A tall man, heavily built and broad-shouldered, placed a firm hand on the gilded iron rail, steadying himself. A low thrumming pulsed beneath his fingers through the metal, came through the night blue carpet under his feet, hovering in the air around him. Tension seemed to ebb and flow in a vortex around his head, though his mind was clouded—for the better or the worse—with thoughts of other things.
Jhondore was his name. Even he, the name’s bearer, forgot that sometimes. He should just be “Jhondi.” He still couldn’t see himself as a leader, no matter how hard he pushed; the name wasn’t right for him. Despite three years of being thrown around, manipulated, and pressed into every tiny public affair, it still seemed like nothing more than that—manipulation. Leadership, it seemed, was quite a different concept than control. Yet here he was.
The low beat of tension seemed to grow louder for a moment, then subsided to a dull pulse. It happened again a moment later. Chanting. He daren’t turn, he daren’t approach, but… No. He was their leader. He forced his hand from the engraved railing. Sweat left a wet mark on the iron, and more covered his hands and trickled down his face. He forced all that out of his mind. Firmly, step by step, he walked toward the great glass window, stained a deep blue, that occupied the room’s southern wall. It was thick, meant to block out noise, to allow the Prazzedor comfort despite local skirmishes and riots. Today was an exception. Sound rose through the floor and seeped through the walls as much as it did the stained glass.
He stepped up, above the window, raising an eyebrow as the sight became clear to him. Beneath, the Eztreet Volmao was a bedlam. Citizens, many confused or disoriented, tried to push through gaps between others, who were in turn pushing forward in an aggressive wave. Everyone, every person on the street at once, was struggling to reach the doors of the Jenezzed Tower, through which Jhondore and his immediate retinue had fled just minutes before. The angle of the pane made it difficult to see what was going on around the doors, but as of yet he guessed the barricades still held. Straining, he could make out flags and wooden posts held by people or groups, most depicting dark blue slashed with the fire colors—red, yellow, and orange. The majority of them were wearing white or red, carrying clubs or firesticks. A great offense. Jhondore closed his eyes. How long would the doors hold? Were the guards still down there? They were loyal men, true, but he doubted they loved him enough to stand in the way of a thousand armed citizens.
The pulsing continued, and for Jhondore it grew to a roar, amplified, it seemed, by his internal acknowledgement of the event. He ran his hand through thinning grey hair, deep in thought. He had tried to imitate Altanore, the Prazzedor before him, in productivity and style, but had fallen short on many degrees. According to the rest of the council, the only thing he got right was the garment—dark blue and black all around, sky buttons and laces. Besides, people seemed to crowd him with requests far more than they had Altanore. Perhaps they indeed thought he could be easier manipulated. Perhaps they were right.
Yet, of all things, this should not be happening. It was all too quick. Only into his third year of rule, and his people had apparently decided he was that much worse than his predecessor, that much weaker. In a way this was the final manipulation, forcing him to flee or face their treatment… likely death. As if he didn’t know how to Manipulate himself… But no. That likely wouldn’t matter here. Given enough time, the riots would abate. They always had, under Altanore’s rule.
A bead of sweat fell beneath his eye and he blinked furiously, turning from the horrible sight. The room that he occupied was small: an almost symmetrical stone cube set four floors up in the tower, with that single window, a square council table, and a short iron staircase that took up the eastern half. There were only two doors: one to the immediate west and one on the last stair, practically in the ceiling. One had to stoop to exit that way, and it led to a balcony high above the tower’s inner yard. By no means a way of escape or a place to hide.
He glanced pointedly toward the western door. “How long until the constables get here!” It was not a question as much as it was a statement, a firm, sharp point, driven spike first into the empty room, stirring the tension in the air. Jhondore had a deep-throated, condescending accent, or at least so others told him. He didn’t bother making an effort to soften it anymore—it simply didn’t work.
The other people in the room, four in total, exchanged worried glances. The city constables should have been here minutes ago, but Jhondore felt hours had passed since the riots began. The riots. He turned around, looking back through the window, if only to confirm what he had just seen. The tensions were not abating. If anything, more people were crowding from around the perimeter, their shouts growing louder. They chanted something Jhondore couldn’t quite make out. No sign of the constables. Had they been held up somewhere else in the city? No. That was a disturbing thought, one Jhondore couldn’t think about right now.