"King Wo, welcome to Ayuthay," Amiti bowed, greeting the guest. Matthew was on his guard even more than usual around Wo, but Amiti assured him it was unnecessary.
"He wants me dead, sure, but only after I'm Emperor. Before then I'll be his best friend," Amiti had told Matthew earlier.
"I'm so pleased to be here," Wo said, bowing very low to Amiti. "May this be the start of a glorious new partnership, and let us put our past conflicts aside."
"A noble sentiment," Amiti said. Wo went and took his place at the table. Sveta and Eoleo were already seated there, while Matthew stood in the background near Sveta.
"Amiti, good to see you," Baghi said, shaking his friend's hand. Bogho cleared his throat behind his grandson. "I mean, it's my honor to help represent my nation on this great occasion," Baghi said, bowing this time.
"It it our honor to host you and your esteemed grandfather," Amiti bowed in return. "And it's always good to see a friendly face," he whispered.
"I am here to oversee matters on behalf of Passaj," Bogho said. "However, it will be Baghi who shall speak for our people today." Bogho bowed to Amiti, and the two men took seats across from King Wo.
"Allow me to share greetings from Harapa," an older woman said, bowing to Amiti. Matthew didn't know her, but was told she was the head of the Harapa Council.
"Please express Ayuthay's well wishes to your people, Madame Iola," Amiti said, bowing back. She took her seat at the table, after which Amiti finally sat down at the head of the table.
"Welcome, everyone. We are pleased to host the first of these peace talks, proposed by King Wo, on behalf on the Ei-Jei region city states."
Wo nodded graciously, and the others all nodded back. Matthew thought it was a wonder politicians never got dizzy with all the nodding and head bowing.
"Let us begin with a toast, to the friendly relations among us today!" It was only then that Amiti realized their cups had not be filled. One of Amiti's men quickly rushed out and whispered to Amiti. Amiti's face turned grave as he listened. He whispered back, and dismissed the servant. "I apologize, but we will not be toasting tonight."
"What's happened?" Baghi asked, concerned.
Amiti frowned. "The cup bearer has died."
"The wine was poisoned?" Wo said, standing up angrily. "Who would do such a thing?"
"I am sure no one at this table is responsible," Sveta said quickly, trying to diffuse the situation. "Between all of us, there are a great many who would do harm. These peace talks will serve to strengthen Ei-Jei in the face of such threats."
Wo sat down, though he glared at Sveta as he did so.
"Now, if we could-" Amiti was interrupted by a scream in the hallway. Matthew was the closest, and had his sword in hand as he faced the hallway. A serving girl was slumped against a wall, blood pooling around her from a slash at her throat.
"Seal the room!" Matthew ordered. "I recommend you all keep your most trusted guards close at hand," he said to the dignitaries. It was unnecessary, as each was already surrounded by their armed countrymen. Matthew turned back to the hall as he heard footsteps, but saw nothing move.
Matthew went to the girl, several guards flanking him. He tried to cure her wounds, but the flesh refused to mend. He poured his psynergy into a revive spell, but still nothing happened. She was dead. Matthew stopped, and readied his psynergy for attack spells.
"Is there somewhere more secure you can take everyone?" he shouted back into the room.
"Yes," Amiti called back. "I'll lead them there. Please, Matthew, go after the assassin."
Torches flickered on the walls, making the shadows dance. Matthew had no idea if he was hunting one person or several, or if this assassin was after Sveta or one of the other dignitaries. It made him uneasy being so far in the dark about the situation.
"Will you guys recognize Ayuthay staff from imposters?" Matthew asked the other guards. They were approaching the kitchen, and Matthew could hear several people moving about in there.
"Good." They stepped into the kitchen. It looked like these people didn't know what was going on as they went about their tasks. "Everyone stay where you are!" Matthew commanded. All work stopped as the cooks looked nervously at the armed men. The guards looked across the faces of the people there.
"We're clear," one said. A door opened from a supply closet and a waiter emerged. He looked at the armed men and his eyes went wide.
"You, stop!" one guard shouted. "You don't belong here!"
