Case 4: Interludes

Prelude A [H = Shonos, K = Ariisa]

The atmosphere in the tavern was somewhat boisterous; the celestial wine was flowing rather freely tonight and only a few people were paying attention to the quite exquisite spectacle of glass-acrobatics that was taking place on the main stage. Philistines. Enuriet had to have chosen *this* particular evening and *this* particular tavern to celebrate his promotion to Coronal’s major-domo. Naturally the God of Social Engineering himself wasn’t here – probably off somewhere dallying with his favoured student, a recently exalted Starborn of but 30 or 40 years, a mere stripling of the Bureau of Destiny who doted on Coronal like some kind of infant canine.

Powerful gods often tutored Viziers, added depth to their personalities and capabilities, rounding them out for the difficult work they had in maintaining Creation’s destinies. They weren’t supposed to ‘fraternise’. It should be purely a professional relationship. Just another sign of the declining standards of the past centuries. Though come to mention it, he hadn’t seen that particular young Starborn around the Cerulean Lute for a few months now…

He pulled his cobalt-coloured robes closer around him, despite it being quite warm and made even more so by the transparent panels of the roof acting as a lens for the bright sunlight outside. He moved his head to try and get a better view of the entertainment but was gradually becoming discontented by the rowdiness.

A jacinth flute-glass suddenly appeared in front of him, the softly bubbling liquid within releasing sweet and soothing scents with its effervescence. He took a sip of silken luxury and allowed it to slip sensuously down his throat as he slowly swallowed… before turning his attention to the bearer of the drink. He raised an eyebrow querulously at the figure who sinuously slipped into the seat beside him, taking a long drink from the amber drinking horn held in her delicate ivory talons.

She returned his glare with a faintly smiling one of her own. “Lighten up. Relax, please… you’re so tense, you’re sticking out like furnace rhino with a sore horn.”

“Can you blame me, really?” he bristled. “And don’t think you can just win me round with a draught of Zarlath mead. What do you want?”

“Suspicious much aren’t you dear?”

He fixed her with a look, his sapphire eyes turning steely. “I think I have every reason to be, don’t you? You speak with a forked tongue.” He turned away and picked up his glass but held it in abeyance from his lips.

She flicked out said tongue at him. “It’s a little bit difficult for me to speak otherwise,” and chuckled.

“You know what I mean. You still give me little reason to trust you.”

“Yet that doesn’t stop you from accepting a little something… extra, now, does it dear?”

The azure-clothed bureaucrat had the good grace to look momentarily discomfited but he quickly covered it up with his usual ill-humoured expression. “Due recompense covers what you ask alone, it doesn’t pay for trust.”

“Three hundred and twenty-six years is a long time to be nursing a grudge over an imagined slight.”

“It is not imagined. And I still hold you responsible. Besides, I thought we weren’t going to mention it again. Why do you forget that now?”

“Very selective amnesia, dear. Like when I don’t think someone is upholding their end of the deal.” She smiled and took another sip of her drink, her eyes studiously lingering on the flexing forms of the acrobats.

“I’ve told you all you wanted to know so far. I have nothing else yet. Some Viziers have important business to attend to and can’t go gallivanting around on personal missions.”

The lady smiled and the play of light across the faint scale pattern of her skin made her shimmer somewhat captivatingly. “That’s why they have us dear.” She returned her attention to her companion, gently walking her fingers up the arm of his cerulean vestments. He was acutely aware that she had recently sharpened her ‘nails’. “What you have told me has amounted to very little. One would think that you weren’t privy to what your master is up to.”

He bristled at the cast aspersion. “My master has been somewhat pre-occupied of late…” He broke off as her fingers needled their way up the side of his neck.

“Yes,” she whispered sibilantly, “about that. Personal vendetta… or is there something more perhaps?”

“Look, I just keep his official diary and his office matters. I think you would be better off doing this yourself.”

She grasped his chin firmly, though were anyone actually paying attention to them, they would just see a playful couple… “You’re a gentleman of high morals; you don’t like the way things are at the moment. I can help you make the… correct changes. I know you are fixated on ‘duty’ and ‘honour’ – that is why you cannot just leave someone you suspect is not playing properly. Because that is all it is. Suspicion. I’m here to help you, help turn suspicion into fact.”

“If that is what it is.”

She leaned back into her chair, shifting slightly to regain a comfortable position, before answering “Of course, dear. So… is there anything more to it than just being personal.”

He took a longer sip from his glass, taking the time to marshal his thoughts. All he wanted was an efficient and effective bureaucracy where everyone knew their place and was content with doing their jobs. A job well done should be its own reward. But with the Starborn being part of both the problem and solution, it would be foolish to think that anything could happen quickly but if there was some small thing he could do to help…

“He insists on tracking his movements, down to the detailed gate records, which gods he has official appointments with – he recently met with Zutaka apparently… I know there is something personal there but he hasn’t told me what it is. All he will say is that it connected to an undercover investigation he was conducting at his ‘palace’. I’m fairly certain my master's supervisor is in on this too.”

He looked around before lowering his voice further. “I accompanied him to a meeting with his supervisor and I happened to glance into the room before the door closed. There was a board… with some names on.” He smoothed the front of his robe, pulling the sash a little tighter as she leaned forward – ostensibly paying him little heed but he could tell she was intently listening. “All the names I saw were Starborn. Not only was his name on that board but there was another Joybringer, you may know her – she does a lot of work in the south and east of Creation.”

