One hundred seventy-five

One hundred seventy-five

Jennifer’s first thought was that Jack was wearing her backpack, which had just about everything in it, including everything that could be considered as money. Her second thought was that her force shield wouldn’t do any good in this situation; her third was that pulling a gun would be a bad idea; and the fourth was why would Jack seek to strike a deal with someone this angry  at him! Was he that stupid?

She looked at Jack’s face as he hung suspended between two big machines. It seemed that they were alone in this side room with the being named Halor Mountebank, but those machines had come from somewhere. Jack’s face was impassive and not terrified, but that didn’t mean he knew what he was doing. She had gotten too used to traveling with smart people like her father and Senhor Capoeira, she realized, and there was no guarantee that Jack Shift was clever at all.

She couldn’t rely on this being a clever master plan of Jack’s: she had to speak up.

“How much does he owe you, Hal?”

“Six hundred thousand pounds Suq--and just about all the blood he has in his body, give or take. I’m sorry, my pretty little Yahoo girl, as to your unfortunate choice of a factotum, but you seem like a resilient sort. After butchering him like a hog, perhaps I can offer you some recommendations as to a replacement.”

“Well, my plight is rather urgent,” she said. “And his talk of the Lost--I’m sorry, the Last Horizon sounded like--well, it gave me some hope.” She didn’t have to fake the fear she felt right below the surface.

“And what sort of distress besets you?” The tailed man asked.

“A monster--seemingly indestructible, that killed my father and his--retinue--and has followed be across many worlds.” She tried to make it sound a little nobler and richer.

“That’s enough,” Jack said. “My lady, I owe this creature nothing. This is all a song and dance done entirely for your benefit, simply because he’s gotten a whiff of serious money. If you were not from a great ways away, you would know that I couldn’t approach him in the Bourse with a financial judgment on my head!”

“And if you were not from a long way away, you would know that no such rule exists!” Mountebank bellowed. His thick fleshy tail snaked up, and the hand-like thing at the end of it grabbed Jack’s throat.

“Please stop,” Jeanette said. Theoretically, both of these were equally plausible, and she had automatically tried to impress this imposing looking being. Plus, she was all too ready to believe the worst of Jack.

She did not, though, have time for any of this nonsense. At any moment, the creature could be here, turning this Bourse--whatever that was--into wreckage. And her with it.

There was a gun in her hand now--a very big nasty one that hadn’t been in evidence before, since it came from beyond the sixth wall. “Hal, I don’t have a lot of money left, but I will gladly pay it out. But you should understand that I’m not a very attractive client, since everyone who’s helped me has died. Jack figures his phasing ability will save him, and he might be right. But you, Mr. Halor Iridescent Mountebank, may really want to take a respectable fee to get me to this Last Horizon--and then run. Really.”

For a minute--a long minute--the situation held. Then Hal, so to speak, blinked. “The one additional element in this is that I don’t like Jack here at all. Abrasive rude motherfucker, and it did my heart good to threaten him like this. But he’s correct.” The machines clicked and vanished, leaving Jack scowling and rubbing his wrists.

“Let me tell you about Last Horizon,” Hal said. “Whatever its origin, it was discovered by one of the most powerful and most hated crime lords on Suq. Even the Court of Miracles threw him out, and that’s not easy. As his power waned and his enemies proliferated, he came across a Gate that led to a pocket universe. I can tell you’re one of those folks, to whom dimensional portals are not wild fantasy--not everyone is unaware here. But Last Horizon had no other connections, and had a portal very difficult to open. So our lord transferred a lot of treasure and luxury there, and one day vanished, letting his organization collapse. Everyone thought that was that--until about fifty years later, he reappeared, younger and stronger, back on Suq. He auctioned off the Last Horizon at the Court of Miracles to an unknown bidder--and then walked into a disintegrator.”

“Over the centuries, the Last Horizon changed hands many times--not always so luridly--but acquired the reputation as a nice place to visit, especially if you’re on the run, but you wouldn’t want to live there. Finally, the secret’s been shared by a consortium, quite secret. Not secret enough so that I haven’t hacked it, and done a very nice side business, as Jack became aware of. I’ve never been there, but it’s incredibly opulent, and has proved to be very secure--though not completely so. I have no idea whether it might be proof against such a monster as you’ve sketchily described, but it’s yours for a price. Hm?”

Jeanette nodded, frowning. “It would have been easier if you’d just told us that in the first place.”

“As I said, I got to threaten this asshole here. It was worthwhile.”

Jeanette moved a little closer to Jack and touched the force-shield jewel on her necklace, encasing them in an opaque dome. “No sense letting him see where I keep the money,” she said, taking the backpack from Jack. She opened it, and rummaged around. Although the bag full of world jewels was still drawn shut, some had fallen out. There were also some jewelry from Avalon, and some she was not sure where they were from. She took out a palmful.

She selected a world-jewel, and showed it to Jack. “Do you recognize what this is?” She asked, and Jack shook his head. Looks semiprecious to me. Nothing special.”

“Right. If you don’t know, then he won’t either.” She put the world jewels back.

“There’s some very nice pieces there. Give me the ring for Aventine, and the rest should more than satisfy Hal. What are the round things?”

“Skittles.” She popped one in her mouth. Yep, still good.

So they re-emerged, with the jewels wrapped in a handsome cloth that Senhor Capoeira Capybara hadn’t failed to filch--from Storisende, it looked like. Mountebank looked appreciatively at the jewels--and then at the backpack, which earned him a mighty scowl from Jeanette. In return, he drew a finger from one of his small feminine side-hands across Jack Shift’s palm. Then they all returned to the big main hall of the Bourse.

Jack, Jeanette and Gad (who had watched everything avidly) left via the big main doors, to the nods of the huge monsters guarding it. They walked into a far more dismal carpeted corridor, and Jack phased.

They stood in the middle of a gorgeous garden. There were piles of flowers of all descriptions, and cherry blossom trees in bloom. There were hints of a low building behind the flowers.

But Jeanette put her hand to her throat. Her eyes widened. “Jack,” she said.

“The builder of this place--he never left.”

She held up her white gloves. They were glowing. So were Jack’s.


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