The Best-Laid Plans
The deadminer lifted the saddlebags from his mount, unimpressed with Mineral City. Lolo had directed him here, aimed him like an arrow, to find the lost Stone mage, the girl hiding among humans, and become her teacher. He had resisted, fought the mage priestess long enough to search for and find the vanished city of Sugar Grove, long buried beneath the encroaching glaciers of the mini-ice age. He had made a name for himself, become someone in his own right. Yet her resolve had finally conquered him, and he was here, saddlebags filled with dead-mined loot, items certain to interest a Stone mage who played at making jewelry.
He threw the bags over his shoulder, touched the amulet at his neck, making certain that his mule glow – energy patterns that coursed through the skin of the second unforeseen — was completely damped. Satisfied, long leather duster flapping in the wind, he strode across the ice-covered street, leaving his Clydesdale where it stood, head hanging in exhaustion. If he played his cards right, he’d sell the plunder, making a nice profit off of Thorn St. Croix, move his horse into the stable behind her shop and himself right into her bed, whether it was what he desired or not. He had his orders. It was what mules did best: followed orders, serviced, served, lived off of, and at the behest of, mages. That and fight Darkness. Sex and blood, the coin with which they paid their way.
The shop was neat and bright, taking up the ground floor of a refurbished stone and brick two-story building. Windows — real glass windows, when he had expected them to be boarded over to preserve the meager warmth inside — displayed jewelry, things made of stone and glass and intricate settings of gold and copper. He pushed open the door, jingling bells announcing him, his head nearly brushing the top of the doorway as he entered.
Inside, it was warmer than he had expected, and it smelled of tea. He felt his muscles instantly relax. The shop had been painted recently, and boasted a gas log fireplace, tables, upholstered chairs. Display cabinets ringed the central open space. To his right was a door, ajar, to reveal stairs leading up. Up to her home, he knew. Another door led to the workroom in the back. He had done his research.
A plain, brown-headed woman looked up from the center chair and set aside some needlework. Standing, she said, “I’m Jacey. Welcome to Thorn’s Gems.” Though far smaller than he, she was too tall to be a mage, and he remembered that Thorn had partners, a human male and a human female. “What can I do for you?”
“I’m Audric Cooper, deadminer. I hope we can do business. I’ve got gold, some good quality faceted stones, and…”
A man stepped through the door in the back, his laughter filling the room as he turned and stopped. And Audric forgot what he was saying. The human was tall, some six feet, with long, jet black hair that caught the light and curled around his ears and collar. His eyes were black — or a blue so dark they looked black, and he wore an apron, heavy leather scored with burns and stained with chemicals that Audric could smell from where he stood, open-mouthed and mute. He was the most beautiful human Audric had ever seen.
The woman spoke, her voice laced with amusement. “Meet my business partners, Rupert Stanhope and Thorn St. Croix.”
Rupert. Ahhhh. Their eyes met and held as Audric’s world tumbled and shook and rearranged itself
in an extended/instantaneous moment. When Rupert extetded his hand, oddly shaped with a long index finger, Audric took it almost reverently. The flesh was unexpectedly hard, callused, as Audric held both it and Rupert’s eyes.
And Lolo’s plans fell away. He could feel his life shifting and resettling, remaking itself into something new and unknown. And frightening. Audric was aware of the little mage behind the man, and he thought he lifted a hand in greeting, but he wasn’t sure. His eyes never left Rupert’s.
“There’s a Chinese place down the street,” Rupert said, as uncertain as he. “You want to get lunch?”
“Yes,” Audric said, knowing the single word agreed to much more than simply lunch.
MORE . . . . ?
Hope you liked this small segment into the pre-BloodRing story of Thorn and her pals. For the people who pledge to the Kickstarter program, there will be a bit more of this short story made available soon.