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An enveloping warmth spilled from the base of the hearth as Zylo's fire came to life. The small studio flickered an ambient light amidst the small arrangement of paintings and sculptures that lined the walls and decorated the table and cabinets. 'These Gawainians sure do love their art...' Zylo snarked to himself as he fed the fire a few logs. He stopped for a moment, taking a look at the great variety that lined the private quarters, all seemingly to be originals, their great detail and form intrigued him. 'I guess I can see why...' the fox reasoned, his head tilted slightly. The atmosphere in the manor when he had arrived was quiet, unlike his venture through town amidst the vast majority of homelessness and potential thievery.
Moments passed, and Zylo had not yet been greeted by his contractor. His mercenary work had extended now beyond Domus and Edwin, to more aristocratic employers. Of course, the pay of his work didn't concern him as much as the destination. He had heard of a great power in gawain, a small rumor of a 'hidden treasure' that gave the user some unmeasurable ability. Or some mixture of those details, all Zylo knew was that he could sense this was tied to the relics somehow.
Zylo's ears perked as he picked up very light pawsteps making their way to the studio. for now he could focus on the task of his employer, then he would find the relic. Zylo fastened his doublet and stood composed, ready to discuss business.
The pawsteps stopped just outside the door. There was a swift knock to which Zylo had no time to reply before the door was abruptly flung open. Standing in the frame was a water buffalo dressed in some of the finest clothes Zylo had seen during his time in the city, though his clothes were just about the only redeeming thing about him. Aside from his obvious lack of manners, the buffalo was a portly fellow who had certainly seen his fair share of meals. His hair was disheveled and a palpable feeling of scorn radiated from his squinted gaze. He surveyed the room from where he stood, his eyes passing from corner to corner until at least he looked at Zylo and in a voice much more high pitched than Zylo had expected exclaimed, “I am the renowned painter Andrea del Verrocchio and you must be the unfortunate creature I was advised to hire! Well, speak up!”
The Sun illuminated the dust floating in the air of Dusk’s studio apartment. Dusk had never really liked the idea of owning his own place, but renting came with the risk that a nosy landlord might discover something he shouldn’t and Dusk was not one for taking risks. It also helped that the studio itself was exactly the kind of place that inspired him. Four windows broke up the wall that overlooked the river and markets two stories below. The view when the sun or moon were brightly shining was breathtaking and the natural light that streamed in made the space feel more alive. In front of one of the windows sat Dusk’s easel, paint supplies, and canvasses. Paintings in various stages of completion lined the walls next to the little work station and a sheet ran along the floor catching stray paint that fell from his brush as he worked. In another part of the studio was a small wood burning stove that had seen some recent use along with a modest kitchen. The “dining room table” was pushed into a corner of the studio and didn’t appear to often serve its intended purpose. Opposite the work station was an Arabian palette with an assortment of silks, rugs, tapestries, and pillows that all meddled together to create a cozy retreat within which to sleep. And protruding from the bedding were the leg and tail of the owner of this Bohemian abode.
As more and more sunlight spilled into the studio it became harder and harder for Dusk to ignore the fact that he should already be awake. He had agreed to critique a series of paintings recently completed by an aspiring artist in the city, but his work the night before had kept him up far later than he expected. It had been a few weeks since Dusk last struck one of his former master’s studios, but it wasn’t because the raccoon had become lazy. Andrea was planning on unveiling an entire collection of paintings tomorrow night and Dusk had needed to create forgeries for each painting in the collection. It had been a more burdensome task than usual, but Dusk had completed the last painting last night and was ready to make his move when the Sun went down. He heaved a deep sigh and mustered the energy to push his covers aside. He stretched his slender, but well-muscled frame and then quickly set about getting ready for his appointment at the gallery. As tired as he was, it was important that he keep up appearances among the art community in the city. He put on one of his more elaborate doublets, through on his boots, grabbed an apple from the kitchen, and made his way out onto the street.
