My pretties… As promised, more about the flashback that happened at the Square Corner.

***

“Back for more?” Erik the Fuchsia squinted hard. “Nothing’s really changed here since yesterday.”

“That’s good to know. But why is everyone looking at me like I’ve got a bugger?” I wiped my nose with my sleeve to conceal the grin.

Erik wrinkled his forehead, wiped the counter with a faded black rag absent minded, grunting. Realization lit up his face as he set a shot glass in front of me and poured. He laughed. Big and brutish with a deep hearty laugh, though I never considered him dim-witted.

I toasted him and drank up, not really trying to conceal my involuntary head-jerking. Erik has the foulest whiskey this side of Andromeda, but you always get what you pay for. “What’s up?”

He leaned forward, his greasy face pressed close to mine. “Either you have a doppleganger, or there’s some whacked out time magic going on. Hard to tell this time.”

Nodding and filing that under stuff that may be important, I put my hand over the glass. “I’m here for the usual.” I shared a few juicy tidbits about the goings-on at OITT, an unconfirmed rumor about a nuclear test program on Io, and the short version of my run-in with a particularly nasty clown-car wizard.

Erik bit a fingernail. “What you want in return?”

“Anything on Bridgemist Glacier? Library of Artifacts?”

“Interesting,” he said, his habit for biding time. “Heard you former employer has taken an interest in the Library lately, not sure why. Some say the Library is behind on their taxes, but I call bullshit. If you know what I mean.”

“Another shot of whiskey, please.” I knew what he implied, and what it likely meant. OITT had their eyes on a new toy, and the Library was holding back on their collection.

“And the gentleman at the middle table recently got back from the Library.” He pointed with the bottle before pouring. The man happened to be the same guy with the scar on his neck, now busy with some kind of solitary dice game. “Quiet type, hasn’t mentioned what he did there, besides personal amusement.”

“I’m sure of that. Thanks, friend.” I raised and tipped the shot glass, the whiskey burned on the way down.

“Anytime Brin.”

I got off the stool, a bit unsteady. Bad idea… No traveling for me until I had some rest. Until then, time to say hi to the nice man with the creepy scar. As soon as I pulled up the chair and sat down in front of him with my legs crossed, I recognized the weasel-bred bastard. “Gavin Taloun.”

“Soren.”

“Whatever your name is these days. How’d the thing with the Lighthouse Fund go?”

He rolled his dice – a five and a one. “My partners backed out when they realized a certain ex-employee of a certain government institution funneled money out of the account. Things went sour when we lost all of our property, and one member demonstrated his knife skills for me.” Soren rubbed the scar.

“Sorry to hear that.”

“If you were, you wouldn’t say that.” He rolled the dice again. Three and three. “What is it now, Brin?”

“Library of Artifacts.”

He sipped from the martini glass – probably sparkling lemonade, knowing him. “I’ve got some nutty friends on Bridgemist, conspiracy wackos all of them. They say OITT is butting heads with the unicorns, metaphorically of course. The unicorns entrusted some of their prized magical possessions to the Library for safekeeping and now post-deregulation of shipping and handling of magic, the horned bastards want their toys back. OITT issued a proclamation stating that some of the displays in the Library are illegal, namely a lot of the unicorn artifacts, of course. The Library, for its part, has good lawyers.”

“So your conspiracy buddies found a nugget of truth?”

Soren held up his fist and dropped the dice. Four, two. “You could say that.”

I showed him my pearly white teeth. “You’re in a sharing mood aren’t you?”

“You could say that, too.” Another roll – four and two again. “Whatever job you’re on, I know now you’re intrigued now. You can’t help yourself – you like the challenge. Think of it as a pat on the behind from an old adversary who likes to gamble a little too much. Now, how about a game before you run off to your doom?”

“Would it be easier if I just hand my money over to you?”

“Yes,” Soren clutched the dice in his fist, “but so very insulting.”

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