Chapter 11, Part 2

Thus, she found herself sitting at her desk late one night, going over her plans to infiltrate the Vanmorzen manor once again. The plan was simple. Basically, she was planning to sneak into the manor alone. The deaths of her clanmates still weighed on her heavily, and she had no intention of leading any more members of Clan Mekoval to their deaths, especially at the Vanmorzen manor. She was planning to bring four teammates, but their roles were going to be simply to observe the outside of the manor and signal her if any reinforcements were sent in. She would be the only one to actually enter the manor, and with her speed, strength, and ability to turn invisible, she reasoned that even the Storm Corps would be no match for her.

It was a simple plan, but still she worked on it, and still she worried. This would be the greatest test of her skill as a thief. If she failed, it would probably mean her death, or at least her imprisonment in Mokotal Fortress. If she survived, she would be shamed, and her leadership in the clan would be greatly diminished. She needed to succeed this time. She needed to prove to everyone, not least herself, that she really was the best thief in the city.

She didn’t notice at first when the door opened and the newest Clan Leader entered. She was so engrossed in her work that the Clan Leader made it almost to her desk before Alessandra realized that she was there.

“Good thing I’m not coming here to kill you,” Meela said with a laugh in response to Alessandra’s jump.

“Good thing I have subordinates who know how to knock,” Alessandra said with a growl, but she softened the harshness of her response slightly with a smile.

“I didn’t think Clan Leaders needed to knock,” Meela replied, settling down in the chair opposite Alessandra’s desk.

“Yeah, yeah,” Alessandra said. Picking a Clan Leader to replace Ilnorat had been easier than Alessandra had imagined. She knew she needed to pick someone she could trust, and the only three people she trusted in the clan were Mikaelo, Halidasa, and Meela. Mikaelo was out because everyone in the clan knew how close she was to him, and they would accuse her of favoritism, and that left Halidasa and Meela. Alessandra came very close to choosing Halidasa, because she didn’t know Meela very well, but ultimately she decided that Halidasa just didn’t have the temperament to be a leader. In addition, Halidasa had been acting quite distant from Alessandra ever since Bezzum’s death, and Alessandra didn’t want to have to deal with a Clan Leader who she had tension with. So that left Meela.

Alessandra had had some reservations about choosing Meela, considering Meela’s inexperience. After all, Meela had only been made a full member of the clan during Alessandra’s exile, so that meant she’d gone from being an apprentice to a Clan Leader in the space of a couple of weeks. The other Clan Leaders had been concerned that she was too young, and had voiced their objections loudly. Even Torea had tried to convince Alessandra to pick someone else. And Alessandra did consider choosing someone else for a short time, but in the end, her gut told her that Meela would be a great Clan Leader, and she decided to go with her gut. So far, her gut had been proven right.

Even though Alessandra’s one encounter with Meela had been during the training class Alessandra had taught right before her exile, Meela had made an impression on her that Alessandra had been pleased to discover over the past two months was accurate. Alessandra had wanted a Clan Leader who was skilled, strong, not afraid to speak her mind, but also not one who would put up her heels and dig in when proven wrong. Alessandra’s brief experience with Meela had led her to believe that Meela was all of those things, and she had been correct. Meela was a capable leader who said what she thought, fought for what she believed was right, but was not afraid to admit she was wrong. Even the other Clan Leaders respected her after a very short time, despite resisting her appointment.

“Are you still working on the Vanmorzen manor plan?” Meela asked, stretching her legs out in front of her and crossing them at her heels.

“Yes, I’m still working on the Vanmorzen manor plan,” Alessandra said with a sigh

“What more could there possibly be to do? I’ve never seen a simpler plan,” Meela said. “Are you reworking it so that you’re not taking on all the risk?”

“No!” Alessandra said vehemently. “I am not going to let anyone else die at the Vanmorzen manor. If I fail there again, at least no one else will pay for my mistakes.”

