tagSci-Fi & FantasyFacing Destiny

Facing Destiny


"I assume we have reached a bargain, then?" Darkniciad asked.

The man before him pursed his lips for a moment and his brow furrowed. He took a breath, nodded his head, and said, "It's a square deal."

"Excellent," Darkni said while extending a hand. As he shook hands to seal the deal, he said, "We shall stay in touch so you know when to be ready to take delivery. There is, of course, the matter of the advance payment."

His customer nodded. "I'll go fetch my gold."

"My father will handle that. It has been a pleasure doing business with you." Darkni turned and nodded to his father before exiting the building.

Outside, he let the business facade fall away from his face and sighed. This was the third such arrangement his father had forced him to take the lead on since arriving in town, and he had other things on his mind. Those goals and how to accomplish them swirled in his head, and before he knew it, his father was exiting.

"Well done, son."

Darkni nodded, ran his fingers through his dark locks, and offered a slight smile. "Have I sufficiently proven my business acumen to have earned some time to myself, perhaps?"

"Very well. Remember that you still represent us even when at leisure. I have several more prospects to explore in this area. I expect to remain for another four days. I may yet need your help, and we shall speak every evening before retiring."

"Of course. If I may take my leave, then?"

His father sighed and nodded. Darkniciad turned on his heel immediately. Soon enough, he left the brick paved roads for the dusty lanes of the poorer quarter of the city, seeking a very specific establishment. The inn where the workmen of his father's business were staying was a far cry from the well-appointed one where his own rooms were. The smell of cheap pipe weed and stale sweat lingered beneath the aroma of whatever was cooking for the evening.

Through the dim lighting and haze of smoke, he spotted Ernest sitting at a corner table and crossed the creaking floor boards to join him. The man was one of his father's wagon drivers, and was only rarely pressed into other service while on a business trip, freeing up his time.

Darkni sat down, doing his best to drop the cultured tongue to which he had grown accustomed for the benefit of his more plainspoken conspirator. "Any luck?" he asked.

"Yep," Ernest answered. He then nodded toward the bar. "You'll need to order something. I can already see the bartender giving you the evil eye."

"We can't have that, can we?" Darkni turned and signaled a barmaid. He thought that she must have been quite pretty before hard work and long hours had hardened her. She was still curvy and attractive, but the bloom was certainly off the rose. From the crude words and gestures of the other patrons as she passed, it appeared the clientele still found her fetching.

"What can I get you?" she asked with a thoroughly false tone and even falser smile of congeniality.

Darkni pulled a silver coin from his purse and saw her eyes widen. "Bring me a cup of your finest wine, and you may keep what remains for yourself."

"Our finest isn't all that good," she warned. A flirtatious note crept into her voice when she added, "I can make sure the bartender doesn't water it down and puts it in a clean cup for you, though."

"That will do," he said as he held up the coin for her to take. She did so, making sure to let her fingers brush his. A genuine — if somewhat calculating — smile decorated her face as she turned and strutted back toward the bar with her hips swaying.

"If you want to bed her, you just bought her," Ernest said. "She won't see that much from the whole of this lot all night. Might steal your purse while you're all knackered, though." He took a long look at her behind and said, "Think it would be worth it."

Darkniciad chuckled. "My father would faint if I even thought about it."

"True that."

"The shop?" Darkni enquired.

Ernest tore his eyes away from the barmaid. "Place didn't even have a sign. I asked about those herbs, and when he had those, I asked about the others. He got a bit antsy then, but I slipped him that coin you gave me and he brightened right up. Said he had a book, too."

The workman gave the slightest of nods, indicating that someone was approaching. Darkni glanced that way and saw the barmaid carrying his cup.

"Here you are," she said as she sat the cup down and stood in such a way as to display her womanly charms quite prominently. "Fresh bottle, only opened a few minutes ago. Just long enough for it to breathe."

"You know your craft. I thank you, my dear," Darkni said as he lifted his cup. He took a sip, and while it was a relatively poor wine compared to his usual fare, it was passable. "This will do nicely."

She batted her eyelashes at him and said, "If you need anything, just ask for Milli."

