Chapter 12: A Night of Requet

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Brander rubbed at his eyes with his forefinger and thumb, then rolled his head from one side to another before sliding down further into the couch he occupied, his black bangs flopping into his eyes. “So Baldur sought you out rather than begging Meinrad or Rambart for aid.”

“Yep.” Lapis sipped from her teacup, happy that Selda now worked at the new rebel house and she did not need to explain how to make her favorite tea to a new cook. Whitley laughed, a low, angry sound that the commons room swallowed, and set his untouched mug down with a dull thunk.

“They’d never help, anyway,” he muttered darkly. “All they care about is getting their external funding back. They don’t want to spend any of their own money on the rebellion, and they’re pretty pissed Faelan cut them off. They’re trying to spin it like they gave up on him, but no one’s buying it because they don’t have access to funds or missions.”

If they thought Vivina’s capture posed a threat to their person, the two obnoxious nobles would.

“Vivina isn’t exactly someone who cared about rebel politics,” Patch said. “Baldur might have intimated a few things to her, but overall, she’s an empty vessel.” He thrummed his fingers on his belly, irritated.

“Which means they’ll get rid of her once they realize it,” Brander murmured.

“Yeah.” Her partner rubbed at his face, then leaned into her. “Well, this isn’t how I wanted to spend the evening,” he grumbled. She kissed the side of his head before burying her nose in his hair. They bathed before returning downstairs, and he spritzed scent from an unlabeled bottle that enticed her like a bee to a flower. Musky, warm, with a hint of spice.

“It could be worse. You could be trapped in a meeting with Jarosa and Lady Ailis,” she told him.

Brander snickered at Patch’s unamused frown. “I’ll come along,” he said. “I don’t have anything else to do. Sherridan’s helping look through Danaea’s documents, and I’d rather leave him to it.”

“Fun times,” Lapis said.

“He knows the undermarkets better than I do,” the rebel reminded her. “He’s managed to make a few connections I don’t think anyone else could, except maybe Patch.”

“I’m not reading through all that shit.”

Linz hopped into the room, bouncy despite the hour. Lapis had no idea where they got all the energy and wondered if they might drink wake juice. If it kept Patch up for days, what might it do to a more gangly person? “Are you going to the Eaves?” they asked, excited.

“The reading circle’s meeting, so yeah,” Lapis said. She did not want to stay at the House without Patch; lounging about, bored, until Jarosa and Lady Ailis returned held no appeal, reading through Danaea’s things held even less, and Jerin did not need her. He had latched onto Caitria while regarding her with suspicion. That somewhat annoyed her, but new rats never made much sense in the first few days of street living. They had a lot to figure out in a short amount of time, and he was no different in that regard. His life’s path drastically altered in just a few hours, and he had yet to catch his breath and contemplate what it meant for any future plans he once possessed.

“Going to surprise Dachs?” Patch asked drily.

“Yes!” They beamed. “Letters aren’t the same as sitting down and catching up. And!” They jabbed an index finger into the air. “I need to get to know Jiy better. It’s my home now, and I can barely find a grocery, let alone anything else.”

“Then visit the night market. The second floor has everything you could possibly want when it comes to food.” Patch pulled away and stretched before flumping back into the cushions.

“Mind if I tag along?” Whitley asked. “I . . . need to get out.”

“Sure.” Lapis downed her tea and could not stop her wistful look at her partner. She wanted to spend the night in his arms, soaking up his body—and by his return gaze, he had planned the same thing. He gently kissed her before heaving himself off the couch. Brander groaned himself to his feet, as eager as her partner to speak with Baldur and get the job done.

“Let me get my jacket.” Linz whisked out the door, humming.

“Come on, Brander,” Patch said with a gut-deep sigh. “Let’s talk to Caitria before we go. She might have some info we can use.”

The reading circle was unnaturally quiet, and the resentful glares the younger lot planted on Rin meant he sharply criticized them, and they did not like it. Lapis eyed them, but before she could delve into the trouble, Linz jumped to the end of the softly illuminated bar nearest the back door, threw their arms wide, and shouted, “I’m here!”

Dachs’s animated surprise—and the startled looks from the regulars—made her smile. “Linz!” He threw his arms up, too, and they hugged over the counter. How much did he miss ‘keeping? His happiness in welcoming Jetta, and now Linz, to the Eaves, proved he held his time with them in high regard.

The rebel plopped down on a stool and began to excitedly chat with the enthusiastic barkeep; Lapis did not think she planned to move for the remainder of the night. Whitley laughed, if subdued, and glanced at the corner table. The rats hunkered over books, and someone had added a Dentherion-style lamp to the mix, one whose broken sides emitted a blinding amount of light. She vowed to purchase another that did not cause white spots in the eyes of the nearest readers.

