They burned the Opera House! The Opera House!
I'd provided most of the funds to endow the Grand Opera House of Caylindra more than eighty years ago. Here I had listened to hundreds of wondrous voices, let their voices lift my soul, their sadness make my eyes shed tears, and, on special occasions, their terrified screams made my heart pound with excitement.
Gone now, all gone.
Two blocks away, the Museum of Arts was an inferno as well. Beyond that, I could see smoke beginning to pour out the windows of the Royal Light Theater. I had endowed both of these as well, over a century ago. Aleksander Liyosh, patron of the arts, at your service. But not any more, I thought bitterly, as the flames destroyed the things I loved most. I could weep.
Yes, yes, it looked like they were burning the rest of the city too. From my apartment balcony I could see that the worst of the fires were concentrated around the East Gate, and were spreading out from there. I supposed it was a good thing that they had not started burning a few hours earlier; otherwise the building I had spent the day in might have been engulfed before I awoke at sunset. I am not entirely sure what would have happened to me had this happened, but at the least some very expense clothes cut in the latest style would have been destroyed. My manse lay about a mile from here on Ruby Hill, far enough to the west that the fires shouldn't have reached it yet. Some time remained to salvage something from this disaster.
After some seven hundred years in this world, I would like to think that I can no longer be surprised by anything. However, tonight it occurred to me that this was not the case after all. I had heard of this new king of the horsetribes, of course. Lord of Fire and Storm, they called him. Rathgah Agzul, chieftain of the Gluth tribe. Or was it the Khellori? Really, you can't expect me to tell one band of smelly horsefuckers from another. Either way, he had unified all of the tribes under his banner, as happens every three or four generations. When they do this, they get around to riding on the Free Cities, which either pay them to go away, or muster up an army. The army either drives them off, or gets destroyed, in which case a bribe must be paid after all. I've seen it happen six or seven times now.
This time the Free Cities had elected to raise an army, and that had gone badly. A week ago there had been talk of some horrendous disaster, with only a handful of survivors escaping, but I assumed this was the typical exaggeration the living are prone to. Then last night people had been talking about the city of Borleon having been not only sacked, but razed to the ground. I scoffed at this; barbarians don't destroy cities – who would pay them their bribe? But it appeared I was wrong, and this new Lord of Fire and Storm was playing by a different set of rules.
Walking back into the apartment, I began to dress. Quickly, since there was much to do, but still carefully. The impending destruction of the city which had been my home for a quarter of my existence was hardly an excuse to let my standards down. Rather the opposite, I should think. Silk shirt and undertrousers, black pants with red piping, a purple velvet evening jacket, and a cravat – knotted just so – made up my ensemble. In the back of the closet I finally found a pair of knee-high boots which were properly polished, and a tricorner hat with an elegant red plume completed the look.
As I walked to the door of the apartment, I glanced at the pretty young boy lying on the sofa, looking peaceful and natural, as if asleep. The previous night I had thought that, in exchange for a few moments of ecstasy I was sparing him the pain of growing old, losing his beauty, having to sell himself to increasingly poorer and less savory men. As it turns out, I had spared him the pain of seeing all that was wondrous and civilized in Caylindra be destroyed. Such a shame he could not thank me for it.
Out in the streets, chaos reigned. Citizens trying to escape, desperately clutching a few meager possessions, gangs of looters foolishly acquiring a few possessions more, and bands of unkempt barbarians doing, well, whatever struck their tiny brains as amusing. I saw horsefuckers drinking, looting, raping, dragging bodies behind their horses, brawling amongst themselves, and one fellow juggling knives for no apparent reason. I kept a cloaking aura tight around myself as I walked, rendering myself almost completely unnoticeable, not because I feared confrontation, but because I was in a hurry. Damn the barbarians for making it impossible to catch a cab!
When I reached my manse, it was immediately clear someone else had gotten there first. The door was broken down, and in the front hall lay the still-bleeding bodies of Tibbens and his son. I felt a momentary pang of regret – Tibbens had served me well for over twenty years, and the boy was shaping up to be a fine replacement. Now, in addition to everything else, I would need to find someone else to assist me in what I needed to do, and then I would have to break in a completely new servant.
Tibbens was still alive, moving feebly in the bloody pool, but there was no time to finish him off. Upstairs I could hear voices and the sounds of dirty, filthy hands as they went through my closets! This could not be tolerated. Up the stairs I dashed, moving much faster than a normal man. As I ran, I replaced the concealing aura with a fearsome one. In my suite I found three dirty, greasy-haired tribesmen pulling clothes out of my closet and tossing them onto the bed. I saw that they already had found the silver – it filled a sack on the floor. Outraged at this trespass, I seized the nearest of the trio and hurled him across the room into the wall. Unbidden, my fingernails grew and hardened, forming razor-sharp daggers which I used to open the throat of the second man. The third had time to turn toward me and take half a step back before my spinning kick caught him in the chest, crushing his ribcage and bursting his heart. Stepping over the wreckage of his body, I grabbed the man I had thrown into the wall and roughly jerked him to his feet. Pulling his head back to expose his throat, I sliced open an artery with my teeth and hungrily pressed my mouth to it, hungrily sucking the life from him. None of the soothing anesthetic I usually released to ease the transition – this one would feel everything. His screams and fists beating my shoulders and head gradually subsided until his heart stopped beating. Dropping him to the floor, I allowed myself a moment to enjoy the euphoria of the kill. Then I checked my jacket and shirt – good! No errant drops of blood had soiled my clothing.
