My neck prickled with the dirty little looks Imoen was throwing my way. Knowing her, it wouldn’t be long before she made her feelings clear.
Two seconds later, Imoen kicked me in the shins. Hard. While I hopped around and tried not to drop my loot, she yelled, “You jerk! I can’t believe you’re going to take her money and run. You know what she’s going to do, don’t you? She’s going to find Anomen, and wrap him around her stupid little pinky again, and make his life a living hell!”
I shrugged my shoulders and kept walking. This really ticked her off.
“And I really can’t believe that you don’t mind that she encouraged Yusef to kill you! And me!”
Now that stung. I did mind. I just had a different way of showing it. Sis had led us a pretty dance, and that sort of thing didn’t slip my mind as easily as Imoen seemed to think. I stopped and faced her. “Yeah. So?”
“You know she’s not going to leave us alone. We know her little secret, and she’s going to come after us one day. And knowing her, it’ll be hemlock in your whiskey, or a knife across my throat. Don’t you care what happens to me?”
“What do you want, love and kisses? I thought you were a big, bad archmage and didn’t need anyone’s help.”
She kicked me again. “Sarevok!”
Dames. No sense of humor. “Sure I care, doll.”
“Then act like it, ya big lush! Get back in there and take care of her!”
If I stalled any longer, I was going to wind up with one of Imoen’s daggers in my back. And I planned to live. At least long enough to enjoy my newfound wealth. “Oh, I’ll take care of her.” I turned around and spread my arms wide. “Okay, Trade,” I said to the bushes. “Make your move.”
Imoen giggled, taking my words as some kind of joke. She stopped laughing when the squad of heavily armed guards exploded from the bushes, their dented chainmail gleaming with the rainbow hues of a dozen freshly-cast protection spells. They all wore the steel winged helmets I’d suggested, the charm-resistant ones from the Adventurer’s Mart that cost a mint. Trade must have blown his department’s budget on this raid alone. Moore strolled out from the shadows of the rose trellis, his left hand moving in small, quick circles over a glowing blue orb. Recording spell, unless I missed my guess. He nodded my way before settling himself on a bench and closing his eyes. The skin under his eyes was white from the strain, so I figured he’d earned himself some shut-eye.
The guards rushed up the path with minimal clanking, their boots light on the cobbles. Right before the steps, they split into two groups. One group went around the house to the back, and the other rushed up to the front door. They waited for a moment, and then broke the front door down and barged inside.
Imoen watched this open-mouthed. “Were they hiding in the bushes the whole time?”
“If you were a better thief, you might have noticed them.”
I dodged another kick. “Just kidding.”
An explosion rocked the house, blowing out a big chunk of the front door. Imoen didn't seem to notice. She was too busy flapping her gums.
“Don’t you think we should go in and help?”
“You got any anti-charm spells on you?”
Her shoulders drooped. “No,” she admitted.”
“Then we’ll stay right here.”
“Fine, fine.” She looked away, her hands curling and uncurling. “Trade’s men sure were well-hidden.”
I shrugged, trying to concentrate. The battle was going fast and furious, and I hoped Trade’s men were getting the best of Sis. If only I’d had the equipment to fight in there. I could show those guards a thing or two.
“Moore must have cast a really good camouflage spell. I didn’t think the old geezer had it in him.”
“Quiet.” I jerked my head at the house. Imoen stopped prattling and listened. A moment ago, the sounds of spells and screams had echoed in the garden. Now, there was only silence and a spreading gray cloud of smoke. I wondered if things had gone as planned, or if Sis had been stronger than I thought. Luckily, I didn’t have to wait too long to find out.
A man appeared at the gaping hole in the mansion, fanning the smoke away from his streaming eyes. It was Trade. He walked down the steps towards us, followed by a number of cranky guards. They looked like they’d been through hell. I did warn them that Sis fought dirty.
Two of the guards carried a woman’s body, her limbs bound tight with heavy steel chains. Her long golden hair trailed in the dirt. I couldn’t decide whether to be glad or sad, until I saw her lips move.
Her voice had dwindled to a hoarse rasp, but I could hear her clearly enough. “You will pay, brother.”
I shrugged. “Want a piece of me? Get in line.”
Her rosebud lips twisted, and a sick chill twisted in my gut as I realized she was whispering the words to a spell. From the gloating look in her eyes, it wouldn’t be something I could shake off with a drink. I fumbled for my sword, but Imoen was there before I could draw.
“Cruatha zorak!” she said, crooking her little finger and slashing it in a straight line over Sis. Blue eyes locked with blue, and the air crackled with power. It felt like forever before Sis slumped back, nostrils flaring, her lips pinned together by the force of Imoen’s will.
“Thanks,” I said.
“No problem.” Imoen grinned. “I’ve always wanted to shut her up.”
Sis damn near busted a gut trying to break free from Imoen’s spell, but to no avail. The guards carted her off, to jail, I guessed. I hoped they had good strong magic-resistant cells. They were going to need them, if they hoped to keep her around for her execution.
“Got the confession, Moore?” asked Trade.
Moore levered himself to his feet, his prune face gray and drawn. “Of course I did,” he snapped, slipping the glowing orb into a fold of his robe. “Give me some credit.”
”Just checking. Why don’t you head back to the office? You look beat.”
“I want a raise.”
“You’ll get it.”
As Moore shuffled off, Trade came over and slapped me on the back. “Thanks a million, Anchev. Your information was top-notch. Charm was the first spell she tried to use.”
I nodded. “It’s her favorite. Glad those helmets worked.”
“I owe thanks to you as well, Lady Imoen.”
She nodded, ignoring his outstretched hand. He coughed and smoothed his mussed hair.
“We’ll send the reward to your office. Gems or gold this time?”
“Gold.” I had enough gems for the moment.
He grabbed my hand and pumped it. “Nice working with you.”
“Yeah. Sure. Anytime.”
As Trade hurried to catch up with his crew, my eyes went to Imoen. “Something wrong? Where’s my congratulations on a job well done?”
She crossed her arms and harumphed. “How dare you not fill me in! I could have helped, you know.”
“You weren’t around, remember? If I’d pulled you aside, Sis might have figured out the game was up.”
Her glare lost its fire. “Well… well…”
“It worked out, didn’t it? And anyway, I thought you liked surprises.”
“Only when I spring them on other people.”
That got a chuckle out of me. “I’ll keep that in mind.”
It was time to head for home and put my feet up. Maybe I’d celebrate with a cigar and a bottle of booze. The good stuff, this time. I started out the gate, but Imoen grabbed my elbow.
“Sarry? If you hadn’t worked out that plan with Trade, and Miri had offered you the same deal… would you have taken it?”
It was a no-brainer. Of course. Everyone has their price, and Sis had more than met mine. Sure, she might have come after me later with a lightning wand in hand and murder in her eyes, but I would have been okay. Sis had to lose sometime.
But I couldn’t say that to Imoen. It would be like kicking a puppy. A purple-haired puppy. So, I lied.
“Nah. She’d have stabbed me in the back anyway.”
Imoen gave me a long hard stare. “Good,” she said. I had a feeling she didn’t quite believe me. She’d always been a smart one.
I turned away and kept walking, Mirielle's fat sack of diamonds hitting my hip with every step. I’d been on the side of the angels in this case, but for some reason I felt like the ultimate heel. Just par for the course here in Athkatla, City of Coin. So many coins and so many hands waiting to take them. The perfect place for a guy like me.