Case 3 - Interludes

Interlude 1 [A = Tachi-Kun, B = Mendaxana]
Tap. Tap. Tap.

The sound of fingers tapping on bone is the only sound in the well-appointed office. It resonates off the many weapons that decorate the walls, the instruments of many battles. And yet as potent as many of them are, as famous as their wielders have been, few, if any, could match the provenance of this one. Not even Auspiciously Targeted Grief.

“This was not foreseen.”

“And yet you’re pleased.”

“At the ending? Of course I am. Why in Creation wouldn’t I be?! But it is problematic.”

“I agree.”

“They have progressed quicker than I thought them capable of. Or they are more foolhardy.”

“A bit of both I would think.”

“The point is that the deed has been done. What kind of damage limitation do we need? This isn’t entirely helpful to our cause.”

“Admittedly it makes Gate 15 more accessible which isn’t the best thing in the world. But it is done. It will not be as straightforward as they think. And they’ll have to live with the consequences.”

“And we will as well. I cannot delay my own report to E-Naluna overlong. I think we should gather the others.”



“No. I cannot agree to calling upon those three just yet. It’s not warranted. It will be better if they hear about it as the news spreads. And it is starting to. You know how much of a gossip Effulgent Glory Transcendent is.”

“It would have been better if they had forged it rather than bound to servitude.”

“That wouldn’t stop the story from spreading and you know that. Make the most of it. Put the bow on display and hail this a triumph. It did kill 2 sets of celestial lions after all. Including Righteous Claw of Silver. We should be able to turn some of this to our advantage – it will get more sympathisers in Celestial Concerns for a start.”

“I hope you know what you’re doing.”

“Trust me. We can work with this.”

“Where are you going now?”

A devious smile was the first response to the question. “I’ve just remembered that Donna’anna will be somewhat pleased at her recovery.” The door shut quietly on the departure of the lady in red leaving her companion to stare into the polished bone recurves of Pula’s Heart.

Interlude 2 [Parral, Clerk, C = Shajah Holok]
Parral yawned. Time to head home, he thought. It was late and the duty librarian could handle any enquiries that came up. Anything serious could wait until, well, what passed for morning in Yu-Shan. Hopefully it would still be dark – he had a few coins on Luna being ahead when the Golden Barque next set sail from the Quay of Dawn.

With his office locked, he glided down the marble corridor, his passage marked only by the faint whisper of pages being softly turned. As he passed the gilded ironwood lectern that served as the inquiry desk in the main lobby, he turned to bid a good evening to the spirit on duty. However, his cursory greeting went unspoken as he caught sight of the clerk’s puzzled look.

“Something wrong?”

At the sound of her superior’s voice, the librarian tried to dispel her concerned look. “No not really sir. It’s just…”

“What is it?”

“I don’t mean to sound dumb but what is Protocol F?”

Parral paused, momentarily thrown but managed to maintain his composure. “You’re new here aren’t you?”

“Yes sir. Only started a month ago; moved from Five Spheres Administration.”

“Then I shouldn’t be surprised you haven’t come across it. You’re familiar with Protocols A through D I presume?”

“Of course, sir. Though only Protocol A came up with any regularity.”

“I should speak to your supervisor then for they have been somewhat remiss. Protocol F is unique to our kind of establishment. Which file did they ask for?”

The clerk looked around circumspectly before showing Parral the Restricted Files Log-book. The Chief Archivist peered over to look at the name before withdrawing, having made a mental note. Requests for three sealed files…

His tone took on a more steely edge when he next spoke. “Erase those entries please. Requests for files designated Protocol F do not get recorded there. Did you tell the enquirer about the Protocol?”

“No sir, I just told her the records were sealed.”

“Good. You must notify me immediately if anyone asks for F-sealed records. They have been interdicted at the most senior levels. Who asked for these ones?”

“I don’t know her name, but it was a Vizier, said she was writing a report. Had a very melodic voice.”

