Despite what other people might think or say, waking up midafternoon has its advantages. For example, you needn’t bother with breakfast or lunch, which pretty much everyone can agree are the most boring meals of the day. Instead, you can hop right to afternoon drinks, evening drinks, and then dinner if you can manage it. I rarely could, but never felt it to be much of a loss.
Wren, my twin sister, would be furious if she knew how little I ate, but who could spend precious sho on food when there were exotic liquors to be drunk and locally sourced drugs to partake in? Not me, for one.
I slowly opened my eyes after a long, drug induced sleep, and looked out the window only to see the sun was on the downturn. Perfect timing. I yawned and stretched and surveyed my surroundings. On one side of me was the nude form of an elven man, and on the other, some chap of orcish decent. Memories of the night before came back to me and I smiled to myself. What a night it had been.
Of course I’d need to check my cock for any unexpected lesions or crawling things, but that was to be expected when you fucked a stranger on the island of Convictus.
I glanced out the window once more, barely able to see through it for the layers of dust and dirt and gods knew what else. If the sun was setting, it meant it was nearly half past four, and I’d need to run to catch the ferry back to the mainland tonight. The thought of running always made my bones ache, and I considered putting it off until the morning. But if I stayed another night, the local drug lord, Xander Ralston, would call in my tab, and I couldn’t be around to have him do that.
I reached for my satchel and extracted my well-loved wooden flute, then put it to my lips, softly blowing. A glowing red aura radiated around me as it imbued my bones and sinew with a temporary boost of strength. It was one of the simpler spells I could do, and I would need it based on the stiffness I could feel from sleeping on a wood floor.
I was one of the blessed of this world, one of the lucky ones who had been born with the ability to channel magic. I used instruments, mainly my flute, to channel mine. Magic in mortals was rare, and all the world’s magic existed as the result of some civil war in the celestial homeland of Empyrean. They used so much magic during the war that it drifted out into the world and became instilled into the blood of select children in their mother’s wombs. I was one of those children. And it was a good thing too, because magic was probably the only thing that could get me out of here unnoticed, and without running into Ralston.
I reached for my trousers and belt, and my linen shirt, which I could have sworn was white when I put it on a few days prior. Now it was a murky gray from being tossed in a puddle of — something. I dared not try to guess what that something might be as I slipped it on.
It was only slightly damp.
Tomorrow would be our weekly guild meeting, and as the guild master’s son, they would expect me to be there. If I didn’t show, then my father would come looking for me, and having the guild master of the Rimmelon Convocation dragging you out of a brothel was never a good look for my underworld reputation.
I investigated the mirror on the back side of the door and smirked, then tousled my ruddy brown hair the way I liked it. It wouldn’t matter if I was there or not really. I was a disappointment to my father whether I was the pride of La Roix’s prized guild, or a corpse in a ditch. Might as well have a bit of fun on my way to one of those two destinations.
I winked at my reflection, and he returned the favor. My blue eyes looked gaunt in a way that I didn’t recognize as myself, and I rubbed at them, hoping to bring them to life. Then I turned towards the door and took a last look at the two bedfellows I’d enjoyed last night with. Would they both live through the week? The copious empty vials of lillefot suggested not.
The door creaked as I slid it open, and I shut it behind me with the greatest of care, eager not to draw attention to myself. The sounds of the pub at the other end of the hall told me that the fun for the evening was getting started, and once again my gut ached to stay and enjoy myself rather than go back to the guild, and my father’s disapproval. But my sense of duty — or rather fear — pushed me onward, and I softly tread across the rickety floorboards and made my way for the back exit of the crumbling pirate inn.
The Lusty Mermaid was a hovel, somewhere a cockroach would feel most at home. The smell was indescribable, but there were distinct notes of unwashed genitals and stale beer. The clientele wasn’t much better, considering both the ladies and the gents who patronized the establishment were unattractive and riddled with disease—and that was putting it kindly.A floorboard groaned behind me unexpectedly, and I froze as a hand grasped my shoulder.
“Not going yet, are you? My little cricket.”
I turned to find Ralston staring me down in a half menacing, half lascivious way. It was the most unnerving of gazes, and I cringed in discomfort. Ralston held it as a point of pride that he had bedded me more than a dozen times as payment for my… habits. He was filthy, and a brute of a man, who liked to call me his “little cricket,” mocking the fact that I often played music.
