Ky pushed his way across the crowded balcony. The air was thick with pipe smoke and the noise of revelling merchants felt deafening. An evening mingling with guilders, and all he had to show for it were platitudes of resistance and empty promises of supporting the coming war effort for people determined not to let their spirits be dampened.
Or their thirst slaked, he lamented as a gaudily dressed trader bumped into him. The poor woman’s jeweled nose studs got stuck on the shoulder of Ky’s new shirt and she stumbled awkwardly. When she finally got loose, she took a large piece of fabric with her without even noticing.
Ky finally made it into the small sitting room, where only those staying at the inn were allowed. It was dark, silent, and full of breathable air; much to his surprise. He slammed the door behind him, deflating against it.
Regaining his composure he took a half-step into the room and then stumbled, grabbing onto the back of a nearby chair and swaying a bit.
Something was wrong. There should be guests here, relaxing in the late hours before heading to their rooms to sleep. Yet as empty as the room seemed he knew he was not alone; he could feel their presence even if he couldn’t see them in the gloom.
Using his unsteady posture for cover, he glanced around him. A few comfortable reclining chairs aligned in a semi-circle by the fireplace, sofa slightly askew from its usual position, the low table cleared of the huge pile of books that had been there for days… Ky’s gaze slid over to the dark niche holding the inn’s lone bookshelf and he froze.
A pair of white orbs all but glowed in the shadows, like twin stars each the size of a man’s eye, looking back at him steadily. He dropped the act and straightened up, quietly meeting the man’s gaze. As Ky got used to the gloom, he could make out the rest of the stranger. First the pale hair, then the white shirt with its short sleeves, and finally the shape of books in his hands.
Ared calmly resumed his work, sorting the tomes back onto the shelf without a word as Kyrion slipped into one of the recliners and stoked the fire back to life. The spymaster was not wearing his characteristic white cloak of office nor could Kyrion make out any weapon, and yet there was an aura of menace in the room.
“So…” Kyrion was not expecting a reply so much as simply trying to break the uncomfortable silence. He could not help but wonder why the man was here. He had obviously been waiting for some time, and given the infrequency of Kyrion’s returning to the inn he officially stayed at it seemed unlikely to be coincidence that the man had chosen today for his visit.
Eventually the chancellor moved over and seated himself across from Kyrion, tossing another log onto the fire before leaning back. Still not speaking a word, Ared eyed him carefully with those piercing orbs of silver while Kyrion returned the scrutiny using more than just his eyes.
There was magic there, plenty of it. Hardly surprising, given that the man had the resources of the Royal Guild at his disposal. Boots, fingerless gloves, even his short-sleeved shirt; all magical and all a lifeless white. Even the sky blue larimar of his earring seemed faded and pale.
The only real splash of colour was his belt of deep green leather, and Kyrion could not help but wonder what it was made of. “Jadepetal viper.” Ared’s statement surprised Kyrion, not because it felt like the man had read Kyrion’s mind but because of its abruptness.
Clearing his throat and fidgeting a bit in his chair, Kyrion forced a smile. “To what do I owe-” He caught himself before the word ‘honour’, remembering that he had not seen Ared without his hood last time. “The pleasure of your company, good sir…?” He drew out the word, trying to make it sound like a question.
“Merinnath,” came the curt reply from the impassive face. Nothing to give Kyrion the slightest clue what this was about, or even if Ared was buying the feigned ignorance.
“Oh, like that Arlathian emperor?” Kyrion had always wondered if the two were related. As a youth in Harma Ithil he had found it was a fairly common family name among Imperials, but back when he was a courtier he had often overheard Ared being asked the question. Yet always had something saved him from answering it.
“No, nothing like a dead man,” was the only reply Ared offered. He tented his fingers and looked Kyrion right in the eyes. “I know who you are, Silverblade.”
“Then you have me at a disadvantage, sire Merinnath. I admit I got lucky at cards and won some property, but I’m still just a humble farmhand.” Kyrion hoped Adrie had not miraculously survived to report, or he would not likely leave here alive.
Unless it was in chains, dragged to the dungeon.
“I met, long ago, a colourful figure who titled himself Lord Kyrion Silverblade, whom I have found hard to forget.”
Kyrion feigned confusion, then failed to suppress a grin as it dawned on him that Ared didn’t know the truth after all. “My great-grandfather was really something, wasn’t he? I never met him, of course, but I’ve heard plenty of stories growing up.”
“From your half-giant friend?” Ared had recognized Aziz as a member of the Guild, then… Lucky the nephaim had avoided politics entirely back in the day, or he’d likely have gotten in trouble. No mention of how he knew about the magistrate who had left the inn several weeks ago.
It could be a trick. Perhaps he wanted to see if Ky was quick enough to notice. Maybe he was trying to find out if he had been recognized.
“How’d you know- The wench, I bet. She’s been telling everyone how he saved her uncle from the Roach King. Aye. Master Azudar used to be a member of the Adventurers’ Guild back in the day, you see, and my namesake was one of the guildmasters. Not that they knew each other particularly well, but the Guild was like a big family… Or so I’ve been told.”
“Truly a shame the guild was dispersed.” Ky couldn’t help but wince at the memory Ared’s words stirred, trying to play it off as soot from the fire. So many good friends gone in such a short time. “Is it true that internal strife made everyone leave?”
So that was his goal, fishing to see if Ky knew enough to link it back to him. “No, can’t say that I think that likely. Aziz doesn’t think anyone was behind it or anything, thinks it’s all just coincidence. Adventuring being such a dangerous life and all.”
“Two score experienced heroes dead in a week? That’s not coincidence, that’s mass murder!” Ky scowled and turned to the fire, clenching his jaw and reminding himself that if he moved on Ared now it would ruin everything, and likely cost him his life. He still had no definitive proof he was involved, either.
“What did your grandfather think?”
“He was murdered a few years later, still trying to figure things out.” Ky fought hard not to trace his finger along the invisible line across his neck where Adrie’s blade had cut him open.
“Someone he had thwarted during his career back for revenge?”
“No, a former guildmember tricked into blaming him for the deaths.” Ky turned back to Ared. “An elf woman by the name of Adrie, whom I hear was rewarded with a position with the Silver Cloaks.”
Ared’s silver eyebrows arched at the name, before quickly descending again. “You believe the Cloaks would be involved in such a thing as the murder of a nobleman?”
“From what I’ve heard, I wouldn’t put it past the vizier to be behind the slaughter of an entire Guild.” Moreth had a reputation for callousness among the common folk, one not entirely warranted from what Ky recalled of the man. He also recalled the rumours linking him to the fall of the Guild of Magic-Users.
Ared hesitated for a moment, but Ky couldn’t tell whether it was because of the accusation or uncertainty about Moreth’s involvement. “Nonsense! Neither the Royal Vizier nor the Silver Cloaks would be involved in such things. If this Adrie is indeed a Cloak, I have no doubt it is unrelated to your grandfather’s murder.”
Ky shrugged, motioning with his hands as if to say he was just speculating anyway. “It does seem rather far-fetched that the Crown would turn on its own vassals thusly. Imagine the uproar among the other guilds if it came out…”
Ared rose to his feet, taking a few steps toward the door before pausing next to Ky. “A word of advice from an old man. Do not let anger poison your heart. It is through revenge we lose our souls, becoming one with hate until we are empty without it.”
Ky listened as the chancellor strode out of the room, then stabbed the poker into the fire a few times in an effort to vent his frustration and clear his mind.
At length he let out a sigh, turning his attention to the hole in his shirt. Mending it would give him an opportunity to practice his magic.