Trinner Traln and the round man were, of course waiting for her.
“Pixies,” she swore at both of them. “Pixie dust. What were you thinking?”
“What?” The rotund man stared at her. “There are pixies in that cave? And you didn’t bring any out?”
“What do I look like to you, man, an insane woman? Of course I didn’t bring a pixie out.”
“Do you know how much you can sell one of those for? Just one of them! And you’re coated with the dust, here-” he reached out towards her with a wide finger.
Raizel stepped back out of his reach. “No. No, the pixie curse will only get worse if you touch it. Let it be. It’ll wash off or-”
“Curse? What do they teach you up in the mountains, ignorant child?”
“You know what?” She pulled the chest back behind her and glared at the man. “This is mine by finder’s rights and nobody would argue with me. It cannot be yours Trinner Traln; you could not have put it there nor gotten it out, whatever lies you two spew. And thus if you are going to be rude to me, I am not going to help you. It is mine and I will take it.”
Both men spoke at once and reached for her, but something in her gaze – or the glow of the pixie dust, or the fact that the law was on her side – stopped them.
“Listen.” Raizel glared at both of them. “You. Trinner Traln. You want something out of here. You-”
“Esterzon Gorenz.” The round man was suddenly subdued. Good.
“-Esterzon Gorenz. You want something from here destroyed. I want my fifty sed. I want a place to sleep tonight, because I will not make it to the train station. And I want to know why a -” she could not speak of it. “-why the cave wanted me to look at something, laid a geasa on me to observe something.”
“…You were given a geasa?” Trinner Traln stared. “Get away from me. The Empire will control you now. They will see everything you see. They will know everything you know-”
He fell silent as Esterzon Gorenz slapped him across the mouth. “There was pixie dust, you fool. There is pixie dust on her. Not even in your wildest dreams of ridiculousness do pixies work for the Tzar. Now stop trying to scare her off. Give her her money so she will open the chest.”
Trinner Traln paused. “ – nobody has ever gotten the chest out of the cave. Nobody has lasted long enough to dig. They were scared off.”
Raizel stared at him. “What?”
Esterzon snarled. “You moron. You have made a deal with a woman -”
“Old enough to make the deal. You made a deal with a woman with no intention to follow through?”
“I’m telling you,” Trinner Traln complained, “I don’t have the money. I never had the money.”
“Fifty sed?” Esterzon Gorenz stared at Trinner is disbelief. “Fifty sed is pocket change. It is the cost of a sausage and a cheese!”
“If it’s so little money, you pay her!”
“And then I will.” Esterzon Gorenz dug into his pockets and pulled out a handful of copper and silver. “Ten, thirty-five, forty-five… it will be forty-five sed, girl, unless Trinner here can spare a five-piece copper.”
Raizel waited. She should take the forty-five, she knew, but she had been promised fifty, and that with no warning of fairy dust and geasa.
Trinner Traln muttered and whined and, with great ceremony, pulled out five tiny stone sed. “Here. Fifty sed.”
“I’ll be sure to claim it on my taxes,” Raizel lied, just to upset him. She stepped around the chest to the clasp. It wasn’t locked, just latched, so she grabbed it with both hands and pressed to open it.
Light flashed. Raizel swore. If the idiot rude-men had gotten her messed up with yet another pixie or fairy, she was going to curse them both to the deepest depths of Sarandzu, never mind their treasures and missives and miserly fifty sed.
She blinked until her vision cleared. There was no chest. There was no hill, no cave, not fat man, no grumpy paranoid Empire-fearer. There was nothing at all except whiteness and a thin figure all in grey and black.
“Sarandzu and the seven dead grooms of Fetiania,” Raizel swore, or tried to. Her mouth moved but there was no sound.
Nothing, that is, until the spectre in front of her opened its maw.