Back | Next



It was to the gayn'Urlez Hell in lower Low Port that his feet finally brought him, over the objections of most of himself.

There were those who dismissed Low Port as a miserable pit of vicious humanity where lived predators and prey; the roles subject to reversal without notice.

Those contended that there was nothing of value in Low Port; that it was worth the life of any honorable person to even attempt to walk such streets.

They. . .were not wrong, those who lived in the comfort of Mid Port and the luxury of High; and who bothered to give Low Port half a thought down the course of a Standard Year.

They were not wrong.

But they lacked discrimination.

It was true that there were very many bad and dangerous streets inside the uneasy boundaries of Low Port, and then –

There were worse.

The gayn'Urlez Gaming Hell occupied the corner of two such thoroughfares, and the best that could be said of them is that they were. . .somewhat less unsafe than the Hell itself.

Mar Tyn eys'Ornstahl had made it a policy – insofar as he was able to make policy – not to enter gayn'Urlez, much less work there.

Today, his feet had trampled policy, and Mar Tyn only hoped that he would survive the experience.

So anxious was he for that outcome, in fact, that he took the extreme action of. . .arguing. . .with his feet.

On the very corner, directly across from the most dangerous Hell in Low Port, Mar Tyn – turned to the right.

His feet hesitated, then strode out promptly enough, even turning right at the next corner, with no prompting from him, toward the somewhat safer streets where he was at least known.

Another might have assumed victory, just there, but Mar Tyn had lived with his feet for many years. It thus came as no surprise when they failed to take his direction at the next corner, bearing left, rather than right, until they stopped once more across the street from Hell.

He sighed. That was how it was going to be, was it?

Best to get on with it, then.


The barkeep was a thick woman with cropped grey hair and a prosthetic eye. She gave him a glance as he approached and leaned her elbows on the bar.

"Got reg'lars on tonight," she told him, pleasant enough. "Two days down there’s a bed open, if you want to reserve in advance. Reservation includes a drink tonight and a hour to study the layout. The House takes six."

Mar Tyn smiled at her over the bar.

"I'm not a pleasure-worker," he said, gently.

She frowned.

"What are you, then?"

"A Luck."

She might have laughed at him; he expected it. She might equally have accepted him at his word; most did. Who, after all, would claim to be a Luck, if they were not?

He did not expect her to be angry with him.

"A Luck! Are you brain-dead? Do you know what happened to the last Luck who worked here?"

He did not. Not actually. Not specifically. He could guess, though.

"Her winner beat her, and robbed her of her share?"

The barkeep looked dire.

"Her winner followed her home, beat her, raped her, murdered her, took the money, her child – and for good measure, fired the building."

She paused, and took a breath, ducking her head.

"They say she was lucky to the last – no one died in the fire."

Mar Tyn took a breath.

"Ahteya," he said.

That earned him another hard glare, the prosthetic eye glowing red.

"You knew her?"

"No. We – Lucks – we know. . .of each other, in a general way. I had heard that a Luck named Ahteya had been killed –" Rare enough; most who hired a Luck didn't care to court the ill-luck that must come with such an act, though Lucks were still regularly beaten and robbed. Mar Tyn supposed that it was a matter of necessity. Violence was Low Port's primary answer to hunger and want, and it could be reasoned that a Luck whose gift did not protect them was meant to be robbed.

"I hadn't heard where she'd been working," he told the barkeep. "Or that she had a child."

"Well, now you know, and I hope the knowledge improves your day. You can leave."

"No," he said, with real regret – for her, and for him. "I can't."

Another red glare.


"Despite appearances, I'm not a fool. When I saw where I had come to, I tried to walk away. With what success you see."

He produced an ironic bow.

"I believe the choice before us is – will you allow me to sign the book, or will I freelance?"

The color drained out of her face.

"You poach here and gayn'Urlez will break all of your bones. Slowly."

"I understand," he told her.

She sighed, then, hard and defeated.

"You're certain?" she asked.

"Rarely have I been more certain," he said, and added, for the wounded look in her natural eye. "I don't like it, either."

She reached beneath the bar.

"Here's the book, then; sign in. House's piece from your cut is twelve."

He glanced up from the page, pen in hand – "Not six?"

"Six is for whores; they comfort the losers, and convince them to try again, which is good for the House. If a Luck's good, they're bad for the House, 'cause their winner's going to go big."

