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Living the Dream
Continued from 'Homeward Bound'

The second he opened the door, blue light leaked into the hall beyond. The ever-present globes behind him were faint but not dim. Jai had no problem seeing, even as he released the Source from his grasp. Before leaving, he paused to study the closet turned portal. A moment ago the shining, white light of his gateway cast Nythadri in that other-worldly glow. He shook his head, amused by the memory of whisking her through another gate, and hadn't bother to wipe away the smirk by the time the door slid from his fingers. This was definitely not going to be the last time he would see Nythadri, but who knew how long it would be before next time came around. Best not to think about it.

Hidden room sealed away once more, Jai made his way down the corridor. It didn't take long to encounter opulence. This was the heart of the palace in Bandar Eban, after all. Just thinking of it, and he tugged his sleeves straight now and then. It did nothing for the wrinkles in his coat. And every time he swiped at the cloth a waft of damp wool hit him in the face. So he ran his hands through his hair, wishing Nythadri had had a mirror in her room, scratched at some random itch on the back of his scalp and carried on. He may look like hell, but at least he made it look good. Besides, it wasn’t the first time. If he strolled in too cleaned up, Yui would worry.

There were plenty of long looks to be passed on the way. Asha'man weren't exactly strangers in the heart of another Asha'man's kingdom; Jai especially. But an innocent looking grin met every single one. And lingered on one or two extra. It was probably the beard, Jai thought, scratching idly at the stubble on his throat. Most Domani kept a clean shave. It was too bloody hot not to. And after about five seconds back in Bandar Eban, yeah. He could see why. It had snowed in Tar Valon last night. Bloody snow. So he probably stood out. A beard and dashing good looks. Add the black and really, who could blame them?

Servants met him at the entrance to a set of quarters that were technically his to use. Though really, it was just another in a long set of rooms. Only this one happened to have his spare socks stowed away in it. Don't get it wrong. They were nice rooms. Not quite as gaudy as they could be, thankfully. But mostly because Jai hauled out all the obscene stuff long ago. It left the walls a little bare, but at least the bed remained. A man would be a fool to rid himself of a feather mattress..

Nor did he turn down a cold goblet of water and an eventual upgrade to milk tea and iced lemon mead. A barrel of king crab boiled in sweetgrass, firepod and honey came next. Then lamb with raisins and carrots soaked in wine. And the broths from both were mopped up with a wedge of oatbread like they'd never existed. Not even firepods could ruin something that delicious. Or maybe he was just that bloody hungry. In the last day he'd had cold tavern food and two bowls of Hana's stew. It was delicious, but she was cinchy with her helpings. Probably used to Araya's appetite, he didn't exactly seem the sort to destroy mounds of food. Otherwise, Jai couldn't recall eating anything during the blur of days before landing in Araya's home. Drinking though. That'd been done in plenty. And it still showed. Under his eyes. At least it went with the whole bruised face, split knuckle look he had going. Andreu’s antics left their mark on his face.

He was caught some hours later, straight blade in hand, and a towel snugged tight around his waist by no one less than their fair Yui. Complete with a slow foot tapping and arms pinched across her chest. Jai dried his face calmly and turned when he noticed her. Of course Daryen sent her. He leaned against the slab of marble behind him, hands perched against the edge, and didn't seem in a hurry to do anything about modesty. Yui had seen him in less; palaces and privacy weren't mutually exclusive as far as servants were concerned. Less so when the King was involved. Less, less so when the head mistress of the palace was the one doing the roaming.
"Dearest Yui," he grinned, tone familiar and playful, "What will the servants think?" He glanced down at himself, skin clear as daylight below the beltline, almost low enough to make out the origin of that eviscerating scar. He grinned like he always knew the elder woman had a thing for him. Who didn’t?

Despite his best attempt to thwart her mood, Yui was frowning. Which was never a good sign. Her brows narrowed in concern and Jai found himself blinking when she tenderly touched his face. Kind of worrisome, actually. Nothing phased Yui. The woman was a stormwall. Then again. It wasn't exactly a mystery what concerned her so. Even if she was all worked up about nothing. Jai cleared his throat uncomfortably.

Yui left soon after without saying much more than a few grumblings under her breath. Apparently, whatever she wanted was satisfied. Though why she came at all was a complete mystery. Who walks in on a guy in a bath towel, touch his face and walk out without even a hello? Granted that was a bad way to think of it. Still. Jai was glad to find the remainder of these spare quarters free of servants when he emerged freshly shaven and, you know, smelling better.