“No matter. I will take it from here. There are those who must be informed.” He turned to leave. He left the slightly confused librarian with parting words of, “Please ensure you do not discuss this with anyone. This matter is for me alone. Good night.”

* * * *

The tiny construct scuttled along the strands of the weave, searching out the requisite datum at the speed of information, its emerald mandibles tapping out the question it had been asked, “Who requested the trial records of Zeran-Dubuth today?”

Having found the answer, it reappeared on its master’s forehead before communicating the name “Spinning Pyramid”.

Interlude 3 [D = Urien Derapha, Somol, E = Eternal Sunshine]
Would they never end! Yet another petitioner asking for the guidance of the Dragons for the most mundane of reasons. Will they favour my crops? Can they deliver justice on my good-for-nothing son-in-law? How may I better serve my Blooded master? It was interminable.

“How many more, Somol?”

“Just the one, Holy Master,” the assistant priest replied, bowing low before the temple leader.

“Very well, show them in,” he said, turning away to a pile of scrolls beside him. He heard the soft scrape of sandals upon the rush matting. In a bored tone he started the oft-repeated greeting, “Welcome my child. Unburden yourself before the Dragons so that their teachings may en… oh, it’s you. What are you doing here?”

The young man, dressed in the simple robes of a travelling Immaculate priest, stood up from his respectful kneeling crouch. “Forgive this intrusion Master but it would appear that there have been some developments of a…”

“Stop waffling boy,” the elder curtly ordered. “What has happened?”

The man stiffened at the rebuke. “Sorry sir. They are on their way to Farhold.”

“Completely unharmed?”

“Well, one appears to have been injured but more than that, they managed to identify the threat.”

Robes rustled as the temple head leaned forward on his basalt throne, carved from the very rock of the temple. “Really? What is it?”

The traveller coughed nervously. “Was, sir.”

“What do you mean ‘was’?” he growled.

“They… neutralised the danger. Gate 15 is now completely open to traffic.”

A long pause as this news was digested. “So what was it?”

The young man glanced to the heavy-looking urn sitting on a pedestal next to the throne and wondered briefly about stepping back a few dozen paces. His defensive skills were good but he suspected the martial arts master before him was better. “It was… Arad the Hunter. Sir.” He watched with consternation at the clenching fist and tightened jaw before a long exhalation of breath signified a somewhat calmer state. Only somewhat though.

“You’re joking. You cannot seriously be telling me that they defeated Arad the Hunter.”

“I am sir. I don’t know how but it appears to be true. The news is spreading; Effulgent Glory Transcendant was on duty. I also heard before I left… that the CSA is looking into the matter.”

“The CSA? Really? Well at least that’s something.” The old man leaned on the armrest, pondering. “They must have had help to defeat that behemoth. But that is not our main problem now…”

“Heh. At least we know not to underestimate them.” Just a slight tinge of hysteria in that nervous chuckle.

“Oh pull yourself together boy! This is nothing I haven’t already planned for. We just have to start playing with the serious toys now.” He seemed to come to his decision. “Now listen carefully. Make sure you don’t screw this up. Go and speak to Teila. In the third floor library, the second study carousel, third drawer from the top, is a lilac-coloured envelope with a deep purple seal. Take that and go to the Violet Bier, Department of Divine Reallocation. Then ask to speak to Warden Jagreth, give him the envelope and tell him I sent you. He will then give you a key. Take that key to Stellar Arbiter. He will then give you a leather case in return for the key. Affix one of those other seals I gave you to it and then use your crafting powers to send it to Selith Twofeather. Then get back to your other assignment.”

“What will he be giving me?” he questioned.

“Aren’t you listening to me!? A leather case is what you’ll be given! Don’t touch what’s inside. Better yet, don’t even look at what’s inside. Just send it on its merry little way.”

The young monk nodded. “I understand Master.”

“No you don’t. And I sincerely hope, for your sake, that you don’t. Just do what I ask and that’s it. Now say, ‘Yes Master’ and be on your way please.”

