Stitch wings into my soul

I want to remember how it feels to be whole.

Make my heart diamond hard

So I’ll forget that it’s broken and scarred.

Chapter 1: The Masks of Society

Kingdom: Lafeara

District: Slums

World: Not Earth

Alex had been the Master of the Fox Den for nearly two decades. While he would have preferred a certain amount of anonymity, the skills that he and his nest of thugs, mercenaries, and assassins offered had earned them a formidable reputation.

The dilapidated bar in the slums of Lafeara’s capital city seemed like the last place any lord and lady of nobility would choose to frequent. However, the right people in the right circles knew they could slip around to the back of the modest establishment and access its exclusive services.

Murder, kidnapping, blackmail, arson, bribery, and extortion—it made no difference to Alex as long as a suitable fee was paid upfront. His excellent record of customer satisfaction ensured that the threshold of his secret door never went vacant for long, while the nobles who used his services remained cautiously discreet.

Which was why the customer who stood before him, a young girl of possibly fourteen or eighteen—it was difficult to tell behind the bunny mask all his customers were required to wear before entering—posed such an unusual question.

‘How did someone like her find their way down here?’ Alex wondered.

He studied this potential customer curiously as she stepped towards the offered seat in front of the makeshift table, comprised of two beer kegs and a repurposed oak door.

She wore a heavy black cloak of luxurious velvet fabric that hid all but her mask and the ash-brown hair that peeped out around her neck. There was no visible jewelry by which to estimate her wealth or identity—a common mistake among the nobility who were used to flaunting their worth.

The masked girl settled into the wooden chair with its wobbly third leg and folded her gloved hands gracefully in her lap. The stone walls around them did little to muffle the footsteps of the bar directly overhead. The musk of aged alcohol stacked in kegs behind Alex filled the cellar room but did not entirely quench the faint aroma of vanilla and jasmine that belonged to the young girl.

“Good evening,” Alex said politely from behind his fox mask.

“Are you the owner of this establishment?” she asked.

Although her voice trembled with a reasonable amount of fear, Alex thought she seemed oddly composed for one of her age and gender.

“I am,” he replied. “And whom do I have the honor of addressing?”

“You may call me Lady Aconitum,” she answered as she rose from her seat to curtsy.

‘Cute, but certainly not her real name.’

“Excuse me,” she murmured as she touched the rabbit mask that muffled her voice. “Why do I have to wear this?”

“We find it offers a level of security and anonymity for our customers.”

“I see, but then, how do you know who you’re dealing with?”

His lips twitched with amusement as he plucked a ripe apple from the table and pulled a knife from his boot.

‘Was she asking purely out of curiosity, or is she afraid that I’ll uncover her identity?’

“Most of the time, it doesn’t matter,” Alex replied with a casual shrug. “You are the rabbit, and we are the foxes. You pay us to eliminate whatever pesky hound is on your trail, and we part ways none the wiser.”

“I see, thank you for the explanation.”

Her manners and etiquette were no less than what he would expect a young lady of high nobility to possess. And yet, her calmness and maturity had undeniably piqued his curiosity. Alex maintained a neutral tone as he continued to carve the apple in his hand and asked, “How can I help you, Lady Aconitum?”

“I wish to retain the services of one of your assassins. I believe he goes by Ghost?”

Alex’s grip on the carving knife tensed. Although Lady Aconitum had posed it as a question, she sounded quite confident.

‘Hell’s Teeth. How does she even know about Ghost?’

This curious problem had become more complicated and dangerous. If the customer had been a man, they would be on the floor already with Alex’s blade pressed into their flesh until the source that had leaked this information bled from their tongue.

But Alex didn’t touch children.

“Ghost is—a difficult agent to acquire,” he explained as he sliced the apple into eight equal parts.

That was a lie. Ghost didn’t work for him. They were merely acquaintances who shared a common enemy and goal, but she didn’t need to know that. She already knew too much.

“If you’re worried about payment,” the girl replied as she watched him whittle away the apple’s core and seeds. “I’ve brought a check with me for the amount I’m willing to pay.”

Alex glanced over as she unlocked the clasp of her small purse and pulled out a folded check. He recognized the embossed golden trimming as those which adorned checks from the Imperial Bank. The sort of bank that only the upper crest of nobility with vast amounts of wealth could access.

‘So she was from that sort of family.’

Lady Aconitum placed the folded bank check on the desk and sat back. “I believe this amount to be more than generous.”

Alex snorted, amused with her business-like tone, and whipped his fingers against his jacket. Then he picked up the check, unfolded it, and blinked down at the number written in the payment box.

“30,000 crescents?” He read aloud in disbelief.

‘How the hell did she have access to this kind of money?’

“Did you steal this check from your parents or—”
His words trailed off as he read the name printed clearly at the top.

‘Payment from Lady Aconitum.’

Alex’s gaze drifted from the banknote to the girl back to the amount. Then he turned slowly and held the check up to the light.

“I assure you it’s not a forgery,” she said with a hint of amusement.

‘What in Hell’s Teeth is this?’

Not only was she the youngest customer to ever walk through his doors, but she also knew information about Ghost that was limited only to himself and two other trusted associates. And now she appeared to be as rich as a Duchess.

With a shake of his head, Alex put down the check and leaned forward in his seat. “And for what purpose exactly do you need such a dangerous assassin?”

“I simply wish to retain his services in the event I require certain people disposed of,” she explained vaguely.

“This is quite serious, you know,” Alex said cautiously. “Killing someone isn’t something you can just wash your hands of and walk away from, even if you use an assassin.”

Okay, maybe he was turning senile. This job would likely be an easy 30,000 crescents for Ghost, and Alex would get a cut as well, but everything about this customer set off a warning in the back of his mind.

She tilted her head. The lantern’s light glinted against a pair of blue eyes hidden behind her mask as she regarded him for a moment in still silence.

“I am sure you understand,” she said. “That sometimes, survival requires that one to be willing to get blood on their hands.”

“Well put,” Alex replied, still unable to read her.

She did not exhibit the usual kind of behavior his other privileged customers fell prey to. They were either brimming in anger, scared out of their mind or just plain greedy. They were certainly never polite, composed, and calm.

“Could you provide me with a little more detail?” Alex asked. “Such as who you wish Ghost to kill?”

For the first time, her gaze seemed to falter as she smoothed out the fabric of her hooded cloak. “I am not altogether certain at present,” she admitted. “But they both reside within the Royal Palace.”

Alex blinked, and the polite smile beneath his mask faded.

“You’re referring to a member of the royal family?” he asked quickly to confirm.

“Yes,” Lady Aconitum answered. “Or to be more precise, someone who may one day be King.”



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