“This is a nice place. It seems pretty safe for the rats.”

“Yeah. They know, if they encounter a shank and need a place to hide, Rin and I will put them up. You’re welcome any time, too. Mine’s just a single room, but I can show you where I store the keys.”

He nodded. “Lapis, thank you,” he murmured, just above the general hum of conversation. She patted his back before he continued; he was a friend, and she gladly provided what she could. No thanks necessary. She walked to the table; Scand planted his hands on the surface and pushed himself up, glowering at Rin and ready to voice his opinion in a loud voice.

The older rat glared back, noticed her, and blankness replaced his anger before he heaved up and practically ran for the front door.

Lyet glanced up from the book she and Gabby bent over, then noted both her and Whitley. “He’s pissed,” she stated.

“Really.”

“About Jerin,” Gabby piped up.

“Did he say why?” Yes, the lad fled from them when they were trying to get him to the House, but while annoying, it was not a catastrophe. Rin only evaded her when his emotions ran too hot, too sad, but the incident should not have affected him deeply enough to prompt his withdrawal.

Lyet raised an eyebrow but said nothing—which meant she needed to chase him down and shake the answer from him. “Why don’t you show Whitley how the reading circle works, while I go find him.” She eyed them. “And be nice.”

“We’re always nice,” Scand said grumpily.

“No, you’re not,” Gabby replied. Whitley slipped onto the bench and Lapis turned on her heels, deciding to let Lyet snap at them. Rin was going to be a drain on her emotions that night, and she possessed only so much room for argument. She walked to the bar, where Dachs matched Linz’s animated speech.

“Lady!” He grinned widely. “Heard you got into it with a few of them shanks wearin’ black hats.”

“I suppose.” She leaned closer. “Jarosa had a funner time of it.”

He chuckled. “Yeah, she’d not take their disrespect.”

“If Whitley needs anything, put it on my tab,” she told him. “He just lost his dad, and he doesn’t have much right now.” That sobered Dachs. “And I’m going after Rin.”

His tummy pushed out with his deep draw of breath. “Good luck to ya, Lady. He’s been glum and angry since this afternoon. Not seen him like that in a while. You know what set him off?”

“A suspicion,” she said. “I’ll be back. Eventually.”

Linz smiled, but something beneath the expression made Lapis wonder how much they guessed concerning Rin’s state of mind. “Whitley and I can make it back, if we need to,” they declared.

“I’d get you there,” Dachs assured her. “Take care of Rin, Lady. Mood he’s in . . .”

Yeah.

Lapis headed for the night market. Considering the time of night, Rin would make his way there and skim the crowds for purses, because other than bars and taverns, no other place had easily accessed custom that late. She needed to take him on a stake, pay him for ‘keeping for her, give him a reason not to pick pockets. Give him a reason to stay away from the rebellion. She hated involving him in the shit because she did not want him to suffer under its dispassion. He knew the Leader of the Rebellion, met several of Faelan’s most trusted supporters, but he did not understand the need for justice and revenge that drove them into forsaking nearly all else. In that, he did not quite fit into the rebel mold.

The night market bustled. Workers, having just received their weekly pay, filled the place, dumping bits into food, the markets, and the entertainment. She squeezed through sweaty bodies and winced at the smell; she did not want to touch some of the most rancid people there, and smoke wafting from the clusters made the stink worse. Rats enjoyed the boon of pay day, but she detested the crowds. Too bad, the fear of Black Hat attack did not keep them at home.

She found a small space near a booth and plastered herself against the wall, standing on tiptoe to see if she could spot him. Rin was tall enough that he stood above most people, a surprise considering those raised in the streets rarely ate enough of a balanced diet to grow properly.

No tousled red hair.

The night market did not enjoy the best illumination; the ceiling lamps hung through the second-floor aperture but remained high enough energetic individuals had no chance of jumping and swatting them. Combined with the few sconces ringing the walls, the central tables and chairs had light, but dark spots abounded. Rin likely hid in one of them, either grumpily glaring about or picking a target and waiting for them to drown in beer before sneaking up and relieving them of a bit or two.

As he aged, he became more selective of his targets. He realized that bits in a purse did not suggest the individual carrying them had wealth, and taking from a docks worker might mean they went without a meal or two to make up for the loss. That was why he plied the Lells; richer tourists meandered through the stalls, though he rarely cleaned them out. He left enough they could still purchase items from the merchants and rats, or flip a bit or two to buskers.