“Yes Master.”

“And do cheer up.”

“Yes Master.”

The boy turned to leave but stopped as the elder’s voice rang out. “And I’ve been told to keep a watchful eye out for a girl called Spinning Pyramid. She could prove to be problematic…”

Interlude 4 [Tachi-Kun, Mendaxana]
“And now we summon the others, right? Surely you can’t disagree with that now!”

“It still isn’t time.”

“You cannot be serious?

“A mistake was made. A mistake that will be corrected.”

“You’re calling that a ‘mistake’?!”

“Okay, maybe that is a little unfair. Let’s call it a ‘miscalculation’.” An impassive stare meets an incredulous one across the jade-inlaid ironwood table. “And I’m starting to wonder if I’ve made another one.”

The sound of grinding teeth is clearly audible in the otherwise icy silence that descends. Teeth are shortly followed by the cracking of knuckles, each crack sounding like the crash of thunder around the peak of the Imperial Mountain.

“You… forget yourself,” comes the gritted response, accompanied by the creak of plated armour and the concatenation of gauntlet-encased fingers tapping against wood.

“No. *You* forget *yourself*. Honestly, remember your station and position. And think carefully about mine. I only came in here to let you know what the situation is. I’m not looking for your approval.”

A long pause. “I thought we were partners in this venture.”

“We are. Nothing has changed on that front. This is a minor setback. Nothing more. Remember, this is no flash-in-the-pan project; it will take time to make sure everything and everyone is in place.”

“Are you telling me that you planned for this?”

“Not exactly,” is the slightly uncomfortable admission. “But there are contingencies. I suspected this might happened. This,” at which point a thin manila folder is slid across the desk, “is our backup.”

The two sheets of crystalweave parchment garner a raised eyebrow. “There will be… friction.”

“Within acceptable parameters. On both fronts. I’ve already set the wheels in motion for the appropriate requisition orders to go through to the Violet Bier.”

“That was fast.”

“I told you, contingency planning.”

“I’m not happy about this. There should be more consultation.”

A chair scrapes back on the parquet floor as its occupant rises and crosses to the door.

“I said, we need more discussion.”

“I heard you. And, quite frankly, I don’t care what you think or how you feel about this. I have my orders. So do you. I suggest you attend to your affairs and leave me to mine. There are more important things at stake here.”

A reassuring smile is flashed in the direction of the office’s owner yet it still manages to be disconcerting. “Don’t worry. They will prevail, rest assured.” The door closes on those soothing words.

A fist slams against wood. “Damn!”

Interlude 5 [E = Eternal Sunshine, F, G = Vo'lon]
The few remaining raindrops tapped out their light syncope on the canopy leaves, dripping softly into the charred woodland glade beneath but the dampness could not suppress the still noxious odour of burnt timber that hung in the air. Nor the sound of someone softly sobbing.

Leaving not a trace, but for different reasons, two pairs of boots stepped out from the forest’s edge and made their way across to the extinguished remnants of a large campfire. Patches of scorched ground around it attested to a whirl of scattered embers and sparks at some point. Their path took them over broken hafts, smashed pots, dark spots of sanguine earth… as well as the mutilated bodies of fallen tribesfolk. With slow steps they approached the kneeling figure, cradling one of the bodies in her lap. Her mossy shift was damp, from both the rain and her tears no doubt, and her face and the upper part of the body were hidden beneath a drape of red-streaked leafy tresses. Her body trembled gently.

By making a small adjustment in his personal essence flow, one of the visitors silently stepped back into the normal stream of Creation before raising an eyebrow, gesturing to his unseen companion to do likewise. He grimaced at the slight increase in localised humidity caused by his colleague’s materialisation. They looked down unnoticed at the scene before them.

