Once I calmed down enough to take in my surroundings, I felt the advantage I had here. We were in a large round underground flea market with dim lighting. There were shadows everywhere. The teleport had dropped us onto one of two raised platforms. They both had steps down to a landing centered between them; from there, a single flight of stairs descended into the marketplace. From our vantage point, I saw 13 pillars around the circumference of the room. There was a bar on the far side, across from the stairs. Along the edge, between the stairs and bar, there were booths of all sorts. A ring of seven pillars stood evenly spaced between the second circle of vendors. Three pillars form that last circle around a stage. Ruby led me down the stairs and through the market. I did my best to look for anything valuable I could come back for later. Some of the vendors nodded as we walked past. I didn’t recognize any of them, so I knew they weren’t acknowledging me. Ruby was important in this community.
An attractive woman with dark grey skin and shining silver hair waited for us. As she walked us to the most secluded table, I tried to tell if her skin and hair color were natural or if she was using a glamour. A lot of people in the magical community could manage a glamour, but I’d seen a fair share of fae without any disguises. Their bodies had a lot more variety than humans. If this look was fake, it was the best quality I’d seen. She assured us that a server would be with us soon. She didn’t return to the hostess station after we sat. A human server came to the table and took our orders. Ruby got us an expensive bottle of whiskey. I didn’t plan to drink any of it, but I didn’t say as much, not wanting to cause the server any grief. We waited in silence for him to come back, pour us each a glass, and leave again. Once we were alone, I manipulated the shadows under our table, wrapping them around her legs without her noticing. I could tighten them like a snake when I was ready.
“Did you even let Boone get through his offer, or did you knock him out as soon as he approached you?” she asked before sipping her whiskey. I did my best to keep a neutral expression. My worries multiplied. She knew about The Coven and the DPI. On top of that, she was important to the locals. If I got rid of her, there was a chance I’d have even more people after me.
“He made promises he stood no chance of keeping. He’s lucky all I did was knock him out,” I said.
“And you’re doing fine on your own anyway,” she said with a smirk.
“Are you working with him? Did they send in a witch thinking that you’d have a better chance at convincing me or at least a better chance at remaining conscious?”
“Not quite. Agent Boone is at my apartment right now. I’m on his list, same as you,” she said.
“All right, so what does he want from us?” I asked.
“So, you believe his offer?”
“To a degree. I’m pretty sure that he underestimated how bad The Coven wants you. I mean, their favorite assassin killing one of their senior members isn’t easy to forgive and forget,” she said.
“I’m not an assassin,” I said.
“That’s not what the file says,” she said.
“What file?” I asked. She reached for her bag, and I tightened the shadows so that she could feel them. She froze and looked back at me. “You might have noticed I have some trust issues. If whatever you’re reaching for looks the least bit threatening, you’ll never walk again.”
“You sure you’re not an assassin? I’m getting my tablet.” I didn’t answer her. She reached into her bag and pulled out a tablet slightly larger than my own. She unlocked it and placed it on the table in front of me.
The screen displayed a picture of me looking severe with stats of my physique. Under that, there was an incomplete list of the ways I could manipulate shadows. The file went on in a clinical index of the magic they taught me and how proficient I was with each skill. There weren’t any surprises until I got to the notes on my training as a hunter. Vincent was in charge of training hunters. He liked to rank the trainees under his wing, and I ranked highest among my peers. That wasn’t the surprising part. Thanks to that system, I only had one friend in the group, more than a friend, really. In the progress reports, I found one that said I was ready to move to private lessons. I remembered that well enough. When he sat me down to talk about teaching me one-on-one, he never said anything about making me an assassin. But it was there. Private training to become the Coven’s Blade. While the hunters brought their quarries in for judgment, the blade went after those too dangerous to contain.
I couldn’t prove that the file was real. I couldn’t prove it wasn’t either. A talented technomancer could fabricate or alter more complicated evidence than this. Ruby had finished her drink and was refilling her glass when I looked up from the tablet. I couldn’t read anything about her expression to tell me whether she was on the level or not. I handed her back the tablet and loosened the shadows that gripped her legs. I’d gotten so used to running that it was the first thing I thought of. The idea of another person coming after me was exhausting. She might not follow me, but I wouldn’t know unless she caught up again. I closed my eyes and took a deep breath to fortify myself.
“What’s your angle?” I asked.
“I want to partner up,” she said.
“Don’t make it sound so absurd. We’d make a good team,” she said. “Look, I know that there’s a lot you don’t know about me. I have an incentive if you’ll let me reach into my bag again without paralyzing me from the waist down.”
“Go ahead.” She reached into the bag and pulled out a large black envelope from her purse. She opened it herself to show me it wasn’t a trick before handing it to me.
“If this is enough to make you trust I’m on your side, meet me at the address in there by 7 pm,” she said. She started sliding out from the booth.
“Wait,” I said. She paused.
“Where are we right now? How far from the initial point of the teleport?” I asked.
“We’re under the fountain in the lake.”
“All right,” I said.
She got up and left me at the table with the envelope. I reached inside and pulled out a letter. I set it aside and took the rest of the contents out. There was a fake i.d. with the name Nicholas Foster and my picture on it. She’d included a credit card and a debit card bearing the same name and a smaller black envelope. I opened it cautiously to see a small stack of cash. The last item was an earring with some kind of enchantment on it. Assuming the cards worked, she’d just given me everything I needed to keep me moving. If she could do all this on her own, what was she looking to gain by partnering with me?