I’ve finally encountered Aselfos, though “encounter” is probably the wrong word, because it implies we met face to face, and I’m just as happy he doesn’t know I exist. Though that might not be true, depending on what he noticed last night.
I decided I was going to make more of an effort to figure out where Aselfos went, that night I saw him talking to Vorantor. He’d gone down the secret staircase into the treasure tower, and I already know that the treasure rooms only lead to one another and to the spiral passage inside the tower, and that the room with the war wagons has no visible exit other than the guarded one. He might have left the tower by the corridor I’d originally entered by, but there were also the brass double doors on the outside wall of the tower I’d never investigated, so I decided to try my luck with that.
I waited for Vorantor to finish his meditation, or whatever it is he does in the observatory after dinner, then I used the secret staircase to get into the treasure tower. I probably could have taken my original route, but Aselfos’s way is more fun.
Once inside, I trotted down the spiral passage to the double door, looked through it to be safe, then pushed it open (it was unlocked) and went inside. As I wrote before, it opened on a corridor about five feet long that made a sharp turn to the right. I peeked around the corner and saw a hallway extending off into the darkness, which I proceeded along, quietly and cautiously. I recalled my mental map of the palace and concluded that I was beneath the Sais’ wing. This was certainly close to the same length as that hallway, though much narrower.
Eventually I came to an iron door held only loosely in place by rusted hinges. The door was locked, and the strange thing was that the lock was much newer than the rest of the door. That seems foolish to me, given that someone could easily break the door down, bypassing the lock, but then there’s a lot about this that makes no sense to me.
I used the see-through pouvra and discovered that the corridor continued a short distance to another door, this one wooden. Also strange. I unlocked the iron door and went down the corridor to the wooden one, which was also locked, but with a simpler lock that wasn’t any newer than the door. I looked through it, but whatever was beyond it was too far away to make out details.
So I started to unlock the door and got a nasty surprise: someone had set a clever little trap on the locking mechanism. It wasn’t intended to harm anyone, just to show anyone who knew how to look that someone had passed through the door. A warning to the trap-setter. It was complicated enough that it would take at least three hands to prevent it from going off while the door was being unlocked, and would be impossible to stop if you were entering from the other direction. Now I was certain Aselfos used this route, because I bet he’s got that kind of devious and suspicious mind. So that’s one thing we have in common.
I examined the trap until I was sure I knew how it worked, and carefully removed the trap with my hands while I used the pouvra to unlock the door. I might have been able to do the whole thing with magic, but why take unnecessary chances?
I set the trap on the floor inside the corridor, out of the way, and shut the door behind me. The room beyond looked like it might be a music room, though the instruments leaning against the walls weren’t familiar to me. I peeked outside and was able to orient myself; I was in the wing containing all the empty guest chambers.
At this point I really had nothing to go on. I felt it was safe to assume that Aselfos had exited the tower through this door, and that he suspected someone might follow him on his trips up to leave notes for Vorantor. But I could only guess where he’d gone from here. I took the most obvious option, concealed myself, and went toward the one alcove off the main chamber that I hadn’t yet explored.
I’d only gone about a hundred feet when I was nearly caught. I admit I was careless, just as I’ve always feared using the concealment pouvra too much might make me. And I was getting tired. So it was mostly luck, and the fact that I’ve been doing this for a long time and my reflexes are excellent, that saved me.
I was nearly to the mosaic chamber when a door opened ahead of me and I had to dodge to one side and press myself flat against the wall. There was no convenient doorway for me to hide in, and I was grateful for the concealment pouvra even as I cursed myself for depending on it so much.
A man and a woman emerged from the open door. The woman said “…past time.”
“It will have to be enough,” said the man, and I recognized Aselfos’s voice. When he came closer, I got a better look at him. He was older than I’d guessed, nearly fifty, but lean and athletic, and he moved with assurance. That he could navigate the secret staircase did not surprise me at all.
His companion was about the same age, with close-cropped hair that was gray in the dim light, and although she was fat where he was slim, she moved with the same assurance, like someone accustomed to command. I recognized her after a few moments as one of the God-Empress’s soldiers, the one who’d worn a different uniform than the rest at the kathana. If this were Balaen, I’d assume she was some kind of general, though again, I don’t know the Castaviran Empire’s military ranks.
“It would help if we had a better estimate,” the woman said.
“Vorantor says the time is shrinking,” Aselfos said.
The woman snorted. “Vorantor is a problem.”
“He’ll validate my claim, and I’ll make him powerful,” Aselfos said. “Whether he’s right about this catastrophe or not. And his work on this supposed disaster is keeping the Kilios occupied.”
“I suppose as long as his summoning puts our resources in the right place at the right time, it doesn’t matter,” the woman said. “But you should tell Vorantor sooner is better. Who knows what idea the crazy bitch might take into her golden head?”
“Have patience,” Aselfos said, and he began to walk in my direction. I held my breath. “We’ll have a day’s warning, and that will have…” and they were out of earshot. I continued to hold my breath for a few more seconds, then released it slowly and retreated to the music room, through the door and into the hall, where I again paused before resetting the trap and locking everything behind me. Then I returned to my room as quickly as I could. That brings me to now.
I’m a thief, not a politician, but that sounded like a plot against the God-Empress to me. And Vorantor is involved. And they’re afraid of Cederic interfering, I think. I should tell Cederic. But…if Aselfos is planning to act against the God-Empress, how is that a bad thing? He might be a better option than her—almost certainly would be.
I just don’t know enough about Castaviran politics to know how a coup would affect the mages. They might be associated closely enough with the God-Empress that Aselfos would want to destroy them with her, and Vorantor has been negotiating with him for their protection. Or, knowing him, his own protection, and to hell with what happens to the rest of us. No, that’s too cynical even for me.
I’ll tell Cederic in the morning, wait for him to stop being sarcastic at me, and figure out what I can do.