ONE HOUR AGO

Hana’s heart skipped a beat as the man next to her gripped his daggers. This was the second time he’d grabbed their hilts since stepping foot on the silver bridge that connected the Argent Tower to the rest of the city. They were surrounded on all sides by representatives from the five districts, squeezed together in a processional and filtered through the distinctive triangular archway into the great hall. It was the first time Hana had ever been so close to members of the Rose. Since birth, she’d lived in the Azure Tower under the tutelage of the Iakuma. She’d been trained to kill all who opposed the forces of the Forge and, more importantly, District Stormheld. Now to stand so close to those from District Rao and District Knitehood, to feel them pressing in on her as they walked across the bridge, to smell the sulfur of Rao and the sweat of Knitehood… it would have been too much, if she were not focused on the man with the shrouded face. She could not tell which district he hailed from but suspected that even if he were a fellow member of the Forge, she should not let her guard down. He was dangerous. Fizzy agreed.

Her hand still hurt from where Fizzy’s shard had dug into her skin back in Azure Tower. She did not know what possessed her to bring Fizzy with her on the journey to the Argent Tower, nor how she became aware of its name. She simply felt it, as keenly as the pain in her palm. It was as if the spirit of the shard, if that’s what it was, had become a part of her. She felt it now inside the shard necklace she wore around her neck. It was anxious and seemed to propel her forward into the great hall.

The Argent Tower was impossibly tall from the outside and even taller within. Banners hung from the walls with the symbol of each of the districts. They were not separated between the Forge and Rose, with Districts Stormheld and Sol together and Rao, Gloom, and Knitehood on the opposite end. Instead, they were evenly spread and intermixed, a symbolic gesture of the peace to come.

Merchants dressed in robes of every color stood against the walls, hands clasped together in greeting. They bowed their heads and said their welcomes in as many tongues as was spoken across Turrim. Children sprinkled golden flower petals at the feet of the processional and silver birds made from shardlight fluttered above. A silver carpet had been rolled out along the hall and wherever anyone took a step, light rippled like a stone in water.

Bald servants stood at either end of the hallway collecting weapons. None were allowed in the feasting chamber ahead. A small sacrifice to pay for the promise of peace, or so the merchants told them. The man next to her begrudgingly handed over his daggers and Hana immediately felt relieved.

Impressive though it was, the great hall was bare compared to the circular chamber at the end of the hall. Easily four hundred feet across, the chamber burst with brilliant light. A spiral staircase chiseled into the wall circled its way up as far as Hana could see, leading to levels upon levels. Stained glass murals were built into the circular room with shardlight from the Argent Tower itself shining through. Tables were piled high with food and servants wandered the hall refilling goblets with wine. Ghostly instruments conjured from shardlight played music above.

Not one person partook in the feast. The districts self-segregated, huddled close together, casting distrusting eyes at the others. It was not the joyful beginning to a treaty signing one might hope for.

Hana spotted Mei Yu across the room surrounded by robed Iakuma members. As she took her first step toward them, pain racked her head. It felt like it was splitting in two. Fizzy’s shard hovered and pulled against the necklace, breaking the string around her neck as she fell to her knees. It zipped through the crowd and down the hall, taking a sharp left turn through a twisting corridor and disappearing from sight.

Hana felt firm hands pulling her up. The man with the shrouded face held her by the arms. “Are you alright?” he asked.

“Fine,” she said, pushing him aside. Her head rumbled and her hands shook as she squeezed her way through the crowd. Not one member of the Iakuma came to help her. Not one seemed to care.

She broke into a run down the corridor, following the spirit of the shard. The man with the shrouded face stayed close behind as a portal from District Gloom opened up, blocking the corridor from anyone else following suit.

To be continued...

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