Violette traveled for weeks through the dust-choked streets of ruined merchants cities until she reached the sorcerous city of Naga’dar. Passing beneath the windowless purple towers, she entered a maze of streets and buildings no sane mind could have built.
A squat block of grimy hovels neighbored a pair of delicate, gilded gates protecting the gardens of a merchant prince. A beggar stretched out his hand, and Violette saw in his gaze one who has pierced the veil between worlds and dwells on the other side forever more.
As she wound her way through the streets, she noticed a rising sound, like a strange and distant wind singing over stones. She followed it, dreamlike, through the twisting streets until she found herself standing at the edge of Albrosian, the wizards’ market square.
Hundreds of merchant stalls, some small and plain and others decorated with rich silks created a maze of avenues. Violette secured the slim assassin’s blade in her boot, cinched her scimitar tight across her waist, and entered the market.
Anything could be bought in Albrosian. Though most were charlatan magic and witch-trickery, a shrewd traveler might find a hidden wonder that could change his fortune. Violette’s desires were simpler. Perhaps a spell that would deepen the concealing shadow of a doorway or a talisman that would silence her footfall as she stalked the clients she was paid to kill.
She wandering for a long time, finding little of interest, and soon found herself in a lone alleyway. A small tent stood at one end. It had no vendor, but it’s opening beckoned her.
Violette’s skin prickled as she entered. The tent was low and cramped but clearly much larger than it appeared from the outside. The walls hung in loose, thick folds of a sickly reddish color. Small tables held an assortment of items: a worn belt, a black eye mask, a pair of golden earrings.
“Buy or sell?”
Violette jumped at the sound, the grating croak of an old woman. She turned and saw a figure in a long, veiled robe perched on a wooden stool.
“What are they?” Violette asked.
“Treasures no man can make yet any may give.”
Violette gazed at the thin black mask. “The keen sight of a master bowman,” the woman said. “The strength of a savage warrior,” she continued, following Violette’s gaze as it fell upon the belt. About the golden earrings, she said, “The quick ears of a prince beset by conspirators.”
“The price?” Violette asked.
“A gift in kind.”
“What do you mean?”
A hand emerged from beneath the robes, stretching towards Violette. It was taut and dry like parchment and as grey as ash. “A homely princess or merchant’s daughter would pay dearly for such sparkling jewels,” the woman said.
Violette’s eyes were the color of amethyst and both her greatest gift and her greatest curse. They could snare the most jaded of men or betray any attempt to disguise herself from her enemies.
“If you won’t buy,” the woman said, “then you must sell.”
Violette rushed for the doorway, but the figure was on her in an instant. One hand grabbed Violette’s shoulder and flung her to the ground with astonishing strength. The other tore away the veil revealing an enormous mouth ringed with long black teeth. Violette scurried backward, knocking over a small table. Her hand ran over a long scrap of cloth and she grabbed it instinctively.
The beast sprang and Violette pulled the blade from her boot to defend herself. A sudden instinct told her that it would be useless to strike the creature. At the last moment, she sprang to her feet and slashed at the wall behind her.
To her horror, it was thick and fleshy like the belly of a monstrous beast. Behind her, the creature shrieked. Violette dared a backward glance and saw it stagger back in pain. She turned and slashed wildly at the wall, heedless of the screams behind her.
In seconds, she tore a gash in the wall and threw herself into it, wriggling through with all of her strength. The creature tore at her boots, but before it could find flesh, she was through.
Violette fled through the streets of Naga’dar until she came to the gates of the city. As her fear ebbed, she felt something warm and wet in her clenched hand. She opened it and stared in horror. Looking back were a pair of eyes, bright, clear and keen as an archer’s.