A gentle cough spun the woman from her grief-stricken reverie and she whirled her head around to look into two faces, one young and earnestly concerned, troubled at what he saw, the other as devoid of expression as a raindrop. With her head no longer in the way, the troubled-looking one recoiled a little at the sight of the body before them – multiple deep muscle contusions and lacerations, particularly bruising around the neck, suggested a rather violent death. Or that could be the smashed open ribcage, punctured viscera and blood pooling in the chest hollow where the heart should have been. Though badly beaten up, the similarity in facial features between the two was discernable.

"I… am sorry for your loss. It’s no comfort I guess… but we didn’t intend things to go this way."

She remained silent, staring into the traveller’s face with eyes like gimlets, her lip trembling, though whether still through grief or having been transmuted to anger, he didn’t care to dwell on. He stumbled falteringly on, “We gave him what advantages we could. The blade alone should have been sufficient. His destiny was reinforced, the companions separated…” He trailed off into apologetic wordlessness.

"I don’t see why you felt the need to bring me here. After all this was just your standard barbarian. Tribes fight all the time. Deaths happen. Simple as that.” The elemental stood his ground in the face of the hateful glare from the woman. “Even when such deaths are those of… such dalliances, Heaven doesn’t falter. There are more important things at stake here. His failure jeopardises the operation."

"Legate, I brought you here as an observer. We both have to make reports." He paused to take in the scene again. A keen observer might think he were scanning the area for… something. He pursed his lips. "Are we really thinking about the costs involved here?"

"If you seriously believed that you wouldn’t have arranged for the shaman to get the blade."

"I was ordered to!"

"And I have no doubt that your superior is not going to be pleased at this turn of events. We have to prepare accordingly. We’re not going to do that standing around in the woods staring at corpses."

"I… I… thought it only proper to see exactly what happened…"

"You make me question the effectiveness of the training methods of your kind, starchild." The man in traveller’s robes bristled at the diminutive epithet. "If I didn’t know or respect your Elders better, I would have advised against this collaboration. Fine, we have seen the lack of result. We must return to plan – the others need to be informed. At least we have news of a successful outcome in other quarters since one of his companions has been confirmed as felled. Our associate also tells us that they may be ‘barking up the wrong tree’, if you’ll pardon the pun," he added mirthlessly. "So we probably have some time."

"You. Insensitive. Bastards!"

The water elemental gazed down at the irate woman, her mottled hazel eyes pulsing with emerald fury, with liquid pity in his orbs. "Such vitriol. You knew this could happen. Don’t blame us for your own failings. Or those of your offspring."

"I would never have agreed to this had…"

The spirit cut her off with a dismissive gesture and when he spoke, his voice carried all the force of a hailstorm, "You didn’t have to agree, it was just easier to. Had you not, we still would have gone ahead; my colleague here has ways of dealing with uncooperative spirits." The traveller had the semblance of good grace to look somewhat guilty at this. "We are doing this for the greater good. Your greater good included. The changes we seek will benefit everyone, not least in this direction where laxity has allowed grave disease to take root. And anyway, don’t try and fool us that you had noble intentions. You agreed to this for the same venal reasons as any petty terrestrial god would – had he succeeded, your stature and power would have seen a marked increase. You might have been able to bring another tribe under your poisonous sway. He was just a means to an end for you."

He turned to his crestfallen companion, motioning to stand some way apart from the unpleasant scene and lowered his voice. "As you said, we have reports to make. Our bosses are waiting. I daresay I’ll be seeing you soon with details of the new plan. Oh, and tell your master that we should have the map soon, though given the events of today I’m not sure it’s viable to proceed with retrieval at this point." Satisfied, he concentrated before dispersing his form into a cloud of water droplets and speeding toward to the rain clouds overhead.

Returning his gaze earthwards, with his feelings of being quite unfairly put-upon growing, the traveller took a step toward the grieving goddess. "Um… is there anything you want me to do? I…" he stammered, curtailing his speech as his stared into eyes that had hardened to oak, at skin taking on a more bark-like quality.

"Leave. Now."

He moved backwards rather rapidly, acquiescing to her wish. "I… I…" He sighed and turned to walk back into the forest.