"I will keep that in mind, Milli."

Once again, she strutted as she left the table. Ernest let out a quiet whistle once she was out of hearing range. "Yep," he said, "She's yours for the askin'. Anyway, he had a book, and he let me see it. It was like you said to look for. The words almost looked like they were crawling on the page. Made my head hurt."

Darkniciad sat up a little straighter and leaned in at the description.

"It had about fifty pages, and they all had that writing on them. There was some regular writing here and there, but I couldn't make much more sense out of it than the spidery stuff. A little bigger than the size of your hand."

It had all the hallmarks of a traveling spellbook, and the number of pages presented a good probability of spells that were new to his studies. Darkni asked, "Was he willing to allow me to visit at such a late hour?"

"He didn't seem happy about it, but he said yes, so long as he knows you're coming beforehand."

"Then let him know I will be there this evening. I should go and be seen somewhere my father expects me," Darkniciad said as he pushed his chair back.

"You're going to break her heart," his conspirator said, and then chuckled.

"Well then," Darkni said, and fished into his purse. He retrieved a coin of the same size as the one he'd given to the barmaid and pushed it to Ernest. "When you return, you could test your theory about the value of that coin in her eyes. You've certainly earned it."

He picked up the coin. "Doubt it's worth half as much in my grubby fingers, but it might be worth just enough."

"Good luck."

With that, Darkni took his leave. As he moved toward the door, he noticed that Ernest's prediction was bearing fruit. The barmaid's shoulders slumped at the sight of him leaving. He felt a stirring in his loins as he considered that his conspirator's other suggestion might also be true and he could bed the woman if he would only stay and let her take him home.

But, if his father learned of such a liaison, it would jeopardize something far more important. He would almost certainly be left tending the business at home during these trips, rather than having the opportunity to seek out new magic. With just such a possibility on the horizon, he suppressed the swell of ardor with planning.

There was much of that to be done.


The room was quiet, as it had been for an hour. Darkni looked up from his spellbook and trained his eyes on a faintly glowing circle of light set against the wall between his room and his father's. The older man had barely stirred since his son had last looked in on him. His breaths came slowly and regularly.

It was time.

Darkniciad snapped his spellbook closed and waved a hand. The gesture caused the circle of light to shift from the wall to the door. When he looked outside, he saw the hallway was empty. Gooseflesh prickled his skin as he spoke the words of a spell, his hands flowing through the gestures. When he spoke the last word and dropped his hands in a palm-up sweeping gesture, he was invisible.

A thought extinguished the magical light he had used for reading. After a final look through the portal of clairvoyance, a second thought banished that magic as well. He opened the door only wide enough to exit, closed it quickly, and locked it. The hall remained empty.

The sound coming from the taproom below was a stark reminder that he was far from safely away. The magic was quite effective, but had its limitations. If he were to speak, work any other magic, or touch anyone, the spell would fail, leaving him and his clandestine excursion revealed.

Heart pounding, he crept to the stairs. Finding no one ascending, he made his way down. Between his soft soled shoes and the fine construction, his steps made little sound. The late hour and the nature of the clientele served him well. Those who frequented the establishment were generally wealthy. They had business to attend to in the morning, and had taken to their beds. Those who remained were sitting at their tables rather than roaming about the taproom.

Darkni marked everyone and plotted a path that avoided each person by a wide berth. He slipped through the common room, weaving amidst the tables and chairs, and soon stood beside the door. It was there that he faced the most harrowing part of his journey. Somehow, he must slip out the door without raising undue suspicion.

He watched the people in the room carefully, waiting for the moment when few — or hopefully none — of them were looking toward the door. He was so engrossed in calculating his escape that he almost missed the sound of the latch opening.

Darkniciad flattened himself against the wall and held his breath as someone entered. The man stepped inside, and at the exact moment there was enough room to permit it, Darkni slipped past him and outside. The incoming patron must have felt the breeze of his hasty passage, because he paused and looked outside. Again, Darkni held his breath until the man shook his head and closed the door.

