The fact that Keavel had some mages on standby in case of problems didn’t exactly reassure Alessandra, but she kept her mouth shut. She wasn’t worried about herself, of course. She was more than a match for any member of the Elder Guard, but she was concerned about her clanmates getting hurt. There was nothing she could do, though, except for hope that nothing went wrong.
They reached the boundary of the slums, and Keavel and Havor took their groups in opposite directions, leaving Alessandra to go straight into the city. Just on the other side of the street was the first potential obstacle, a mercenary clan checkpoint. Alessandra had gone past this checkpoint numerous times, but she’d always had to sneak past it. How strange it felt to walk right up to it in broad daylight!
“Hey there!” yelled a burly guard wielding a halberd. He was standing in the middle of the road, and he had one arm outstretched, palm facing Alessandra and the 75 or so people following her. “What do you people think you’re doing?”
“It’s okay,” Alessandra said, striding forward much more confidently than she felt. “I’m from the Order of Sunaru. We’re relocating these people to the Avaroth.”
“On whose authority?” the guard bellowed in disbelief.
“On the authority of the Honesival of the Order of Sunaru!” Alessandra bellowed back, somewhat shocked that this mercenary would dare to question her. The guard just stared at the 80 or so slumdwellers arrayed behind Alessandra, and shook his head slowly.
“I’m…gonna have to talk to my captain about this,” he said.
“Fine,” Alessandra said, putting her hands on her hips and rolling her eyes. “You go ahead and make a mage of the Order of Sunaru stand here while she’s on important business. That seems like a great idea. I’m sure that when your captain gets chewed out for interfering in Order business, he’ll be real chill and not take it out on you at all for getting him into that mess.”
“I, um…,” the guard hesitated, clutching his halberd in both hands and eyeing Alessandra up and down. For the first time, the uniform she was wearing seemed to register in his brain, and his eyes grew almost comically wide. “Yeah, you…go ahead and pass,” he finally said, and waved them through the checkpoint.
Alessandra barely suppressed a sigh of relief as her group hurried through the checkpoint and continued on down the road toward the Station of Roses. Although the Station of Roses was the closest semorjo station to the Mekoval clanhouse, Alessandra had never actually seen it before. Mekoval clan members never used it, because if they got caught riding the semorjo, they didn’t want the Elder Guard to trace them back to their clanhouse. The Elder Guard rarely entered the slums, but it did happen occasionally, and clans that ran afoul of the Elder Guard no longer existed.
After a couple of blocks, Alessandra turned left, and then after another block, turned right, and there was the Station of Roses. Alessandra couldn’t imagine a more misnamed building. Not that she’d ever seen a rose, of course, but she had read about them. They were supposed to be the most beautiful flower in the world, and the Station of Roses was far from a beautiful building. Squat and gray, it would not have looked out of place in the slums, except for the gleaming silver semorjos parked out behind it. Alessandra took a deep breath. This was going to be the real test. Mercenaries ranked far below mages of the Order, but the Elder Guard considered themselves the equals of the Order. Even a low-ranking member of the Guard wasn’t going to allow themselves to be bullied by a mage.
“Halt!” ordered one of the Guards standing at the entrance to the station. The station and the other buildings around it looked like buildings you’d find in the slums, but the Guards in their crisp, clean uniforms were about as far from slumdwellers in appearance as one could imagine. Their uniforms were black, similar to the uniforms worn by the Order, but they were trimmed in silver, not gold, and they consisted of pants and a jacket that buttoned up along one side, instead of a bodysuit. They also wore black berets and had a sword strapped to their belts, and a shield strapped to their backs. The Guard that approached Alessandra carried himself with a dignity bordering on arrogance, unlike the slouching posture of the mercenaries at the first checkpoint.
“What is all this then?” the Guard asked with a sneer. He had a deep, commanding voice, and his cold, dark eyes raked over the crowd of slumdwellers with a look of disgust. “Who are you to bring this rabble into the city?”
“I am Alessandra Mekoval, Brelence of the Order of Sunaru,” Alessandra replied, mustering up all of her own dignity and arrogance. “I am bringing these people to live in the Avaroth, by order of the Honesival herself.”
“Oh, really?” the Guard said, his sneer deepening. “Well, I am Lieutenant Desken Yaolorder of the Elder Guard, and by order of High Chancellor Zoahl Ivell of the Circle of Elders, I say that these people are under arrest for entering the city without leave of the Guard.”
This was what Alessandra was afraid of. She still didn’t understand much about the politics of the city, and the relationship between the Order and the Circle, but she knew enough to know that this lieutenant was well within his legal rights to do exactly what he was threatening. The city was governed by the Circle, and it was the Circle that determined who was allowed into the city and who wasn’t. For a moment, Alessandra considered contacting the Avaroth and calling for backup, but she realized that she wanted to try and work this out herself. She was a full mage of the Order of Sunaru, whether she felt like one or not, and she needed to start acting like it.
To be continued…