Interlude 6 [H = Shonos, I]
The door chime rang.

It rang again.

I thought you wanted to see me?

The silver-skinned spirit behind the desk jumped at the telepathic intrusion, dropping his stylus as he did. He waved a hand over the door control and it slid back to reveal a somewhat discontented bureaucrat in elegant cobalt robes who stepped inside at the unspoken invitation.

“Sorry, couldn’t hear the buzzer over the music.”

“What in Heaven’s name is that racket?!” He gestured out of the window to the cobbled boulevard that ran past the offices. Even twelve floors up, the sounds from outside could be clearly heard, resonating through the architectural acoustics.

“I’m somewhat surprised you don’t know. It’s your lot that’s doing it.”

The blue-robed spirit bristled slightly. “Nothing to do with me or my department.”

The seated figure shrugged. “Well, it’s backed by the Cerulean Lute by all accounts, so, like I said, I’m surprised you weren’t aware of it. I quite like it actually.”

“Shut the window please, it’s getting on my nerves.”

“Very well,” the office’s occupant replied, crossing the room to raise the auditory screening filters, “though for someone who works for a Joybringer you have a remarkably low appreciation threshold for music.” He smirked.

“Watch your tongue. And that,” he gestured once more, “is not music. It sounds like dying yeddim being wrung through a mangle. Not refined in the slightest.”

“I hear that it’s to be part of the proceedings at the next Carnival.”

“If it is, you can be sure that I won’t be going to it.”

“I thought it was mandatory for all Cerulean Lute employees?”

“I’ll find a way, don’t you worry. Anyway, why did you call for me?”

The small god drifted back to his desk and picked up a thin file, leafing through the crystalweave sheets within. “The ones your boss wanted me to keep an eye for have returned, got in about 4 hours ago.”

“That would make them gone about 5 days then. Was it the same group who went out? They didn’t bring anyone back with them?”

“Yeah, the same. The two he wanted and their companion. No others. My gate doesn’t get a huge amount of traffic these days so the monitoring is fairly easy to track.”

“Do you believe they went to the Archipelago?”

“Couldn’t say for sure. I don’t know what their capabilities are. But those few Viziers I do get through are usually on their way there. I doubt they were planning a holiday in Luthe.”

“I suppose I should pay a visit to the Convention of Water then. I’ve got some time since he’s out on assignment at the moment.”

“Why the interest in them? Not that I’m not grateful for the retainer but it still seems a bit odd.”

“I reckon the monitoring order came from my boss’ supervisor, probably has some vested interest in one of the prisoners there. You know what they say about those who get exiled instead of executed.”

“So why not get his chief-of-staff to investigate this?”

“Politics. Plausible deniability. The usual. You’d think that with all the troubles they have to deal with, the Starborn would have better things to do with their limited time than scheme and plot against one another.” He sighed, somewhat wistfully. “Things were so much better in the old days. They worked properly. None of this backbiting. It was an honour to serve as their chief-of-staff.”

“Yeah… I guess,” was the unconvinced response to this.

“Besides, my master has a rather deep-seated grudge against one of them so he likes to keep tabs on him. I think he hopes he’s going to be able to find something to censure him for. Something that will stick.”

“Which one?”

“The male Joybringer. Apparently they’ve had some run-ins with each other that my master is smarting over. I don’t know the details. All I know is that his name is not exactly highly-regarded in our office.”

“I think I know of him. Bit of a dilettante for a Vizier but a relatively decent fellow.”

“Have you been to his… ‘palace’?”

“No. Have you?”

“Not personally... but my master says it typifies everything that gives the Cerulean Lute a bad name and is a pox on the good work of the division.”

“That bad, eh? Perhaps I should see for myself…”

“I wouldn’t, lest you be corrupted by proximity. I would hate to see that happen.”

“I’d better get back to work. I’ve got to get this gate numbers report done before the party tonight.”

