As high dark drew closer and the shadows crept ever onward over the grounds, Sh’reza walked quietly, almost sneaking, onto the patio of the estate she now ruled over. She looked out over the dark gardens that sat below, shrubs filled with blooms that had been cross-pollinated for generations to give the flowers their brilliant orange color filled the gardens. The color of those blossoms identified this estate as belonging to the A’daz of Fire. However, the robes she wore were anything but the brilliant colors, tonight she would be leaving incognito, to take care of the order that had been laid upon her by her Empress.
Sh’reza had painted her face herself, rather than simply wearing her family’s traditional fa’twee of a fire dragon, instead of allowing her new handmaidens to paint her face for her, as was the expected norm. She wanted no one to see her face or fa’twee, as a precaution. She made her way onto the patio on her way to the courtyard and gardens, passing the stone furniture where her mother had sat and died those few, short days ago. She gracefully traced her finger along the table where her mother had last sat, as she walked calmly past it. Sh’reza glanced upwards to reassure herself that the black moon Kalios would soon be blocking the out the light of the other two moons, Maron and Phaelin; as it had always done on this night since the dawn of time.
She walked through the garden in a forlorn manner, quietly pretending to weep, just in case any of their servants; or worse, her sisters, happened to be spying on her. She doubted it, but one always had to be careful in Philanthis. Knowing she could not bring any of her victims onto the grounds, and as she had promised her mother she would, she contacted the Cotier of Assassins. She ordered them to find the prince; as well as the brother and sister courtesans, and take them to some secluded location. The assassin she was meeting tonight would to know where to go, in order for her to complete her edict from the Empress. As he neared the dock, she looked around and saw no other dur’sar other than the ones the A’daz used. As her anger rose, she heard a polite, quiet cough from behind her. Startled and angry, she drew her rynd’sai blades and turned. An assassin dressed in black leather armor that was stained with irregular dark shades of blue throughout it stood almost invisibly, just out of arms reach, in front of her.
“You have no need for those, Matriarch,” the feminine voice said in a whisper through her mask of that mimicked that of a Blackwing.
“Where is your dur’sar? We can’t take one of those!” Sh’reza whispered pointing towards the other boats that were moored on the canal.
“It is hidden, from you, until I say otherwise, Matriarch Iny’o,” the assassin replied, using her formal title.
“I can’t stand here all night!”
“It’s is for your own safety, madam. Tell me the words that were given you upon the issuance of the contract, please.”
Sh’reza began to panic. Never having used the cotier before, she hadn’t realized that the parting comment, which was stated to her after receiving her signature on the contract, was something she needed to remember! Sh’reza struggled to recall what was said. She had thought it had been some sympathetic comment made because of the death of her mother, but now she realized that it wasn’t. She looked at the assassin’s mask, staring intently while trying to remember.
“And what if I don’t remember it?” Sh’reza asked.
“Then you die, and the contract is cancelled. I am forbidden to say more,” she answered ominously.
The cold realization of Philanthian protocol caused her to calm herself, and remember. She placed her hands on her rynd’sai in case she couldn’t. It was then that she remembered.
“We offer peace. For both the offender and the victim,” she whispered quietly.
“Follow me matriarch. We will not speak from this moment forth, and you will be expected to fulfill your bargain. Failure to do so, will result in ensuring your own accountability to the Cotier, Matriarch,” she replied. The emphasis on the word “will” did not escape Sh’reza.
The new matriarch followed the assassin through the garden along the canal. She had been to other cities, and preferred Philanthis to any other, since the “roads” were actually canals that the unwanted and slaves had built.
“It was less bumpy for travel,” she thought tritely.
After only a few moments they arrived at a sheer drop to the water and Sh’reza watched as the assassin uttered a simple command, and waived her hand toward the water below. A black, simple boat appeared, not the elegant dur’sar that she was accustomed to traveling by.
“Sacrifices must be made,” she whispered as she began to make her way down into the boat, with the help of the assassin who lowered her into it. Sh’reza stepped carefully forward, ensuring that she would not have to row the small craft and as she sat she watched the assassin leap from above and drop the few feet into the boat, barely causing it to stir in the still, black waters.
Her guide picked up one of the oars and used it to push the boat away from the stonewall. As she watched her, Sh’reza realized that climbing several feet up the shear granite wall should have been impossible, but the Cotier of Assassins were known to go places where no other could. Unable to relax, knowing what was ahead of her, Sh’reza simply watched as they began making their was down the A’daz Canal tributary towards the Temples of Asmodei and Delanesh. The huge black granite structures towered above the palatial estates of each of the A’daz. She wondered how they managed to keep such grand structures from sinking within a city that used canals instead of roads. She looked back over her shoulder and in the bright moonlight could see the white granite towers that held up the spinnerets of gold, above of the royal palace. She found that comforting, knowing the interior of the palace was lined with the same black granite used for the temples. “Black is a Philanthians heart, indeed,” she thought. The palace sat on it’s own island, as did the estates of each the A’daz. She began wondering who had designed this city. The palace could not be besieged, and that must have been the purpose.
