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Riken shot up in bed, terrified, sodden with sweat, momentarily lost in the darkness.
The dream came in all manner of lunatic variations, but the climax had remained true for over fifty cycles-Amana lying facedown on the ground, a dark pool oozing from beneath her tiny, still frame, then him turning her over.
That horrible sight, in his waking hours, Riken forbid himself to remember, not an easy task with it forever painted on the insides of his eyelids.
Adjusting to his surroundings, he reached blindly for the bottle on the nightstand, gripped it by the neck, and sucked back a healthy swallow. It burned going down. How he loved the burn.
Groaning, he slumped out of bed and followed the faint red glow to the fireplace. He took a twig from the wood stack, poked it in the coals, then used it to light a candle.
Per his routine, he'd rented a room in Morning Gale Row. It was small, bare except for the bed, nightstand, wardrobe, and a couple chairs. Hardly the luxury suite at Wicked Delight, but Riken preferred such when he was at the Game. Too many distractions otherwise, and he needed to focus. He'd even slowed down the drinking. Last night, he'd only finished a single bottle.
The Game. He both loved and hated it, in equal parts most of the time. For one, it kept him in coin, which in turn allowed him to live according to his custom-fine clothes, finer wine, the finest maids. By nature, though, it tended to keep him away from his desired lifestyle, sometimes for weeks at a time.
Despite its more distasteful components, he couldn't deny the thrill of it altogether. When presented with a task he felt was on level with his lofty intelligence, it could be quite gratifying, a nice boost to the ego. Riken enjoyed being great at something, one of the very best in his field. He liked the way certain people regarded him because of his successes and mild fame. Once or twice, it had come in rather handy with particularly chaste, proper young debutantes.
He took the candle from the nightstand and searched for his clothes. Jillian Dumay had come by the previous evening to pay him the next week's coin in advance. He found the ratty clothes and put them on for the last time. Today, before he returned to Saura Row to try and rake up more information on Jatta Marllig, he planned on doing some long overdue shopping.
"Mon Snowtear. It has been too long. What can I do for you this fine morning?"
Fedro Pomitear was a practiced merchant. He greeted Riken like a long-lost son, full of smiles and hugs, never once looking crossways at the decrepit attire Riken wore, though it couldn't have been far from his mind.
"Grand to see you as well, Fedro," Riken said, jingling his freshly-stocked coinpurse to the greedy merchant's delight. "I'll be needing five shirts, five pairs of pants, you know what I like."
"Big lapels and cuffs, loose in the leg, dark dyes."
"Aye. Also, three undershirts, linen; two tunics, embroidered in gold; a knitted cap; a woolen cloak, hooded, please; and two scarves.