever that fate may be. I am not a man to be trifled with, Charmaine. I am not here to play silly little games with the Whore Queen.” He kicked a few of her baubles aside from the floor where they had wound up, his bootheel crushing a small glass swan that Melodia had given her for her assistance. Charmaine watched it shatter apart with a faint twinge of sadness, but was afraid to turn her gaze away from what was appearing to be an obviously unhinged man in her office.
He spoke again. “Answer me clearly. What lies did you tell her about me?” Charmaine debated lying, but one look at his eyes advised her not to. She felt her eyes going wide as she spoke, the color drained from her face after his last outburst. Her voice came out shaking and stammering. “I- I- I told her that you wanted to buy her. Lisbeth told her, really. It was her idea to say that you just wanted her as a house girl. I told her I could secure her a job outside, and we began to try and pack for her to leave the Lion. Then you had to show up and ruin the moment with your…conversation.” She looked down, sighing and closing her eyes as she finally spoke the truth. “She works in Villegre, making dresses for noblewomen. She’s using an assumed name now – girls like us, we aren’t welcome in proper society. There is no way for us to simply return to the lives we had before. If you approach her, you – not me, but you – will endanger her livelihood. But…” She sighed again. “I suppose you will do what you will. Caution has never been something you’ve been fond of.” By the time she finished her sentence and looked up, Corthos had drank his second potion. She glanced around the room, hurried and panicking as she leapt for her panic button. The security guard came running, and in the moment of confusion, Corthos slid out the door and downstairs. Soon enough he was on his way, long gone even as Charmaine attempted to convince her staff that she was feeling well and had not been hallucinating.
Once he reached the Villegre, he stopped and rested on a rooftop. He had thought that knowing the answers would have made him feel better, but he had found that the knowledge changed nothing of his current situation. With a heavy sigh, he laid back to look up at the stars. At least he knew a little more now.