The man bolted, knocking down a shelf of ingredients as he ran past. Matthew easily jumped over the obstacle and chased the man. He seemed to know where he was going, making sudden turns and bolting into different rooms as Matthew gave chase.
Matthew followed him through a doorway and was suddenly hit across the face with a wooden bucket. With djinn augmenting his physical condition Matthew hardly felt it. "You've got to be kidding me."
The faux-waiter raised the bucket for another strike, but Matthew's Sol Blade flashed quicker than a sword that size should be able to and the man was left with a small bit of bucket handle.
"This blade kind of has a mind of its own," Matthew snarled. "You don't want to hear it howl. Megiddo is a terrible thing to be on the receiving end of."
The man dropped the bucket handle and vomited on his own shoes. "I'm sorry!" he cried, openly sobbing. "I-I-I didn't know anyone w-would die! The poison wasn't supposed t-t-to be that strong!"
"So you poisoned the wine?"
"Yes," he whined.
"And the woman with her throat cut?"
"W-what?" he said, his eyes going bigger. "I d-don't know anyt-thing about that!"
Matthew sighed. "I believe you. Which means the real assassin has probably escaped while I chased you."
The other guards finally caught up to Matthew.
"This man is just a pawn," Matthew said. "Keep searching for-"
At that moment a red demon appeared in the middle of the room.
"What the-?" Matthew raised his blade to fight, but not in time. The red demon struck the crying man in the head, smashing his skull in, and then vanished into the air. Matthew didn't even bother trying to heal him. With a wound like that he knew it was pointless.
"Search the room! Search the castle! Search everywhere! The assassin is still here somewhere!"
Five hours later, still no one else had been found. The body of the dead man was brought to Sveta for spirit sensing. Unfortunately, they learned little more than they knew already. The man was to poison the wine, didn't know it would kill anyone, and knew nothing of any other murder. Sveta was unable to get his employer, only that his goal was apparently to disrupt the peace talks.
Further investigation found that the man was from Ayuthay, which explained why he knew his way around the castle. His friends had heard him talk about how much he hated Kaocho, so it was assumed that this was why he wanted the peace talks disrupted. Still, they had far more questions than answers. Matthew had no idea how the true assassin had escaped, or how he had called the red demon.
Everyone expected the peace talks to end at that point, but they hadn't counted on Wo's tenacity. He insisted they go through with the talks. After three days and no further incidents, Ei-Jei looked to be well on the way to unification. The initial stages completed, Sveta and her people prepared to return to Morgal.
"What do you think will happen?" she asked as they approached the docks.
"With the talks, or the assassin?"
Matthew sighed. "If an assassin really wants the talks stopped, he'll do more to stop them. It actually gives Amiti the perfect excuse to back out if he decides unification is the wrong move. Though, I don't know, maybe that will make it seem like he was behind it. I don't know anymore, politics is too confusing. But the way the assassin escaped, it worries me."
"Well, we have our own assassins to worry about."
"I guess," Matthew agreed. "Unless the assassin was after you the whole time. We only know his pawn's motives, not his."
"I don't know which I like worse. That someone that skilled might want me dead, or that there's two groups of assassins and I'm leaving one of them with Amiti."
Matthew shrugged. "Not much we can do about it at this point." They had reached their boat now, and Sveta's guards were swarming all over it. There was far too much excitement for Matthew's liking.
"What's going on here?" Sveta asked. It was Kolya who was closest and answered.
"We found a bomb on the ship, my Queen. We're searching for further clues."
"A bomb?" Matthew asked.
"Yes, sir. If we hadn't found it, it would have gone off in an hour or so judging by fuse length."
"And we would've sunk, too far out for help to reach us in time," Matthew said.
"Have the other representatives been told?" Sveta asked.
"We let their heads of staff know. Only the Kaocho and Champa representatives took ships, they'll be sure to thoroughly check their ships before they take off."
"Sveta, this could mean-"
"I know. The assassin could've been after me the whole time," Sveta shivered a bit. "I want to take off as soon as it's safe."
"Of course," Matthew nodded. "Kolya, I want everyone searched prior to takeoff. Let me know if anyone has any suspicious items on them, regardless of their station."
