Lilith watched as Everam Arvolle spat on the already filthy floor of the Dogtrench tavern. He also made a not-terribly-subtle show of resting his hand on the butt of the cheap pistol shoved into his belt. Hopefully his merchandise was of higher quality than his personal choice of weapons. Not that there was much else high quality about him. He might have been a pretty man if he put some work into it, but he hadn't. His hair looked as though he'd cut it himself using a dull knife. His clothes were of good make – the sort Lilith would expected from an allegedly successful merchant, illegal or not – but they were so worn and ill-maintained that they did nothing to enhance his appearance. And he had no gloves, which was just crass.

"I assume you do not find that offer agreeable," she finally said, after several long moments of Arvolle glowering at her. Do you think you can scare me, you little grease stain? I've danced alone with war golems and sigilborn. Your toy gun will do less good than a slingshot if this turns bloody.

"That'll be the size of it," Arvolle said. He leaned forward. "Not acceptable. Not even fucking close"

Keep fondling your gun and I'll make you eat it, Lilith wanted to say. That wouldn't get her what she wanted, though, however gratifying it might be. Instead she poured herself another glass of Arvolle's cheap wine. "You think two and a half thousand marks is insufficient for a dozen whirlpikes, a Lockspur mark IV, and a Dipolitan stormglass? Be reasonable." If anything, she was making far too generous an offer for the package. But she was a stranger and she wanted them on short notice, so it was only fair. Did he think she was truly desperate and hope to exploit that?

"Two and a half? That's alright for what you're asking. It's not the 'what' of your asking that's the problem. It's the 'how'."

Lilith eyed the arms dealer with suspicion. They were haggling over weapons and he was bothered by a matter of etiquette? She found that hard to credit. It was more likely he was playing at being offended to scare more money out of her. After all, how tough could a polished Collegium sorceress be? Do you think your typical Ardessine sorceress comes asking after a crate full of military grade arms? "I had no intention of insulting you, Everam Arvolle, and if I have, I apologize."

Arvolle snorted. "I find that hard to believe." He shook his head and murmured, "This is why I fucking hate dealing with mages."

"I'm sorry?" Please, throw a tantrum. This should be amusing.

"By the Titan's bleeding asshole." Arvolle rapped his knuckles on the table and pointed at her. "You storm in here like a goddess come down, like you haven't got a fucking care about who sees you. You're puking silk instead of talking straight. And you toss out an offer like that? Like it's fucking nothing. Every little thing you do reek of contempt for us." He gestured expansively to the tavern's patrons. "And you're saying you didn't mean a thing?"

Lilith burst out laughing.

It was absolutely the wrong thing to do, she knew even before she saw fury start to crawl across Arvolle's face, but it was hard not to. Her laughs cut through the tavern's soft background rumble and drew bemused looks from some of the other patrons. The Dogstrench was not that kind of tavern. "You're insulted," she said at last. "Because I offered too much?" You've persuaded me of your sincerity.

"That wasn't the whole of it."

"Even in part…" She shook her head and started to rise. "I'm sorry to have wasted your time. If you are unwilling or unable to make a deal, I can find someone else."

Arvolle had his pistol out and aimed at her belly in an instant – fast, by most standards, though not by Lilith's. All lightness was gone, chased off by a cold thrill. "Sit the fuck back down. You've half a glass of that shit left, and we've got a deal to settle," Arvolle said. He tapped the table with the gun barrel. "You'll get your guns, and you'll pay three for it. Call it a courtesy fee, and let no one ever say Everam Arvolle doesn't hold up his end of things."

Lilith regarded him with icy disdain and did not sit. "Put the gun away, Arvolle. It is poor manners to threaten your guests, and it is drawing more attention than I care for." In fact, most of the patrons seemed to be looking anywhere but at the two of them.

"You've already drawn all the attention you can. Sit. Down." He gave a smile. "Please."


"I asked nicely. Won't ask again."

Sigils flared on her arms and near-invisible streamers of arcane force – ghostwind – snaked out of Lilith. By the time Arvolle saw the telltale sigil light, Lilith had already ensnared his pistol in barriers of force. If he pulled the trigger, the bullet would barely clear the muzzle. At least he didn't do something really stupid like actually fire the damn thing. Nobody would be ignoring that. She tore the gun from his hand and deposited it in her own. "Don't threaten me."

"Fuck you."

She had to credit him for talking shit while on the wrong end of a confrontation with a war mage. It was foolish, but it was her kind of foolishness. She considered her options while she stripped the ammo from the pistol's magazine. She needed those arms, and finding someone else would take time, and she would have to pay even more to get it faster. Better to take a chance with generosity. "You wish to make a deal? Alright, here is my offer: what I asked for, when I asked for it. I am in a hurry and no mood to haggle, so I will offer you the two thousand on the table right now, and another seven hundred marks on delivery. Ramses Geurista said you were reliable. Don't make a liar of him."

"Fucking mages."

"I'm sorry? Shall I find someone else?"

"We have a deal," Arvolle growled through a clenched jaw. "I'll get you your fucking guns."

"Thank you." Lilith slid the emptied pistol magazine back into place and offered the gun back to Arvolle. "Smile, Everam Arvolle. You just made a good deal. It's not worth getting caught up in matters of etiquette."