As much as he loved the hustle and bustle of the city, it was considered unseemly for someone of his station to merely walk among the common folk. He hailed a nearby carriage and instructed the driver where to go. As the carriage lurched forward down the cobblestone streets, Dusk closed his eyes and began to wonder if it wasn’t time for him to give up his vendetta. It had been years since he set out on this path and he had so enjoyed watching the way that he plans had so vexed his father and former master, but he had begun to grow tired of this game. But before he could doubt himself further, the carriage came to an abrupt stop and the driver turned to Dusk, “We’ve arrived sir.” Dusk stepped down from the carriage, gave the driver a tip, and made his way into the gallery.
The Paladium Gallery was an ornate structure both inside and out. The façade was heavily marbled and imposing structure with columns supporting the archway that led into the building. One had to pass through a lush garden filled with statues created by various artists in the area before ascending the fifty marble steps. The vaulted ceilings would be enough to make any creature feel small. Elaborate frescoes of religious and historical significance adorned the ceiling and precious metals accented the various architectural features within the gallery. The floors were polished marble that one would feel perfectly comfortable eating off of and, of course, the walls were lined with paintings by artists both old and new. Dusk walked into the hall dedicated to exhibits for new and aspiring artists where he found Ms. Bolyn, the curator of the gallery, and Finnick, the aspiring artist. Dusk mustered a smile as he approached the two.
The Exhibit for new and aspiring artists had been undergoing a recent change in artwork, and as custom there was to be a great viewing in the Evening that the exhibit was finished, the paintings had been covered with black mantles to prevent forgery, as it had become more rampant as of late. Somehow the gallery had grown cold, cold with the unhappy disgust of a particular badger who had been burdened with awful news. Ms. Bolyn, the curator, a rather hefty mouse, stood talking to the young Finnick. The badger was tall and lanky, larger than most, today he looked sunken. Tail stiff, shoulders slumped, fists clenched he could only clench his teeth in response to what the mouse was telling him.
"You must understand, darling. It is for your safety that the gallery can't be opened yet," the mouse tried to console the badger. Finnick stood frozen in his anguish. Ms. Bolyn sighed and quickly perked as she saw Dusk approaching the exhibit. "Ah yes, young master, Alessio. I hope you are faring well today," she greeted warmly. "Andrea wanted to speak with you, I believe he went to meet someone at the old studio, he did not say the urgency of the matter," she informed. Finnick seemed to sink into wardrobe as he stood quietly facing his covered paintings.
Andrea looked at Zylo’s outstretched paw with disdain, a look that only grew more severe as the fox introduced himself in his native language. For several minutes an awkward silence hung in the air like Zylo’s outstretched paw until finally Andrea walked past the fox and took a seat on one of the stools in the room. “Let me be perfectly frank Mr. . . . Zylo, there is a thief lurking about this city and he has hounded me for years! Somehow, this . . . THIS . . . CRETIN has found a way to replicate my glorious works of art, breaks into the galleries where my originals are on display, replaces them with his forgeries, and then makes off the paintings to do who knows what! I have tried putting in place every measure of security conceivable. From having furs stand guard at the gallery to setting sophisticated traps for the fiend to no avail! Every time he evades my efforts to capture him or at least prevent his treachery! I am at my wits end! I will not see my studio fall into further decline at the hands of this rogue! I want him caught! Dead or alive, it doesn’t matter to me. I don’t care what it takes or how much it costs!” The buffalo had grown increasingly more increasingly red in color and appeared to be sweating by the end of his tirade. With his eyes fixed on Zylo he went on, “So mercenary, can you get the job done or not?”
