Merchant Lane bustles with life, the alleys and lanes backing it a maze of supply entrances, warehouse yards, shop gardens, private residences, stores in their own right, a maze of narrow gaps between buldings, dead-ends, blank building walls and dark corners, all of it nearly as busy as the main thoroughfare itself.
Tucked away amid these side-streets, nestled between a small curio store and a cloth warehouse, is an unobtrusive wooden doorway, formed of dark, stained wood and lacquered black stone. This nondescript doorway, which almost seems to slide off the eye as one looks from the curio shop to the warehouse, is the main entrance to the front which covers the Dojo of the Red Ribbon Ninja Clan.
The building, courtyard and garden beyond, cleverly concealed in the dead-space between three other buildings, appears to be a small monastery outpost, but is - in fact - the eyes and ears in Avalon of the Red Ribbon, a clan of spies based in a mundane, minor noble House in Heaven's Tear.
These are true Ninja, trained in the arts of shadowy combat, yes, but their main skills lie in deceit, disguise, bluff and misdirection, and while each of the men and women stationed here, some 30 in all, are able to defend themselves - and kill, if necessary - their main roles are in jobs dotted throughout the city.
A cleaning girl in a wealthy merchant's household, a Council clerk, a nanny, a market trader, a landlord on Merchant Lane. Seemingly small posts, yet keenly chosen, like the nodes on a web, all twitching and funnelling information back to the centre of the network, the Master of the Temple, an aging, wizened man known as Irozi (Guiding Hand), a harsh, determined man who works his small cadre hard, and with a stealth and wisdom which has meant that - thus far - no city authority is aware of their presence.
While they may be responsible for the occasional, well-chosen death among the nobility, council or simply the disposal of some unlucky witness or bystander, their job mainly consists of doing whatever job is chosen for them, keeping eyes and ears keen, and mouths tightly shut.
It is possible you have seen one of these deadly infiltrators, passed them on the street, going about their cover business with a drab, near-background dullness which makes you forget them the moment you move your eye away.
A simple, low, three-winged building is vaguely oriental in style, but built mostly to look anonymous amid the various building styles in Avalon, and flanks a courtyard and gardens, in which the Ninja train and hone their skills under the curved eaves, dressing as monks during training to maintain their cover.
Inside, the buildings are mazes of narrow corridors with magical nightingale floors, leading those with the knowledge to various small workshops, barracks, training rooms and more, and while wooden-frame and delicate paper walls adorn the outer rooms and corridors, the further into each of the three wings the paths lead, the walls become solid and imposing, protecting the innermost operations rooms from scrutiny even by most of the agents, the provinces of the Master and his two clan advisors.