Zedd Zorander, Private Incantor
It was a day like any other. Zedd stood in his cramped base of operations, an office stuffed with more furniture and magical brick-a-brack than was easily navigable. His partner, Shota, was out on a stake out gig, so he had the place to himself.
He tucked a cigarette into the corner of his mouth, lighting it with a flame that leapt up from his index finger.
Zedd and Shota, P.I. read the sign on the door. It stood for Private Incantors. They were mages. Mages for hire. Mages who knew how to find things. At one time they had been more than just partners, but that ship had sailed long ago.
Zedd was just stretching out his long legs to put his feet up on Shota's desk, when she walked in.
Salindra. She never offered her last name, and for his part, Zedd didn't ask.
He liked them mysterious.
She was wearing a little black number underneath her stylish coat, black heels showing off her legs to advantage. Her hair was coiled in little pin curls around her face, drawing attention to her red painted lips and smoky eyes. Zedd knew she was trouble the second he laid eyes on her.
"Are you the Great Zeddicus, P.I.?" she asked in a low, sultry voice, making him shiver.
He stood up, straightening out his dark blue suit and stubbing out his cigarette on Shota's desk with one smooth motion. "I'm Zeddicus. Zeddicus Zu'l Zorander."
"You don't look like the ad," Salindra pouted, unfolding a piece of paper torn from a phone book. It was the yellow page ad for Zedd and Shota's firm, picturing Zedd in his youthful form.
Zedd took Salindra's hand, bending to kiss it. As he rose, his age melted away, leaving him with golden hair, smooth skin, and a strong jaw.
His blue eyes remained the same.
"Disguises are useful in my line of work," he winked at Salindra.
She flashed him a seductive grin that made his knees knock together in the best way. He should have known then that it was all going to go south. He'd never been lucky in love. Lucky with the ladies, yes. But love?
"What brings you here, Salindra?" Zedd asked, guiding the woman to a chair after she had introduced herself. She crossed her legs, and he folded his arms, fighting to keep his eyes on her face.
"My friend, Lucinda, she's been murdered," she answered, shedding nary a tear. Her face was hard, the expression of a woman more determined than distraught.
"You want me to find her killer," Zedd guessed, sitting on the edge of his desk.
"Oh, no. I know who did for her. It was Keeps."
Zedd let out a low whistle. "You got some guts, coming in here asking me to go after the crime boss of Middle City's Underbelly."
"You don't know the whole story yet. Lucinda still walks around. She talks. She does her job, but it ain't her. She's been killed, and replaced in her own skin by somebody else." And now Salindra's voice shook, one hand covering her mouth.
Zedd's mind whirled with possibilities. Keeps was a master of death magic, and he had many crooks working under him who could do what Salindra described. He'd have to consult some books, maybe put in a visit to Anna the P, the best back alley mage this side of Rothenberg.
"Mysterious," he agreed. "But where do I come in?"
"I'm afraid I'm next," Salindra stood, moving close, grasping the lapels of his suit.
She licked her lips, and Zedd found he couldn't take his eyes away. "You one of Keeps' girls?"
She nodded, her breasts pressed against his chest. "A girl's got to eat. We don't all have a strong," she stroked his chest, "manly wizard to look after us."
Zedd slid his arms around her waist, watching her hand make its way back up his arm to his shoulder, until she had tangled her fingers in the scruffy blonde hair at the nape of his neck. "So get yourself out. Skip town. That what you want my help with?"
"Yes," Salindra whispered in his ear, making him shiver. "And no. There's something I need first. Something that Keeps and his goons stole from me that I need back before I can go. I need you to find it."
"What is it?" Zedd asked, feeling like he'd get her the moon if she asked for it.
"My Box of Orden," she whispered, then kissed him with those ruby red lips.
He'd always been a sucker for a femme fatale.
It took him two weeks of searching and disguises, chasing leads, and being seduced by Salindra when he lost heart, but eventually Zedd found himself in the hideout of Milena, the infamous jewel thief of Tamarang Bay. The hoard of treasure in the hidden room behind the bar where Zedd had tracked Milena down was impressive, making him think her legend well earned.
And there it was, sitting on a pedestal, in the center of the cache. Salindra's Box of Orden, pretty as a picture.
Zedd picked it up, studying it in the light, and then slipped it into his pocket.