"I'm good," he told her, which was neither a lie nor a boast. "The Lucky Cut is – ?"



Great gods, no wonder Ahteya's winner had wanted her share. Even after she had paid the House its twelve percent. . .

"House rules," the barkeep told him. "gayn'Urlez wants them to think before they hire. Better for the House, if they don't hire."

"Of course."

He signed, and sighed, and pushed the book back to her. She glanced at his name.

"All right, Mar Tyn. The House pays for your winner's drinks. You get a meal before you start work, and as much cold tea as you can stomach. I'll show you the back way out, too."

That last was truly kind. He wondered how well she had known Ahteya.

"Thank you."

"Stay alive, that's how you thank me," she snapped, glancing over his head at the clock.

"Let's get you to the kitchen for your supper. It's near time for the earlies to get in."


His supper long eaten, and his third cup of cold tea sitting, untouched, by his hand, Mar Tyn sat behind the small red table, within good view of both the door and the bar. His winner had not yet arrived, and he might have been inclined to wonder why his feet had brought him here, were it not for the certainty that he would find out soon enough.

He had, very occasionally, been delivered to this place or that, only to find that. . .something – perhaps the simple act of obeying the compulsion of his gift – had altered circumstances sufficiently that he was no longer required in that particular place and time. On every one of those occasions, however, he had felt. . .a release. His feet lost their wisdom halfway down a busy thoroughfare, or his sudden thought that it would be pleasant to have a cold treat resulted in his arrival at the ice vendor's stall.

This evening he felt no such release, and a trial thought – that it would be pleasant to go back to his room in the attic of Bendi's House of Joy – did not result in his standing up from behind the table, approaching the bar, and informing the 'keeper that he was quit.

Mar Tyn sighed.

No, his winner was taking her time, that was all. His gift did prefer to be beforetime in these matters. His part was to recruit his patience, and be vigilant.

He looked at his cup of tea, then around about him. There was something that was said on the streets – that like called to like, and here in gayn'Urlez Hell one could see ample evidence of that small truth.

Those who framed the residents of Low Port as brutes and less would need only to look through gayn'Urlez' door to be vindicated. Gambling was the primary draw – and those it drew ranged from the desperate, willing to do anything for a meal, to those who had the means to oblige them. Opposite his corner was another table, like his, clearly visible from both door and bar. The woman sitting there was the current local power to contend with. Her name was Lady voz'Laathi, and she held six entire blocks under her protection, with gayn'Urlez Hell being the center-point. Two bullies stood behind her, guns and knives on display, and those who dared approach the table did so with hunched shoulders and bowed heads.

As if she had felt his glance, the lady turned her head and met his eyes. For a moment, they regarded each other. The lady spoke over her shoulder and one of her two protectors stepped away from the table, and crossed the room.

Mar Tyn drew a deep breath. Surely, he thought, surely not. . .

"Luck," the man said, standing on the far side of the red table.

"Gun," he answered, politely.

"My lady asks you to look aside. She's got no need of your gift."

Mar Tyn bowed his head, pointedly averting his eyes.

"My regards to your lady. Please assure her that I am here on other business."

"I'll tell her that. She says, too, that you're on her ticket. Eat, drink, whatever you want. My lady's no enemy of luck."

"I honor her," Mar Tyn said, not entirely without truth. There were those who would have had an audacious Luck shot for his incautious glances. "The House feeds me this evening."

"I'll tell her that, too," said the lady’s Gun, and turned away, but not before he had dropped a coin to the tabletop.

Mar Tyn's reactions were Low Port quick. His hand flashed out, covering the bright thing while it was still spinning and pinning it flat to the table.

He glanced quickly around the room, careful to avoid the lady's eyes, though he could feel her attention on him. He pulled the coin to him, and slipped it away into a pocket. It was a valuable thing, and a dangerous one, and he wished it had not been given.

Well, but given it had been; and, once accepted, it couldn't be returned, unless he wished to risk offering the lady an insult that would certainly be Balanced with his life.

He took a breath.

That he had been given no chance to refuse the favor. . .

. . .that. . .was disturbing.

Mar Tyn closed his eyes, drew a deep breath, held it for the count of twelve – and exhaled.

There was no tremor from his gift; nor sizzle of anticipation in his blood.