Something caught his eye. The table had been cleared and placed upon it was a slender wood box. Gold leaf and mother of pearl was set into the sides, and heavy brackets kept the box sealed tightly. Everything else forgotten, Jai broke the seal on the accompanying letter and blinked at the surprising words penned within. Make your own heirloom, the note read. There didn't need to be a signature. He knew who the author was.

Jai quickly snapped the brackets apart and discovered a sword nestled within. The blade was bound with loose cloth with which still clung with the scent of mintwax. He stood over it for some minutes, eyes running up and down the length of the weapon, surprise and wonder steeping from every pore, before he brought himself to remove the bindings. The carbon steel blade was curved slightly and edged on both sides. It had a simple round guard and tightly woven grip. The steel shone immaculately. This was a newly forged sword, without a single scratch marring its mirror-like surface. Two scabbards were alongside. The first, a plain wood for storage. The second, a working leather scabbard, gleaming dark with recent oiling.

Before he knew it the sword was in hand. It was light as a feather. More so than even Asad’s sword had been. Or maybe Asad's sword was heavy for other reasons. The hilt wrappings fit snug beneath his fingers. And the balance was beautiful. A man could slice a bolt of billowing silk with this blade. He knew a guy with bolts of silk; even Araya would respect this sword. It must have cost a fortune, but above all, his eyes were drawn to the strong part of the blade closest to the hilt. A sly grin touched his lips and he took saidin. It probably took a finer hand than his to properly etch steel, but he wasn't exactly going for artistry. A glowing line, a hair's breadth in size, burst to life an orange fire, biting into the steel as Jai scrawled two small letters to the blade with the One Power. JK, they read, and Jai smiled. Now that's one hell of an heirloom.

He soon retreated behind closed doors and shoved all the furniture to the edges of the room. Abandoning the towel, sword in hand, he took up the starting position in not but skin. It was bloody time to give this baby a go. He hadn’t completed those bloody forms in days.
Only darkness shows you the light.

There was a time and a place for making big show of things.  When it came up, and, you know, if there was a good reason--or, at least a decent reason--Jai was a waltz right in the grand ballroom sort of guy.  You know, make the big entrance.  Flash up the showmanship.  Give the crowd something to talk about for once around here.  Not that the halls didn't still buzz with the prosperous news of glorious King Daryen's unprecedented treatise.  Usually on the same breath as followed rumors of a dead heir and a new royal consort whom the locals called the ‘Lady in Red’.  Which really was a fitting name for the gaidar.  The night of her debut was definitely etched into Jai's skull, since it was such an otherwise mundane night--party by the sea, meet a pretty girl, get your heart ripped out, take a kick in the teeth for trying to rip a guy's throat out who definitely had it coming--yeah, just another day in the heat of battle.  The Lady in Red was a fitting name for Trista, but Jai was particularly fond of another moniker.  Red Death.  

And damn.  She fit it.  

Trista hovered like death.  Patient and apathetic, biding her time.  This night, no red swath of silk draped her muscly gaidar body from which her name arose.  But a woman like that had no need for gowns to draw every eye in the room.  And those eyes were all the more pulled in by the resistance they met when meeting hers.  A lost cause on their part.  Jai's too.  But then again, he didn't stop by to win over Trista.  Fun as that might be to try to sometime.  Not to actually do anything about it, but you know, just to see if she was capable of a smile.  Surely she was.  Even a heartless one?  That'd still count.

Decked to the nines, gleaming pins in the collar and Asha’man’s coat dead still as a Halfman's cloak, Jai was in the sort of just in that sort of mood.  He paused in the archway, leaning in the shadows of a column.  The hum of conversation was carried away by the breeze, such that he picked out no one voice or another from the throb of Domani accents.  They were in a sort of courtyard where terraces and breezeways were indistinguishable between what counted as indoors and what was out.  Late evening like this, the temperature dropped as the sun drifted toward the sea, and the silk draped Lords and Ladies took to the gardens.  

Two levels surrounded the courtyard below.  The palace was situated atop the city's highest hill, and from this height, framed a view of the very sea glittered golden under a dying sun.  A catwalk linked the perimeter, filled with the King's tables outfitted for the meal to come.  Servants lit lamps set within crystal globes that cast colored patterns on the walls.  Music streamed from somewhere unseen but when it hit the fresh air, the tones dissipated into the humidity.  Opulence was everywhere.  