“Anyone else?” she breathed, enraptured by the aerial spirals of the dancer before her.

“It seemed there were quite a few names and I only got a brief glance. I saw a partial name of ‘Starlight’, there was one written ‘Opales…’ with a Reckoner’s caste mark next to it and a Shieldbearer, Mox…”

She smiled broadly as she completed the name in breathy exhalation. “…Jerefin. Now that is intriguing. My employer will definitely find that interesting…”


Prelude B [E = Eternal Sunshine, L = Roniima]
The Blooded officer stared moodily into his drink. The trail was cold. He didn’t know what he was still doing here; why he hadn’t booked his passage back to Arjuf. He was the only Blooded in the tavern and the attitude of the locals was cautiously reverential, whilst giving him a wide berth. However, in a Threshold town this close to the Isle, you would hope that the Immaculate philosophy held strongly.

Dragons be praised, indeed. Now, if one of them could just show him the right way to go…

He didn’t expect her to be back but still, no-one knew where she was or went. Most couldn’t even remember seeing her. Though that was hardly surprising given the general attitude of folk round here for determined nonchalance. If it wasn’t directly related to your job, you didn’t notice it. Not noticing things was better for your health. Especially if it looked like there was a pissed-off Fire Aspect in your vicinity.

So now, back to Arjuf and back to trying to scrounge up more information. He was beginning to wonder if this fruitless task was punishment for recent failings. Not that those were his fault, of course. If you’re not going to tell people what was going on then you shouldn’t blame them when things don’t quite pan out properly! He’d done his best. He rubbed his jaw; even though the bruising had long since gone it still felt tender and ached slightly whenever he was in low spirits. Yet another reminder of unfair treatment when he was only doing his job.

The tavern door swung open and another Blooded walked in, imperious in manner as in beauty, arrogance and power coiled near the surface like twin serpents ready to spring. Her vibrant forest tresses tumbled in gentle curls over pale brown shoulders and neatly accentuated by the pale green of her robes. An embroidered sash of emerald silk at the waist marked her to be of House V’neef, a graduate of the Heptagram… and one of rank too.

He stood as she made her way over to his table, bowing formally at her approach in recognition of protocol, as the locals looked on in awe. Yet as she reciprocated, he noticed a glimmer in her emerald eyes that something wasn’t quite right here. Surreptitiously, he drew upon his personal reserves of Essence and activated the power that would allow him to identify any supernatural shenanigans she might employ. Whereupon the wrap of energies around her sang like music in his ears, a discordant rhythm in the dull harmony of his day.

He smiled awkwardly as he bade her sit and summoned a waitress for more drinks. “So, to what do I owe the honour of this visit ‘Sorceress’?” he asked, in a low, gruff tone. He made sure to stress the pronunciation of the title.

She waited until the serving girl had poured her tea before sipping delicately at the jasmine brew. “This bad humour suits you ill, my dear ‘Sesus’ cousin,” she replied softly and sweetly, putting just as much inflection on his House name as he had.

“Forgive me, ‘cousin’; it has not been a good day and I’m not good company right now.”

“Ahh. Lost your quarry?”

He glared at her even more suspiciously. “What do you know of that?” he hissed.

“Please keep your tone civil. Neither of us wants to attract undue attention and we both have jobs to do. It just so happens I think we can help each other.”

“No undue attention? And you show up looking like that?”

She shrugged demurely. “A means to an end. Heptagram scholars often rest here on the start of a trip to Icehome.”

“Forgive me for doubting your scholarly credentials. I just hope I won’t have to make a ‘binding contract’ before this conversation is out.”

“Try it and you’ll blow your cover before I lose mine. And then where you be? In trouble with yet another superior.” She held up a warding finger to stifle his prospective interjection. “I heard about your recent… transfer.” She reached out a hand to cover his, clasped as it was tightly around the handle of his mug. He couldn’t shake the feeling that the long, exquisitely manicured nails pressing against his skin were, in fact, needle-sharp talons. “I sympathise with your predicament,” she said, leaning in closer. “I can help you,” she whispered breathily into his ear, before pulling back to sip once more from her tea.

“And what do you want from me in return?”

“Suspicious much, aren’t you dear?”

“It comes with the territory. Things seem very ‘political’ at the moment.”

“True. And the further you can keep yourself from them the better, would be my advice. You’re right, I want something in return. But here’s a little nugget for free – your target is high profile and bringing her back will definitely be a feather in your cap but you will then be hard-pressed to avoid the much of what will assuredly follow.”

“You seem remarkably well informed.”

“You would be surprised at how much I know and have overheard. But there are… gaps. Which is where you can help me.”

“Are you asking me to betray a confidence? I won’t do that.”

She smiled a strangely, reptilian, smile. “But what good is that confidence when you don’t have confidence in them? You want a cleaner kind of order but have been dragged into a messy business. I can help you go far if you will help me in… tidying up. I want the same thing and my employer can make that happen. But we must be sure of what it is we are facing. There are many who want to keep the waters muddied for their own purposes.”

“I don’t betray my friends. I keep my word.”

“Did those ‘friends’ stand up for you when you were getting beaten up? Did they stop you being transferred? Did you know that every high-ranking candidate for this job you’re on was turned down on the grounds of them being ‘too significant or mission critical to reassign’? And yet here you are. What does that tell you about their expectations of your success? Or your standing in their eyes? I know what it tells me.” She leaned back in her chair before summoning the serving girl to replenish the now cold tea and watching the confusion and conflicting emotions warring in his eyes.

