“Still sore?” Jasmine asked sympathetically.
Tallie immediately removed her hand from her midsection,which she had been rubbing while wincing. “Eh. I’ve been bruised a lot worse after falling off stuff.”
“If you’re worried about Style, I have it directly from her own mouth that Mesmer was full of it.” Jasmine pointedly touched the now-unbruised side of her face. “We can find a temple or an alchemy shop…”
“It’s not bad enough to be worth the effort or time,” Tallie said quickly. “Let’s just get to the station before something even worse happens to Rasha.”
“Can’t walk much faster,” Ross pointed out, “or we’ll be knockin’ people over. Then he won’t be the only one in a cell.”
“Honestly, I’m rather disappointed,” Darius said to Jasmine, grinning. “I thought you went out and got your face fixed specifically to tweak Style. This is a big wrench in my plans, you know. I was gonna sell peanuts to your next go-round, make myself some quick pocket change.”
“Boy, are you in the right cult,” Jasmine muttered.
“Aw, aren’t you sweet to notice!”
They didn’t have very far to travel; Rasha had apparently been arrested right outside the Casino, and consequently taken to the nearest police station. The military police in Tiraas being what they were, the building was actually a fortified barracks which, they observed upon drawing closer, had actual mag cannons positioned on top of its corner turrets. Soldiers patrolled the battlements and stood at attention outside. Their eyes followed the four apprentices, but none of them looked particularly shifty—or particularly interesting, being generally dressed like working-class young people. They blended easily with the crowd streaming in and out of the broad doors.
Inside, the place looked less military and more like a government office. People milled about the marble-floored open space inside the doors, talking with one another and in one case shouting at an unimpressed-looking soldier with a battlestaff leaning on his shoulder. Two more troopers were escorting a woman with a black eye toward a rear door; based on their scowls and her limp, the way she accommodatingly followed instructions was a recent development.
Tallie immediately led them across the room to the first open desk they saw; the entire side wall was lined with counters behind which stood a row of soldiers, positioned so that they were at least head and shoulders above those in the main floor. They were behind iron bars with small windows cut out, and behind them stood a couple of other soldiers, conspicuously carrying firearms and watching the lobby closely.
“Help you?” offered the woman Tallie had selected in a weary tone which suggested she was nearing the end of her shift.
“Yes, hello,” Tallie said briskly, placing her hands on the counter and ignoring the way the fresher-looking soldier in the back immediately turned his stare on her. “We’re with the Thieves’ Guild.”
The corporal behind the bars just heaved a long-suffering sigh and gave her an expectant look.
“A friend of ours was arrested last night,” Tallie continued. “His name’s Rasha. We’re here to see him.”
The woman sighed again and shook her head. “What else you got? He have a last name? What’s he arrested for? Basic description? Kid, I’m gonna need details if you want me to dig this guy up. You have any idea how many knuckleheads pass through here in chains?”
“He’s a Punaji boy,” Jasmine said hastily as Tallie scowled and opened her mouth to argue. “We were told he was in for assault…” She glanced at the others. “…possibly of a dwarf?”
“Now, hang on,” Darius protested. “We don’t know anything about that…”
“Who else?” Ross grunted.
“Oh, I remember that guy,” the corporal said before the conversation could degenerate further. “Little fella, looked almost too depressed to walk. Didn’t give anybody a second’s trouble. Yeah, he’ll be in the Tank—double doors on your right, there, follow the hall straight to the main desk and the sergeant on duty will know where he is. Visitation’s allowed.”
“Thank you, Corporal,” Jasmine said politely, stepping back and pulling Tallie gently by the elbow.
“What’d you tell her we were Guild for?” Darius asked as they followed the soldier’s directions into a wide hallway beyond the main lobby. “That had to make everything more difficult…”
“Actually, probably made things easier,” said Ross. “Guild’s got strict codes for dealin’ with cops; Guild thieves are prob’ly a lot less trouble than shroomheads and drunks. ‘sides, you don’t wanna be more difficult with the Guild than you have to, or they come back with more.”
“What he said,” Tallie agreed. “Honestly, Darius, what do you hear when Lore talks to us?”
“The soothing sound of rain on a tin roof.”
“I’m telling him you said that.”
“You’re a bad person, Tallie.”
She made no answer. They had arrived at a T intersection in the hall, which continued on ahead, but the side hallway branching off to the right was lined with cells. Tallie picked up her pace, dashing past the desk in the intersection behind which sat another officer, to grasp the bars of the first cell across the way.
