The Way of the World by Kalyna Conrad

Iusin was nervous and that confused her. After all, this wasn’t exactly her first late-night encounter with one of her father’s male guests in this secluded corner of the Cat’s Corpse’s back garden.

She held her breath as she watched the man emerge from the inn’s back door and move towards her, ducking the low-hanging tree branches that seemed to reach their skeletal fingers towards him, as though yearning to shred his perfect bronze skin to tatters.

He stopped a breath away from her, studying her with unfathomable green eyes that practically glowed in the moonlight. He was so strong… so beautiful… so wonderfully foreign. She shivered. Beneath his rich Taldan travelling costume she could sense something strange; something thrilling and slightly… dangerous.

A slow smile curled his inviting lips, “You wished to see me?” He asked in perfect, if slightly archaic Osiriani. The thick, dark sound of his voice set something unfamiliar fluttering in her chest. What a nice surprise, so few of her foreign clients made the effort to seduce her in her native tongue.

His teeth glinted in a sudden stray shaft of moonlight and the fluttering inside her erupted into a tiny voice screaming that she should run very far and very fast. Right now.

She ignored it and offered him an inviting smile of her own, “I did. I thought perhaps we could have a cozy little…” she licked her lips and rolled back her shoulders, “chat.”

His gaze dropped to her bodice, “Ah.” He reached out to trace calloused bronze fingers across the curve of her mouth, “I see. And what gave you the impression that I was in the market for such… entertainments?”

She shivered at his touch, so deliciously strange and right all at once, “Nothing.” She confessed coyly, “I was just hoping.”

She reached out to run a finger along his jaw but he caught her hand and held it before she could make contact.

Without a word he advanced, looming over her and forcing her backward until she felt the cold press of the garden wall through her thin dress. He was so close now that he obliterated the starry night sky above, “What is your name little mouse?”

“I-Iusin.” She replied, shocked by the fear tripping up her words.

“Iusin.” He rolled the word on his tongue as his gaze pinned her in place, “Well Iusin, I am afraid that you are in for a bit of a surprise,” his smile turned chilly, “the entertainments I have in mind are of a slightly more… painful nature than that which you might have expected.”

Lost in the luminous depths of his eyes, Iusin barely registered the bright slithering sound of a longsword being drawn – and only jerked slightly when the cold steel kissed her throat edge first. He released her hand but she couldn’t bring herself to flee as he purred, “Now, shall we get started?”

***

Bang!

Bang! Bang!

How could she be expected to sleep off all the ale she’d drunk this afternoon with that infernal racket going on?

Bang!

Her temples throbbed unpleasantly and her stomach heaved. Well, so much for sleep.

Cracking one eye open, she peeked at the bedroom’s tiny window. It was dark out; probably not even midnight yet. She groaned. She’d only gone to bed at ten.

Dragging a pillow over her head, Nives mumbled a reasonable, if curse-laden, approximation of, “Go away Lucian!” and tried to pretend she was dead.

Bang!

“Miss Varano?”

Bang! Bang!

Groping blindly on the floor till she located one of her very sturdy travelling boots, Nives hurled it at the door without even opening her eyes. It thudded once against the thin wood and again as it returned to the floor.

“I told you I’m not going to sleep with you Lucian!” She shouted, instantly regretting raising her voice, “Now leave me to die in peace… unless you have coffee, you can leave that outside the door before you go.”

“Ah…” Feet shuffled on the other side of the door, “I- I am not Lucian, it is Ormos, the inn-keeper?”

Ah. No wonder that Taldane sounded far more accented than her assistant’s usual speech…. And the voice was a lot deeper too…. Okay, so what did their illustrious landlord want at this un-godly hour?

With a grunt she rolled out of bed, hit the floor face-first and pushed herself to her feet. Checking to make sure she was properly covered, she stumbled to the door and yanked it open.