“You’re lying.”

“Yes, dear, I could be. But why would I when you know this to be true yourself? You just don’t want to admit it because you savour and cling dearly to the notion that you are respected. The really sad thing is that that is true… just not by the people you want. But you *can* solve this case and claim your rightful position in people’s favour. With my help. If you want to help yourself, then help me.”

Her eyes took on a distinct serpentine look as she looked with sympathetic concern at the young man’s plight, whilst smiling smugly on the inside. Finding those emotional switches and watching them in action was all part of the fun and it was hard to say who was the better at it – her or her sister. She guessed the fact there was little to tell them apart was good reason why they both held the same position.

The set of his shoulders and his downcast look told her she had won. She was almost disappointed at how easily he crumbled; obviously the rumours about his backbone were true. No wonder he kept getting used and tossed aside really. All of which served her purpose. And her employer’s naturally.

“Do you know where she is?”

“Not right now,” she admitted, “But I know where she is headed. And I’ll throw another key observation into the bargain as well.”

He looked up at her and there was a newfound determination in his eyes. He held out his hand in affirmation of the bargain. “Very well, you have a deal ‘Sorceress’. Do this for me and I’ll do what I can for you.”

She shook the proffered hand delicately. “You have done the right thing. You can trust me… to steer you right.” She went over to the tavernkeeper and brought back a dusty bottle of what passed for decent wine in these parts. She kept her voice low as she remarked, “It’s not celestial wine but it will do for now.”

He accepted a glass having kept a close check on any exertion of power but there had been no change in the harmony so far. She was telling the truth, he knew it and it took little persuasion on her part to convince him that he was not so well regarded as he kept deluding himself. Well, if they weren’t going to show confidence in his skills, then he would show them the kind of loyalty such actions buy.

“So where is she heading?”

“She heads for a meeting in Sijan but with whom, I am not aware. You may also care to look for a lady by the name of Metriahn for I believe your target and she crossed paths recently.”

“When you say ‘recently’, just how long ago? I know that some… people have a tendency to lose track of time quite readily.”

“This year.”

“So what it is it I can help you with in return for this information?”

She smiled, not entirely unlike a predator, around the rim of her wine glass. “Well…”

They talked long into the evening.


Prelude C [M = Kysen Loth, N = Saffron Garda]
Serene he was not. He was fuming.

He stared intently at the sheet of crystalweave on the desk in front of him as if by glaring at it he could burn away the words that offended his eyes.

There was a knock on the door. “Come,” he called tersely, as it opened to admit an elderly Vizier of long-standing acquaintance. “Will you sit Venerable Master?”

The visitor nodded perfunctorily as he wandered over to the sideboard and poured himself a glass of celestial wine before heading back to the desk and seating himself before the room’s occupant. “What was so important that you had to see me in person?” he enquired in a thin, reedy voice. His four thousand and some years were starting to weigh heavily upon him, in spirit if not entirely in body. Infirm he may look, like many of his age, but he could still move readily around the dojo and still swept the floor on a regular basis with many of his students, even upstarts less than a tenth his age. Part of it he attributed to his daily sparring with Puo Leng and some of it to the verbal sparring with jumped up bureaucrats who barely understood what it meant to be a Chosen of the Maidens and yet held positions of power.

It was a sign of the troubles of the Age that they had to replace Viziers so much more regularly. And the newer they were, the less dedicated they seemed. Proper faith in the Maidens directing the right course of Destiny was waning; ever more interference led to ever more problems – no one was content to let the Loom function as it was meant to. And those few of his generation left were starting to succumb to malaise. Notwithstanding, though, what was likely to be the defining event of the Age… but back to the matter at hand.

No respect! Some of these Venerable Ones couldn’t even deign to observe common courtesy when addressing a colleague. He was an Elder of Serenity, by the Maidens! Blessed by Venus herself and, unfortunately, saddled with the burden of dealing with his fractious and capricious colleagues. Venus alone knew how much flak his division took for all the woes of Creation and the rather unsavoury perception of hedonists and troublemakers was grossly undeserved. Well, at least for many of his companions. But, of course, he didn’t begrudge all the hard work he had to put in; no, it was a joy to serve his Maiden and Heaven in what way he could. He just wished others would have the same bloody respect for common bloody manners!

He smiled, a thin-lipped affair devoid of much warmth, as he pushed the crystalweave memo across the desk to his guest. “Do you recognise that?”

“It’s a memo.”

“Yes. And…”

The elderly fellow leant forward, to scan the sheet lazily before leaning back. “It’s a notice of a promotion.”

Under the desk, the Joybringer flexed and tensed his fingers as if just itching to punch the Venerable Master and blight him with the devastating atemis at his fingertips. Yet, for all his mastery of martial arts, he knew his Reckoner colleague would actually have the better of him.

“Yes. A promotion that shouldn’t have been.”

“I’m sure I have little idea of what you speak, young Joybringer.”

He simmered at the blatant insult but loyalty and firm belief in the hierarchy kept him from just leaping over the desk and Malfeas take the consequences. “I had ordered you to take steps to see that the promotion be declined. Or at the very least, deferred.”

“That was from you was it? I’m sorry I must have accidentally overlooked that in the midst of all my other duties. I am over four thousand years old you know and sometimes the mind does go a little bit funny.” He smiled deprecatingly.

“That order was the will of Kejak.”

“Really? I didn’t see his seal on the ‘request’.”

“My position entitles me to speak on his behalf. I expected that his will would be done.”

