Beshar, Tenth of the Thirteen, tried to stay indoors at night. His life in the arena was demanding however, and this wasn’t the first time he had been summoned after hours, nor would it be his last. He was grateful his business there had been concluded within an hour, with any luck he would make it back to his chambers before the sun fully set. Though it was early in the evening, the pits had all been ignited and they cast shadows that flickered and danced on the clay buildings and homes that made up the city. The arena was close to the palace where he made his home, close enough that he’d felt he could walk, Everflame knew he could use the exercise. Now, he regretted his earlier desire to try his hand at fitness.
You should have brought more men. The three Samur that followed flanked behind him and to either side but even with the security of his Samur he felt naked and vulnerable. As a member of the Thirteen, assassins were a constant threat. He quickened his pace, gazing sharply from left to right, drinking in the sights around him. The city smelled horrid of course. The rank odor of the poor wafted up to him, attacking his sinuses, and he pressed a perfumed handkerchief to his mouth to ward off the pungent smell. What was that? Sewage and rotting meat? He shuddered delicately. He was never walking to the arena again.
The palace rose up ahead of him. Emblazoned by the light of the Everflame, the glass monstrosity twinkled and glowed a brilliant orange against the sandy dunes surrounding it. When he got inside he would enjoy a nice steam and a bottle of wine, maybe two.
The palace had been his home for the last twenty years so Beshar did not notice its sparkling brilliance, or the fact that the fourteen majestic glass towers were awe inspiring in their size and architecture. Built decades ago, the palace was made by Torches who heated the surrounding sands into a fine sheet of glass and manipulated the malleable glass into hollow, tall, twisted peaks. The architecture of the palace was beautiful and unmatched by anything in the world but Beshar saw none of that because to him, the palace was simply his home. To be more accurate, the Tenth Tower was his home, but the towers were all connected to make one striking unit.
A small group of people, upper-class by the look of the fine cotton of their robes, strolled toward the palace. A few took leisurely swigs of water along the way, most likely to flaunt their wealth to any who might observe. New money. Where are they going at such a late hour? The palace closed its gate every evening and no one, aside from the Thirteen, were granted entrance after sunset.
There were four of them, three men and a woman, and Beshar realized that though they were all wealthy to a degree, only one of them had Arbe in tow. The four guard men gave Beshar and his men a careful once over.
“I think it’s scandalous.” The voice came from the women and Beshar walked closer, eager to overhear any gossip she might share. There was power in information.
“Where do you suppose he is? It’s unlikely he’d tour the cities so late in the season.”
One of the men snorted. “He didn’t leave for a tour without anyone noticing.”
“Then where has he been? He hasn’t been seen for two days…”
The people turned down an alley and their voices faded with them. They were more than likely headed to the theater, it was the only source of entertainment this close to the palace, and for a moment Beshar toyed with the idea of following them. He dismissed the thought quickly, it was better not to stay out any later than he had to, besides, he had an excellent vintage waiting for him.
He continued on his trek to the palace, mulling over the conversation he’d overheard. It had been a pitiful excuse for gossip. He was aware, of course, that the First had been missing at court, he hadn’t been seen in days. The rest of the imbeciles that made up the Thirteen might have accepted the explanation of the daughter of the First, but Beshar was a man of intellect and the facts remained that her story didn’t add up. The daughter of the First claimed that her father’s illness wasn’t serious, but if that was the case then why hadn’t he attended council meeting? A minor illness would not keep one from his duty of ruling an entire republic. And yet, if the sickness was serious enough to warrant an absence from council meetings, why then had the First not seen the palace surgeon? Beshar knew that he hadn’t, he’d paid handsomely for that knowledge and had the man followed for good measure. The surgeon had not been summoned. The daughter of the First was up to something, and Beshar’s mouth watered at the opportunities that arose from her deceit. What was she up to? He couldn’t wait to find out.
He was almost to the palace, he had only to cross one alley and then he would arrive at its front gates. The gates, while also made of glass, were reinforced several times over and rose nearly twenty feet into the sky.
He hesitated for the briefest of moments in front of the alleyway. It was short and narrow, darkened by the height of the two buildings on either side of it. The courtyard pit did little to light the alley but Beshar was not afraid of the dark. The absence of torchlight only made things safer.
He strolled forward, ready to relax with his steam and his wine but he was stopped by a firm grip on his forearm.
He frowned down at the offending appendage before dragging his stare up to meet the imposing figure of Kenjiro. His head Samur shook his head slightly, indicating that there was a potential threat just ahead.
A surge of adrenaline rushed through Beshar. He was no fighter, when trouble arose he relied on his wit and and the power of his wealth to see him out of it. Once again, he wished he’d thought to bring more men. The darkened alley loomed before him. He took a deep breath and steeled himself for the worse.
“Who goes there?” He called out. He was surprised at the deep timbre and authoritative ring to his tone.
A figure stepped forward, it was hard to distinguish features in the light of the distant fire pit but Beshar assumed it was a woman based on the tiny form of the figure and the unctuous sway to the hips.
“Hello, Beshar.” The voice purred over his name as it stepped ever closer.
He was right, it was a woman. She was dressed entirely in black, loose black trousers and tunic, with her hair knotted at the nape of her neck. A black silk mask covered her features.
He dipped his upper half into the semblance of a bow but kept his gaze trained on her face, what he could see of it in any case.
She smiled beneath her mask.
“Such the gentlemen.”
“My lady. It appears you have me at a disadvantage. You know who I am, but I am woefully unaware of the name of the beauty that stands before me.”
She chuckled, shaking her head at his flattery.
When she made no move to say anything else, Beshar sighed. “Would that I could stand here before your presence for the rest of my days but alas, a bottle of red calls my name.” He took a step forward, Kenjiro and his other two men kept pace.
She held out a halting hand and the four men stopped, waiting to hear her words. It galled Beshar to do so, but he would gain no information from simply cutting her down where she stood. Well, ordering his men to cut her down in any case, he eyed the dagger that gleamed from its sheath on her hip.
“You have been summoned.”
“I was,” Beshar nodded. “It was an invitation, I chose not to accept.”
“An invitation was polite. You will not like what happens next.” Her voice still purred but she fingered the dagger at her waist, stroking its silver handle.
“I’ll take my chances.” He could afford to be brave with Kenjiro and the other two standing there.
The woman sucked her breath in sharply, there was a faint whistle as the air blew between her teeth.
“The sands have been quiet.Some have considered them tame.”
Beshar took a step forward, intrigued by her words. This was a fact rarely mentioned in public. Nobody liked what it seemed to imply. He muttered her fear aloud, “No one can release the flame.”
“Yes, the Everflame. But that is the least of our worries. The daughter is not suited to this role. Some would have her dead and be over with it. Perhaps yet another reason you should seek haste in meeting with my master.”
Why the sudden change of tactic? And what did the Daughter of the First have to do with anything? “I keep my nose out of politics.”
“You are a fool.”
Beshar smiled, nodding his acceptance. “So I’ve been told before. But I think once you get to me know me you’ll find that I’m actually quite smart.”
She snorted and turned back toward the alley. She walked several paces before she turned sharply on her heel. She frowned, shaking her head and clucking her tongue in a sound of disapproval.
“You’re wrong you know. Only a fool would defy him. We’ll be watching you.” She turned and disappeared into the darkened alley.
Beshar watched her walk away, panting hard in an effort to stop the wild beating of his heart.