Dusk felt a small twinge of guilt as he looked at Finnick’s distressed expression. Even though he had no intention of running the same game on Finnick that he had on Andrea, all of the city’s artists had become paranoid that any of them could fall prey to the notorious art thief. Dusk cringed as Ms. Bolyn called out his real name. Being referred to by that name reminded him entirely too much of his father, but this was all a part of the face he put on to avoid attracting suspicion to his true work. Dusk smiled back at Ms. Bolyn and politely asked, “How have you been doing my dear Ms. Bolyn?” As he finished the question, he raised the mouse’s hand to his lips and kissed it with a flourish. The mouse blushed and replied, “Oh Alessio! Charming as ever! I’m doing quite well, but I know that you’re here on business and I don’t want to keep you longer than necessary.” Alessio flashed his smile, “Ms. Bolyn, I would never consider time spent in your company a waste.” Ms. Bolyn beamed, “Oh stop it you! Now then, this is the young artist whose paintings you were asked to come critique. Finnick, this is Alessio Vesari.” Finnick, still despondent, offered his limp hand and mustered a, “How do you do?” before returning to his depressed state. Dusk awkwardly shook hands with the badger and replied, “It is a sincere pleasure to meet you Finnick and I look forward to viewing your work.” Ms. Bolyn guided Dusk to the series of easels holding Finnick’s collection and removed the sheets covering each piece. “Well Alessio” she said, “I imagine you’ll head out as soon as you’ve finished assessing young Finnick’s work, so I suppose I’ll say my goodbye now. Try to be nice in your review and do come visit more often. You’re always welcome.” Dusk smiled, “It has been a pleasure as always Ms. Bolyn and I will do my utmost to give Finnick a glowing review.” Dusk gave a sly wink and then set about looking over Finnick’s work.
Dusk had reviewed many collections over the years and had become quite proficient at the task. Within an hour he had taken detailed notes on Finnick’s entire collection and felt he had enough material to write a review before the collection opened to the public. He quickly packed up his things, covered the paintings, and headed back out into the street to catch another carriage. Dusk needed to prepare for tonight. He had never stolen as many paintings in one night as he planned to tonight and such extraordinary tasks required extraordinary preparation. And he would be make sure he was prepared.
'What if its not an outside job?...' he thought for a second
Now he understood why only he could solve this problem. Knowing that his mannerisms would only be met with more scorn, Zylo simply folded his arms and looked the buffalo dead in the eye. "I can do this for you," He stated at first, before the bovine could utter another word he stated again "I will need one thing, to meet all of the artists and critics who have had access to these paintings, some sort of social setting if possible with no sense of interrogation... and in the presence of the art as well," Zylo stopped for a moment, realizing that his plan for catching a thief was beginning to sound quite peculiar. 'It has to be someone close... to close for comfort, but If I tell him that it would probably sound... at least to him... disrespectful of his efforts thus far,' he gathered his own thoughts. Zylo's bushy tail swayed in anticipation. Perhaps his proposition had not fallen on deaf ears.
Andrea stared at Zylo for several long minutes, confusion, frustration, and incredulity written all over his face. He stood up from the chair he had taken in the room and replied, “Very well fox. We will try things your way. I will be hosting an exhibit to unveil my new collection at the Paladium tomorrow night. However, if it is just the art community of the city you wish to meet, I shall arrange a last minute soiree at my studio tonight.” The buffalo looked away for moment and began speaking to himself, “I’ll tell everyone it is a sneak preview of some pieces from the collection . . . I’ll need to cater and staff . . . personal messengers will have to be . . .” Andrea’s gaze returned to Zylo. “Arranging this party will be a great expense to me, so I expect results to come from this or you will regret it fox. Now, I must be off if I am to make this party a reality!” The buffalo left the room much more abruptly than he had entered and offered no salutation to the fox as he hurried on his way.
Dusk’s trip to the market was relatively quick. The list of supplies he needed was a permanent fixture in his mind, having played this game on numerous occasions before. He knew the layout of the Paladium well and had already devised a list of various possible scenarios and appropriate responses to each. Save for a few last minute preparations at his apartment, he was ready. Dusk hailed a carriage and began the trip back home. His leg bounced up and down with nervous energy as the carriage navigated the cobblestone streets. There was an unusual tension in his chest and his paws had broken out in a cold sweat. Despite all of his efforts to calm himself, he couldn’t shake the feeling that something was amiss
With the deal sealed, Zylo was set to make his preparations for his screening process. As he approached the corridor, a certain painting caught his eye.'Racoon?..." It lay scattered on the floor in three pieces, arranged in a puzzle-type fashion. The painting was candid, a picture of a racoon bathing in a stream in the nude. The linework was detailed and fragile, every anatomical stroke was specifically designed for its destination. This was a painting of someone dear, Zylo could tell just by the amount of time spent on it. Why was it ripped, and here in this marvelous studio? Zylo was perplexed, but didn't think much of it just yet. 'It's... rather... nice...' he thought for a second as he picked up the pieces and set them on an easel nearby. The image of the raccoon was engraved in his mind.