You’re going to Flowing Lexeme’s party?”

“No, not me. But him upstairs is. And he wants to review the figures before he goes for some reason.”

“I’ll let you get back to that then. I’d better get back to the Perfected Lotus. If I’m lucky I’ll be able to find one of Righteous Tsunami’s subordinates there rather than having to trek all the way out through Gate 41 to the Monastery.” He left without further conversation.

Alone once again, the silver-skinned god lowered the window filters to let the music back in, watching the dancers on the bridge for a few minutes, before returning to his desk to finish that statistics report.

Interlude 7 [A = Tachi-Kun, B = Mendaxana]
The armoured figure puts down the polishing cloth and leans forward. “Your message said you had something to tell me and now all you’ve done is waltz in, pour yourself some wine and sit there.”

Silence from the seated figure across the ironwood desk, only punctuated by the soft rapping of metal against the white jade inlay in a strangely soothing staccato.

“You know,” he continues, his crisp tones causing all the blades that adorned his walls to resonate slightly, “this is the first time I have seen you so… distracted.”

“Sorry but I’m pondering on whether or not we have a problem.”

“A problem? Has another one died?” The figure sighs, an oddly soft sound echoed in the jangle of his orichalcum armour. “We’re going to run out of candidates soon and someone is going to be really suspicious if this carries on…”

The lady sat opposite waved her red-sleeved arm to cut him off. “Once again you have run off down the wrong track. You know, sometimes I wonder if it would have been worth approaching the twins instead for this venture…”

“Don’t mock me.”

She smiles and gives a gentle laugh. “But you are so easy to wind up my dear.” She sips delicately from the crystal goblet. “I was only teasing.” His glower diminished slightly. “Anyway,” she says, rather dismissively, “this gives you one up on them, really. Keep your eye on the bigger picture.” Another sip. “No, the problem I was referring to is something new. My supervisor seems to have taken an interest in them. Or at least in one of them. I was hoping to keep him away from this project for a good while yet. And still that is the lesser of my concerns. Most of my counterparts seem to be finding a way to get involved as well.”

A look of consternation crosses the warrior’s visage. “I can understand why one of them would be looking into things but the others?”

“Concerning isn’t it? Travelling to the Archipelago was likely to get the attention of one, though his involvement seems a little more than just a few brief questions now. Another seems to have an indirect concern, with something you have a hand in. Which brings me to the matter of needing to see you.”

“What would any of them want with me? Surely I’m not needed to answer more questions at -”

“No. There is the possibility of a request being made to the Capital Convention.”

“But you know how much I hate dealing with them! I haven’t… oh.”

She nods now that realisation has dawned. “I know officially it went through the Golden Barque but he was the assignee. Apparently someone’s been complaining – he wouldn’t say who – about disturbances on the Blessed Isle, something to do with speed. He obviously owes a favour to someone to at least raise the issue. Now, I’m not going to do anything unless I have to.” She raises an eyebrow. “I hope I won’t have to persuade anyone to drop anything,” she states archly.

“Not on my part, I assure you. I was perfectly discrete in making the necessary arrangements.”

“I don’t know what else you’re involved in here; just make sure it doesn’t compromise our efforts.”

“Of course not! What kind of a fool do you take me for?”

She stands, drains the last of the wine from the glass and places the empty vessel on the corner of the desk. “It would appear that they are getting ready to reconvene, a message has been sent requesting that the three return to Yu-Shan. I expect to call a full meeting in a few days to update everyone.”

Moving to the door, she turns back and, in a softer voice says, “See. You’re getting that meeting you wanted,” before closing the door quietly on her departure.

Epilogue [B = Mendaxana, J]
A nondescript room, it could be any meeting room in any one of a thousand administrative buildings. This one happens to look over a shady park where, far below, an animated statue of silver and jade dances on its pedestal in sinuous motions. There are two persons present, one looking out of the window, their back to the other.

“There is discontent I gather.”

