I sat back, smiling, arms outstretched.
“I’ll do anything for money,” I said. “Tell me what I have to do and consider it done.”
“It’s me old boss ya see,” he started out, a bit of a stammer in his voice. He was a cowardly type, young and in good need of a shower, not that I could talk. His clothes were scrappy and torn, except for his cap that he’d obviously stolen. It didn’t stop it from being grimy though. “He treated me real ruff, and now he won’t give me a penny for my girlfriend who’s pregnant. I can’t even afford a loaf of bread. He fired me for complainin’ and I thought if you bump him off we could split his money ‘alf-‘alf. Are ya up for it?”
I eyed him steadily.
“What time is it?”
He fumbled ion a pocket, but he came out empty handed.
“I must’ve dropped it,” he muttered.
I pulled out his filthy pocket watch, dangling it by the chain.
“I do believe its five o’clock,” I said.
He looked up and stared at the watch. He wasn’t amused.
“And also time for my first payment,” I pocketed the object. It’d be worth a few bob once I’d sparked it up nicely.
He silent for a moment.
“All right. Meet you at Clint-Lee’s Ironmongery in an hour.”
I swore I heard him mutter something unsavoury under his breath as he left. All the better. Now he wouldn’t try and blackmail me. Probably.
As I was about to leave another man slid into the seat opposite. He was tall, slim and haughty, a fine trim to his plain black clothes. Not the usual sort who’d be sitting across from me. Well, not the usual sort you’d see in this establishment. Or in this neighbourhood for that matter.
“Can I buy you a drink?” he asked.
I nodded and he called over a waitress, ordering us both a brandy. He waited till she was out of earshot.
I nodded again. I’d been given that name long ago from my habit of sleeping in chimneys, so I was always black with soot. My appearance, mixed with the Russian accent I’d learnt from my dead mother, had been the reason the name had been born. Plus, I’d needed an alias.
“Have you ever heard of the Forced Hand?”
“Nup,” I said, folding my arms across my chest. “I don’t know and I don’t care either. Just give me your money and tell me what to do. It’ll be done by morning.”
He eyed me speculatively.
“My name is Trevor Mc-”
I cut him off with a wave of my hand. His eyes glinted dangerously, and I fingered the hilt of his knife, feeling the intricate carvings and jewels. He was a rich man.
When I remained silent he continued, “My name is Trevor McMillin. I am but a messenger in this society, and trust me when I say that it will kill you if you doublecross me, and worse if you betray us. Don’t mistake me on that.”
“How knives do you have Trevor?”
“As many as I need to kill you.”
I took that as meaning he had only one. It wouldn’t take much.
“Then you must be very skilled, seeing as you have none,” I held the knife up to the light. The hilt glimmered gold. I felt every eye in the establishment turn on us, each one malicious and scheming. They all wanted that knife. And they’d kill to get it. “You said I couldn’t doublecross you. I haven’t. This is blackmail.”
Trevor seethed beneath his stony façade, but whether he had another knife or not didn’t matter. If he left with this knife, then he would die. And he knew I could slip it back to him without him noticing, just as I’d slipped it away.
“What do you want?”
“A straight answer,” I replied. “What is your offer.”
“You receive two million,” I stared at him, dumbfounded. “If you kill the Empress.”
I laughed heartily, and brandished the dagger openly, turning serious as I leant towards him.
“Very funny,” I hissed. “Now tell me, what do you want me to do?”
An invisible force sent me flying from my chair and crashing into the back wall. I groaned in pain, the dagger clattering to the floor. I was trapped six feet above the ground, unable to move my limbs.
“Oh, I’m deadly serious,” Trevor said, his voice sounding as low and menacing as if he were whispering in my ear, but he still sat at the table, perfectly calm, eyes locked on mine.
“You’re crazy,” I spluttered, pressure increasing on my chest. “The whole country will be at war. Azriel is already priming to invade, and it’ll be a perfect opportunity. Not only is your plan insane, but using magic at a bar? Not the wisest idea.”
“I’m all for Azriel,” and suddenly I saw it. He was definitely not from Ichenhaus. “And as to the magic, at the moment no one can see us, and nor can they hear us. In fact, they never did.”
“Why all the secrecy?”
The magic released and I fell to the ground, more pain spearing up my legs, but I managed to stay on my feet.
“I assume that means it’s none of my business,” I said dryly, climbing back onto my chair.
“What happens if I say no?” I asked.
“If you back out now, I’ll be forced to kill you.”
“I have a feeling you’d rather enjoy that. Why not brainwash me as you have these others?”
“You’re too curious. You’d wonder why something was missing and go searching. I can’t have that.”
I eyed him warily, and finally handed over the knife, hilt first. He looked mildly surprised, never having seen me pick it up. Idiot. That was my speciality after all. Killing was only a sideline to earn extra money. I didn’t enjoy being an assassin.
He took the blade, and after a moment’s consideration ran a finger down the length and passed it back to me. Somehow he didn’t draw blood. Blasted Wizards.
“What’s this for?” I demanded suspiciously.
“It’ll help you kill the Empress.”
“I haven’t said yes yet.” Presumptuous twit.
“Two million,” Trevor said, raising his eyebrows suggestively.
I ignored him, studying the knife. It wasn’t dented from use, no markings scratched the gold. Did he carry it around just for show? Gold was too weak a metal for a dagger, but you never really knew where magic was involved.
My thoughts switched to the two million. All that money running through my finger made me shiver in anticipation. I could give up stealing, murdering and living off the streets in exchange for a quiet life as a recluse in the country.
But where had they got all that money from? Shadowy organisations got money from shadowy places, and the last thing I wanted was to be tracked down by the law. I’d be hung a thousand times over if I got caught.
My thoughts returned to the money, like the greedy sod I was.
“I’ll kill your Empress.”
“No, actually, you’ll kill your Empress,” Trevor replied, smiling slyly. “I would wish you luck, but if it comes anywhere near to luck I’ll be paying you a visit,” his smile broadened. “And it won’t be one you’ll enjoy.”
“No, but I have a feeling you will,” I said, grim but determined. “I shouldn’t be too worried about that though. I have a hunch the Empress won’t be looking in the mirror again any time soon.”
“If your work is half as bad as your jokes, I’m sure she will,” Trevor said, standing.
“That was no joke. She’s a beautiful woman.”
“Don’t let that get in the way,” he said, turning to leave.
“Wait,” I called. “When will I get the dough?”
“When you’ve finished the job.”
And without another word, he vanished.