And he made certain those who worked the place with him did the same. A sore spot, for Lars and those like him who wanted to greedily steal until their pockets jangled. She wondered if the rat-turned-shank realized how Rin’s choices kept those around him from becoming a permanent resident of a jail mine.

She reluctantly rejoined the crowd, muttering dark things to herself about the rat. What angered him concerning Jerin? She thought of several things, from snobby boarding-school attitude to his lack of thankfulness for help, but she concluded a darker cause prompted him, and one that he probably hated himself for feeling as much as the situation itself.

Rin fought for everything. Tough battles, and he had not always won. He suffered, his heart ached, and he continued to plod on, for giving up meant death. Jerin went from a safe environment and regular meals to a free ride at the rebel House without lifting a finger. The lad had not anticipated his mother dying or being a target for Dentherion-backed syndicate mercenaries, but that did not change the fact he had nothing to give anyone who helped him.

She predicted Jetta’s guilt would prompt her into caring for the orphan, which Rin would see as another giveaway. He did not understand, rebels who chased lived with hard regret, knowing they ripped families apart for a goal that often did not seem lofty or inspired, however necessary. Lapis had a couple of stakes that weighed on her heart; she did the right thing in handing them over to the guard, but the shanks left behind lovers and children, people who needed and depended on them.

Something poked her side, hard. She winced as a heavy hand slapped down between her neck and shoulder and squeezed.

She recognized the Black Hat leader from earlier. He had ditched his headwear and slicked his black hair back, which meant they thought the night market would react poorly to their invasion. He pressed a tech weapon into her waist while his buddy forced her in a different direction.

“Why, hello again,” she said as they guided her. “Nice to see you, too.”

The larger man said something in Ramish, the leader replied with a smirk, and they laughed.

If they wanted to infuriate her, they did an excellent job. “Don’t tell me the Leadcommander actually made his exalted way down to our plebeian district to speak to little ol’ me.”

“Keep tweaking him. He’s not the nicest of people,” the leader said.

Tweaking? “Neither am I.”

“He isn’t a street chit.”

“I’m a chaser,” she stated firmly. “Not a bit lackey like you.”

He firmed his chin, and the dig of tech became painful.

Rin popped in front of them with a wide, mischievous grin that did not reach his eyes. He realized she was in trouble.

“Lady, we goin’ now?”

“Who are you?” the leader snapped as they stopped so as not to ram into him. Enough people pressed to the sides, that they could not easily avoid him.

“Huh?” Rin raised an eyebrow at him, then made a brief but intense show of eyeing him up and down, noted the tech, and ignored it. “Lady’s ‘prentice. We gots work, and that’s not includin’ you.”

The leader almost—almost—pointed his weapon at the rat. The crowd bumped them, and the man lost his balance—and his grip. Heran, of all people, snatched it and disappeared between bodies, scurrying away before the man realized what happened. Night market rats flanked them, close enough that the Black Hats could elbow their way out of the group, but it would take effort.

She pulled away from the large man, who let her go. It surprised her because street kids normally did not prove intimidating enough for shanks to fear. Then she realized they conscripted more people to help, and not just the homeless they begged with. She knew several of them in passing, and it shocked her they pulled themselves from their meals and fun to see her safe.

“Thank you,” she said, meaning every word.

“Lady, some rich shank’s looking for you.” She recognized Barad, and realized she could not complete the stake the guard had taken on him. If he put the effort into helping her against Black Hats, she would return the favor. “Cleared out the corner by Larkey’s.”

“If he went to all that trouble, I guess I should talk to him.” The corner at Larkey’s held the finest tables and seating on the first floor of the night market, lit by soft candlelight that produced a comforting, romantic atmosphere. She had no doubt, a few shanks and their dates burned with enough resentment for the intrusion, they helped her out of spite.

“We’ll be around,” Barad promised. The Black Hat leader opened his mouth, but she turned on her heel and proceeded to Larkey’s without listening to his bleating. Enough undershanks patronized the night market, if the Black Hats got out of hand, they would feel the full brunt of Jiy anger directed at Dentheria.

And undershanks had no cause to be nice about it.

A woman caught her step. Lapis recognized her from her visit to Wrethe’s skyshroud; a Minq called Gera. She attempted Grey Streets normal, with shoulder-length, messy hair and dull makeup that did not enhance her brown eyes. She wore a plain, thigh-length, sleeveless blue tunic and matching capris pants, but the soft material cost far more than the average night market customer could afford. “Quite the welcome,” she murmured, then lifted her chin slightly to the left. Lapis peered out of the corner of her eye; the bearded man with white eyes who had also been at Wrethe’s raised a mug and she nodded, a slight, abrupt gesture of recognition.

