The details were stomach-churning.
It shouldn’t have been a surprise - prior work with financial crimes and inconsistencies in the past ought to have been a better indicator that something fishy was up with the transfer of so many boxings to obscure funds in the Southern Dominance. But to embezzle funds? From the Steel Ministry? Only a madman would do—could do—such a thing. Well, that was Rostam for you. A madman indeed. Except now his madness had caught up with him, and there would be blood to pay.
A nod to the secretary in the corner of the office sent him, bowing, down the hallway to bring Rostam into the room. It looked the same as it ever did - tall, narrow windows framed by candlelight to hide the flakes of falling ash which spewed forth from the nearby Mount Zariel, a reminder of the dominion of the Lord Ruler.
The earring felt hard and bumpy, the only thing taken off Rostam which had been classified as a “weapon” by the Ministry secretaries. It was pure iron, more of a hook, cruelly sharp and covered with a thin layer of dried blood. Rostam had never had piercings; in fact, he’d been the austere one in the family, shunning jewellery and luxury. What was he thinking with this artefact? And why would the Inquisitors single it out, out of all the things to take off him? Nothing added up. I shook my head. Such thoughts were too distracting, and the door was opening again, Rostam entering with his head still held high. That blasted man. He even had the audacity to speak first, before the secretary had left again.
“Brother. You look tired."
“Rostam.” The contempt was still below the surface. For now. “Rusts, man, what were you thinking? The Ministry’s in an uproar over this! A few boxings here and there and they might have quietly dismissed you. Now there’s an entire trial lined up for you. In Luthadel itself! Lord Ruler, do you have any idea as to how stupid this was? And guess who’s job it’ll be to get you there?”
He looked unconcerned. Maddeningly so. “Yours, presumably. If you take the case to trial, of course.” The smile which followed was humourless, judging from experience. “That’s not a given yet.”
“You think your back is safe because you have a brother in the Ministry? What you’ve done is despicable. You deserve every punishment the Inquisitors can devise. You’ve left life in shambles for everyone not in on your petty schemes, and it’s come to an end. An end, Rostam.”
“You’re trusted, brother. Because there’s something you’ve forgotten.” He leaned in closer, unwashed breath rancid.
When he finished, he stepped back, looking satisfied with himself. He was laughing, in fact, laughing at the emotions which had carelessly been plastered on my face. “Well, we both know your Ministry principles are out the window now. How are you going to help me?”
Breaths. Slow breathing, one breath at a time. This was insane. Was anyone in the room? Nobody should be in the room. It’d be a whisper, then. “There are some back channels the Ministry uses to get people out who they want to publicly chastise but actually have uses for. You’d get sent through one of them, a switch that should be able to be arranged without too much hassle. If you’re crafty - if - you might get out of the way before the Inquisitors find you out.”
Rostam was smiling fully now. “Thank you, Iste. And as for your own plans, I may perhaps be of aid to you. One brother to another.”
“The Ministry cannot be escaped.” Asserted more flatly than intended, but it was true. Rostam should know. He’d probably eventually find out, despite whatever efforts were continued on his behalf. “It is expected that one of us will fall into the hands of the Inquisitors. And it will not be you.”
Rostam shrugged. “Not sure there. Have you heard of this village called Fallion’s Tears? In the Southern Dominance, out of the way, barely exists on Ministry records. A scholar there is retiring, and there might be a perfect place for you to use your talents and do your little self-imposed penance at the same time.” The iron earring dug in, hook tearing the flesh of the palm, and other voices seemed to overlap Rostam’s. “You will have an important role to play ere your time is complete…”
I wrote Iste's backstory eleven hours before the game will possibly be decided, as Kas threatened to turn him into a duck wrangler and we couldn't have that. So instead he's a retired obligator who got involved in sketchy business twice and eventually lived the chill and peaceful life in Fallion's Tears to escape it all. Except that stupid earring...always causing trouble for us older pacifist gents