I paused for a moment to consider options, then made a quick run through the manse to see what other damage the intruders had done. Apparently they had quite thoroughly ransacked the ground and upper floors, but had not investigated the cellar. My wine collection was undisturbed, though I hardly expected it to remain so for the rest of the night. Apparently these looters realized pilfering went faster while sober; the drunks would be along in time, however. Much more importantly, the heavy crates of uninteresting junk and bric-a-brac covering the rabbit hole remained untouched. The ancient smuggler's tunnel, the reason I had first established myself at this location, extended more than a mile beyond Caylindra's walls. Although I had never seriously expected to need it, I kept it stocked with gold, falsified letters of introduction, a modest wardrobe – anything that might be needed should an ill-mannered mob show up with torches and pitchforks.
Or a fucking barbarian horde.
My kind to not travel well alone, however. The need to sleep during the day, hidden from the sun's burning rays, makes the process both extremely difficult and dangerous. There was a wagon waiting at the end of the tunnel, and horses, watched over by some hired farmers who had no idea as to their purpose, but I needed someone I could trust, someone whose ability to see the long view (and the potential for much greater profit) would keep him from dumping me on the side of the road the first dawn and riding off with my gold. Fortunately, I knew of one such individual.
Ten minutes later I was knocking on the front door of one Roberte Leguise, who had managed my business matters for the past twelve years, handling investments and taxes and the like while making sure my true name always remained out of the public records. It was a modest middle-class neighborhood, mainly red brick town houses, populated by people who could be relied on to have poor taste in culture but nevertheless kept things clean and tidy. I was most pleased to see that the waves of looters and fire and not yet reached this part of the city.
After waiting a minute, I knocked more forcefully. “Roberte, it is I, Aleksander Liyosh. There is little time. Open this door!” There was no response.
“Roberte, come now, open this door! I can hear you breathing on the other side. Quickly! We have business, you and I, and it cannot wait.”
From inside came his voice, trying to sound firm, but mostly terrified. “I- I cannot do that. You cannot come in; I will meet with you at our regular time and place, but not now. Or here. Please, Sir Alecksander. You see, I- I know what you are.”
“You do? Splendid, that will save me the time of explaining. But Roberte, stop being an ass. The city is dying as we speak. I can save you and your family, but you must trust me and open the door!”
There was silence for a minute, then the sound of bolts being drawn back. The door opened a crack, and I could see the man's face, pale and sweaty. In front of him he held a Seal of Archibald the Martyr.
“Oh put that silly talisman away, Roberte. If I wanted you dead it would already have happened,” I said, pushing my way past him into the house. “But as it happens, I need you alive. And happy. So go tell your wife and daughters they have ten minutes to gather what they wish to take, no more than they can carry, and then I will get you out of the city.”
“You can do that? But- but where will we go? How...?”
“I'm thinking Ventorri. The horsefuckers don't swim too well, so I expect they'll leave that island be. We can catch a boat across the channel at Saltriver. 'How' we can cover later. Now hurry, man!”
It was hard work, keeping my aura over all four of them to keep the various gangs in the streets from noticing us. It took all of my concentration, and by the time we got to my manse I really wanted to let them have the older, weepy daughter. But we made it, and my cellar was still unmolested. Two hours later, with dawn approaching, we were finally on the wagon, slowly rumbling down a narrow country lane. The city's fires continued to burn, lighting our way. I anticipated that in another two or three days there would be nothing but ashes within the walls. The older daughter was still weeping, damn her, but once dawn came I would no longer notice. There was a crate in the wagon were I would spend the day, sealed against the burning eyes of the sun.
Roberte was a city man, not terribly experienced at handling horses, but fortunately ours had agreeable dispensations and were in good condition, so he should be able to manage. I clapped him on the shoulder. “Roberte, you get us to Ventorri, and we'll rebuild my fortune, and I promise I will make you a rich man.”
I could see a grin fighting to get past the fear that gripped his face. Yes, I knew he would like the sound of that. Good. I needed him to see his interests as coinciding with mine. I stepped into the rear of the wagon, nodded to the family, and climbed into my crate. Quite a step down from the feather bed with silk sheets I had slept on the day before, but it have to do for now.
Fucking barbarians and their Lord of Fire and Storm. Someday, they would pay for what they had taken from me.