“Then you should have put his seal on it. I take orders from Kejak alone, not you.”

“You jeopardise our mission with such… inconsideration.” He shook his head disappointedly. “You have to work with us brother if our vision is to be fully achieved. I am his lieutenant, therefore, surely by hierarchy and tradition, you know that I have the best in mind for us. You should not gainsay my requests – doing so causes disharmony.”

“You are *one* of his lieutenants. Last time I counted, the Inner Council comprised three members. I would also note that it has been a long time since any of you have consulted with the Venerable Advisers. Would you deny yourself the value of the experiences we have to offer? You curtail your own growth if you do.”

“Is that a threat?”

“No. A warning, maybe. You risk the very disharmony you profess to despise. I will not be party to ‘requests’ that go against the sensibilities of Heaven or my beliefs in our true objective here. Do not lose sight of that in your petty squabbling.” He sighed, a sound redolent of centuries of saying the same things over and over again to younger heads who would not listen. He forced himself to return to the issue actually under discussion. “Your orders made no sense. Were he a follower of Mistress Ura, I could understand but he stands apart. He is exactly the kind of hard-working Vizier we need in senior positions like this and exactly the kind we cannot afford to alienate if we are to demonstrate the folly of some of our colleagues.”

“I don’t think you quite understand the gravity of the situation. And don’t think I don’t know how you’re quite willing to let your position on the committee slide. Maybe him taking the Chair’s position means that you think you can take even less of an interest in your role as the Southern Commissioner that you did before!”

“I do my job as I see fit to. You’re not the only one who has Kejak’s ear, remember. I do not interfere in your business. Kindly do the same for me.”

Sighing, the younger Sidereal held up his hands in placation. “My apologies brother. I get caught up in my work overmuch sometimes. I do not mean to be presumptuous or to cast aspersions on your work ethic. But I strongly urge you to reconsider your endorsement. It is dangerous having him in that position.”

“You haven’t explained why that would be the case.”

“He is associated with some of the lower order members of Ayesha’s little band. He is at danger of being exposed to their nonsensical ramblings and thus compromising his position and that of the commission. We cannot allow that.”

The old man chuckled, a rather hoary, wheezing sound. “Do you honestly believe the Commission on Terrestrial Affairs has that much influence? There are too many problems and whilst he is good – he’s not *that* good. The Bureau of Heaven doesn’t take it seriously, several elemental courts bypass it entirely and go straight to the Bureau of Seasons for what good it does them, none of the Terrestrial deities feel comfortable in Yu-Shan and neither do the Celestial powers let them feel comfortable. The Commission is a glorified complaints administration department. Leave him to it, I say. If he surprises everyone he will be moved on in due course and we can work on him or it then; if he gets overwhelmed, he goes under. Either way we don’t have to deal with the rubbish. And which Viziers in particular do you refer to?”

“Navion Starlight and Succour-in-Extremis, to name two.”

“I don’t know much about the first but in my experience the latter is a scatterbrained, foppish dilettante who is more interested in pursuing the baser aspects of your Division than extolling the virtues of a ‘Golden Dawn’. Isn’t his home modelled on a Cynis pleasure dome or some such?” He shook his head patronisingly. “I can’t see either of them being of consequence. If it were Shaia, then I might be a bit more concerned.”

Having risen to his feet in anger, the Joybringer subsided back into seat as he considered the Venerable One’s words. “Perhaps your right. We can afford to take a longer view on these things. I’m sorry for my outburst.” He smiled wanly. “I am not so stubborn that I can ignore such sage counsel brother. You’re right, I have been remiss in ignoring you. We shall meet again soon I’m sure.”

Somewhat mollified, the elderly Vizier nodded his agreement and shuffled out of the office.

Leaning back, the Elder pondered. Such effrontery from the old man! But he was right in some respects; his passion for his vision was blinding him to some of the obstacles. Obstacles which needed to be overcome. Or removed.


Interlude 1 [A = Tachi-Kun, O = Hran-Tzu, Black Ice Shadow, Green Lady]

Tap. Tap. Tap.

The sound of plated fingers tapping against the armrest of the chair seemed strangely muted. Not at all like the sturdy wood of my desk, thought the seated figure. In fact, everything seemed somewhat muted despite the bright light and airy feel to the office. Maybe it was because it was so bright, everything else seemed somehow out of focus as if the light was trying to prove some kind of point.The beady glare of the bird perched on the lintel wasn’t helping his comfort factor either. Its matte feathers held just enough soft iridescence to be both hypnotic and disconcerting.

The door slowly and silently opened to admit the master of the office. “You take a risk in coming here.” A statement; impassive only through a very certain kind of self-control.

“You take a risk in seeing me.”

The shrouded figure shrugged. “I know I am being watched and targeted by somebody. If everything I do is risky then the dangers are mundane.”

The armoured figure furrowed his brow in concentration. “Doesn’t that leave you prone to complacency?”

A dull, muted chuckle. “Just because something is mundane doesn’t mean one is automatically complacent. Simply put, I am fully cognisant of the dangers, but I choose not to display a commensurate level of concern. To do so would play too much into their hands.”

A raised eyebrow met that statement but the visitor forbore from further comment on that line. It wasn’t why he was here after all.

“Can I offer you a drink?” The robes glided across to a small sandalwood table and picked up a bottle of wine. His guest gestured a decline and he poured himself a small glass of sparkling rose. “Does she know you are here?”

