Mokrelusâ€™s throne room was much as it had been the year before, when Kieran first saw it â€“ Kieran, Elena, and even Khory had made suggestions over the last year, to be met with a polite refusal. For all the Caretakerâ€™s gifts, a dedication to redecorating was not one of them. Still, it remained a glorious sight in the evening light. The mirrors carefully and subtly worked into the ceiling diffused the light, keeping the room well-lit despite the gathering gloom outside, and no part of the room was better lit than any other.
Mokrelus turned as the two entered the room, a broad smile splitting his craggy features. The Caretaker was much more animated now than on the day Kieran had met him; once again, he was a near blur of motion, even trying to restrain himself before his guests. The heavy jade that had bound him still laid across his skin, but Kieran had helped to rework it into an armor coating that sat easily upon him, only slightly restricting his movement. He inclined his head to Kieran and Elena graciously, raising a hand to the others in the room. â€œMaster Kieran, Madame Elena, thank you for coming so quickly.â€
â€œIndeed.â€ The first of the three strangers in the room spoke up, looking over the two appraisingly. â€œI am most intrigued to meet you.â€ Kieran blinked in surprise, glancing from him to Mokrelus. While the other two were clearly human, he was one of the Fair Folk â€“ his skin was almost translucent, impossibly perfect, and his hair, tied back behind his head, was a perfect sheen of bluish-white. He bowed low. â€œI am Alakazar, lord of the Silver Court.â€ Kieran risked another glance at Mokrelus, but the Caretaker was smiling like a child in a candy store, not the reaction Kieran would have expected to having one of the emissaries of the Wyld standing in his throne room.
â€œUmâ€¦ itâ€™s an honour to meet you, Lord Alakazar.â€ Kieran paused for a moment, searching his memory. The Silver Court seemed oddly familiar, but he couldnâ€™t quiteâ€¦
Everything clicked together at once. Kieranâ€™s smile returned, growing genuine. â€œI have heard much of your Court, Lord. I must admit, I thought they were a rumour spread by the credulous. Iâ€™m happy to be proven wrong.â€ Elena raised an eyebrow, but followed his lead by bowing. Kieran turned to the other two, glancing over the woman. Pale, thin, dark-haired and modestly dressed, the silver tattoos that adorned her skin were easily missed next to her companionâ€™s radiance. â€œIn which case, am I right in assuming that I am speaking to the Lady Serafin, of Gaia?â€
There was a short intake of breath beside him, as Elena clued in. Serafin nodded, her own smile growing. â€œThat you are, Master Kieran. And I am glad to meet you, as well.â€
Kieran let out his breath. â€œAnother rumour that Iâ€™m glad to see is true.â€ Serafin chuckled, and he glanced over at the third man. â€œAndâ€¦?â€
â€œThetram Nash.â€ The third man spoke softly. â€œAn advisor to the Conduit.â€
â€œI see.â€ Kieran looked inquisitive, but Nash didnâ€™t take the hint. A few servants arrived with chairs, and Mokrelus waved the group to them.
â€œPlease, sit. I find that I prefer to stand these days, but I wouldnâ€™t dream of leaving all of you doing the same.â€ He grinned, looking from Serafin to Kieran. â€œKieran, Iâ€™ve just been talking to the Conduit, and Iâ€™m afraid Iâ€™m going to have to ask you to leave off your negotiations for the moment. Iâ€™ll be taking over for you, though, so you donâ€™t have to worry.â€
â€œTaking over? Leaving? Whatâ€™s going on?â€ Elena took a chair without looking, starting to frown thoughtfully. â€œNo offense, but weâ€™re doing a lot of good here â€“ and maâ€™am, I donâ€™t see how Kieran can be of particular help to you, more so than he is already doing here.â€
Serafin sat calmly, letting Elena finish. â€œI wouldnâ€™t be here if it wasnâ€™t critical. I need Kieran for a very specific reason, and itâ€™s not something that anyone else can do.â€ She paused. â€œWell, thatâ€™s not entirely true, but there are only a few people who can do it, and Iâ€™m going to need to assemble all of them if I want us to succeed. Iâ€™m sure you all know by now about the Competition.â€
Kieran nodded, sitting down next to Elena. â€œOf course â€“ I would think that every Exalt left in Creation knows by now, along with most of the mortal population. Weâ€™ve been working to get the Elemental Courts onboard to fight the Conduits.â€ He paused. â€œOther than you, maâ€™am.â€
Serafin laughed easily, seeming less like an incarnation of power and more like a young woman. Alakazar stepped up behind her, smiling down at his wife, as she continued. â€œI have heard of that, and I hear youâ€™re doing very well, too. But this is actually more important.â€ She leaned in, her expression growing serious. â€œHow much do you know about Autochthon?â€
â€œUmâ€¦ the Great Maker? Well, he was one of the Primordials. He left a long time ago, though.â€
â€œHe did. And he left a gateway behind that could find him. In the city ofâ€¦â€ Serafin broke off suddenly, her expression suddenly as intent as a hunting cat.
â€œSerrish Vel.â€ Kieran finished the thought without thinking. Then he froze, and stared at Serafin, who smiled triumphantly.
â€œExactly. And no one knows that but Gaia â€“ and through her, me. Except for five people â€“ the only Solar Circle that Autochthon trusted with his secret. He told them where he was going, and gave them the power to pass through the Seal of Eight Divinities with which he guarded himself. He knew that they might need him some day, but he didnâ€™t trust the Deliberative as a whole. That power passed through their incarnations, to the present day.â€
â€œMe?â€ Kieranâ€™s voice was weak. Serafin nodded.
â€œYou. Tandar Kieran, you are one of four people alive who can find Autochthon and bring him into this war. And we need him, desperately.â€ She looked over at him slowly. â€œI canâ€™t demand this of you, but I ask. Will you help me?â€
â€œOf course.â€ Kieran swallowed heavily. â€œGetting the Maker back. I can hardly imagine it.â€
â€œIt will be amazing.â€ Mokrelusâ€™s voice was soft. â€œHis miracles carried the war for the Exalted last time, and he has had millennia to hone his arsenals. He might yet help us win this.â€
â€œThank you.â€ Serafin smiled brightly, her intentness vanishing. â€œWell, thatâ€™s one problem solved. Unfortunately, Iâ€™m not sure where to find your old Circle-mates. Nash was only able to find one of their locations before he was chased from Heaven. I was just discussing that with Mokrelus when you came in â€“ he was going to check with his Splintersâ€¦â€
â€œAnd while we were talking, I did.â€ Mokrelus grinned as he spoke up, drawing everyoneâ€™s attention to him. â€œI think you may be in luck, my lady, if we hurry. Two of them are coming together even now, and theyâ€™re no more than a thousand miles away.â€
Alakazar nodded solemnly. â€œThe Story provides, it seems.â€
Nash rolled his eyes, speaking for the first time since he introduced himself. â€œFate provides, you mean.â€ The Fair Folk merely chuckled, and Kieran suppressed a laugh. He had a hunch as to Nashâ€™s nature now, between this and Serafinâ€™s comments.
â€œAlright, then. If we know where they are, letâ€™s get moving. Iâ€™ll tender my regrets to Storms-As-He-Walks and Whistling River, and then we can go meet some Solars.â€ Kieran grinned again. He hadnâ€™t met very many Solars yet; only a handful now. It would be interesting to see what others had made of themselves in this worldâ€¦