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“Oi! You there! Why dontcha come over here, hmm?”
Sparing a glance over her shoulder, Emma spotted the pasty man reclining in the shadow of the pub.
Most likely he had just had one drink too many, especially considering the unfocused look in his eyes as
he gestured loosely for her to come forward. The skin was drawn tight over his bones and his dark inky
marks looked faded and crooked on his skin like old writing on parchment. Trying to rub off the slimy
feeling crawling up her arms, Emma ignored the man’s appraising gaze and drew her cloak around her
Moving forward, Emma shouldered her way through the mass of people bustling up and down the
streets. Emma saw a variety of people shuffling here and there from shop to shop, haggling and
mingling in the charm of the popular port town.
Ladies laughed in small groups as they shopped for the latest fashions, their swirling marks displayed at
the crest of a neck, the flash of an ankle, and the baring of an arm. The colored tendrils curled to and
fro every so often as the ladies giggled together.
Men sat in their stalls, bargaining for fair prices for their hard-earned wares. In one store, a gruff old
man was currently in a shouting match with another over one thing or another, the dark red marks
crawling up the bicep of his arm jumping with every shout.
Emma tried not to stare at them too often. They seemed so alive.
Everyone had them.
Everyone except her.
Most marks reflected the life of a person, growing and winding as that person grew up. They came in a
variety of dark, subtle colors and often responded to the emotions of a person. In some cases, people
wore their marks as another judge of beauty, another piece of jewelry to be admired. Many times girls
got jealous over whose mark was more graceful, or more fashionable than others.
In some rare cases, some marks indicated some degree of magic. These marks were more exotic, much
brighter and noticeable than normal marks. Of course, these cases were as rare as diamonds.
But Emma didn’t need to worry about any of that. She had other things to worry about. Because the
only time she’d seen someone without marks was, well, never. Not if they were alive.
Counting the number of coins she had in her pouch again, Emma wondered if it would be enough. It
wasn’t a lot, but Emma hoped she could pay some in part with labor.
When the smell of the sea permeated over the mix of smells that characterized the town, Emma knew
she was drawing closer to her destination. The character of the people around her started to change and
the more quaint shops and bakeries started to peel away to more … rough establishments.
Near the ports was where you’d usually find your black market dealers, selling all sorts of worldly and
other worldly contraband that came in from the distant, wilder lands. Out of the corner of her eye,
Emma swore she saw a glittery flutter of something beneath the dreary cover of a cage from a crooked
old man wheeling by. She didn’t dare take a closer look as the man noticed and sneered in her
Brushing it off, Emma looked towards the ports, where multiple ships were resting in the harbor. Some
of them on the north side of the ports were the large, elegant royal ships that were guarded by troops of
soldiers. No doubt they held valuable goods and possibly even parts of the royal treasury. Other small
and modest fishing boats lined the smaller southern section, situated near the fish market. The smell
made Emma want to wrinkle her nose up, but she figured she’d have to get used to it sooner or later.
Between these ships were ships of various sizes and made for various purposes. Many of them were
supposedly trading ships, but anyone with common sense knew better than to believe that. More likely
than not, these were the ships that supplied the local black market with their merchandise. They just
hid under the pretense of trading peacefully.
Fortunately or unfortunately, one of these ships was Emma’s destination.
“Look young forever with this magical faerie potion! Faeries never lie ya know! Hey you there, ya such a
pretty little thing, what’ll be the price for such a lovely young face?” A haggard old lady shuffled up to
Emma, swinging around her supposed faerie potion. It sloshed around haphazardly it its tiny jar. She
held out this jar to Emma, and held out her other hand, as if to caress her face.
Unnerved, Emma declined as politely as possible, “No, I’m fine thank you for the offer.” She attempted
to move away, but quicker than an old lady should be able to, the vendor skipped around and shoved
the glittery jar in Emma’s face once again.
“Ah, but what a waste! Ya know, I used ta be young and spritely just like ya. Had all em boys lined up
right ta me. But time took away all that. now look at me!” The hag cackled as if it was very funny, and
Emma shifted on her feet, eager to get away from her. The old lady settled down and looked Emma in
the eye. “But you, you could keep that little face o yours forever. Just rub a little bit o this on your rosy
little cheeks and voila! Such pretty hair too. I gotsa something for that too! Find yaself a rich husband in
Feeling her cheeks starting to heat up in irritation, Emma snapped, “Look, I appreciate the offer, but I’m
really not interested. Good bye.” With a huff, Emma pushed past the hag and stormed forward, not
making any eye contact with any other prospecting vendors.
“Suit yaself! Such a pity too! Suppose ya too busy looking for something else.” Emma could hear the
hag’s cackle diminish among the noise of the port and tried to ward off the chills running up and down
her arms. Glancing up at the sky, she started to walk faster as she realized how late it was getting. The
sun would set in an hour or so.
She surveyed the ships around the port, trying to gauge which one might be willing to accept another
crew member. On the outside, they all seemed to look the same. Standing there, Emma was starting to
receive weird looks from passing crew workers, who seemed more annoyed than anything. Who would
be willing to take in a girl like her anyway?
All the men seemed cut and shaped by their experiences, and from what she could tell, it didn’t look like
an average day job. She doubted that they’d take anyone in who didn’t carry their own weight.
Determined to prove them wrong, Emma began to head towards one of the nicer looking ships.
Suddenly, she felt a grip on her arm, and her temper flared once again.
“Look, I don’t want any of your stupid po—“
She stopped short as she turned to meet a pair of unfocused, bloodshot eyes.
“Ayyyyy, it seems that ya didn’t hear me earlier now did ya?” His breath fanned over her in a single wave
of stink and rum. Up close, his unruly body odor made Emma want to gag and she got a better look at
his sunken skin covered in liver spots. His greasy and mangled hair flopped over his forehead limply as if
he had given up trying to slick it back into place.
Not like that would’ve helped if he did.
“Why don’t we heada back to ma place and have sooommme fuunnn hmmmm?” His words sloshed
around in his mouth as if they didn’t fit quite right and he started to lean on her a bit more as his
intoxication became more apparent. Actually, it may have been on purpose as Emma felt his hands
pressing against her body more as he drew her closer.
Trying to tangle herself out of his embrace, she attempted a polite smile.
“I’m sorry I have other plans for tonight, but thanks for the invite,” As she tried to move away, his grip
tightened. Emma’s heart started to beat a bit faster as she realized that he was more sober than he let
“It wasn’t exactly a suggestion,” he breathed down her neck as he pushed her up against a wall that
seemed to come up out of nowhere. His eyes held a new glint of lust as he peered down the front of her
shirt and his marks pulsed with a malicious intent.
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