The first sound I heard was the scrape of sharp metal against rock. My sight was blurred, my vision still swimming in murky darkness, but something in the back of my mind registered it, that knife-edge slide on wet stone. The rasp was the same as my mason when he marks out which rock to cut away from the cliff. It set my teeth on edge. The fog in my brain receded, but it left me with only one panicked thought as I strained at the ropes binding my hands:
I was a dead man.
In front of me, there was a grunt and a heavy wooden creak. If I squinted, I could make out the bulk of what I guessed was Gordon Ansel sitting across from me. So much for hired muscle. It looked like he was coming around as well.
"Oh good. You're both awake." A woman's voice, refined, polished. "I was just about to put the tea on."
I turned toward her. Half of my face felt fat and bruised. The corners of my mouth were stuck together. I tried to move my swollen jaw and a coppery taste pooled on my tongue. I should have been thankful I was still breathing. The air had a lingering chemical smell, like it would singe off your nose hair if you inhaled too deeply.
Just my luck. I was still in Zaun.
"One of you knows who is responsible for the explosion at the docks", the woman continued. She had her back to us; a flickering bluish light illuminated her slim waist and inhumanly long legs. There was a faint slosh of water as she set a glass kettle above the near-invisible flame of a chem-burner.
"Go pound a sump, lady", Ansel groaned.
Leave it to Ansel to make a bad situation worse.
"Baron Grime's men always have such a way with words."
The woman turned to face us: It wasn't a lamp that lit her figure, but something within her that gave off an unsettling light. "You will tell me what I want to know as if your life depends on it."
"I ain't saying nothing", Ansel snarled.
Metal scraped the floor as she shifted her weight. She was deciding which of us to carve from the quarry first. The sound made no sense until she began walking toward Ansel, and then I understood. Her velvet shadow separated from the silhouette of the table. Mystifying blue light pulsed from her hips, leading my eye down her lithe form... to Piltover or Zaun.. She was a high-end chimeric, unlike any I'd seen in
"Do not insult my courtesy, Mr. Ansel. Others have. They are dead now."
"You think them legs of yours scare me?"
The woman stood in front of my thick-headed acquaintance. I could hear the water in the kettle start to boil. I blinked and there was aof silver and blue. The rope that bound Ansel's hands fell to the floor.
A hoarse laugh escaped my bodyguard. "You missed, darling." Our captor seemed to be waiting patiently. Ansel leaned forward a few inches, an arrogant smirk plastered across his weather-beaten face.
"You can lick my—"
The womanaround. This time, the razor-sharp blade of her leg sliced cleanly through Ansel's neck.
The severed head rolled to a stop in front of me just as the kettle whistle blew. Ansel always had a big mouth. Now it lolled open, silenced at last.
I kept telling myself Ansel was dead, but his eyes still stared at me in horrified surprise. The fear in my brain climbed down my spine, stopping to throttle my gut until I was convinced whatever was left inside was going to end up on the floor.
"Now, Mr. Turek, we are going to have a cup of tea, and you will tell me what I wish to know", she said, her words unhurried.
The woman sat down at her table and smiled. A whisper of steam escaped as she poured the boiling water into her porcelain teapot. She looked at me with an imperious pity, like I was a schoolboy too slow at his figures. It was that smile that I couldn't look away from. Deadly. Knowing. It scared the piss out of me.
"Tea?" I nearly choked on the word.
"Oh, my boy", she said. "There is always time for tea."