A musky odor permeated the air, infiltrating noses of peasants, merchants, and nobles alike. The former paid it no mind, having spent most of their miserable lives in one type of stench or another. The merchants occasionally surreptitiously brought a jacket sleeve across their face, managing to pull in an odorless whiff or two of air. Nobles, decked out in finery unavailable to most folk, wrinkled their noses and made a show of stuffing their faces into monogrammed, perfumed handkerchiefs and drawing deep breaths.
The heat and the stink made market days easy deliveries for street rats like Lyrea and her gang. She’d made plenty in the past two years, of course - the young are often overlooked - but it was much easier when her targets came to her. Scanning the market, her brown eyes found her number two, and his number two: Steppen and Genny. Leaning back more into the shadows of an alley, Lyrea gave a minute jerk to her head and flashed a hand symbol at Steppen. His eyes lit with understanding and he set off toward the mark.
Wendel walked through the marketplace, a lovely lilac handkerchief plastered to his nose. It smelled of lilac too - just strong enough to drown out the hideousness that hung in the humid air. A band of sweat tracked down his cheek and he almost frowned at the thought of it staining his beautiful purple silk shirt. Instead, he smiled as he noticed people practically throwing themselves out of his way. He reached out with his other hand and skimmed it along the crowd, the smile turning smug as they seemingly clamored to touch him. It hadn’t been that long ago when people were spitting on him in the streets, and now it appeared they worshipped him. That’s what happens when your brother wins the crown.
A sparkle caught the corner of his eye and Wendel maneuvered to a stall. The flat top was filled with plenty of gaudy baubles, but a moderately small whitish silver box caught his eye. That looked like something his girl would like - she did like pretty things after all. Picking it up, the Murandian turned the box over and around, looking for an opening. He pursed his lips at not finding one. Shaking the box didn’t prove fruitful either. He looked to the merchant for help, but the man just shrugged. He hadn’t clue either. “A challenge!” Wendel announced, “I’ll take it!” He motioned for one of his men to pay the merchant and took a long drag from the lilac handkerchief before slipping the box into a pocket of his fine brown pants.
An hour passed and the sights were starting to be less entertaining, the heat beginning to be overwhelming, and the lilac in his handkerchief fading. Wendel turned into an alley and leaned against the wall, soaking up the cold emanating from the brick. One of his men lounged next to him and the other stood with his back to them, blocking a tired Wendel from view. At the back of the alley, Genny rose silently, her blade covered in grime to prevent any accidental glare.
A blur of navy and tan flashed by the end of the alleyway and suddenly Wendel’s man was talking about a missing purse. “Hey!” he yelled after Steppen, starting to run after him, but slowing and turning back toward Wendel. The heir to Murandy’s throne waved him on and the bodyguard disappeared into the crowded marketplace after the cutpurse. His other man pushed off the wall and stood loosely at the noble’s side. Quietly, Genny strode toward the mark, her grip strong and her knife sharp, while Lyrea skidded to a halt in front of the alleyway, pulling their attention to her and blocking them in. She took two large steps forward, putting her in the shadow of the building and her face almost against the chest of the larger man in black. A bit stunned, he took a step backward and frowned at her. Wendel cocked an eyebrow.
“Heya boys,” she said with a grin, a gap between her two front teeth and a layer of grime on her smile that only life on the street could provide, “Mistress Tyren sends her regards.” She yanked a sharp dagger from her belt and quickly sliced the throat of the bodyguard. He had barely reacted to her presence, let alone the cut. “You’ve been a very bad boy, Wendel.” Lyrea motioned to Genny, who grabbed him around the throat and pressed her knife into his back. “I wish I had time to enjoy this, but unlike you, I listen to orders.”
Wendel whimpered, wanting to plead for his life, but afraid that it wouldn’t make a difference to these children. The girl standing in front of him - because she was just that, a girl - had no warmth to her brown eyes. Just an icy coldness that told him she could not be reasoned with. “I’ll take that box you bought,” she said, thrusting her hand out. It had little speck of red blood - Colston’s blood - on it. “It will make a poor compensation for the mistress, but maybe combined with your death, she will get some value,” Lyrea nodded then, at Genny, and the pressure at his back blossomed into intense pain and a feeling of wetness. Death wasn’t far behind.
Arissa watched Lyrea through an upstairs window and smiled when the deed was done. The girl was already formidable and she hadn’t even fully crossed into womanhood yet. Lyrea had been a feisty toddler with a habit for hurting others. She’d once been taken in by a darkfriend under Arissa, but had kicked the girl out when she’d murdered the woman’s two cats and her son. When asked why, Lyrea had simply said, “because I wanted to.” Such murder in a precious package had intrigued Arissa at first. Later, Arissa realized how useful the girl could be. “Aunt” Tyren had sought out the girl and nurtured that beautiful sociopathy.
The girls would now split and meet back at their “headquarters” later. Arissa knew the schedule because she had designed it and placed it in Lyrea’s head. She would meet the group too, wearing Tyren’s face and body, using Tyren’s more high-pitched voice. For now, she had a meeting with an old friend. Stepping away from the window, the Chosen wove a gateway and stepped from Lugard into the World of Dreams.
