Demon Queened Ch. 13

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I followed Feyra out of the alley, keeping close as she led me through the maze of sidestreets. She set a fast pace, her hands tucked into her trouser pockets and her head bowed as if trying to shut herself off from the world. At first, I thought she might be impatient to reach the relative safety of a major road, but, even after leaving the sideroads behind, she refused to slow down.

The buildings grew steadily nicer as we traveled, at least in cleanliness, if not in architecture. We were still far from the wealthy parts of the city, but the people around us seemed well-fed and healthy, at least compared to Feyra. Back in the slums, my relatively well-kempt appearance had garnered quite a few looks of surprise and suspicion, but now the locals’ stares were split equally between Feyra and me, as if unsure what either of us were doing there.

While I certainly stood out more than I’d intended, I was relieved to see that my choice of attire wasn’t too far from what the locals wore. My skirt, which stopped right above my knees, was perhaps an inch or two shorter than that of those around me, and while my sleeveless green top was certainly outside the norm, it seemed to inspire mild surprise rather than full-on shock. I was a bit relieved to find that the eyes upon me were filled with curiosity rather than offense. I thought I saw a hint of anxiety as well, from those whose attention lingered, but at the speed we were traveling I had no time to check.

Still, I was undeniably drawing more attention than I’d hoped. I briefly considered buying some more traditional human attire once I had the funds, but quickly dismissed the idea. The curiosity of the human locals’ was vastly preferable to the suspicion of my fellow demons, should anyone discover clothing of foreign make and materials in my possession. Instead, I turned my attention to a much more pressing concern.

“Must you walk so fast?” It wasn’t as if I had any trouble keeping up. No matter how fast Feyra moved, I could in theory go faster and further. However, she was rather tall at five foot nine, and her long legs naturally led to long strides. I could only match Feyra’s pace by resorting to a jog. I was managing that well enough for the time being, but my heels made it all too easy to misstep when traveling at this speed. Between this and my earlier slip, I was becoming more and more aware of the complications they could cause when I couldn’t compensate with my wings.

“S-sorry!” Feyra stuttered out, coming to a halt so suddenly that I almost slammed into her backside. “I’ll go slower, okay? Just please don’t get mad.”

“I hardly see myself getting angry over something so trivial,” I protested. The way Feyra flinched in response made it clear just how much she feared my displeasure. Had my handling of her assailants truly been so brutal?

“It’s only that I won’t be able to pay you if you lose me in the crowd,” I explained, forcing my face to a neutral state. A gentle smile would have been preferable, but I doubted I could make it look sincere. I was used to faking indifference in the face of fear and hatred, but I was not confident in my ability to force a smile.

“Right. Wouldn’t want that…” Feyra stared at the ground as she spoke, pointedly denying my attempt to look her in the eyes. For some strange reason, her voice sounded almost wistful to my ears. Did she not want the saints I’d promised her? This girl was an enigma to me.

“Well, we’re pretty much here, anyway.” Feyra gestured to her right.

The shop Feyra indicated was a two-story-tall building made of gray stone. It was largely indistinct from the buildings surrounding it, except for a small wooden sign that hung from an iron pole. Devoid of lettering, the sign’s only decoration was a rough carving in the shape of a gem, colored a pale red. It had been commissioned long ago if the peeling paint was anything to go by.

“This is the Ruby Shop,” Feyra continued. “Sorry, but I’ve never been anywhere fancier than this…” Her face was filled with anxiety, as if she expected me to object.

“You needn’t worry so much,” I chided. “A gilded appearance does not always translate to better service.” My words did nothing to reduce the terror in her eyes, and I couldn’t stop myself from grimacing. Wanting to escape the expression she bore, I turned to the establishment and opened the door.

Although the shop had seemed quite large from without, the interior was surprisingly cramped. Cabinets lined the walls, containing downward slanted shelves with interspaced ridges that held various accessories in place. Although I saw a large selection of jewelry, with a wide variety of designs, the majority of them were constructed of copper or brass. Most likely the ‘stones’ set inside them were nothing more than pretty glass.