“Rasha! Are you okay?”
He was very much as the corporal out front had described. Sitting on one of the thinly-padded bunks in the cell, he slumped with his head down, as if trying to collapse inward into a puddle. At Tallie’s voice, he shifted slightly, then only after a long moment raised his head. His face was haggard, eyes bloodshot and set in darkened pits.
“Oh. Hey, Tallie. Hi, guys.”
The others filed carefully past the desk, watching the other people present, whom Tallie had ignored. The sergeant behind the desk was observing all this with long-suffering patience, and the other soldier at this post had just resumed her position near him, having started to lunge for Tallie upon her rush to the bars and been called back by her superior.
Also present was a well-groomed, if somewhat tired-looking, redheaded dwarf with a neatly-trimmed beard, watching them with a smile which could only be described as smug.
“Are you hurt?” Tallie demanded. “Are they treating you all right? You haven’t been abused, have you? YOU!” She stuck her whole arm through the bars, pointing at Rasha’s cellmate. “You better not have laid a finger on him!”
“HEY,” barked the uniformed woman by the sergeant’s desk. “Get the hell out of that cell!”
“I beg your pardon, little missy,” the old man in the cell answered in an affronted tone while Jasmine and Darius dragged Tallie away from the bars. “Just whaddaya take me for? I’m in fer vagrancy an’ loitering! Ain’t never harmed so much as a flea!”
“That’s for damn sure,” the sergeant said dryly. “We’ll be pickin’ ’em out of that cell for weeks. And you’re in for trafficking, Cletus. As usual.”
“Bah! A man’s gotta make a livin!” He looked like a homeless person—filthy, dressed in layers of ragged old clothes, and as he demonstrated by grinning at the sergeant, with his few remaining teeth stained blue by glittershroom use.
“So you’re friends of our terrifying, monstrous back-alley strangler, eh,” the sergeant continued, eyeing them all over without shifting from his seat. “Good thing you came along. We were afraid he was gonna bust out of there. Just bend the bars apart and smash his way out of the station through a wall.”
“Sergeant Prynne is having a little jest at my expense,” the dwarf said blandly.
“I don’t get it,” Jasmine replied, staring him down.
“Well, you see, Jas,” Darius explained condescendingly, “this asshole here would be the person Rasha assaulted—”
“Ah, ah, ah!” Rasha’s shroom-trafficking cellmate raised a finger warningly. “Allegedly assaulted! Don’t never admit nothin’ to the fuzz! Ain’t you kids never been arrested before?”
“We’re rusty,” Tallie muttered. “It’s been a couple of days.”
“I can’t believe this is even happening!” Jasmine exclaimed. “Dwarves are almost the sturdiest people in existence—Rasha’s not physically capable of harming him! Look, he’s not even scratched!”
“Yes, Jasmine, that would be the joke,” said Darius. “Glad you could join us.”
“Be that as it may,” the sergeant said flatly, “I have two witnesses who saw Mr. Rasha-with-no-surname physically attack Mr. Rogrind. Being non-inducted employees of the Thieves’ Guild, they are considered trustworthy witnesses, as the Guild has and enforces very strict policies against lying to law enforcement. Which I suspect you know. The lack of any significant injury done will doubtless be reflected in his sentencing, but that’s up to whatever magistrate has to deal with this waste of time. A credible charge of assault has been brought and the accused is being held as per the law.”
“In the Tiraan Empire,” the dwarf explained pleasantly, “the victim of a crime has prosecutorial discretion. Charges will be pressed by default—unless, of course, I should decide not to press them.”
“Let me just stop you right there,” Tallie snarled, stomping up to him. She towered over the dwarf, who tilted his head back to look up at her without the slightest indication of unease. “The answer to your next insinuation is, as always, fuck off!”
“Actually, young lady, I had intended to discuss the matter as frankly as possible,” he said politely, taking a step back. “Too much insinuation, I feel, has led us into this series of misunderstandings. And are you sure you should speak for your companions?”
“I am perfectly okay with that,” Jasmine said grimly, folding her arms. Ross grunted in approval.
“Ehhh…” Darius made a waffling motion with his hand. “I feel that rejection didn’t contain nearly enough obscenities. But I’ll give her points for the spirit of the thing.”
“Honestly,” said the dwarf—Rogrind, apparently—with a disarming shrug, “your obstreperousness is amazing to behold. You kids have never even indulged me in a proper discussion.”
