In the end, it was the presence of the murdersmith that ended the war. He appeared at the peace talks, an austere figure in a razorblade suit and helmet made of bone and polished steel.
None of the parties involved would admit to inviting him there and no one had the balls to go up and ask the murdersmith himself. The delegates avoided him, discreetly, while their various security attaches watched the creature, calculating escape routes and uttering silent prayers to any friendly higher powers that were listening that shit would not go down.
The murdersmith drifted. He circled the room, on the periphery, a flute of expensive champagne in a black-gloved hand. When the dancing started, he made his way out to the balcony, where he stood with his back to the room, the light from the two moons glinting off his helmet. The delegates waltzed, trying to forget that he was there.
“I can’t decide. Are you the life or the death of the party?”
The murdersmith turned toward a corner of the balcony, draped in thick shadows. A woman stepped out of the darkness. Her long, ash blonde hair, hung down her back and she wore a gown composed of sleek, chitinous scales.
“Neither,” said the murdersmith. “I’m just crashing.”
A pale eyebrow rose. “Really? How gauche. I’d heard your kind had better manners.”
He shrugged and turned back to the moons. She came up beside him, standing so close she could smell him; he smelt like dust and ammonia and sex.
“So why are you crashing the party?” she asked. “You know you’re freaking the fuck out of everyone in there.”
She shrugged and her chitinous gown shifted; he realized it was a sort of swarm-thing, alive and symbiotic, clinging to her bare skin. Such things were out of fashion and mildly scandalous.
“Death doesn’t frighten me,” she said. “I’m dying.”
He just nodded. She liked that he didn’t offer fake sympathy or ask what was killing her.
“Are you saved?”
“No,” she said. “This is me. All of me. When I die, that’s it.”
“I find that elegant,” said the murdersmith. “Neat.”
“Thank you. I think.” She turned, leaned against the balcony. The light from the open doors washed over her face. The music had changed from a stately waltz to something quick and skirling.
“What dreadful music.”
The mudersmith put down his champagne. “Would you like to dance?”
She sighed. “I thought you’d never ask.”
He whirled her around the balcony, surprisingly light on his feet. She laughed and her laughter drew the attention of one of the delegate’s wives. The woman watched the murdersmith dance with the woman in the swarm-dress and pointed them out to her husband. Her husband was high up in one of the delegations and, as he whirled his wife across the dance floor, he stared at the couple on the balcony.
He recognized the woman immediately; she was a member of one of the mercantile corporations that supplied arms to both sides in the conflict. The fact that she was dancing with the mudersmith, fearless and smiling, caused a terrible suspicion to form in the delegate’s mind.
Abandoning his wife, the man rushed to find the head of his delegation, the Duchess of Xu. He shared his suspicion with her, that the mercantile corporations were going to hire the murdersmiths to keep the war going.
“It makes sense,” admitted the Duchess. “The corporations are the only ones benefitting from the damned war.”
“What should we do?” asked the man.
The Duchess pursed bone-white lips and looked across the ball room, toward her opposite number, the Prince of Something-or-Other.
“What no one expects us to do,” said the Duchess.
She gathered the folds of her gown, a confection of black cloud-silk studded with luminous diamonds, and headed across the floor toward the Prince. The Prince, seeing the Duchess approach, decided to meet her halfway across the dance floor. He asked her to dance, she accepted and, as they spiraled around the ball room, speaking softly to one another, a practical peace emerged.
The murdersmith and the dying woman did not notice or care. They danced, slowly, on the moonwashed balcony, until the wee hours of the morning and then parted company, never to see each other again.