One week to Calibration.
Tepet Fokuf fretted in his chambers, not actually reading the reports that lay before him. With everything prepared, and the early skirmishes against the Mask already underway, there was nothing left for him to do but wait, and try to make sure that Ejavaâ€™s support did not stream away before she could win her crucial victory.
Nagazzer was not present â€“ his recent work had caused him to neglect his affairs in House Sesus, and he had gone to bring that back in line. Fokuf was surprised at how much he missed the large manâ€™s presence; Nagazzer had a way about him, a certain cynical serenity that assured you that he had survived the worst that might happen, and that you could too. Combined with his practicality, it made him a companion that Fokuf was very at-home with. The fact that Nagazzer, like Fokuf, hid his true self behind a mask of indulgence was only added help to that belief.
No sign of Damian, either. Here, Fokuf was beginning to seriously worry. He had expected his Sidereal mentor to return a good two weeks earlier, and he could not imagine that his absence was a positive sign. While his astrology was not a critical part of the plan, it would be useful to know that it was present, and Fokuf was increasingly concerned that a Bronze Faction attack squad would be attacking him in his chambers at any moment. He had gone so far as to hide a number of objects about his rooms that could double as weapons in a pinch, just in case. He only hoped that Damian wasnâ€™t injured â€“ or dead.
Sighing, he tried to return his attention to the spy reports. The last troubling fact. Mnemonâ€™s support for the Roseblackâ€™s mission. On the surface, it seemed obvious enough â€“ a woman moving to ensure her rivalâ€™s elimination. But she was going too far â€“ loaning her aerial chariot to quickly move officers about, sending her own soldiers to reinforce the Legionâ€¦ Fokuf didnâ€™t trust it, it was too unlike her. But what her game was, he couldnâ€™t imagine.
As he studied Mnemonâ€™s movements â€“ or at least, as much of them as Nagazzerâ€™s spies could track, which was painfully little â€“ the door slid open, creaking on its hinges. Fokufâ€™s hand tightened around a sharp-tipped paperweight, only to loosen as Damian staggered into the room.
â€œDragons above, man, you look awful! What happened?â€ It was true. As Fokuf hurried from the desk to Damianâ€™s side, he noted his friendâ€™s sunken eyes, the hair that had not been brushed. His clothes were clean, but rumpled as though slept in repeatedly. For a moment, Damian just blinked at him, before sinking into a lounge chair with a despairing groan.
â€œThe end of the world, Fokuf. Maidens preserve us from ourselves.â€ When Fokuf raised an eyebrow uncomprehendingly, he shook his head. â€œThe Sidereals are at war.â€
â€œWith each other.â€ Damian shook his head again, staring into the distance. â€œIt started while I was holed up in the Loom â€“ one of the Bronze, a woman that I worked with, was murdered. Then the Bronze discovered that the Gold had somehow gathered scores of Solars together, and they went mad. Half of the faction attacked the Gold camps directly.â€
â€œUh-oh.â€ Fokuf swallowed.
â€œYeah. The Gold didnâ€™t back down. I donâ€™t know if Kejak expected them too. I know a lot of the attackers did. There were three Gold camps â€“ they successfully defended one, and fought a rearguard retreat at the others. All told, eight Bronze Faction Sidereals died and twelve more were badly injured. The Gold took similar casualties.â€
Damianâ€™s eyes developed a faraway look as Fokuf quickly poured him a glass of tea, and he took it without looking. â€œAfter that, everything went to Malfeas. Chejop Kejak and Ayesha Ura each declared the other a traitor to the Bureau. Sidereals started attacking each other wherever they could. The Maidens declared that no god could get involved, which was the only reason all of Yu-Shan didnâ€™t explode. A lot of people just quit in disgust, but then someone â€“ or more than one someone â€“ started picking off deserters, so they started going to ground. No one has any idea how many of us have died, because Lytek is the only one who could tell us.â€
â€œDaimyo of Exaltation. Long story.â€ Damian ran a hand through his hair, then took a long drink of tea. â€œBut heâ€™s locked himself in his office and refuses to lower his wards or accept communications from anyone. The message he left says he isnâ€™t coming out until the storm passes.â€ He stared off into space. â€œI donâ€™t know how many are left. I spent a couple of weeks trying to convince people to leave this idiocy, and then I gave up. Last I heard, there might be twenty Sidereals dead, or more. There are only about ten people still holding to Kejak and the Bronze, and maybe eight for the Gold. Itâ€™s hard to be sure, because theyâ€™re disguising their membership while they try to kill each other.â€
â€œGods.â€ Fokuf shook his head. For him, this was stunning. From what heâ€™d learned from Damian, it was a complete collapse. But most of these people were friends, or at least companions, of Damian. He couldnâ€™t imagine what his friend must be thinking.
Damian, meanwhile, was pulling himself together. â€œI canâ€™t let this insanity affect what weâ€™re doing. Itâ€™s too important. Has everything gotten started?â€
Fokuf nodded, still half-stunned. â€œEverythingâ€™s running smoothly â€“ even Mnemonâ€™s helping.â€
â€œYeah.â€ Fokuf shook his head. â€œBut the Deathlord doesnâ€™t seem to suspect. I think heâ€™ll be ready to fall into our trap on Calibration.â€
â€œI hope so. Something has to go right.â€ The words were faint, but they were there. And Fokuf worried for his friendâ€™s stability.
Damian shook himself, standing abruptly. â€œAlright. Iâ€™ll check with my other affairs, and weâ€™ll get back to work. This campaign will succeed, with or without the other Sidereals. I wonâ€™t let it fail.â€
Fokuf prayed that he was right. For Damianâ€™s sake, and for the Realmâ€™s.