Amid the splendor, color, and life bubbling out of the palace stood one sliver of the dragon’s shadow leaned against a column, his hand resting lightly on the pommel of a sword.  The only other Asha'man in sight was below, seated with two of his Merchant Councilmen and their Lady Wives at his right. At his left was poised his fair younger sister, elegant and regal.  Then again, she was born to it.  Trista hovered behind Daryen, who was deep in dramatic conversation with those in his company. Asha’man though he was, rarely did he wear the black. With his long, blonde hair billowing on the breeze, broad shoulders and tan chest, he was better suited to color. At least the subjects of his glittering city would think so. Jai alone knew what darkness lurked behind that debonair smile. He saw the ghosts bare themselves under cover of darkness, glimpsed only in the solitude of night. He felt it in the pull of Daryen’s hands on his back. Heard it in the grunt of pain buried among the groans of pleasure. Jai heard it because the same came from him. Mutual understanding bound them together, but where Jai wore his hauntings proudly by day, Daryen painted a gleaming layer of lacquer over his. Either way, Daryen’s brow was dry where the sternest of Lords were fanning idly at sweat droplets. Jai almost laughed. Just in case there was confusion about who was ruler, Daryen’s head was encircled by a jeweled headcrown. 

Daryen was clearly fine, and Jai turned to go until an albino specter snapped his attention back.  The seanchan slave woman approached the king's group.  She bowed, said a few words and turned to introduce the bastard whipping at her back.  Lord Sivi-whatever his name was came forth, and Daryen stood to greet him.  Others quieted their conversations but did not cease them outright.  The seanchan beast was less the fascinating creature he'd been at his introduction by the sea.  The Domani had warmed to his presence, or they'd yielded such warmth to their gracious ruler.  

But Jai wasn't Domani.  He found himself gripping the railing with both hands, and thinking of Daryen's pristine blue coat splattered in seanchan red.  Of albino skin painted a rosier color.  So easy.  The snap of fingers.  Boring.  Easy.  

Unfortunately, no new fountains erupted.  But an Asha'man's disgust made the humidity bow with fatigue.  His glare, cold and long caught the king's attention even from the distance at which Jai watched, and the king’s glance upward drew also the eye of the bald lord bastard just as he took a seat.  Trista circled ignoring the intrusion of the king’s Asha’man brother, then joined the slave woman before the two men. Jai ignored the gaidar in turn. Was Daryen really sleeping with her? If so, he’d smothered the sensation from his bond brother.

Irritated, Jai swallowed his imagination and relinquished the railing its freedom from fury. A few moments later, Jai joined the group.  If the seanchan lord recognized him from the party following the hunt, he did not show it.  Nor did he react to the smirk Jai greeted him with.   Excitement mostly over, everyone settled in once more.  Conversation resumed, but more than one pair of eyes were on the long-absent Asha'man.  At least Jai finally found the entrance he wanted.  

He passed by the Seanchan women as he followed the same path Sivikawa had taken.  The same smirk greeted the thinly unveiled disgust wafting from the slave girl.  Milky eyes swiveled, glued to his back while Jai passed them by.  Wasn't Trista tired of these games?  Thrown in whether she willed it or not, and now set out again for the sport of their masters?   While a lost look of fatigue returned the Red Death's glance, Sivikawa sat still, barely tolerating this interruption to his entertainment, and his executioner happily approached.  Probably wouldn't be tonight.  But there was only one reason why the man still sucked air.  To that reason, Jai bowed.  

The king’s sapphire eyes met his briefly, then fell to the weapon on his belt.  Daryen nodded approval, flashed his dazzling smile and ordered a new seat be brought forward.  Well that was easy.  Feeling rather smug, Jai folded into cushions and took a glass of iced lemon mead though he sampled little more than a few sips.  The taste of alcohol still made his head swim.  A feeling he hoped would go away soon.  It was really getting in the way of proper drinking.

Drenched in dancing torchlight and shadows of the setting sun, the gaidar and Seanchan Voice set to sparring one another as they had the last time Jai walked western land.  It really was pretty bloody fascinating.  And Jai made a serious note to stay on Trista's good side.  But he was distracted.  He'd not shared a single word with Daryen since returning to Arad Doman, but such wasn't too bothersome.  The man cheered on his gaidar in good sport, engaging the others, heightening the anticipation.  No.  It was the Seanchan Lord seated on the far side that drew Jai's death-stare.  The man uttered not a single sound, as his Voice was currently engaged elsewhere.  But he sat forward on his seat, enraptured by the sick thrill quickening his blood.  

When it was over, the Voice regathered her composure and was soon yanked back to her proper place.  That is, being the mouthpiece for the tongue-severed blight on civilization over there.  She thanked--er, he thanked the King for his indulgence, and she--er, he praised Trista's skill once more.  That Daryen's possessed a property to be envied in her-- his--their, whatever-- homeland.  Jai laughed and rubbed the corner of his eye.  

