The Ambassador's Mission

PART ONE

CHAPTER 1

THE OLD AND THE NEW

The most successful and quoted piece by the poet Rewin, greatest of the rabble to come out of the New City, was called Citysong. It captured what was heard at night in Imardin, if you took the time to stop and listen: an unending muffled and distant combination of sounds. Voices. Singing. A laugh. A groan. A gasp. A scream.

In the darkness of Imardin’s new Quarter a man remembered the poem. He stopped to listen, but instead of absorbing the city’s song he concentrated on one discordant echo. A sound that didn’t belong. A sound that didn’t repeat. He snorted quietly and continued on.

A few steps later a figure emerged from the shadows before him. The figure was male and loomed over him menacingly. Light caught the edge of a blade.

“Yer money,” a rough voice said, hard with determination.

The man said nothing and remained still. He might have appeared frozen in terror. He might have appeared deep in thought.

When he did move, it was with uncanny speed. A click, a snap of sleeve, and the robber gasped and sank to his knees. A knife clattered on the ground. The man patted him on the shoulder.

“Sorry. Wrong night, wrong target, and I don’t have time to explain why.”

As the robber fell, face-down, on the pavement, the man stepped over him and walked on. Then he paused and looked over his shoulder, to the other side of the street.

“Hai! Gol. You’re supposed to be my bodyguard.”

From the shadows another large figure emerged and hurried to the man’s side.

“Reckon you don’t have much need for one, Cery. I’m getting slow in my old age. I should be payin’ you to protect me.”

Cery scowled. “Your eyes and ears are still sharp, aren’t they?”

Gol winced. “As sharp as yours,” he retorted sullenly.

“Too true.” Cery sighed. “I should retire. But Thieves don’t get to retire.”

“Except by not being Thieves any more.”

“Except by becoming corpses,” Cery corrected.

“But you’re no ordinary Thief. I reckon there’s different rules for you. You didn’t start the usual way, so why would you finish the usual way?”

“Wish everyone else agreed with you.”

“So do I. City’d be a better place.”

“With everyone agreeing with you? Ha!”

“Better for me, anyway.”

Cery chuckled and resumed the journey. Gol followed a short distance behind. He hides his fear well, Cery thought. Always has. But he must be thinking that we both might not make it through this night. Too many of the others have died.

Over half the Thieves – the leaders of underworld criminal groups in Imardin – had perished these last few years. Each in different ways and most from unnatural causes. Stabbed, poisoned, pushed from a tall building, burned in a fire, drowned or crushed in a collapsed tunnel. Some said a single person was responsible, a vigilante they called the Thief Hunter. Others believed it was the Thieves themselves, settling old disputes.

Gol said it wasn’t who would go next that punters were betting on, but how.

Of course, younger Thieves had taken the place of the old, sometimes peacefully, sometimes after a quick, bloody struggle. That was to be expected. But even these bold newcomers weren’t immune to murder. They were as likely to become the next victim as an older Thief.

There were no obvious connections between the killings. While there were plenty of grudges between Thieves, none provided a reason for so many murders. And while attempts on Thieves’ lives weren’t that unusual, that they were successful was. That, and the fact that the killer or killers had neither bragged about it, nor been seen in the act.

In the past