Twilight in Heaven: Chapter 11


Chapter 11

How expensive was their house?

It was a nice house. They had space. The couches didn’t butt up against the walls. They had artistically arranged chairs. Glass lamps rose over the softer chairs for reading, and bookshelves stood between the windows.

I read a few titles with big print: The History of Modern Airship Racing, Paint the Sky: The Gods of Dawn, and Lumina and Beauty.

I bet the cousins hadn’t read any of them but thought they impressed ladies.

The Hemlin cousins returned. Nurim had brought a plate with him, moshu fruit and a cracker, and he finally sat down. I mentally gave him two minutes before he got up.

“We have a counter offer,” said Aesthus. He paused. The rest of them watched me.

I waved him on.

“Five hundred thousand, but we’ll kick you back a hundred thousand.”

I opened my mouth, closed it, and exhaled the breath I’d taken to reply.

“You’re not paying us,” said Aesthus. He wore a hint of a smirk. “Your customer is. I won’t give you a receipt, but you can tell them the price was half a ton.”

I said, “Now that’s very interesting.”

They were a lot smarter than I had given them credit for.

The mere fact I was snow-jobbing them something fierce didn’t diminish that. In fact, it meant they might be able to see through my plans if I gave them time. I had too many lies. The structure of them was flimsy. These cousins would start pushing, testing, and if they pushed too hard on anything, the whole structure would come falling down.

I had a moment. Call it clarity, caution, or cowardice, I suddenly understood that while I was winning right now, I could lose very quickly.

“Three hundred, same kickback,” I said.

“No,” blurted Apseto.

Aesthus shook his head. “No. We need more than that.” He spoke as if Apseto hadn’t.

Apseto nodded.

That wasn’t a counter-offer, but I’d done the same thing when Zenjin had asked ten million.

I was winning. Take the saber and run, self.

What number were they thinking of?

I’d gone forty two thousand for no particular reason. They probably wanted at least forty two each. That meant two ten. No self respecting grifter would lower his own bribe, so I had to add one twenty five. Round up.

I said, “Three fifty, but mine is one twenty five.”

This time Apesto didn’t speak. Neither did any of the rest. They looked to Aesthus, who watched me like a card player.

I looked away, ate something, but when I finished, Aesthus was still thinking. I locked eyes with him and waited. It became a challenge. He wouldn’t look away, nor would I, and I didn’t know what out he was looking for. After several seconds, his pride wouldn’t let him blink.

I’d made this mistake before. I’d gotten into a contest with someone, a contest I didn’t need to win, but the strain of it grew weighty in my mind. A throw-away fight became a matter of pride. I locked eyes with the Celestial, born of the line of Tollos, sister of Mallens, Lord of Creation, and tested him. He didn’t look away; he invested in our challenge.

His cousins did not interrupt.

But he had to win.

“Three seventy five,” he said. He flicked his fingers between us. “Same, same.”

I looked away.

Nurim was eating moshu. Moshu are soft little fruit with a shell like a walnut. The fruit inside has about the consistency and sweetness of an apple. Normally people open them with a nut cracker, and the skill is breaking the shell without squishing the fruit. People who eat moshu with sticky fingers look childish.

Nurim saw me looking and put down his cracker. He took out a knife. Tapping a fruit against the plate to show me the shell hadn’t gone stale, and without holding it, he sliced the fruit open cleanly with the knife. He didn’t touch it at all, merely drew the blade long-ways across it.

That was, in all honestly, simply astounding knifework. He was doing it to show off, but I was impressed.

“You laughed when I said there were five of us,” said Zenjin quietly. “You think you can win. Maybe. But not as easily as you think you will.”

Self, let them win. Get the blade, destroy it, be done.

I made sure there were no misunderstandings. “The price is three hundred and seventy five thousand sesteres, and you will pay me one hundred and twenty five thousand sesteres of that.”

Aesthus nodded. “Agreed.”

I nodded. “Done.”

The room exhaled.

“Do you want to shake on it?” Aesthus asked.

“No.” I shook my head. “But we have a deal. The money is hidden a few places through the city. I’ll need to collect it. Does one of you want to come with me and bring the saber?”

“Yes. Does the blade have a name, other than saber?”

“You don’t need to worry about that. That sword, that one right there, is the one I want.” I pointed at it. “But I want to inspect it. Now.”

They all exchanged glances.

There were five of them, but I’d be holding the weapon. That was a sword for the killing of gods. They didn’t know exactly what it was, but they knew enough.

But I wasn’t going to go any farther and find out that by some unimaginable coincidence, this wasn’t the right weapon.

“Go ahead,” said Aesthus. “Right now.”

All five of them got ready. Zenjin drew the Puritan, laid a finger along the slide, but held it down, pointed at the floor. Nurim stood up with the knife. Osret moved around to the other side, and Apseto shifted so he stood between me and the windows. We’d drawn the blinds when we came in. Aesthus waited by the foyer. He looked ready to run, but for safety or for a gun, I didn’t know.

I got up, moving slowly, and lifted the blade from the table. The room breathed again, inhaling after its previous sigh. This breath it held.

There were five of them, but I had a blade made to kill the Lord of Creation. I could take them.


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