“Okay, okay, I get it,” Meela said, putting up her hands as if to ward off a blow. “But seriously, what are you waiting for? Why even bother with a plan? With your speed and your strength, even the Storm Corps won’t have a chance against you.”

“I don’t want to be overconfident,” Alessandra said. “I was far too overconfident last time, and my team paid for it. I won’t have a repeat of that.”

“Your team died because Bezzum set an ambush for you,” Meela said with a sigh. “Everyone knows that now. The Storm Corps knew you were coming last time. They won’t this time.”

“Maybe,” Alessandra replied. “I can’t know that. Maybe there are other spies in the clan. In any case, there’s no reason for me to risk anyone but myself, so I’m not going to.”

“You’re probably right,” Meela said, and then shrugged. “Well, that’s not what I came here for. Mikaelo’s back.”

“Oh, good,” Alessandra said, sitting up straighter. “Did you tell him to come up here?”

“He’s on his way. Got a pretty good haul too, by the looks of it.”

“Excellent. I’m glad to hear it.”

To be continued…

Chapter 11, Part 1

Alessandra would always look back on the next couple of months as some of the happiest days of her life. Becoming Clan Master had been her dream from the moment she set foot in the Clan Mekoval clanhouse, and having attained that dream, she found that it was every bit as wonderful and satisfying as she’d always expected it to be. At first, she found being Clan Master to be more boring and full of more drudgery than she’d originally expected, but thanks to Torea’s guidance, she quickly found that she had a knack for planning strategy and figuring which clan members should go on which jobs, and which jobs were worth pursuing and which weren’t, and other aspects of running the clan that she’d never thought about before. Even so, if that was all there was to being Clan Master, she would have longed for the days when she was just a grunt. Fortunately for her, part of being Clan Master of a thief clan meant constantly proving that she was the best thief in the clan, so she still got to go out on jobs, only now she got to choose which jobs she went on. As she’d never led a job before (aside from her ill-fated Vanmorzen manor job), she deferred to the Team Leaders at first, but after a few jobs, she felt confident enough to lead a team herself, and she found that, as long as nobody knew about the job ahead of time and planned an ambush, she actually was a very good leader. And with the skills she’d gained from Ilimay Ladron, she was easily the best thief in the clan now.

There was very little that got Alessandra down after she became Clan Master. Despite the general dislike her clanmates had felt for her under Bezzum’s rule, the ease with which she had dispatched Bezzum convinced most people in the clan that she deserved to be the Master. The only holdout was the Clan Leader Ilnorat. For about a week, she had been a thorn in Alessandra’s side, constantly challenging her decisions and belittling her. Finally, with tacit encouragement from Alessandra, Torea convinced Ilnorat to challenge Alessandra, and Alessandra took the opportunity to solidify her rule even more firmly by decimating Ilnorat in just a few seconds. Anyone who was unconvinced that she was really the strongest after seeing her beat Bezzum had all their doubts answered by watching her take care of Ilnorat even more efficiently.

Yes, things were going even better than Alessandra had ever hoped. Occasionally, she thought about the little card that Ilimay had given her, and she wondered if it was worth making the trip to the Avaroth with it, but she always rejected that thought. She had everything she’d always wanted. What could the Order of Sunaru give her now that she didn’t already have? In fact, she was more than a little worried that they would take away the powers that Ilimay had given her, so every time she thought about the card, she immediately tucked that thought into the back of her mind and forgot about it.

There was one thought that wouldn’t go away, however. One little thing that remained to cloud her joy at achieving everything she’d ever wanted to accomplish. The Vanmorzen manor. What was in that box in the Vanmorzen manor? Why was the Storm Corps guarding it? Years later, she would remember her obsession with that box and wonder what her life would have been like if she’d just forgotten about it. But, eighteen years old and blessed with more power than she’d ever imagined, there was no way she was going to forget about it. Her failure at the Vanmorzen manor hung over, and somehow she knew that she would never truly believe that she was the best thief in the Mekoval clan until she’d stolen that little box. She had to do it, to prove to herself and to everyone in the clan that she was the absolute best.

