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The city-states of the Parlathian peninsula were united under one house by fate and protected by my family, and thus the empire of Parnatha exists. And no one dared to threaten it, at least not from inside the Empire, until now. I fully believe that Gaius's arrest is the beginning of a very complicated, very sinister, covin against the Empire."

"You think the Emperor is in danger, too?" I asked, suddenly more receptive to her words.

Alethea nodded grimly. "I do. Our strength has always been in our unity as a family and now someone would see us splintered, dismantled from the inside out. Gaius was a wonderful start; next to the Emperor, he is one of the most powerful men in the Empire. His arrest and the accusations of treason cast doubt on the entire family, and not only from the common man of Parnatha. There have been whispers from family that we are not truly immune to corruption."

"But, who would seek to destroy the Empire? What profit could possibly be gained?" The idea horrified me. Parnatha was strong, impenetrable. Its reputation for greatness was the only thing that stood between it and destruction from the warlords to the east and north.

"That is the question of the hour, dear," Alethea sighed. "And it is a question that remains unanswered."

I sucked on my lower lip, considering everything she told me. "Someone at the Forum must know," I thought aloud. "If it's being orchestrated from the inside, someone there has to know. There isn't any way you can get someone inside?"

"Oh believe me, I have tried. But my movements are under such scrutiny, it is virtually impossible. Anyone who leaves my Pavilion is followed and questioned." She scowled resentfully. "Some have not returned."

"But, if you speak true, and your mother's a goddess, couldn't she swoop down and smite them with divine power or something? Couldn't Rion do something?"

Vienes shook her head emphatically. "The gods do not involve themselves in the affairs of men," she said resolutely.

I snorted. "Vienes, Alethea stated that the gods decided to fuck humans and build Parnatha. How is that uninvolved?"

"That decision came at the end of a very long, costly war, to both the mortal and the divine," Alethea said quietly. "Parnatha is more than a great Empire; it is a guardian. The gods united the Parlathian states to create a fortress, a barrier against..." She trailed off, her eyes distant and head turned in the direction of the statue.

"Against what?" I asked, curiosity burning bright. Despite the doubt that refused to be uprooted, I found the idea of a godly war and some secret destiny for an entire race of people to be fascinating, and more than a little exciting. I stared eagerly at Alethea, urging her to continue.

To my disappointment, she declined. "Enough for tonight, dear cousin," she said quietly. "You must be exhausted, and I insist that you sleep. Tomorrow we'll start fresh."

I frowned, irritated, and glumly acquiesced. "Start fresh with what?"

Alethea rose and looped our arms in hers, leading us through a long tunnel that led to the manor dominating Pavilion. She winked roguishly as we walked, all trace of grim apprehension gone. "Why, our counterintelligence. Between the three of us, we can find a hole in the wall through which to spy. And I doubt Gaius will be having much luck on his own."


Domo Camron Liperion drummed his fingers on his elbows, his eyes narrowed in irritation. He glanced again at the wooden door to his left, his thin lips pursed into a disapproving frown, before resuming his slow pace of his office. His wait stretched on. Domo Liperion deplored waiting, especially when it was for people so far beneath him. He snorted softly, his lips curling into a sneer. The hashir belonged in the dust on his sandals.

Domo Liperion was unhappy with the announcement that the hashir would assist with the plan.

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