“Here for a little leadcommand?”

“Hmm.” She half-laughed. “No, actually. We just wanted a meal after a job. The Shroudies caused quite the stir when they showed up, and when those men targeted you? Well, the rats panicked. Especially Rin.”

“It’s been an odd day. Already had two encounters with the thugs from the skyshroud. And now for round three.”

“Is the jackass who cleared Larkey’s the leadcommander?”

“Maybe. I spoke with him earlier using Black Hat communications tech. He wanted to meet with me, and I told him to come here because I wasn’t setting foot in the ‘shroud.”

“Is he planning on hiring you?”

“Nope. This has something to do with my partner, Danaea, and Hoyt. I think.”

“We’ll be watching.”

Of course they would, because the Minq would flood the place in a few. Letting such an opportunity slip past would never do.

Rin skiddled up to her as Gera sauntered away. “Them Minq’s ‘r nice,” he said. “Saw ‘m shove that tech in you ‘n they said they’d help.” He eyed her. “Yous here to talk to ‘m?”

“No, I’m here because of you.”

“Me?”

“Running off like that. You’re upset, and Lyet confirmed.”

He shrugged, trying to dispel her concern. “Is fine.”

“No, it’s not.” They neared an edge of people, who kept away from the dark corner. “What is it, about Jerin?”

His eyes flashed, but they had run out of time.

At least thirty Black Hats surrounded the area, too many to pretend they arrived for a casual outing. No one stood at Larkey’s counter, and the owner probably cursed every Dentherion under her breath for their unprovoked interference in her money-earning. A man sat at one of the tables, hands folded before him, eyeing the withdrawn customers with a disgusted frown. He wore a suit rather than a uniform, of a deep brown fabric that gleamed in the dim lighting. A puff of light brown material poofed from one pocket and jewels decorated his collar and cuffs, decorations more in line with someone visiting an upper-class theater than one associated with the Grey Streets. His brown hair was oiled and slicked on top, but without the Dentherion beard—probably because he could not grow a decent one. No wrinkles, either; he looked far too young to be a true leadcommander, though he might have paid for mod surgery. Unlike Jilvayna residents, Dentheria’s inhabitants could live up to two hundred years—the benefits of medical aid and tech—and they wanted to hide their age behind a youthful façade.

The leadcommander looked over and frowned even deeper as she plopped into the chair placed opposite him; Rin snagged another with his foot and joined her. Others came to stand behind them, physical proof that the night market did not appreciate their presence.

“I’m Lady Lanth,” she said pleasantly, mimicking his stance. “My apprentice and I are busy, but it seems sparing some time for you so the good people can resume date night is a must.”

His hazel eyes flicked over to Rin, and he could not hide his disapproval.

“I am . . .” He surveyed the people behind her. “Requet. You brought backup.”

She laughed. “Nope. They’re people you upset by interrupting their special time with their loved ones. They’re making certain you don’t ruin anyone else’s night.” She studied the Black Hats surrounding them, annoyed at the hypocrisy. How many aggressive people did he think he needed to intimidate her? “You wished to speak with me. Speak away.”

He did not like the progression of the talks. Too bad for him. He should have been nicer, asked after a rat then politely requested a meeting. He made a spectacle, and she planned to keep it that way. The Black Hat leader and his buddy made it to the little get-together and slipped behind the Dentherion, far closer than the others to their boss. Their disgust reflected his and annoyed her even more.

“And where is your partner?” Requet’s eyes pinged back and forth, the only indication of nervousness.

“Around,” she said.

“And you are not with him?”

“We aren’t chained together.”

“You claim Patch is your partner, and you know nothing of Aethon.”

“I don’t claim Patch is my partner. He is my partner.” She leaned forward. “I’ve never encountered anyone named Aethon, and I’ve met chasers from Coriy, Jiy and Vraindem. Is there anything else you wish to discuss?”

His eyes narrowed. “Are you acquainted with Danaea?”

“I heard gossip about a chaser named Danaea who got a little frisky with her stakes before taking them out. I never met her. And since someone successfully staked her, I never will.”

“You don’t know who that may be.”

“No, but it had to be someone with enough money to hire a good hunter to get the job done the first time around. Assassins who survive attacks go after whoever staked them, and those people meet Mama in the Pit. In any case, they’re someone I don’t want to mess with.”

“Danaea worked with a few other men. Perhaps you know them. Thyden, for instance.”