Every island in the city was essentially carved out from the ground and stood on the shores of each of the canals. Only the palace and the estates of the A’daz sat much higher than the waters. It worked well to protect the nobles of the city. It would take a small navy to invade even one of the A’daz, much less all of them, and within this city only the slavers had that many boats. She wondered how long it had taken to build this city keep. It was telling that she did not wonder how many lives it had also taken to build it.
Sh’reza turned back around, facing forward as they passed between the two of the temples that every citizen was required to attend, regularly. Whether they made prayers, donated some of their wealth, or made sacrifices depended upon which temple they were attending that day. The two they were passing between were the brother gods who used to be one, but it became too confusing to follow anything with two torsos, and wills. So her people had built a temple to each of their personas, hopefully placating them both.
With little to do in this rough-hewn canoe, Sh’reza thought about things she would not normally have considered. She realized that the city was but a series of rings of water separating the city into eight circles of land, surrounded by seven rings of waterways. The rings of land were also then divided by additional canals that created the islands that they were now slipping past. She wondered if originally each one of those rings of land had been originally intended for each of the gods they worshipped?
The Empress was the center of it all, then came the A’daz’s of power, and then the god’s temples, displaying for the weak whom the real power lay with. They could pray, but it typically meant little. The gods of light were worshipped elsewhere. She smiled at those realizations.
She felt the canoe shift under her and she panicked just slightly, as she realized they were turning to the southwest onto the Canal of the Gods. And then realized for the first time in her life that there were actually entrances on both sides of the temples. One entrance for those that ruled Philanthis and this other one, on this side of the temple for the masses.
“How quaint!” she said aloud, unaware that she had done so.
She looked to her right and saw the ornate grounds for the Cotier of Assassins; it’s black granite buildings surrounded by tall, thick trees, hiding most of it from the prying eyes of those that traveled the waterways. To its right across the Grand Canal sat the Cotier of Gold. That was a sight to behold! Even with it’s stunted towers, it’s ornate yellow and gold granite shone brightly in the moonlight and to an even greater extent during the light of day. Staring at it was becoming slight uncomfortable and turned her attention forward, yet again, as she realized that the temples couldn’t be taller than the palace, and none of the other buildings in the city could be taller than the temples.
She shifted on the seat of the canoe and saw that there was the empty island that would hold some future cotier that had not been determined yet. None had been given permission, though many had petitioned the Empress over the years. A large swath of land with nothing but trees on it was highly valued in this city, with it’s limited places to build. As they turned further to the east up some canal she didn’t know the name of, she saw that they were passing the Cotier of Acquisition. “Might as well just call it the thieves guild!”
The assassin and the matriarch continued down the canal and she saw that they were now traveling into areas that held taverns, brothels, and markets. There were also storage warehouses to hold goods until they were sold at market, or for sheltering them from the elements. The stench of the waters in this area were stale and a bit too offensive for Sh’reza, so she pulled off her mask, realizing that she had meant to do that once they had left the A’daz Canal.
“Shite!” she thought as she shoved it under the cross seat on which she was sitting, hiding it from curious eyes. Her painted face glowed in the pale red light of the moon Maron, as it was slipping in front of the white moon, Phaelin. It would only be a matter of hours before Kelios hid even that small amount of moonlight. She would need that darkness to return, unnoticed.
As she hid her fa’twee mask she felt the canoe slip against a dock moor. Looking up quickly she saw that it led to a rundown warehouse whose wooden walls were beginning to rot from the moist ground it sat on. She looked over her shoulder and saw that the assassin was now up on the dock, steadying the boat for her, to exit it. She did so and was silently escorted towards the door that led into the rotting building. The stench of bodily wastes and alcohol drifted up from the stagnant waters. She noted another odor that reminded her rotted meat, but she was not sure as it happened so seldom within any A’daz. If the delicacy smelled foul, it was safer not to eat it; because it was either rotted, or poisoned!
The assassin opened the door and guided her in, closing it after she too slipped into the dark building. There was a quiet hiss, and several lanterns suddenly lit the interior enough for her to see where they were going. She was being led down a long hall until they came into a room that looked to have rusted meat hooks handing from the beams that ran above them. Elauren, Elaura, and El’rin were each blindfolded and gagged. Their belongings thrown in a pile near them. She grinned as she saw the three of them suspended from several of the hooks, realizing that this must be what a slaughterhouse looked like. She quickly made her way towards the three.
“Take the blindfolds off,” she ordered.
The assassin stood there unmoving, ignoring her command.
“So this is how it is? I am a Matriarch, assassin!” she said quietly, with acid in her tone.
