Final episode of the session, starring Zhao Suria Lautan, our Eclipse-to-be naval officer (and the Night-to-be’s distant cousin). No dice rolls at all; the social rules stayed completely out of the way when we didn’t need them.
Displaying the seal of the Ministry of the Heavenly Sword stamped upon his orders, Zhao Suria Lautan entered the magnificent Summer and Winter Palace. It perches on a low hill, so that one might look out from its minarets upon the city of Goldenseal, but where Lautan stood, he could see only the palace complex itself—its lush gardens, its walls thick with bas-reliefs, its wings and turrets and pagodas of polished stone and gold leaf. As a guard escorted him into one of the larger structures and through a maze of corridors and chambers, he passed a handful of officials resplendent in silken robes, their caps dripping with tassels and semiprecious stones. But they had little interest in the affairs of a lowly lieutenant in the Zhaojun fleet.
The guard left him in an antechamber with a pair of other low-ranking naval officers. Zhaojun is large for a state in the Age of Sorrows, but the fleet is small and the Zhao noble families largely well acquainted with one another, so he recognized the two by sight: Zhao Biru Arindam, a bookish young man whose family owned a village near Lautan’s own, and Zhao Utama Giri, a small, agile fellow well-liked by his peers.
After exchanging greetings, Lautan inquired as to whether the others knew why they had been called there, a fact their orders neglected. Giri opined that they were to receive an award for their service, while Arindam dourly proposed the possibility of some sort of punishment. This speculation was interrupted when a palace majordomo confiscated their armaments—indicating that they were to be taken into the presence of an important official indeed—and instructed them to follow.
The official bowed them into a small audience chamber where two people awaited them. One was old Admiral Zhao Kuat Berani, currently a staff officer attached to the Ministry of the Heavenly Sword. The other, proudly enthroned on a dais with a diadem of white silk and lapis upon her brow? This was Crown Princess Zhao Mnemonrai Feiyen, a vice-minister of the Ministry of the Blue Robe, eldest daughter of the High Queen of Zhaojun, and heir-apparent to the throne.
After the young officers made their obeisance, Admiral Kuat informed them that they had been called to the palace for a covert assignment. “You have been selected from your peers because your superiors have commended you for both unimpeachable character and unswerving loyalty,” he said. “It is for those qualities that we call upon you today, in a matter of grave importance. If you would serve the Throne and Seal in this, you must swear by the Immaculate Dragons; by the earth and the sea; by the sun, moon and stars that you keep secret all that transpires here this day. If you cannot so swear, leave now; no penalty will fall upon you.”
The three officers knelt before Crown Princess Feiyen—who had spoken no word, leaving all matters to the admiral—and swore the oath.
“We have intelligence from the Blessed Isle,” said the admiral, “that a faction in the Scarlet Dynasty is funding rebels here in Zhaojun as part of some internecine scheme. Their efforts may affect the fleet. Your task is to keep your eyes and ears open for any signs of rebellion, to report back with everything you learn, and to be ready to act in the interest of Zhaojun no matter the cost.”
The admiral looked from one young face to the next. “Have you any questions?” he asked.
“What if you aren’t available to report to?” asked Lautan.
“After this meeting, you will receive a list of contacts in the Ministries to whom you can safely report. Any further questions?” There were none. “You are dismissed,” the admiral said, saluting them in the Zhao manner. The majordomo led them back out to the anteroom, returned their dress weapons to them, and directed them to the palace gates.
“I can’t believe we received a mission from the Crown Princess,” said Giri. “What an honor!”
“I don’t know about that,” said Arindam. “We can’t be the only ones with this assignment. We’re being split up into groups because they don’t trust us—not really.”
Giri chewed on this as they made their way out into the open air of the front gardens. “What do you think, Lautan?”
Lautan shrugged. “It doesn’t really matter, does it? We have our orders. We’ll figure out the rest when the time comes.”