Here too, the lateness of the hour served him well. Few were out and about. The firepots had grown dim, leaving the streets cast in gloom. He made a beeline for the poorer quarter, following the directions Ernest had given him. When the bricks gave way to dirt, he became even more cautious. Here, the deep of the night presented as much danger as opportunity. The raucous sounds coming from a tavern that straddled the border demonstrated that clearly. Here, many were quite accustomed to living their lives in the darkness.

Luck was with him, and the people he encountered took no note of his passage. Soon enough, he stood before the door of the shop Ernest had described. After a long, careful look at his surroundings, he let the invisibility spell drop and knocked on the door.

For a tense minute, he was exposed beneath the shop's awning, and then he heard footsteps from inside. When the door opened, the owner's visage betrayed both weariness and irritation.

"I thank you for agreeing to receive me at such a late hour," Darkni said while giving a bow of his head. "I am Darkniciad, as my man surely told you."

"He did. Only the color of your coin that's keeping me here. Inside, before we both get robbed and murdered."

Darkniciad followed the shopkeeper inside to find the place was a general store that stocked all manner of common items. He saw everything from farm implements to spices in the flickering light of the lanterns that hung from the rafters above.

"Name's Ferron. I guess you're interested in the book, huh?" the shopkeeper said as he stepped behind the counter.

"Indeed I am."

"Well, here you are."

The book was as Ernest had described it. Darkni picked it up and began to thumb through the pages. After only a few turns, he recognized new spells to add to his knowledge. In all, there were twenty new spells within the volume, the greatest trove he had yet discovered. His father's training served him well, and he kept his excitement hidden.

"What are you asking for this volume?" Darkni asked.

It was subtle — nothing more than a tilt of the head and a slight widening of the eyes, but the proprietor gave away his surprise. If he wished, Darkni knew he could easily take advantage of the man and acquire the spellbook for far less than its value. There were better ways to exploit the knowledge to his long term gain, however.

"Three gold half crowns," Ferron answered.

"No, no. I couldn't possibly pay more than one."

And so the haggling began. From the very first counteroffer, Darkni could tell that his opponent thoroughly enjoyed this part of his occupation. They argued, espousing and denouncing the value of the book respectively as they edged their offers closer together.

Finally, the shopkeeper thumped his hand on the counter and said, "Two gold half crowns, and not a single copper less."

It was slightly more than the book was worth to the average wizard, and significantly less than its value to Darkni. He was pleased with the price, and when he said, "Done," he could see in the man's eyes that Ferron was pleased as well.

"Very well. Less the silver your man left with me—"

Darkni held up a hand. "No, please. That is for your trouble in receiving me at this late hour. I will pay the full price for the book, and there are a few other purchases I would like to make from your stores as well."

The man made no attempt to hide his pleasure upon hearing those words.

After selecting a few assorted roots, herbs, and other sundries that were of use to his practice of the Art and accepting the fair price quoted to him, Darkni said, "If I may suggest, many of these items would remain fresh longer were you to keep them in glass rather than earthenware."

The shopkeeper shrugged. "Suppose so, but glass is expensive."

"Ah, but it is something you only need to purchase once, which will then increase your profits into perpetuity."

"Not so much on this rotten end of town."

"I can see your conundrum there," Darkni agreed as he counted out his coin.

After pocketing the coins, Ferron said, "I'm not smart enough to outwit you, but I'm smart enough to know when I've been whipped. I'm thinking you spend more time on this side of the counter than you do on the other."

"Much to my chagrin, but yes."

"My house is right at the edge of the brickway. I live alone and don't need much space, so I was thinking about converting the front into the shop and selling this place to anyone foolish enough to buy it. What do you think of that?"

After pondering for a moment, Darkni said, "I suspect it would expose you to a higher class of clientele, and your wares do seem to outclass your environs. It would also have the added advantage of a short walk to work."

"One not filled with cutpurses."

Darkniciad chuckled. "Quite true. Were it I and I had the funds, it is something I would seriously consider."

"Funds, not so much." The man patted his pocket. "Though that's a bit better after tonight. What I have is folks who owe me favors."

