The Seeds of Chaos; a Tale of Envy

“Hello Kitty-Cat.”

The way Crescent bristled, Elian could tell the greeting struck the desired nerve. It was easy to imagine the other man in his furred form, hair standing on end, tail swollen to express his aggression; especially when Crescent bared his teeth exactly the way a cat might.

Pretending not to notice the effects of his words, Elian strode brazenly into the elevator and absently flicked the button for his desired floor. He watched Crescent seethe out of the corners of his eyes while the heavy metallic doors swished closed. It was almost too easy to press the man’s buttons, though perhaps he was in a unique position to do so. No one else quite knew how to draw the Master’s eyes, after all.

Crescent had only just regained his composure when Elian turned to face him, eyes wide with realization. “Ah yes! How did your meeting with the Guild Master go? I rather expected it to last a little longer.”

He would let Crescent puzzle over how he knew about the private meeting in the first place, let alone the time of its unexpected end. A man as hated as he was needed to have a lot of eyes and ears on his side and he wasn’t above leveraging them for personal reasons. After all, driving a thorn into Crescent’s side had been one of his main goals since his arrival. He had no personal vendetta against the lower-ranked assassin, but there was only room in the Guild Master’s affections for one proper lover, and Elian was determined it should be him. Domerin had belonged to him first, after all.

To his surprise, Crescent adopted a smug grin of his own, jade eyes dancing with malice. “I’m sure you’d like to know, but I’m not the sort to go blabbing guild secrets.”

“A pity,” Elian replied with mock regret. He shook his head and clicked his tongue when he turned away, like a parent chiding an errant child. “It’s no wonder you haven’t won yourself many allies within the guild.”

Crescent was careful not to wear his emotions on his sleeve this time, but Elian caught the hint of doubt in his eyes, as if he were reviewing the brief conversation, looking for his mistake.

The elevator lurched as it jolted into motion, the panel above the door counting steadily down. At last, Crescent seemed to come to the conclusion that Elian was bluffing, and his smug smile returned.

“And you have? You’re still just the head disgrace, Elian. And you always will be.”

A bold play; but then he shouldn’t have been surprised the werecat was so willing to unsheathe his claws.

With casual indifference, Elian’s hands flicked to the elevator control panel, his fingers dancing across several of the buttons while his thumb held one in place. From the way Crescent’s eyes widened, it was obvious he recognized the gesture. No doubt Domerin had locked him in this elevator a time or two. It was the Guild Master’s prerogative to hold the rest of them up whenever he wanted to.

Elian waited until the elevator had lurched to a halt to turn to his captive companion. “You may have grown used to weaseling your way into people’s good graces while you were a whore, Darling, but I know the ins and outs of the guild. I was born to this life. It gave me a head-start. You’ll always be feeling your way through the dark in my wake. It’s better if you realize that now.”

Crescent uttered a low growl, shoulders rising and falling as he seethed. But he caught himself quickly, lifted his chin and lowered his shoulders, the smug grin returning to his lips. “You’re awfully cocky considering the Master will barely speak with you.”

Elian snorted. “He doesn’t put me out like a dog when he’s done with me either.”

Crescent recoiled; another perfect strike. So he had been right to assume this was no perfect partnership. It was a game, for the Guild Master if not for his love-sick admirer. Crescent had yet to break the seal Domerin erected after Elian’s painful parting. Perhaps his fool brother’s damn delays wouldn’t be as big a setback as he anticipated.

He allowed himself a smug smile. “In the end, if the master chooses a partner, he’s going to choose an equal. Someone with the initiative to take the difficult tasks upon himself without being asked. Someone who can read the needs of the guild that he can’t openly state.”

Crescent glared at him with such intensity, he was probably trying to imagine his head exploding. Not that Elian was at all moved by the display. This was exactly how he had hoped the conversation would go.

“Shouldn’t you stop holding up the elevator?” Crescent demanded through clenched teeth. “Where’d you get those codes anyway?”

It was difficult to keep from laughing with glee. So he had only ever seen Domerin lock the elevators after all. “All the clan masters have codes, Crescent. It’s our prerogative to reroute traffic when need be. That’s why apprentices take the stairs.”

There was venom in Crescent’s eyes, so much that Elian was convinced the man would never be able to look at him in public without betraying his true feelings. So much the better. “I don’t think your personal soapbox has anything to do with Guild priorities. Some of us have duties to attend.” To his credit, he didn’t act as though he would run to Domerin to recount all of Elian’s sins; though that didn’t mean he wouldn’t try.

Elian laid one hand on his chest, his expression one of absolute innocence. “Listen, Kitten, I’m only trying to help. You don’t have to take my advice, but then I won’t shed a tear when the Master discards you. After all the openings he’s given you regarding the situation with the Prime Minister, it isn’t a wonder he’s frustrated with your indecision.”