Gooseflesh rose on Arissa’s arms as the temperature dropped suddenly. Adjusting her clothing to be better suited to a cool climate, the redhead created herself a vial of stoli – a drink made from pears that she dearly missed from the now-called Age of Legends – and took a sip, savoring the tart flavor and the acidic bite. Serahna chuckled as she stepped through her own Gateway, “Where’s mine?” she asked, her attire switching from soldier’s garb to a plain set of dark linen pants and belted tan tunic. Arissa inclined her head and a flute of stoli appeared in Serahna’s hands. She took a long drag on her own flute whilst waiting for the other woman to begin. They had been sharing information for many years now, meeting when necessary. They had an uneasy system of alternating who began their meetings and it was Serahna’s turn.
“Things are finally coming to a head between Saldaea and Kandor,” the brunette began, tucking a lock of chin length hair behind her ear, “three skirmishes have broken out along the border near the ‘Blight’,” both women rolled their eyes at the name, “in the last two weeks, heightening tension among the soldiers and spreading through the middle command at a rapid rate. It won’t be long before the generals get wind.”
“Delightful,” Arissa murmured with a smile, “you have always been good at dealing with brutes, Serahna.” The other woman gave her a pointed look and drained the rest of her glass. “Things are going well in Andor, as well. Houses are beginning to gather allies and plan their attack on the throne and Enarra is, let’s say, sufficiently distracted.”
“Yes, let’s.” Serahna said drily. “Are there any rumors of invasion elsewhere? As you know, an invasion may unite them before the division can truly be set.”
“Do you think me new to this game, Serahna?” Arissa countered, her emerald eyes hard as she pinned the other woman with her gaze. “There has been little news of any kind from outside Andor, let alone news of unrest.”
Serahna nodded and sat back in her chair, “Care to divulge how you handle the flow of information so well?”
“We both have our hands,” the Engineer said, “you play yours and I’ll play mine.”
Arissa slid into Divara’s dream smoothly. It was hard to guard against someone who understood brain better than anyone alive - even those who were warded against others.
She clucked her tongue as she looked around at the surroundings. Divara was just as materialistic now as she had been before. The room, decorated in shades of Green, was full of rich wood furniture, fancy porcelain vases, crystal centerpieces, and heavy tapestries. In the current society, each item was expensive – costing more than some countries were worth.
Divara stood at the far end of the room, staring at a painting. Arissa moved quickly across the plush carpet, her red silk slippers silent. As she neared, she could see a beautiful mountain view, last seen outside Nolathana before the Breaking. With such detail, Divara must have painted it herself. Only someone who had actually seen the slopes would have been able to capture the gravitas that rolled off the mountains, and only an object that existed in the real world would hold such permanence here. It was fascinating that someone with such a hideous personality could paint something with so much reverence and feeling.
Already enjoying what was to come, Arissa tapped the other Chosen on the shoulder. “Hello Divara,” she said with a purr. Divara stiffened and began to weave Saidar. “Tsk tsk. I think you ought to be more polite with someone who could help you out of this jam you’re in.” She stepped around to face Divara and dragged a finger down the Chosen’s cheek as she slammed a Shield in place. “You see, I know it was you who disobeyed Vanahl. And,” she paused, enjoying the fear that had begun to leak from the woman in front of her, “I know why.”
Although Divara knew it was her dream, and she knew she could gain control, her mind wouldn’t cooperate. Maybe it couldn’t? Physical pain was nothing compared to what Arissa could do to her brain. The inability to understand, to know, what was happening was what undid her. Her hands shook as she bowed to the woman before her. Great Lord help her she’d find a way out of this….wouldn’t she?
Arissa’s green eyes gleamed.
Lyrea and her gang straightened as Aunt Tyren walked in. Her black hair was peppered with gray, and her skin beginning to show its age, but her mind was still sharp and her tongue, in disappointment, vicious. Several of the smaller kids peeled off, their eyes snapping from Lyrea to Tyren and back again before they made themselves scarce. Steppen and Genny moved in toward the leader of their gang, though their gazes were stuck on Tyren. She commanded attention of any room she walked into, just as she always had. Lyrea yearned for that kind of presence.
“Is it done?” Tyren asked, knowing it had already been handled. She produced a heavy purse and held it as she waited for a response.”
“It is, mistress,” Lyrea said, her voice unwavering. She nodded for Steppen to retrieve the bag. Coins clinked as he pocketed the bag and his eyes widened a little at the weight. “I also found this. It looked like something that might of interest to you, though I can’t say why.” Lyrea drew the silver box from her pocket and set it on the table nearest to Tyren.
Schooling her features was harder than usual as Arissa recognized the object placed in front of her. A stasis box…I haven’t seen one of these in a very long time. She nodded to the girl, “It’s a pretty token. I approve.” Picking up the item delicately, Tyren tucked it away and addressed the group.
“You did well today. Lay low tomorrow and the next day. There will be a delivery coming for you in that time. Our usual place. Send only those who can return with the items without being followed.” She nodded to Lyrea and took her leave.
The streets of Lugard would run red when Hereld found his brother murdered.
Chaos surely would reign, as designed.
The Great Lord would be pleased.