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But a claw of the Empire can afford no such sentiments. I disguised my hesitation by standing aside so my three subordinates could process before me; as they passed I tasked myself to a calm that scattered the moment I set a foot on the cold marble of the floor and I saw again—and for the last time--the object of this evening’s grim exercise.

Anyone but Ke Jurenel Laisira-eperu.

His body had been arranged on the bier that would later disintegrate when put to the fire. Even in death he wore a faint smile, and the deep creases around his brows had not grown slack. Oh, no. If afterlife there was, ke Jurenel would not be resting. The Jokkad who had guided House Laisira from listless poverty to its present pinnacle, the sole Jokkad who had dared spar with me over our weekly tea, who seemed not to fear the power of the Empire at all or its instruments... that Jokkad would tumble the World's household and rebuild it from twigs, if he thought aught could be gained by it.

I could not recall a single emodo from House Laisira to be his equal, and if they could not find someone to run the House with as much aplomb, we would lose the significant income we skimmed off Laisira's transactions as well as the profits made from Jurenel's alliances. The Empire was growing. We could not waste a single coin. "Assess the new Head of Household," ke Suker had said. "If he does not suit, we may have to act."

So much said in so few words.

The bier had been set in the middle of the temple's vast central chamber, with two firebowls on either side of Jurenel's head. There was no other illumination save the starlight pouring from the windows carved into the high stone ceiling. The strands of gold and the disks of clay that were the decorations of the Brightness and World had been put away, and only the Void's black nets, sprinkled with crystal, drifted in the shadows.

By tradition, the next Head of Household remained undeclared until the last had been cast on the wind... but each Head was responsible for training his successor, and that Jokkad always stood at the foot of the bier with the other principals of the House: the pefna-eperu, charged with managing all the neuters of a household; the jarana, once tasked with guarding the anadi and now charged with their assessment and dispensation; and the kaña, if the House still owned any females: not a usual thing anymore, save among rich Houses like Laisira.

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