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Imrama , having sent word to Phoenix of Ashes, asking that she join him for consultation in the Cascade's Tea Room, waits kneeling before a short writing desk, quill in hand.

Phoenix meets him there at the appointed time, carrying a spotted kitten in her arms.

Imrama "Phoenix of Ashes, thank you very much for coming. Who is this little friend you have brought with you?"

Phoenix "As yet he has no name. I was just visiting my old friend Iallu and she reminded me how nice it is to have a furry friend."

Phoenix settles into a chair and sets the kitten loose among the cushions.

Phoenix "What's on your mind?"

Imrama "Quite right she is. I was blessed by such a friendship when I was a lad. Admiral Longwhiskers was dear, dear companion."

Imrama "I am composing a letter," Imrama guestures to the paper on the writing table. "It is rather a delicate matter, and I wished to invite you into the consideration of it; both because I respect your grasp of the dance of nations, and also because I would like at least one other point of view present to tell me if I am utterly mad."

Phoenix leans over it to look. "I'd be happy to help."

Imrama "Many thanks. I have here the first draft of a letter to Zahara. I am proposing, with all the respect that she is due, I hope, that she approve and promulgate a constitution for the Sunlands."

Phoenix "A constitution?"

Phoenix looks more closely.

Imrama "A legal document formalizing the structures of government and codifying a basis for the rule of law for the realm. More to the point, and to my own anxiety, I am suggesting that such a constitution should name and recognize all members of our Circle as peers and co-equals, rather than as subjects."

Imrama Phoenix reads the following at the top of the page "To Her Majesty, the Empress Zahara Zhan, the Dreambreaker, Architect Unparalleled and Sorceress Supreme, on the 4th day of Calibration in this, the 4th year of her Auspicious and Eficacious Reign,"

Phoenix "That's a daring move."

Phoenix "I'm sure that Zahara recognizes it as true, but to openly defer to that fact? I'm not sure it's something her pride will allow."

Imrama "You see the precarious nature of my position, then. None the less, I am resolved at least to make the attempt; I believe it to be necessary for us to move forward, or even to remain at idle, as a Circle."

Imrama "We are entering a new phase, a new Age. I am hoping to help us weather the storm of change and emerge from it stronger and more steady."

Phoenix bites her knuckles pensively. The kitten drags a cushion to her lap and gnaws at it intently. "I think I understand why, yes. But..hmm. What's the importance of naming the Circle specifically as non-subject? I don't think any of us are natives to the Sunlands, so by birth that makes us outside its authority..."

Imrama "Most members of this Circle hold offices in her court, and most or all of us, myself included, have sworn oaths of allegience either to this nation or to Zahara directly. There is formality here, but there is also more than formality."

Phoenix nods.

Imrama "Tell me, Phoenix: what thing of value does this Circle hold collectively? What treasure or property or ally is held by each of us equally?"

Phoenix "If I were to guess, I would say there are three: Ssithumi, Selonis, and our memories and analyses of our lives before."

Phoenix "That and our connection to father Sun, as weak and abused as that is."

Phoenix "Did you have an answer in mind, too?"

Imrama "You're point about Selonis is well taken." Imrama thinks whistfully for a moment. "You know, it was he that gave me Admiral Longwhiskers, as a present?"

Phoenix "I'm very curious." She pries a button out of the kitten's paws. "I didn't know that."

Imrama "My answer would be that all, or very nearly all, of the common work and accomplishment of this company is woven into the Sunlands."

Phoenix nods. "I guess you're right. I have been spending a lot of time working in the gardens."

Imrama "And this is why I feel it is so important that we restructure our relationships, to each other and to the Sunlands. I can only honor my oath to the Empire by ensuring its continued strength and vitality. Those flow not only from Zahara, but from the Circle as a whole, and I fear that under the current arrangement we may not all lend ourselves to it in perpetuity."

Phoenix "In this new structure, what positions to you propose we hold, vis-a-vis the Empire? I'm not well-versed in the governments of the past, so I'm not sure what sort of cat can look at an Empress."

Imrama "I would propose a council of government, with each member accorded primacy in the matters of their respective portfolio, and the whole acting and deciding collectively on matters of grave import and in times of crisis."

Phoenix "That seems reasonable enough."

Imrama "The measure of its reason shall be determined by its buoyancy. I will know for sure when I see that it floats. But thank you, at least, for not calling me mad."

Phoenix smiles. "Yes, we'll see."

Phoenix "As for madness...I hesitate to say that of anyone, when I think about what I've done myself and how it must seem."

Phoenix "But I do think that this is the least mad of many schemes I've heard in a while."

Imrama smiles. "That may only because of Thirteen's recent habit of making his schemes in private."

Phoenix bangs her fist on the table, making the cat jump. "Oh, sorry, sorry." She pats its head until it settles down. "Thirteen! I love him, I do, but he is driving me mad."

Imrama "I do my best to see...that is, to sense things from his perspective. It is not necessarilly easilly done, but I can follow his reasoning for each of his more bothersome actions. What we have done, we have done together, and could not have accomplished without him."

Phoenix nods. "I know. I just wish he would...open up."

Imrama "We have sailed through storm and thunder together, but the clouds have not yet parted. Perhaps when Calibration is behind us, we may all make an effort to 'open up' as you put it. I understand that the hot springs in the city of Whitewall are very relaxing."

Phoenix nods.

Phoenix "Do you know, sometimes I dream of escaping?"

Phoenix "Maybe I would go to the center of the world and climb the tallest tower atop the Mount of Meru and then fall from that great height, and fall and fall until something changed."

Imrama "I am not one to lecture a friend, Phoenix of Ashes. But I do not believe that there is anything in my or your present situation that could be helped by running away. If you wish for change, you have only to create it by living, not by falling."

Phoenix nods. "That's why it's a dream! We're blessed with power and ambition; I couldn't live with myself or die without trying to change the world with my two hands."

Imrama looks thoughtful, and a little contright. "Forgive me, Phoenix, for being overly literal. Too much time moving among the courts of the Fae has blurred the line for me between dreaming and reality."

Phoenix "There's nothing to forgive! It's nice to be reminded sometimes."

Phoenix "And it's especially nice to know that I'm not working just for my own amusement."

Phoenix holds up the kitten. "Would you like to keep him? I have a little friend already."

Imrama 's eyes grow wide as saucers and soft as peeled grapes. "Really? Are you sure, Phoenix?"

Phoenix "Well, as long as you let me come visit from time to time."

Imrama "Of course!" Imrama takes the kitten gently and craddles it in his arms, petting its side with his cheek. He then holds the cat up to look it in the eyes. "What do you say, Admiral Longwhiskers the 3rd? Have you the constitution for a life aboard ship?"

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