“No. But I daresay she will find out soon enough. I’m not trying to hide this…”

“Really?”

“You know what I mean. Not from her. But I do think she is being overly cautious. We need to be more decisive.” Even after millennia in their company, he still hated not being able to accurately judge the demeanour of his more faceless colleagues.

“Don’t you think your purview and recent events might have coloured your opinion a little too strongly? We do not want to show ourselves before we know who is going to move and when. That is why we agreed to work they way we do. Through the people we have chosen. Discretion. Obfuscation.”

“I am not used to working in this underhanded manner.”

“You cannot tell me that in your area particularly, the worth of good intelligence is valued so little? Your position demands that you consider the ramifications of your actions and orders very carefully. You have been treading a very fine line for so very long, I would have expected it to be second nature by now.” Despite the fervour of his words, the shrouded god maintained careful reign on his tone.

“Things are not what they were. The return of the Lawgivers and the current tremors in Terrestrial society give good cause to my desire for action. Yes I have had to be extremely careful in how I can act but it is precisely because of those fetters…” he paused for the merest fraction at the near imperceptible wince that ran through his colleague’s frame at the mention of that word. “…that I want to see something done. Even if it is just that we meet somewhat more often to discuss what we have found out. And not just be at her beck and call. Her whim of when she decides it’s a good idea to meet.” He slammed his fist down on the white jade-reinforced alabaster table, resulting in another strangely muted sound.

“I hope you are just venting your frustration and don’t seriously believe that. Increased frequency of meetings increases our exposure. And we know very little as yet. I know that she is working on something and that group we have put our faith in should reap dividends at some point. Already they have forced someone to show their hand, which gives us an inkling of at least one of the players.”

“Players!” The armoured man snorted derisively but there was the distinct air of frustration in it. “That the bureaus of Heaven are reduced to games!”

A pregnant pause. “It was ever thus though.”

“Fine. But shouldn’t we try pushing them to investigate more practical areas?”

“We can’t force them into getting results. They have proven useful even in the limited time they have had. The concept is a novel one and getting it to stay below the notice of the authorities is our key priorities. Trust in them finding out where our efforts need to be applied. And remember, if they help us we can offer assistance in return. And maybe more than just keeping censure from their door.”

“I accept your points. It rankles though that we don’t have enough information to go after anyone just yet and…”

“I didn’t say that,” came an enigmatic interruption.

“What?”

“They have already given us a direction where someone is involved. The rather blatant attempt on one of their lives shows that someone in the Division of Endings is getting concerned with their activities. And with my purview requiring their frequent consultation, I should be able to pursue that line of inquiry to a certain degree. After all I think I can narrow it down to four or five particular individuals – it’s then a question of paring that down.”

“At least that’s something. Anything you want me to do?”

The cowl gently shook. “No. Remember – we act cautiously and surreptitiously. Now go. I have work to attend to.” He waited until his visitor dematerialised and returned to his sanctum before proceeding to his workshop. Somebody had left him a message wishing to see him.

Entering the private chamber, a familiar looking figure stood leaning against one of the cabinets, idly tracing the swirling patterns on his gauntlets. He drew himself up and bowed, his grey eyes lit with a strange lustre as he spoke, the dark cloth concealing his lower face serving as no impediment for his hollow voice. “I have warded the room and our passage here,” he said, making a sign indicative of the old constellation of the Mask.

“‘Our passage’?”

A figure detached itself from the shadows and walked forward slowly… and he floated back in surprise as he registered the colour of her garb and a face long unseen.

“Greetings old friend. I bring grave tidings I’m afraid.”


Interlude 2 [R = Diamond-Edge Negotiator, S = Kur Sarene, T = Cathak Faux-Kaminer]
He hurried through the glass-panelled door, barely acknowledging the secretary in the outer office, before moving towards his destination. The weight on his wrist was both a distraction and reassuring. One more obstacle removed. “I got your message. I think we have a problem though, one…” He pulled up short as he saw there was an unexpected guest in the room. “What is *he* doing here?”

The tall figure behind the desk gestured to the newcomer to take a seat. “Calm down. This is all part of the plan. He is going to dispose of our little problem.”

The dark-suited god sat down as directed, resting the case he carried carefully by his side but carried on directing a suspiciously poisonous look at the third figure who, for his part, tried to remain nonplussed despite feeling distinctly ill-at-ease.

The man behind the desk carried on, “I should also tell you that he is the architect and engineer of many of our projects and is the reason why we will be succeeding here.”

“Really? I strongly doubt that. His capacities are suspect to say the least, his position notwithstanding.”

“And thank you for demonstrating just why we will be able to do what we want here,” he declared with a certain undertone of exasperation in his voice. “You really must learn to get over such irrational prejudices.”

“If you say so.” The seated spirit gave a last disparaging stare, yet to be convinced on this, before dismissing him and turning back to his business. The target of his derision simply returned the glare with an impassive one of his own, before resettling his pose leaning against the bookshelf. “Anyway, I have the outcome of yesterday’s little operation. I’m pleased to report it went off smoothly.” He tapped the attaché case by his side.

“Excellent. Things are progressing nicely.” His brow furrowed momentarily. “But you were about to say there was a problem?”

The sharply-dressed god stared pointedly at the increasingly more uncomfortable figure in sole response. It was clear he regarded him as only marginally more significant than a Terrestrial Exalt.

“Focus! You can talk freely here. The room is warded and I have told him about your group. He approves.”

“It warms my heart to know he does,” came the retort. “Very well. Lan Taska has failed to report in.”

