Lit by a hundred red lanterns, the Market swarmed as if it was day out, not in the waning hours of the morning. Shouts bandied about overhead as people set out their wares. In between the chaos, narrow passages led deeper into the Dregs, to seedier dealers, shops. Even the eyes of Na Creidmhigh couldn’t slip in there. For most souls, all they’d ever need lay on this main stretch.
Raine navigated the treacherous shops that stretched out into the narrow lane. He caught more than a few hostile glances, but continued, playing the tourist. Turning a corner, he searched for any trace of the trinket shop, then realized his fatal error. The stores all blended together amidst the madness, darkened silhouettes against the red light, monolithic constructs that defied normal logic. If he had the place to himself in pure daylight, maybe, but he doubted he’d spot it even then. The skyline had become a tangle of wires and crisscrossing structures. There were loose boards placed between second and third story buildings, leaving the road to those shops a mystery. The taller buildings scraped the bottom of the upper district, leaving everything feeling claustrophobic.
An old crone popped out, eyeballs dangling from her hands. Her words came fast, loose, murky with an accent. Raine recoiled, tripping against a booth, then recognized the synthetics. Wiping himself off, he glanced over her shoulder, revealing a line of scavenged parts.
“Not today.” He dismissed her with a wave.
She ignored him, discarding the eyes for the remnants of an arm. The wires flopped, the limb spasmed in her grip. She tried to make it wave, but it sparked and she dropped it.
Raine turned back to his search. He wished he’d asked the bartender for the actual name of the place. At least then he’d be able to ask for directions. Instead, he had “that one trinket shop.” As he passed from one vendor to the next, he searched along the roofs, trying to discern anything that would reveal apartments, but found nothing. Patting himself down, he found a crumpled pack of cigarettes. He pulled out the crushed pack, exposing his last cigarette. He cupped and lit it, took a drag.
Right around the corner, he noticed white light from a coffee shop spilling across a narrow alley. He could ask for directions, but, failing any help from them, he’d have a cup of coffee to his name and that would help him push through into the pending morning.
“Welcome! How’re you tonight?”
“It’s been a hell of a night,” Raine replied as he crossed to the counter. There were a smattering of people, but, for the most part, the place was abandoned. He checked the barista’s nametag. “The crowd seems a bit light for all the insanity out there, Allen.”
“Busier than most times,” Allen admitted. “What’s your poison?”
Raine shrugged. “What’d you recommend?”
The barista rattled off a string of descriptors that Raine had no idea what they meant.
Raine said, “Sounds good. While I’ve got you Allen, I’m looking for this trinket shop. Apparently it’s got some apartments above it. Got a friend I’m trying to meet, but he wasn’t that specific.”
“Nothing’s coming to mind. I haven’t had an apartment in a spell,” Allen said. “But there’s a couple of them just down the road.” He did his best to give Raine some directions, but they were mostly confused, just as tangled as the Market was.
“That’s a huge help. Now, about that drink.” Raine reached for his wallet, suddenly realizing that he was tapped out. He pulled it out anyway and searched the folds for some money. He found a hundred, folded over three times, underneath his ID. He pulled that out and slid it across the counter.
“Sorry to say, I can’t break that.”
Allen leaned in conspiratorially. “How ‘bout this one’s on me?”
“You, sir, are a scholar and a gentleman.”
“Don’t mention it.”
Allen moved from the counter to make the drink, leaving Raine to his own devices. Raine casually took in the shop once more, his gaze moving from table to table, then he froze. A dead woman sat just ten feet away.
Although her hat was gone, he recognized the hair, though the woman herself seemed a bit worse for the wear. He now was certain of Feond’s fate and the grief filled his chest. Still, at least she’d survived. With remorse washing over him, he knew he had to make it right. He picked up his drink, nodded to Allen, then crossed the room.
“Miss Marise Shield,” Raine said as he slid into the seat opposite hers. He placed the coffee on the table next to her. The glint of a knife caught his eye.
Her body stiffened in an instant. Her hands tightened around the charcoal stick, her eyes staring blankly at the page.
His voice came out above a whisper. “I thought you were dead.”
A thick sheet of silence settled between them as she calmly put down her tool, then she turned to Raine. “No thanks to you.”
She pulled her jacket aside, revealed the dried blood. Her eyes didn’t leave his face. “Those men, your goons, didn’t like to spare your whores.”
“They were there to kill me.”
“Yeah, I got that.”
“Save it.” Marise looked back at her page, filled with the same repetitive symbol. “It was nice knowing you.”
Raine stood, not knowing what to say. “I didn’t know. I— You’re right. Have a better night.” He walked away without looking back, leaving her the coffee. It was the least he could do. His stomach was in knots, furious with himself for putting her in danger, but at the same time glad she emerged safely. He weaved between the tables and chairs, wondering exactly what had happened to her.
He heard a loud curse behind him, caught sight of Marise reeling back from spilled coffee, then immediately surging forward to try and save her page. Raine realized his peace offering had just caused her more trouble. He retreated swiftly, back to the Market, hoping to save Marise from his influence by putting as much distance as possible between the two of them. He turned her knife over in his pocket.
Marise cursed as she tried to recover her drawing. The designs melted away as she cleaned the page in vain. She was so close to getting it, to finally achieving the symbol that had eluded her until tonight, then that son-of-a-bitch Raine had to saunter in here and ruin everything again. As she tried to clean the mess, she heard someone approaching rapidly. She glanced up, saw Allen and recognized that look. The manager dealing with the trouble-maker. She braced herself, tried to say, “I’m so sorry, I didn’t—”
“It’s fine,” he cut in tersely. “I think it’s better if you moved on.”
“How is that fair? It wasn’t even my drink.”
“At this point, I don’t really care. I will clean this up, but you’re not welcome here.”
That pit in her stomach was there in an instant. Yet another safe haven she wasn’t allowed to enter. It was as if the whole city was turning against her. Her luck had been rotten, but it’d only grown worse in the day since she’d met Raine. She flung the wrecked page at Allen’s face. “Go fuck yourself. I can’t wait for this place to shut down, you condescending asshat.” She seized her tools, shoving them into her bag as she crossed to the doorway. She ignored the stares from the other patrons, but she could feel them on her, boring into her back as she escaped into the humid night air.
On the other side of the doorway, it was suddenly as if all that hadn’t mattered, that it had been more dream than reality. The night sky, the streets were still stained with red, but now she had no destination anymore. She moved to the main thoroughfare, then saw Raine shifting through the crowd. He shot several glances back, but didn’t seem to see her.
“Raine!” she shouted. He disappeared around a corner without turning. She took a deep breath, then forced herself after the mysterious man that almost got her killed, intent on giving him a piece of her mind. Maybe she’d feel better, more in control, when she severed all ties with him.