Alten leans back in bed, reveling in the weightless comfort of is bed, the softness of the covers, and the glow of the candlelight bathing the flawless milky skin of the woman next to him. She was alright, he decided. Not bad, but he had had better. Sighing, he turned over to drink some whine, but the decanter was empty. Idly, he fingers the pendant hanging around his neck. It was a tree, made of stone, and worked with gold filigree It was hard, and always felt cool.
Past the decanter, on his bedside table, as if divinely ordained to ruin the mood, was the account ledger. Alten sighed again and rolled back to stare at the ceiling, but his mind could not be derailed. They were in dire straights. No ventures had gone well recently. Three ships were unaccounted for. The deal in the north had gone sour, and they had had to write off all the bribes and favors called in to make it happen. Then there was the menagerie. That damned menagerie. It hadn’t been his decision to fund the damned thing, but he had to balanced the books on it anyway. Half the Animals had died before ever reaching Trikala. a fifty percent loss is hard to swallow as is, but that fool Throm had to stir up more trouble than he could deal with and had not only lost half his men en-route, but had let a get tiger loose in the city! The whole batch had had to be put down after that. Noone would trust that operation enough to buy from them.
Alten realized he was holding his breath. He slung his legs over the side of the bed and slowly let it out. He was supposed to relax. It was the festival after all! Let work lay till the morrow. He stood up and shuffled to his desk. Fishing a deep purple stick from a drawer, he held one end in the candle flame until it caught alight. Taking a deep breath of the sweet smoke washing over his face, the weight of the world seems to get farther away. Alten takes another deep breath-
The door flies open with a bang, and the lad gets three steps into the room before realizing his circumstances. He stands for a moment, trying conspicuously to both not look at the creature on the bed (of which he was failing), and to not meet the gaze of Alten. Red blossoms on his cheeks.
Alten throws down the incense in rage. “Laras, You’ve been here almost six. months. When are you going to learn to knock?! You’ve better got a good reason for this or I’m gonna make you wish the fucking mother herself was here to soothe you!” Alten breaks off his tirade to look up and whisper, “No offense, milady.”
He takes a deep breath, sits down, and waves a hand to Laras, “Alright, what is it?”
Laras snapped to upright and fixed his gaze forward, “The Alpha… um,” he clears his throat, “the Alpha is dead, sir.”
“What?! Dead? When?! How?!”
“This very evening, I don’t know, but the manor was attacked. They’re all dead! I came as soon as I heard!”
Alten’s bolted upright, mind racing. This is terrible. If the Alpha’s dead, then the organization is unstable. They’ve enough enemies as it is, but with their leader dead, there are those that will surely try to take advantage of their compromised circumstances. The wool guild for one, the Gulls for another. They will not sit quiet, for a variety of reasons. This is the worst timing possible. Well, hopefully the festival will delay things, and stay the hand of violence for a short while. It will have to be enough. After all, you play the hand you’re dealt, not the one you wish for.
He took a deep breath, and surveyed the room, a plan forming. The first priority must be to secure the organization’s assets. Fingering his pendant, Alten mutters under his breath, “May the builder preserve us, and hunter watch over us. We’re going to need it…” And then at a shout, “Laras!”
The boy jumps at the word.
“Get out of here! go find Dilay, Demirk, and Baran. Have then assemble their men and secure the warehouse! I trust you know where to find them?”
He nods vigorously, and bolts out of the room, “Right away, sir!”
A few short minutes later, Alten himself leaves the room, dressed for business, and moving quickly in the brisk night air.
A short while later, he ducks down an alley and knocks on a door. Knowing it isn’t locked, he pulls it open and steps inside. The man inside is pulling on his sandals.
“Skilos, the Alpha is dead.”
“I know.” The other man finishes tying his laces. “We need to get to the warehouse.”
“My thoughts exactly. Let’s go.”
The two men disappear into the night, and race through the streets south towards Ployo.
“I’ll have to act fast to maintain order and unity. I’m counting on you, Skilos. Some of these dogs will betray anyone at the merest sniff of an opportunity.”
“You don’t need to worry about it.”
“And what about pressure from above? The Alpha had allies in the Gaerusia, after all, we’ll have to treat with them and their interests, too.”
Skilos shrugs, “the enemy of my enemy?”
“I suppose, but what about—”
They come around the corner into the square, and a grisly sight. The northern end is littered with bodies.
Hurridly, Alten makes to step gingerly over them when one moans.
Alton freezes. He knows that voice. He drops down and pulls the man up to sitting.
“Demirk! What happened?!”
The man jerks, head lolling, “Alten… sir?”
Blank eyes stare past his face, and blood bubbles over his lips, dribbling down his chest, “Ah… ambushed. Elya-ladi…” He coughs wetly, and gurgles.
“What does the collegia of oil merchants have to do with anything?! Demirk!”
Shaking Demirk, at first he doesn’t notice the men standing around, rugged and brutish, bearing ruddy clubs and axes. Dropping the body, Alten grabs for his sword, his hand wraps around it, sure and true and—
A blade blossoms from his chest.
Alten looks down, not quite believing. He reaches out and taps his finger on the end. It’s hard, and cold. Abruptly, It vanishes, and crimson gushes forth in its stead. He turns around.
“Skilos, ho-what? Why?”
“I told you, we need to get to the warehouse.” He gestures at the men around. He cocks his head and frowns. “I didn’t say anything about you.”
The blade flashes out, and Alten can no longer speak. He clutches his throat. It feels wet. His legs buckle, and he slumps to the ground, watching Skilos and the men leave, as strength flows from his body, and the weight of the world leaves his shoulders.
He turns his head towards the milky white dome of the Aethusa, gleaming in the first rays of dawn, but his eyes no longer see. The air of his last breath is thick with the acrid scent of smoke, blue lips murmuring, “I’m sorry, milady…”