“Remind me…”

“He was dispatched to observe the mansion and was supposed to report in daily. However I suspect something might have happened to him. I have sent Lan Sorba and Lan Reava to investigate. It does mean that we are going to be a little bit stretched until they return.”

“Where are the others?”

“I have left them with Advent Thorn awaiting further orders.”

“Let me know what the outcome of the observations are. We must ensure that we can retain plausible deniability. We cannot afford to have anyone snooping around.”

“No-one of consequence that is. That pottery bint is going to notice Lau isn’t around but I doubt anyone will pay much attention to her.”

“Especially since we can rely on Direct Charge of Justice to turn a blind eye.”

“I’m just concerned if she goes outside for help.”

“Who would she turn to? She is a minor nonentity in a perfunctory position, no-one will listen her. Everyone has better things to do than protect some slovenly commune in the slums. Anyone who does is a fool and we can deal with fools. With Lau-Hon gone, her resistance should collapse and we can move in. If she foolishly continues this futile struggle, you know what to do.”

The suited god nodded as he made to lift the case up, the wrist-chain clinking softly as he did so. “Do you want this?”

“In a moment.” The imposing figure looked across his office to the third figure. “Is everything in place?”

The room’s other occupant, hitherto silent despite the provocative disparagement, unfurled his arms from their defensive posture. “Not yet. The final two pillars are awaiting shipment; they should arrive at Gate 11 in approximately eight days. I am pleased to report that the capacitors are now out of prototype phase. I am ready to start their construction proper but I’m having difficulty sourcing enough starmetal. The operation last night will get me some but the Office of Resource Allotment is being particularly stubborn at the moment.”

“And the hearthstones?”

“I have the one from San Ignacio and we’ll be getting the one from Ty-Pharo, so those aren’t a problem.”

“So what’s your revised time to completion?”

“Assuming I can get some more starmetal readily, then I would say a season at the most. I presume you will have secured the last of the properties by that time. Then all we need is the Planning Group formality for your boundary change applications, we can jump-start the network and prove once and for all that Crystal Flame belongs to Lord Bongerok.” He smiled warmly and ran a hand through his hair the colour of burnished broze.”

The suited figure looked somewhat confused. “What network?”

The man behind the desk shook his head dismissively. “Don’t worry about that. All part of the master plan. You just concentrate on the paperwork and directing the assassins. Now, let’s have that crystal. The sooner we can get rid of Lau-Hon the more comfortable I’ll feel.”

The seated one rose to place the attaché case on the desk, the light from the window causing the moonsilver edging to glow with an ethereal light. As he extracted a key from his waistcoat pocket and bent over the double locks, he asked, “So how are we going to dispose of him?”

“It’s what I need to get the first batch of starmetal,” came the response from the bookshelf. “I have a buyer who needs it as a power cell and is willing to trade a sizable quantity of the magical material.”

“Is that so,” he remarked idly, fiddling with the lock of the cuff on his wrist. The restraint removed, he flipped open the lid of the case and carefully extracted the golden ash box from within. As he hefted the box in grudgingly passing it over, a brief look of consternation flashed across his face.

As he accepted the box, the smug look fell from the copper-skinned figure’s face. “This is somewhat lighter than I was expecting…” He quickly moved forward to the desk, placing it there and slid the sealing panel off before wheeling away, disgusted, to stare at the suited spirit. “Successful mission, eh?!”

Rather flustered, the advocate rushed to inspect the, obviously empty, box. “That’s impossible!” he exclaimed. “I rechecked it just before leaving Advent Thorn’s manse. It was there. I assure you, it was there! This case has not been opened or left my sight since then!”

The figure behind the desk grabbed the empty box, inspecting it before closing his eyes to ponder the situation as a heated argument of recriminations flickered in the air before him. As the voices subsided to a simmer, he calmly stated, “Let’s not bicker about this. There is little time to lose. Retrace your steps, go back to Advent Thorn and double check. I have a sneaking suspicion you may have been followed there but check anyway.” He watched the suited figure head out the door, heard the front office door slam.

“This is bad. How are you going to find Lau-Hon? He could be very problematic if freed.”

“I’m going to work from the premise that he has already been freed. If things were done professionally though, he should not be able to incriminate any of us. I’m more interested in how it went missing which requires a different tack. I’ll head to the Division of Eperopolitan Commerce to try and see Telanorestomir.”

His companion’s brow furrowed. “The trade minister?”

The tall figure smiled. “Yes, but few remember what position he also holds, believing him to be a mere trade god. He’s the God of Stolen Gemstones… and he owes me a favour.”


Interlude 3a [K = Ariisa, L = Roniima]
Serpentine eyes looked up as the door to the office swung open, scattering a few papers and sending a small god scurrying after them.

“Back so soon I see… come back empty handed did you? Pity…”

The new entrant simply rolled her eyes at the snide familiarity and sashayed smoothly to her desk. “Far from it my dear, it was most… enlightening. It’s nice to stretch one’s legs down in Creation every so often. You should try it sometime.”

“I have not been blessed with such a ‘boon’. He obviously sees the value in keeping me closer to hand.”

At a nearby desk, their senior clerk kept her head down over the administration roster and bit back a sigh as yet another session of bickering took place around her.

“Or has decided to keep you on a short leash whilst giving me more latitude.”

“Oh go slither back amongst the necropoli, I’m sure the dead find you better company.”

