35: A Bold Venture
Leira had never been one to celebrate her own birthday. Emily had only learned when it was the previous year, when the Theatre’s morning news made a big deal of it. This year, she had planned to have Denny to bake her cake — but then Avalon happened — Freyr happened — and now Leira would be turning fifteen alone. Not that she would complain — if anything, she would probably consider it the best birthday ever — but that still left Emily feeling guilty. She was, after all, a kind and generous young woman who would never miss a friend’s birthday.
She would, at least, buy her a present. Running her finger along the various crystal fragments, she found one with a particularly potent aura that she felt might benefit Leira’s rituals. The stall-owner, a middle-aged woman with greying temples and wrinkles around her eyes, acknowledged her choice with a smile. It was a fragment her husband had recovered from the waste materials that automated Alchemium factories left behind. “Those soulless machines can’t see what’s really valuable in this world,” she said. “Not like you.”
She also sold a range of figurines her two daughters had carved, their designs rough and amateur, yet bursting with a life that refined, Alchemium equivalents would lack. Emily found one depicting a female figure caught in the middle of a dance, her wild hair flowing around her. She had two tiny flecks of green gemstones for eyes.
“Here,” she said, thrusting the figurine into Dante’s hands. “Time, effort and talent, Dante! You could do things like this if you put your mind to it. Well, paintings, at any rate.” She caught his eyes before they could hide themselves behind an unruly mop of black hair. “You still owe me a whole gallery, remember?”
Before he could answer, Emily felt a shift in the world around them, a waiver of interest that only someone with trained sight, three eyes open, could spot. It was as if all the cavern lights had turned on the stall, casting everything else into shadow. Then their attention narrowed, first upon the old woman behind the stall, her fearful gaze fixed on a point over Emily’s shoulder, and then onto Emily herself.
The old woman met Emily’s concern with trembling nod. She knew what was going on and what was at stake. “There’s an alleyway behind me,” she said. “It leads to Altarnun Street.”
Emily slipped Leira’s crystal into her pocket and forced three chips of maku into the old woman’s hands. Even at a time like this, she couldn’t be disrespectful. She had to be Emily.
“Mother be with you,” said the woman, bowing her head.
Before Dante had chance to protest his own gift, Emily took his arm and dragged him around the back of the stall. As soon as she did, she felt her pursuers’ attention falter, their attention fan out to cover all possible avenues of her escape.
Reaching the end of the alleyway, she chanced a quick glimpse at the street beyond. “It doesn’t look like there are any patrols,” she said. “At least, not yet.”
Maku is the Malkuthian currency. Hopefully I’ll get around to publishing the glossary of terms I’m working on one of these days…