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Chapter 14 – An Interloper 

Gilfri 

The house of the Chairholder has been all abuzz for weeks. Ever since Elen and her new friends left, everything has been chaotic, and the Chairholder has only been more impatient and snappy with me than usual. The only place I can escape from being underfoot is in my room, but still people-servants come in and try to command me. As if I’m one of their underlings just because he often orders me to help them out. So instead of hiding in there, I’ve found a safe-ish spot in the fiction section of the manor’s library. Nobody ever comes here. The people-servants are too busy, the new guards stationed elsewhere, and the Chairholder doesn’t like ‘reading nonsense’ and says it rots brains. 

I groan as I hear the cook shout for me. I know having people as servants is a sign of wealth, and as a political heir, I know that appearances are of the utmost importance, but I still wish for simple robots. Easy to command. Unable to disobey the hierarchy. Unable to waste time hollering and hunting, trying to get me to help out. Instead of listening to the old biddy, I bury myself deeper behind my pile, and settle in with my carmel collection to waste another afternoon. Things are happening here, but since I have clearly not been invited, it’s a waste trying to poke my nose where it doesn’t belong. Besides, carmel is sticky, gooey, and delicious. Three good reasons to just stay back here and relax. 

Just as I am relaxing into my pile of stolen cushions, I hear footsteps approach. They’re heavy, rhythmic. The cook? I snatch my candies and dive behind a shelf. If she sees the pillows in disarray, she’ll know about my hiding place. But maybe she’ll think I’ve abandoned it. I hold my breath, knowing she can’t possibly hear it, but still unable to breath easily. My heartbeat thuds in my ears. She won’t confiscate my carmels, will she? That would just be going too far! I hear her voice’s booming echo as she shouts for me.

“Gilfri, when I find you–!” I flinch, but her threat is far away, and getting further. The footsteps continue coming closer. Overcome by curiosity, I crouch down, and swiftly creep deeper into the library. If that’s not the cook coming to find me, who is it? Once I get decently far ahead of the person, I stop paralleling their path, and duck into one of the rows of shelves that run perpendicular to the main path through the library. I’m out of sight for the next thirty seconds at least, the boot’s owners are in no hurry. I sneak as close to the main path as I dare, peering between the few books on the bottom row to see the person coming closer. I’m only able to catch a glimpse of pale skin and a black cloak though, as they swiftly turn and head into the rows and stacks of books. A grimace crosses my lips. No wings? But far too tall to be a Zytherling. The Chairholder would be furious if Elen’s friends got back in, they are accused of murder after all. Even I know the charge is balderdash though, and I’m not even good at politics! It was obvious the Chairholder was just using them as scapegoats to get rid of political rivals. I mean, besides the fact that they hadn’t been in the city at the time, they hadn’t even met one of the two people they were supposed to have murdered! There’s clearly no motive here. Despite the sloppiness of the accusation, people accepted it easily. I guess that’s supposed to be some sort of lesson for me. But I don’t get it. Elen’s friends would be idiots to come back here. And they, at least, didn’t seem like idiots. 

Suspicious, I follow the mysterious figure, paralleling his path but with six shelves between us. Did the blond guy– I think his name was Ladle or something?– leave something behind? Should I report him to the Chairholder? What would I get from that? Certainly not any respect or gratitude. He’s too busy for me. Too many plans, and apparently I’d only ruin them. After catching another glimpse of him between the shelves though, I don’t think this is Ladle dude. This person’s hair is shorter, and I can’t see blondie stopping to get a haircut while on the run for murder. I stop, mouth dropping open as the strange man pauses at the end of the row, pulls a book from a high shelf, and disappears into a secret door. 

I’ve lived in this house for too many years to not know about the secret tunnels around here, but I’ve never seen that one before. Granted, I don’t actually remove books from the shelves here that often, and never the reference ones from this deep in the library. Frowning, I approach the open passageway. There are stairs here, leading down into the darkness. I glance back at my comfy cushions. My caramels are still waiting for me. I could go back to them and pretend I never saw anything. Nobody would care. Nothing would change. 