Lord Sivikawa slowly turned.  Then his Voice spoke.  "It is said a single Asha'man--" she wrestled with the word "--is worth a thousand swords in battle."
Jai shrugged and Daryen cast him a coy smile that dared him to go easy.  "Do not believe every rumor you hear," he spoke directly to the Lord rather than his Voice, "It’s at least twice that many."  
But the Lord's response drained the grin from his face. His Voice spoke, "Then we must assume it takes two thousand soldiers to bruise the face of one Asha'man.  An impressive feat.  The battle must have been long and glorious indeed."
"Oh this?"  Jai gestured at his own pretty face, very much ready to enlighten the good Lord, but Daryen interrupted.  Smoothing things over with a single soothing tale.
"Far less than two-thousand!  One grumpy horse with a stout kick I fear."  He shook his head proudly, "Did you really save a pup from the street?"  Daryen winked at his princess sister, who was smiling whether she believed the far-fetched tale or not.
Only darkness shows you the light.

Storms in Bandar Eban were far different than ones Jai grew up watching.  They were much tamer compared to what was rolling over the sea.  He was alone on the terrace, watching the storm slowly advancing landward.  He glanced over his shoulder.  Back indoors -- if that sort of space could be called indoors -- those in attendance of brief council meeting were still disbanding.  These weren't Merchants updating their Lord on affairs of state.  Not this time.  Jai sometimes attended such things, but quickly grew bored and left early, or grew frustrated at their economic logic and left early.  Either way, he had yet to sit through an entire session.  If somebody wanted to kill Daryen in there, which Jai assumed most of them did, then letting him get axed would actually be doing the guy a favor.  At least one of them would be out of their misery.  

No.  The purpose of the last hour was to update the king and his advisors regarding the perimeter of his rule. This was military.  Specifically, the integrity of his borders.  North was quiet.  The southern border with Tarabon was simmering more than usual lately.  And a small uprising in the east, in the forehills of the Mountains of Mist, was put down quietly enough.  The trade routes through the mountains were expected to reopen with the melting snows, and that topic in particular seemed to come up more than once: that what an advantage they could have if the passes were cleared by ways of the One Power.  With one Asha'man as an escort, to clear the brush so to say.  More than one face glanced at Jai, lounging with a drink in his hand and apparently doing nothing but sucking down good sea air.  Daryen agreed, and for half a second, Jai flinched with worry.  Justifiably.  If bloody Daryen asked him to babysit a caravan of Domani crystal through the snow, he might just fall on his own sword before they reached Lake Somal.  

He hadn't.  Thank the Light, and Jai raised his cup to the good Lord that suggested such in the first place.  All available channelers to Daryen were being used at sea, while Jai was apparently busy being the shield for the King.  Though the presence of Daryen's Gaidar muddled the rumor of Jai's role in Daryen's life, which was fine by Jai.  So the snows would have to melt in their own time.  By far the sea was the most perilous threat to his rule.  A rule that depended so much on prosperity.  Half the reason Jai still accompanied Daryen to the Merchant's Council was to keep a finger on the economic pulse of the nation.  A guy didn't have to stick an arrow in Daryen's chest to get rid of him, though that would work just as well; destroying the pillar of prosperity upon which he conquered Arad Doman in the first place would see him ruined almost as easily.  Almost.  

Trade by sea was the most important pipeline Daryen had to him.  Seas that were perilous in the best of times.  Voyages frequently set sail only to never make port again; unless they were helmed by Sea Folk, and even they lost a ship now and then.  More as they sailed into seanchan territory and so lost more and more of their Windfinders year after year.  For good reason Jai had no intention of ever setting sail to anywhere.  If he couldn't Travel there, well he just wasn't going to go.

But the bloody dickface seanchan.  Daryen had as many channelers as he could spare on the water.  Since then, no more of his ships were boarded for "inspections" as they crossed Seanchan controlled waters.  Apparently the berths were most tense in Falme and Tanchico.  As the Seanchan capitals had no way to tell which ship housed an Asha'man and which did not.  It was a bloody mess, but somehow Daryen was determined to keep it contained.

He changed back into a white outfit again.  Though the cloth was a regular coat this time rather than the sheen things Domani were famous for sporting.  That is, if golden knots down the sleeves, birds of paradise splayed across the shoulders, and Domani crystals sewn into the cuffs a regular coat made.  Which was an obvious yes; you couldn't swing a trolloc head in Maradon without hitting a guy in a crystal coat.  A very black-clad Jai leaned against the railing behind him, thoroughly amused by the symbolism of it all.  Beneath that gaudy coat, Daryen's shirt was open at the collar, more white.  Absently, Jai’s hand draped upon the sword dutifully waiting at his belt, watching the king. Naturally, his thoughts reverted to the day the sword was gifted, and the gratitude Jai returned in kind. His lips curved to a small smirk, hinting at some of those thoughts.  Well, you couldn't blame a guy.  It'd been a long month.  