“Tetchy much, sister dear? I wonder why…” She smiled, a devious, unpleasant expression, much like the snake who got the mouse. “Oh, that’s just delicious. He sent you to talk with ‘Bluebottle’ again didn’t he! Oh what a shame. That must have been… fun!” she crowed, words dripping with honeyed poison, though only metaphorically – she remembered to check her glands in time.

“It’s the only way to effectively get the information I was assigned to get. I may not like dealing with him, but I can assure you he feels a lot worse… and that more than makes up for it. Such a straight-laced little snitch…” She smiled wanly in a bid to mask the discomfort.

“Well, as much as I would ‘love’ to stay and chat my dear, I have a new assignment. Off to the Blessed Isle again.”

“Where to now?”

“The House of Stone, near Lord’s Crossing. I’m to observe a strange Immaculate and see why anyone would be interested in her.”

“I’m sure he knows what he’s doing. Well, you’d better get going – it’s a long way to Gate 2. Don’t let the lion bite you on the way out.”

“I touched by your concern, sister dear. Really, I am.” She sinuously stretched over her desk to pick up a few papers, before striding out without a backwards glance.

Interlude 3b [R = Diamond-Edge Negotiator, T = Cathak Faux-Kaminer]
“I don’t see how you could have been so careless!”

“Watch your tone God-blood!”

“I think you forget how much this jeopardises the plan. And you don’t even know who is on your trail.”

“That will soon change when Lan Reava and Lan Sorba report back – and I have no doubt that will reveal exactly who is investigating *us*.” He took great care to ensure that his colleague recognised the emphasis on the final word.

“Don’t you mean *if* they come back? Given we’re still waiting on Lan Taska, you’ll forgive me if I don’t hold out much hope. At least *my* subordinates have managed to complete their assigned roles competently.” He held up what looked like a rough nugget of purest silver in slightly smug satisfaction. “The hearthstone of Ty Pharo. And within a season we should have the second generator up and running and then we can restore the network properly. Even if I have to make yet another deal to get the starmetal.”

“Be careful you don’t overreach there – we still have much to do. You’re still going to need the protection of my Cleansers. Oh, and never again impugn my agents. Your little couriers and artisans cannot hold a flickering candle to their fervour and dedication. Do so again and I don’t care who your father is or what you’re doing here, I will quite happily put out your fire. The other staff here can just as readily complete the project.”

Considering now that his acquiescence was the better part of valour, he held up his hands placatingly, even though slight wisps of smoke started to rise from exposed areas of skin, belying his own elementally-aspected heritage. “No need to get like that, I’m just… concerned that having Lau Hon free means there is still a thorn in our side since he will continue to support the bitch and will be on heightened alert for any more attempts on his life.”

“I will be discussing the Lau Hon matter when he gets back, since it seems he’s concocting a plan. Ever since he came back from seeing Telanorestomir he’s had a strange amount of zeal…”

“I know what you mean; we should keep on eye on him to ensure things don’t get out of hand.”

“Agreed. And you’re still sure He is unaware?”

“To the best of my knowledge. I haven’t even mentioned this to Father so there are no leaks. Plausible deniability in the event that things don’t come to pass. I trust you’ve got matters with the Flames sorted?”

“If it looks like we’re heading for a quenching then we’ll pull back to the safe house in the western Lunargent slums for a few years.”

The two figures leaned against opposing bookcases and settled in to wait for their colleague to join them.

Interlude 3c [B = Mendaxana, O = Hran-Tzu]
There came a squawk from the bird perched on the lintel as the door slowly opened to admit the visitor. An errant downy black feather drifted down to land ignored on the brim of the vermillion hat that entered.

The office’s occupant did not bother to turn round at the intrusion. “I wondered when you were going to come visiting.” He put down the book he had been studying on the shelf and drifted noiselessly over to the drinks table. “Can I get you a glass of wine?”

“That would be nice… I trust you had no input on the fruit harvest?”

“Of course; I don’t keep those vintages on general offer. They are an acquired taste.”

“Yes, a little too… earthy for me, I must admit.”

“You’re here to talk about why he came.” No question, no resigned tone, simply a matter of fact statement.

“No.”

“Now you do have me surprised,” he responded, the sentiment belied entirely by the careful, measured tone in which it was said.

“He’s already told me about your meeting. I’m more interested in what happened afterwards.”

There was a rustle of what sounded like feathers being rearranged, before the cloaked figure passed an ebony flute glass to his visitor and took his seat behind the desk. “Afterwards? I do not believe that is any of your concern.”

“Maybe so. But I would prefer to know that my ‘associates’ in this venture are not involved in sidelines that will jeopardise their patronage of the project. I have already had to caution the others on this. I had hoped I would not have had to speak to you as well. You’re already under suspicion for other matters.”

“This is a far more direct intervention from you than usual M.”

The figure in red sat back and sipped from the glass. When she spoke, her tone carried something of a trace of weariness. “Believe me, this is new ground we’re treading. If what I’m hearing is true, we’re going to have a major issue on our hands a lot sooner than we are ready to handle. I have to ensure that there are no distractions that will keep us from taking the necessary actions when the time comes.”

“Are they ready?”

“I don’t know. There is a lot of disturbance around them at the moment, which in a way is good. They are proving to be an even better source of distraction than I had hoped.”

“Fomenting disorder in the Bureaucracy is a censurable act.”

“Which is why we’re taking significant efforts to ensure it cannot be traced back to us. And I’m sure you won’t disagree that significant changes are needed.” She held up a gloved hand to forestall any comment. “Don’t answer. Just reassure me that you are committed to this. I already have to manage T’s more bellicose tendencies and B is itching to get his claws into someone.”

