We were stopped just inside the doors, and I presented my invitation. Although the guards were shocked, they let us through. We passed into the entrance hall, where a shifty-eyed servant led us to a quiet side chamber. Two other people had already arrived.
I guessed the man to be Virrik, judging by his dark skin and long sable hair. Sunseter without a doubt. Unlike most Sunseters, he let his hair fall loose in waves, restrained only by a strip of cloth tied around his forehead. It was one of many vanities he allowed himself. He wore an open vest, a pair of wide legged shorts, and sandals. All of which were very loudly colored. Two strange weapons hung from his belt. They had semicircular blades with a handle as a diameter. The blades were meant to arc over the knuckles.
The woman turned out to be Cesseline of Kirschen, Agrive. She had pin straight hair the color of dust. Her muted grey eyes watched me without blinking. A floaty robe hid her slight frame and her pale skin from the kiss of the sun. The mint colored fabric weighed heavily in some places. Hidden pockets. Among humans, she was no doubt considered a delicate beauty. The thought made me snicker, and she raised an eyebrow. There were trees among the elves whose bark was more delicate than her.
Virrik paused at our entrance; she wasn't shocked in the least.
"Azyra!" he gasped, "I banished you on pain of death. You dare to return?"
I rolled my eyes, a movement copied by Azyra. "Still melodramatic." she sighed.
"Still impertinent!" he retorted, "Give me one reason why I shouldn't kill you right now."
"I would think there would be a handshake at least before we start killing each other." I drawled, "Still, I would love to see you try."
He rounded on me, "I would watch my tongue if I were..."
He trailed off as he met my silver gaze. His dark eyes widened, "...You!"
"Yes, me." I sketched a bow brief enough to be mocking, "Lord Syn of Caitra."
Virrik swallowed, "Why are you here? With her no less?"
"I plan to see her made Queen." I said as nonchalantly as I could manage. The idea still galled me.
His eye twitched, "You can't. I won't allow it."
"I've been a Syndicate lord since before your father was born. Don't presume to tell me what I can and cannot do."
He was spared the need to reply by the entrance of another man. Pale-faced with dark hair and eyes. Obviously Snowfellan. He paused upon seeing me, "You're new. Are you that upstart Venkellan?"
I let the reference slip by, "On the contrary, I'm quite old. Syn of Caitra."
His eyes widened fractionally, a murky red, and he grunted, "Waarx. Stormegard."
He took his seat without further comment, and I followed his example. Before I lost interest, I used to attend all the Syndicate meetings; still inflated with my position. The chair was exactly as I left it, though considerably aged.
Cesseline also took her seat, and Virrik soon followed. I felt Azyra's forearms settle behind me as she leaned on the back of my chair.
A fifth person entered, painfully young. Younger than Azyra. His hair was so pale, almost silver, and his eyes were a pale blue. The combination was startling with his tanned skin. This, I thought, must be the Venkellan upstart.
His wide eyes flicked around the room and widened when they settled on me. His smile was sudden and unfettered.
"You must be Syn!" his voice was fast pitched and clipped with and accent I didn't recognize. "I have heard of you."
I felt fingers brushing my shoulder. A warning I didn't need. He radiated an odd sort of magic. It rippled like a mirage, disappearing if you looked too closely. Obviously, he wasn't as naïve as he seemed. Couldn't be.
The last arrival bustled in, clapping both me and the Venkellan, Tilandric, on the shoulder. He had dark skin and short dark brown hair. His sharp green eyes were calculating behind his open smile. "Garvid, pleased to meet you."
Virrik cut through the conversation, "Now that everyone's here..." Garvid hastily took his seat at Virrik's pointed look, "We have a little dilemma. Varkis died without an heir. This hasn't happened in decades."
"Let me guess," Waarx's voice dripped acid sarcasm, "As Varkis' former second-in-command, we aught to let you assume the throne?"
"It had crossed my mind." Virrik replied testily.
Waarx snorted, "You were a lackey up until a week ago. You've got the least seniority here."
The discussion lulled as attention shifted to me. I felt the corner of my mouth twitch up, "My ...seniority doesn't apply here, since I want to see Azyra on the throne."
"That girl?" Waarx scoffed, "What makes you think we'll allow that?"
"What makes you think I need your permission?"
"Guys," Garvid broke in, "Let's not break out the daggers just yet. There has to be a precedent for this, right Syn?"
I shrugged, "If I recall correctly, all the claimants decided to see who was the most qualified to hold the throne."
