“There!” said Shelley, pointing to another balcony across the arena. “With the guy in the hat. He’s turned his cloak black, but it’s definitely Dante.”
It was; Emily zoomed in with her visor and picked out the mess of black hair, the Dante scowl as he studied a glass of—was that wine? The man sat opposite was one of the local bigwigs, an aging ex-soldier who ran a brothel called the ‘Nekomata’ and dealt in weapons on the side. The Daughters had run into him a few times during their various escapades — even run him an ‘errand’ or two, when the pay was good — but Emily had never much liked him. It was the way he’d always looked at her with a knowing leer, taken every opportunity to ogle her body, to touch it. She had always regretted not having an excuse to put him out of his misery, not least tonight, as she watched him work his magic on her oblivious housemate.
“What the feck is Dante doing with that old bastard?” asked Leira.
Emily was confident the pimp wasn’t offering him sage counsel and started for the stairs, Leira and Shelley a step behind her. There were other ways around the World’s End, but they didn’t have time — and Emily, by her very nature, could cut a swath across the crowds below. For every man and woman who tried to accost her, another half dozen stepped aside in awe. If they knew her name, she could have probably commanded the attention of the whole club.
But Emily had no intentions of revealing that. Not here, not now, not so long as there was still a chance, a hope she might emerge from all this with her reputation — Emily Fomalhaut’s reputation — unscathed. For the time being, she was a nobody.
But being a nobody had its disadvantages. As they reached the stairs to the V.I.P balcony, a bouncer held out his arm and shook his head.
Emily didn’t have time for pleasantries. With a disarming smile, she reached out and brushed her fingers against his skin. It was a light touch, gentle and teasing, and she felt his spirit waiver. Anyone who could resist such a touch would have come with a hefty price tag — a price too high for such a trivial duty. Emily met his eyes and met his thoughts. Asexuals and eunuchs were equally expensive. As the bouncer’s fantasies poured out the cracks, Emily slipped her way inside. All it took was a whisper, a suggestion, nothing lewd, just a smile and a promise she would never keep.
By the time she reached the top of the stairs, the pimp had disappeared, leaving Dante slouched in his chair, an empty bottle limp between his fingers. Sat opposite him, a necklace of bones hanging over a bare, muscular chest, was a man in heavy maroon robes. Though the light was dim and the glare from the arena below irregular, Emily could make out the details of a tattoo over his expressionless face, the glint of piercings designed less for aesthetic appeal and more for tribal allegiance.
A priest of the horse demon. A cultist of Alastor.
Emily flung herself towards him, throwing aside anything that dared stand in her path and drawing the attention of everyone present — but she didn’t care. She couldn’t. Before anyone could think to call for security, she had her knife at the man’s throat.
The cultist’s eyes fell on the blade, then on Emily. He smiled.
“Emily, isn’t it?” he said, his voice a deep rumble over the hedonistic ruckus. “Your friend here has been telling me all about you.”
“Get out of here.”
He raised his hands in feeble protest. “Now, now, I only wanted to talk. We don’t often see such pretty eyes down here.”
“Do I have to repeat myself?” She shaped her intention into the knife’s edge, just in case he had some hidden defence or subtle magic of his own.
“A Maiden must only ask once,” he said, and bowed his head in mock surrender. The blade followed him as he stood up, backed away from the table. Emily — no, the Macha — wanted to plunge it into his throat, to slice through his windpipe and fill his lungs with blood, but it would cost her an easy escape, and her friends a lot more.
Instead, she slipped the knife into its sheath and dropped to Dante’s side. There was no expression on his face, no recognition of his housemates at his side, just a distant look in his eyes, as if he were in some other world. Emily prised the empty bottle from his fingers and handed it to Leira.
Well, that escalated quickly.