Zahara absently fixes a panel of slate as she walks down the hall, towards Thirteen's room. The constant reminders of the items she lost irk her as she realizes how much easier this would be if she still had her gods damned ring. She resolves to make new ones as soon as she can. She knocks.
Thirteen There is no reply.
Zahara mutters mostly-forgotten words from yesterday, and moves on through the manse, playing the 'where is 13 guessing game.' By the time she finally finds him at the library, she is quite annoyed.
Thirteen is squatting between two bookshelves, flipping through a tome, and Zahara has to look up and down the aisles to track him down.
Zahara "THERE you are!" she strides down the aisle, and stops before him. "What are you looking at?...not... what are you reading?"
Thirteen "I am not sure."
Thirteen "It is interesting, though."
Thirteen "Can I help you, Zahara?'
Zahara eyes the book, wondering how he even KNOWS it's interesting. Strange man, yet his quirks are somehow comforting all the same. "I've been thinking about your plan."
Thirteen stands smoothly, swallowing the book. "Have you any conclusions?"
Zahara smiles slightly, then grows serious once more. "Tell me how you expect it to work. I was too distracted to properly think about the sequence of events you expect."
Thirteen "We will send a messenger to Lai's army, indicating our desire to come to terms."
Thirteen "Upon the arrival of his emissary, we will make an offer -- the Twilight Seal for Cerin the Wolf, Markuran the Bear, and any other resources we deem necessary."
Thirteen "Throughout the negotiations we will give off the impression of being defeated, and wanting merely to gather our compatriots together and lick our wounds. He will agree."
Thirteen "This having been accomplished, we will be able to devote our time towards redeeming our fallen kin and other such side projects."
Thirteen "On the day of the Eclipse, we will lie in wait outside the Imperial Manse. Lai will be there, with at least one of the Seals, and we will seize it before his plan can be completed."
Zahara listens thoughtfully, the only betrayal of her tension being the slight tap of fingernail on skin. "So what you propose is a true trade then, and not a ploy."
Thirteen "We will then be free to enter the Manse ourselves."
Zahara "Why would Lai think us all defeated, though? We defeated the forces arrayed against us, fought back his demons, and regained a compatriot, though we lost one as well."
Thirteen "That is your job, Zahara."
Thirteen "You are the Empress of the Sunlands, and Cerin is your true love."
Thirteen "We must convince him that you cannot go on without him."
Zahara "I suggest that the rest of you would not allow me to betray my empire for him."
Zahara "Not without some gain to yourselves."
Thirteen "Do you remember the circle as it was before I arrived?"
Thirteen "Who could have stopped you?"
Zahara "We all know things have changed. Besides, you are here and you have defied my whims in the past."
Thirteen "Then perhaps I am too weak to watch you suffer."
Zahara looks at him for a long moment before replying, "Perhaps."
Thirteen "Does this suggestion not satisfy you?"
Zahara "Allow me to suggest an alternative. I will steal the seal and walk into Lai's kingdom. I will face him, and I will make this trade so that it is secret from my Circle. And upon my return there will be turmoil and dissent among us, so that we could not possibly concentrate on the work of redeeming our compatriots." ...
Zahara "I will be able to swear no oaths to them, as I will be gaesed not to. If I fail, well you have not lost so much. If I do not, I will have gained back more than my true love."
Thirteen "What will you have gained?"
Zahara "The knowledge that I have not lost everything that I hold dear. That I can still be strong, and face my demons. Cerin's face is not the only thing that haunts my dreams."
Zahara reaches out to touch his shoulder. "Modify my plan as you will.... but Thirteen... let me do this thing. It is my turn to throw a wrench in fate for a doomed love."
Thirteen "I had contemplated a similar idea, to tell the truth."
Thirteen "I did not plan on you being the one to do it, though."
Zahara "Who else could be so lost?"
Thirteen "I am a tactician, Zahara. I do what I have to, in order to win out."
Zahara "But with you, they would know it was to win.
Zahara "I have much less to lose."
Thirteen "Yes. They would know it was for ME to win."
Zahara "Thirteen, lie to me."
Thirteen "I love you, Zahara."
Zahara looks askance at him. "You're not even trying."
Thirteen "You do not believe me?"
Zahara "That's not a lie. That's a half-truth."
Thirteen "I am a tactician, Zahara. I do what I have to, in order to win out."
Zahara "Like avoiding what you cannot do?"
Zahara "Unless you too will cage me, I will do this thing regardless of whether or not you wish it. If I cannot have the seal, I will find something else. Use me, or I will do what I have to do, in order to win out, without you."
Thirteen "If you wish to go, I cannot prevent you."
Thirteen "But how can I trust you to do this thing, Dreambreaker?"
Thirteen "You are too eager to die."
Zahara "I am already dead. This is a chance at life."
Thirteen "What kind of life, and what kind of chance?"
Thirteen "If I give you the Seal, and you do not come back, then things will be significantly more difficult in the days to come."
