Power begets gold; gold spawns power. On both accounts, Agro was a rich man. For over sixty years, his supremacy had been matched by few and stymied by none. Not because there weren’t attempts. Defiance and disputes were around every corner—ignorant fools willing to die for pitiful beliefs, powerless bleeding hearts too stupid to let bygones be bygones. Both were laughable and completely welcome. Agro enjoyed crushing the insignificant lives that got in his way. It was one of life’s more rewarding pleasures, a fulfillment few received and even fewer accepted, a delight Agro embraced like a long lost child.
As for gold, he’d always be willing to add another priceless piece to his immense collection of artifacts, and in his opinion one could never have too much money to play with. But even in a world where desires could be fulfilled with the wave of a hand, not everyone had the wits to gather the treasures he’d obtained.
It hadn’t always been that way. As an adolescent, Agro was forced to earn his possessions by toiling away at degrading jobs, accumulating a scant collection that would shame a vagrant. By seventeen, he’d abandoned humble restraint. Armed with deadly determination, he set out on his own, building his life around a new set of rules—rules that hundreds would follow by his twenty-fifth birthday.
Now, wise and robust at eighty, he commanded a slew of subordinates willing to plunge daggers into their bellies to please him, a mere snap of his fingers could part all the wet thighs in his camp, and his fortune would make a Texas oil tycoon piss his boots and lower his Stetson in shame.
Yes, Agro had been reaping the rewards of his ways for decades. His desires were now handed to him. Not on silver platters, but diamond trays. He’d thrown the silver he’d plundered over the years to his soldiers, raising morale and solidifying loyalty.
And the most loyal of the peons was approaching.
As the familiar footfall grew louder, Agro lowered his goblet, turning his orange eyes to the entrance of his spacious tent. His second in command, an obedient brute with more brawn than brains, stepped through the canvas flaps, dropping his gaze to the antique Persian rug.
“Sir,” he greeted.
“Farriss,” Agro returned. “To what do I owe your sudden appearance?”
“Garran Bram is here to see you,” Farriss replied.
Agro shrugged. “Probably came to beg for more time.”
“He says he has some interesting information to divulge. Something you’d want to know.”
“Is that so?” Agro murmured, raising one eyebrow. He couldn’t imagine what useful information a lowlife such as Garran could possibly hold. Nevertheless, his interest spiked. “Very well. Bring the boy in.”
Farriss hurried from the tent, and Agro filled an alexandrite encrusted goblet with wine as he waited, thinking a bit of useful information might add intrigue to an otherwise dull day.
Farriss returned, roughly pushing a derelict wizard draped in a shabby brown cloak. Or perhaps it was a white cloak caked in dirt. The malnourished man dropped to his knees and stared at Agro’s feet with wide eyes, his forehead sprouting beads of sweat, his larynx quivering over a rapid pulse.
Agro enjoyed the ambiance of fear surrounding the cur, but there was no excuse for his pitiful hygiene. A magical sweep of the hand would improve his appearance tenfold.
“Farriss,” Agro said, watching his company’s greasy, black hair.
“Yes, sir?” Farris replied.
“You may go.”
The brute bowed then took his leave, and Garran trembled, offending Agro’s senses with his stench.
Agro scrunched his nostrils and retrieved a sprig of sandalwood from a side table, wafting it between him and the riffraff. “Do you have your penance, Garran? You’ve owed me for over a month now. Not many people get away with that.”
Garran’s shaking turned violent, intensifying his stink. “N-no, sir. I’ve n-never had that kind of m-money.”
“That’s because you piss it away gambling.”
“The fucking hexless rig their competitions,” Garran cursed.
“Perhaps you should have considered that before squandering your money on their games and impregnating one of their bitches,” Agro scorned. “I got you out of a jam. I don’t do those things for free. I scratch your back, you scratch mine. Hypothetically of course,” he added, observing Garran’s dirty and jagged fingernails.
“Of c-course, sir,” Garran stuttered.
Agro rolled his eyes as he sipped his wine, continually waving the fragrant twig. “Farriss says you have something interesting to tell me. Is this an attempt to pay your debt?”
“Look at me when I’m talking to you.”
Garran snapped his head up. “S-sorry, sir.”
“And stop stuttering. It’s getting on my nerves.”
Agro set his goblet aside. Then an ivory smoking pipe appeared in his hand. “Well, get on with it. What’s so interesting?”