“The Master made his decision when it comes to that case. Who am I to question it?”

Elian shrugged. “Take the safe route if you want. It’s never gotten anyone to a master’s position.”

“This isn’t about rank-“

“Darling, everything in this place is about rank.” Elian barked a laugh. “Position and power are everything to an assassin. You don’t think Domerin knows the game he’s playing? If he had come to me, I would have read the undertone. I certainly wouldn’t have hesitated. There are things the Guild Master can’t officially condone, after all.”

“If you’re such an expert on what he wants, why don’t you do it?” Crescent’s tone was bitter and biting, but the doubt in his eyes suggested he had taken the bait.

Elian shrugged. “He didn’t come to me. And besides, seduction has never been my wheelhouse, unless there’s a throat to slit at the end of it.” His quick fingers darted back across the control panel, releasing the elevator lock. Moments later it jerked back into motion.

Crescent said nothing and they passed the rest of the journey in silence. Elian’s stop was four floors above Crescent’s. Plenty of time for the seeds Elian had planted to take root.

*  *  *  *  *  *

It had been three weeks since the conversation in the elevator. Once planted, Elian hadn’t needed to lift a finger towards tending his chaotic little seed; Crescent’s desires and ambitions had been all the food and water it needed to grow. He hadn’t even needed to rely on his contacts to discover the outcome; the Guild Master was livid that one of his own had slipped behind his back to sleep with the Prime Minister and everyone knew it. The other clan masters were shaking at the knees, terrified his wrath would befall one of them. Especially the master of the Wildcat Clan, who had been a bit too vocal about his recent ambitions.

Elian was tempted to allow himself a little jig when he returned to his quarters. At least, until he opened the door.

Often, an assassin’s instincts were the only thing which kept them alive. Their senses had to be honed keenly enough that even the smallest out of place detail would awaken them to the danger. As the door swept closed behind him, not under his power, he was keenly aware that, had he been in the field, he would likely be dead at this moment. Dead for real this time.

He shouldn’t have been surprised that the Guild Master could still catch him off guard; if anyone had the skill, it was Domerin. He heard the soft click of the door before he felt the hot breath on his neck.

“I hope you’re happy.”

Elian closed his eyes. But if Domerin meant to kill him, a knife would already be pressed to his throat. “I’m always happy when you deign to speak with me.”

The innocent act was a mistake. He knew it the moment the words left his lips. Domerin’s hands were rough when they forced him against the wall, and only effort kept Elian from banging his head against it. He opened his eyes, but he could barely see the Guild Master against the shadows in the room. He was little more than two pairs of intense blue eyes burning holes in his soul.

“Thought your little conversation in the elevator would go unnoticed, did you?”

Elian’s heart began to race. “Ran to tattle, did he?”

Domerin’s fingers clamped against his shoulder hard enough to make him wince. “You aren’t the only one with eyes and ears in every corner of the Guild. Do not play your games with me, Eagle.” His face was inches from Elian’s face when he hissed the threat. “Don’t forget that your life belongs to me. I can take it whenever I please.”

His fingers were on the scar at Elian’s neck, tracing the rough contours. Elian’s eyes slid closed and his breath caught in his throat; not out of fear. Those fingers awakened old desires difficult to dispel.

Domerin’s hand fell away and Elian opened his eyes again. He could see the silhouette of the Guild Master’s head better now that his eyes had adjusted to the darkness, but his features were still obscure. “Perhaps I’ll take your clan and return you to exile. Would that fulfill your noble purpose?”

It took a moment for Elian to find his voice. “I didn’t mean to upset you.”

“Of course you did.” He could hear the sneer in Domerin’s voice without needing to see his face. “You just hoped the consequences would fall on someone else.”

Elian winced but said nothing. He hadn’t realized he was so transparent.

“You’re going to fix this mess,” the guild master went on, hot breath caressing Elian’s cheek with each word. “And if you haven’t done it in three days, you’re going to learn just how unforgiving I’ve grown since you left.” He turned then, though he paused at the door, his face illuminated by a crack of light spilling in from outside. His expression was harder than Elian had ever seen, as if he were made of stone. His voice was flat when he spoke. “Jealousy doesn’t suit you.”

Then he was gone and Elian slid to the floor, burying his head in his hands. This was all his brother’s fault, he was sure, for hesitating when he should have been eager for revenge. Yet it wasn’t at his departed sibling that his wrath was aimed. It was Crescent, that damned feline, for stealing what was so rightfully his. And somehow he had even managed to foul up his own mistake enough that Domerin wasn’t even angry with him. How did he keep doing this? The cat wasn’t clever enough to outplay him, so how did he keep clinging to Domerin’s heart by the skin of his claws?

“Whatever it takes,” Elian whispered to himself until the mantra had filled him with resolve. And if Domerin ran a blade across his neck next time instead of his fingers, so be it.

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