And so, little by little, a plan began to take shape in her head. A plan to succeed where she had once failed. She would successfully break into the Vanmorzen family vault, and she would steal that little box made of velisite wood, and this time nobody in her clan would die.

It took about two months for her to fully work out her plan. Part of the reason for the delay was that she was still getting used to the ins and outs of being the Clan Master, but the main reason was that she was trying to get as much information about the Vanmorzen manor as she could. Learning what Bezzum had known about the manor was a frustrating exercise in futility. Alessandra was convinced that there was some connection between Bezzum and the Storm Corps, but she was unable to find any record of it in his papers. Nor had he told Torea anything about what he knew, either about the Storm Corps, or the Vanmorzen manor, or the contents of the velisite box.

Finding out anything about the Vanmorzen family was equally aggravating. Public records indicated that they were the richest family in the city who weren’t a member of the Circle of Elders. The patriarch of the family was Vizik Vanmorzen. He had a wife, Nishitay, and two children, Vedik and Vemira. And that was it. That was literally all the information Clan Mekoval’s agents could uncover about the Vanmorzens. Either they were extremely secretive, or they didn’t actually exist, except on paper. In fact, Alessandra began to suspect that the latter was true, and that the Vanmorzens were a front for some sort of secret Storm Corps operation. In retrospect, that hunch should have convinced her to stay away from the Vanmorzen manor entirely, but arrogance and naivete blinded her and made her want to break into the manor even more. Like all slum dwellers in Serotopolis, she despised the Circle of Elders and everyone connected with them. None of the clans had ever successfully challenged the Circle, and if Clan Mekoval could be the first under her leadership, that would just solidify her status as the best thief in the clan, and maybe even the whole city.

To be continued…

Chapter 10, Part 5

“I…I don’t know!” Ilnorat stammered. “This just…doesn’t make any sense!”

“Allow me to shed some light on the situation,” Alessandra said in a soft, dangerous voice, placing herself in between Torea and Ilnorat and crossing her arms across her chest. “How I killed Bezzum is irrelevant. The important thing for you to remember, is that I did kill him, and I did it with ease. If you have a problem with me being Clan Master, you are welcome to challenge me, and I will gladly destroy you. Otherwise, get used to the fact that I am now the Clan Master.”

“I…,” Ilnorat began, and swallowed hard. “Yes. Of course, Clan Master. Forgive my indiscretion.” Alessandra stared at her coldly for a few moments, and then she suddenly smiled warmly.

“I understand this is an unusual situation,” she said. “I’m kind of having a hard time believing it myself. I know a lot of people in this clan don’t like me, and I don’t expect people to fall in love with me immediately just because I’m the Clan Master now. But I do hope you, and everyone else who dislikes me, will give me a fair chance to do a good job.”

“Of course, Clan Master,” Ilnorat said, bowing her head. “I will do my best.” She turned and followed Meachen out the door, and Vegora followed after both of them, nodding to Alessandra in respect as he left.

“You handled that well,” Torea said in an impressed tone as soon as the door closed.

“I’ve never lacked for confidence, Torea,” Alessandra said, settling down in the chair behind what used to be Bezzum’s desk. “Now I’ve got the power to back that confidence up.”

“So it would seem,” Torea said, rubbing her chin. She looked as if she were going to say more, but Alessandra cut her off.

“I know, Torea,” she said, holding up one hand. “You want to know what happened. I will tell you…someday. But for right now, I need you to tell me how to be Clan Master.”

“I’m glad you’re willing to take my advice,” Torea said, smiling. “I have to admit, the first thing I thought, once I got over the shock of seeing you kill Bezzum, was that you were going to want to charge in headfirst and completely change everything here. You’ve always been more than a little stubborn.”