So.  Was the king practicing the noble art of laundering his own shirts like a freshborn Soldier cub?  Or was he simply aware of how bloody bright the color was against Domani skin and sapphire eyes?  Rumbles of thunder broke the humidity behind him.  Jai almost laughed; the storms here were so different.  There was still blue sky overhead, but the ocean was beginning to churn.  Daryen glanced up at the faint sound, checked the sky briefly and found that someone was watching him.  They met eyes, but Jai broke first, compelled to bow his head slightly.  Just in case there was confusion about who ruled around here. He must have sensed Jai’s thoughts, for he winked and feel freely back into conversation.

Daryen was amused, but it was a General freed from the clutches of small talk that joined the Asha'man on the terrace, and Jai stepped out of his own head back to the present world, smoothing his sleeves as he did.  Antony was nobility, but the long-time military family was raised some generations ago after honors followed the suppression of Domani civil war.  Lord Antony Sadiq, though he preferred to be addressed for the soldier-general he really was, though he tolerated the politics better than Jai.  Actually, it was rather impressive.  

They shook hands.  
"Welcome back, Asha'man," Antony greeted with a firm nod, gaze lingering only briefly on the faded bruise circling Jai's temple. It was almost faded by then.

Jai laughed, "Eh well I ran out of stuff to do.  Figured it was time to wander back west.  Besides, my tan was fading.  And its bloody winter everywhere else."  

Antony chuckled then clapped Jai on the shoulder.  They’d sparred in the past, and Jai won as much as he lost. Antony was a force to be reckoned with one on one, but that didn’t mean be beat Jai. He liked to boost his friend’s ego once in a while with a good win. Just because you could throw the game didn’t mean you walked away from the table with nothing.

They both glanced as one seagull broke from the pack to dive lower in search of dropped morsels.  For all Antony's dancing both sides of the aristocratic fence, the man behaved more like a soldier and less like a nobleman; which was probably why Jai liked the guy so much.  Though with the stiff coat, cut Domani-style short to the waist, gleaming with polished gold buttons stamped with the Tree of Arad Doman, red cords draped across one shoulder, and a row of medals on his chest-- just to look at the man, it was hard to tell which side of those fences he truly walked.  The slick hair and oiled mustache didn't help.  

"You know you are awful clean-cut for a soldier." With a smirk, Jai glanced at his own nice white fingernails, and nodded with approval.
The General shrugged, "I like things clean."  
"Sound like my brother," Jai muttered, recent memories flashing until his thoughts were consumed by the birds once more.  River gulls were smaller than their ocean-born cousins.

"Your brother?"  Antony glanced indoors, assuming Jai meant the Asha’man King.
Jai waved it off, and changed the topic, lowering his voice.  
"Any headway with the bounty?"  Another round of thunder rumbled, a bit closer this time.  Blue sky had given way to thin clouds.    
Antony frowned, "Nothing in weeks.  Which worries me."  

Jai agreed.  Daryen had a price on his head.  They both knew it.  In fact, the bounty was the heart of many a heated conversation.  Unsurprising, really.  It was best to assume every ruler had someone willing to pay to lop off their heads.  In this case, it was the seanchan willing to put up the cash.  Which rumor said was a lot.  General Sadiq had disbanded a couple of attempts already, before they were organized enough to warrant Trista's attention.  But for every attempt, Jai figured there were twice as many which they didn't know about.  Jai scratched his scalp, thinking.  

The wind picked up about then.  It tossed the gulls overhead.  One came spiraling down and landed on the railing some ten paces away, unafraid of the presence of people.  More like a pigeon than a gull, really.  And pigeons were something Jai knew a thing or two about; hell, everyone in Tar Valon did; unfortunately.  It hopped to the terrace and started exploring.  Hoping to come across a snack.  Apparently gulls liked pastries.  Not that there were any around, also unfortunately.

That's when it dawned on him.  A thoughtful smile slowly grew, and this time, Jai clapped Antony on the shoulder and led him away from ears which might overhear.  
"You ever been fishing, Sadiq?"  
The General glanced at the sea sprawled around his city.  Then to the river which emptied into it.  
"Of course," he answered slowly.  Confused.

Jai nodded, "You know, until a month ago, I'd never gone hunting a day in his life.  I think its time to give fishing a try."  He grinned with the sort of mischief that worried the straight-laced General, but after hearing Jai's plan, Antony wasn't sure whether he should be impressed or worried.  But he'd get the word out.  "--You make sure they're delivered to the right people and I'll draft the correspondences myself," Jai went on to explain.  "And we'll see who bites."
Only darkness shows you the light.