In the center of the room were four long counters pressed together, positioned to form a rectangle. Rather than solid tops, these display cases were covered by wooden bahis siteleri slats. Stepping forward and peering between them, I could see pieces made with silver and gold. There were hinges on the counter’s inner edge and a small locked latch on the side closest to me.

“If you want a proper look at something, just ask,” called a gruff voice from the far-right corner of the room. Turning in that direction revealed a rather squat man, whose feet did not reach the ground despite the short stature of his stool. The bushy black beard that covered half his face was streaked with gray, and there were wrinkles around his red eyes. Was this the shopkeeper, then?

Before I could inquire, the man’s attention shifted away from me towards my companion, and his lips pulled into a scowl. “Oh, so she’s with you, brat. We can skip the useless chatter then – Amessa’s in the back.”

“She’s here for you, old man,” Feyra spat back. “Be happy you have a customer for once and treat her with a little respect.”

“A customer, eh?” The jeweler looked me up and down, but the frown never left his face. If anything he seemed even less pleased with my presence. “You go daft, brat? What’s the point in bringing a high-class lady here? You think I got anything of interest for someone who could buy up my shop on a whim?”

Feyra stepped forward, but I held up a hand to stop her progress. The withering look faded from her eyes in an instant, and her mouth snapped shut. She stepped back, exiting my sight as I stifled a tired sigh. Seeing how Feyra behaved towards those who didn’t scare her drove home just how much of her true self she’d been hiding from me. What exactly had I done to make someone with such an abrasive personality turn timid? Unfortunately, this was neither the time nor place for a heart to heart chat. Instead, I reluctantly shifted my attention back to the shop’s proprietor.

“I’m not sure how you guessed my status, but I won’t try to deny it, nor will I feign interest in your wares. I came in the hopes of selling my own goods.”

The shopkeeper’s frown had not relaxed at all, but at least it hadn’t grown any worse. Although he was still glaring at me, I thought I saw a spark of curiosity in those red eyes. The seconds ticked by without a response, however, and I began to wonder if I had imagined it. I glanced back at Feyra, hoping that she could tell me whether his silence was meant as a rejection, only to discover her staring at the man too intensely to even take notice of me. For some reason, despite her scowl, the look in Feyra’s eyes could only be described as pleading.

Unable to read the intentions of either party, I saw little choice but to press forward and hope for the best. Reaching into the Empty Bag at my waist, I pulled out two gems, a ruby and a sapphire, each small enough for me to close my hands about them both at once. I had little idea as to their worth in human lands, but I hoped that they would net me more than three saints between them. If not, I would have to draw out one of my larger stones.

“Those…” The word was uttered in a low pitch, his voice far softer than it had been so far. I fought to keep myself from smiling, knowing he’d spoken too quietly for a human to hear. My brief happiness faded however, when the man went quiet, simply staring at the gems.

The silence dragged on, my anxiety growing stronger with each passing moment. Were these stones perhaps more valuable than I’d anticipated? I was starting to regret my choice to take out two at once. I cannot say how long the shopkeeper’s silence lasted, but I felt nothing but relief when it was finally broken with a grunt.

“Never thought I’d see something like those in this dingy shop,” the man admitted, again speaking under his breath, before raising his voice enough for everyone to hear. “If you weren’t so obviously highborn, I’d be telling you off for trying to fence your stolen goods in my shop. As is, I’m just gonna ask what the hell made you want to sell them in the outer edge of the city? Nobody who shops here could afford those things.”

“But surely you have contacts who could take them off your hands?” I raised an eyebrow as I spoke, trying to seem confident while resisting the urge to curse. It was clear that the gems I had taken from the vault really were of higher quality than I’d intended. Still, I thought it would be preferable to avoid larger establishments, where I might draw the attention of those familiar with wealthy families. I had no idea how I’d handle it if they started questioning me about my lineage.

The shopkeeper let out another grunt in response, sliding off his stool. He was a little taller than I’d thought, now that I could see him upright; he measured perhaps five feet, or at least somewhere close to it. The look in his eyes, however, remained unpleasant. The only difference was that wariness had joined his mixture of curiosity and anger.

“You didn’t answer my question,” he pointed out, canlı bahis siteleri angrily walking toward me.