He opened his eyes, and turned his head to make a study of the room behind the bar.

Try, he told himself, considering the greater room, and the crowd at the card table. . .Try not to be a fool.

The Luck's Table was set as far as possible from the games of chance. That was prudent; proximity was a factor in the working of his gift. He personally felt that he was not situated quite far enough from the games to avoid influence, if his gift was feeling playful – which, fortunately, it was not.

He did not, of course, say this to Sera gayn'Urlez when she came to his table, shortly after the Gun had left him.

"You're the Luck Vali signed in, are you?"

"Yes, Sera. Mar Tyn eys'Ornstahl, Sera."

"Why choose to come here?"

"Sera, forgive me; I did not choose to come here."

That earned him a grin, unexpected and attractive on a broad face with one short white scar high on each cheek.

"So, you've been here before?"

"Twice, Sera. Once, when I was a child, with my mentor. Again, when I was newly my own master."

"Not since?"

"No, Sera."

"Why not? Didn't earn enough?"

"Sera, I earned well that night. My winner was killed by a wolf-pack, three paces from the door, and I swore that I would not help someone to their death again."

The frown was as fearsome as the grin had been attractive.

"I don't allow wolf-packs on my corner, or on either street, for the length of the block."

Mar Tyn had heard about this policy, which was enforced by the lady at whom he had been bidden not to stare. Such enforcement benefited both, after all, and gayn'Urlez did sit at the center of the lady's base.

"Sera's brother was gayn'Urlez," he said. "When last I worked here."

Interest showed in her face.

"My brother died six years ago. You're older than you look."

In fact, he did look younger than his years, and had in addition come unusually young into the fullness of his gift. Which gayn'Urlez had no need to know.

He therefore inclined his head, acknowledging her observation.

"Vali told you the rules and the rates?"

"Yes, Sera."


"I collect my commission, less the House's fee, from the floor boss?"

"That is correct. Your winner will also collect, minus the House's fee, from the floor boss." She paused, seeming to consider him.

"If you feel that you're in danger from your winner, or from anyone else on the floor, you have Vali send for me, understood?"

This was an unexpected courtesy. Mar Tyn inclined his head.

"Yes, Sera."

"Yes," she repeated, and sighed. "I'm in earnest, Luck eys'Ornstahl. Vali would have told you about Ahteya. I don't necessarily want Lucks operating out of my premises, but that doesn't mean I want them beat and killed for doing what they were hired to do."

"Thank you for your care," he said, since it seemed she expected a reply, and it was good policy to be polite to the host.

She stood another moment or two, studying him. He gave her all his face, feeling no twinge from his gift. His was to sit there, then, and wait, until waiting was over.


The room had filled and the play had grown raucous before Mar Tyn felt a shiver along a particular set of nerves, and looked up to see a man approaching the Luck's Table. He wore a leather jacket of a certain style, though to Mar Tyn's eye he was no pilot. His face, like so many faces in Low Port, bore a scar – his just under the right eye, star-shaped, as if someone had thrust a broken bottle, edges first, at him.

"Luck for hire?" he demanded, voice rough, tone irritable.

"Ser, yes," Mar Tyn said.

"Stand lively, then! I've work for you tonight!"

Mar Tyn rose, looking over his prospective winner's shoulder to Vali at the bar. He caught her prosthetic eye, and she inclined her head, teeth indenting her lower lip.

"Gods, you're nothing but a kid! Do you think this is a joke?"

"No, Ser," Mar Tyn said truthfully. "I'm not so young as I seem."

"You can influence the kazino, can you?"

Well, no, not exactly, but there was no coherent way to explain how his gift operated to someone who did not also bear the gift. And this man did not want an explanation – not really. He wanted a guarantee that Mar Tyn would make him a big winner, which, Mar Tyn realized, considering the warmth of his blood, he would very likely do. Barring stupidity, of course. Not even Luck trumped stupidity.


"Ser, the kazino is a specialty," he said, which was almost true. Wheels, machines, and devices were the easiest touch for his Luck. Cards were more difficult, and Sticks the most difficult of all. His win average for Sticks was fifty-eight percent, only a little over what native probability might achieve; while his success rate with the machines was very nearly seventy-three percent. Keplyr had found his affinity for kazino amazing. But Keplyr's gift had favored cards.

"All right, here."

The man grabbed his shoulder and pulled him to a stop by the kazino table.