I’m halfway back to my comfy seat when I hear the Chairholder’s voice call out. “Did you remember to close the door Sus-Ciel? I think I feel a draft.”

I freeze. Suspicions climb up my spine. Suspicions that have never been completely driven away despite my numerous attempts. The Chairholder needs a successor, and although that is what I am in name, he’s never taught me anything other than to keep my head down and stupid mouth shut. A young man suddenly having secret meetings with my mentor in parts of the house that I’ve never seen before?

I bite my lip, cursing myself and my stupid stupid paranoia as I snatch my candies off the floor, stuff them in my pockets and turn to the now closed doorway. I need to know. I need to know if I’m being replaced. 

It isn’t that hard to find the right book and follow the voices down the cold tunnel. Although I try my best to be quiet, speed is my number one priority. I can’t arrive just as they’re leaving! I need to know what’s happening, why the Chairholder is with this filth! I’m so consumed by my thoughts, that I nearly pass their room, continuing on down the dark cramped, and frankly dirty hallway. Instead, I freeze, two steps beyond the doorway, before turning back and pressing my ear to it. 

“Sir.” A haughty, unfamiliar voice says. “I don’t see how–”

“You don’t have to see!” Chairholder Helios Lime III shouts. I can’t hide my grin. It’s rare that other people get scolded like that. It’s nice to not be on the receiving end for once. Perhaps my replacement has messed up? “All you have to do,” The Chairholder hisses, “Is what I tell you to. I’m the mastermind, you’re the student! If you want my tutelage and to take over after I’m done, you will obey!”

“Well, you haven’t been doing much teaching!” The new successor laughs, and I shudder. Is he an idiot? Nobody laughs at the Chairholder. “I’ve been working with you for over a year, and in all this time you’ve boasted about how you’re oh so clever, finding my world, starting this war with dragons, convincing me and my tribe to hand over Smay. But despite all that, your best idea is to have the dragons attack The Light, your own city!”

“I know what I’m doing!” The Chairholder shouts, “Trust me, and make the adjustments!” Something crashes against a wall, breaking into smithereens that tinkle as they hit the floor. I cringe away from the door. The Chairholder has lost his temper. I remember being on the receiving end of those throws, the bruises and sometimes cuts that would last for weeks. 

“Oh don’t worry, I will.” The cocky voice replies. “But please, Sir, enlighten me. What is the purpose behind having our dragon army attack the city? Last you had told me, we were going to pretend to orchestrate a peace. Then use them to extract your peoples ‘revenge’ on the Elves and Dwarves. The magic disruptor is still in place. In fact, I believe it is making your own people sicker by the minute. What has gone wrong with the original plan that we need to change it this much?”

The Chairholder hesitates, and I lean closer. This sounds like fascinating stuff, but there’s no way he’ll tell his ultimate plans. He never tells me anything, especially when he’s pissed enough to throw things. Better off getting sweet water from a stone than information out of him. 

You changed things.” He eventually responds, “You got seen, Sus-ciel. Both here, and on the Dragons’ Nest Isle. Smay– as you call the dragon’s leader –injured you. He’s no longer completely under our control. We can’t use him as our army’s general, much less make him play the role of a ‘sane’ dragon who we can negotiate and make the public sympathize with.”

“Why does the public need to sympathize?” Sus-Ciel sounds incredulous at the Chairholder’s explanation. “Can’t you just override them? They are only pawns in the bigger picture!”

“Pawns are important for those of us who aren’t ‘deities’! They can turn the tide of any war when used correctly, or when not used at all. You still have a lot to learn boy! Including your place.” The Chairholder snaps at him. I can practically see his hackles rise. “Now, play around with that device of yours, drive the dragons mad with lust for it!” I hear the command in his voice and shiver, glad I’m not on the end of the icy stare that comes with it. 

