Chapter 62

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Rilien and his older brother Jem sat together inside the horse-drawn carriage, occasionally drawing back burgundy velvet curtains to glance out the side windows. They traveled past Central Plaza, and then the carriage jounced along quiet small streets, until they'd also passed Uptown Street and West Harbor Road.

From there, the horses' hooves clopped onto a narrow cobblestone path that ran along the eastern edge of the City Lord's private estate. Finally, they reined in before the two-story, pale stone building Rilien had seen many times before from the Grayhound Mansion, but had never stepped inside until tonight.

Jem wore an excited smile the whole time, and it turned into a grin as the brothers walked to Cascadia's main entrance, using a footpath lined in roses. Rilien's father, though they lived on a tropical island, fancied rose shrubs, and had them imported for his private gardens rather than use local plants. While Rilien had to admit that their scent was entrancing, he still believed the roses were a waste of money.

Two security guards stood at the double doors, all decked out in black clothing, armed with swords and guns. They recognized Jem - Rilien was introduced, formal nods were exchanged - and the brothers were let inside.

After crossing the length of a short, well-lit hallway, with the matching echoes of their polished shoes stepping on marble flooring, Rilien followed Jem into what he expected was the main room.

He wasn't wrong. And it wasn't just any room, either.

His father hadn't gone easy on the spending for this place. Billiard tables, decorative hearth, long marble-topped bar counter, expensive carpeting, elegant dark wood tables and chairs with black upholstery. Everywhere he glanced, Rilien saw luxurious furniture and ornate designs and drapes for the vast walls.

From a shadowed corner, orchestra music spilled out of a massive gramophone, and the sound quality was better than Rilien had ever heard from one of those things before. Atop small tables and desks, and next to lavish couches or sofas, decorative lanterns intricately cast in brass or iron were all lit, providing a cozy glow.

The far side of the room, where the decorative hearth was located, was slightly elevated. It had the largest, most comfortable-looking couches and pillows, and to reach this section you had to climb a few shallow marble stairs, carpeted in black.

Rilien recognized everyone in the room. There were ten people, excluding Rilien and Jem.

They were all men, and they were all on the City Council. Rilien and Jem were by far the youngest, save for one exception, Priest Grisham – who was, Rilien believed, in his mid-thirties like Jem.

Rilien gave a slight start as Jem dropped a hand on his shoulder.

"Come on," Jem said enthusiastically. "Let's go say hi to father."

Oh, joy.

City Lord Blane Grayhound was playing a game of billiard with the Elder Priest and Councilman Henten Eagle-Eye.

Blane interrupted the game to greet his sons with open arms and an easy grin. Tonight he wore a rich brocaded suit, and as always he had slim glasses on his nose, a short beard and equally short gray hair.

"Rilien!" Blane said. "You made it! Welcome, welcome. This is perfect. We were just about to start dinner. We were waiting for you. You like lobster, don't you?"

"Sure, dad," Rilien said with a polite smile.

Behind Blane, leaning against the billiard table, Henten raised his stick and gestured at Rilien.

"We're blaming you if the food's cold," Henten said, his tone casual and joking.

Henten looked fancy in a tailored navy suit, his short hair still thick and mostly black despite being in his fifties, his face somewhat narrow but handsome. Especially when he served his well-honed charming smile, which he did pretty much all the time at social events.

Truth was, Rilien was always a bit uneasy around Henten. He'd never much believed the whole self-defense plea, when it came to Leithan's Yoxai dad. Rilien also thought it was cruel how Henten insisted Leithan's mother be kept at the Black Fortress, even after all those years.

But Henten Eagle-Eye was a powerful man, and best of friends with Rilien's father. After all, Henten was friends with the Rengleam King himself – he'd worked by the king's side for years in the capital.

Still, Rilien didn't like Henten much, and one good reason for that was, he knew Henten wore a firearm on his person at all times. Henten was one of the few people who were allowed – a special permission, granted by the City Lord himself.

Dinner turned out to be pleasant. No girls showed up.

Just two stern, aged men in old-fashioned livery, serving dinner and wine. Rilien remembered one of them as their butler, from when he was a kid at the Grayhound Mansion.

During these moments, filled with delicious foods and wines – as well as conversations about the latest or upcoming sports events at the arena, about plays, books, and rumors of new technologies emerging on the mainland – Rilien almost let himself believe that Darlene's story about the girls was not true. That there was some other explanation.

That these men he sat with – his brother and father, Shaylan's father Jorand Stormwave, Rami's father Arnel, the Elder Priest, and all the others, even Henten – that these men did nothing more than play some billiard games, eat expensive food, drink Red Flame and smoke cigars at the Cascadia.

After dinner, their two efficient waiters cleared the tables and indeed came back with cases of cigars and aged bottles of Red Flame. They also brought bowls of melted chocolate and plates with sliced fruits to dip. Then, as a final flourish, they provided the councilmen with small cases lined with clear vials of—

"Is that what I think it is?" Rilien asked Jem in a low voice.

Jem smiled, twisting in his seat to face Rilien, arm draped over the back of his own chair.

"If you think that represents the very best time of your life, then yes," Jem said.

Poppy tears, Rilien assumed, and it was confirmed when, a few moments later, Arnel was the first to gather up a vial and tilt back his head, letting one drop fall onto his tongue.

This was the new rich-people-drug, shipped from Kiera Island, another Rengleam colony.

Rilien felt naive for not realizing that his family dallied with this sort of thing. He had never touched the stuff, though, and wasn't about to begin now. He often scolded Leithan for doing Yoxai drugs. Rilien wasn't about to become a hypocrite and mimic that behavior. Yoxai drugs, Rengleam drugs, whatever – it was all the same thing to him.

So he let the others have their cigars and poppy tears – meanwhile, Rilien did treat himself to some chocolate-dipped fruits. He didn't have an issue with this particular indulgence.

However, Rilien lost all appetite for dessert when he looked up and saw the girls walking into the room. 

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