'Lys the Lovely', that's what citizens called their city, but love or beauty was not what the wispy man in the deep red and purple robes sought. No, Lys held other, less obvious secrets and they were not on display for the entertainment of nobles and their distinguished guests.
He had left the lavish harbor behind, had swiftly walked through the wide streets of the inner city, without paying attention to the luxuriant villas the magisters wanted visitors to see. The merchants' galleys with their blue-striped hulls didn't carry the cargo he had come to acquire, nor did the bazaars near the docks offer such exclusive wares. Courtesans and bedslaves tempted with smiles and bare skin on the balconies and terraces of bedhouses, but they held no appeal, not today.
His path led past the markets and trade districts, away from the busy streets and waterfront stores, to the parts of the city that were all but lovely. In these alleys the scent of Lysene perfume did not linger, the air was filled with the stench of rotting fish, seagull shit and despair. Not every slave bred in Lys possessed the fabled beauty, not every merchant was honorable and successful in his pursuits. Here in the outskirts, far from the bustling heart of the city, Lys the Lovely hid its unloved sons and daughters.
The hut he entered was barely held together by driftwood and ropes. Boarded up windows kept out the afternoon sun, only a few beams shone through the cracks and the holes of a tattered curtain that served as a door.
"Is it still for sale?" he addressed the old man cowering on a rickety chair behind a makeshift counter. "Don't tell me you changed your mind and I traveled the long way for nought."
The old man wordlessly reached under his counter and produced a small velvet bag, pale blue in color like his customer's lips, and calmly opened it, ignoring the impatient glare. An elongated crystal emerged and slid onto the counter, then it just lay there, dull and black.
"It is depleted." The customer's voice betrayed annoyance and indignation, he crossed his arms and paced a few steps up and down. "Your message didn't say so."
"You want it or not?" The old man, seemingly already bored with the brief exchange, barely looked up when his visitor finally stopped in front him.
Coins rattled as they fell onto the counter, a pale hand took the crystal, and a moment later the old man was alone again in his store.