When I saw the sign that hung on the doorknob, it immediately struck me that I might actually get along with the person on the other side of the door. I dispensed with knocking and pushed the door open.
He seemed to be expecting me. From the leather high-backed chair behind a heavy-looking oak table where he sat, he stared at me through raisin-like eyes like he already knew every detail of my proposal without my laying it out before him. The rest of him didn’t seem as keen as his eyes. His chin was made up of layers of soft flesh, riddled with stubble that disappeared into the light-blue shirt he wore, while his nose was a roundish mass that perched above two thin slivers of lips.
“You’re the one they talk about,” were his first words to me.
I didn’t know what others were saying about me, and frankly I could care a whole lot less.
But I replied, “It depends on what they say.”
He straightened from the chair and leaned across the table, studying me through those tiny eyes like rabbit turds. “And I assume you have something I want.”
“It depends on what you want.”
“You want your brother back, you need a bargaining tool.”
I pulled my hands out of my jacket pockets and showed him how empty they were. He frowned.
“If you’re done wasting my time,” he said, “exit where you entered.”
“Didn’t you know? The best things are those you can’t see.”
He paused midway through reclining in his seat, then got up entirely. He approached me with deliberate steps, never once taking his eyes off me. I held it as steadfastly as I could, ignoring the ringing in my ears. There were a million ways this meeting could go wrong, especially for what I was about to do next, but I couldn’t let myself think about that now.
“Go on,” he said at last. “Explain yourself.”
I held out my palm, letting the pinprick of orange light grow into a pulsing tennis ball-sized orb, before curling my fingers into a fist and dropping it by my side again.
The Trader continued staring at my hand, his beady eyes widening enough for me to see the whites. “That’s … not possible.” He looked up. “You’re a changeling; you shouldn’t be able to glamour.”
“No,” I said easily. “But apparently I can.”
“You’ve heard of Ixus’s assassination, I presume?”
He nodded, his eyes revealing a new slant of wariness and – dare I say it – awe. Even for the most ruthless Trader, it didn’t take much to impress him. The glam I had worked up was barely the tip of the iceberg.
In the space of the few seconds it took me to recall how I managed to cast my first glam, the Trader had formed his own conjecture. “You didn’t.”
“You don’t strike me as a murderer.” He didn’t seem too convinced by his statement.
“Of course not. I’m not the one who killed him. I’ve barely met him.” I cast another glam, just for kicks. Maybe I was showing off a little, but the opportunity to impress a Trader was hard to come by. “I merely absorbed his glam. Oh, and the fruits helped.”
“The fruits.” I didn’t see how it was possible, but his frown deepened.
“The ones you so zealously horde, even threatening to kill my brother for stealing from you.”
He shrugged. “He shouldn’t steal.”
“Neither did he have to, if he knew how easy it is to be one of them.”
“You mean murder.”
“I didn’t kill Ixus,” I repeated. “I just happened to be at the right place at the right time.”
“But you saw who killed him?”
I waved a hand, showing off my glamour some more. “That’s irrelevant. I’m not here to rat anyone out unless it means I can get my brother back. And now I want more than have him back.”
He gave me a semblance of a smile. “You learn fast, changeling. It’s too bad you’re not a Trader. We can put that brain to good use.”
“What better use is there,” I said, leaning back against his desk, “than to stop the fairies from rising again? Especially” – I bounced a crackling orange glam on my palm, watching his eyes narrow greedily at it – “with this.”
He managed to rearrange his expression into one of scorn. “You’re going to go up against the fairies alone with that puny little ball of glam?”
“Not alone of course. As delightful as this magic is, it’s hardly enough.” I folded my fingers again. “You’re going to help me. Gather all your Traders and we’ll divide the fairies. ”
“I serve the fairies.” His lips disappeared into one thin line.
Smiling, I said, “I’ve heard that one before. And believe me when I say I know for a fact that isn’t so. You serve yourselves, and you know it. You only serve them because of those measly little wish-stones they give you.”
“And if I help you defeat the fairies, I’ll get nothing. Not a fragment of a wish stone.”
“If you help me defeat the fairies,” I said, “you’ll be free.” I knew he understood what I meant, just didn’t dare to entertain the thought. Traders were bound to serve the fairies as long as they lived; there was no going back once you vowed to serve them.
I was almost through to him; I could just see it in his face.
“Give me one good reason why I should do this.”
“I’ll make sure we succeed.”
And so, with my assurance, the deal was sealed.