- 55 -

28.3K 1.9K 174

The elevator doors parted with a soft swish of well-tuned machinery.

The following evening, after my shift at Klau's front desk had officially come to an end, I marched into Amoroth's office to find the Sin of Lust stationed behind her desk and a veritable curtain wall of stuffed boxes. Each box brimmed with contracts and documents. It seemed no matter where I went, be it work or home, I simply couldn't escape the ravages of paperwork.

"I'm busy, Gaspard," Amoroth quipped as the brass edge of her fountain pen continued to scratch its ordered lines. One of her guards stood behind her chair with his arms crossed and his chin up, sunglasses shielding his eyes from view. Beyond him, the ubiquitous windows were cloaked in the raven-colored hues of night. The city's lights were not as prevalent this high above the valley, but Verweald's intrusive luminosity still lingered in the peripheries. "Make it quick."

I rounded my shoulders and balanced my fists upon my hips. If the woman wanted brief, I would be brief. "Give me a gun."

The pen stopped scratching. Amoroth's guard choked and quietly coughed into his cupped hand. Amoroth blinked several times and didn't stir from her writing posture. "I'm not going to ask," she said to the desktop before addressing me directly. "But, you do realize you can't just shoot Darius, right? It doesn't work like that."

"I've shot him before. I know." I held out my hand, fingers waggling in silent demand. "I don't have much time."

"She's shot him before, she says," the Sin breathed in disbelief as she set her pen aside and straightened. Amoroth aligned her fingers and tilted her eyes heavenward, gazing at that horrific mural. "Didn't you make me drive for three hours to reach San Barkett so you could specifically not ask me for a gun?"

"Hey." I jabbed my bandaged finger at the Sin. "I never asked you to take me. You volunteered, and as I said—I'm pressed for time." The woman scoffed as she affected her writing posture once more. I sensed that our conversation was drawing to a close. Resigned, I inhaled, then allowed the breath to course through my lips. "If you do this, I'll owe you a favor."

"Is that supposed to sway me? A favor from a half-dead waif of a mortal? Please." Amoroth was mocking me—but she had settled in her seat again, eyes bright with interest, her expression smug. The woman bartered for favors like a modern-day Mephistopheles.

"You do like favors, don't you?"

She hummed as her head bobbed in silent assent. A single curl fell from its tie to cascade along her cheek. "That I do, that I do....Does Darius know you're here?"

"Specifically in your office asking for a firearm? No."

Amoroth's gaze sharpened, her nails clicking against one another. "What are you going to do with it?"

"I thought you weren't going to ask?"

"Me too. And yet here I am, asking you anyway. Asking twice. Oh, how I loathe asking anything twice. Why do you want the gun?"

Her usage of the Tongue of the Realm drew a taut cord between us, then plucked the line like one would a guitar's string. I felt the vibration rattle my ribcage and shiver through my skull. Velvet strings within my mind were reeled into tense, unwavering bonds. I coughed, "To protect Darius."

Amoroth sputtered, then started laughing. "What absolute bull is that?"

Color crept into my cheeks. I was embarrassed but also quite angry. I did not enjoy being coerced to speak against my will. "It's not bull," I said. "But it's not the whole truth."

"Then what is the whole truth, Gaspard? Or should I force that from you as well—?"

"Darius makes a lot of mistakes." I cut the Sin's question short before she could decide to test my will again. "A lot of mistakes. He kills more leads than we can find. I don't hold that against him. I've made my fair share of mistakes, too." I drew a shaky breath and stepped closer to Amoroth's desk, lowering my voice. "But the man keeps trying. He hasn't given up on this nightmare of a contract—or on me. Darius perseveres despite his blunders, despite his hunger or his anger or his fear. Every day, I learn a little more about the starvation that plagues him, Amoroth. About the fear that hunger inflicts upon him, the fear of losing himself and his mind to the capricious debasement of famine and time.

BereftWhere stories live. Discover now