Chapter 18: Open

Whistling cheerfully despite the sweltering heat that gave the moon its name, the Swelter Moon, Syos was once again wandering the Merchants' District. Citing his need to find out more rumours, the thief had managed to elude Nadan's attempts to force him to work on something more productive, much to his friend's dismay. Grinning at the thought, Syos continued his haphazard route through the streets, stopping when something caught his eye.

It was after Syos had finished examining a handsome rug that a pickpocket stopped him. Watching the panting youth, Syos manoeuvred himself and the boy away from the shop and into a nearby alley. "What's the matter?" He asked.

"It's those Guards again. They're trying the same things on us that they tried on blue-group. We're holding our own but we could use some help. You were the first thief I saw. Well first thief who can fight." The boy ameliorated.

"If you go to headquarters, Nadan should be there and he can get the king." Syos replied uneasily. If Trillan was with the group…

The boy rolled his eyes. "We don't need the king. We're not that badly off. We just need a bit of help."

Syos sighed and agreed. Smiling now with relief, the youth led him rapidly through first the Merchants' and then the Beggars' Districts until they reached the very edge of the Thieves'. Looking about, Syos couldn't see any Guards. Or anyone else for that matter. The thief king took all this in and dodged to the side, barely escaping the dagger his guide had just attempted to stick in his back.

"Now that wasn't very friendly, now was it?" He asked, backing up another step, keeping his eyes on the dagger and his opponent.

Others appeared and soon Syos was standing in the midst of a circle of very hostile looking thieves. "You will die now, so that a proper king can be put into place." One woman Syos only vaguely recognized hissed.

Syos cocked his head. "You think I'm the thief king?"

"We know it." Locked doors can't stop our ears." A man Syos knew to be Zeshick boasted.

Slowly a grin spread across Syos's face. This wasn't his usual good-natured smile but a nasty-edged vicious baring of the teeth. "Well then I will not be in need of reining in my strength." He said, dropping all pretence of hiding. "Or do you truly believe that you few can kill me when I have eluded every Guard within this city? For the Guards are far stronger then you."

A growl of anger started and soon the entire ring was glaring at Syos.

However, before they could charge, Syos ran forward, daggers in his hands and struck down one, dodging a hurled dagger and then sprinting across the clear circle to attack two more.

It wasn't long before Syos realized there was a fundamental difference between fighting the Guards and fighting thieves. The thieves used the same general style he did and knew how to better counter it. As he blocked, struck and weaved his way through the massed rogues, Syos found himself boxed in on all sides with a knife rushing straight down towards him.

Nadan and Krisiana looked up from their reports when the door slammed open and then closed again.

"What in the void are you doing here?" Nadan demanded, jumping to his feet and striding around his desk.

Syos turned around and limped towards his friend. "I found myself in a minor altercation."

"Void Syos!" Krisiana cried, running forward. Syos had been beaten and not lightly. "What happened?"

The thief king's grin turned into a wince as one of the cuts on his cheeks reopened. "Rogues blockaded me." He replied, accepting the handkerchief she held out to him.

"The rogues?" Why would they attack you?" Nadan rumbled as Krisiana used all her handkerchiefs to stop the bleeding and bind Syos's various injuries.

"They have somehow contrived a method to eavesdrop upon our discourses within this room. My hypothesis is that one or more of the rogues have discovered the passage-ways."

Shocked Nadan stared at his friend. "How are we going to stop them?"

Smiling less broadly this time, he didn't want to reopen his cut a second time; Syos pulled away from Krisiana, grabbed a coil of rope and opened the hidden door, disappearing into the secret passage. Moments later he returned, minus the rope. "I have laid a trap. Should an attempt be made to eavesdrop, said person will soon find themselves in a situation most uncomfortable."

Krisiana dragged her chair out from behind her desk and made Syos sit. "Should I get a cold cloth for your face? You've got the beginnings of a nasty bruise on the right side of your face."

"That must be delayed. We have much to discuss."

"Did you recognize anyone?" Nadan asked.

Syos nodded. "However that is not what we must discuss. Nadan how swiftly would you have the ability to gather our brethren?"

Nadan stared at Syos in surprise. "An hour at most."

"Then please see to it." Syos said getting up slowly.

"Why?"