“Are you saying you’ve been repeatedly told by these people to leave them alone and have refused?” Sergeant Prynne cut in dryly. “Because that verges on harassment.”
“He’s a blackmailer!” Tallie said shrilly, pointing at the dwarf. “Arrest him!”
“Whoah,” Darius said, coming up behind her and placing his hands on her shoulders. “Let’s not go telling soldiers in their own police station who to arrest, kay?”
“I would be careful, Miss Peuterschmidt,” Rogrind said with a smile. “Bringing false charges is a punishable offense under Tiraan law.”
“The burden of proof on that is virtually impossible,” Prynne noted. “You would have to prove that the accused knowingly and deliberately acted with malice aforethought. In twelve years working municipal law enforcement, I’ve never once seen that successfully prosecuted.”
“Yeah!” Tallie shouted, dramatically brandishing a finger inches from the dwarf’s nose. “Suck on that!”
“Thank you, Sergeant,” Rogrind said wryly.
“Pleasure,” Prynne replied with a sunny smile. The uniformed private standing by his desk made a half-hearted effort to repress a smile.
“In fact,” the dwarf added, “forgive me, but I seem to have noted a general pattern of hostility toward me from the moment the accused was brought in. Is this, perhaps, a racial issue?”
“No,” the sergeant said evenly, “it’s an issue of you bringing me a member of the Thieves’ Guild and adamantly refusing to drop charges. You either don’t comprehend the headache you’ve insisted on dropping on my desk, or don’t care. Neither prospect predisposes me positively toward you.”
“There’s a reason we housed him in the end cell, there, by the exit,” the other soldier added with a grin. “Makes what comes next generally a lot less fuss and bother.”
“Oh?” Rogrind said dryly. “If I am not mistaken, the laws of the Tiraan Empire trump the influence wielded illicitly by the Thieves’ Guild. What is it that you believe comes next?”
“They don’t have Guild chapters up in the mountains, Sarge,” Darius confided. “Bear with the old sot, he’s new at this.”
“Frankly, I’m surprised it’s taken this long,” Prynne complained. “I had a moment of hope when you kids turned up, but you’re clearly not the right professionals, no offense. Never thought I’d be glad to see one of those sharks, but this whole goddamn thing is a waste of my time and cell space.”
“Aw, hell, I don’t mind!” Cletus said cheerily. “Politest roommate I ever had!”
Rasha sighed heavily, again staring at the floor between his feet.
“Sharks?” Rogrind arched one bushy eyebrow. “I was under the impression you act, in this context, backed by the full force of the Imperial government. What Guild shark are you—”
“THAT WOULD BE ME.”
The woman who appeared on the scene arrived like a storm, strewing loose papers from the bulgingly overstuffed folder tucked under her arm. She wore an expensive leather duster over a rumpled but tailored men’s suit, with spectacles perched precariously on her nose and her hair coming loose from what had at one point been a tidy bun. In her other hand was a large thermos, which she brandished upon skidding to a stop in the intersection, having arrived at a dead run.
“Oh, great,” Prynne muttered. “This one.”
The new arrival slammed the thermos down on the corner of his desk and flung out her hand at the startled dwarf; with a flick of her wrist, a business card manifested in her fingers, and was then flung contemptuously at Rogrind.
“Bird Savaraad, attorney at law,” she barked at such a rapid pace that her syllables nearly blurred together. “On retainer for the Thieves’ Guild of Tiraas and thus responsible for this nonsense right here that you’re doing and you may thank whatever the hell it is you people worship that you’re dealing with me and not Guild personnel proper and may I respectfully suggest in a strictly personal and non-professional capacity that you drop this shit before it gets to that point.”
She paused to snatch her thermos off the desk, slapping down the thick folder and tilting it up to drink deeply from whatever was inside.
“Bit early in the morning, isn’t it?” Darius said, raising an eyebrow.
“Not for coffee,” Bird Savaraad chattered. “Never too early, too late or too anything. Now then!” After rummaging in her open folder for a moment, she whipped out a long sheet of paper which had become inadvertently dog-eared where its upper edge stuck out of its housing on the way over. “It is my understanding, Mr. Rogrind if that is in fact your real name, that you intend to press charges against one Rasha, apprentice of the Thieves’ Guild, for the alleged crime of assault?”
Rogrind, who had been staring at her in apparent bemusement, at this turned to the other apprentices with an expectant expression.
In unison, all four folded their arms and glared at him.
