â€œThat annoying little bitch.â€
â€œTroubles with the Roseblack?â€ Mnemon ground her teeth and looked over from where she was pacing to the simple gateway board set up on one side of her tastefully palatial room. Sitting at it, Perfected Tears Upon Alabastar Sorrow calmly moved a piece, then began studying the opposite side of the board as though he had never spoken. She sighed internally. Her allies were distasteful to her, and her enemies were legion, but she had to bring herself back under control. She had only half realized that she had even spoken, and such loss of self-control could be deadly.
â€œItâ€™s the Sidereals. It must be.â€ Somehow, everywhere that Mnemon turned, there were forces thwarting her plans to bring the Dynasty under her control. She knew that the slug, Nagazzer, opposed her, as did her treacherous sister Vâ€™Neef. But the scope of her misfortune had Sidereals written all over it. It was not amusing. She could have had the Realm wrapped up by now, and she was running out of time.
â€œShe is becoming more dangerous than I had envisioned. Who would honestly support someâ€¦ soldier, not even a child of the Empress, to the throne?â€ While Mnemon had been focusing on what she considered her true rivals, Cathak Cainan and Vâ€™Neef, the Roseblackâ€™s support had quietly swelled, until Mnemon could not ignore it. â€œWhat am I going to do with herâ€¦â€
â€œFeed her to the Mask.â€ With his offhand comment, Sorrow slid a piece towards himself, then returned to considering his own pieces.
â€œOh, he would love that. Hand him a great part of our remaining military mind, swelling his armies with jade and the dead. And in return, I get the notoriety of having sent a political rival to die.â€ Scorn dripped from her voice, and Sorrow shrugged, sliding another piece across the board.
â€œIf you dislike my advice, why do you have me remain nearby?â€
â€œOh, I value your input.â€ Mnemon stopped pacing to look at the deathknight. â€œIt gives me so much insight into what my more-or-less ally thinks.â€
â€œAnd in return, you speak more frankly than I imagine is your typical wont.â€ Sorrow looked up from the board to meet Mnemonâ€™s eyes. â€œFrankly, I wonder if you really want the throne at all.â€ Nonchalantly, he slid a white piece to the left.
â€œWhat does that mean?â€ Mnemon stepped forwards, raising an eyebrow.
â€œYou wanted a confidant. You have chosen me. A deathknight of the Mask of Winters, someone of whom you make no secret of your distrust, while still partaking in an alliance. One might be forgiven for thinking that a part of you wants to fail.â€ With an expert motion, a black piece swung aside to knock the white from the board.
â€œRidiculous.â€ Waving a hand, Mnemon turned away. â€œI have better things to do than to listen to your pale attempts at psychoanalysis.â€
â€œEverything I do is pale.â€ Another move, and Sorrow looked down at the board. â€œOh, dear. I seem to have captured my own dragon.â€
Mnemon frowned, turning away from the Deathknight and his game against himself. Though he was an aggravating man, Sorrow had a gift for creating new insecurities within her. She wondered what sort of gift it had been for the Mask to have left this ambassador with her, and suspected in her heart that, as with anything from a Deathlord, it had barbs meant to destroy her. But neither the Mask nor Sorrow could know the deadly time limit that she labored under, and she did not have the time for these concerns. She had an empire to win, and was rapidly running out of time to win it.
Across the Imperial City, in the Palace Sublime, a very different meeting was taking place. A simple scribe slipped through the halls, ultimately finding his way to a room not written of on any of the maps of the Palace. Within, an old man sat cross-legged, his eyes closed. His simple monkâ€™s robes hung limply around a gaunt frame, deep bluish-black skin paling only around his weathered features, and his hair was thin and wispy. Still, there was power in his posture, and the scribe took a deep breath before proceeding.
â€œMaster Thelos?â€ The scribe spoke in a whisper, but the manâ€™s eyes snapped open â€“ as gray as a stormy sea.
â€œSnow On Briars.â€ Thelos inclined his head faintly. â€œWhat news?â€
â€œThe alliances hold firm, but neither is making much progress.â€ The scribe sat opposite Thelos, laying down his scrolls. â€œThe Slugâ€™s minions have begun searching out those few Iselsi that he is aware of, soliciting alliance.â€
â€œPah. We have no need of his false charity.â€ Thelos made a dismissive motion, and Briars nodded. â€œRemember this, Briars. The Dynasty is a place of politics and betrayal, in which your friends can become your enemies in a moment. It is a lesson that our House learned all too well, and we will not be misled again. There will be no alliance.â€
â€œOf course, Master Thelos. But you know that our control isâ€¦ less than absolute. Some of our younger members may be swayed.â€
â€œThen we will have to unsway them.â€ Thelos looked outwards, as though staring through the stone walls around him to an unknowable future. â€œIf anyone strays too far from the path, inform me, and the matter will be attended to.â€
Briars bowed his head in assent, and Thelos continued. â€œNot long now, Briars. No, not long now. We need only keep our foes at each othersâ€™ throats until Calibration is upon us.â€
â€œWhy, master?â€ Briars kept his head bowed for the question, knowing he was taking a risk. But his curiousity had the better of him. â€œWhat comes at Calibration?â€
The reply whispered across the room. â€œOur rebirth.â€