“Then let me put your mind at rest. My other investigations are unlikely to impact on this. Not unless there is a significant upheaval but if there is it will not be through my hands.”

“Those are not the most reassuring statements.”

The robed figure looked directly at his guest. “I am a mere bystander to other events. As you say I already attract my fair share of suspicions from various quarters, those who would accuse me of harbouring traitorous sentiments and inquisitiveness. But for the good of Creation and as a favour to an old friend, I have looked for information.” All of this was delivered perfectly calmly.

“Can you at least tell me who has asked you this? You have my word I shall not pursue this further.”

“Lytek.”

“Ah.”


Interlude 4 [B = Mendaxana, U = Reflected Trident]
The stone flags beneath her feet were slightly damp from the spray and the tang of salt hung in the air as she noted all the narrow, pointed windows in the hallway were open. She stared out over the seascape from the castle’s vantage point high on a rocky, rather inaccessible promontory, at the setting sun and remembered days where the light faded naturally rather than switching all too quickly from bright to night. She remembered dusk and evening.

Footsteps behind her stirred her from this reverie and she glanced over her shoulder before returning to stare at the horizon. “Unusual to see you out and about like this. It’s been a long time since you set foot in my home.”

“And as ever, still quite unusual for you to maintain your primary residence here,” she responded softly without looking back.

“I prefer the quiet and the solitude. Allows me to concentrate better. Plus no-one pays much attention to the comings and goings here.”

“It is peaceful.” She turned away to face her host properly, the veil slipping back down to cover her face. “But maybe a little too peaceful for my liking.”

“So what can I do for you? What made you travel all the way out to Trenarth?”

Beneath the veil she smiled, like roses blooming on marble. “You’re right, the comings and goings here don’t interest me. One coming, though, does.” She moved over towards him, almost gliding across the floor. Your favourite boy has been doing a fair bit of travelling hasn’t he. Over the horizon and beyond…”

He chuckled. “Well informed as ever. And here was me thinking he had managed to evade all detection in his travels. I shall have to advise him to do better next time.”

“And…”

“Yes.”

She exhaled deeply – that was not the answer she had been expecting. Hoping for, yes, but not expecting. She composed herself. “How can you be sure?”

“My sources, whilst normally untrustworthy, can be believed here. They came to me actually. It has been a source of consternation to them for some time but, them being them, have only just decided to do something about it. So I sent him to meet them and verify.”

“So where is it?”

“He left it where it was. His protections weren’t good enough to retrieve or even venture anywhere too near it. Suffice to say it looks intact. But it’s in deep. REALLY deep. Any attempt to retrieve would require significant astrological and technological protection.”

“Why are you telling me all of this? Our roles mean that I can’t help but be suspicious.”

“It’s part-favour and part-payment in return for your friends’ assistance with Vo’lon. I know what this is worth. I know what this means to you. I’m not surprised you’re here. Admittedly I thought I would have more time to consider the matter but I suspected you would find out somehow.”

She shrugged nonchalantly, but there was something about the set of her shoulders that indicated otherwise.

“So…”

“Yes. Although I can’t say what state he’ll be in, yes, it would appear you’ve found him at last.”

Comments

Name guesses

See if we can add a couple more:

is one of R and T Cathak Faux Kaminer?
one of K and L is probably the woman who stole old realm from john, forget her name...
one of R, S and T must be the guy we stole the yasal crystal containing Lau Hon from, was that Kur Serene? or someone else? i definitely knew his name at the time.

I spied on them and cursed them so I should know

R is Cathak Faux
S is Kur Serene
T is Diamond Edged Neg

Guesses

ulrich - all three correct :) I'd also say you're probably in the best position to name 'H'...

BSR - you're thinking of Anys-Syn but no, she is not represented in K or L, though I can see why you might think that

Serenity sucks

H - hmmm lower than Kysen and Wood Blossom in Serenity. Possibly my supe - Parjentari? Otherwise someone in between Par & WBC. WBC is probably his master.

If U isn't Reflected Trident I'll eat my hat (conspiracy god, water references, in Trenath, Vo'lon sent to kill IMP).

Remain calm...

Re: H - It's not Parjentari but you're on the right lines with the master thing...

Yup, U = Reflected Trident :)

It was too obvious!

H is Shonos, W&BC's director of staff.

Finally!!

Not so obvious if it took you this long... :D

And recognising this should give you some interesting thoughts ;)

What I meant was that it was quick once I re-read your pm

Yes, thought now I'm loathe to continue with the W&CB plan :S

L

I was gonna go with Anys-Syn for L given the Heptagram thing, but apparently not.

Is it deliberate that K and L both use the phrase, "Suspicious much, aren’t you dear?"?

L

Yeah, L isn't Anys-Syn. Actually, there's almost no chance you can identify K and L yet without finding out some other info (e.g. who they work for) and asking some other questions. And yes, it is deliberate... they're sisters after all :)

K & L

Added the serpent sisters at K & L :)

Also - new interludes for Case 5 available!

O. O?

Perhaps a longshot, but is O = Nara-O? There are a lot of references to shrouds / cloaks / etc.

Not sure where the birds / feathers in 3c fit in, though...

O. O!

Ah, but if it's not Nara-O then I guess Hran-Tzu, the Raven King.

Bing!

Correct! O = Hran-Tzu

Congratulations :)

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