Luthien, Pesht Military District
June 2, 3139
Yori Kurita smelled smoke.
For a dragon--the Dragon--it was a familiar scent. Every day since she ascended to the Chrysanthemum Throne the odour drifted to her as she walked along the palace corridors. And every day she followed its trail.
Always, it took her to the door. In the room beyond two dragons died: Vincent and his son Ryuhiko. The previous and rightful Coordinator, and his remaining male heir. It had been more than two years since the explosion. More than two years since the room had been restored, their remains entombed. But still she had never made it past that door.
A breeze from an open window tasted of jasmine flowers. The stench of ashes choked her, her blue eyes watered slightly.
Nodding twice, slowly, she moved away from the door and entered an alcove. She waited a moment and a part of the wall disappeared and soft light shone on the polished black stairs.
She descended alone.
The obsidian stone set underneath the Imperial Palace was smoothed hundreds of years ago by slaves and servants long dead. All the Coordinators worthy of the title kept the lights low, each step a challenge, an effort, a reminder. The Black Dragons waited three hours before installing light fixtures.
Still, Yori admitted, the workers, who must certainly have joined the original architects by now, did a magnificent job. The blackness seemed as if it was carved by light. It's a pity she only saw it once; every meeting since the first she descended with her eyes closed.
Hushed footsteps was all the prompting her High Command needed to stand from their new circular table. Each had an aide behind and to their left who was allowed a seat while a trio of attendants a bit farther back were expected to remain on their feet. The room had been enlarged to accomodate them all.
They bowed. Some bows were held too long, others not long enough. The Coordinator of the Draconis Combine did not notice. But Yori Kurita did as she returned it.
Her position at the figurative head of the table had no room for attendants and only one seat. She took it, gracefully.
With her nod the meeting officially began.
Deep within the Imperial Palace
The deep, black wood of their table glistened with its own light. It shone as if distant ceiling lights blazed upon it, but the glow was from within. Outdated terminals set on reinforced wooden tables from a century ago had been replaced with holo-circuitry embedded into the table itself; the holodisplays angled only so the owner and his immediate staff behind him could see it.
It was a marvel. It was Republic technology.
Warlord Galedon began, as he always did, by outlining the recent successes his units have had against pirates. Above, and in the centre, the Galedon Military District pulsed into life. They had been found, easily enough, in the same region of space Outworlds Alliance refugees had fled to decades ago after Clan Snow Raven engulfed their former nation. Another pulse, and a smattering of stars near the Combine's border glowed red.
These unarmed bandits have been flooding the slave markets in the Galedon district worlds. All were pleased.
The Director of the ISF watched Yori Kurita closely as an aide tapped the air with his fingers. A concise stream of data flowed past her vision, aligned to follow her eyes so only she saw what the Director wanted to say. About everything.
Her reading of the data took her view to one of the two empty sections of the table: the previous gunji-no-kanrei did not survive his master's death for long. The bomb had been his idea, after all, and therefore his failure when his plot succeeded. The first "loyal" death. It remained vacant since.
Warlord Galedon's raids were making him personally wealthy, the information indicated. His harem had grown to over five hundred young women as well. His bribes to corrupt Alliance warriors continued to pay off and could still be exploited as per the director's plans if or when the time came to relieve the current Warlord of his duties. Some of the payments would be made by 'reallocating' his harem.
Warlord Dieron was absent, overseeing the continued reintegration of the former Republic worlds back into Dieron Military District. She hadn't returned to Luthien since the bombing. Still, even with the HPGs silent, the Combine's economy had experienced a boom from the materials produced by the Dieron district. And her successful raids on Quentin quieted most critics.
The Director had already authorized increased ISF activity into the porous borders to stem the tide of trade with outside markets. To secure the Combine's economic integrity, Yori was sure, glancing at the director's aides: two of whom were second or third sons of CEOs.
As she had for several months, she favoured Warlord Pesht with a smile as he stood for the day's theatrics. He had only begun acknowledging the smile recently. He was Black Dragon, like the rest, to the bone and from birth. But he was handsome when he smiled, and a female Coordinator would need a father for her future baby Coordinator. The Society could not be more pleased with her apparent attraction.
