Prologue: Caveat Emptor, Scene II (Daphne)

A few moments later, the door to the apartment opened, and Daphne heard footsteps. More than one person, though impossible to say how many more. Then she heard a low whistle as whoever it was surveyed the destruction of Thomas and Megan Pike's apartment.

"...daaaaaamn..." Daphne heard someone say. It was a masculine voice, calm and self-assured, with a
Roll Wits+Intelligence to identify the accent
light accent of some kind.. " here first..."

"...what?" A second voice added. This was a much quieter man, but his voice was deeper, and there was a gravelly rumble to it. "...start...look..."

"At least...have the kid." The first speaker said. The two voices were moving deeper into the apartment, and Daphne could hear them closing the door. "...if they found him, they wouldn't still be looking."

"How... distract?" The rumbling voice said.

"****-me if I know." The accented voice said. Daphne could hear the sorting of papers inside, the accented speaker's voice moving throughout the apartment, sometimes closer, sometimes farther. "I bamboozled her good, but..."

"So we're on a schedule." The rumbling voice said. "Great."

Daphne peered over the lip of the windowsill and shoved her head back down within a second. It was difficult to hear, and not just because one of them was Italian...

Maybe Pike's wife got him in trouble? They tricked her?

She eyed the book. Rumpelstiltskin.

"Megan, you silly arse," she whispered to herself. I wonder what you bargained your first-born away for?

Daphne pet the book again, her attention shifting and focusing on only the pages within. "I promise to take care of you. I'll keep you away from the light and the water forever, if only you'll tell me what you've seen."

For just a moment, Daphne caught a glimpse of a dark-haired figure in the living room, an unkempt figure with dark, darting eyes and black hair and a strong jaw, covered in stubble. He wore a long coat of some kind, neatly pressed, and an old-style hat was askew on his head. Off in the distance, framed in the doorway, was the second figure, something darker still, and hairy, and most certainly not human.

A picture is worth a thousand words, so they say. But Rumpelstiltskin had only words to give, thousands upon thousands of them, and they marshalled in neat rows and orderly files, to answer Daphne's questions and give her their aid.

Books do not see, but this book knew its buyer. Large hands, men's hands, that cradled and caressed the book and held onto it as though to life itself. Hands that had plucked the book from its second-hand store, brought it out into the world to tell its stories. It was a book of tales, faerie stories of the Brothers Grimm and older still, stories as they were once told in fireside and darkness.

Those large hands had opened the book, and every page had been turned, every word had been read. But
Rumpelstiltskin was the story that interested those large hands, the one story which was read not once, not twice, but a dozen times over. And those hands took notes. Neat, orderly lists, written in pencil. Lists of names. Lee, Chen, Chang, Wu, Chao, Sun...

Not written all at once, but slowly, crescendoing over the course of the month. Then near the end of the month, only to begin again in increasing fervour as the month progressed. This had happened in December, culminating on the 27th, and in January, on the 25th, and finally in February, the most desperate lists, names written and rewritten in the hundreds, on the 24th. Three days ago.

The men inside had fallen quiet, but Daphne could hear them moving. They turned things over, rifled through papers, conducted the search with all the skill and nervous energy of people who were indeed on a schedule, which was pressing close.

"Found something, Pietro." The rumbling voice said suddenly. "Divorce..."

"....married?" The Italian-accented voice said, then chuckled. "Poor idiot."

"...anymore." The rumbling voice said, dry. He sighed, a basso exhalation of breath, like the sound of some rumbling animal. For a moment, Daphne could hear everything. "Wish the Russkie told us more. Damn you, Pike, where are you and where's the kid."

Daphne didn't understand the names. Not yet.

"Thank you."

Another quick inspection of the two thugs, and then she lay in wait for them to leave.

But they didn't know Pike was dead. That meant more than one party was involved...Daphne interrupted herself. What did it have to do with her, then? There she was, cramped under a window on a fire escape, a promise already given.

Too late. Have to see it through. You never know, things can jump back at you from out of nowhere. This could be her preemptive strike.

For a time longer, the two men searched the apartment thoroughly, exchanging grunts of information as one or the other found something of brief interest. But it was to no avail. Palpably, Thomas Pike was not in his apartment. Equally palpably, neither was Josh Pike. And nor were there any helpful clues as to where they had gone (understandable given that Thomas Pike was presently dead).

"" The rumbling voice asked.

"Worth a shot." Pietro said. "I'll call the Russkie and tell him what we found."

And with that, they left.


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