When Jai spoke of fishing with Antony Sadiq, he never described the type of bait he intended to use. As far as metaphors about fishing went, that was the extent of Jai’s awareness on the subject. Maybe he could have said something about the pole, or the fisherman, or the string or hook or any variety of angler-oriented vocabulary. Sadiq saw to it that good clandestine men, the sort of shady characters that fit right in with highly treasonous plots to assassinate the king, carried the letters Jai penned into the right hands. If the Asha’man was going to offer his services to assassinate said-king, there was no better knife in the dark. Course, he couldn’t quite give away his identity yet. Most everyone thought the king was in danger by keeping the insane, taint-riddled company of Asha’man Kojima, but he anticipated the trap would be too obvious. So he kept his identity a secret and instead enclosed a small momento of the vulnerable proximity of the king he held. It proved his availability. When paired with the ink of a master-code-writer, well, Jai could have deceived his mother – wait, bad phrasing there – could have deceived the Lord Dragon himself.

Several weeks passed before a return note was received. To be safe, it was delivered by Sadiq, just to be sure. They both swore to say nothing to the king, who would likely do something rash like halt the entire operation. Jai nearly ripped the letter apart in order to devour its contents, but better sense stayed his hand. Even the tiniest detail on the exterior of a note may prove valuable to its meaning. He tucked the letter safely into his jacket and told Sadiq to be ready when the time came. Yet in Jai’s mind, Imaad Suaya was already condemned. It was obvious the Lord Merchant thought to usurp the king’s loyalty, power, and now his throne. All he had to do was prove the man’s guilt.

His heart raced as fast as the pen in his hands. Everything about the note was dissected with surgical precision. The writer was clever, but Jai was infinitely the superior. The author knew enough about clandestine operations to play the game with amateur hands, but Jai counted the cards. He knew how to win the game even if by losing a few chips now and then. He let himself fall into the trap that the author – presumably Lord Suaya – thought to purchase the sword of a royal assassin. He didn’t want to be too obvious. A sell-sword was adept, but they weren’t brilliant masterminds of strategy.

He held up the image of a gold bar. It had been split in two, each half lay on the plates of a perfectly balanced scale. It meant that the assassin would receive half of the payment before the kill, and half after the deed was done. Jai agreed to the terms, signed it by pseudonym – no good assassin allowed their real name to be known – and several hours after receiving it, delivered the return to Antony Sadiq to squirrel away through the eyes and ears at his disposal.

It was with smug anticipation that he waited for the night he was to meet his new benefactor.
Only darkness shows you the light.

[Image: attachment.php?aid=45]
Asha'man Daryen Diamon, 
King of Arad Doman

Daryen looked up as General Antony Sadiq entered the war room. The general met his eye in the way that communicated there was news to be heard, and a few moments later, the king escorted him aside. He seized the power and wove a ward against listening. He did so often, nobody present seemed to notice the hush that fell upon their spoken words.
“Highness,” Antony bowed his head as he offered a letter worn by the passage of many hands.

“What have we here?” Daryen asked as he read the contents.

“Your plan has produced, highness. An assassin has taken the bait for your bounty. If you catch him, you will be able to extract the identity of the sponsor,” Antony said.

Daryen sighed. The letter read as much. He had his suspicions about the sponsor’s identity already. Capturing the deal in the act would confirm either way.
“If the assassin is worth his salt, which I wager this one is, he will either kill himself before allowing himself to be captured or he will never reveal his source.”

Antony’s lips thinned to a deep line. He agreed, but what the king said next made him blink, speechless. “Which is why I will be present when you meet him,” Daryen declared.

“Sire, I cannot allow you to put yourself in harm’s way,” Antony insisted.

Daryen smiled with great confidence and clapped the General on the shoulder. “You forget which one of us is Asha’man, General Sadiq. Don’t worry, I’ll wear a disguise if it makes you feel better,” he laughed, broke the ward, and returned to the war table.

Jai looked like a proper criminal mastermind. He’d left behind the Asha’man’s clothing in the palace, choosing instead to wear a blend of shades and a generic overcoat. The sword that Daryen gifted was belted at his waist. It definitely gave him away somewhat. If the newness didn’t draw the eye, then the curved line of its shape was likely to snag the wrong attention. They weren’t common weapons in the west. Then again, after he met the sponsor of the bounty, identities wouldn’t matter much. He had every intention of dragging them to the palace dungeons. Shouldn’t be an overly complicated affair, and he could finally move on from this bounty-business.

