A few hours later, Amy had recovered enough to start fuming. Typical of Schreber, using threats and bribes when just the bribe would do. Just who did he think he was? No one gave orders to her—well—most of the time. She fingered the gold piece that weighed down her wallet and thought of the grim expression on Schreber’s battle-scarred face.
Threat or bribe, it was clear he was not going to let her slide out of this request. The question remained, what sort of information did he want? Personal background? Not unless it was for blackmail. Current business? That was more logical. How much did she really need to give him anyway?
She crossed her legs, recrossed them, and looked into the fire. There had to be some way of figuring it out. Maybe if she just gave him a hint, and saw how he reacted. If he wanted more, she could always get it, right?
“You look thoughtful. What’s going on in that busy mind of yours?” Bernard asked.
She jumped and flushed a guilty red. Invokers couldn’t read thoughts, could they? She schooled her expression into something appropriately blank, and wagged a finger at him.
“That costs money, so don’t ask,” she said as she got up.
“You don’t have to leave every time I come in the room. Sit with me awhile.” He held out his hand toward her, and gave her his most pleading look.
She sneered at it and withdrew into the safety of her work room. After Schreber’s visit she’d refused clients, information, and fresh air. Did he think a few minutes with him would pull her out of her shell?
“I’m only staying for diamonds or chocolate. I don’t see you carrying either.”
He smiled a little, and reached into his pocket with one hand to reveal a handful of glittering gems. “How about one of these?”
Her eyes widened when she recognized the tiny, uninvoked ward stones. They were valuable she knew, valuable enough that they could not be paid for in copper unless it was in the largest of sums. Silver, she decided. They were worth a lot of silver. They twinkled in the fire light, lustrous and pure with just a hint of blue. Almost as if their many facets had been created to cause a warmth of their own, instead of very real protection.
“How long do I have to stay?” she managed to breathe. If it was for eternity, she’d have to turn it down.
He chuckled, and put the gems away. “Long enough to help me.”
Disappointment flooded through her. She flopped onto her bedroll and pondered the price of the gem. If she said yes, it might help her figure out something to give her lethal associate. Then again, if she helped Bernard she was dead anyway. What good was a gem if she couldn’t enjoy the profits? She’d have to use the ward just to protect herself.
“I don’t think so,” she said, not bothering to hide the strain in her voice. Maybe if he heard it, he would take pity on her and give her one anyway.
He strolled over to the doorjamb and leaned against it, obviously enjoying the stares they were accumulating. “Come on Amy, you never used to be like this.”
She shrunk against the wall, eyeing his snow-covered cloak with disapproval. If the snow touched her, she was going to have another episode. “You never used to swan around in embroidered cloaks and gold rings, but I notice it hasn’t stopped you.”
He pulled back. “Ouch, feisty today aren’t we? I do think you should come dry off by the fire though. That snow can’t be comfortable.”
A wicked grin spread across his face as he whipped out a large ball of snow from under his cloak. Her eyes widened and she began grabbing at her blanket, her pillow, anything she could use as a shield. She wasn’t quite quick enough; just as she turned with her straw stuffed protection Bernard caught her full in the face with his icy weapon.
The smell of the storm exploded under her nose, and wet flakes flew everywhere. She didn’t notice where they fell, nor did she particularly care. There was a freedom in the coldness, a freedom that told of how where everyone else hid, she came forth. Where other animals died, she lived. Where others migrated, she remained. There was something vital about her species, something designed for the snow.
She lowered her head to sniff at a strange set of tracks that wandered away from her into the woods. The pungent, musky odor was easy for her to identify. Even if she hadn’t recognized it as the scent of a fat snowshoe rabbit, the way it made her mouth water would have told her it was something good to eat. Without hesitation, she began to follow.
A shadow fell across her path as she was running, but she paid it no mind. Shadows came and went all the time. She attempted to avoid it only when it bent towards her, looming into a frightening, predatory shape. She bared her teeth as it reached towards her, and screamed her challenge.
“Amy, wake up! Are you alright?”