Raine eyed a shattered neon sign as he passed under it. He tried to make out the name of the place, but the busted letters failed any resemblance of language. It hung from a single bolt, threatening to break off at any time. A pack of teenagers had collected underneath and Raine couldn't help hoping the sign would give at this moment. A little carnage to lighten his mood.
“Need a hit?” A well dressed man said, tipping his hat to Raine as he passed from Liquor Row. His lime suit, complete with matching cane and shoes, seemed entirely out of place with the surroundings.
Raine shook his head politely, forcing down a smile.
“Pity, sir. Come back anytime.”
Unlike Liquor Row, this passage between sections had lost its trendy quality years ago. Only a few desperate souls passed through here at night. He caught a couple of glances, but none lingered. He let his shoulders sag, his posture droop with each step, trying to lose any traits that'd give him away. His hands sunk deep in his pockets.
Oki's veins had once been a prominent feature of this part of the city, but now shacks had been built atop them, blocking off access. Instead, crisscrossing beams of light led him through the catacombs of the Dregs, giving him a path amidst the wires and rusted metal. Boarded windows squinted at the passersby while the doors laid wide open, welcoming all. He shot a quick glance down an alley. Vents exhaled, sending steam swirling into the air, blocking his view of its contents.
“Spare some change,” a spindly voice crept from the gutters. What had looked like loose trash and a burlap sack unfurled into a wraith of a man. He leaned on his knees, hand out, the beam of light catching in his dead eyes, and offered a hand. “Haven't eaten in weeks, sir.”
Raine dropped his head, continued walking.
“I know you,” the beggar continued. He stood abruptly, his joints cracking, but he moved like a man possessed. “'Eh boys, we've got royalty here!” He let out a jaunty laugh, forced and wrong coming from his lanky frame. “Mr. Raine Morgan, can't you spare a dime for a poor working man? How about a dozen?”
Raine spun to face the man, froze. In the alleys, dozens of eyes, light catching in them like animals stared hungrily at him. They inched out of the darkness. He walked forward, leaving the eyes behind him. He heard muttering, lost them as he noticed the walking trash heap tagging along. “I'm all tapped out. Down on my luck tonight.”
“Ain't we all.”
Raine rubbed the edge of the knife in his pocket. “Not like I've had.”
“Oh word spreads quick.” He followed Raine step for step, leaning in. His rotted smile came free and easy. He still had most of his teeth, though they'd decayed around the roots. His tongue worked at the gaps where they'd fallen away and he continued, “You've got an impressive bounty on your head. From the Family themselves!”
That laugh again.
Raine's stomach twisted.
“It'd feed us for a whole year.”
“Not if you get greedy,” Raine whispered.
“Don't you worry about us, Mr. Morgan. That is one thing a starving man is not. We are generous, once we get ours.”
“How's the Blue Fae treating you?”
His smirk dropped away. He licked his lips.
“That's what I thought.”
The leader looked over his shoulder. Raine followed his glance, noting the stragglers following dutifully behind.
“They don't know, do they? The coffers been a bit light.” Raine chuckled, low, polite. This time, he leaned in. “Buzz off. I'd hate for us to meet. I've got loose lips. And not the kind you'd like.” He flashed a devilish smile. He tapped the man with his open palm on the jaw twice. He didn't speed up or slow, but his entourage fell away.
He straightened, comfortable in the knowledge they knew him and he'd gain nothing in pretending otherwise. He stared up at the rim of the district, at the struts sticking out. An alley cat perched there, staring down on its domain, eyes glowing. Beyond it, the neons of the upper district flashed even as the sun threatened to rise.
The whispers persisted behind him, nipping at his heels, a constant reminder he hadn't made it to safety just yet. He threw a casual glance to his side and caught a pair of eyes watching him, the glint of steel catching the light below them. He nodded recognition, turned to the Market, and strode forward.