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I want to give my thanks to one of our patreon subscribers for asking if Cal had a physical description yet. Looking through my chapters, I realized that the only one is a brief description in the Alendra Interlude chapter. With that in mind, I’ve added one to this chapter as well. Thanks again!
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To be fair, Jasten seemed just as surprised to see Cal in the store as she was to see him.
“Ah, Lady Callion,” he said, presenting her with a flourishing bow. “I didn’t expect to see you here.”
“Nor I you, Lord Jasten,” Cal said, smiling through gritted teeth and curtsying.
“What brings you to this part of town.”
“Shopping around for clothes.”
“I see. And… is your current selection a new item, my lady?”
She looked down at her outfit and cursed silently. She was in her thieving clothes. Dark cloth, padded leather boots, a small knife on her hip, and all of it covered in dust and mud from her recent escapade. None of it was very ladylike.
“Oh, this? No! Under normal circumstances, I wouldn’t be caught dead in such rags, but this isn’t a friendly part of town after all. I believe you yourself had an unfortunate run-in with a brigand, did you not, my lord?
“Ah yes, that business. There were several of them, actually. I nearly had them, but I was ambushed from behind. Lucky for them, or I’d have their hides!”
“I’m sure,” Cal said coolly. “Have you recovered from your injuries yet?”
“There is some lingering pain,” Jasten said.
Good, Cal thought.
“But nothing I can’t handle.”
“So, what brings you here?” She asked.
He looked past her to Sable. “I, uh, have come to pick up an item.”
“Oh? What’s that?” She smiled sweetly.
“It’s… I, ah—”
“Buttons,” Sable offered, holding up a small envelope. He must’ve put the ticket in there while she’d been talking to the noble nitwit.
“Right! Buttons for my suit.” He reached for the envelope and Sable pulled it away.
“First, let’s discuss payment,” he said. He set a scale on the counter and began putting weights onto one of the two dishes. He set small led weights down one at a time, each one landing in the dish with a small, dull clink. The dish sank lower and lower, until it touched the counter.
Then he added a few more.
There was only the slightest crack in the mask of Jasten’s face as he watched. He turned to Cal. “I didn’t mean to hold you, my lady. I’m sure you have somewhere else to be?”
“I’m still looking around,” Cal said, “please, ignore my presence.”
“Ah, of course.” He turned back to the counter as Sable finally stopped. “Oh, come now, you can’t be serious!” He gave Cal a glance through the corner of his eye, then slicked back his hair and spoke again. “Surely, there must be some mistake here—”
“They are excellent buttons, m’lord.” Sable said with a smile. “Very rare, and acquired with great speed and at no small effort.” His smile disappeared. “But, if you are no longer interested—”
“No! Damn it all.” Jasten reached into his pocket and pulled out a bar of gold the size of his hand. He put the whole thing onto the scale and, very slowly, the weight began to measure out. “There, are we even?”
“Just a moment,” Sable got down on one knee, eyes level with the scale as it see-sawed back and forth. “It has to settle.”
“Goodness, Jasten, those must be some beautiful buttons to be worth so much. I would love to see them—”
“No!” He snapped. Then he froze and composed himself. “Ah, I can’t right now, my lady. But perhaps I could show you over drinks later?”
“Sorry, my lord, but my schedule is full up at the moment. You know how it is, I’m sure.”
He nodded. “That I do. Perhaps another time then.”
“Now, are we even?” He shot a glare at Sable.
“It appears you’ve given me just a little to much, it you can shave down the bar—”
“I don’t have time, just take the damn thing!” He snarled, snatching the envelope from the counter and turning to leave. He paused at the door and gave Cal a brief bow before ducking out.
Cal counted to five before bursting out in laughter. Sable gave her a chiding look, but beneath it she saw him smiling too.
“Lady Callion?” He asked. “Oh dear, what have you gotten yourself into?”
“Something profitable, I hope,” she replied
“And you know that… miserable little man?”
“You have the honor of knowing Lord Jasten Forthale, son of Count Who-Gives-A-Shit. A classmate of mine.”
“They just let anyone into Istima nowadays, then?”
“As long as they’ve got money.”
“So it seems,” Sable said, grunting as he lifted the brick of gold. “A job well done, my dear. He took a small knife and shaved off a small portion. “Your cut, as promised.”