“Alright, alright.” I can hear Sus-Ciel’s defensiveness in his voice. A few seconds pass with no sound. “There, done.” He breaks the quiet, and I’m not the only one who has doubts that he finished so soon

“That easily?” The Chairholder asks suspiciously. 

“I had already prepped the changes.” Sus-Ciel claims calmly. “It’s not too difficult to up the levels of disruption on the enchantment. All I need to do is expose it to heightened levels of radiation. Now the scales might disintegrate faster, but for the remainder of its lifespan the effect should be multiplied a thousand-fold. Dragons would kill themselves to possess it.” Slowly, I inch the door open a crack, pulling it ever so slightly towards me. Radiation? Disintegration? What is the Chairholder teaching this man? Why have I never even heard of it? I see Sus-Ciel’s smile grow, revealing brilliantly white teeth in the eerie green glow that suffuses the room. He leans across the table that holds a single shiny set of scales. “I might not have any magic of my own, but being positioned between the Territories taught me quite a few tricks in how to manipulate it.” My eyes flick to the shadowy man across the table, my mentor, the Chairholder, as he pulls a revolver on Sus-Ciel. 

“Now that you’ve done the job, get out!” He snaps. I can’t tear myself away from the drama. What’s this? A gun? Betrayal? Perhaps he never thought of this man as his true heir? Perhaps he still means to teach me?

“What are you doing?” Sus-Ciel exclaims. “You need me!” 

“I need no one!” The Chairholder retorts triumphantly. “Especially not a traitorous bastard like yourself. Take the lure, and run, boy. I don’t want hide nor hair of you to be seen anywhere near my section of the city before the dragons attack. Guards will be on the lookout for you with orders to kill on sight. You’ve become more trouble than you’re worth.”

“You need an heir!” Sus-Ciel protests. “You aren’t planning on making that rat Gilfri your heir again, are you? And you need me to guide you through the mountains, my knowledge of the elves and dwarves’ tactics! Why are you doing this?! Who has turned you against me!” 

“You’re wrong. You’re a liability. An immortal needs no heir. I will be one soon, and you wouldn’t hesitate to cut me down if I was the only one standing in your way to power.” The Chairholder sneers. “I’ve already got everything out of you that I need. Take the scales and get out. I’ve got someone at the end of the tunnel to make sure you carry the scales out. If you survive the dragons’ bombardment of the city, I’ll let you live. If you die, so be it.” His face creases into a sick grin, “Good luck.”

Sus-Ciel hesitates, face twisting in anger as he stares down the shiny gun’s barrel. But he doesn’t have any weapons on him, I can see that from here, he’s defenseless, and the Chairholder has six shots to get him. A warning shot blasts through the small chamber pinging off the stone wall behind Sus-Ciel, and he jumps, hissing. I notice he holds his left arm out awkwardly. It’s bandaged. A wound?

“You’ll regret this Helios!” He snarls, grabbing the scales. “I’ll survive, and I’ll destroy you! I will take everything you and this world have denied me!” Turning, he runs to the door and slams it open, throwing me against the far wall with the force of his anger. I clutch my broken and bloodied nose, pain streaming through my head, unable to process everything that just happened. Wars, dragons, betrayal? It’s all too much. I need to get away. I need time to focus, bandages, time to consider. My eyes flicker up towards the stairway. Towards the exit. I shouldn’t be here. If I’m caught–

But it’s already too late. The Chairholder stands in the doorway, staring after Sus-Ciel, eyes narrowed as he watches the young man race down into the darkness. There’s no escape for me that way. I start to back away, back towards the library and my safe soft cushions, hoping he won’t notice. But his eyes snap to me as soon as I take one cautious step. 

“Well, we can’t have that.” He murmurs, but I’m pretty sure he’s talking to himself. Before I can convince my frozen legs to run, he raises his gun, aims, and fires straight at my head. I open my mouth to scream. But suddenly everything goes red, and then infinitely black. 

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