“You could say that but nothing I can’t handle. For all their power and intelligence some of them still need cosseting. T in particular worries about what recent events will do to him personally. We need to keep a closer eye on him – he may be getting involved in other activities which could draw unwanted scrutiny to him. There is a risk of association.”

“I’m well aware of what he’s doing. If I think it will jeopardise our plans, I will make appropriate arrangements.”

The seated figure nodded. There was no need to elaborate. “I am somewhat disappointed though that they took their findings directly to the censors. It has made things somewhat awkward.”

“How so?”

“O has had to use her power to block release of certain parts of the transcripts but I can’t see them pushing against that really since whoever is really behind the so-called League of Stalwart Seasons has much to lose if it were to go public. The starblade was an interesting ploy, if somewhat overt-” The speaker halted at a stifled laugh from the figure at the window.

“You know who authorised it don’t you?”

“Yes, and so do you, although you can’t prove it especially since Warden Jagreth is unbribable and so will not casually tell. But given there are only four who can actually do so, the options are limited. What is interesting is why they did so. It tipped their hand too much. Ennico was not that much of a threat and at the time was nowhere near close to figuring out that there was Heavenly involvement and from his own division no less.”

“It will be interesting to see if he pursues that line of inquiry but I suspect he will find himself stymied. But as I was saying, the main problem is not so much that the information has been sealed but that it is there at all. I had hoped that Celestial Concerns would have no records regarding Zeran.”

“You’re certain it is Zeran-Dubuth that was being sought?”

The figure at the table nodded. “Yes, another investigation has confirmed that. What is fortunate though, is that we have the advantage on anyone else who might seek to use that information. I don’t think they know that our lot have one of the pieces for the machine in Jamara and from what I’ve seen of the other information the groups have passed each other, the other stormbreakers are fairly inaccessible. Securing them is definitely not going to be a quick or easy task for anyone. Even the one in the Imperial Manse and they dare not use that one because of the discharge.”

“So this particular bout of manoeuvring is at an end?”

“For the time being. They are probably going to have to regroup and restrategise. The official developments are disconcerting though. Emerald Viper showed up as advocate for both Mezalarine and Vopharanexillon. That’s why Mezalarine has ended up in the Sanitarium instead of as starmetal. We are informed though that he did not seem… satisfied to be defending them.”

“I’m not surprised. What about the CES investigation into the Arad incident?”

“At the last Board meeting, Dakuzar said that the interviews with Red and Ennico had not yielded anything substantial enough to apply formal charges, so they are in the clear. For now at least. There will be a mark on their files however, which will naturally affect Red more than Ennico.”

“We’ll leave that for now. How is the new one faring.”

“Well it seems. His assistance to Shroud in mapping the administrative changes at the Bureau of Seasons was valuable so he appears to have justified his inclusion on the back-up list. We’ll need to scout another to be a substitute but I think I’ll leave that to H, it’s his turn to nominate.”

The figure at the window shrugged as they stared at a person who had entered the park below. “I leave that in your capable hands.” The person stared at the moving statue before raising their own flute and playing a haunting melody that seemed reminiscent of some of the music being played recently over the Yellow Paved Road. “Was there anything else?”

“Nothing major for now. I think they’ll be busy with their ordinary duties for a while.”

“Very well.”

The seated figure rose and adjusted the wrinkles from their dress before reading for departure.

“Oh, before you go, I heard an interesting rumour regarding Eternal Sunshine.”

“Really? He’s been assigned to the Retrieval Taskforce now. Seems like he’s resigned to being the fall guy for other people’s schemes.”

“Yes and no. Though I suspect there’s more to him than meets the eye. However, whilst he is on the Retrieval Taskforce now, have you noticed that all his other assignments have been held or handed on?”

“That’s… unusual…”

“He’s actually been assigned a hunting target.”

“To neutralise a rogue? Which one?”

With the bright light of Jupiter’s star shining through the window, the figure turned, a knowing smirk playing across the lips. “Guess…”