The little round man in the hall was shifting from foot to foot, his meaty hands wringing his greasy apron as he looked at her, dark eyes bright with something that looked exactly like real, life-or-death fear. After fifteen years of adventuring into the deepest, darkest places in Golarion to retrieve priceless artefacts for her less-than-scrupulous Taldan patron, Lord Iacob Massili, she’d seen her fair share of the emotion. It was unmistakeable – and usually meant bad things were about to happen.

“What is it?” she growled.

“Um…” The man-ball cowered, “There is someone to see you.”

“Tell them to come back later…” she groaned, massaging her temples as her head spun, “when I’m feeling better.”

“Oh no, miss, please… you must come now. He will not wait…” he started inching toward the stairs, “Please, you come now.”

The poor man was practically in hysterics. Nives’ hard earned adventuring instincts finally prickled to life, dousing her in cold, sobering awareness.

Whoever was downstairs must be important… probably some local official or someone equally annoying. Or maybe…. her teeth clenched.

Maybe it was Rosso, probably holding the man’s family hostage until she handed over the sword they’d acquired this morning in that mausoleum. That was so his style; let her do all the dirty work and then steal the prize so his patron, Lord Borghesi, could win whatever bet he’d made with Iacob this time.

Well, he wasn’t going to get away with it. Not today.

“Fine.” She grunted, “I’ll be down in a minute.”

“Thank you, miss! Thank you!” The man gushed, bolting for the stairs.

“Oh,” she called after him, “could you wake my companion on your way and tell him to meet me downstairs?”

The man stopped, spun, and bowed, “He is already gone miss. I try his door first.”

“Oh.” She frowned.

He nodded once and tore off down the stairs with a worried call of, “Please hurry miss.”

Odd. Lucian was usually more devoted to her than a tethered puppy… where could he have wandered off to?

Well, that was a problem for later. First she had to deal with that devious snake Rosso. Maybe it was good that Lucian was missing, seeing as how he currently had the sword. After all, she couldn’t give Rosso something she didn’t have.

***

Ormos was so nervous by the time Nives got downstairs that his balding head glittered with sweat in spite of the cool winter air. He clasped her hands when she appeared, his relief palpable as he mumbled, “Thank you miss. This way.”

He led her away from the bustling sounds of the still-busy tavern and down a short hall toward the back where the private rooms were. He stopped and pulled aside the last curtain on the right.

Nives swept around the corner, hands already on her daggers and a slew of rude words for Rosso on her lips.

And stopped cold.

Instead of the familiar, faintly mocking grey eyes of her former partner, she’d walked straight into a wall of eerily calm black gaze.

The man sat facing the door, sipping something from an elegant goblet that obviously didn’t belong to the filthy little inn. He was oddly handsome in spite of the fact that his skin was pale enough to qualify as white and his features were gaunt with a cruel twist, his thin face framed by long, lanky ink-black hair. He held himself with an easy air of malicious superiority as he looked her over with those flat, dark eyes. She felt everywhere his gaze touched as though icy spiders skittered across her skin.

She took an instant dislike to him.

Without blinking he started speaking at her in rapid Osiriani; a language Nives had never bothered to learn. Where she came from if they didn’t speak Taldane they weren’t worth talking to.

She held up a hand, “Sorry friend.” She scoffed, making it clear that she wasn’t at all impressed by him, “I don’t speak your gobbledy-gook; it’s Taldane or nothing.”

The man’s eyes flew wide and he stopped mid-sentence, apparently genuinely shocked by the interruption. Well good. There was nothing she enjoyed more than putting uppity local officials in their place.

There was a beat of dangerous silence in which Nives heard the rapidly retreating footsteps of the inn-keeper as he fled back to his kitchens from where he’d clearly been eavesdropping. She snorted. Coward. She’d cowed men far more intimidating than this gangly nobody.

The nobody in question recovered himself admirably and nodded, leaning back in his chair as he said in perfect Taldane, “You have something that belongs to me and I would like it back.”

The Way of the World continues in Part 2