The Veren Building was probably the most luxurious place that Kyla Vertrane had ever set foot in. A gleaming, gilded skyscraper set in the heart of Allavaisca, it was a symbol of the wealth and power of the Veren family. The Verens were not nobles, but on Endragar, that didn’t matter. Endragar provincial law did not recognize the existence of the nobility, which meant that nobles steered clear of Endragar, and common people had the opportunity to earn riches and prestige, provided they had enough drive and ambition.
At least, that was the myth of Endragar. In reality, the Veren family was as much a noble house as any of the Great Houses of Infanalis or Grennel. Anyone whose last name wasn’t Veren and wasn’t married to someone whose last name was Veren had a very hard time distinguishing themselves on Endragar. But Kyla Vertrane wasn’t interested in distinguishing herself. She just wanted to get paid.
She was sitting on an overstuffed recliner in a huge and elegant living room in a large and expensive apartment near the top of the Veren Building. From where she sat, floor-to-ceiling windows looked out on a spectacular view of the skyline of Allavaisca, and she was surrounded by priceless works of art and designer furniture, all tastefully arranged so that it felt comfortably impressive rather than tacky. The apartment belonged to Achave Veren, oldest surviving son of the current matriarch of the Veren family, Trevel Veren. He was the reason that Kyla had come to Endragar in the first place.
Despite being surrounded by more comfort and luxury than she’d ever even imagined could be in one place, Kyla felt uneasy. For one, she felt out of place. Her work boots, ripped jeans, and leather jacket didn’t exactly comprise the sort of outfit that a wealthy pseudo-noble would wear. But more than that, she usually refused to meet clients on their on turf, especially clients as rich and powerful as Achave Veren. In this case, there was too much money on the table for her to pass up the opportunity, but she still didn’t like it.
“Ah, you must be Kyla Vertrane,” said a man’s voice smoothly. Kyla looked to her left a tall, fleshy man enter the room. “Forgive my tardiness, my dear. I am Achave Veren. It is a pleasure to finally meet you.” Achave was dressed like his living room, extravagant without being gaudy. His dark hair was slicked back against his head, and he wore a smile that didn’t quite reach his small brown eyes. He offered Kyla his hand and she stood up and shook it.
“No worries, Mr. Veren,” she said with more cheer than she felt. “I haven’t been here long, and besides, it gave me an opportunity to admire your living room.”
“Ah, this is but a trifle,” Achave said with false modesty. “All of this could be destroyed, and I wouldn’t bat an eye. My real treasure, on the other hand… That is why you are here, Ms. Vertrane.” He turned away from her and stood in front of the window with his hands clasped behind his back. She sat back down and folded her arms. “The Veren family has little care for who rules the Empire,” he continued. “As long as our business interests are undisturbed, we will back whoever is strong enough to hold the Throne, and if any would-be Emperor attempts to encroach upon our interests, we will back one of his or her rivals. Neither Jimalin Redlamin nor Erelesk Votalin has done anything to offend us, thus we are unconcerned about which of them wins the impending battle. However, a battle that begins in the skies over Endragar could easily spill onto the surface, and I have a certain…possession, that is too valuable to risk being caught in the crossfire.” He turned back to Kyla, and gazed at her intently. “That is where you come in.”
“Let me guess,” she said, “you want me to take something off the planet before the battle starts.”
“Precisely,” Achave said solemnly. “Normally, I would have the Veren Shipping Company take care of any of my delivery needs. Keep it in the family, and all that. However, I am afraid that certain members of my family are rather jealous that I have possession of this object, and I have concerns that my shipment would be intercepted. Nor is the Imperial Post an option either. For one, with the chaos of a civil war, I have very little faith that the Imperial Post can get any package safely from one place to another. But with this package in particular… There are too many factions that would love to get their hands on what I have.”
“Well, rest assured, Mr. Veren,” Kyla said, lacing her hands behind her head. “I don’t have the faintest interest in what you want shipped. All I care about is getting paid for shipping it.”
“That is exactly what I want to hear,” Achave said with a toothy grin. “How soon can you be ready to depart?”
“I need another week to finish repairs on my ship,” Kyla said, but Achave shook his head impatiently.
“Not soon enough,” he said. “Votalin’s forces could be here any day. You need to be gone before they arrive.” He stroked his chin and frowned. “What if I gave you a new ship?”
“With all due respect, Mr. Veren,” Kyla said, crossing her legs so her right ankle rested on her left knee, “a smuggler’s ship is her lifeblood. I need to know my ship inside and out before I’ll trust it on a mission like this. With a new ship, I simply don’t know if I’d be able to do what you expect of me.”
“I see,” said Achave coldly. “Well, then what do you propose?”
“The only option I see is to wait,” replied Kyla calmly. “You’re welcome to try and find someone else to deliver your shipment in the meantime, but I doubt you’ll find anyone as good as I am. As for me, I can’t leave until my ship is ready to go.” Achave thought about this for a moment, and then nodded.
“Very well,” he said with a scowl, his words clipped. “But I want you to understand that you will receive no payment if Votalin’s forces arrive before you are ready to depart.”
“Oh, I understand,” Kyla said with a grin. “Glad we could come to an arrangement.”
To be continued…