Spiget chose her escape carefully. Concord’s entrance was clogged with pilgrims, now carefully being admitted through the gates by Calistoga. Her brother could handle any trouble, but he was more likely to get it should the newcomers see an enforcer leave. Best everyone think she was still on the grounds, rifle resting comfortably across her back.
She slogged through the forest parallel to the road, shuffling through the undergrowth and fighting olive mud. Scents of rose, gardenia, and sulfur faded from the air as she walked. The remnants of paradise were replaced by the seething smell of drowned roots and rotting green.
When the sounds of the overpowered the wood’s birdsong, she knocked off the mess from her thick rubber boots and smoothed her hair.
Rain hit tent tops like fanfare. Fishmongers, diabolists, and scavenge men hawked their respective wares, leaning over table and each other to force guts and brass talismans under her nose. Spiget politely declined a wetwork offer from a rheumy-eyed woman with a bandolier of rusty knives, and another for intimate session with two painted doe-eyed men.
Spiget hurried, shoving her shoulders through the mass of travelers, vagrants, and mercenaries towards the end of the market. Colored glass and strung lights hovered above the entrance of the gambling hall, its sunken doors set down from the street at the bottom of chipped steps. The likeness of an apple was carved deep into the door’s wood.
Someone flicked a stub of twisted herbs and paper at her feet.
Spiget reminded herself who she was dealing with and softened her expression before she looked up. Dealing with the den’s owner required a cool head.
Proper grinned at her in greeting, seemingly unbothered by the dark hair curling and dripping in front of his eyes. His shirt was soaked through and sticking to him. Tucked under to his side under an elbow was her package, safely wrapped in oilskin.
“So punctual,” Proper said, making the comment sound like an insult as if she should have kept him waiting in the rain. He held out his free hand and she dropped three heavy pouches into his long fingers. With what could have been flourish, but was more likely adroit misdirection, Proper vanished the money.
Spiget’s breath caught when he handed over the package. Proper hovered, watching her face as she unwrapped the corner of the slick cover. Beneath the oilskin, thick leather and the barest hint of gold lettering shown warm in the lights overhead. More than anything, Spiget liked the strange heft of its pages.
She hastily rewrapped the book before the rain could get at it. Proper was still watching her when she looked up. “Can you even read it?” He wore his smile at an unkind angle.
Spiget could not. But this was real, she knew it when the papery ancient smell had filled the space between them. Too happy to care about the mockery in his question, she shook her head. “Nope.”
She didn’t need to see his smirk flicker to enjoy his confusion as she walked away. Spiget wrapped her arms around the book and hugged it to her chest.