The letter Ruby wrote to me explained a lot in an attempt to even things out between us. She gave me stats and data about herself equal to what she knew about me, if she was honest. I wanted to believe that she was. The new identity she’d given me was a show of good faith. If I decided not to work with her, she wouldn’t do anything to damage the alias she made. The ring was what sealed the deal for me, though. It was enchanted to let the wearer move unnoticed by modern methods of security. She could be an excellent ally. All I had to do was trust her. I hadn’t trusted anyone in the past two years. Even before I was on the run, I didn’t let people in easily. The two people I’d allowed past my walls most recently both betrayed me. One of them was dead by my hand. The other tried to turn me in for that crime. As I considered my options, the silver-haired fae woman sat down across from me. I waited for her to speak first.
“Yes.” It isn’t smart to give the fae anything more than you have to.
“Would you like some advice?” she asked.
“Is it free?”
“You know better.” She smiled. Her teeth shone like pearls.
“What will it cost?” I asked.
“A memory,” she said.
“I’ll pass.” Never give any fae permission to mess with your mind. It was one of the first things that the Coven taught their witches.
“Can’t blame a girl for trying. It would have been nice to see Vincent Tanner die as if I were there. You’re always welcome here, Milo. That’s something you’ve already paid for. I wish I could tempt you more, but I’m sure you’ll want to test your new cards with some of the vendors before you meet Ruby,” she said it like an inevitability rather than a decision I was still debating.
I didn’t like her knowing me by name, even if she thought of me fondly. All my senses told me that she was powerful. She’d essentially claimed that the market was hers by extending that open invitation. I nodded politely and got up from the table. I planned to barter when I walked through the booths before. With Ruby’s gifts, I wouldn’t lose any of my scant possessions. The booths closest to the bar were filled with weapons. I passed them by without much interest. I understood the basics of how to wield most of them. Everyone who trained under Vincent had to learn the basics. I would have learned more if he’d had the chance to turn me into the assassin he wanted me to be. If I couldn’t solve a problem with my magic, I doubted a sword would help me.
A set of gold ear cuffs drew my eye on a jewelry vendor’s booth. Everything on display was enchanted. The seller must have a talent for enchantments. It takes a lot of patience to make good quality magical items. I’d only ever made two for myself, and I lost one of them. It killed me that I had left the watch my mom gave me behind when I ran from the Coven. It was either that or get caught, though. I pushed the memory aside and focused on the merchant. Her smile was welcoming. She was short, but anyone who thought they could intimidate her for that was in for a rude awakening. I noticed that she wore several of her creations and had no doubt that she’d saved the best for herself. Despite looking very similar, each of the ear cuffs had very different functions. One was a universal translator, working on multiple levels to give denotation and connotation. The second allowed its wearer to slow time to a standstill for five seconds. As far as time magic went, that took a lot of power. The next one would guide the wearer to the nearest food source based on what they were craving. Last diverted attention away from the wearer. Together they had the potential to give someone like me the edge while on the run.
“See something you like?” the enchantment dealer asked.
“This set,” I said, pointing to the ear cuffs.
“The survivor’s quartet. Good eye,” her smile grew. “$5,000 for the set.”
“All right,” I said, trying to keep hesitation out of my voice. I was about to find out how much Ruby had set me up with. I handed her the card and silently prayed that I wasn’t about to be laughed out of the marketplace. She swiped the card and nodded happily.
“Would you like me to wrap them up, or would you like to put them on now?” She gestured to a mirror as she asked the question.
“I’ll wear them,” I said. I felt the enchantment responding to my magic as I put each one on.
“Looks good,” she said.
“Thanks,” I said.
“Come back any time,” she said.
I walked around the rest of the booths giving more thought to Ruby’s offer than the wares laid out on the tables. Despite my reservations, I genuinely considered meeting up with her. It would be nice to kick my bank-robbing habit, especially given Agent Boone’s ability to connect me back to some of the previous jobs. I was nearly ready to leave when something on the booth I was passing called out to me. I was confused for a moment. The man was selling familiars. Cages and cages of small animals surrounded him, giving him little room for himself. My lifestyle wasn’t well suited for a familiar. Even seeing the cleverness in these animals’ eyes, I knew none of them was right for me. I couldn’t shake the feeling that something there was calling out to me. I stepped closer, looking from one pair of eyes to the next, not being able to find what was pulling at me.
“Do you know what skills you’re looking for? I guarantee you won’t find more talented creatures in the state,” he said. My eyes finally landed on a small gold ball too small for anything but a bug to be inside it.
“What’s in this one?” I asked, pointing at the shining sphere.
“A rarity. Never seen the likes of it in my thirty-four years of raising familiars. It’s a living shadow,” he said. I gave him a questioning look. It was the stuff of legends. I thought that if they were real, I would have found one by now, given my abilities. “You have my word. Pick it up. Look through the holes. You’ll see it moving in there. I can’t let the craft bugger out, or it’d be gone in a second.”
I picked up the tiny cage and knew he was telling the truth. I could see minuscule movements through the holes. There was a kinship between the magic of the shifting shadows and my own. I handed the man my credit card as I watched the swirling darkness. He took it and slid it into his card reader without questioning me. I didn’t even think about how much he was charging me until he handed me back my card and congratulated me. When I finally turned my gaze back to him, he looked relieved like a burden lifted off his shoulders. He handed me a folded piece of paper saying something about the cage. I put it in my pocket and thanked him. I could feel the creature’s desire to be free, but I resisted the urge to let it out then and there. It was a breed apart from any of the other animals he was selling. I shadow stepped out of the marketplace back to the library’s portico. Happiness radiated from the little golden ball.