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Trouble is like a bastard-horse with a hunger for blood. If it wants you, it'll get you and take a bite out of your ass. On a good day that's all it'll take; on a bad day it'll take your life. The trouble with trouble is you never know if you're having a good day or a bad day until after it's happened. So when a man dressed in black and wearing the gold lightning strike of the Arcane Union Bounty Hunters stood in the doorway of my gun smithy, I knew trouble had found me.
Bounty Hunters never brought good news. Never. I had to get rid of him, politely, so I didn't end up as fodder for his bastard-horse that was quietly growling out the front. With my husband away it would be at least a day before anyone realized I was gone.
We sized each other up and I spoke first, eager to get him out of my workshop.
"I don't think it would be a good idea if I served you." I put down the revolver I'd been cleaning.
The man pulled off his black hat, took a few steps and placed it on my workbench. He nodded as if understanding my concern. "A lot of folk feel that way."
His eyes tracked around the gun smithy like he was appraising its worthiness. My back straightened as I readied to fight any snub he gave the smithy my husband and I had built from the ground up. I was sure the Bounty Hunter had seen bigger, fancier gun smiths in Cerulean. Anil was almost as far as you could get from the capital city. A small town with a small smithy. Mostly we fixed guns and made the bullets for people too lazy to make their own.
"I hear you do some engraving," the Bounty Hunter said after he'd finished his inspection.
"That'd be correct." Engraving was my specialty. I had an eye for detail and a hand steady enough to bring the lines to life. I engraved all manner of objectsbelt buckles, stirrups, badges. My work brought a bit of extra coin into the house, and the Lords knew we needed it. If it were made of metal or wood, I could personalize itfor a price.
"I want the stock of my revolver engraved."
My turn to nod. It was a common enough request, but I didn't want to serve him. He was an Arcane Union Bounty Hunter, and trouble didn't come any bigger or blacker. I shifted my stance and tried to look taller. I might've reached his shoulder if he slouched. For a Bounty Hunter he didn't look real evil, just like any other man doing his job. Yet his job involved hunting down the men who refused to join the Arcane Union. Of all the trade Unions belonging to the Lords of Prasine, the Arcane was the most powerful and the only one that ruled magic. Serving this man would break Lance's one rule: Never serve the Arcane, Jaines. Don't matter if they're Union or Rogue. Getting tangled by magic never does anyone any good.
His words rattled around my skull like bearings. I wished he were here.
"Like I said, I can't really be serving you, sir."
Out front his horse growled and stamped like it could smell my blood and fancied a drink. I wondered if it was the same one who'd nearly killed me twenty years prior. No one knew how long the dark-hearted critters lived, and the Arcane Union wasn't big on sharing secrets.
"Boss in?" said the Bounty Hunter with a faint smile on his lips.
"No." There was no point in lying. I didn't know what magic he possessed; that, and anyone in town could've already told him Lance was away. I swallowed and kept the fidget in my feet.