Faithful Servants

Faithful Servants by Unknown

Book: Faithful Servants by Unknown Read Free Book Online
Authors: Unknown
Chapter One: Down at the Clever Endeavor
    The Clever Endeavor wasn’t the best bar on Axis. Nor was it the cleanest, or the cheapest—and definitely not the friendliest. It was a bar you went to when you didn’t want to be seen.
    Not that there weren’t always customers. The place had a pretty decent crowd of regulars, and new folks stumbled in from time to time as situations warranted. But everyone there knew the first rule of the Clever Endeavor: even if you saw someone you recognized—you didn’t see them.
    Which is why it was so immediately obvious that Salim was being followed.
    The bar was roughly half full, which meant that it was as full as it ever got. Wrought-iron lanterns filled not with flickering flame but with smooth phosphorescence glowed softly between tables, casting enough light to see by but not so much as to make anyone feel exposed. The bar’s shape was different than most, with a wide-open center and tables positioned around the twisting outer wall, each set in its own scalloped hollow. It was hardly the best use of space, but the sort of folk that frequented the Clever Endeavor appreciated the fact that the odd layout gave every table a wall to put one’s back to, plus a clear view of the entrance and the stairs leading up to the street. Directly across from the doorway stood a long wooden bar without any stools, and behind it lurked a rack of hundreds of bottles of all shapes and sizes—some clear, some opaque, and some jumping and jittering of their own accord.
    The bar’s unusual shape, however, was nothing compared to its clientele. As far as Salim could tell—and such things weren’t always obvious—he was the only human present. To his right, a cluster of hive people—this particular group composed almost entirely of the flying variety, which resembled seven-foot-tall, black-shelled wasps—used deft proboscises to scrape thick red fluid from long, fluted glasses. Thanks to their telepathy, the only sound from their alcove was the steady brush of feathery appendages on crystal, yet the way they occasionally whirred their wings or crooked their limbs suggested an argument. Or as close to an argument as creatures with a hive mind ever got.
    To Salim’s left, several of the plane’s native axiomites were going over documents with a winged, green-skinned man that Salim had pegged as an angel, hammering out some sort of agreement. Each time one of the elflike axiomites moved to point out a particular clause, the illusion of its flesh broke and scattered, revealing the cloud of glowing symbols that was its true form.
    Across the room, another axiomite pulled her companion, one of the fox-headed vulpinals, as deep into the shadows of her alcove as she could. Salim couldn’t say whether the gesture was one of modesty or fear of judgment by her fellows, but it had little effect either way. Each time the fox-man touched the flawless skin of her thigh, a blaze of runes drifted up from the caress like golden dust, broadcasting her excitement to the room. The axiomites were living mathematical abstractions, but apparently even abstractions had needs.
    And those were just the groups. Far more common in the Clever Endeavor were the singletons—folks who didn’t care to bring companions, and were even less interested in making new ones. These solitary drinkers were scattered around the place, each lost in his or her own thoughts. A flame-haired ifrit, the half-breed offspring of some genie and a mortal, sat nursing a brass goblet at one of the flame-retardant tables. Beyond him, a contract devil with a pointed beard and wire-rimmed spectacles which were almost certainly just for show sorted through a pile of scrolls. Closest to the bar was a blurry, vaguely humanoid distortion in the air which Salim took to be one of the shae, the aristocratic residents of the Shadow Plane. The shadow people had long ago traded physical forms for regions of coherent probability, and had been insufferably smug

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