"As good as coin under the right circumstances. So long as we are speaking of favors, I have a proposition for you. Do you know Arris Wilton in Rantine or Joseph Harold in Deerfield?"

"Arris in passing, but Joseph I've had dealings with in the past."

"I have an arrangement with them and several other businessmen, forming a network that seeks out and quietly acquires the wares of my craft, as well as goods which may demand a higher price in other regions. I would ask that you speak with Joseph and mention me. It could prove advantageous to all of us."

The man pursed his lips for a moment. "Never knew they dealt in that sort of thing, but then again, they don't know I do either. Not exactly something you chit-chat about. Joseph is a square dealer, and I've heard the same about Arris. Need to head to Deerfield to call in some of those favors, so I'll look him up."

"Excellent," Darkni said, and then reached into his purse. He pulled out a gold half crown and sat it on the counter. "Allow me to aid in your traveling expenses — in exchange for your silence, of course."

"Hells, I would have kept my mouth shut anyway, but I'll take your coin."

"Do so with my blessing. I hope this is the beginning of a long and profitable association."

Ferron picked up the half crown and said, "Off to a good start from my end."

"Indeed it is," Darkni said as he finished gathering up his purchases and stowed them away in the satchel slung over his shoulder.


The urge to delve into the new spells immediately upon returning to his room had been strong, but he had resisted. It was well that he did, because his father called upon him to take the lead on a transaction barely after the crack of dawn. Later, the business profitably concluded, father and son returned to the inn.

Amidst other conversation about the outcome of the trip so far, Darkni's father mentioned selling the sample glassware they had brought with them to make room for raw materials purchased. Darkniciad did not let the opportunity slip past him.

"During my time yesterday, I visited the shop of a merchant who seeks to better his position. His wares could benefit from glass storage. Since you wish to be rid of the glassware, perhaps we could provide what he needs at a discount."

"There's no profit in that."

"Unless I'm mistaken, there has been little local interest in the glass. It is quite likely we will take a loss regardless."

"That is true." His father scratched his chin and said, "You say this man seeks to better himself. How?"

Darkni explained the shopkeeper's plan to move to the better part of the city, stressing that he already had access to wares worthy of the move.

"Very well," his father agreed. "A man who is increasing his standing and has a measure of good will toward us could be advantageous."

"It will take me some time to move the whole of the samples," Darkni cautioned. "I will need to sell the balance at other locations."

"Do what is necessary. Any profit will be yours as an added incentive to seek the best prices."

"If I may borrow Ernest, I will begin at once."

"You may have him. We will speak again over supper. I expect to be rid of the burden of the glassware before then."

"Then I shall see you this evening."

No doubt his father knew he had ulterior motives, but he spoke nothing of it as Darkni stopped and turned toward the inn where Ernest was staying. In short order, he gathered up his conspirator and headed toward the warehouse where they had rented space for their wagons and wares.

"You seem in a cheerful mood for so early in the day," Darkni suggested as they made their way through the increasingly crowded streets. "The barmaid?"

Ernest flashed a wide smile. "She was a smidge blue that you weren't coming back at first, but that coin brightened her up. And once she got a look at this..." He reached down and cupped his groin. "Well, that really perked her up. A wild one she is. Those tits look just as good as you imagine they would. I'm thinking your old man's going to be paying for a room I'm not sleeping in for the rest of the trip."

"I wouldn't mention that anywhere he has ears."

A chuckle shook Ernest. "My momma didn't raise no fools."

Soon enough, the two crates of bottles were loaded on a hand cart. Darkniciad did his best to clear a path through the crowded brickway by preceding the cart, though progress was still slow. Once on the dirt roads of the poorer quarter, the going was easier. Without the cover of darkness, the section of town seemed less foreboding than it had the previous evening.

The shop appeared to be doing a reasonably brisk business when the pair arrived. Darkni had to bend down and lift on the front end of the cart to aid Ernest in pushing it over the threshold between the entrance and egress of patrons. When he straightened, the tired-eyed shopkeeper gave him a brief nod. A few minutes later, the counter was free, and the pair approached.

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