Thyden appeared in the assassin’s notes; he was to meet her at Wrethe’s place. Her death and the tech battle interfered with that little plan.

“Nope.”

“Jerin.”

“Nope.”

“Dagby.” He shifted in his seat, unclasped his hands, and immediately rethreaded his fingers.

“He’s a druggy shank who takes hunts to pay for his brainbreak habit. I don’t interact with him, and I never want to. Last I heard, he had a nice little drug den in the Kells sewers. Good luck finding him, and even better trying to get him to remember anything beyond his last stab.”

His distaste and anxiety grew with every word. Was he truly the commander of the skyshroud? No military aplomb imbued him. Lars’s buddy was probably correct, that a rich ass from a politically connected family took a decommissioned airship for a spin. And Patch’s guess that mercenaries manned the ‘shroud made sense in that context. It explained why no immediate retaliation from Dentheria occurred over his staking one of their soldiers—he targeted a bit shank instead of the empire’s finest.

“And what of your association with a man named Varr?”

Fear threaded up her spine at the unexpected question; what should she say? Memories of her father in a similar predicament slammed into her. He truthfully related that Varr stood as Krios’s bodyguard and carried on a calm conversation. Who had he spoken with? She did not recall, but his palm became clammy, and after the confrontation, she released his hand to wipe her own on her dress.

Something about Requet’s expression, his antsy re-clenching of fingers, scratched at her. Hmm. The question meant more to him than she might initially expect.

“You know him,” he persisted.

“Yep.”

Requet waited, then raised his eyebrows. “And?”

“I’m not certain what you want me to say.”

The quick change to patronizing irritated her no end. “What interactions do you have with him, chaser.” Rin tapped her foot, a warning not to answer in kind. She lounged back, folded her arms about her chest, giving her a chance to force calm and reply without seething. He played a game, and she hated not knowing what pieces sat on the board.

“I suspect Varr isn’t your target.” A flash of a frown, there and gone. His fingers turned white. “But perhaps our good Lord Krios is?”

The Black Hat leader’s immediate unease amused her. What connection did these people have with Midir? Krios. She should think of him as Krios; it would not do, for her to accidentally reveal his rebel name to this ass.

“Lord Krios?” His eye twitched, hard.

“If you ask after Varr, surely you know for whom he works.”

“You’ve met Lord Krios.”

His sudden anxiety intrigued her.

Hands settled on the back of her chair; alarm rushed through her before she recognized the cologne.

Midir. What was he doing there?

She looked up, attempting Patch nonchalant. “Why, we were just discussing you! It wasn’t a very informative talk, though.”

“I’m certain.” He leaned over, the wood creaking under his weight. “Requet, so nice of you to visit.”

His anger flowed about the table, darkly malicious. Midir rarely expressed it, preferring minor annoyance with a tinge of contempt, but when someone infuriated him, they knew. Her neck prickled, even though he did not direct his hate at her. The Black Hats did not bother to recognize him, simply stared in horror behind him, so she assumed he arrived with Varr and his guard. Or maybe some of Lord Adrastos’s men.

And a furious, bear-strong Varr was not an enemy anyone messed with.

“I must admit, I’m intrigued,” Midir said. Requet sank into his chair, desperately attempting to hold on to his formality and failing. “What do you deem so important, you leave the safety of your ship to harass Grey Streets chasers? I asked your father.”

“What?” he asked, his voice strangled, eyes bulging from their sockets.

“He was quite surprised you were here. We had a pleasant discussion about it.”

He sounded sincere.

“Lanth, perhaps you and Rin would have a more productive evening elsewhere.”

Dismissed. She did not feel so terrible about leaving if Midir asked. She rose, stretched, and turned.

And realized why Requet and the Black Hats quaked. Not only did Varr stand before the heir’s personal guard, fury wafting from him like body odor, Minq backup had also replaced her unexpected support and did not shy away from looking tough. Rin laughed before squirming through the group; she looked up at Midir, nauseous and concerned. He laid a gentle hand on her shoulder.

“Be careful,” she whispered. He was a link to her family, and she did not want to lose him to some unnecessary, bravado act.

“Of course. What did he wish to discuss?”

“Danaea’s partners.”

“Interesting. Speak with Neassa about it before you go.” He pushed her on before taking her seat; Requet’s dread was unfathomable, considering the public nature of the confrontation. Midir would not harm him before a myriad of witnesses, no matter how perturbed.

“Quite the group,” she said as she passed Varr.

“Was already on our way. Good thing for you.”

“I can handle a leadcommander or two.”

“Patch’s about. You should find him.”

Patch? What about Vivina?