"A tournament?" Tilandric inquired.
I smirked, one of my more frightening expressions, "Of sorts. A tournament of scheming, let's say. Last person alive won."
It fell silent. The weighed each other silently.
"Sounds fair." Waarx ventured eventually.
"Sounds fun!" Garvid grinned.
"This is barbaric." Virrik huffed, "We can't set upon each other like a pack of dogs."
Cesseline shrugged, "It is a good test of our skills. I agree to the plan."
Virrik slouched and consented with poor grace. Tilandric went along with it as well. We agreed to wait until the next day to begin, and we left shortly thereafter.
What? You want a long drawn out discussion packed with double meanings and hidden agendas? Go read Avarice's memoirs then. I don't play politics with people. I have never been much of a politician. I'm sure every person there had some sort of ulterior motive, but I didn't care. I don't bother with that. For some reason, there's this idea that I'm some sort of scheming, underhanded, two-faced, manipulative, backstabber.
I'm elvish, yes; but not that elvish.
So we returned to our inn without further incident and I slept soundly through the night, secure in the thought that there would be no attempts on my life until the next day.
They wasted no time. Dawn found Azyra and I crouched next to the door of her room, listening to the restless silence of the city beyond the window. Azyra's eyes were wide and unseeing as she scryed through the shadows. She sucked in a breath and sagged against the wall, blinking. I nodded when she held up five fingers. Silently, she uncoiled her whip and I drew my throwing knives.
We moved as one, me throwing open the door and her darting under my arm. Her whip lashed out to catch the ankle of the nearest man. The metal tip bit into his flesh as she dragged him to the floor. I shot into the hall, knives flying into the throats of two men. There was a moment of silence as the stricken men sank to the ground. Azyra's whip melted into shadow and she drew the daggers from the straps of her sandals, rising from her crouch. I drew mine as well, grinning as the metal whispered into the open air.
Once again, we moved together. I slashed high, one blade catching that of my target, the other sinking into his abdomen. Azyra rolled low, fetching up beside the man she downed with her whip. Her dagger found his neck and he jerked spasmodically as the steel sliced into his body. She withdrew her blade and hamstrung the man I had stabbed. He fell backward and I caught his head, twisting sharply. His body twitched, and then sagged limply in my grip. I dropped him and the two of us advanced on the final man.
A sudden crash rocked the building and another man stumbled up the stairs. Our innkeeper followed at a more sedate pace, power whipping her apron about her legs. He power was calm and poised, like an impending avalanche.
We had effectively sandwiched the two men in the narrow hall. One of them dropped his weapon and sank to his knees. The other shakily did the same.
"Okay," I said into the tense silence, "Simple question: Who sent you?"
We discerned that they had been sent by Virrik. No surprise there. He seemed like the type who wouldn't do his own dirty work. The real shock lay in the innkeeper. She sat in my room stiffly as we cleaned our weapons. She had objected to me killing the two men after we questioned them. Poor baby.
"So," I ventured, "What made you decide to help us out?"
Her mellow voice was faintly insulted, "All of the patrons under this roof are under my protection."
I eyed her, remembering the feel of her magic, "You must be a Guardian."
She nodded stiffly, "Naila, Guardian of Earth."
Azyra gave her an exasperated look, "Naila, lighten up a little! Stop looking at him like a steaming pile of manure you just stepped in."
"An assassin." Naila said abruptly, "Of all people, they want me to protect an assassin."
Azyra ignored her, turning to me, "Naila's a defensive mage. She spends most of her time guarding against assassins."
"Ah." I glanced in Naila's direction, "Forgive me if my profession offends you."
"Profession." Despite her tone, her scowl did soften a little, "I'm sorry. I'm being rude... but still. An assassin."
I thought back to when I had first come to Caitra, and the desperation I felt. "I suppose I could have always turned to whoring."
That wrung a startled laugh from Azyra. Naila gave me a wry smile, "No doubt you would have had patrons lined up around the block, with a face like that."
While I tried to decide whether or not to be offended, Naila left to resume her duties as innkeeper. Left to ourselves, Azyra and I began to plan retaliation. I was in a surprisingly good mood as we plotted out our strategy. Violence does that for me.
(A/N:) I snatched this chapter from the jaws of a virus! wipes sweat from brow This one feels a little choppy to me. Eh. Thanks to Sylvia Ann Elliot for leaving me such a wonderful review! It's interesting to see how other people view my characters! :) Anywho, with any luck, the next chapter will be out soon.