Kingdom of Exiles - Maxym M. Martineau
By the time evening fell, three things were certain: the gelatinous chunks of lamb were absolute shit, my beady-eyed client was hankering for more than the beasts in my possession, and someone was watching me.
Two out of the three were perfectly normal.
I slid the meat to the side and propped my elbows against the heavy plank table. My client lasted two seconds before his gaze roved to the book-shaped locket dangling in my cleavage. Wedging his thick fingers between the collar of his dress tunic and his neck, he tugged gently on the fabric.
“You have what I came for?” His heavy gold ring glinted in the candlelight. It bore the intricate etching of a scale: Wilheim’s symbol for the capital bank. A businessman. A rare visitor in Midnight Jester, my preferred black-market tavern. My pocket hummed with the possibility of money, and I fingered the bronze key hidden there.
“Maybe.” I nudged the metal dinner plate farther away. “How did you find me?” Dez, the bartender, sourced most of my clients, but brocade tunics and Midnight Jester didn’t mingle.
I shifted in the booth, the unseen pair of eyes burrowing farther into the back of my head. Faint movement from the shadows flickered into my awareness. Movement that should have gone unnoticed, but I’d learned to be prepared for such things.
“Dez brought a liquor shipment to a bar I frequent in Wilheim. He said you could acquire things.” He extracted his sausage fingers from the folds of his neck and placed his hands flat on the table.
Believable. Dez made a mean spiced liquor that he sold on the side—a cheap yet tasty alternative to the overpriced alcohol brewed within the safe confines of Wilheim. But that didn’t explain the lurker.
Hidden eyes followed me as I scanned the tables. Cobweb-laden rafters held wrought-iron, candlelit chandeliers. Every rickety chair was occupied with regulars in grubby tunics, their shifty gazes accompanying hurried whispers of outlawed bargains. Who here cared about me? A Council member? A potential client?
My temple throbbed, and I forced myself to return my client’s gaze. “Like a Gyss.”
The man sat upright. Yellow teeth peeked around chapped lips in an eager smile. “Yes. I was told you have one available.”
“They don’t come cheap.”
He grimaced. “I know. Dez said it would cost me one hundred bits.”
One hundred? I tossed a sidelong glance to Dez. Elbow-deep in conversation with a patron at the bar, he didn’t notice. One hundred was high for a Gyss. He’d done me a solid. I could’ve handed over the key right then and there, but I had a rare opportunity on my hands: a senseless businessman in a dry spell looking for luck. Why else would he want a Gyss?
He launched to his feet, nearly upending the table, and his outburst grabbed the attention of every delinquent in the place. Dez raised a careful eyebrow, flexing his hands for effect, and the businessman sheepishly returned to his seat. He cleared his throat, and his fingers retreated to the thick folds of his neck. “One-fifty is high.”
Crossing my arms behind my head in an indolent lean, I shrugged. “Take it or leave it.”
“I’ll find someone else. I don’t need to be swindled.”
“Be my guest.” I nodded to the quiet tables around us. “Though none of them will have it for you now, if ever. They’re not like me.”
He hissed a breath. “Are all Charmers this conniving?”
I leaned forward, offering him my best grin and a slow wink. “The ones you’ll deal with? Hell yes.”
“Shit.” He pinched his nose. “All right. One-fifty. But this Gyss better work. Otherwise, you’ll have to find a way to make it up to me.” With obvious slowness, he moved his fingers to his chin, tracing the length of his rounded jaw with his thumb. A faint gleam coursed through his gaze, and I crossed my ankles to keep myself from kicking him under the table. I needed the money, and I didn’t want to dirty my new boots with his groin.
I barely kept the growl from my voice. “I can assure you the Gyss will grant your wish. One every six months.”
“Excellent.” He extended his hand, waiting for the shake to seal the deal.
“You know Gyss need payment for every wish, correct?”
His hand twitched. “Yeah, yeah. Fulfill a request, get a wish.”
“And I’m not responsible for what the Gyss requests. That’s on the beast, not on me.”
“Fine. Get on with it already before Sentinels ransack this shithole.”
Sentinels? He wished. The capital’s muscle-bound soldiers wouldn’t come near this