“Hello!” Savaraad snapped, flapping the paper at him. “Yes? No? Maybe? This requires your input! If you fail to render a position it shall be assumed that you decline to press charges!”
“You can’t actually do that,” Prynne commented.
“Silence, minion!” the lawyer barked at him. He rolled his eyes.
Rogrind cleared his throat, regaining her attention. “Yes, I intend to press charges, Ms. Savaraad.”
“That’s great, fine and dandy, finally we can move on with this. I am authorized by my client to extend to you a compromise under the following terms: instead of pressing charges, you will not do that, and we can all go home. Do you acquiesce?”
“No, I don’t believe so,” Rogrind said sardonically.
“Splendid!” She grinned wolfishly, had another swig of coffee, set her thermos back down on the desk and advanced on him with the paper upheld in both hands. “I have here, Mr. Rogrind, a notarized affidavit from multiple credible witnesses who for reasons of fear for their personal welfare choose to remain anonymous but whose identities and contributions have been documented and will should this come to trial be presented confidentially to the magistrate overseeing proceedings stating that you, Mr. Rogrind…” She paused here, nearly doubled over, and drew in a loud gasp of air, before continuing at the same breakneck pace, “have been observed engaged in activities including but not limited to trafficking in illegal weaponry, assault of Imperial citizens, trafficking in drugs, animal cruelty, sale of pottery without a duly issued municipal permit to conduct commerce, tax evasion, loitering, jaywalking, arson, pushing an old lady into traffic, and negligent defenestration.”
“Is this…some manner of joke?” Rogrind demanded, turning to the soldiers, both of whom were grinning broadly enough to provide an unspoken answer to his question. “Those charges are entirely spurious, and frankly absurd!”
“And what the hell is negligent defenestration?” Darius asked in a fascinated tone. Tallie reached up to put a hand over his mouth.
“Let me break it down for you, my little lost lamb,” Savaraad barreled on. “I’m a lawyer for the Thieves’ Guild. In one hour, if I so desire, I can have a notarized statement signed by ten noble witnesses that they saw you murder the Empress. Not that would hold up in court, of course, and bringing something like that before a judge is asking to get charged with contempt, but Imperial law being what it is, standards for prosecuting offenses are very different from those required to file certain papers.”
“Hey, now,” Sergeant Prynne protested. “Let’s please refrain from discussing committing fraud right in front of me, Bird.”
She whirled on him, flapping the notarized list of accusations against Rogrind menacingly. “Don’t even think about it, buttercup! The preceding statement was clearly hypothetical and not to be construed as either a threat or offer of services, and any attempt by you to press the issue will be met with a lawsuit for wrongful prosecution at the end of which I will have your badge, your pension, your apartment, and just because I’m a vindictive asshole, those crisply-pressed slacks!”
Prynne sighed and leaned his head over the back of his chair to stare at the ceiling. “Would you kindly just get on with this and get out?”
“Gladly.” Savaraad whipped back around to point menacingly at the increasingly baffled Rogrind. “I have all the requisite paperwork drawn up and ready to be handed of to the requisite Imperial functionaries, at which point an investigation of your activities will begin. Considering some of the specific charges involved, the quality of the witnesses and evidence I have arranged will result in a direct and thorough perusal of your person, residence and activities byyyyy…” Again grinning unpleasantly, she leaned forward until her eye level was almost the same as his, and her nose inches from his face, and spoke in a menacing drawl totally unlike her previous rapid delivery. “Imperial Intelligence. All up in every. Little. Part. Of your personal business.”
Bird held Rogrind’s eyes for another moment, then abruptly straightened up and turned to the fascinated apprentices. “Y’see, kids, all systems as they say are pretty much corrupt. Laws in the Empire, as in basically every advanced society, are structured such that people who can afford the services of individuals like me can avoid trials where they will inevitably be found guilty of something simply by pushing papers around, which is why there’s a vast catalog of motions which can be filed to stall legal proceedings. Of course, in this case we don’t really need to stall, just to bring the eyes of the Empire directly onto this guy, whereupon they will discover things which while irrelevant to our business will result in him no longer being the Guild’s problem, or yours. Well?” She turned back to Rogrind, folding her hands behind her back and twisting her upper body coquettishly. “How ’bout it, big guy? What’s the word?”
Rogrind was staring at her quite evenly now. Another beat passed, wherein his seemed to consider his next words. Then he cleared his throat and turned to the desk.