His report was meaningless to her and the director both. But he smiled back.
Neither the Director nor the Abbess had anything to report. At least, not with her present.
Warlord Benjamin bowed formally to her once more before beginning his brief. It was low and quick enough to be perfunctory, and instead of being rude it was more of a sign to get to work. His was the agenda to be followed today.
The Coordinator nodded fractionally and held herself back. Yori Kurita strained to see and hear everything.
Deep within the Imperial Palace
Gavin Moore, Warlord of the Benjamin Military District, did not wear his weapons. On his left hip, two empty loops marked his missing daisho, on his right, a worn leather holster. He stood like the MechWarrior he still was. The others merely wore empty sheathes and holsters that never held a real weapon. Not one used in battle.
He would respect the office of the Coordinator, and all the traditions into entering the Coordinator's presence, even if they had to make do with a female Kurita for now. At least she knows her place.
Moore nodded once and a map of the Pesht Military District formed overhead. Confused, the Black Dragons cast furtive glances at each other. Warlord Pesht's eyes narrowed as the DCMS regiments under his control, at least the ones within his district, were marked on the various worlds they garrisoned. The worlds they really garrisoned, not just what he reported or agreed to.
Without preamble, Moore spoke. "I need these units," and four regiment tabs blinked red/gold. His blunt manner did not fool anyone, not when he outmaneuevered another Warlord's intelligence apparatus.
Warlord Pesht wisely, for once, held his tongue. The rest glowered at the map, at Moore, or at their aides.
A female voice broke the silence, creating a deep stillness in the chamber.
The question still resounded in the room. "Why?"
It was the first word uttered by Yori Kurita in two years of council sessions. No one was prepared. Gavin Moore, affronted, responded reflexively with due deference. "Tono, to act on intelligence secured by Warlord Dieron, who could not attend, and supplementary information from the ISF... and O5P."
The Abbess studied the holomap intently, the Director studied Moore.
The Warlord broke away from her blue gaze. The steel in her eyes...
He continued, "They are still reeling from the treachery two years ago." A few unwise gasps echoed through the room. He blinked, then added, "The Lyrans are still unbalanced in their rebuilding efforts from the Clan Wolf migration. Their economy is in poor shape, and their military is hard-pressed, mostly thanks to Warlord Dieron's raiding efforts."
He could feel her eyes on him. His aide tapped into the air. Two worlds side-by-side shone a deep blue on the map. Moore suppressed a shiver. "These two worlds are ours for the taking."
"You need four of my regiments to take two worlds?" Warlord Pesht mocked.
"No," Gavin said, "I'll need eight."
That stirred the council awake. High Command devolved into its customary bickering then. Insinuations, promises, and recriminations reverberated in the chamber. Yori Kurita was forgotten again, but Moore could not.
His eyes were pulled to her's. She nodded. Without thinking, he bowed and took his seat.
Dread froze the pit of his stomach. Anger burned his heart. But taishu Gavin Moore was mostly amused and impressed.
He gazed at the rest of the council which was still bickering and typed into the air as he waited. Minutes passed.
The eventual Black Dragon consensus was that he was to proceed with his plans, which had to undergo a final review. Right now. He thanked them solemnly and uploaded the plans. A lively, and unnecessary, debate began on its merits. And still Yori Kurita held Gavin Moore in her gaze.
In truth, Gavin had sent the authorization as soon as he sat down and made one tiny change: the orders now began with "By the order of the Coordinator" and its routing numbers now indicated that fact. It was the first command decreed by the Office of the Coordinator in two long years.
Gavin Moore, Warlord of the Benjamin Military District, stood alone as the Coordinator of the Draconis Combine rose and withdrew.
Coordinator's Quarters, Imperial Palace
Yori stripped off the ceremonial robes and dashed to her sink. She heaved as the cold water ruined her makeup, coughed as her knees finally gave out.
Her servants were just outside, and she couldn't afford to be seen like this. Not after the risk she just took.
Slowly, carefully, Yori cleaned her face and dressed herself in the plainest kimono she could find. The ceremonial robes she left crumpled on the floor as she sat by a window and waited.
Not long after, a wall slid away and a shadow beckoned.