The customers withdrew further from the confrontation, though many strained on tiptoe at the edge of the crowd, trying to see what was going on. A couple lingered in the space between them and the Minq, with Neassa, Midir’s assistant, among them. She waved her over; Rin already stood with her, attempting cool street nonchalant, while another woman spoke with him. She had jet black, straight hair that fell just past her shoulders, wide golden eyes neatly brushed with dark shadow, and full lips stained a brilliant red.

“You’d make a good runner,” the woman said to Rin.

“Nah, I’m good, bein’ ‘prenticed t’ the Lady, ‘n helpin’ the kiddies t’ read.”

“That’s important,” she agreed. “They may not realize it, but the rats who take advantage of the reading circle will find their education a huge benefit in looking for work.” She laughed and patted his arm. “Of course, the sly and stealthy Rinan might have a bit of trouble in that department.”

Who was she?

Neassa smiled and motioned to the woman. “Lanth, I’d like to introduce my cousin, Shara.”

The Minq’s underboss? And she knew Rin? Lapis placed a hand to her breast and made a shallow bow; Shara nodded, amused.

“They cleared Larkey’s to speak with you? That’s extreme.”

“So it would seem. I made a joke of it when the leadcommander spoke with me earlier, but he took me seriously.” She raised an eyebrow. “Of course, I told him to nicely ask for me. He did not.”

Shara hissed in disgust through her teeth. “Requet isn’t known for being nice—or for his intelligence. He’s the pathetic son of a Second Council member, and he’s remained alive through his parents’ wealth and political clout.” She glanced at Neassa. “It’s too bad, we didn’t realize he was the leadcommander. It would have been a two-shot stake. Ah well. What does he want, anyway?”

“He was asking after Danaea’s partners,” Lapis said. “And he didn’t think I was smart enough to get his reference to Krios.”

“Danaea?” Shara asked. “She’s in the Pit.”

“Yeah, but her partners aren’t.”

“We’ll see what Krios gets from him,” Neassa said quietly. “He and Requet have a history that isn’t in Requet’s favor.”

Lapis cocked her head, interested. In his younger years, Midir delighted in pissing off Dentherion nobles and the Councils they held so dear. Her father had laughed long and hard at several of his antics, while her mother hummed in irritation. Had he butted heads with Requet during one of his infamous clashes?

Bang.

Lapis whirled, and exasperated fury infuse her. Patch hopped off a tabletop and onto the ground, grinning mischievously, the blue lights racing about his patch. He had leaped over the railing of the mezzanine, fallen through the aperture, and landed without tipping the table or crashing. “One day, you’re going to miss,” she told him grumpily. “And you’re going to embarrass yourself in front of all these people,” and she spread her arms wide, “or spill those beautiful brains all over the floor, and then I’m going to have to cart your sorry ass to the Pit. And I’m going to be pissed.”

“Beautiful brains?” he asked, cupping her face and kissing her, beaming at his stupidity. That was not going to placate her.

Bang.

She glared at Brander. “You’re not helping,” she snarled at the thief as he hopped down from the same tabletop. She turned to Rin. “Don’t get any ideas.”

“Don’t bring me into this,” he said, put out. “I knows better’n t’ do that in front o’ you.”

Neassa and Shara broke into gales of laughter she did not appreciate.

“Why are you here? I thought you had other business,” she asked her partner, her annoyance coating her words.

“We should talk in a more private setting,” Shara said, raising a hand. Midir had said to seek Neassa out, which meant he wished for her to meet and speak with the Minq underboss, and Patch did not protest. Which one was doing the other a favor?

Lapis hesitated. “Before we do, I want to find Heran. The Black Hat dropped his tech, and she grabbed it and ran.”

“His tech?” her partner asked.

“Shoved onna them weapons into ‘er ribs,” Rin said, his words flavored with spiced anger. “Weren’t none too subtle ‘bout it, neither.”

Not wishing to answer the question in his eye about her foolish lack of awareness, she headed for the back wall where rats congregated, begging for a few bits to purchase a meal. Heran rested on the floor, a jacket padding her rump, no tech in sight, though a wide space sat between her and any other individual. When she noticed them, she jumped up and retrieved the weapon from under the cloth.

“Lady!” she said anxiously, holding it out on her open palms.

“Thank you, Heran.”

“Nots a problem,” she said as Shara carefully took it from her. “Didn’t know whats t’ do with it.”

“Some shank here would pay good money for this,” the Minq said as she eyed the object, turning it about before popping a wire-infused cartridge from the bottom of the handle. She squinted into it, then offered it to Patch. “He’s the son of a Second Counselor,” she said. “I’d expect his people to use Dentherion tech, but they don’t.”