The idea of paying my bill with my body today made my stomach churn, and I silently hoped he wanted sarcasm and a jaunty tune as payment because that was all I had to offer right now. My pockets were empty.
Ralston grinned at me, his dirty black hair hanging loosely around his face. His teeth were sparse and the color of sand in the best spots. It took everything in me not to heave at the thought of his hands on my body again.
“Just going for a smoke,” I said in what I hoped sounded like a nonchalant way. I flipped my hair out of my eyes and shoved my hands into my trouser pockets, then hummed a little tune, summoning a joint of thistle weed into my hand.
Occasionally when I couldn’t find my flute, or using it to do magic was too conspicuous, I would hum or whistle instead. It produced far less powerful effects, but for simple things like summoning small objects, it was powerful enough.
I smiled at him, thankful it had worked, and pulled the spliff from my pocket to show him as evidence that I was intending to hang about. Then for good measure, I added,
“Would tonight be an appropriate time to settle up? I finished a massive job in Thron with my sister last week, and the pay came in today. What do I owe you, two hundred? Two fifty?” I could hear myself rambling, and I was certain the nervousness in my tone would give me away. Anxiety was coursing through me, and I deliberated on whether I would be able to casually pull my flute from my bag and hit him with a charm that would suggest he forget the debt entirely.
But before I could decide, he grabbed me by my arm, pulling me close enough that I could smell he’d had meat for his lunch. He took a deep sniff of my hair and I felt myself gag.
“Let’s call it three hundred to be safe. Find me after your smoke.” He released my arm, sending me tumbling backwards and into the door.
I wasted no time getting to my feet and sprinting for the docks before he could change his mind. Hoping beyond hope that I could run fast enough that he didn’t notice my absence until I was halfway across the sea, headed for La Roix. He knew better than to seek me out at the guild, to collect debts or otherwise.
I ran faster than I ever had in my life, thankful the charm to imbue strength into my legs hadn’t yet worn off. I didn’t stop until I was below deck on the ferry, and I didn’t relax until we were at least a mile offshore.
I sat down in a corner of the cargo hold, away from prying eyes, and I clutched my chest as I tried to calm the panic that had become a regular part of my life. I wanted to wave goodbye to this gods-forsaken place once and for all, but I knew better than to think that would ever happen.
When I could breathe again, I searched my bag for a vial of blue lillefot powder I had snatched off Ralston when he had held me close. It was a skill I had gleaned from Wren while I watched her train with Elise. Wren was perfect and could do nothing wrong in our father’s eyes. It was unbelievably annoying, especially when our father hated my guts.
I had never been prone to seasickness, but thinking about my father, Axel Warrick’s judgmental eyes scanning me for anything he could find wrong made me feel like a witch’s cauldron, liable to bubble over at any minute. I was thankful when I heard the ship’s watch yell, “Land ho!”
I dragged myself to my feet and dusted off my clothes as if it would make any bit of difference against the level of filth already covering me, then I made my way up to the top deck to disembark. The only good thing about getting back to the guild hall was that I’d finally be able to have a bath.
The aroma of the fresh sea air, and the sour scent of La Roix’s streets clashed in a mixed bag of smells as I took my first steps on dry land once more. I always found it simultaneously comforting and nauseating. It was the smell of home but was gods-damned unpleasant. It was a wonder I wasn’t nose blind to it, having grown up with the smell since the day I had the misfortune to be born into this world, soft, and the male twin to a girl who was the equal of any heroine in an adventure novel.
Beautiful, smart, athletic, not to mention the fact she was one of two guild certified assassins. The gruesome things I’d seen my sister do with as little as a spoon were wholly impressive. That being said, it had the habit of making my lack of boldness even more obvious. It was like a brightly colored mosaic screaming to our father, “Dispense your unbridled rage here.”
The guild hall came into sight as I made my way up the main drag of La Roix, and I couldn’t help but feel a kinship with the sagging building that was my home. It had once been beautiful and glorified, now it looked as shitty as I felt. As I walked closer, I pulled the vial of lillefot from my pocket and unscrewed the cap gently, careful not to spill even an ounce of the precious elixir.
Sobriety be damned. I would need something stronger than the La Roix air to get through the next twenty-four hours.