He came alone. Bringing soldiers, even peripherally, would attract attention to the trap. He didn’t need soldiers anyway. Jai was deadly on his own and despite popular opinion, could actually win in a fight once in a while. Unless it was against Lennox Orander. And unless he agreed not to channel while he just stood there taking a beating. Excluding those two specific details, he should be fine.

He pulled a hood up and over his brow. His face wasn’t as famous in Bandar Eban as others, but he frequented a lot of tavern rooms over the years; played a lot of cards and downed a lot of drinks. Which was why he chose to enter this one conveniently through the kitchen. It drew a few looks, but he passed through without resistance. Apparently this sort of thing wasn’t uncommon.

In the days leading up to this meeting, he’d studied maps of the streets just in case a chase scene erupted unexpectedly. He’d memorized faces of the people who owned the building down to those that took out the trash. Maybe Andreu’s paranoia bled into Jai last time he saw his big brother. Wouldn’t be the first time. Couldn’t be too careful.

Enclosed spaces weren’t exactly the kind of quarters he wanted to make this exchange, but the sponsor insisted, even allowing him to choose the grounds. It was a thieves’ gesture, but Jai wasn’t stupid. He declined food and drink and kept an eye on the door until midnight approached. He was rather calm the whole time despite the pacing, if antsy to get this over with, until a few minutes before midnight when a strange knot of nerves started to twist in his gut.

He seized the power if only to force a sense of calm into his own gut. The power wasn’t calm, not in the least, but it forced him to focus on one thing only. Control. Footsteps grew closer. Heavy ones. He readied the flows, wanting to unleash nothing until he was sure all accomplices showed themselves. Why was he nervous? He carefully planned everything about this night for weeks. There’s nothing he could have overlooked. All variables were accounted. Variances of those variables were figured. The probability all came back to this moment.

Focus. Shadow flickered under the door. The sponsor was on the other side. The person who promised a mountain of gold to the one that killed King Daryen, or someone who would lead Jai to such a sponsor. Imaad Suaya presumably. Maybe it was his younger brother delivering the money tonight. They wouldn’t trust so much coin to an underling lacky likely to run off with it. Tamal would be shit-faced to find Jai the recipient. That fucker. Jai hoped it was Tamal. Regardless, this whole business with the bounty would be over.

The door opened, and General Antony Sadiq entered.

Jai blinked. Antony wasn’t supposed to be here! He was going to blow the whole thing!

Then two more soldiers followed. The room was growing crowded. On their heels was a man in a long cloak with the hood pulled low. Jai suddenly realized the nervousness he’d been feeling these last few minutes wasn’t his own and was utterly bewildered. What was going on?

Daryen pushed back the hood and fixed him with a deadpan stare, then he seized the source. The shield that slammed into him nearly knocked him over. The last time Daryen shielded him was to keep him from slaughtering Tamal Suaya on the hunt. Did he think he was there to kill the General? There was an intensity in the king’s eye that chilled his heart. He knew that look. He knew it for his own. For the day the king conquered Bandar Eban and reclaimed it from the seanchan. He knew it for the nights they didn’t speak a word about the terrors of war yet both relived them as if they were yesterday.  

Daryen was at war now, and as Jai swallowed nervously, there was only one possible explanation. He thought Jai really was the assassin. Really was here to be paid for the deed. If that was the case, then who was Antony delivering all those letters to all this time? Did Daryen find out through some other means and intend to intercept himself? He had to know Jai was here or else would have sent mere soldiers rather than come himself. Only an Asha’man could capture another one.

Antony had a hand on his sword, poised to strike. The soldiers did as well. Jai thought furiously through tangle this became. Daryen cautiously approached, probably thinking Jai was dangerous as a cornered, rabid animal. He was the only person on this planet that trusted him. How could he believe this? His throat fell dry. The knots in his stomach were his own this time. Horror paled his face, but he couldn’t give up on the puzzle. He had to think quickly.

Antony delivered the letters to Daryen, knowing Jai was setting a trap to catch the bounty’s sponsor. Meanwhile, the so-called sponsor was trying to catch the assassin, but to what end? To lead him back to the real sponsor? That didn’t make sense? Why? Why would Daryen keep this plan from him? No, stupid question. Jai kept the plan from Daryen too.

Speaking of, the king reached for Jai’s sword, the one gifted by his own hand. Jai gasped and turned protectively away.
“Disarm, Asha’man,” he commanded. Jai was suddenly empathizing with the cornered animal.
“This isn’t what this looks like, Daryen. You know me. If I wanted to kill you, I’d have done it a hundred times by now.”
“The assassin hasn’t been paid yet,” Daryen said as he came within arm’s reach insinuating the reason bloody action wasn’t already taken.  