“It’s a different mechanism,” he agreed. “And odd pickups. What are they using for energy? I don’t see a source.” He handed it back. “I don’t think this would fire in the same way as regular Dentherion tech. That might explain why they missed so often at the Lells; they don’t have their weapons properly calibrated.”

Lapis was certain Jarosa would love to hear that assessment.

“My people should look at this,” Shara said. “There’s been an uptick in odd tech lately, and no obvious source. This is just the latest.”

Patch flipped a silver at Heran; her eyes bulged at the unexpected boon. “Looks like you were serious about making amends,” he said.

She nodded. “I am.”

“Off to a good start.”

Rin’s petulant glare meant he did not think so, but Lapis was grateful for the help. She elbowed him and jerked her head to the milling crowd beyond the events. He snorted loudly and instead followed Shara; she wanted to grab his shoulders, turn him about and send him on his way, but Patch slipped his arm about her waist and tugged her into motion. Brander smirked, an infuriating support; she did not want Rin further tangled in rebel intrigue!

They marched up to the second floor, avoiding people slowly climbing down the dimly lit, cracked stone stairs with laden bags and straining arms. Why had Requet chosen a pay day to instigate his little temper tantrum? It guaranteed numerous witnesses to his idiocy, eaters and shoppers alike.

The second floor had the same black brick walls as the first but contained decorative screens that divided one shop from the next. The markets sold cheaper foodstuffs from across Theyndora, targeting immigrants who did not have the funds to buy native fare at the Blossom markets. Despite the late hour, they brimmed with patrons stuffing items into wide reed baskets, and no one looked concerned about the happenings below.

She wistfully looked into the stores because the delectable scents issuing from so many places filled her with an odd pleasure. She especially liked the sugary atmosphere when passing the aisles of sweets from the southern parts of the continent, since so many originated from berries.

Shara entered one of the markets, and the busy sellers waved but did not engage. She led them through a swinging doorway and to a back room that fit them all, however tightly, around a square table. No windows, one door, and claustrophobia tickled in Lapis’s head.

Patch hugged her, likely to offset her growing unease, and pulled a chair for her. They settled, and Rin’s excitement about being included in the conversation amused everyone but her. She hated meetings, and she hated bringing him to this one; dealing with the Minq had severe consequences for the unwary. He might see stars because he just spoke with an underboss, but she would use anything he said against him if it proved beneficial to her.

“Apparently Requet has Vivina.” Annoyance tinged Patch’s voice as he lounged back, settling his knee against the edge of the tabletop. “Took her from the palace guard and whisked her to the skyshroud. Armarandos sent word to Caitria through Adrastos about it, and the runner got there just as we were leaving. Requet told him he expected the city guard’s help in drawing out Krios for a meeting, and that he had bait. I’m pretty certain he doesn’t realize Adrastos’s contacts in the rebel and underground circles in Jiy, or he never would have made such an idiotic demand to his son.”

“Vivina was bait?”

He raised one shoulder in a lazy shrug. “I think they mistook her for someone else. She’s never met Krios.”

“Who is Vivina?” Shara asked politely.

“The Jiy headman’s daughter,” Neassa supplied. “Well, ex-headman.”

“It seems reasonable to assume she had contact with him through her father.” Shara tapped her long red nail against her chin. “But that doesn’t explain why he’s looking for Krios in the first place.”

“It’s odd,” Neassa admitted. “Krios knows Requet. They have a not-nice past, mainly because he’s a typical spoiled rich man’s son who thinks he’s more intelligent and charming than he is. His father spends an inordinate amount of time covering for his mistakes.”

“Sounds fun,” Patch muttered.

Lapis cleared her throat, wishing she had a drink. Some tea would be nice. “He was asking me about my not-partner Aethon, then asked if I knew Danaea’s partners.”

He winced. “Did he say why?”

“No. Then he asked me if I associated with Varr—and it was obvious where that lead.”

“It is, if you know who Krios is,” Shara murmured. “I wonder why he selected you, of all Jiy chasers, to interrogate. There are others who sell information, and he could have purchased what he wished from them, without the spectacle.”

“Requet doesn’t understand how chasing works, or much about the underground.” Neassa leaned closer to her cousin. “When we first met, he didn’t realize I was Jo Ban’s granddaughter and made a point of snubbing me. After he found out, he wondered why I didn’t squander my family’s money once given the chance, as he did.”

“We have enough cousins to do it for us,” Shara grumbled. “So how did he come into possession of a skyshroud?”

