Flowers and stones, p.1
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Flowers and Stones


  Flowers and Stones

  Copyright 2015 Ashe Thurman

  This ebook may be given away and shared alike. Multiple downloads for multiple readers, however, is highly encouraged. It may not be resold or used for commercial purposes. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.

  Table of Contents

  Prologue

  Flower and Stones

  Other Works

  Connect

  Prologue

  .

  When the gates first opened on Latolan some eight hundred years ago, the only thing the first explorers found were the drunken ruins of a civilization at least a thousand years dead. Since then, The District has taken advantage of the relative neutrality to make the world the home of its headquarters and most of its government funded projects. The only major settlement is Tomar, a single, 80 mile wide city-state containing a number of prestigious universities and private schools, The Grand Tomar Library, and the main hall of several technical and magical guilds. The kaleidoscopic native population is joined by the seasonal residents of Starlight Vale, off-world wealth and nobility with the disposable income and inclination to keep a second estate in the lush hills and meadow-lands set aside on one edge of the city proper just for that purpose.

  Such a varied and sometimes elite population has attracted a number of different service sector industries whose focus is on attending to both they mental and physical needs of an extremely diverse clientele.

  Flowers and Stones

  “Girl child, this is the third day in a row I’ve caught you passing by here.” I was helping some of the attendants plan out the rows for the fall herbs when I spotted her. She came to a full stop on her bicycle, touching one ankle booted toe to the smoothed over cobblestones.

  I had her pegged for some manner of nobility or another right away. Being able to spot big spenders or potential customers comes with the job. I couldn’t place her school uniform, though, and the lapse in memory nagged at me. After the seventh or eighth time she had hovered by the outer gate of the manor house, I finally realized she was from the very best of the private schools crouching along the edge of the Oslo Plaza just the other side of the highway. Every one of those uniforms carried money in their pockets, and everyone in the Garden knew them on sight. She wasn’t wearing the usual girl’s uniform, however, with its lace-trimmed pinafore and a thousand layers of petticoat flaring out toward the knee like a particularly delicate mushroom. It was the gray twill jacket and vest of the boys’ uniform with a long skirt instead of pants. I didn’t blame her for choosing the one over the other, but it was of particular note that she was able to get away with it. Worth further investigation, at least.

  “What are you doing loitering in a place like this?” I talked to her over the chest high fence surrounding the estate.

  She didn’t hesitate.

  “It’s the fastest route between my school and my house. The Plaza Line swings through Uptown and takes forever. It’s easier to get off at the station near the Barstow building, bike across the bridge, and pick up the Starlight Line.”

  “That’s not a very good excuse.”

  She made a pretty little crinkle between her light brown, bottlebrush eyebrows. Up close she was really a rather cute kid.

  “It’s the truth.”

  “Of course it’s the truth. But there’s a reason the tram lines go out of their way to avoid the Flower Garden, and all the good little boys and girls know that.” If I was lucky, I could gently shoo her away but not leave a bad taste in her mouth. We really didn’t need minors hanging around. Their money was good after they turned eighteen, however,

  The straight line of her mouth flicked into a smirk that glinted with a flash of metal. “Well, perhaps I’m not a good little girl.”

  I tilted my head at her. “Say that to me with your braces off, and I might believe you.”

  She pursed her lips together to cover them.

  “But if you could, please, share what brings you by so often.”

  She rocked back on her bike a few clicks. “I was just...bored, and I figured a row of brothels during the day couldn’t get me in too much trouble. Then I saw a bunch of hotties working in a garden, and I thought I deserved a little eye candy ever so often.” I leaned forward against the bars of the fence a little.

  “We’re not really for your eyes, lovely. We cater pretty much just to other men. The yellow-roofed place down a ways might be more your speed.”

  “Oh I’ve been informed of all these things.” She looked off a bit. “I turn eighteen next week. Perhaps, I’ll consider it.” I tweaked a strand of her hair behind her ear.

  “Just make sure you go without the uniform.”

  It was a little while before I saw her again, and she wasn’t in uniform, which was good. It would have been better if she wasn’t sitting in my parlor, though.

  I had worked my way up to the second nicest appointment and taken great pains to make the place seem softer and cozier than it actually was. Red-orange curtains to block out an afternoon exposure. Some watercolor landscapes painted by one of my co-workers during their sunset phase. Extra-long scarves hung in a canopy around the bed where the bulk of business took place. It was industry standard not to use a bedframe, but we lifted our mattresses with wooden pallets that we hid underneath swaths of cheap broadcloth that looked more expensive than they were. There were no chairs or tables, nothing a client could pick up or throw in a fit of rage or passion. Nothing to be tied or manacled to that we didn’t know how to get out of should it become an issue, so that left large cushions and spongy rugs. I had acquired myself a round ottoman topped with a light serving tray to use has a low table, but it was so heavy it could only barely be scooted across the floor. My new little client had done just that of her own accord.

  In it’s place, there was a big wooden block painted with a grid of tiny squares and two bowls of flat-bottomed pebbles: one in black, one in white. It looked like a Stones and Quarters gameboard, but it was too big for a two player game and too small for a four player one.

  “I do believe I told you that we serve an exclusively male clientele.” I flicked my fan at her in annoyance. She stayed sitting cross-legged on the floor before her tiny table as comfortable as can be, sipping on a colorful drink that must have been served to her by one of the attendants.

  “I’ve made friends with your madame, and he let me buy an hour of your time as long as it wasn’t during peak hours. So, sit and play with me. You were expensive.”

  Well, of course, if she paid, I couldn’t refuse, no matter how strange the circumstances. I needed the money. I kneeled on one of the silk pillows at my side of the table.

  “So, this looks like Stones and Quarters, but not quite,” I observed idly.

  She set the cup of white marbles in front of me. “It’s from the world I grew up on, and it’s what Stones is based off of. The two player game is pretty much identical. Bigger board, mostly.”

  I stirred my finger in the marbles. “And you assume I know how to play Stones.”

  She took a sip of her drink and peered at me with dark eyes over the rim of her glass. “My sources say that you won the Tomar-wide competition three of the past five years.”

  I squinted my eyes at her.“They’ve been telling my secrets down at the Yellow Roof.”

  “Unless there’s another ‘tall, pretty, black-haired one.’”

  I spread the little marbles out in front of me and touched my fingers over them. “Lulu said I was pretty?”

  “No, she said your makeup was too heavy for a man, and you spend too much time on your fingernails.”

  I frowned down at the gold and red marbling on my nails. My look brought in patrons, and giving my
self and the others manicures kept me sane. It wasn’t as though I cared much beyond that. “But, I do think you’re pretty, though, so…”

  “You already bought me, darling, you don’t have to flatter me, too.”

  She smiled, then nodded at the marbles. “You’re white, you make the first move.”

  It took a few moves to determine the slight change in strategy from the game I was used to, but I’m fortunate to be of the sort that learns quickly. She started off strong, but I managed to overtake her in a fairly short time. When the score was tallied at the end of the hour, my victory was almost embarrassing. One can never be exactly sure how a client will react in certain situations, but, with a smile on her face, she packed up her kit, gave me a little half-wave, and vaguely insinuated that she would be dropping by again. And she did. Once a week. Always with an hour pre-paid and always with her board. Each time she got a little better. Then, just as winter was trickling into spring, she beat me. Just barely.

  Our games were getting longer so she had started buying an extra hour, and we had fifteen minutes left. She stared at the scoresheet, redoing the math in her head for what was probably the fourth time.

  “I won,” she said quietly. I glanced over at the timer, and started gathering the marbles together. We didn’t usually have this
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