“Well, well, well,” Bezzum said after several moments, his nasty grin growing wider. “I sent you out with four of my best people to get an extremely valuable treasure, and here you are, with none of my people, and no treasure. What exactly do you have to say for yourself?”
“The Storm Corps was waiting for us, Clan Master,” Alessandra said quietly. “Not Clan Veldisa. Not regular Elder Guard troops. The freaking Storm Corps! The only reason I survived is that they let me live to warn you to stay away from the Vanmorzen manor.”
“Is that so?” Bezzum replied, the expression on his face unchanged. “What about you?” he asked, shifting his gaze to Mikaelo.”
“Alessandra sent me out of the manor, Clan Master,” Mikaelo replied. “She suspected a trap, and she wanted at least one of us to make it back to report to you.”
“I see,” Bezzum said, and then he shrugged and put his dagger away. “Well, for a failure of this magnitude, there can be only one punishment. You two are stripped of your clan rank and privileges, and removed from clan membership. Now get the hell out of my sight.”
“Not without saying something first,” Alessandra growled, stepping forward. “You knew the Storm Corps was going to be there. You knew we would be walking into a trap. You set this whole thing up just to discredit me. Four people died just so you could have an excuse to kick me out of the clan! If anyone should be stripped of their rank and privileges, it’s you!”
“Are you done?” Bezzum said, unfazed. “I’ve had enough of listening to your nonsense. Get out of my office before I have you removed by force.” Alessandra opened her mouth, ready to start yelling, but Mikaelo laid a hand on her arm. She whipped her head around to glare at him, but he just shook his head slightly, and then nodded toward the door. Alessandra turned back to glare at Bezzum, hatred smoldering in her eyes, and then she turned her back on him and marched out of his quarters.
As soon as she and Mikaelo were out in the hall, however, they stopped short, because all four Clan Leaders were marching up the hall toward Bezzum’s rooms. Alessandra stepped back, surprised, as they all pushed past her and into Bezzum’s chamber. As Torea passed her, she said, “You might want to be here for this.” Alessandra’s eyebrows rose even higher at this, and she exchanged looks with Mikaelo, who looked almost as surprised as her, and then followed the Clan Leaders in.
“What is the meaning of this?” Bezzum sneered as soon as he saw them. “And what are those outcasts doing here?”
“So you have stripped Alessandra and Mikaelo of their clan membership?” Vegora demanded. The four Clan Leaders confronting the Clan Master was a rare occurrence, but not so rare that there weren’t rules governing such a confrontation. As eldest Clan Leader, it was his responsibility to take the lead, but he could call on his fellow Clan Leaders to speak as well.
“Of course I have,” Bezzum said in a dismissively angry tone. “They failed their mission, and their failure cost us four of our best people. How could they be allowed to stay in the clan?”
“The Clan Leaders challenge that decision, Clan Master,” Vegora said solemnly.
“You jacopists!” Bezzum snarled, leaping out of his seat and stalking toward them. “How dare you! This chiela has been a waste of space ever since we took her in, and you idiots have defended her at every turn! What possible excuse can there be for her failure this time?”
“You know full well that none of us could stand up against the Storm Corps, especially if they knew we were coming,” Vegora said calmly. “Alessandra’s failure deserves punishment, but it is the decision of the Clan Leaders that banishment is too harsh. No one in this room would have done better under similar circumstances.”
“So, you admit she needs punishing,” Bezzum sneered. “Well, that’s something I guess. And what punishment would my great and wise Clan Leaders suggest?”
“Torea?” Vegora said in response.
“Stripping her of her rank and associated privileges seems appropriate, under the circumstances,” Torea said, stepping forward. “She admitted that she sensed a trap, but she pushed forward anyway, and lost most of her team as a result. She should have withdrawn as soon as she sensed something was wrong.” She paused for a moment, and then looked at Alessandra. “It seems she forgot the first rule of thievery.” Alessandra blushed and looked at her feet. The first rule of thievery was, “Always trust your instincts”. Of course, it was nearly meaningless, because the second rule of thievery was, “Except when they’re wrong”. But Alessandra should have been experienced enough to know the difference, and she’d failed.
“Fine,” Bezzum snapped. “You can keep your golden child.” He stepped toward the Clan Leaders with a fire in his eyes, and thrust one finger under Vegora’s nose. “Remember this, though: next time she puts even one foot wrong, I’m kicking her out, even if I have to fight all four of you at once. Understood?” He whipped around without waiting for a response, and stormed into his inner chamber, slamming the door behind him.
There was silence for a moment after Bezzum’s departure, and then Torea turned to Alessandra and Mikaelo. “You two had better go get some rest,” she said, and then she and the other Clan Leaders left the room. Mikaelo and Alessandra looked at each other for a moment, and then they too departed from Bezzum’s chambers.
They walked together for a little ways, and then when they reached a point where they would have to go their separate ways in order to reach their own rooms, they both stopped. For a moment, they just looked at each other, and then Alessandra shook her head.
“I don’t know,” she said.
To be continued…