"I have remained within the background for far too long. It is time that I reveal myself. To that end I must return home to change my attire. I will return in time to speak." Syos left before either Nadan or Krisiana could shake off their shock, forcing Nadan to obediently gather the thieves despite his feelings.

The whispers ran the length and breadth of the main hall as the thieves speculated to one another why they were there. The last time they'd been gathered like this it was to announce that the king was dead and the new one had been found. Up at the top of the staircase Nadan looked down and then back at his friend, who stood in the darkness behind him. "You sure about this?"

Syos nodded. "It is necessary."

With a sigh Nadan stepped forward and raised his hands for silence. "I have an announcement to make courtesy of our king. He told me to gather you all here so that all might hear this for it is of vital interest to all of us. We have rogues in our midst. Thieves who have willingly betrayed us and our king. They endanger us and our livelihoods." Gasps of surprise and a wave of whispers began. Krisiana was standing in another shadow up above, watching for those who weren't shocked and making notes. "To that end he wishes to speak to you all. Sir." With a bow, Nadan stepped back and Syos, in full thief king regalia, stepped forward into the light.

All in black, face half-hidden, hair pulled back into a short tail he looked as they were used to him and not like the bloodied Syos who'd stormed in not so long ago. He smiled, winked and took the off his mask. "Since it has become apparent that the rogues have discovered my identity," Here Syos gestured to his bruised face. "I believed it was only fair to reveal myself to you, my brethren. I offer my apologies for the subterfuge but I deemed it necessary."

The stunned thief populace slowly regained the ability to speak and soon they were yelling their questions at Syos. Nadan made as if to move forward but Syos stopped him with a look. The thief king raised one hand and brought it down in a slashing motion to silence the unruly crowd. "Now is not the time for personal queries. I will gladly respond to any such query any of you may have after we have come to a decision regarding those who have gone rogue." Speaking with such authority and as his gaze swept the assembly, making it seem as if he met every person's gaze, the slender thief was transformed in the eyes of his people. No longer was he the friend of everyone, the joker named Syos. No, now he was the thief king, the man who could elude any and every Guard, who had stolen some of the most fabulous treasures the country had, the man who had commanded them for the past two years and the man who they owed their loyalty to.

"What are we going to do then?" Someone cried.

Syos gave a smile with a nasty edge to it. "We find out who belongs and we'll break up their organization and punish those who have attempted to destroy us all. We will not allow their poison to spread and sunder us but instead we will burn them out root and branch. We will stand firm and stand together and allow neither the rogue thieves nor not even the Guards to defeat us."

"What about the Guard you stole?" Another voice called.

"It was necessary during both times. The first time I was manacled to him and was without lock picks. The second time he had secreted the statue on his person and I had no time to remove it from him before the other Guards would have been upon me. I have done my utmost to keep us safe and the rest of you from the Guards' attentions."

Whispers followed these statements and Syos allowed it for a time. "If there are no more queries then I will retire. Each and every one of you will be called forth to determine if you are a member of the rogues, collect any information you may have about the rogues and allow each of you an opportunity to query me about anything you so desire." Syos turned and, unable to resist at least a little bit of showiness, swirled his cloak about him as he left.

He retreated to Nadan's office and Krisiana and Nadan himself joined him there. "So," Syos said. "How did they take it?"

Nadan stared at him in open admiration and surprise. "I didn't know you could act like that. I don't think anyone will protest. You impressed them and the rogues won't dare say anything for fear of being caught. You answered the two most pressing questions and I think you reassured most everyone."

Syos shrugged. "I have played to crowds before. This time however it was the truth. I will not lie to my brethren. Except about my identity." He added as an afterthought.

"I think I picked out a few of the rogues. Mostly people we'd already suspected. No one who could be the leader thought."

Sighing, the thief king sat down. "I had not expected to but I did hope."

"We'll find him. Don't worry. We just have to be patient."

In another part of town, the rogues' leader paced, enraged. He had underestimated Syos, underestimated his ability to inspire confidence and loyalty, and underestimated his intelligence and cleverness. Damn him! He thought, hissing through his teeth. A sudden thought caused him to stop and slowly a smile spread across his face. An idea had occurred to him. One that would dually remove his support and forced him to step down. Relaxed now, the leader began his preparations.