"Get busy," he said, and leaned close, voice low and full of threat. "If I catch you slacking off, I'll break your fingers. You don't need your fingers to give me a win, do you?"

"No, Ser," Mar Tyn said quietly. "But pain will disturb my concentration."

"Then keep your mind on the job," snarled his soon-to-be winner. He reached into his jacket pocket and withdrew two quarter-cantra, which he gave to the croupier in exchange for a small handful of chips.

Mar Tyn closed his eyes, the better to see what his gift might tell him.


He answered without opening his eyes.

"Everything on red three."


His winner had done well, though he did not seem pleased with either his success or Mar Tyn's obvious diligence on his behalf. He did not win all of the spins, of course; chance simply did not operate that way. However, he won very nearly three-quarters; and his losses were – save one – minor.

The big loss – Mar Tyn had felt it looming, and directed that a prudent bet be set on green eight. It wouldn't have done to cash out of the table entirely; not with the rolling waves of plenty he sensed hovering just beyond the loss. Besides, it put heart in the other players to see that even a man augmented by Luck was not immune to a set-back, and he owed at least that much courtesy to the House.

So, he had directed that prudent placement, but his winner – his winner had not been drinking. Perhaps he was drunk with success; certainly he was arrogant.

In any case, he turned his head, met Mar Tyn's eye, and placed twice the requested amount on the square.

It could have been worse; at least the man had not let everything ride on the spin. Also, the loss had the happy outcome of demonstrating that Mar Tyn knew his business far better than the man who had engaged him.

After that, his winner placed his bets as directed by his Luck, though he did so with ill-grace, and continued to win. The table lost players, and filled again, in the way of such things, until – two hours before the day-port bell forced even gayn'Urlez to close – the man abruptly swept all his winnings off the table, and carried them to the floor boss' station.

It was gayn'Urlez herself at the desk, which ought not have surprised him, Mar Tyn thought. She tallied the chips, did the conversion to coin, and counted out the whole amount.

That done, she paused, the money on full display until the winner stirred and growled, "Agreed."

"Excellent," she said. "We will now pay your just debts. Thirty-six percent to the Luck."

She counted it onto the desk before him, fingers firm.

"Agreed," said Mar Tyn in his turn; "and twelve percent to the House."

She smiled faintly.


The appropriate amount was subtracted. He accepted the remainder and slid it away into various pockets.

"You are done here for this night, Master Luck," gayn'Baurlez said then. "The House can bear no more."

"Sera, yes. My thanks."

She did not even look at him, her fingers already busy with the remaining money.

"You will of course share a drink with me," she said to the winner. "On the House."

Mar Tyn was already through the bar's pass-through, on his way to the back exit, but he heard the winner clearly.



He ran, his feet and the rest of himself of one accord.

Fleetness was a survival skill in Low Port, and Mar Tyn had thus far survived. Still, his winner, though heavier, had longer legs, and a great motivator in the money in Mar Tyn's pocket. If it came to an outright race, the larger man would overtake the smaller.

Happily, the race was not nearly so straightforward.

Mar Tyn's goal was not his attic room at Bendi's. No, he was flying full-speed toward one of his bolt-holes, a cellar window left off the hook beneath a pawn shop in Litik Street. He was a bare two blocks from that slightly moldy point of safety, confident that he could reach it handily.

In fact, he had the pawn shop in view, and was veering to the left, aiming for the alley that unlatched window opened into. . .

When his feet betrayed him again.

He hurtled past the pawn shop, even as he flung out a hand to snatch the post at the corner of the building, intending to swing himself 'round and into the alley.

"Hey!" he heard a man shout behind him. "You! Luck! Stop!"


Mar Tyn took a hard breath – and let his feet take him.


His winner caught him at the corner of Skench and Taemon, when a speeding and overburdened lorry lurched into the intersection as he started through. He missed his stride, staggered, threw himself to the right – and was lifted from his feet by a grip on his collar.

His winner tossed him, casually, into the wall of the building on the corner. Luckily, the wall was plas, not stone, and Mar Tyn bounced, ducking out of the way of his winner's fist.

The second punch connected, knocking him back into the wall. Mar Tyn used the slight give, and kicked out, hard and accurate. His winner yelled, doubled over – and Mar Tyn was gone, hurtling across the intersection, guided by feet or fear, it hardly mattered. He had no taste for being beaten, nor did he care to buy out of a beating by surrendering the evening's earnings. He had a far better use for –

His feet dashed down an alleyway, a dark tunnel with a light at the end.

