Another update! Let's see if I can't get them out a bit faster than this...
â€œSo, that is the offer that has been placed before us.â€ Mnemonâ€™s gaze swept the room, a slight frown on her features. â€œThe question is whether or not we accept it.â€
Watching the Empress, Cathak Tyr reflected that the past three months had provided more than just disasters. If someone had told him that Mnemon might actually ask the advice of potential rivals, rather than merely seeking ways to manipulate their opinions, he would never have believed them â€“ but that was before. Although even he, at times, could see what it cost her, the new Empress was doing everything in her power to keep the Realm functioning, even if it meant letting the House Leaders join in making decisions that she might have preferred to forge herself.
If it were not for the constant mediating influence of Lady Vâ€™Neef and Lord Sesus Nagazzer, it might not have been enough. Although he was the youngest member of the Imperial Council that Mnemon had formed, Tyr was finding that his eye for politics had been sharpened by his time in Greyfalls, and that even in times of crisis, politics formed.
The House Leaders themselves were all members, and they, of course, had their own goals. First, there was Mnemon Rasula, who had replaced the Empress as the head of her household. Only a few decades older than Tyr, she was a skilled organizer, but was clearly overwhelmed in the strategy meetings, preferring to sit quietly and generally supporting the Empressâ€™s views. Lady Vâ€™Neef also seemed perfectly content to serve as support for Mnemon, quietly stepping in when the Empressâ€™s temper began to flare, but otherwise serving as a buffer between her and the other members of the council. Likewise, although Sesus Nagazzer had his own goals, he often was forced to be the peacemaker between others that he was not necessarily fond of. By contrast, Tepet Arada remained blunt-spoken and undiplomatic, especially with regards to his areas of expertise â€“ expertise that Tyr himself was happy to borrow from, and he found that he was often of a mind with the older general.
Now, Arada was frowning thoughtfully as he looked over the elaborate map of Creation laid out on the table around which the council sat. â€œI donâ€™t know that we have a choice.â€ He gestured to the southern coast. â€œAs it stands, weâ€™ve essentially lost the Twenty-Second legion, and we donâ€™t have reinforcements nearby. If we donâ€™t order a full withdrawl, weâ€™ll lose the remnants. They arenâ€™t going to be able to so much as slow Saloy Hin down.â€ He made a few quick motions, and the map rippled as its surface shifted. â€œBut if we could use Chiaroscuro as a staging point, we could safely evacuate our troops, and have a point to launch an invasion of the Southeast.â€ He looked up and around the table. â€œThe question is whether we can trust the Perfect of Paragon at his word.â€
â€œHe is a demon.â€ Peleps Febaris spoke haughtily. The elder stateswoman had formed an alliance with Ragara Heral, newly-appointed leader of House Ragara, based mainly around trying to mitigate the drastic changes taking place within the Realm. While neither wanted to see the nation fall, both were increasingly leery of the pathways that were being tread, and they were the most common opposition to Mnemon. â€œWith respect, arenâ€™t they exactly what weâ€™ve spent the last three months at war with? An alliance now â€“ and with not one, but three of the Conduits â€“ seems a dangerous path to take.â€ He glanced over to the usual third member of his allianceâ€™s triumverate, clearly expecting words of support. He was disappointed.
â€œI think I agree with Lord Arada.â€ Ledaal Caros was studying the map intently. â€œParagon does not stand to gain with betraying us; with the enemies weâ€™ve been focusing on, weâ€™ve barely touched Chiaroscuro, Halta, or Paragon. On the other hand, they would provide desperately-needed bulwarks against our enemies.â€ He took a deep breath, looking sour. â€œWe have a choice. Ally with the demons, or lose the South. Thereâ€™s no way to hold it anymore â€“ we have no major cities left since Saloy conquered Harbourhead. He controls the southeastern coast, An-Teng dominates the southwest, and Chiaroscuro controls the central seas. Without one of those three regions on our side, weâ€™ll have to abandon the South entirely.â€ His gaze swept the room. â€œAre we willing to do that?â€
Cynis Olara, the hastily-appointed head of her House, shook her head, looking around the room. Although she had little military experience, Olara had quickly proven that she had a grasp of politics that went beyond the Dynasty. â€œIf we do, itâ€™ll be crippling. If we admit that an entire Direction is beyond our control, the morale effectsâ€¦â€ She trailed off ominously, and everyone around the table nodded slowly. â€œItâ€™ll be bad to have this alliance, but probably a lot worse not to.â€ She glanced over in turn to the four members of the council who had yet to speak. Nellens Umir, the only mortal on the council, simply nodded, as did Ragara Heral and Mnemon Rasula. Gradually, everyone glanced to the final member of the council, and Mnemon spoke to him.
â€œSo it comes down to a simple question, for we arenâ€™t just dealing with a king. Can we trust She Who Lives In Her Name?â€
There was a long, thoughtful pause, and then Cathak Damian, acting as the emissary of Heaven, spoke. â€œWe can trust Her to be true to Her nature. She doesnâ€™t like most of her brethern, and she is the least hostile of the Yozi towards Creation. If she claims to be willing to accept a compromise, for the time being, I think we can trust her to follow it â€“ and I think we can trust her to dissolve such an alliance formally, rather than by betrayal. Whether it will last?â€ He frowned. â€œI donâ€™t know. Pain is second-nature to the Yozi, and their hatred of us runs deep. I think that we can expect the alliance to last at least until we gain the upper hand.â€
Mnemon nodded slowly. â€œVery well, then. We will accept the alliance, but make plans in case it dissolves suddenly.â€ She looked over the map. â€œWhere can we divert troops from towards the South?â€
Tyr winced, following her gaze. â€œThe East is about our only choice, but it leaves Greyfalls vunerable. As it is, weâ€™re only holding the North by a hair; if we divert any more troops out of Cherak, the Haslanti will have it for sure. The West is quieter, but weâ€™ve already taken away most of our forces there, and the ones that are left have their hands full keeping Wavecrest free from Gatanaris and diveriting Cythereaâ€™s fleets north towards Coral.â€ He sighed heavily. â€œThe Confederation wonâ€™t be happy about this, but we can probably leave Port Calin more lightly defended and shift troops from there. With support from Chiaroscuro, we might have a chance of taking back Harbourhead, and that would be worth it.â€
Mnemon nodded again, and the table shifted from thoughts of the allianceâ€™s moral implications to those of its military effects. Tyr imagined that he felt much the same as the rest of them; this was a course of action more dangerous even than joining forces with Anathema, but one equally necessary for the defense of Creation.
He only wondered if the Creation that survived this war would be one that he would recognize.