Chapter 5 Avarice and Ambition The Right Honorable Gulzar Ganguly knew that this was only a matter of time. Like a black miasma, High Inquisitor Lut Sar's caravan arrived at the front of his gates. He watched from his penthouse as his city guards put up a token resistance, bending before Lut Sar's Imperial Seal and opening the gates for them. If Zirako was the Burning Czar's body, Avarath was the Draken Merchant's body. While the Nocturne was not exactly a foreign invader, he was something Gulzar battled with many times. On one hand, the Mayor of Avarath dealt with the avatars of greed, the Hosian and Avarathian merchants ... and in the other, the avatar of death, Lut Sar, his imperial seal, and behind it all, the Czar. Pressed between the two, he converted raw materials, secrets, and goods into ordnance for the Empire. And he was rewarded handsomely for performing his part in the delicate dance. All his life he had no want, nothing that gold could not acquire. But now, he felt the twangs of ambition. He wanted something ... something more. Something no amount of gold could buy. From his penthouse, he could see Lut Sar moving towards him as the rest of the Inquisitor's caravan spread into the city. He didn't need his Advent to know that Lut Sar was looking at him from under the brim of the parasol. . . . "Mayor." Lut Sar leaned deep into the recliner in Gulzar's office, legs crossed. "High Inquisitor." Ganguly tapped his fingers on the overstuffed armrest, leaning ever so slightly forward behind his desk. "What a comfortable place you have built for yourself, in Avarath." Lut tested the spring in his chair. "Quite honestly, I am uncomfortable sitting in such luxury! I am used to the bite of raw wood and reed mat." A scaled finger pushed forward a cup of Kresnick, ice, and fresh blood. "Marshal Sar, that is precisely why I oversee Avarath. To provide comforts to the ones who struggle in the daily sand, so that Kaustir may continue." Lut wrapped three fingers around the cup's stem and took a long, brooding sip. "I .. am worried .. that the merchants of Avarath .. have forgotten what suffering means." "Nonsense, Marshal Sar. We struggle everyday to secure the best deals for our trade, so that Zirako and Dorgrad are paid their deserved dues in gold and material." Lut delicately placed the cup, still half full, on Gulzar's desk. "And where does K'Larr's betrayal fall into your plan?" "Is it part of your struggle?" "K'Larr is a traitor," Gulzar smoothly responded. "But the pursuit is difficult and endangers the port authority. He has fled into the Prosperos sea with the best ships of our age." "Yet we hold the best engineers, Mayor. Ships are not the problem; rather, it seems that the port authorities are not cooperating fully with General Kirtin." Melting ice clinked in the cup, and Lut reached forward, brushing a few drops of condensation off the golden metal side. "I expect your full cooperation going forward." Just prior "Arania. We finally have arrived at your home." Lut Sar glanced back at the pair, sitting in the dark confines of his carriage. Despite the lack of sun and the stifling atmosphere, the arid desert air left the wood smelling fresh and unrotten. It had been an unprecedented month (two?). Lut had traveled the entire length of Kaustir more times than he cared to admit, doing what he felt was like patching up a leaking water clock. They paused at the entrance. Takeda alighted first, extending a hand to help Arania down, the other clutching a parasol that he used to shade the Nocturne. The Eastern man turned to face Lut. "Takeda. My teacher and soldier." Lut clapped his shoulders. "You have taken your military leave, and requested a ship for Viridos. It ... is none of my business what you do there. I only have two requests for you." "One. When you are in Viridos, you are a citizen of Kaustir, not a commissioned officer. Two, don't get caught by the Kindly Ones." Lut pressed a piece of leather into Takeda's hand, engraved with his personal seal. "If you meet them, use this as a last resort." "I will not. Thank you, Marshal Sar." The salty sea air that meandered its way through Avarath's streets smelled of the great tides of change.