Last part before the epilogue. After that, the thrilling conclusion of In Which...
â€œAre you sure about this?â€ Cathak Damian looked out over the docks of the Imperial City, and then turned to his friend. â€œEmpress Mnemon is being crowned right now, and she's well aware of your importance in her war against the Ebon Dragon. You know that she would use all of her resources to protect you.â€
â€œI think she's still going to.â€ Tepet Fokuf grinned wryly, looking out over the sky, and surreptitiously pointed at a rooftop. â€œSomeone's been following us from the palace. I'm pretty sure it's one of her spies.â€ He shrugged. â€œLook, you and I both know that I can't stay. The Deliberative, for the most part, believes what they saw. But the Order is furious, and the outlying areas are lining up to demand the destruction of the Anathema. The Realm is not ready for a leadership crisis, and Mnemon can't afford to throw me to the wolves. Best that I vanish quickly, before things get bad.â€
â€œI suppose.â€ Damian sighed heavily. â€œI'm going to have to go to Heaven and report all of this. I'll be lucky if Kejak doesn't skin me alive. But as long as the Empress lives, you'll be too useful to him for him to seek your death.â€ He paused. â€œBut if he figures out how to kill her...â€
â€œYeah, that's another reason to vanish. Besides, this way I have another advantage.â€ Fokuf grinned maliciously, looking Damian in the eyes. â€œI want to follow up on those rumours you passed me. About claims of Yozi summoned out of the Loom in places other than the Imperial City. Because if there are other Conduits out there, I might be able to get the Empress to blunder right through them.â€ When Damian's eyebrows rose, he shrugged with another grin. â€œI spoke with Mnemon about it, getting all the information I could. One thing she mentioned was that most of the Yozi hate each other as much as they hate Creation. If they think the Ebon Dragon is entering their territory... well, I might be able to kill two birds with one stone. And if there really is more than one Conduit out there, we'll need it. The Realm is in disarray. The Sidereals are in disarray. The Solars are returning, but we aren't organized. That leaves the Lunars to hold the line alone, and I don't like the sound of one group of Exalts trying to pull the weight of four. That's what ruined the Dynasty.â€
â€œAlright. Just... be careful.â€ Damian patted his friend on the back. â€œI'm guessing you already spoke with Nagazzer and the other house leaders?â€
â€œI did. Nagazzer agreed to help me out, where he can. Arada mentioned a few strange things about his last visit to the East that I thought would be a good start, and Tyr dropped a few names to keep in mind if I come across them â€“ even a possible lead into the Lunars if I need their help.â€ Fokuf paused for a moment, and glanced away. â€œHe was asking me if I knew a Sidereal named Twice-Breathing Millia. I said I didn't, but the name sounded familiar.â€
â€œOh, Mela's frigid breath.â€ Damian rubbed his forehead. â€œI didn't even think of it. Of course he must have known her.â€ He looked towards the dock, and back again. â€œI'll have to tell him that she... didn't make it.â€
Fokuf nodded slowly. â€œI was afraid that might be it. Well, good luck.â€ He took a step, and then laughed. â€œLife's a funny thing, isn't it? I doubt this is what you had in mind when you saved me, those years ago.â€
â€œNot at all, but it worked out better than I could have dreamed.â€ Damian smiled sadly. â€œYou made a convert to the Gold Faction, Fokuf. Too late for there to be a Gold Faction, but I'll do what I can to keep the reforms coming. And to keep Mnemon honest.â€
â€œGood. With V'Neef and Nagazzer watching her, I'll think she'll do a good job. If anyone is devious enough to out-think a Yozi, it'll be her.â€
â€œAny idea where you're going?â€
â€œWest. That rumour you found that Kimbery manifested in the western seas is interesting. I'd like to see her Conduit facing off against the Empress.â€ Fokuf looked westwards, as though he might look through the Imperial Mountain. â€œAnd something about it rang a bell â€“ or triggered a memory. That island that your contact saw in the Loom. Juriss. It sounds somehow... right. Somewhere I was, a long time ago.â€ He shrugged. â€œIt's as good a starting place as any.â€
Damian was frowning thoughtfully. After a moment, he held out his hand. â€œDo you have a map of the area on you?â€
â€œYeah.â€ Fokuf pulled off his pack and rummaged for a moment, and then handed it to Damian. The Sidereal studied it for a moment, before nodding.
â€œOne of my students vanished around there. Cathak Citrios. He was looking for a Solar. Maybe they're what you're looking for.â€
â€œCould be.â€ Fokuf took the map back with a smile, returning it to his pack. â€œIt seems like we have a knack for getting into that kind of trouble. Anyway, I think I see my ship coming.â€ He hefted the pack, turning towards the dock.
â€œFokuf.â€ The Solar stopped, looking over his shoulder. Damian stepped forwards and clasped his hand. â€œBe careful. Not just for the Realm. For yourself. I have a terrible feeling, and I've learned to listen to those feelings. Fate is clouded right now, confused. Whatever is going on, it's bigger than even the Scarlet Empress. It is all of Creation that trembles. Don't be caught by it. I intend to see you again.â€
â€œDon't die, got it.â€ Fokuf smiled for a moment, and then his face grew serious. â€œI'll be as careful as I can, Damian. And we will meet again. If there is any way I can make it happen, we will.â€
The sun was hanging over the Imperial Mountain, its rays shadowed by the great peak. Fokuf turned and walked towards his boat. Damian watched him go, until the man stepped onto the boat. Until the boat cast anchor and set sail, dwindling to a speck in the distance. Finally,he spoke, turning to return to the Imperial Palace and the infinite intrigues that were doubtless already spawning.
â€œThe Sun guide your path, my friend.â€
Tepet Fokuf and Cathak Damian will return in Age of Blood And Bone