A courtyard, he saw, and the gate standing, luckily, open. Much good it would do him. A dead-end was still a dead-end, and his winner would have him.

He saw it, as his feet threw him into the yard – a window, there on the second floor, showed a light.

He might get lucky, after all.

"The house, the house!" he shouted, as his feet sped him forward. "Thieves and brigands! Be aware!"

The grip this time was on his shoulder, and the wall he connected with was stone.

The light flared and fragmented; he twisted to the left, dodging the next blow, hearing his winner curse as his fist struck the wall, and the grip on his shoulder loosen.

He tore free, intending to run back through the gate, but his own feet tripped him, and he went down to the cobbles on one knee. His winner spun, face shadowed, light running like quicksilver along the edge of the blade as he raised it.

Mar Tyn took a breath and shouted.

"The house! Murder!"

. . .and dove to the cobbles between his winner's feet, rolling, knocking him off-balance.

He heard the metal cry out as the knife struck stone, its brilliance swallowed in the shadows, and lurched to his feet, turning this time toward the house, where more lights had come on. He heard shouting – and his collar was gripped.

He was thrown against the wall again, and held there as his winner slapped him hard, driving his head against the stone.

All the lights went out; he felt his jacket torn open, a hand exploring the pockets, heard a grunt of satisfaction, and release of the punishing grip that held him upright.

He slid to the cobbles, the light coming back, smeared and uncertain.

The first kick broke his arm, and he screamed, earning a second kick, in the ribs.

A distant noise broke on his befuddled ears, and a woman's voice, speaking with authority.

"Who is brawling in my yard? Her Nin bey'Pasra, you rogue! Have I not told you often enough to stay away from here?"

A shadow loomed in the smeary light, snatching his winner and spinning him about as if he were nothing more than a child's toy made from twisted rags.

A blow landed; his winner staggered, and it occurred to Mar Tyn that this was his final chance to live out the night.

Run, he told himself, but he had no strength to rise.

Instead, he lay there on the cobbles while a large red-haired woman, briskly efficient, dealt with Her Nin bey'Pasra, slapping him into the wall as an afterthought, stripping him of his jacket as he slumped; at last picking him up by scruff and seat, frog-marching him to the gate, and pitching him into the alley.

Metal clashed – perhaps, Mar Tyn thought muzzily, she had thrown him into the garbage cans.

The woman turned, grabbed the gate and pulled it to, leaning down as if to get a closer look at the latch.

Perhaps she swore; her voice was low, the words nonsensical. She pulled a piece of chain from somewhere in the shadows, and wrapped the latch, muttering the while.

Then she crossed the yard, and squatted next to Mar Tyn. He blinked up at her, the light making a conflagration of her hair.

"Can you rise?" she asked him.

"I believe so," he said, and found that, with her arm, he could, though he crashed to his knees when she withdrew that kind support.

"My head," he muttered, raising his good hand, only to have it caught and held in firm fingers.

"I see it," she said, and raised her voice, "Fireyn!"

He flinched.

"There is nothing to fear here," she told him, her large voice now soothing and soft. "You were lucky that our gate was open."

"And why was that?" came another voice, this one male.

"The latch was broken again," the woman answered him. "We are in need of a solution there."

"Tomorrow," said the man, kneeling beside her and looking into Mar Tyn's face.

"You may put yourself in our care," he said with a gentleness rarely given even to children. "You have come to the safest place in Low Port."

He smiled, wry in the smeary light.

"I understand that is not so very much to say, but, for now, at least, you are safe. My name is Don Eyr; this lady who succored you is Serana. Fireyn, who is coming to us now, is our medic. May we know your name?"

"Mar Tyn eys'Ornstahl," he managed, as the medic approached him down a long tunnel edged with fire. He wanted only to close his eyes, and surrender to that the kindly dark, but he owed them one more thing. They must be told of their peril.

"I am. . ." his breath was coming in short, painful gasps, but he forced the words out. "I am. . .luck. . ."

The darkness reached out. He embraced it, sobbing. The last thing he heard before he was taken utterly was the man's voice, murmuring.

"Indeed, you are that."

Back | Next