“Does it matter?” I replied flatly. Although I couldn’t see my expression, I was certain that it was indecipherable. After having spent many nights absorbed in self-pity and misery, I had gotten quite adept at hiding my true feelings.

“Do you think I’m an idiot!?” the shopkeep roared, his expelled spittle landing by my feet. “Being highborn doesn’t mean you’re not trouble! If anything, your kind brings more problems than most! Why should I stick my neck out for someone who’d treat me like dirt if she didn’t need me?”

Anger flared to life within me, matching the proprietor’s own fury. I could accept the hatred of those who I had wronged. I knew full well that I deserved that and more from my own people, but this man’s harsh judgment, based purely on the perceived circumstances of my birth, was different. It brought to mind the treatment my kind received from humans for the simple crime of existing.

The shopkeep took a step backward, almost tripping over his own feet in his haste to get away from me. Only then did I realize I was scowling, my fists tightly clenched. I did not want to imagine how terrible the look in my eyes must have been to have inspired such fear. To think that I would have so little control of myself! Despite Abigail’s continual insistence that I had become a better person, it was clear that in my core I remained unchanged, as terrible as I had ever been.

This time I did not bother to supress my sigh. Letting my hands relax, I shook my head in disappointment with myself.

“It seems I’ve let my anger get the best of me. I would ask that you refrain from making assumptions about others with so little evidence, but I doubt it would mean much coming from me, considering how my actions have likely strengthened your opinions. I am sorry for my rudeness, for the record.” I gave Feyra a bitter smile. “I apologize to you as well. It seems I’ll have to drag you about a little longer than I intended.”

I put the stones back in my bag, and walked to the door. I didn’t dare look at Feyra as I passed her by; I had no desire to see how much her fear of me had grown. Even if she hadn’t seen the anger on my face, she couldn’t have missed the shopkeeper’s reaction, or my fists. I could only hope that she’d still be willing to guide me, in light of her promised reward. I wanted to end the day as quickly as I could. Hopefully I’ll have better luck pretending to be a good person tomorrow.

“Wait a damned second!”

My hand, which was already reaching for the door, hesitated for a moment, before falling to my side. I turned back, not bothering to hide the mix of curiosity and regret running through me. I doubted the shopkeeper would believe the sincerity of the latter, but I couldn’t muster up enough energy to hold my emotions back.

The man was scowling, his eyes focused upon the unadorned stone floor. I watched him in silence, as the expression on his face grew darker and darker, his jaw becoming so tense that it seemed like his teeth would break under the strain. Finally, he glared up at me, anger burning in his eyes. Knowing he could do nothing to harm me didn’t prevent a thrill of fear from running up my spine. Was this how I had made him feel? I had truly done something terrible.

“You…” The shopkeep took a deep breath, then pursed his lips and released a loud sigh, the anger visibly melting away as the air left him. “I was never very good at being polite. My pa always claimed I could go places if I got better with it. Ma said I was more likely to get myself killed if I tried. Say the wrong word to a highborn, and your head’s on the chopping block, y’know? Always thought that was better than having to suck up to some brat, though.” He shuffled his feet, slightly, and rubbed the back of his head. “Figured if doing business with you was gonna get me in trouble, one way or the other, I might as well go out the way I wanted to… Regretted it pretty damn quickly when you looked at me like that, though.”

My heart twinged as my guilt grew. I still had no idea how he’d pieced together my high status – surely my clothes weren’t that much of a giveaway!? – but I should have reconsidered my plan the moment he realized I was from the upper echelons. Judging by this man’s reactions, it seemed that human nobles were far from kind. By failing to take that into account I had caused him to fear for his life.

“Didn’t help that your girl there looked like she was gonna faint by the time I finished speaking.”

I glanced back at Feyra, surprised and ashamed to see that she looked pale as a ghost. If the proprietor was to be believed, her fear had started with his words, rather than my reaction. Was that a sign that she’d shared the shopkeeper’s expectations? If she’d suspected I was of noble lineage from the start, it might explain her behavior so far.

I wanted to ask her, canlı bahis but it would have to wait. She was shuddering, her pink eyes desperately avoiding mine. That, combined with her silence, told me she had no desire to enter this conversation. For now, I turned my attention back to the shopkeeper.