Zahara "I can't live like this. I can't help like this. I can't lead like this." she paces. "I will keep the Seal Elsewhere until it is done."
Thirteen "I am not sure you understand the thrust of my objection."
Thirteen "I am not afraid that you will fail to betray us. I am afraid that you will succeed."
Zahara laughs harshly. "How do you know I have not already?"
Thirteen "If you have, I am certain your first responsibility would be to lay hands on the Twilight Seal."
Zahara sighs and sits, leaning against the bookshelf. "I imagine so."
Thirteen "Thus we return to my question, which I did not ask idly."
Thirteen "How can I trust you?"
Zahara "We trust, or we die."
Zahara "As I said, I will have been gaesed not to seal oaths with him, and to not betray you."
Thirteen "Swear it to me, Dreambreaker."
Zahara closes her eyes for a minute, then gathers her strength and rises. She puts her hand on Thirteen's, turning it over and dropping a seed in his palm. "Let us do this properly."
Thirteen smiles for the first time today.
Zahara "I think you know where this came from."
Thirteen and Zahara proceed towards the courtyard. On the way there, Thirteen spits up a small watering can and fills it from the upwards-running stream. He dips a finger in, stirring it into golden radiance, as they head towards the tree.
Zahara looks upon the tree; it has grown so tall and strong with her ministrations. She slips to the side to gather an essence crystal from where an eddy of the flows of the manse had been depositing them, and then returns. "I wish you could see it, Thirteen. I cared for it well."
Thirteen steps forward, spilling Essence-laden water onto the thirsty roots of the tree.
Thirteen "Did you?"
Thirteen "I have been caring for it every day, to help it grow. It was responding...better than I had expected."
Zahara smiles slightly. "Ah. That explains it." She kneels to nestle the crystal among the roots. "I did."
Thirteen chuckles despite himself.
Thirteen "What a pair of devoted parents we are."
Thirteen "I believe the ground in this area would be sufficiently fertile."
Zahara rises and touches his arm, she is thoughtful for a moment, then joins in his laughter. "I had little practice in making things grow. I have learned much since we planted the first seed."
Thirteen "I, as well."
Thirteen kneels, digging out a small hole, and holds the seed out to Zahara.
Thirteen "Perhaps this time, you may tell me what to swear."
Zahara joins him on the soil, and cups her hands around his. "I, Zahara Zhan, swear to be true. To the Sunlands. To the Circle. To you. This trust is sacred. We trust, and we will not die."
Thirteen "I, Thirteen Blooming Flowers, swear to be true. To the Sunlands. To the Circle. To you. This trust is sacred. We trust, and we will not die."
Thirteen and Zahara turn their hands over, dropping the seed into the hole, and cover it again with dirt.
Thirteen reaches somewhat ruefully to his throat, detaching the Twilight Seal, and holds it out to Zahara.
Zahara waters the seed first, with her tears. But they are tears of release, not pain. She sits back, wiping them away, and takes the Seal. Softly, she says, "Thank you."
Thirteen "No, thank you, Dreambreaker."
Thirteen "We could not survive without you."
Thirteen "Before you go..."
Zahara looks up at him
Thirteen 's lip curls.
Thirteen "Speak with Lucent Copper Haze."
Thirteen "He is good at keeping secrets."
Zahara blinks at him. "I...see."
Thirteen She does, too!
Thirteen "Be careful, Zahara."
Thirteen "Come back."
Zahara "I will."
Thirteen "And on your way, please consider. When we recover Cerin...he may not want to be recovered, at first."
Thirteen "You may need to detain him. I know how I would have done this, but not how you might."
Zahara nods, looking down at her hands. "I know. How would you?"
Thirteen "Maybe you will see someday."
Zahara raises a brow. "I have had enough of that for one lifetime."
Thirteen "Trust me."
Thirteen "I am sure your way will be better for all parties concerned."
Zahara ponders. "If Lai trades him for the Seal, he will be bound to come with me."
Thirteen "Zahara. He was already bound to stay by your side."
Thirteen "Perhaps you have, or can acquire, an appropriate bit of sorcery before the day comes."
Zahara smiles. "Yes." she pauses, then frowns again, "But I cannot trust him until he is truly freed. He will not kill me. But he might hurt me. I learned that from Markuran."
Thirteen "We will redeem him as well."
Thirteen "I leave the negotiations in your capable hands. Cerin, and Markuran, and whatever else you may convince him to offer us."
Zahara "I promised him I would."
Thirteen "Did you?"
Thirteen "I did not expect thtat."
Zahara "Neither did I." she runs her fingers along her face.
Thirteen "I am glad I will not have to convince you of his right to redemption, then."
Zahara "I think I may have to hit him first, though."
Zahara "And maybe explain things about tombs that are sealed and speak of horrors, and how one should pay ATTENTION to names like 'the Destroyer' and maybe, just maybe, let sleeping demons lie."
Thirteen "I am sure whatever you decide will be for his own good."
Zahara "I'm sure." she replies drily.