TWO HOURS AGO

Mirai pushed Liam against the wall of the Argent Tower and the tower seemed to moan. Her body writhed as he kissed her and the tower responded, moving as they did until Liam could feel the walls of the tower hugging him, pulling him a little closer.

Mirai pulled away, blushing. “I thought Corum Monks weren’t supposed to have any emotion.”

Liam felt the tower let go. Its pull was gentle, but enough. He yearned to touch the walls again, to be touched by them. It was the closest he’d gotten to real power in his life. “Most don’t,” Liam said, grabbing Mirai’s arm and pulling her close again. “But I’m not like most others.”

She kissed him. “No, that much is clear,” Mirai said.

They were in an alcove just off the spiral hallways of the Argent Tower, barely concealed from sight. If anyone were to stop on their ascent up the never-ending steps of the tower, they would certainly be caught. What would the consequences be for a Corum Monk found fornicating with a Stormheld mage? Liam didn’t know. It had never happened before.

“Someone’s coming,” Mirai said, adjusting her hair.

The jostling of swords and armor, shields and heavy plating came from the other side of the alcove. A group of bald warriors marched in unison down the hallway and up the next flight of stairs. Underneath their armor, they wore the white robes of District Knitehood.

“Friends of yours?” Mirai whispered, touching Liam’s lower back as she got close.

“Not really,” Liam said.

Mirai stroked Liam’s long jet-black hair. “I could have guessed. Friends would take up your sense of style, most certainly.”

Liam grabbed Mirai’s wrist. She gasped. “Shut up,” he said, spinning her against the wall and kissing her again.

*

Mirai had taken off to help prepare for the opening festivities and reception of the Stormheld delegation. Liam figured he should act in kind, joining the rest of the monkhood. That would be the proper thing. The expected thing.

Instead, he stuck to the alcoves off to the side of the hallways and made his way upward. He wiped his mouth, desperate to rid himself of the taste of Mirai, fish and garlic. She had been necessary to make the proper introductions, but soon? Soon that would be irrelevant. And so would she.

The Argent Tower seemed to have no beginning and no end. He peered over the ledge of the stairway and saw an infinite number of spiraling staircases leading down forever, mirrored by an equal number of stairs, hallways, floors, ball rooms, great halls, and secret corridors leading upward. It was like gazing into a mirror and walking through the glass into a world that made no sense, one that ignored the laws of physics, governed by new laws written in shardlight.

The power of the Argent Tower… the magnitude of it… it was enough to stick the hairs up on Liam’s neck and drop him to his knees. The old adage came back to him: Whoever controlled the Argent Tower controlled Argos. That’s why it had been declared a demilitarized zone, given to a council of apolitical merchants, one from each of the five surrounding districts. Foolish. No one was truly apolitical, especially merchants. They had but one leader, one religion, one loyalty, and that was to their purses. Corruption in the City of Silver was as old as time. Liam had little interest in taking advantage of the corruption. That was too small. His aims were much higher, as high as the Argent Tower’s topmost floor.

And so, he kept climbing.

*

Liam lost count of the floors he’d ascended. His legs burned and he breathed heavy. He thought he’d almost reached the top three times but between one floor and the next, the tower seemed to sprout another hundred floors. Finally, Liam stopped at the height of a staircase to catch his breath.

It was an observation floor. He had seen scores just like them. From the outside of the tower, one could see ovular ledges from which one might peer over all of Turrim. It was said on a clear day, when the leylines were strong, one could see as far as the Skytree Tower in District Sol in the middle of the Thar desert. He stepped out onto it and gazed.

A gruff voice said, “See anything of note?”

Liam’s hand was on the shardspear at his hip in an instant but at the sight of the speaker, he quickly let it go.

Brisbane, leader of the Corum Monks, stood to the side. The ledge was small, big enough for three at most. How had Brisbane escaped Liam’s detection?

“You are still young in the light, my son,” Brisbane said, anticipating the question. “There are a great many powers you do not yet possess. Once you have given more of yourself to the Vigilant Tower, perhaps it will reward you as it did me.”

Emotion. The Vigilant Tower craved emotion. It was the duty of the Corum Monks to give it all to the tower, to rid themselves of impulse and brashness, lust and insecurity. They would express no individuality nor desire except that which was most logical. That was the Corum way. Brisbane was brilliant at it.

“Brisbane,” Liam said, lowering his head in a slight nod. “I thought you might be with the rest of the delegation.”

“I could say the same for you,” Brisbane said.

“Yes, well, one only visits the Argent Tower once in a lifetime.”

“If one is lucky,” Brisbane said. He had a crooked scar over his left eye. Liam glanced at it before returning his gaze to the horizon.

“So? Do you?”

“Do I what?”

“See anything?”

Liam focused. “A palanquin,” he said. “Pulled by scorching salamanders from District Rao. Airships from District Sol.”

Brisbane stepped closer. “Anything else?”

Dots appeared on the horizon coming from District Stormheld. They sped forward like lightning, streaming blue shardlight behind until they were close enough that Liam could see they were no dots at all, but mages of the Iakuma. In seconds, Meiyu and two others landed on the ledge.

“Meiyu,” Brisbane said.

“Brisbane.”

Liam looked from one leader to the other and stepped forward, hand out. Both of Meiyu’s guards went to attack but Meiyu halted them with a flick of her wrist.

“I am Liam,” he said.

Meiyu looked from his hand to Brisbane. Liam burned with anticipation. Shake my hand, he thought. Shake it!

“Who is this boy?” Meiyu asked Brisbane.

“One of my acolytes, still young in the art of vigilance.”

“I see.” She walked forward, brushing past him. “Will you walk with me, Brisbane? We have much to discuss regarding our so-called new world order.”

“Yes, it would be my honor,” Brisbane said, bowing his head to her and casting a look devoid of emotion at Liam. “Come. The delegations are arriving.”

Brisbane, Meiyu, and her two guards left Liam alone on the ledge, hand limp. They disappeared down the spiral staircase into the belly of the Argent Tower.

To be continued...

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