“We have at least one source of intel that says it’s decommissioned,” Patch said. “I’m betting he waylaid it because he has a Second Council daddy whose name he used to scare military personnel into handing him the keys.”

“His father’s a Tribute, and made quite the name for himself in Trave’s military circles before moving on to the Second Council,” Neassa said. “His popularity with the army paved his assent into the second counselor position, which makes it easy for Requet to threaten others using the connection.”

“So he set himself up as a fake leadcommander, hired a few mercenaries to man the skyshroud, and came to Jiy. To meet with Krios?” Patch ruffled his bangs. “Why?”

“It wasn’t to meet Krios,” Neassa said. “He had no reason to believe we were even here. Something else attracted him here, and then he heard rumors, probably from someone associated with Perben. His group resents the rebellion right now, and sharing info with the palace, which would be shared with the ‘shroud, will fill their need for revenge.”

“I think you’re right, that something else is going on,” Lais said. “They seem particularly interested in finding Hoyt and Danaea’s partners.” She tapped her fingers on the tabletop. She was about to provide Rin with more information than necessary on the lad, and she wondered if he might change his mind concerning him. “One of them they asked after, Jerin. He’s her son, not her partner. He looks twelve or so, and I’m not about to hand him over to those thugs.”

“A son?” Shara’s surprise reflected her initial shock. “I never would have pictured Danaea with a child.”

“She hid him at Willington’s.”

Shara pressed her lips together in thought. “She owed a great deal of money to Mibi. Perhaps she needed it for payments? Willington’s isn’t cheap, and she would have had to keep him there to protect him from the people she upset. They’d only be too happy to steal him away to get at her.”

“That might explain why she took this ‘shroud stake she mentions in her papers,” Patch said. “Requet has money and needed something underhanded done. Her death might have frightened him because he didn’t realize that stake had nothing to do with him. So he overreacted and sent his mercenaries out and about, looking for Hoyt and anyone associated with Danaea. I wonder if he thinks Hoyt killed her.”

“You think the Black Hats are mercenaries?” Shara asked, amused.

“Am I wrong?”

“No.” Neassa bubbly laughter seemed out-of-place. “They’ll take exception, though.”

“It’s true, they don’t have the clout they wished,” her cousin murmured. “Their star fell and they’re desperately trying to pick up the pieces. I noticed Kayleb with them. He’s the son of Thistle, the woman who started their syndicate. She died from an unexpected health issue, and they’ve floundered under the leadership of Donin ever since. He must think Requet can help restore their standing and his mother’s name.”

“He’s wrong,” Neassa said.

“We’re going to need to speak with Danaea’s partners.” Brander’s voice coated the room, a calming influence. He rarely voiced opinions in meetings, preferring to quietly study those involved. He learned much from it and understood motivations far better than Lapis did.

“And Hoyt.” Patch linked his fingers over his knee. “All leads go back to him.”

 “If you give us names, the Minq can conduct little chats with the chasers,” Shara said.

“There’s a couple more to add, too,” Lapis said. “Predi was helping Hoyt’s people at the Trees Street Guardhouse, and didn’t survive the experience. He had a list of names on him when he died. They might not be Hoyt-related, but we should check, to be certain.”

“Like who?” Shara asked.

“Like Rukiel, Tirem and Krute.”

“Krute?” The underboss did not hide her surprise. “His hate of Hoyt is legendary in underground circles. The man sent Cimis to murder someone close to him, and he’s never forgotten or forgiven. If Predi did work with him, it was either on something not related to Hoyt, or he hid the fact. Well, we can find out.”

“And how much will that cost?” Neassa asked, all business.

“Nothing, cousin. We want the skyshroud gone as badly as you do, and Hoyt’s become a severe burden for the underground. We’ll be partners in this. Midir’s already suggested it, and I doubt Faelan will contradict him.” She took a deep breath. “And Jarosa is most . . . persuasive.”

No one denied Jarosa when she wanted something badly enough.

Shara eyed her, and Lapis realized her humor had peeked through. “I grew up around Jarosa, so I know about persuasive,” she said.

“That’s right. You’re Faelan’s sister.” Her bemused acceptance made her mentally sigh in relief. “It still amazes me how many contacts your father built around Theyndora. Your brother can work wonders with them when he feels like it.”

“We’ll get you that list,” Patch said, rising. “And now, back downstairs.”

“Checking on Krios? Varr is quite capable,” Shara said.

“No, I want some wake juice. The people will be too busy gawking to order anything. Perfect timing on my part.”

Of course it was. “And I have a lot of people to thank,” Lapis said.

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