Well, this is a hella long one. Couldn't find a place to break it up.
Mnemon fought to keep the giddy smile off her face as she entered her chambers. It would not do for her to break her shell, not even today. Instead, she contented herself with a slim smile, looking out the windows at the dark sky over the Imperial City. Musing mostly to herself, she spoke. â€œThey say that Calibration is an omen of the year to come. I must be due for a very good year indeed.â€
â€œThey also say not to tempt fate.â€ Mnemon did not bother to hide her scowl as she glanced over her shoulder, to where Sorrow was leaning easily against the doorway. The slender Abyssal stepped forwards. â€œI am stunned by your planning and skill, my lady, but the stars of the Underworld support your spies â€“ four Deathlords still live. The First And Forsaken Lion, the Unrepentant Sage Of Vengeful Misery, Eye And Seven Despairs, and the Dowager. Any one of them will start looting tombs soon, and they will realize very quickly where their fellowsâ€™ tools have gone.â€
â€œAnd they can do nothing about it.â€ Mnemonâ€™s smile was predatory. â€œOh, they might send their minions after me, but I can handle minions. And believe me when I say that if I am forced to fight a Deathlord, I will be willing to die if it means dragging my killer into the afterlife with me.â€
â€œAdmirable.â€ Sorrow let the word drip with irony. â€œMy point remains. Do not be so quick to consider yourself victorious. I have aligned my destiny with yours, and I do not wish to be destroyed so soon after winning my freedom.â€
â€œTake your freedom somewhere else tonight, Sorrow. I understand your concerns, and rest assured that I have my sights set on a larger goal. I have only two days left to prepare. Tonight we rest and recover. Tomorrow, we have final preparations to make in order toâ€¦â€ She trailed off, not completing the sentence, and Sorrow raised an eyebrow. â€œYou will see. I am ready for what is coming.â€
Sorrows shrugged, and pushed off from the wall. â€œVery well, then. Good night, my lady.â€ He turned and left the room, and Mnemon shook her head. She had nearly slipped and spoken knowledge that must remain a secret â€“ for as long as her knowledge was revealed to no one, the spells laid on its gathering would prevent her mother from learning that Mnemon knew everything. And at this late juncture, that knowledge â€“ the exact moment of the Empressâ€™s return, and the surprise that Mnemon was preparing for her â€“ if that were discovered, her life would be forfeit.
Mnemon sunk into thought, absently changing from her robes of state into something more comfortable to sleep in, setting her breastplate down as she idly checked the many layers of wards placed around the chambers. She was tempted to call up one of her slaves, but she was already feeling nearly euphoric from the success of her plan â€“ beyond even what she had imagined. Instead, her mind turned to the sixty-eight Monstrances that she now controlled. Careful spells had ensured that she could connect to them from a distance, and other bindings had made sure that not one of them would survive her death by more than a minute. Together, they represented her greatest asset in the coming war, and she did not wantâ€¦
Abruptly, Mnemonâ€™s train of thought broke. Something was amiss, but she could not place it. Centuries of habit drew her Charms into place, in case of trouble, although it had been decades since anyone had dared try anything, and many times that since a serious attack had taken place. For a moment, she just let her senses expand, trying to pinpoint the problem.
A moment later, she did. The faintest whisper of promise, on the edge of her awareness. A second, tiny breeze wafting through the room â€“ a second being breathing.
A second after that, she was glad of her caution, because her All-Encompassing Earth Sense warned her of the impossibly quick knife hurtling towards her.
It could not be blocked in time, could not be avoided. Mnemon simply let her body transform, calling on her elemental Essence, and the knife deflected off the hard stone without drawing a scratch. She spun, raised a hand to gesture for her spiritual bodyguards to attack the interloperâ€¦ and realized in that moment that they were gone. In the same instant that he had struck, the assassin had somehow forced her guards out of the room, beyond her own wards.
And, most infuriating, he remained nowhere to be seen.