When Zedd stepped out into the night air in the place where he was to meet Salindra and help her flee the city, he heard a distinctive click. There was Salindra, and standing next to her was Darken Rahl, Keeps' right hand man. The click Zedd heard was Darken cocking his blaze gun - a revolver enchanted to shoot Wizard's Fire.
"The box, Zeddicus, if you please?" Darken asked, one brow raised.
Zedd tilted his head to the side, pursing his lips. Lighting up a cig with one finger, a process that he knew would make Darken twitchy, he tucked it into the corner of his mouth and nodded. "You never wanted to get out of Middle City, did you?"
Salindra tucked herself into Darken's side, stroking his chest and practically purring, "You'd never have looked for the box if you knew who it was really for. But everyone knows Zedd Zorander, Private Incantor, can't resist a buxom blonde."
Zedd frowned, nodding, feeling like he'd just taken a punch in the gut. So lady love had taken him for a ride again. "What's in it for you?"
Salindra kissed Darken's neck, and he smirked, though he kept the blaze gun trained on Zedd. "With the boxes, Darken can take over the city. And when he does, I'll be at his side. You were sweet, big boy, but love can't keep you warm at night, and I'm a practical girl."
"Enough of this," Darken snapped, making an impatient motion with the barrel of his gun. "Hand over the box."
Zedd spit out his cigarette, grinding his heel over the butt as it hit the ground. Then he stuck his hands in the deep pockets of his trench coat, and wiggled his fingers.
Once he'd sent the box skidding across the pavement, Salindra picked it up, and the pair left Zedd standing in the light of a single street lamp.
The sting of betrayal made his shoulders hunch, but a sweet triumph pulled his lips into a wide grin.
Zedd reached into his pocket, pulling out the true Box of Orden. He only wished he could be there to see Darken Rahl realize he'd been given a magically conjured fake, made from a pack of cigarettes that just happened to be in Zedd's pocket.
He might be a sucker for a pair of red lips, but he wasn't a fool.
Whistling, he set out to see Commissioner Amnell, to let her know what was brewing in the Underbelly.
It was two years before he saw Salindra again, after Commissioner Amnell had cracked the Underbelly with her top detective, Richie the Cypher, sending Keeps and Rahl and all their other goons to the Halls of Eternal Peace - an ironic nickname for the local prison.
It was a day like any other, in the late fall. Zedd had just put on his hat and opened the door to find her standing there, as beautiful as he remembered, on his doorstep.
They stared at each other for a few long minutes. Finally Zedd asked, "You want to come in, out of the cold?"
She shook her head, her gold curls bouncing. "I got a train to catch. I'm getting out of Middle City. Making a new life for myself. Something decent, for once. But I had to come, I had to tell you..."
"Tell me what?" Zedd asked, leaning on the door frame, fighting the urge to smoke.
She looked up at him with those big baby blues, and he felt himself softening toward her. "I'm sorry for double crossing you. As a girl gets older, she starts to see things different."
Zedd stayed silent, and Salindra shifted, then looked over his shoulder at the clock hanging on the wall. "I should go. My train leaves soon. Just as well. There's nothing left for me in this city."
"No," Zedd agreed. "There's not."
Her face fell, and Zedd felt his heart sink into his shoes. But he wouldn't be taken in by that pretty face again. He couldn't trust her, he knew that.
Part of him whispered that that was what he liked about her.
"Then I'll go," Salindra said, the soft sorrowful beauty gone, replaced with the determined woman who had entered his office so long ago.
As if the world sensed her mood, there was a sudden low rumble of thunder, and the skies opened up, rain pouring down. Salindra was drenched immediately, her clothes sticking to the curves of her body.
Zedd groaned and shut his eyes, then turned, fishing around the hat stand by the door.
"Here," he thrust a black umbrella with one bent spoke at Salindra, grinning wryly. "Something to remember me by."
She took it, and then before he could react she threw herself at him, arms around him as she leaned up and pressed those red lips to his in a sensuous kiss that left him dazed and gasping and less worried about the broken spoke of the umbrella poking him in the back than he was about his own spoke poking Salindra in the front.
"Something to remember me by," she murmured against his lips.
And with that she was gone, stepping daintily down the steps at the front of Zedd's office to the street, his umbrella raised over her head. Zedd watched her walk out of his life.
And into the rain.