“And that stubbornness has served me well, wouldn’t you say?” Alessandra asked, spreading her hands wide. “But this is what I’ve wanted my whole life, and I’m not about to screw it up by being stubborn. I know Bezzum ran this clan well. As much as I hated him, I have no intention of fixing what isn’t broken.”

“I’m very glad to hear it, Clan Master,” Torea said, bowing her head. “Well, shall we get to work?”

“One thing, first,” Alessandra said. “I know you and Bezzum were…close, and I just want you to know that I had no intention of hurting you, and I’m sorry if his death grieves you.” Torea studied Alessandra for a few moments, her lips pursed.

“May I be honest, Clan Master?” Torea said, and Alessandra nodded. “Bezzum was a miserable bastard, and I’m glad he’s dead.” Alessandra’s eyes widened in shock at these words, and Torea laughed. “Surprised? You shouldn’t be. You saw the truth of who Bezzum was better than most of the people in this clan. I did as well, but that’s only because I worked side by side with him for many years.”

“But…but…you slept with him! I thought…”

“Occupational hazard,” Torea said with a shrug. “Bezzum didn’t exactly trust his Clan Leaders, but he trusted me more than the others, because it’s hard to keep secrets from a woman who shares your bed.” Alessandra stared at Torea, dumbfounded, and then all of sudden she burst out laughing.

“Torea, you conniving wench!” she exclaimed. “I never had any idea! I could never understand how you got along so well with that gutter slime, and now I finally find out that you didn’t! You are truly a master of deceit!”

“Goes along with the job, usually,” Torea said with a shrug. “If I had been too open about my feelings toward Bezzum, you would have liked me more, but I would have been sidelined by Bezzum, if not exiled. Conversely, if I acted like I was completely on Bezzum’s side, that would have increased my power and standing, but you wouldn’t have trusted me at all. It was a delicate balancing act.”

“Why even care about whether I trusted you or not?” Alessandra asked. “I’m just a nobody. Or at least I was, until today.”

“I’ve always seen potential in you, Alessandra,” Torea said intently. “I knew you had it in you to be Clan Master someday. Granted, I didn’t think it would happen so soon, but I knew it would happen.”

“That’s…that’s pretty high praise,” Alessandra said, taken aback. “I kind of wish I’d known that, especially when you were dragging me through the halls to physically throw me out of the building.” Torea blushed slightly, but she continued to meet Alessandra’s gaze.

“You know I was just doing what I had to do,” she said firmly. “I explained why I had to go along with exiling you at the time, and I stand by those reasons. I had a plan in place to overthrow Bezzum and replace him, eventually. I was hopeful that you would stay alive long enough for me to become Clan Master and then find you and end your exile. But I guess those plans are irrelevant now.”

“I feel a little bad about that,” Alessandra said with a slight shrug. “You would have made a great Clan Master, Torea. But I have no intention of swapping places with you.”

“Nor should you,” Torea replied. “You earned your place, as it should be. Now enough of this. We need to get some work done, and then you need food and some rest. Let’s get to it.”

To be continued…

Chapter 10, Part 4

Immediately, she stepped back to avoid the spray of blood from his neck, and with a twist of a wrist she pulled the other dagger out of his gut and let his body fall to the ground. As it fell, she bent down and cleaned the blood off of her daggers by wiping them on Bezzum’s shirt. She was conscious of the fact that there was total silence in the arena as she did so, but she ignored it for the moment. All she wanted right then was to savor the fact that Bezzum had died at her hands.

Finally, she stood up and surveyed the crowd in the arena. There was a look of total shock on every face. Every eye that looked at her was round in astonishment. She turned around slowly and made eye contact with every single person surrounding her, and as she did so, she was confident. They knew. They knew that she was the best, that she deserved to be the Master of Clan Mekoval. Finally, she had what she’d spent her whole life chasing.

