Ghost Mimic

Ghost Mimic by Jonathan Moeller

Book: Ghost Mimic by Jonathan Moeller Read Free Book Online
Authors: Jonathan Moeller
Chapter 1: A Favor
     
    Times were bad, but business was good.
    I fear that is the nature of my business. 
    My name is Damla, daughter of Torzamus, sister of Agabyzus, widow of Bahlar, and mother of Bahad and Bayram, and I own the House of Agabyzus, the best coffee house in the Cyrican Quarter and (if I may say so) one of the finest coffee houses in all of Istarinmul. Others may be more opulent, but the House of Agabyzus offers the finest coffee in the Padishah’s realm.
    The Balarigar herself said so, though I dared not tell anyone that. 
    I had to play a dangerous game. I knew secrets that could get my entire family killed. I knew that the Balarigar was Caina Amalas. She was the Ghost circlemaster of Istarinmul, the leader of the spies of the Emperor of Nighmar, and my brother and I were part of her circle. The Grand Wazir had put an absolutely stupendous bounty upon her head, and if anyone ever realized that I had helped her, my life and the lives of my family were forfeit. 
    And even if I had not been a Ghost, my family and I were still in danger.
    Times were perilous. The Inferno, the southernmost fortress of the Padishah’s realm, had been destroyed. The southern emirs had risen in rebellion against the Grand Wazir’s heavy-handed and inept rule. The Grand Wazir had called his armies to his side, and soldiers filled Istarinmul. Every day I heard a new rumor, each one more wild than the last. One day everyone was convinced that the rebel commander Tanzir Shahan was outside the walls of the city, ready to lay siege. Another day the rumors claimed that the Umbarian Order had allied with the Grand Wazir, sending legions of their sorcerous creatures to smash the rebellion. 
    I heard all these rumors because the House of Agabyzus became a favorite meeting place for the khalmirs of the Grand Wazir’s army (officers, as they are called in other lands), and they spoke to each other as my workers and I served them coffee and cakes.
    Times were bad, but business was good. It was the nature of the Istarish people. The men and women of my nation have always preferred to come to coffee houses to exchange news, and with civil war brewing in the south, there was never any shortage of news…and therefore never any shortage of people wishing to drink my coffee and eat my cakes. I had to hire extra cooks and servers to meet the demand, and despite the rise in prices because of the unrest, I still met my expenses and turned a profit every day. 
    It was still dangerous. Politics is a brutal game, and the Grand Wazir, rumor said, saw traitors everywhere. If I ever fell under suspicion, or if I was denounced as a spy for Tanzir Shahan, my family and I would be executed and the House of Agabyzus burned to the ground. 
    And if the truth ever came out…well, I might see Grand Master Callatas himself before I died. Or the feared Lord Ambassador of the Umbarian Order, or the cowled masters of the Slavers’ Brotherhood. 
    Caina Amalas had a lot of enemies…but she had saved my sons from slavery and death, she had saved my brother from prison, and I would not betray her, not for any reason. 
    So I smiled and made polite small talk and poured coffee and served cakes…all while keeping my eyes and ears open. 
    Therefore on the day the box arrived, on the day that trouble started, I wasn’t unprepared. 
    I was sitting in the little office under the stairs, working on the ledger. Agabyzus did the House’s books whenever he visited, since he had a better head for numbers than I did. His tasks from Caina had kept him busy recently, and more and more he had been absent, fearing that the Umbarian Order had some secret plot against the city. 
    The numbers in the ledger both pleased and frightened me. The House was doing well, and it felt strange to have prosperity in such troubled times. For that matter, it meant I had more to lose. On the other hand, if necessary I had enough money that my sons and I could flee the city for a safer

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