Two more knives flew, from opposite sides of the room. Mnemon opened her mouth to curse, and stood transfixed at the green light that hovered around them; each knife multiplied into dozens, linked together in a net of verdant death, the sickly colour of Malfeas. There was no question of using her last trick; the net was too full, it would slip through the slightest crack in her defenses. Instead, she simply let Essence roar around her as she slipped into the stance of the Five-Dragon Fortitude, reinforcing her very nature against the two blows as they hammered home, leaving dark trails behind him, the netting wrapping through her skin. She felt the sting of the poisons gathering and contemptuously batted them aside, ignoring the momentary spike of pain.
â€œYou dare!â€ Without waiting for a response, she gathered the largest burst of Essence she could, and simply dropped it at her feet. Earth Essence exploded outwards, filling the room. Tapestries shredded, cabinets shattered, and the stone itself rippled from the force of the shockwave. Mnemon was rewarded by seeing the faint shape of the assassin as he fell to the ground, rolled through the stony shards, and flipped back to his feet; she directed a second blast of Essence towards him and smiled grimly as a small spatter of blood touched the floor.
Then the assassin abandoned all pretence, and Mnemonâ€™s elation vanished. He flickered into existence across from her, raising obsidian knives, and a green disc burned with unholy fire on his brow. His face was washed away beneath the horror of the disc itself, and the light of Malfeasâ€™ sun leapt from his brow to his knives as he threw. Three nets of Essence lanced towards her, and Mnemon knew true fear for the first time in centuries.
The first net skidded across her skin as her anima sprang to its full totemic might, and the second net barely scratched her, but the third struck home, sending searing pain through her. Mnemon prepared to leap forwards, hoping to catch the assassin off-guard, and he grinned a dark grin as he saw her concern.
â€œI thought you would already be dead.â€ His tone was conversational. â€œBut I supposeâ€¦â€
His voice cut off abruptly, and the world spun around him. It was a moment after that that he realized the problem seemed to be that his head was now lying at his feet, looking up.
Perfected Tears Upon Alabaster Sorrow sheathed his daiklave with a single, fluid motion. â€œIt appears that my departure was premature.â€
Mnemon laughed, the nerves catching up to her. â€œAmazing, Sorrow. I didnâ€™t think you had it in you.â€
â€œIn a straight fight? No. But stealth is my specialty. Who was he?â€
â€Something impossible.â€ Mnemon stepped forwards and knelt down by her would-be assassin. â€œThey grow desperate, but I did not imagine that these would come nearly so soon.â€ She stood, and walked to the ruins of one of the cabinets. â€œI think I can learn moreâ€¦â€ For a few moments, she rummaged through the remains, finally coming up with a dark black orb the size of a large marble. Sorrow raised an eyebrow.
â€œYou have a Death-Speaking Stone? Those are quite rare. And Abyssal-attuned.â€
â€œItâ€™s from one of my holdings; I have found it quite useful.â€ Mnemon returned to the corpse, kneeling again, and placed the stone on its brow. â€œWho are you?â€
The corpseâ€™s lips moved, and a hissing breath escaped. â€œIselsi Oleander.â€
Mnemonâ€™s frown deepened. â€œWhy did you try to kill me?â€
â€œFor the Scourging.â€
Mnemon and Sorrow exchanged a confused glance. â€œWhat exactly is the Scourging, and were there any other targets?â€
â€œThe weak will be Scourged in the name of Adorjan. The Dynasty must be destroyed. One hundred targets, the leaders of the Realm.â€
Mnemonâ€™s eyes widened, and she sprang to her feet. Charging to her door, she flung it open, following the trails of Essence that her minions had left when they had been expelled. â€œAll of you, listen! Go to them! Warn them of assasins! Protect them!â€ She began to gesture, starting with her strongest creatures. â€œYou, to Vâ€™Neef! Sesus Alon! Cathak Cainan! Cynis Falen! Peleps Febaris! Ledaal Gaman!â€ The names rolled off her tongue, each a potential ally, an enemy, a piece of her Dynasty, as the crowd of demons and elementals thinned around her, each flickering off to try and forestall what was coming. They would not take it from her. Not now. Not ever.