After what seemed like an eternity, but was probably only a few seconds, Vegora stepped forward, and grasped her wrist to lift it up in the air. “Behold, the new Master of Clan Mekoval!” he yelled in his thin, reedy voice. He looked as stunned as everyone else in the arena, but his voice was strong and clear as he called out. There was no response, but as if the sound of Vegora’s voice were a charm that broke the magic spell enthralling the room, the silence disappeared, replaced with the sound of muttering as the members of Clan Mekoval began to discuss what had just happened.

“We should go up to, er, your study,” Torea said, stepping forward. “Give everyone a chance to process what just happened.” Alessandra nodded. Part of her wanted to gloat, to rub it in everyone’s faces how wrong they’d been about her, but she knew that was not how she wanted to kick off her tenure as the Clan Master. She needed these people, needed them to, if not like her, at least respect her, and bragging about how she was the greatest probably wasn’t the best way to accomplish that.

Torea led the way up to what used to be Bezzum’s study. Alessandra allowed her, even though she obviously knew the way. It’s my study now, Alessandra thought in a daze. She wasn’t sure why she was dazed. Maybe just because the thing she’d wanted for so long, the thing she’d thought had been taken away from her forever not that long ago, that thing was finally hers. She was the Clan Master of Clan Mekoval. Even though there had been no doubt about the outcome of her challenge, thanks to the new powers she’d obtained from Ilimay Ladron, she still couldn’t quite believe it was real. Just an hour ago she’d been an exile from her clan, and now she was its Master.

Torea, Vegora, Alessandra, and the other two Clan Leaders, Meachen and Ilnorat, entered the study, and as they entered, Torea turned to Alessandra. “I can’t believe that what just happened is real,” she said. “How did you do it? How did you beat Bezzum? You’ve been in exile for three weeks. By all rights, you should be weaker than you’ve ever been. And you did something that I’m certain none of us Clan Leaders could have done. How?” Alessandra smiled a small, secretive smile.

“I think I’d prefer to keep that a secret for now,” she said mysteriously. “In the meantime, I’m sure there’s work to be done. I’ve been out of the loop for three weeks. I have no idea who’s out on jobs or what’s being planned or anything.”

“We’ll prepare a report for you as soon as possible,” Vegora said. “Until then, I can tell you that there are only two teams out right now, Hesikal’s team and Zenmor’s team. Bezzum was planning to send out Niechao’s team tomorrow night, but of course it’s now up to you whether that job goes ahead or not.”

“Show me the writeup for that job, and I’ll make a decision as soon as possible,” Alessandra said, and then she yawned. “I could use a bowl of stew and a nap in a real bed.”

“I can imagine,” Torea said, and then she smiled. “I’ll have somebody clean out your quarters and bring you up some stew.” She turned to the other Clan Leaders. “I think it’s probably best if we leave the Clan Master to get used to her new study for a little while. I’ll bring her up to speed about the clan’s situation.”

“I think that sounds good, Torea,” Vegora said, nodding. “Meachen, Ilnorat, what about you?”

Meachen was a short, bluff, bald man with a thin beard and no mustache. He made up for his lack of stature by being thickly muscled, but despite being short and stout, he was one of the quickest and quietest thieves in the clan. He nodded as soon as Vegora spoke and turned to leave immediately.

Ilnorat was not so agreeable, however. She was a tall, thin woman with olive skin and close-cropped black hair. She had several small scars criss-crossing her face, including one near her mouth that gave her a permanent scowl. This was appropriate, as it suited her personality perfectly. Of all the Clan Leaders, she had always been the one who liked Alessandra the least.

“I’m not ready to just accept this child as our Clan Master and be done with it,” she said in a petulant tone. “We all know that Bezzum was more skilled than her! There is no way she should have been able to kill him, and so easily! Aren’t we going to investigate this? Are we going to just let her usurp a position she doesn’t deserve without a whisper of protest?”

“What is there to investigate?” Torea said wearily. “The rules governing this sort of thing are pretty simple, as you well know. She challenged him. He accepted. She killed him in full view of the entire clan. Are you accusing her of cheating somehow? How would that even work? There are no rules in the arena!”

To be continued…