Thus begins Chapter 3 - also titled Countdown To Midnight, co-incidentally enough.
Five weeks to Calibration.
Convincing the Deliberative to approve war against the Mask of Winters had been difficult. Doing so without making it clear that the Roseblack was firmly expected to win had been even more so. The better part of two months had been wasted in wrangling, socializing, and turning every weapon that Damian, Fokuf, and Nagazzer had at their disposal to the effort.
But that hurdle had been cleared, and without revealing the secret of the groupâ€™s proposed victory. Those onside believed that Ejava was to engage in skirmishes along the Maskâ€™s borders, shoring up morale and showing that the Realm did not abandon her allies, whatever others might believe.
Now, sitting in their war room, the three allies had other concerns â€“ troop mustering. The campaign was set to begin in three weeks, giving the Roseblack two weeks of fighting before she would â€˜allowâ€™ the Mask of Winters to draw her into a decisive combat. Only the Roseblack herself and a tiny handful of her staff knew that they had a weapon against the Mask, and the plotters intended to keep it that way â€“ if the Mask learned about this, he would not advance to the fight himself.
â€œPersonally, Iâ€™m worried about Mnemon. Why is she throwing support behind this?â€ Damian tapped the table rhythmically as he spoke, his focus evident. Nagazzer, studying the Greyfalls deployment zone, shrugged heavily, settling back in his chair.
â€œWhy wouldnâ€™t she? This is precisely what she wants. I imagine she has left orders for those troops she is supplying to retreat at the first sign of serious danger.â€
â€œAnyway, half the Deliberative already thinks this is her idea. Sheâ€™d either have to stop it completely, or jump on.â€ Fokuf shook his head. â€œIâ€™m more concerned about Lookshy. Are we sure they wonâ€™t try anything?â€
â€œHmm.â€ Damian nodded thoughtfully. â€œLookshy is planning their own campaign, but not against the Realm. As far as I can tell, theyâ€™re going after the Walker In Darkness at the same time, using our maneuvers as cover.â€ He looked up at his compatriots. â€œMore of our silent partnerâ€™s assistance, I expect. Why strike at one Deathlord when you can attack many?â€
â€œI just hope we can trust this â€˜Mokrelusâ€™ thing.â€ Nagazzer looked back over the map, haphazardly pushing a unit around the Scavenger Lands. â€œIâ€™m sure itâ€™s occurred to everyone that if that part of the plan collapses on us, weâ€™re going to lose the entire Vermillion Legion.â€
â€œIâ€™m pretty good at telling when someone is being honest with me.â€ Fokuf smiled wryly. â€œSo few people generally are. But this plan works. Anyway, from what little I remember about Mokrelus, heâ€™s not likely to betray Creation in favour of the Deathlords. I think we can trust him.â€
Nagazzer nodded again, still frowning thoughtfully. â€œAnd Ejavaâ€™s new adjunct?â€
â€œThere, you have no cause for concern.â€ Damian nodded firmly. â€œIâ€™ve checked over Cathak Tyr as extensively as humanly possible, and then some. Besides which, his references are excellent. Heâ€™ll support the Roseblack wholeheartedly.â€
â€œGood. Canâ€™t underestimate the value of a good adjunct.â€ Nagazzer scratched his chin. â€œAfter what happened to his last commanderâ€¦â€
â€œThere wereâ€¦ extenuating circumstances.â€ Damian stood, nodding to his two friends. â€œIâ€™m afraid that Iâ€™m going to be out of contact with you for at least two weeks. I have to help lay a lot of destinies, and the process isâ€¦ well, letâ€™s say tiring and leave it at that. Is there anything else youâ€™ll need?â€
â€œI think weâ€™ve got it under control.â€ Fokuf stood as well, taking Damianâ€™s hand. â€œGood luck.â€
â€œThanks.â€ Damian nodded to Nagazzer, who did not rise from his chair, but who nodded in return. â€œKeep the home fires burning â€“ Iâ€™ll see you in a couple of weeks.â€ Turning, he walked from the room, glancing around before letting his resplendent destiny fade away and heading towards the Imperial Cityâ€™s celestial gate.
It was not long afterwards that he was entering the shining gates of the Bureau of Destiny, nodding to various functionaries and godlings. As he made his way towards the Loom of Fate, he was surprised to see Twice-Breathing Millia making her way towards him.
â€œGood afternoon, Millia. Shouldnâ€™t you be back in the Imperial City?â€
Millia waved halfheartedly. A moment later, she shifted direction to fall in step with Damian. â€œIâ€™ve been at the Loom trying to track Iselsi.â€ She rubbed her forehead. â€œTheyâ€™re a royal pain. You know that, right?â€
â€œWhy do you think Cyrus keeps letting it slide?â€ Damian shrugged. â€œThe Empress used to keep them firmly reigned in, so we didnâ€™t need to watch them as much as the other Houses. We havenâ€™t really gotten in the habit of doing it better. Anything interesting?â€
â€œMaybe.â€ Millia glanced around, and lowered her voice. â€œCan you imagine a reason that Sidereals would lay destinies to hide the Iselsi from people watching the Loom?â€
Damian missed a step. â€œNo. Did you ask Cyrus?â€
Millia nodded glumly. â€œHe told me to look into it. Couldnâ€™t do it himself, of courseâ€¦â€
â€œHeâ€™s pretty busy, Millia. We all are.â€
â€œI know.â€ Millia sighed. â€œIâ€™m heading back down Creation-side to see if up-close study will get me anything. Iâ€™ll tell you later.â€
â€œMuch later. Iâ€™ll be in the Loom, working fate. And then using the Wrapped Fly ritual for a week or so. And then probably working more fate.â€ Damian made a face, which Millia echoed knowingly. â€œThe real elders are too busy right now to take that kind of time off, so I get all the fun.â€
â€œYikes. Good luck.â€ Waving, Millia shifted directions again. â€œSee you when you get out.â€
â€œYeah, you too.â€ Waving idly, Damian returned his attention to the Loom. He had a lot of work to do, and was running out of time to do it.
Five weeks to Calibration.