The Tenth was unlike any other village Rose had ever seen before, even in Genticus. The buildings covered the whole valley, sprawling along the river haphazardly. She could see tiny boats floating at the river mouth, almost in the ocean proper.
“Is this a fishing village too?” she asked, pointing to the boats.
“They aren’t boats, they’re mines,” explained Navihm. “The river carries salts from the Aura mountains. The water travels too fast for it to be mined upriver but when it hits the ocean, the currents slow and deposit all the minerals and sediments in the river delta. See where the water is a lighter blue?” He pointed to a large area of water fanning out from where the river reached the ocean. “The water there is shallow and slow moving, that’s called the river delta. Those buildings you see out there are permanent. They anchor them using stilts and mine the mineral-rich mud and salts from the ocean floor.”
By now, Rose and the others were used to these little sermons Navihm was prone to. It was a byproduct of being raised by a teacher.
They entered the village and the view of the river was blocked by the maze of buildings and homes that made up the Tenth. The valley had once contained the town but now it had grown so big it spilled over the edge of the bluffs bordering the river.
Unlike other Genti towns, this one was a mash of many different cultures. Situated on a stretch of the coast between the Shallow Sea and the North Ocean, the Tenth was the hub of international trading for every country across the waters. It was at the Tenth where the Persians first landed in Genticus, fleeing persecution from their country across the Shallow Sea.
It had been more than a year since Navihm had been here, but he still knew his way around.
“I know a good place to stay,” he said. He lead the group through the narrow alleys and crowded streets. They made their way a double story building with sliding door. The windows were made of bamboo and a paper thin material that the Ianterrans had never seen before. Rose ran her fingers over a window, it felt waxy and surprisingly tough. The building was unlike any she’d seen. The roof bowed inwardly and jutted out from the walls to create an overhang. The door was made of the same fibrous material as the windows and depicted a painted dragon and strange lettering.
The inside was just as curious. The walls were draped in soft, brightly coloured cotton and the tables and chairs were made of soft woods and sawn off logs that had been lacquered and polished until they gleamed a dark, golden brown. Most of the tables were full of guests, drinking and eating and listening to the musician play a soft haunting tune on his lyre.
“Navihm!” called a dark haired girl from behind the bar. She was wearing long skirts and a loose white top, bound over her stomach with a wide red belt. She walked up to greet them and Rose saw that her skirts were actually loose, flowing pants. The girl was chattering delightedly to Navihm in a language Rose couldn't understand.
“What is she saying?” she asked Hart. He shrugged.
“I don't know. I don't speak Quadan.”
Navihm was responding to the girl in her own language. He called her Jia.
“Come, Jia,” he said in the common language. “Meet my friends. We need some rooms for the next day or two. I know that it is short notice, but do you have enough room for all of us?” She nodded gaily, smiling prettily at her guests.
“Welcome,” she said to the others, bowing deeply. Her silky black hair was piled on top of her head and wobble precariously as she bowed to them. “I will talk with my mother and we will see about your rooms. Please, take a seat and enjoy a meal and music.” She disappeared through a door behind the bar. Navihm led them to two empty tables.
A Quadan woman about Jai’s age came over as soon as they had taken their seats and placed a cup in front of each of them and a teapot at each table. Navihm thanked her by name and she blushed and bowed.
“The owner of this inn is Bo, Jia’s mother,” Navihm said, loud enough so the guards seated at the table next to them could hear. “She owes me a favour or two. We should have a comfortable stay here for as long as it takes to conduct what business I have in town.”
“And what business is that?” Rose was at a loss to why they would need to spend more than one night in the Tenth.
“I am going to find who carried out the hit on my family and kill them,” Navihm said, sipping his tea.
“It makes sense to look here,” said Hart, not missing a beat. “No one in Genticus is mad enough to attack your mother or Kaia. You are too well known and feared. It would have to be contract work by a foreign assassin.”
The girl who brought them their tea brought out a tray of steaming food for each table. It was mostly leaves layered together and folded into thick packets. Navihm pulled open one of these packets gingerly, wary of the cloud of hot steam that was released when he did so, to reveal steamed dumplings. Another girl placed utensils and cups of water in front of each of them. Rose noticed that Navihm wasn't given a fork like the rest of them, but two thin sticks which he pinched between his thumb and forefinger and expertly used to pick up food and dip it into the small bowl of dark sauce.
Their meal was interrupted by Jai and an older lady dressed similarly to her.
“Mistress Bo,” Navihm greeted.
“Navihm, I was wondering when you would return,” she said. Bo unfolded her hands from within her wide sleeves and patted Navihm on the cheek fondly. “I have come to tell you that your rooms are ready. I have prepared the entire top floor for you and your friends.”
“You have my thanks, Mistress Bo.” Navihm rose from his seat and bowed.
“After you found my Jia when she was taken, this is nothing.” Bo’s eyes crinkled as she smiled. “I shall get my girls to prepare you a bath for when you finish your meal.” She gestured to Jai, who was still standing at her back. The younger girl scurried off, presumably to see to their baths.
“Mistress, I was hoping you would help me get some information discreetly,” inquired Navihm in a lowered voice. Bo leaned in closer. “Who would I talk to if I wanted to have someone killed? Someone very dear to me recently was on the wrong end of one such failed transaction and I would like to put a stop to that sort of thing happening to her again.”
“That would be Mr. Black, Navihm dear,” said Bo anxiously. “He runs most of that sort of thing here. He was behind most of my girls’ abductions and he organised who bought or rented them before they came to work here.” She glanced around the room at the young girls she had serving tables and cleaning. Navihm had saved these girls when he’d saved Jai from a life of slavery and forced prostitution. Bo gave those of them who no longer had homes work and board. They reminded her of what could have happened to Jia if Navihm hadn't gotten to her in time. Thanks to Navihm, her family was much bigger and these girls were safe.
“Where can I find him?”
“He has an office at the docks.”
Part one of two. I've had some technical issues so there wasn't an update yesterday. I hope this chapter makes up for it, it's one of my favourites (especially the next bit.)
LaughingStock001, you wanted to see some assassins get tortured, right? I hope this next bit is close enough!