I watched Kára walk away. Walk away, while Rhode and I ventured on into uncharted territory. And once we rounded the corner, she was gone.
The server took us along a hall. A hall with a low ceiling, and sandstone walls, which was even dimmer than the rest of the joint, and was suddenly much quieter too. It was far more grim and austere than I anticipated. But, I thought to myself, it seems quite appropriate for a man like Saan Qorm. A front obviously, for he was a man with ambition. If he were a sin he would be greed, and his vice excess, despite what little he showed to the world.
We turned down into an alcove at last, and stopped at a door. The server knocked and waited.
A second later it slid open to reveal the robust Pohrs Urlin. Saan’s second in command. The Saravian was at least a head taller than Rhode, and twice as burly. I was amazed to see he had fit into the room. And he had far more battle scars. One of them was his silence. For he never spoke a word.
Pohrs dismissed the server with a nod, and then growled to reveal his canines before allowing us inside.
Much like the underground club, and the hall, and indeed the rest of the planet, the domed office walls were as sand as the stone it was carved from. And the light was not much brighter. But of course, the Izmiri were probably so used to the dingy and lacklustre it shouldn’t have been a surprise. And I saw none of his collections of art, nor his trophies he often bragged about, which made it all especially dour. Either Saan lied about them, or they were locked away in a safe somewhere.
Along with Pohrs, there were three other thugs in the room, all of them as orange as Rhode. Saan liked to surround himself with Saravians. I couldn’t blame the man for that of course. They weren’t always the best company, but they were menacing. And they were not the extent of his organisation, but the four he trusted above all.
Sudd was the smallest, and probably the ugliest and the dumbest of them. Both of the simple man’s eyes moved independent of the other, and neither looked straight. He was a yes-man, and followed orders practically to the letter.
Standing opposite him at the door was Tung. His forearms were crossed, but I remembered a time when he used them to break a man’s back, tear out his spine and use it to whip the corpse to a pulp.
Then there was the lovely Iruna sitting next to Saan. She wasn’t just his muscle, but one of his beautiful lovers too. She was calm, even cordial to an extent, but when she was angry… she wasn’t even a Saravienne. She was a feral animal with claws and fangs then, and Saan wouldn’t stop her from eating someone who had displeased him. Not for the world.
At the fore was the man himself. Baron Saan Qorm. The leader of the Deh Raiz Gang. Sitting behind his desk, his forked tongue was shoved far down Iruna’s throat. Like most Izmiri, he was thin, but not feeble. He was bespoke and perhaps even handsome, but I would rather call him fearsome. Like the passive aggressive lizard he truly was.
His sharp scales were layered like a plume of malachite feathers. Twitching and quivering to match his expression, ruffling if angered. At the end of his snout, like his ears, were but narrow canals, which flared with the temper. And under a prominent brow were extremely deep set eyes. Cobalt, with vertical slit pupils.
I stared him down; my eyes wrought with contempt, and my cheeks forcing a pained grin. “Saan Qorm. How generous of you to invite us to your home.”
“Mister Kellar, good morning. It’s always a pleasure to see you—” said Saan.
“It’s just a pity,” I added, “that same invitation, for whatever reason, wasn’t extended to our Captain.”
Saan snorted. His lips parted and he showed off his fangs. The lot of them serrated. “… And you Mister Tasmir.”
Rhode nodded at his host, and placed a firm hand on my shoulder. Calm down, he said wordlessly. I took a deep breath and tried to be as stoic as he.
“I apologise, Saan. Please excuse Wolven. If only you knew—”
“Oh no, Mister Tasmir, you need not explain. Yours is a difficult profession. I understand that better than most. And you may be a few days late, but it looks like you have all of my merchandise. Which is all that matters.”
“Of course,” said Rhode, giving the canisters in his arms a slight shake, “Your spices. All accounted for.”
Rhode and I set the canisters down on what I assumed was a rug made of the pale blue fur of a Hettan! An ancient being from the deepest space, which went extinct long ago. Some say they came from the Erebus. Or even the Nyx galaxy. The Darkness. Wherever they were from, the fur was unmistakable. I was a little shocked it had been reduced to a throw rug.
“Yes. His majesty, the Royal Vuss will be quite pleased. Quite pleased…”
His statement was clearly a lie. As everyone knew, the Royal Vuss was morally incorruptible, and would never stoop to dealings with a man at Saan’s level. Or one as crooked. No matter how rare or valuable a spice might be.
The don rubbed his non-existent nose, ere quiet befell the room. And thus an already tense situation, became unbearably uncomfortable. Silent. Staring. Glaring. Sweating.
Feeling compelled to break that silence, I asked what Rhode and I were both thinking, “Well, are we waiting for something? Someone? Perhaps, the Royal Vuss himself?”
“Hold your tongue,” Iruna interjected.
The Saravienne wore a wry smile, and a sinister stare. Her orange legs were crossed. And her spurred claws poked through her leather boots as they rested on Saan’s desk. Then she continued cooly, “Show your employer and your host some respect.”
“Iruna, darling… that’s enough.” Saan said softly.
In classic form quite true to her character, Iruna gave her lover a scoff and wroth expression, before violently surging up and storming out in tantrum. Knocking shoulders with Rhode and myself as she did so.
“Such a temper on that one,” grinned Saan.
His cold-blooded eyes soon flicked to mine, beholding me in a predatory glance. I felt as though my pulse was being taken, and my blood was beginning to boil. As if I were locked in a sort of trance.
With a flick of his tongue, the lizard finally replied, “If you must know, Mister Kellar, my reason for barring Captain Hazana’s entrance just walked out the door. In regard to your last query however, we are waiting for someone. Not his majesty of course, but someone nevertheless.”
Four slow heavy knocks struck the door, which released me from the thrall of my host. Four more— deliberately drawn out— soon followed. The thumping was enough to put Rhode on edge as I watched the skin of his neck tighten, and his clawed fingers curl inward to makes a pair of osseous fists.