“I truly am sorry for putting you under such strain. I did not fully consider how my presence here would look.” As tempting as it was to lay some of the blame at Feyra’s feet, she had only been driven by a fear of retribution should she fail me. If I’d put more thought into why she was so terrified of me, none of this would have happened.

For some reason, the shopkeeper’s mouth twisted up in displeasure at my words. “Never thought I’d hear a highborn apologizing,” he muttered. “Yet alone twice… Something unnatural about it. Makes my skin crawl.”

I opened my mouth, only to pause. Since my contrition was the very thing I wished to apologize for, I wasn’t entirely sure how to proceed. Lost in my thoughts, I almost missed it when the man began to speak again.

“Worst part of it is that I’m the one who did the insulting, and yet you’re saying sorry like it’s natural. And Goddess help me, I think you mean it.” He scowled again. “What’s your name, girl?”

I gawked at the man, my brain on standby as I attempted to process his words. While I wouldn’t say the shopkeeper had been right to judge me sight unseen, I had most definitely overreacted to what was ultimately a minor slight. Why was he speaking as if he was in the wrong?

“I-” I opened my mouth to correct him, but the words caught in my throat when he glared at me again.

“Your name, girl.” The shopkeeper’s tone matched the anger in his eyes. It would brook no argument.

“Eena…” I paused for a moment, before adding, “Divington.” I was grateful that I’d already decided upon my false identity’s family name, even if it was as simple as copying Jacob’s. Although I had no intention of spreading it around, a human noble would almost certainly be expected to have one.

The man grunted in response, then ran his hand along the base of his beard. “Divington, huh? Don’t know that name… Never seen clothes like yours either. You not from around here?”

“No. I’m not.” I kept my tone neutral, and my reply terse, hoping to get my message across. I had no knowledge of human kingdoms or cities; making up a homeland was far too great a risk, with no discernable reward.

The shopkeep grunted in acknowledgement. “Name’s Gerard. Let that girl out for some fresh air, eh? We can talk business while she’s gone.”

I nodded in agreement. Feyra must have noticed, since she was already heading for the door by the time I turned around. The way her hand trembled when she reached for the handle convinced me to focus on Gerard instead.

“Earlier, you seemed to think dealing with me would be too great a risk. May I ask what changed your mind?”

“Well, the fact that you’re not from around here helps a bit… Don’t know your reasons for coming here, but I’m thinking your problems are less likely to bite me if they’re not rooted here.” The corner of Gerard’s mouth curved upward in the first smile I’d seen from him. “‘Sides, you don’t act like any noble I’ve ever heard of, begging my pardon like that. Too bad I value my hide too much to spread the tale. Might have earned me a couple drinks at the pub.” He was grinning broadly, now, which made it clear that he was mostly joking.

“Well, I can worry about that when this is done,” he continued. “For now, why don’t you show me one of those pretty stones?”

“Just one?” I asked, reaching back into my bag. I decided on the ruby since it was a close match for Gerard’s eyes. It was rather flimsy as reasons went, but for a choice as inconsequential as this, it was as good a reason as any.

“Just one,” Gerard confirmed, his lips turning downward again. I couldn’t help wondering how could manage a business like this when he was so quick to show his temper to clientele. “Getting rid of this thing is gonna be trouble enough. You must live with your head in the clouds if you think I know anyone who could buy them both.”

Taking the ruby from my hand, Gerard walked back to his starting corner and climbed atop his stool. Grabbing a lit lantern from the wall, he held the gem up to the light and examined it from every angle. Then he put the lantern back and hopped down, walking back to me. His lips were pressed together so tightly that I could hardly tell where one ended and the other began.

“Best I can do for you is a downpayment – and at a fraction of its worth, too. Can’t tell you how much I’d be giving you at the end, either. I’ve got no idea how much it’s worth, let alone what I’ll be able to sell it to another jeweler for. Can’t say when you’d get your money, either – could be a few weeks.” He shook his head, and let out a short, bitter laugh. “Like hell anyone would go for that. Don’t worry, I can name a few shops that could buy it properly.”

“I’d rather sell it here if it’s all the same to you,” I stated, my voice resolute.

Gerard gave me another hard stare. “Just promise me I won’t get beheaded over this.”

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