Jace looked up from the picture. “She’s beautiful,” he said softly, not wanting to hand the picture back.
His friend, Jay, smiled and reached out for the picture. “She’s the best at what you need done. No one will know about it if she does it.”
Jace took one last look at the picture before reluctantly handing it back. “What’s her price?”
Jay slipped the picture into a hidden pocket in his cloak and grinned, revealing long fangs that made Jace grimace and fight not to turn away.
“It depends. With what you want her to do, it’ll cost extra. I’m say probably around a million child souls,” he said, referring to the rare magic gemstone that was used as currency in this world.
Jace’s eyes widened at the price, and Jay laughed and reached out and patted his friend’s arm.
“There is an alternative form of payment if your pocket isn’t that deep anymore, but she only accepts that if she approves of you.”
“And what’s the alternative form?” Jace asked cautiously, knowing that the ones he was dealing with only had certain things that attracted their attention enough to perform favors.
“I can’t tell you, she’d kill me if I ruined the surprise,” Jay said as he laughed at his pun.
Jace smiled uneasily. “When do I meet her?” he asked quickly to try and cover his unease.
“Right now,” said a voice of running water edged in diamond with a slight Celtic accent.
Jace turned around as a tall woman stepped into the pool of light beneath the aging streetlamp. She was tall and muscular, yet slender and supple as a birch tree. Copper-gold hair curled a frame around her heart-shaped face, then cascaded down in small curls and waves before halting at her waist. Dark purple eyes watched Jace from beneath thick lashes. A shimmering gold flame tattoo burned across her skin, starting at her left wrist and leaving a golden pathway up to her chest before turning down to her heart and disappearing into her black and ianthine corset.
“What is it you will have me do?” she asked coolly as she slowly stepped closer.
When Jace couldn’t answer, Jay clapped a strong hand on his shoulder and stepped forward. “The human is having a pest problem with the phantasms.”
She nodded as she took Jace’s chin in her hand and jerked his face first to the left, then to the right. “And how have you found me?”
“Jay said he knew someone who could help me,” Jace managed to say even though her strong fingers were pressing into his jaw.
She released his jaw and began circling him, her onyx heels clicking against the cobblestone streets in an eerie echo that sent chills down Jace’s spine. The way her eyes bored into him made him feel as if he were being circled and about to be brought down by a hungry predator.
“Can you?” Jace asked after a few moments of painful silence.
She stopped in front of him and looked over him once more. “Yes. And for you, I will lower my price to nine hundred thousand child souls. I will begin my work upon payment.”
Jay and the mysterious woman turned to leave when Jace reached out and grabbed her left wrist. She hissed and turned around, and the flame tattoo burned Jace’s skin.
“But I can’t afford that.”
She glared at him as she rubbed her wrist. “I am surprised you have the audacity to say that when you can make them yourself.”
“What do you mean? I don’t know the first thing about making child souls! I don’t even know what gemstone to use,” he pleaded.
Her eyes softened for a second, but smiled with lips like a knife. “I do not work for liars and cheats. I will not work until you have delivered the nine hundred thousand child souls that you now owe to me.”
She turned to leave again.
“But how will I get them to you? Who should I send them to?” Jace asked, not wanting her to leave.
She turned slowly and smiled cruelly. “Put them in a black sack and write ‘Temptress’ in blood, then they will make it to me.”
Still watching Jace, her form seemed to shimmer, then vanished in ianthine smoke. Jace looked around for Jay, who was also nowhere to be seen.
A low growl sounded behind him, reminding him of what lurked in these streets at night. Jace froze for a moment, then pulled out a rusted silver coin, throwing it on the ground. He stepped into it, and was suddenly transported from the alleyways of darkness and death, and back to his own safe front door.