"Yes, sir," Kolya saluted.
"Don't worry, Sveta," Matthew assured. "No one will touch you so long as I'm here."
As expected, the assassin left no trace other than the bomb itself. Once they were out to sea Matthew felt better that they had left the saboteur behind for the time being. In some ways, once the ship and crew had been checked they were safer for Sveta than Morgal was. It was with some reluctance Matthew escorted Sveta off the ship at Belinsk.
"I think we should rethink my special assignment," Matthew said, "in light of the recent attacks."
"Wrong, that's precisely why your assignment is important."
"With all due respect, I should be at your side. The assassin was able to infiltrate Ayuthay palace, I doubt your room in the inn is much safer."
"On the contrary, it's much smaller and that gives my guards an easier time watching the place. The inn is far safer than Ayuthay palace. Plus, you're assuming that we're after the same assassin that was at the talks."
"No," she said firmly. "I need someone to do this. I need you to do this. You're doing far more keeping me safe by routing out this organization than you would be watching me do paperwork and eat snacks."
Matthew sighed. "Fine. But I expect you to take extra precautions."
Sveta nodded. "I will."
Matthew left Sveta in her room and headed for the ruins. Some people greeted him, but they were far more subdued than Matthew's first time here.
"Excuse me, ma'am" he approached a woman. She looked around a bit desperately, hoping Matthew was talking to someone else. "Have you seen Vasily?"
"Vasily? No, I haven't seen him in a while," she said. "I need to, uh, go."
"Sir, have you seen-" this time the beastman didn't even stop to answer Matthew. He knew something was different now. "Has anyone seen Vasily?" he shouted. Several people poked their heads out briefly, but went back to what they were doing beforehand quickly.
Matthew sighed, not sure where he was going to begin now, when he felt a little hand tug at his sleeve. He looked down to see a boy, perhaps six years old.
"You're looking for Vassy?" the boy asked. "I liked him. He was nice."
"What do you mean was?" Matthew asked, kneeling down to eye level with the boy.
"Vassy died. Everyone says it was an accident. They say that a little too much. 'Poor Vasily, horrible accident'. They say it all the time."
"The roof collapsed on him."
Matthew frowned. "Do you know where this was?"
"Yeah, but mommy says not to go there. She says she doesn't want me to have an accident."
Matthew nodded. He didn't want anyone else meeting with 'accidents' because of him.
Author's notes: I think this chapter was a little shorter than usual, but at least I got it out on time. I had it ready for a while, but kept just being lazy and not publishing it, which it why it's so close to the mark this time. It was nice to write more action here after all the dialogue of the previous chapter. Anyway, thanks for reviews! JamesK716 reminded me last chapter that I had promised to do review responses, which I had completely forgotten. So here they are!
jollygreendragon – Thanks for all your reviews (whether you remember to log in or not)! I'm glad you like all the politics, as I plan to have more of that from the Morgal side coming up. The politics in Ayuthay were a nice diversion here, but as the story focuses on Matthew and he's not going to be here it won't be a major focus. Still, you'll know how it all turns out! I'm not entirely sure where I got the idea for that political drama. I want to say I made it up entirely on my own, but I might have a source I borrowed from and forgot about. And writing the drunk scene was very fun, I'm glad everyone enjoyed it.
JamesK716 – I'm glad you've liked my story so far. It's always good to know that people care about your work. I'm not entirely decided if I want Stormshipping or Sparkshipping. That's one of the reason's for Eoleo's line about how he couldn't figure her out. Personally, ever since reading "A Different Kind of Storm" I've been fond of Karis/Amiti. But I think most of the Karis stories out there put her with Amiti, so Karis/Tyrell might be a good change in pace. It's up in the air (readers feel free to weigh in on the issue).
Anon Dude – Glad you like my story and have kept up with it. Reviews are always welcome!
As one last note, I have written up my one-shot for Isaac and Jenna's wedding. I haven't edited it or anything, and I won't worry about that until the next chapter is finished, but just wanted to let you know to expect it. I'm not decided on a title for it, so just be on the lookout for something new from me!