“Sergeant Prynne, upon consideration, I have decided not to press charges against the accused.”
“Yyyeaaaaahhh,” Bird drawled. “I had a feeling.”
“Welp, you heard the man, Private,” Prynne said with a smirk. “Let the kid out.”
“Well, butter my butt an’ call me a biscuit!” Cletus cackled, slapping his knee, while the soldier unlocked the cell and beckoned to Rasha. “Now that there’s a perfessional! Darlin’, I’d ask you to represent me, but a body gets tired a’ bein’ told by women that he cain’t afford ’em!”
“I know what you mean,” Bird said sympathetically.
“Rasha, are you okay?” Tallie said worriedly, rushing to him as he was brought out of the cell. He shrugged.
“Hey.” Jasmine placed a hand on his shoulder and squeezed until he looked up at her, then smiled. “Not your fault. Okay?”
“Course it’s his fault,” the lawyer scoffed. “Goddamn it, I realize you kids are new, but don’t attack people in front of witnesses! Now c’mon, we’re not going to discuss this in front of the yokels. Come on! Shoo shoo march let’s go!”
“Always a pleasure, Bird,” Sergeant Prynne said, waving languidly as she snatched up her effects and ushered the five of them back up the hall. Rogrind simply stood with his head slightly tilted, watching them go.
“All right, I’m an independent contractor, not strictly Guild, so I can’t do a thing about what Style does to you over this,” Bird continued as she harried them across the lobby toward the station’s front doors, her chatter nearly drowned out by the noise and press of humanity they passed. “But for now, you’re off the hot seat legally, and my retainer here covers legal advice, the bulk of which I just gave you, but just to repeat because it bears repeating, pick your battles, dammit!”
She had come to a stop on the steps outside the station, and turned to scowl at Rasha.
“Hey, go easy on him,” Tallie said, taking his shoulders from behind. “He’s had a rough—”
“Would you stop!” he burst out, shrugging her off. “Dammit, I’m not a pet, and I’m not a kid! I fucked up, all right? As usual.”
“Whoah, whoah, whoah!” Darius said. “Ease up there—on her, and on yourself. So the fucker baited you into making a mistake. I’m getting the impression this is not that guy’s first rodeo. He’s probably gonna be trying this on all of us, and I bet he knows exactly what runes to push. Okay?” He stared firmly around at the others. “Rasha had the bad luck to be first, but this isn’t over. We need to remember that.”
“Exactly,” Bird said approvingly.
Rasha heaved a sigh, shrugging his shoulders. “Well. Guess after Style gets through punching the shit out of me, I can look forward to lawyer fees being tacked onto my apprenticeship debt.”
“Actually I wasn’t summoned by the Guild,” Bird corrected. “A private individual paid for this. Far as I’m concerned you kids are off the hook; I wasn’t instructed to discuss payment with you, and were that an issue I probably would have been.”
“Oh, just let me guess,” Tallie sighed. “Alan Vandro?”
Bird wrinkled her nose. “Vandro? Ew. That arrogant misogynistic wart? Please, I’d sue him into a puddle of remorse just for making eye contact with me. No, I was contracted by Tamisin Sharvineh, whom you may also know as Glory.”
Jasmine blinked. “Really.”
“And I heartily recommend you all toddle over there at your first opportunity and express effusive thanks,” Bird added. “For now, whatever it is that dwarf wants with you, here’s a word of warning: he’s almost certainly a government agent.”
“Wait,” said Darius, frowning. “Why would a government agent be intimidated by Imperial Intelligence?”
“Every part of that question is wrong, you doorknob,” the attorney said in exasperation. “Everyone is intimidated by the goddamn secret police, especially functionaries who live and work right within their easy reach, and I didn’t mean our government! Look, culturally speaking, dwarves think of thieves the way people in the Empire do of warlocks. The Theives’ Guild is the kind of horror with which they threaten their children when they won’t eat their vegetables or go to sleep on time. Most of the dwarves active in the Empire and especially the capital are either permanent residents or merchants, the kinds of people who don’t make waves because they cannot afford to. Of the relatively few organizations in the Five Kingdoms which are active in the Empire, there are none besides government spies and the Order of the Light who would be willing to go toe-to-toe with the Guild, and this is not how the Order operates. You kids are a soft target, relatively speaking, which has to be why they’re after you so relentlessly, but they have to know that if they push it, the Guild will push back, and the Guild is not known for pushing gently. That man is indisputably a highly skilled, hardened professional who will stop at nothing to achieve whatever his goal is, and has the resources of at least one of the Kingdoms backing him. Watch your asses, clear?”