Still ignoring her command, the assassin continued to stare at Sh’reza.
Now furious at being disobeyed, Sh’reza pull one of her rynd’sai blades from her belt and made her way towards the three victims that the Cotier had procured for her. She cut the blindfolds from their eyes so they could see who it was that was about to bestow the blessings of Mihra upon them. “My schemes are Mihra’s edicts, after all! She had read the holy books, as had these three, so they know,” she told herself.
“Who shall be first?” she asked as she stared the three of them, meeting their fearful gazes with a coldness they had not seen from her before.
“I have loved each of you, to one degree or another, so I won’t be cruel. I think I’ll kill you first, Prince El’rin. You should not have to see the suffering of Elaura or Elauren as you are a prince in your A’daz,” she said simply.
She walked over and stood in front of him, seeing the fear in his eyes. That alone was almost worth simply accepting the command of the Empress. She wished she had been able to see that fear in her mother’s eyes. Sh’reza raised her rynd’sai and thrust the tip of the curved blade into his abdomen and slid the razor sharp blade across it, disemboweling him. She stepped back as his body began to writhe about in agony as he hung there, trying to scream, but his bound mouth not allowing much of his pain to be heard. His intestines dropped out onto the ground at her feet with a loud, plopping sound. Like that of an unwrung, wet mop hitting the floor.
She stepped to her left, avoiding the blood, to keep it from soiling her shoes; yet she failed to see the gore from El’rin spattered on the hem of her black robe. Sh’reza watched El’rin’s body until it stopped moving, hanging limp and dead, his eyes still wide from the shock and pain staring at the ground.
Sh’reza looked up at Elaura and saw tears streaming down her beautifully painted face, and silken gown. Sh’reza miled as she reached up and caressed her cheek gently. Sh’reza ran her empty hand down across her breasts, feeling the warmth of them, which would soon disappear, and caressed her all the way down to her ankles. Sh’reza realized that so far, killing was a bit erotic and fun, just as the act of sex was.
“You just have to love the proclamations and commandments of our gods!” she said casually to the siblings, “I’m going to save you for last, Elaura, but I promise I won’t let your brother suffer either. After all, he was always so gentle with me, unless I told him not to be!” she finished with a grin.
She stepped over to Elauren and began cutting his clothes from him, leaving him nude. The sight of him hanging there, vulnerable and unable to speak aroused her greatly. The combination of circumstances gave her an idea.
“Find me a chair, please, my friend,” she asked the assassin kindly, almost rapturously as she turned to look over her shoulder. The assassin pointed, that just within the light of the lamps was a chair, leaning against one of the upright timbers. Sh’reza walked over and took it, sliding it along the wooden floor until it was nearly under El’rin. She stood on the chair, cutting El’rin down, letting him drop to the floor, as the siblings watched in horror. Placing her rynd’sai on the ground she grunted and lifted El’rin, trying to seat him on the chair. Sh’reza glanced up at the assassin, who moved forward and helped her sit him in the chair, where he appeared to be staring at the concubines.
Picking up her rynd’sai, Sh’reza then cut off Elaura’s clothing as well, tossing it aside for the moment and grabbed her by the hips, turning her to face El’rin. Sh’reza had to keep knocking aside Elauren’s legs as she tried to kick her.
“Now, now, you need to behave. I could make this last for a while…” she paused briefly, smiled, and then continued, “…well, since I don’t really know what I’m doing, maybe not. But I’m sure it will hurt more if I try to. Is that what you want?”
Elaura stopped kicking her legs at Sh’reza, who patted her thigh as she stepped past her towards Elauren. Rather than risk getting kicked by him as well, she stepped behind him and grabbed his hips and turned him towards El’rin as well. She patted him on the cheek of his butt as she walked around him, holding her rynd’sai. She looked up at him with a smile and quickly slashed his throat, ensuring that he would not have to watch his sister die. His blood burst from the veins of his neck, showering her with it as she quickly stepped towards Elauren and did the same to her, but stepping back much more quickly than she had with Elauren. She walked over to the pile and picked up El’rin’s rynd’sai and inserted his blade into the wound and slid it to the end of her cut on his left abdomen, letting the hilt of the blade rest on his thigh. She then placed his left hand next to the hilt of the dagger. Sh’reza stepped back and looked at her handiwork, smiling, realizing the picture she was leaving for whomever found them and reported their deaths.
“Shall we go?” Sh’reza asked the assassin.
The assassin nodded, and led her from the wooden building, back to the small boat, where she used her now soiled robe to wipe the paint from her face, not allowing the assassin to see her. She quickly donned her fa’twee dragon mask, which matched the ornate robe she had worn beneath the soiled robes. She let the black, bloody robe slip gently into the darkened currents that now hid most of the light of the other two moons. She stepped into the boat and took her seat, waiting for the assassin to begin the short journey her back to her A’daz.