Chapter 26 – House of Desire (1)

Nothing had gone well for the mistress of the Dun family as of late. Ever since the Marn family had shut off their supply of ale, she had been forced to spend a fortune on imports. Unwilling to raise her prices, and lose valuable costumers, she had been forced to swallow losses.

Ruminating on her options, lady Mina, as she called herself, sat in her parlor on the upper floor of the Purple Palace, lips pursed in a pout. Her dark-brown hair was like velvet, cascading down from the top of her head like a waterfall; down onto supple shoulders, desperately clinging to a soft gown that did more to flaunt her charm than obscure it.

Her age was a well-kept secret, but looking at her, one would get the impression that she was in her late-twenties; old enough to possess the dignity of age, but not so old that her beauty was waning.

She was in the prime of her life, and should have been enjoying her power and wealth, rather than sitting in an awkward position, both figuratively and literally. She eyed the man sitting off to the side, in a small alcove, surrounded by two women and grinning as they fed him dried fruits and other delicacies.

“I don’t see why you’re in such an abominable mood,” the man said, turning his attention on the brunette beside him and tickling her side, “Business has never been as good as now.”

Fanning her face, Lady Mina scowled at him. She loathed the man, but was forced to rely him. It was an abominable feeling.

“Our profits do not come from selling flesh to foolish men,” she said, teeth clenched together in defiance of her smile, “It comes from your wares, which are not selling, master Jorn.”

This man was the literal reason for her awkward position, even as he doubled as her greatest asset. She relied a great deal on him, but even just being in the same room as him made her want to throw up, and yet she had to suffer through it. While her losses were piling up, the profits from selling his mixtures had been the only thing keeping the Purple Palace afloat, but now even that was threatened.

Master Jorn laughed and turned his attention on the other woman, a pretty red-head with a heart-shaped mouth, kissing her shoulder as his hand crept down her back.

“Are you listening to me?” Lady Mina rose to her feet, eyes shooting thunderbolts. The two girls flinched and looked up at their mistress with fear. They knew that the elegant woman could be as brutish as a street thug if she wanted.

“I’m listening, I’m listening, Mina dear. I’m also extremely busy, so I would appreciate it if we could discuss this later.”

“Out. Both of you.” She barked her command, and the girls shot to their feet in response. Without as much as a glance over their shoulder, the two hurried to the door, leaving master Jorn and the Mistress of the Purple Palace to themselves.

“Aww…” The man said, longingly staring at the door where his two companions had disappeared, “Things were just getting good.” From a pocket on his chest, the master alchemist drew out a flask he always kept close — with a tincture of his own personal make — and took a deep draft.

Lady Mina closed in, smacking her fan against her hand, eyes still thundering. “What?” Said master Jorn, putting down the flask and raising one palm upward, “What can I do, Mina d—”

“That’s lady Mina to you, master Jorn,” she snapped.

“Of course, my lady Mina. What am I supposed to do? I am just an alchemist, not a thug you can order around. If you want someone to figure out whose selling drugs right under your nose, take a few of those burly guys you’ve got at the door, and leave the pretty ladies to me. How about that?”

“We’ve already tried that,” she said and threw a small packet onto the floor in front of the alchemist. “Somehow, they get this to our costumers even inside of my Purple Palace. We only got this because the idiot who carried it was already drunk when he arrived. I want you to analyze it and copy it.”

The offending object on the ground was the figurative reason for her crumbling position. It had appeared in her brothel over the past week, replacing the drugs she was selling. She had no idea where it came from, since not even her costumers had any idea.

Somehow, the drugs were appearing on their own, inside the pockets of her costumers, who were more than happy to use the unsanctioned products to save their coin. Even at the threat of expelling those who used these drugs, her situation was only growing more desperate.

She had even lowered herself to ask the mayor to intercede on her behalf, given their good relationship. The man was a pig, but he had enjoyed many a night in the Purple Palace, away from his wife’s nagging, and owed Lady Mina a great deal.

Unfortunately, her problems coincided with events that drew the mayor’s attention away. A young apothecary had recently risen to stardom by pioneering a liquid that could make stale water drinkable, even if exposed to the carcass of a dead animal.

The mayor was currently distracted by his attempts to reach an agreement with the young apothecary about providing funds to expand the business, creating a product that would make the value of Tremon’s market rise to the skies. To the Mayor, therefore, lady Mina’s current problems were inconsequential.

Master Jorn picked up the packet and sniffed at the contents, then licked his finger and took a small sample of the powder inside, licking it again for a taste. “This is some primo stuff,” he said, shaking his head, “Analyzing it will take days, and replicating it? It could take months of experimentation. What about—”

“No! No more excuses,” lady Mina stomped her foot as she towered over the man, “I want results. If you cannot make it, and cannot make something that is better, then you either find out who could make this, or you are worthless to me.”

The man narrowed his eyes at the woman, then licked his lips with a stony expression. “Are you threatening me, lady Mina.”

“I am imploring you to see sense. If your work cannot sell, then I cannot afford to keep you as my guest. Without this place, where will you go? Back to the capitol and that man you made a cuckold?”

“You dare—!” Master Jorn was on his feet, facing lady Mina with an expression of barely restrained rage. Visibly taking control of his own face, muscle by muscle, the man spoke again in a dangerously low voice, “You dare speak to me in such a tone? Don’t forget that my abilities extend further than simple powder for a limb plough. Your little family lives or dies with me, lady Mina.”

Their faces were close enough for their noses to touch, both keeping an inch apart but neither retreating.

“If my family dies, so do you,” she said wrinkling her nose.

“Lives…” he repeated, raising his hand and putting a finger on her cheek. Slowly, he moved the finger down onto her soft lips, baring his teeth in a feral grin, and said, “Or dies…”

She grabbed his hand and moved it away, then moved her face backward with a raised chin.

“I don’t care what you do,” she said, “Just do something.”

“I will,” master Jorn said, still grinning with primal glee, “But when I solve this, I want an appropriate reward.”

“Like what?”

His smile turned sweet again, gentlemanly, even. His word, though, were anything but.

“I want you, Mina dear. I want you all for myself.”