The Mouth of Peace placed the regal tiara on Mnemonâ€™s head. It had been a rushed job; the original had vanished with the Scarlet Empress, and had not returned with her. Still, it was a beautiful work â€“ five colours of jade highlighting the weave of the Dragon-Blooded, with symbols representing the ten current Great Houses spaced evenly along its length. A new one, properly crafted, was already under construction, sized precisely to Mnemonâ€™s head. In the mean time, this one was quite sufficient.
â€œPeople of the Realm.â€ Mnemonâ€™s voice rang out from where she stood, carried via sorcery beyond the bounds of the Imperial Palace to those who stood in the streets. She did not yet command the resources of the Defense Grid, but she was capable of letting the capitol hear her voice. â€œI wish that this had happened under better circumstances. We are entering a dark time in the Realm, as we prepare for the greatest battle for Creation since the days of the Contagion.â€ As she spoke, she looked out over her people. It had been a hard fight, but she had won. Somehow, she had expected the victory to have more force behind it.
But then, it was hardly a victory at all. Nagazzer and Vâ€™Neef would be looking over her shoulder at all times. More importantly, she needed to discover the means to destroy the Phoenix Empress before Fokuf fell, or else her ascension would prove meaningless. This was not the time for relaxation, but for battle. And, deep down, she preferred it that way. Though it was wearying, she had lived her life in eternal conflict. This was no different. This was the correct path.
â€œThe Scarlet Empress gave her life to protect the Dynasty. Now, the Demon Courts send a monster in her image to shake our resolve. I tell you that we will not falter. They have thrown their best attacks at us, and failed. Over the next year, we will return their hatred with confidence, their weakness with strength. We will not buckle.â€
Sitting on the dais behind his new Empress, Sesus Nagazzer watched her thoughtfully. He had spent years fighting this moment, but there was no choice. And though he still did not trust Mnemon, he had to admit that she knew how to work the crowd, and how to fight a war. He would have preferred Ejava, but Ejava was gone, along with so many others. This would be sufficient, if Mnemon learned to listen to her advisors. They could, and would, hold the Dynasty together. This was the correct path.
â€œThis is a time of new beginnings, and of changes. We must direct our full efforts towards the machinations of the Yozi. The Deathlords lie broken â€“ along with the bodies of brave soldiers, who died to defeat them forever. From their threat, the world is secure. So even as we embark on this great challenge, we know that the enemy has not won every battle. Though the cost was high, the first great victory was ours.â€
Also on the dais, Cathak Tyr was only half-listening to Mnemonâ€™s rhetoric. His thoughts were elsewhere, on a field half a world away. Silently, his lips shaped the words that had been burned into his soul that day. â€œA storm is coming.â€ The storm was here now, threatening to collapse everything that he believed in. But he would stand firm. The Conduits of the Yozi would find that the Exalted were uniting once again, in the face of this danger. He would make sure of it, for those who had died. Their deaths had meaning, spent as they would have wished, and they would see in future incarnations the world that their actions had helped to save. This was the correct path.
â€œWe have let conflict divide us for too long, and it will end today. The leaders of the Great Houses have sworn their all towards this conflict, and we will not rest until Creation is secure once again. No matter the cost, no matter what it takes, we will never bow our heads or break. We are the Ten Thousand Dragons, and nothing that the Yozi try can take that away.â€
Vâ€™Neef smiled as she watched her sister, firmly in her element. Mnemon was, in many ways, the perfect image of her mother â€“ at times, that thought worried the younger sister, made her wonder if her decision had been the right one. But seeing her now, she was confident. Vâ€™Neef herself might put them at ease, but she could never inspire them the way Mnemon did here. No, her choice to step aside from the throne had been the right one. This was the correct path.
â€œI swear to you that I will stand against the Yozi with the last breath of my being. Together, we will stand against those who would see us fall. It is a new Creation that we are entering, the dawn of a new Age. We will ensure that this age is one of peace and prosperity. We will triumph!â€ As Mnemon threw out her hands, the crowd roared its support. Fervent belief in her path washed over the assemblage, as they showed their support for their new Empress.
And far in the back, hidden well in the shadows beneath the columns at the rear of the vast throne room, Perfected Tears Upon Alabaster Sorrows watched the new Empress and smiled. It was not a smile of relief, or hope. There was no trace of joy in his expression, only a cold and triumphant certainty that nothing could oppose his plans. Now, the next phase could begin.
This was the correct path.
Mnemon, Vâ€™Neef, Nagazzer, Tyr, and Sorrows will return in Age of Blood And Bone.
Next, the grand conclusion to the Tales of the Second Age with the finale of In Which...