Zylo made his way through the crowded streets surrounding the guild to a nearby tavern where he was lodging for the time being. Keeping his ears out for any of color news that could have to do with the relics. As the fox approach the tavern he simply sighed as he saw the rabble that patrolled the establishment. Every fur in the nearby vicinity seemed to want only one thing, a brew or a fight. None of this phased the young fox, however, he knew he could hold his own. 'Can't believe its midday already... I'll find what i can here about the relics then head to the gallery for the party' Zylo thought. he took a seat at the bar, signaling the bartender. The rat behind the counter sneered as he made his way over to Zylo.
"One hot tea, please," Zylo called out.
"Tch," The rat scoffed as he lazily poured a cup and placed it before the fox. "One copper, bo-" the rat began,but before he could finish, Zylo reached into his satchel and pulled out a hefty silver piece. The rat's eyes went wide with greed. "I wasn't done. I also need any information about any...magical treasures you've heard about lately," he explained as he flicked the silver piece off his thumb towards the rat, who bumbled to catch the coin. A quick sip of the tea also added a new product to the mix, "And a lemon too, please," he asked.
The room was small and simple; bed, a small dresser with a pitcher for water and a candle. a small table in the corner with a torn quill and ink set for letters. Zylo swooped underneath his bed and pulled out a large sack that he had brought with him. Shuffling through the assortment of his belongings he found his most fitting leggings, dark leather of course. and his favorite dark purple doublet. He buckled his black boots, placing a hidden dagger within a scabbard on the boot. 'I won't have to use it...hopefully,' he thought to himself. Zylo quickly brushed down his matted fur and fluffed his tail to the fullest. He pulled out a small, square mirror from his satchel. Zylo sighed as he looked into his eyes once again, their golden color made him...uneasy. He didn't like not knowing how he came to be curse with such a feature, but alas a thing you cannot change. 'I best be going... the party will be soon,' he urged as he fastened his black cape over his left shoulder.
The fox gawked in awe at the marvelous marble structure as he slowly approached in his carriage. True architechture, much more advanced and aesthetically pleasing than the repetitive Domish style. Zylo was beginning to really respect the world of the arts, too bad he was only here to do his job.
Zylo had arrived early, so that he could see the progress from start to finish. Every detail had to be taken into account. Zylo recounted all of the various signs he could be looking for in a potential threat as he walked down the halls of the great gallery.
Most furs to host events at the Paladium didn’t bother with decorations and simply allowed the ornate structure to provide all of the ambience. Well-dressed waiters carried trays filled with various delicacies and offered them as they circulated throughout the room.
Dusk was greeted by several people within the art community as he made his way into the crowd and exchanged the usual pleasantries with each one in turn. As he began to look about the room, the raccoon began to notice that the guest list for this soiree was particularly exclusive as he saw no one among those invited who were not somehow involved in the arts.
Eventually, Dusk’s eyes settled on someone he didn’t recognize among the furs gathered. A strapping young fur stood in a corner of the room looking quite intently at the things going on around him. His fur had the color and markings of a fox, but his stature was another matter entirely. Dusk had never seen a fox quite as imposing as this fur and, but for his color, Dusk would have assumed he was a wolf. More than anything else, the mysterious fur’s eyes were what truly distinguished him. They had an unusual golden color to them that made them stand out amongst the sea of orange fur that surrounded them and there was an intensity behind them that Dusk couldn’t ignore.
'Perhaps I should go over and introduce myself," Dusk thought to himself. The raccoon took a step in the stranger’s direction but then shook himself back to reality. ‘Focus!’ He told himself as he once again began to mingle amongst the guests. Now was no time to get distracted.