Garran gulped, watching as Agro lit his pipe with a flaming fingertip. “I heard a rumor,” Garran revealed, “that you once lost something dear to you.”
Agro’s gaze wandered as he tried to recall something he’d held dear, but nothing came to mind. “What are you babbling about?”
“A child, sir,” Garran explained. “A child you wanted but couldn’t get.”
Agro puffed the pipe as he thought. Over the years, there had been many children he wished to obtain but couldn’t, and he was always slightly disappointed when one evaded recruitment. But his only true regret had come twenty-one years earlier, when he’d lost the one child he wanted most. His blood still boiled when he thought about what that child could have contributed to the Dark Elite—or, as their enemies like to call them, the Unforgivables. Agro smiled every time he imagined a burnt and bloody victim whispering the dreaded nickname—Unforgivables. It did have a certain ring to it.
He sobered and turned his attention to the vermin at his feet. “There have been many children I’ve wished to procure and didn’t. You’ll have to be more specific.”
Garran eagerly nodded. “Yes, of course. You’re under the impression this child was never born. You believe it died in the womb…” He trailed off as Agro narrowed his eyes on him, but after a quick breath, he hurriedly continued. “I heard a man say you’d been fooled. The child was safely delivered and lives to this day.”
The pipe and sandalwood vanished as Agro leaned forward, nostrils flaring in anger and disgust.
Garran shrank back, trembling again. “I’m s-sorry, sir. I don’t mean to imply you’re a fool or anything. That’s what the man said.”
“What man?” Agro seethed. “Where did you get this information?”
“He wouldn’t say his name,” Garran answered. “I was in a tavern in New Hampshire, minding my own, when he sat down and bought me a drink.”
Agro stood and began pacing, fidgeting with the smoky quartz encrusted in the platinum buckle of his gold belt. “What else did he tell you?”
Garran fearfully watched Agro’s agitated gestures, clearly torn between begging for his life and fleeing for it. “He said it had been twenty-one years since the great Agro had been taken for a fool. And I defended you, sir. I said nobody calls Agro a fool. Agro’s a good man who helps little people like me out of tight spots. But the stranger just laughed and said you’d been hoodwinked.”
Agro stopped pacing when he heard the time line. “What else did the stranger say?”
“He told me you believe the child dead, but she’s alive, living somewhere in Oklahoma, in a hexless community.”
Agro turned his back on the snitch, muscles rolling. If what the stranger revealed was true, he had been taken for a fool. Rage swelled, burning his eyes and lungs. So the child was alive—a twenty-one-year-old female living in a non-magical community in Oklahoma. But who was the stranger in the tavern? It had taken a great sacrifice to ensure the child’s safety. So why, twenty-one years later, would someone blatantly reveal the secret? Who was this unknown third faction who’d discovered the truth when he, the great Agro, had not? And why had the man freely passed such valuable information to a worthless rat like Garran Bram?
“What did the stranger look like?” Agro quietly asked.
“He was young, sir,” Garran answered, “early twenties, with fair skin and short hair—light brown or dark blonde, however you flip it. And he had a short mustache and goatee. I never saw his eyes. He wore sunglasses the whole time.”
“Useless information,” Agro hissed. The unknown wizard could have easily transformed his appearance before revealing his secret. Only his eyes would have been genuine, the color and detail of the iris, but he’d wisely kept them hidden.
Agro turned, looking down at his unpleasant company. “Did the stranger give you any more information about the child?”
“No, sir, only what I’ve told you.”
“Did you share this with anyone else before bringing it to me?”
Garran’s eyes widened as he hurriedly shook his head. “No, sir. Of course not. I came straight to you.”
Agro tapped a fingernail to his temple, considering a plan of action.
“I’ve done well, right?” Garran asked, starting to relax.
Agro looked down. “Yes, Garran, you’ve done well, which bestows in me the tiniest tinge of regret for what I must do next.”
Garran’s hopeful expression wrinkled in confusion then flexed in fright as Agro raised a palm. Garran opened his mouth to scream, but the shriek died in his throat as his body solidified into a horrifying ice sculpture with terrified eyes and a twisted mouth. Agro’s hand fell to his side, and the frozen man shattered. With one more flick of the wrist, the shards flew from the tent.
Pity, Agro mused. Then his goblet and pipe reappeared as he called for Farriss.