03: the moonlight cellar

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The two girls stood at the entrance of the Moonlight Cellar. In Clover's hand was an umbrella that stretched out wide to shield them from the rain's furious downpour. The hem of Marnie's borrowed dress was about two or three inches too long for her frame and dragged through the building puddles at their feet. Despite the length, it fit well enough and clung to her waist, but this too was concealed by her new favorite, stolen coat.

The almost black shades that rested on the bridge of Clover's nose were like two holes substituting her bright eyes. As the daughter of the most fashionable woman of the empire, she certainly didn't disappoint. Jewels decorated each edge and curve of her body with a gown sewn with fabrics that were worth more than Marnie could comprehend.

Marnie's eyes were painted with gold shadow that glimmered in the light and her lips were painted into a dark red bow. Her reflection had been an interesting sight to see, forcing her to glance at the mirror twice to confirm that the girl who stared back at her was indeed herself.

She held out a hand and watched the rain hit her palm. The water was cool and matched the chill inducing air. There was no sign of it letting up.

"Doesn't look like much, does it?" Clover let the question hang in the air.

"You sure we're in the right place?"

Clover pulled out the paper she had gotten from the senator to check the address again. "That's what it says."

There was only a single door in front of them. They descended the stairs that led to it and took one last look around. Marnie's head just barely peeked out, the tip of her round nose almost touching the cobbled street. The alley was empty and much too quiet for her liking. She liked noise. The silence made her uncomfortable.

The door was made of black steel and was at the bottom of the left side of a rather unassuming building. Even the building itself was easy to miss. There were no signs, no windows and it was placed right between two apartments like a worn out book on a dusty shelf. Marnie never would have guessed that the largest gambling den in Hemlix was hiding in plain sight. It was genius.

Clover raised her hand and knocked on the door. It was only a few moments before a latch was slid open to reveal the eyes of a man. One was a striking blue and the other was grayed from the loss of sight. They switched between the two girls.

"I've never seen your faces," he said.

"We're guests of the senator," said Clover. She held up the ring the senator was known to wear, the family crest imprinted with gold. The man squinted his eyes and took a closer look at the roar of the lion and the sharp teeth it bared. All citizens of Astorsa would know the sigil that belonged to the senator.

Frank Krol didn't appear to be much. He had slanted shoulders, thick brows, and a coarse beard that was grown to hide his soft lined jaw. Clover had known him well as her mother crafted many of his wife's ball gowns throughout her life. His voice was high and scratchy and held a love for telling poor jokes at the expense of others. But there was much more to him than his appearance.

Clover told Marnie of the rumors that circled around the elite and many of those stories had stemmed from his unfortunate gambling habits. He frequented the Moonlight Cellar and had a reputation for having the most pitiful losing streak. It wasn't his piss poor luck that others whispered about, however. It was the violent outbursts that happened afterward.

There had been a night he beat a man half to death over a comment on his suspected adultery with one of his maids.

Thankfully for the girls, Krol was terrified of his wife and even more horrified at the thought of her finding out about this affair. Blackmail couldn't be easier.

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