Only a few paces away, seemingly engaged in conversation with an avian friend, stood a handsome young Racoon. The face was not as familiar as the body, the lethe silhouette matched the perfect contour of the painting he had seen torn in the gallery. This could not be a mere coincidence... Yet, he was enthralled by the odd circumstances. Finally, it hit him. Zylo cocked his hip a little to the side as he locked eyes with the Racoon from a distance. The young coon's eyes gleamed in the dimly lit atmosphere, they seemed to smile as the pair locked eyes momentarily. The fox extended his paw only to signal for the coon with a single wave of his finger. When the racoon turned away Zylo realized that he would have to engage the fellow. He slowly turned to approach the bar near the end of the gallery. 'He seems to know almost everyone!' Zylo thought to himself as he turned and noticed the coon talking to another guest, a large polar bear this time. 'This will hopefully make it easier to narrow the scope of people who would want to steal the paintings' the fox assured himself.
The fox called for two glasses of the finest red wine, and began to slide through the small crowd of furs attempting to find his target. Alcohol was not his strong suit, but he was wiling to envibe if it meant getting some answers. Finally, only a few paces away Zylo decided to advance with drinks in hand. He bowed slightly as he stood before the coon.
"Good evening, may I just say... You are quite the party pleaser, young sir!" Zylo greeted warmly as he flashed a sly smile. "Allow me to introduce myself, I am Zylo Cardonnes. Enterpeneur Extraordinaire,"The fox extended the drink towards the coon, hoping his gesture would be well received.
Dusk listened as the fox introduced himself as Zylo. It was an unusual name and one that gave Dusk no hints as to where the strange fur was from. A small smile formed on Dusk's lips as the fox went on to talk about his profession. "An entrepreneur?" Dusk remarked. "With muscles like those? Not likely."
As the fox concluded his small speech, Dusk took the glass from the fox's outstretched paw. As intriguing as this fur was, Dusk decided that it would be best to offer him the usual pleasantries he extended to most people he ran into at these events. He could not allow himself to waste too much time getting to know this fox, no matter how tempting that prospect might be. Dusk performed a small bow, which was a more polished version of the bow the fox had offered him. "Well Mr. Cardoness, it seems that you are quite well versed on how to ingratiate yourself. You come bearing both gifts and kind words. Almost always a winning combination. It is a pleasure to make your acquaintance, my name is Alessio Vesari and I am an art critic within the city's art community."
Zylo listened contently as the racoon introduced himself. He feigned surprise when he heard the name, as if he had been expecting to meet the coon. Really though, he had only put together a few pieces of information. 'Stick to the plan...this one might have useful information' the fox plotted. Indeed he would have to find some way to earn this critics trust. Judging by the way Alessio eyed Zylo there was one, sure-fire way to get at least some if not all the information. "The pleasure is all mine, Alessio. I have to say, your work here must be such a great task, considering all of the artwork being produced! I have nothing but the utmost respect for what you do," the fox replied, admiring the young Raccoons ambitions. "Now, I know you must hurry to greet the other guests but I would like to extend an invitation to you personally for a drink, perhaps outside of all these formalities? I am quite new to this country and frankly I could use some good company...like myself, ça vā? What do you say?" Zylo asked, his tail swaying softly as he sipped his wine.
Still, Dusk thought to himself, ‘Indulging in this fox’s company would be quite impossible tonight, but it couldn’t hurt to entertain the fur tomorrow night once the job was done . . . ‘ Dusk replied, “You’re too kind. My work would be quite impossible without the creativity and dedication of the artists in this city. They truly deserve all the credit.” “Now then, on the subject of your invitation.” Dusk pulled a card from his doublet and handed it to the fox. “The address on that card is where my studio is located in the city. I’m afraid that I am a bit preoccupied this evening, but I would be more than happy to show you around tomorrow night if that would be agreeable?”
Zylo ordered a tall glass of water and reclined on the bar as he looked out into the crowd. Each guest was still a potential suspect. His endeavor with the Raccoon may simply have gotten him a good chance at a good time, but Zylo could tell there was something more. Usually he could recognize any type of magical affinities, but Alessio was a little different. There was something in the way he looked into one's eyes, a fire. A deep passion, reveling in an overzealous state. For now he would have to wait until his perfect opportunity to find out just what Alessio was all about.
The night grew long as many of the guests fancied their drinking...a little too much. Zylo took the opportunity to eavesdrop, pan out the room for suspicious activity, but found that none of the guests had any kind of malicious intent. There was judgement from every corner of the hall , but none that suggested criminal activity. Zylo was perplexed.
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