Cal looked at it. Compared to the brick, it seemed minuscule. “That’s it?”
“Minus rent, of course. Thirty drams this time.”
She sighed and grabbed the meager shavings, scooping them into a bottle with the rest of her money. Before she got here, it would’ve seemed like a fortune. In Istima, it was worth a few weeks of food and drink. It jangled against the glass as she shook it. She’d have to stuff some cotton in there to keep it from making noise while she worked. But that was a problem for another time. Right now, she needed a drink.
But first she went upstairs. Her bathroom had only a small, cracked mirror, but it was more than she was used to. It was surprising, Cal thought, how well she was able to pull off the look of a nobleman’s daughter. All her life, she’d done the best she could to avoid drawing attention to herself. Yet recently, she’d found it necessary to do just that in her newfound role. Her face was thin and angular, with large, chestnut eyes and thick, dark hair — in the right light the features certainly looked noble, perhaps even regal. She knew she should’ve cleaned up and made herself into a presentable young lady, but she was too tired and the bar was calling. Instead, she settled for wiping off her face and getting the straw off the bottoms of her boots.
When she’d finished, she headed over to Madam Horatia’s Boarding House for Young Ladies, where Alendra’s room was. The place sounded like a prison.
When she got there, she found a stern-looking woman—Madam Horatia, presumably. She was squat, had a face like brick, and was sweeping hard enough to scratch the floorboards.
“If you’re looking for a room, we’re full up. Better luck next year.”
“No, I’m looking for someone. A friend who lives here.”
The woman looked up from her broom. “Is that so?”
“Her name’s Alendra Kaestellus. She just started renting—”
“She’s not in at the moment.” The woman went back to sweeping, as though that this was a sufficient place to end the conversation.
“How can you be so sure?” Cal frowned. “Can’t I at least go check?”
“I keep close eyes on my girls. And even if she were here, I wouldn’t allow you up.”
Madam Horatia scowled. “Because this is a respectable house, young miss! And I won’t have you trampling your filth in here!”
Cal fought back the urge to deck the red-faced hag. If she’d shown up in Callion’s clothes, she probably would’ve been welcomed with open arms. But in her current state, she was looked at like a stray found in the gutter. But she didn’t need to attract that sort of attention, especially not here. If this place was good enough for Alendra’s parents, who knows who else might be here? So she swallowed her pride and headed back out into the dim light of the setting sun.
With nowhere else to go, Cal wandered back to the Falls District. She didn’t know where Rathana was staying, otherwise she might try and find him and go back to that Aketsi place he’d shown her—the one with the good food. As it stood, she settled for the first bar she could find. In a city like this, it didn’t take long. Practically every other building sold some sort of booze.
The place she found was called ‘The Golden Goose,’ and was the dingiest, most rundown establishment Cal had ever seen. It must’ve been nearby to a tannery, because the smell was enough to make her gag. Fortunately, the bar was located in a basement, which blocked some of the odor. There were windows near the ceiling that peeked out at the street, providing an excellent view of everyone’s ankles as they passed by on the search for somewhere better. Cal descended the uneven stone steps and pushed open the door.
The inside of the Golden Goose wasn’t better. Small, jaundice-yellow candles flickered and trailed oily, black smoke into the air. It was hard to see, but what Cal could see wasn’t good looking. The clientele was made up entirely out of people who could be found in dark alleys late at night. Everyone was missing teeth, eyes, fingers, or some combination of the three.
Cal approached the bar and a grizzled-looking old man came up.
“Drink,” she said, pulling out one of the larger shavings of gold. “However much this’ll get.”
The man snatched the shaving and bit it. He nodded and set a wooden tankard of dark, lukewarm ale in front of her.
It tasted like ashes and week-old bread. She drank about half of it before setting it back down on the bar which, for reasons she couldn’t understand, was very sticky.
She’d never had a home, but just about every town she’d been run out of had a place like this. It wasn’t good, or wholesome, or honest, but it was reliable and straightforward. Hell, for old time’s sake, she could hustle a game or two of cards or darts—
“Now what is a pretty thing like you doing in a place like this?”
Cal scowled, placing a hand on the hilt of her knife and turning to look at whoever had spoken. But she froze when she saw a face she knew. A face she hadn’t seen in a very long time. The face of someone she’d left for dead.
“Hello again, Kid.” She said with a vicious smile. “Buy me a drink?”