Jai, with his Malkier-blood born height, was the taller, but he wanted to sink in front of Daryen and beg him to see reason. That this was all a plan. Antony would vouch for him! Antony – Jai blinked and shot the general a glance as he hovered across the room. He was waiting, watching the king’s every flinch on bated breath. Suddenly, Daryen stepped close enough to whisper. With one arm he clasped Jai’s wrist and with the other, moved as if to confiscate the sword. Flashes of the M’Hael doing the same thing bubbled across his vision. Jai felt the wall hit against his back, Daryen’s face swam close. In the shadow of the room, he witnessed the king mouth a single word for him alone to witness. Sadiq

In that moment, Jai understood.

His heart was pounding with relief. Daryen wasn’t here to find the assassin. He was here to catch the traitor red-handed. Bloody could have let him in on this! Blood and bloody ashes!

Antony Sadiq was a powerful general. While the king commanded the armies, loyalty to their commander on the field was a valuable tool. The soldiers were present to bear witness to the betrayal.

Daryen fell back and with a wave of his hand, he ordered the soldiers to obedience: “Arrest him,” he said.

When they moved toward Jai, who remained quite motionless until this point, the king interrupted and turned toward the General. “Not him,” the soldiers paused as Daryen went on, “Lord General Antony Sadiq of the House of Shaheen, you are under arrest for treason and plot to assassinate your king.”

The soldiers stopped in their tracks, surprised as Antony, and only after a moment’s hesitation flanked themselves around their commander. Daryen thrust one side of his cloak over his shoulder rather mightily and waved that they go about their way.

Antony Sadiq put up quite the resistance. Insisting that this was no plot of his. That he was embroiled in the machinations of the Black Tower and the Council of Merchants. With two Asha’man in the room, the threat did not carry water nor did he stand a chance at escape. His best option was leverage, deal, or alibi. Jai sank in a chair after he was led from the room. The echo of threats against him rang in his ears. Undoubtedly, more forces waited outside to escort the prisoner away.

Jai held his head in his hands when Daryen returned his sword.
“I rather say, you do wear that sword well, brother,” he said.

Jai snatched it away and returned it properly to the hip. The shield dissolved after that, and Jai nodded mock gratitude.

“You should have told me,” he said.
“I could have said the same for you,” Daryen replied with a smile as he let the retort go. He understood Jai’s strategy probably better than Jai did himself. “I’d suspected Sadiq since the Hunt. He was always close to you where the others weren’t.”
Jai frowned, “you’re saying someone being a friend to me is grounds to suspect they must be a traitor. Light man, I’m not a stark raving lunatic. I have friends. Sometimes.”

Daryen smiled that disarming smile. No need to command there, just smile. The bastard.
Not that at all, Jai. The House of Shaheen has suffered great losses by seanchan attacks two years ago. They’ve never been able to rebuild the ships they lost. The only reason they retained their status at all was Antony’s place at my command. When he suddenly took an interest in you, I paid attention. Jai you have to understand that my enemies will use any means to undermine me. Anyone who is close to me is a target to manipulate. I intend to manipulate in return. The treatise with the Seanchan will move forward even if it means Shaheen dissolves. I may have otherwise seen fit to help them prosper if it wasn’t for the fact they’ve intended to kill me, have you exiled, and restart a war nobody wants.”

Jai shook his head. It made sense. Shit though. That definitely wasn’t a variable he thought about when calculating the odds of success tonight.

He rose from the chair, straightened his sleeve, took a breath and did his best to paint on a celebratory smile. Going closer, this time he whispered. “You were nervous coming in here. I thought it was my emotions,” he said, slipping his hands around Daryen’s waist. The bond blurred the emotions of one into the other so fiercely, when in close proximity, it was almost impossible to distinguish.

Daryen’s face tilted curiously, eyes flickering a distant, soulful penetrance that disappeared so fast that Jai may have imagined its presence. “I wanted to be careful,” he said.

Jai chuckled with relief, “Careful with me, you mean. No need to tip toe around my feelings. I know what I am. It’s okay. I’ll think of a way to make it up to me later,” he said, brushing a hand agonizingly near the man’s crotch as he backed away. They were technically alone for the moment, but footsteps told him privacy was fleeting. Rumors flowed through the palace, but it was best to avoid too much scandal while in the city.

When the two exited, each were in perfect form as they always were. Jai was more than ready to return to the palace and trade the street clothes for his uniform. Tomorrow, anyway.

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Only darkness shows you the light.


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