Ross let out a low whistle.
“Well, there y’see?” Darius patted Rasha on the back. “You got played by a professional spy. Could’ve happened to anybody.”
“Somehow,” Rasha said in a strained voice, “that doesn’t help!”
“Calm,” Jasmine urged. “This has been a mess, but we’ve actually made progress today.”
“Such as?” Tallie asked skeptically.
Jasmine smiled. “We have a name. Rogrind.”
Bird cleared her throat. “Well, with our business here concluded I really need to be shoving off, but in parting let me just verify that there is no possible way that’s his real actual name, and you know this, right? Right?”
“It doesn’t have to be,” said Jasmine. “For mundane detective work or even arcane scrying, it’s practically nothing to go on, true. But it’s a name he uses, and for the purposes of the right kind of fae magic, that’s a connection that can be followed back to him.” She grinned. “In addition to visiting Glory to pay our respects today, I say we head to the College of Salyrene and find our friend Schwartz. I’ll bet he can help us narrow this down to something we can tell Boss Tricks.”
“An interesting approach,” Rogrind said, joining them on the steps with a smile. All five jerked back from him, Ross momentarily losing his balance on the stairs and having to be steadied by Darius. “Let me just remind you all that up to this point, I have made every effort to gently illustrate my capability to get results, and tried to offer you more than fair restitution for your help in gaining what I need. I still much prefer those terms, and I think you’ll find that I can offer you a great deal. If you insist on making this confrontational, you should take care to be very certain you know what you’re getting into.”
“Carefully phrased,” said Bird, “but still a threat. Welp, I’m not paid enough for this. Cheerio, kids.”
She took off down the sidewalk at a brisk walk, still dripping papers from her thick folder.
“I hope none of those are important,” Darius mused, watching her go.
“She’s right, though,” said Jasmine, staring at the dwarf. “He’s threatening us, now.”
“I’m sure you misconstrued what I said,” Rogrind demurred with a pleasant smile. “And I’ll remind you that we are standing in front of an Imperial military police station, and any violent action—”
“Oh, shut your fucking gob, you piece of shit,” Rasha snarled. “Lesson learned. Next time we have to shut you up, you won’t see it coming and there won’t be witnesses.”
Rogrind sighed. “You kids really are out of your depth, aren’t you? Now, that was a threat, and right in front of—”
“How did you know my last name?” Tallie asked quietly.
The dwarf gave her a mysterious smile. “One picks up interesting bits and bobs here and there. All it takes is listening.”
“Yeah,” said Rasha. “He was also vague after he talked about my sisters.”
“Ohh, that is not a game you want to play,” Darius whispered.
Jasmine snorted. “Please, track down my family. I wish you all luck with it.”
“Ah.” Rogrind looked past them at the street. “Well, speak of the Dark Lady, as you Imperials say. A pleasure as always, my friends. I’ll talk to you soon; for now, I should leave Darius to attend to family business.”
“What?” Darius barked, whirling. “What are—”
He fell silent, staring at the street, where an expensively lacquered carriage had just pulled up to the curb in front of the police station. Rogrind strolled down the steps and away along the sidewalk, but they weren’t watching him anymore. The carriage wasn’t enchanted, but drawn by matching black horses groomed till they glowed, and had a House coat of arms on its door.
“Aw, hell,” Darius groaned.
A footman had dismounted from the rear of the carriage and approached its door, but before he reached it, the door burst open and a girl of no more than sixteen leaped out, heedless of her expensive dress.
“Darius!” she shouted, pointing accusingly at him.
He sighed heavily. “Hi, Layla. Let me guess, a dwarf told you I’d be here.”
“I don’t even want to know what manner of unsavory people you’re associating with now,” the girl seethed, stalking up the steps to him and utterly ignoring the bystanders who had stopped to gawk at her and her carriage.
“Hey,” Ross protested, and was ignored.
“Have you any idea how worried we’ve been?” Layla demanded, jabbing Darius in the chest with a finger. “Mother is positively beside herself! You shall be lucky if Father doesn’t disinherit you entirely!”
“Guys, this is my little sister, Layla,” he said resignedly. “Layla, may I introduce—”
“I refuse to become acquainted with your pack of guttersnipes!” she seethed. “Lord Darius Ahmad Sakhavenid, you will stop this nonsense and come home this instant!”