The clatter of a horse's hooves from a passing carriage caught his attention. In his short stay in this city of dark alleys, bustling brothels and black-hearted factories, nothing has dismayed him more than the clamor of such transports. He thought they lacked finesse and subtlety – qualities born of him, qualities he took pride in. Which is why the mission he carried appealed to him despite the losses it might, and have already incurred.
The smudges of nimbus across the sky rumbled and the wind, as if on cue, heightened its might. He drew his coat closer, letting loose a shiver at the unsettling weather, as he raced against the inevitable downpour.
"Tie it will ya!" a man he just passed said after being whipped in the face by a loose strand of his coal-tinted river of a hair, animated by a breath of gushing air.
"Pardon, monsieur," came his voice, deep but melodious as he swept his hair back with one hand and laid it beside his neck in a single motion. He then tucked the wayward growth under the breast of his coat.
"Ah, here you are..." he whispered.
He pushed through the wooden door and found himself in a dimly lit house of intoxicating mists and strong-scented concoctions. He found the atmosphere stimulating yet soothing to his senses. Music from the minstrels at a corner of the room ensnared him in their sultry rhythm. It was a solace from the world outside.
From the mezzanine above stood a lady, leaning on the balustrade with a rather bored look on her face. She took a drag from her cigarette as she regarded the newcomer.
Feeling her stare, he turned in her direction and met her gaze. The lighting though, only gave him a preview of her slender form and the fiery crimson of her head.
"Sir," a male voice said as he felt a tap on his shoulders. "If you would be kind as to follow me..."
He nodded, sparing the man a tiny fracture of his attention before directing his gaze back to the lady. He watched as she blew a line a smoke, further obscuring his view of her, and complementing the mystery that shrouded her. Peeling his eyes off her, he followed the man, while quite aware of the stares tracking his ascent to the balcony she was perched on. He was led to a booth at the farthest corner of the upper floor. He surveyed the area but found no trace of the lady.
"Sit," the man said and left abruptly.
Only when he felt the comfort of the cushioned chair did he notice a figure before him veiled by the shadows. He adjusted the lapel of his seersucker coat and tamed his slightly disheveled hair.
"I wish an audience with the Toymaker," he said to the figure.
"Everybody does..." it said in a distinctly male voice.
"I have traveled far, monsieur," he said, his tone weary and almost begging.
"On what purpose?"
"I carry a plea."
"I speak only with the Toymaker.
" The figure laughed. "I am the Toymaker."
"Pardon monsieur but I am no one's fool," he said, not minding the delay despite the urgency of his mission.
"You dare lay your insults before me? You are on thin ice, good sir.