The malachite hedge seemed never-ending. As the strange word "malachite" popped into her head, she laughed and left the waist-high hedge in peace. Half the city, with its streets paved with alloyed gold, easily outshone the village she came from. Nobles, identifiable by their embroidered robes, stayed to the north side of the hedge. The people walking around in tatters, residents of the slum, stayed on the south side. But here, near the hedge, stood the institutions visited by both the people of the slums and nobles.

The particular institution she was standing in front of it was built crookedly, its wooden walls spattered with blood-red, painted hearts. Cupid's Lair, asserted the signpost swinging from a pole above the shadowy doorway. He would be here. Asking around, she had run across a few people who had agreed that this was his favorite institution.

While she contemplated the best way to explain her purpose to the owner of the brothel, heavy, desirous hands crushed her shoulders. A hot body smothered her, and she elbowed her assaulter in the stomach with practice ease. The man stumbled back, cursing colorfully.

"Hands off," she said, pulling an ornate dagger from her belt. "I am not here for your entertainment."

"Odd for a harlot," the man said with a smile. Nobly arrayed in red and gold robes, he reeked of prosperity. Furthermore, he was handsome, with regal features and silvery blond hair. It was him.

She held back the urge to laugh hysterically. He didn't recognize her! Well, good! This would be easier then… "So this is your favorite place in the city then?"

With a false mournful sigh, he admitted, "Well, my favorite place is the bed of my mistress, but when she's wroth with me…what does any man do?"

"A good man goes back to his wife."

"I don't have one. I'm a free-spirit." His grin was infectious, and she found herself smiling. No! His charm was all a sham! She had this chance; the dagger was already in her hand, sheathed in deadly poison. One cut, and he would be dead within a few, painful minutes. Some deranged part of her had chosen the poison that would cause the most suffering. It had also been cheaper.

"If you're not here to entertain, then what are you doing here?" he asked in an unbearably pleasant and disarming manner.

"I'm here to…" Revenge was supposed to be sweet, but why did she feel so bitter, so monstrous? "I just got lost…"

"I'll give you directions then."

"No!" she cried, dropping the dagger. He reached down for the weapon and then paused as she snapped at him. "Don't touch that! After I show you mercy, you're going to be stupid and get yourself killed?"

"Death does not frighten me," he said.

They looked at each other, and she felt pity. Then, without a word, she plucked up the dagger and sprinted towards the gap in the hedge to return to the dilapidated houses of the south end.

"What an odd woman," he said, before entering Cupid's Lair.