â€œThank you for coming.â€ Sesus Nagazzer nodded as Mnemon and V'Neef walked into the room, standing with some effort to give the two matrons a bow. â€œI know that this was on rather short notice, but I think it is of critical importance for the future of the Realm.â€
The room was buried deep in the Imperial Palace, without any windows that might have let a passerby see what was occuring. Mnemon silently gestured for her elemental guards to remain at the doorway and keep watch, and followed her younger sister into the room, glacing about. Only two seats were empty, and the occupants of the others did not particularly surprise her, although clearly some of them were wondering about others. It was the positioning, more than anything else, that made her wonder.
Nagazzer was setting to the left of Tepet Fokuf, with a young-looking man sitting to his right. The stranger's clothes were of a fine military cut, and his hair was short and crisp; Mnemon thought that he reminded her of someone, and she thought that she had seen him around in the past. She then noticed the red stars twinkling faintly in the backs of his eyes, and understood. The Sidereal puppeteers were willing to come out from the shadows at last? Most interesting.
On the Sidereal's right was Tepet Arada, newly arrived from the East using â€“ perhaps ironically â€“ the very Chariot of the Aerial Heavens that Mnemon had donated to the war against the Mask. He looked angry, but pensive. Next to him, Cathak Tyr, who was mostly looking overwhelmed. Mnemon did not blame him. And then two empty chairs, between Tyr and Nagazzer.
V'Neef stepped forwards to sit next to Tyr, and Mnemon took the last seat, glancing to her left at Nagazzer. â€œThank you for inviting me. I must confess, I am curious about the nature of this meeting. I notice only five House leaders are present.â€
Nagazzer nodded. â€œThere was an issue of trust. We have certain information that could be... problematic... to our goal.â€ He smiled at Mnemon's raised eyebrow. â€œI don't mean to be cryptic, but I am very serious. Before we begin, everyone must swear that, no matter what information is shared here, none of us will tell it to anyone not present with the express approval of the one who told them.â€ As V'Neef and Arada's eyebrows rose to meet Mnemon's, he smiled wryly. â€œBelieve me, it will be fully explained in a moment.â€
â€œVery well, then.â€ Mnemon frowned thoughtfully, but shrugged. â€œI swear by the Five Dragons that I will share none of the information I learn here without the permission of he or she whom I learn it from.â€ In turn, each of the people at the table repeated her pledge. Then, to Mnemon's surprise, Fokuf stood.
â€œI hear the vow, and call on Heaven to sanctify it.â€ There was a flare of golden light, and everything happened at once.
First, Mnemon saw the castemark flaring gold on Fokuf's forehead. As events suddenly clicked into place in her mind, Arada reacted, kicking his chair backwards as he leapt forwards. Tyr, reacting almost as quickly grabbed his shoulder, even as Nagazzer cursed softly and the strange man stood to cover Fokuf.
â€œAnathema!â€ Arada's voice was hoarse with anger.
â€œWait, cousin!â€ Fokuf took a step backwards, looking around the room. Only Arada was furious; V'Neef and Tyr were looking nervous, Mnemon speculative. â€œI am the same man I have always been. Please, let me explain.â€
â€œIt's true. He acts only to benefit the Realm.â€ Nagazzer's voice was calm, and Arada rounded on him.
â€œYou knew! This... this monster has been lurking among us, doing Dragons alone know what...â€
Nagazzer's jaw clenched. â€œHe has been working tirelessly to help put your niece on the throne!â€ His voice softened. â€œI know that you are hurting, Arada. But I swear to you that I have been watching Fokuf closely since I first discovered his nature two years ago.â€ He raised his hands in supplication. â€œHe is a good man.â€
â€œHe is a Deceiver!â€
â€œAnd do you believe everything in the Immaculate Texts, Arada?â€ The stranger finally spoke, raising his eyes to meet the new leader of House Tepet. â€œAre the Dragon-Blooded blameless as a race?â€
â€œI...well...â€ Arada stammered to a halt.
â€œThen is it so strange to imagine that there might be Solars who are good?â€ The man smiled. â€œBelieve me. What happened in the First Age was true, but it has been distorted with time. It is human nature, and not divine theft, that caused that fall. Fokuf will not repeat those mistakes.â€ His smile hardened. â€œAnd we are going to need all of the help we can get. There are real enemies out there.â€
â€œAnd just who are you?â€ Arada was still glaring venomously at the gathering, but he no longer appeared to be reaching to form a daiklave from the wind.
â€œA Sidereal.â€ Mnemon's voice was light, and the group turned towards her. â€œThe secret Anathema who helped my mother guide the Empire for centuries. Things must be dire if you are working with the Solars. I was under the impression that you were the worst of enemies.â€
â€œTimes change.â€ The man shrugged eloquently. â€œMy name is Cathak Damian, and you are mostly correct in your summary. Our duty is to maintain Creation â€“ but recent events have made this difficult. That is why, as the ranking Sidereal currently in the Blessed Isle, I am authorizing this step â€“ revealing ourselves to more house leaders than ever before.â€
â€œI've met Sidereals before.â€ Tyr spoke up suddenly, sitting back down. â€œIf it weren't for a member of your group, I would be dead.â€ He paused. â€œIf you say that Fokuf can be trusted, I believe you.â€
Arada sat grudgingly. â€œI will see.â€ He looked around. â€œI suppose you're here to put Fokuf on the throne? Or V'Neef?â€
â€œMnemon.â€ Fokuf's voice was soft. â€œWe've talked it over with each other and V'Neef, and it has to be Mnemon. This attack was just the beginning. Something bigger has to be coming, or else why shatter the Dynasty.â€
â€œWhy, indeed?â€ Mnemon leaned forwards, looking around the group. â€œI, of course, agree. But I still can't figure out why the pattern they chose. Do the Sidereals have a good reason?â€
â€œPresumably, to do as much damage to the Realm's infrastructure as possible as a prelude to a massive attack against Creation by the Yozi.â€ Damian shrugged, then paused at Mnemon's frown.
â€œBut it makes no sense. Targeted attacks against those of us who interacted with you Sidereals would have done much better. That way, the Yozi could have co-opted the entire structure when...â€ She broke off, and her eyes widened. â€œOf course! I am an idiot!â€
Everyone was staring at her. â€œWhat are you talking about?â€ V'Neef kept her voice soft.
â€œThey aren't united! I had assumed that Adorjan and the Ebon Dragon were allied. But why assume that? They want the infrastructure damaged to prevent Mother from controlling it when she returns!â€
The room went silent. After a moment, Damian spoke, in a tone of hushed shock. â€œLady Mnemon, are you suggesting that you know where the Scarlet Empress is?â€
Mnemon turned to stare at him. After a much longer moment, she spoke. â€œThe Sidereals don't?â€