Chapter 1: Quiet is the night
Argus is not a man of many wants. Good food (and lots of it), a happy boyfriend, seven happily living Wielders whose boundaries are adequately respected by all finally peaceful seven races, no more assassins out to kill his niece and her friends…
And that’s still too much to ask, Argus thinks as he reads over the lines of code: the newest addition will implement 1-minute sweeps of the property’s periphery. It may seem like overkill, but the assassins already know the location of the Wielder House. They will surely not stop at merely throwing poisoned knives. His mouth twists as he remembers poisoned blood pooling onto polished floors as Dorian kept retching. We can’t have people getting along and having wonderful, non-violent lives. Not the races, not the leaders, certainly not the assassins…
The apricot-haired man sighs and grips the edge of the table. The wood is cold against hot palms, solid against shaking wrists.
Mattie could have died, if it weren’t for the Moonborn Wielder’s biology. They all would have died. Sons and daughters, dearly beloved, pawns of kingdoms and scions of communities. There is somebody out there who wants to upset the fragile peace that ties the seven races together, and they will stop at nothing, even when the flesh and bone and hot beating hearts stand before the traitor. For someone, it is not enough that a family loves Sienna for her fiestiness, or a community that respects his highness Nen for his diplomacy. It is not enough to see good, lovable hearts who want to do their best. No, there is someone who wants the Wielders ground into dust, and it is driving Argus mad to know nothing.
Agatha, help me, he thinks as he notices a bug in the code. His sister - Mattie's spitting image - would know what to do. Help me keep Mattie safe. I don’t know if I can do it alone anymore.
The Wielder House’s security systems blink before him, pale blue homing beacons in the velveteen darkness that has settled over his office. The tiled floor is cold on his bare feet, chilled by Winter’s frosty kiss. It grounds him, keeping him in place. He breathes in, exhalation puffing up in silky clouds. It is the early morning, yes, but Mattie’s safety depends on these security systems.
Argus hears the approach of padded, soft-slippered feet.
Security risk, his inner Councilman reminds him, time to put your work away.
He closes the security system tab, and turns to meet his lover.
Yet once again, a little voice in his head asks, would it be so bad to let Cyrus in? He is the son of the Basiliean leader, and your boyfriend, and he loves Mattie just as much as he loves you, and you’d trust him with your life.
Argus shoves that voice away. This is his responsibility to shoulder, and he cannot burden others with his woes. He is a member of the Synedrion and entrusted with the care of the Wielders. Cyrus is the personal assistant to Councilwoman Allura, and dealing with the tensions between the races. Argus cannot, in good conscience, burden his boyfriend even more.
If the Wielders can deal with their races, then I can do at least this for them. I can make sure the security is foolproof. I can make sure that no one is a potential security risk or target for the assassins.
"You said you'd take care of yourself," Cyrus says almost accusingly. "Most people don't drop dead from exhaustion when they take care of themselves."
"I haven't gone that far," Argus protests.
Cyrus creeps across the room, carefully keeping his toes in the warm confines of his slippers. "You're starting to worry me, Argus. You can't go on like this." A worried frown crosses the tanned man's brow. "Is something wrong with Mattie?"
“I’m sorry, Cyrus,” Argus says, rubbing his own forehead until stars blink into existence in the periphery of his vision. “A few more updates, I promise.”
His blonde boyfriend sighs, wiry arms wrapping around the barrel of Argus’s chest.
"Argus, if you need any help–"
"Don't worry," the Councilman says, and hopes that it does not sound insecure. "I've got everything I know under control."
For a moment, all Argus feels is the hot hiss of Cyrus's breath in the crook of his own neck. It feels almost safe, but the Synedrion training in him warns, this cannot last forever. There are assassins, and Mattie is a target, and soon Cyrus might be one as well.
Cyrus rests his head in the small of Argus’s back. “Come to bed soon, okay?”
"Got it." Argus turns his head to plop a kiss on his boyfriend's forehead. "I promise."
Chapter 2: Breathless
The Archives have been ransacked, and Argus is left wondering.
The Synedrion is climate controlled, the air both chilled and dehumidified to protect the precious archives and to keep the sweat off its workers’ skin. The soaring arced ceiling and massive columns help circulate the air when summer’s sun beats down upon the city by the sea and bakes the earth dry. Surprisingly, it’s not difficult to heat the building either.
There are whispers that the government center sits upon a massive network of caves with hissing hot springs and sulfurous streams. Argus has looked in the archives: geological surveys confirm their presence, but it seems nobody has mustered the time to map the cavern system.
Strange. It is a potential security hazard, particularly when the races are on the verge once more. He’s not certain on the heat tolerance of Thalassians, but if the caves connect with the sea… well, Basiliea had better not start a war with their sea-born, finned neighbors.
The Councilman shakes himself. The still air is clogging his thoughts.
He looks at the massive stacks of books: in his home, the Archives, there is the lingering taste of an intruder. This is the one place that should never change permanently; things may flux, as scholars add new knowledge and revise their understanding of the old, but its repository should never be robbed or redacted.
Except for the missing information on the eighth race.
There’s a whisper on the back of his neck, one sends the fine hairs tingling with pinpricks of electricity. One that says the traitor is in your midst, who else could steal from this place, it must be a Synedrion worker, it could be someone close to you.
He thinks of Deena’s constant support, and never ending love of Wielder weapons. He thinks of Cyrus’ back massages and constant whispers in his ear, you can trust me, you can rely on me, you don’t have to do it alone. He even thinks of Councilwoman Allura: a strong, steady woman who respects his work and whom he respects back.
No. They could never betray me, Argus thinks, biting back the panic and disgust welling up in his chest. It’s the paranoia talking. What good would it do for them to kill off the Wielders and kill our best chances at peace?
Then, how could they ever hurt people as wonderful as Mattie? She grew up around them.
The air is still in the Archives. It will give up no more secrets.
Argus closes the drawer of documents, and crosses it off his list. There are still twenty more to go through. Perhaps there will be one still untouched, a time capsule perfectly preserved for those who now need it the most.
I have to help Mattie, he thinks as he moves down the rows. I have to protect the Wielders. If I don’t, who will?