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alsoquin At the northmost point of the great open-air arena, a simple circular table -- albeit one encrusted in gold -- sits, and at it, the seats of the Solars who have agreed to serve as mediators for the deliberation.

alsoquin At the outskirts of the room, the representatives of Dragon-King communities wait, ready to pour in at the sound of the Sun Gong.

Phoenix` is sitting at the table dressed in a conservative white ninja outfit, having a low-voiced conversation with Zahara.

alsoquin From the west, Ssithumi and her entourage enter; Ssithumi is clad in her simple but elegant white robe, and the battle-bracers she wears on each arm are polished to a brilliant sheen. Her companions wear the red and gold of the Radiant Sabres with pride.

Imrama sits at Zahara's left hand, a long white and gold silk vestment worn over his officer's coat. Prayer linens in red and black are woven into his dreadlocks, marked with blessings to all the creatures of Creation.

alsoquin From the more southern doors, representatives of some of the smaller enclaves of Dragon-Kings emerge -- Staaklon from Vesathar Valley, two more Pterok from the Black Crag mountains, and individual representatives (clad in far less ostentatious clothing) from Scag and the Glitter-Flame Desert.

zahara sits, calmly waiting for the gong as well. She is wearing a severely cut white gown accented only by the gold through her skin and around her neck.

Phoenix` turns to see who's coming in, and when she spots Ssithumi a grin spreads across her face like she is an old friend who hasn't been seen for years.

alsoquin Ssithumi smiles back briefly, then sets her features to ultra-serious.

alsoquin Finally, some signal from within the western door signals that the Eledathi are ready, and a servant sounds the great gong.

alsoquin From the door walk in a group of five D Ks?. The four in the rear, two raptok and two anklok, each wear tight-fitted blue and black clothing, specially made for their caste; it covers much of their body, and helmets of burnished obsidian sit upon their heads. (...)

alsoquin The one in the lead is covered from head to toe in a thick black cape, and he walks forward until he reaches his appointed seat. But instead of sitting, he reaches up one hand and pulls away the cloak. (...)

alsoquin Underneath stands an anklok of particularly large stature. His golden brown scales are rent in an intricate pattern of black and blue scarification tattoos that glow with Essence, and flow back into a great sapphire set like a hearthstone into his chest. (...)

alsoquin His minimal clothing is offset with great obsidian battle-greaves and armlets, as well as a simple circlet upon his brow.

alsoquin Those with Essence sight find to their potential surprise that what appears to be a god provides the Essence flowing from his gemstone.

alsoquin Ssithumi blanches, and her expression is hard to read.

zahara raises a brow slightly, revising her opinion of the threat they may pose.

alsoquin "Announcing," says one of the Anklok in a deferential yet still somehow prideful voice, "the deificate Arkati-zan-Rozalen."

zahara inclines her head and gestures respectfully to his seat at the table. "Welcome."

alsoquin Ssithumi seats herself with what appears to be visible signs of anger, and Arkati, after nodding and a brief "Thank you" to Zahara, does the same.

Phoenix` gives Ssithumi a look that might loosely be translated as, 'I'd be raising my eyebrow at you if that were permitted in the formality of this occasion.'

alsoquin The delegates of ALL the other groups seem somewhere between interested and concerned with Arkati's appearance.

zahara waits until all have been seated or otherwise arranged, before indicating that Imrama is about to speak.

Imrama "Honored Kindred of Gaia. We, the blessed of the Sun greet you in the spirit of friendship and mutual understanding. We are honored by your attendance, and hope that we can, together, resurrect a long forgotten era of wonder and peace. We come together to resolve long-held disagreements."(...)

Imrama "Let us enter, therefore, into a the collective work of understanding each other."

alsoquin There is a murmur of assent from the gathered representatives, and Arkati nods deeply.

alsoquin As he speaks, the oddity of Arkati's title catches Imrama's attention: the particle "an" is used in the High Holy Speech to represent a relationship of communion and joining, as in the union between a married couple, or a vessel and its captain;

alsoquin the particle "zan," on the other hand, represents the relationship between two things where the latter forms the foundation and support (in the generous interpretation) or the lower level in comparison to the former.

alsoquin In its most positive connotations, it is used for the relationship between a master and his tools; in its less positive uses, the relationship between (for example) a lord and his vassals.

Imrama nods to indicate each of the Dragon King leaders "Ssithumi-an-Hotep, Arkati-zan-Rozalen, as the leaders of your respective political and religious factions, we invite you each to state your points of disagreement with the other, that this assembly might consider the logic and merit of your positions."(...)

Imrama "Following a respected human tradition for impartial determination, the right of first speech with be awarded by coin."(...)

Imrama produces a single gilded unit of Sunlands currency. He displays it with a broad flourish, making clear the two images: the sun, and the Empress. He then flips it high in the air, catches it, and presses it flat against the table. "Arkati-zan-Rozalen: will you please choose which image shall represent you - the Empress or the Sun?"

alsoquin Arkati stands with impressive quietness (considering his great size) and speaks simply: "The Sun."

Imrama pulls back his hand, revealing the image of the sun. "Arkat-zan-Rozalen will address the assembly first."

You are now known as Arkati

Arkati steps forward and walks slowly to the podium prepared for this purpose at the center of the room. The gem within which the god Rozalen hangs suspended glows with an eerie blue light, and his tattoos glimmer in the sun. (...)

Arkati "We, the Eredathi, who walk the True Path of Gaian Enlightenment, come here to address our ancient grievance."

Arkati "In the time before the Great Dying, our people treated with Injara, who ruled the land to the east of Mount Eledath, for a place to settle, as we had wandered as nomads for hundreds of years, set apart from our own kind."

Arkati "We were granted this place, a region of five hundred by five hundred miles, and we began our efforts to settle it -- but the Great Dying ended that."

Arkati "As the plague spread, the few survivors withdrew to Mount Eledath, where we have kept alive the root of our tradition for seven hundred years. Now that we have learned the lands below are safe for life once again, we have come to renew our dream."

Arkati "However, the crimes committed against us by our ancient brethren stand now to prevent that dream. It was the citizens of Rathess who led the charge against us -- who uprooted us from our homes, who drove us out into the wilderness...."

Arkati With a sudden, vigorous motion, Arkati flings an accusatory finger at the party directly across from him. "And it was Tohatep who slew the previous Pathkeeper, in cold, murderous blood!" he shouts, with surprising vigor.

zahara coughs politely.

Arkati The other Dragon-Kings -- none of whom seem to be particularly aware of the details of this doctrinal disagreement -- are shocked at the accusation, and Ssithumi quite literally fumes, as little tendrils of smoke rise up from her nostrils.

Phoenix` scratches her ear. "Thank you, Arkati-zan-Rozalen. Ssithumi-an-Tohatep, will you address the assembled?"

Imrama ::Empress, may I ask you to determine the veracity of these statements, and share your insight with Phoenix and myself?::

Arkati Zahara listens carefully to the sound of Arkati's voice, hunting for the sound of dissembly, but... something about the precise tone of the voice seems to catch her attention, and a flood of quick images flood her mind....

Arkati An anklok, but with Ssithumi's eyes, standing beside Ymir and gazing at the Chime of Ages.... Arkati, young and unmarked, shouting and gesticulating, standing behind a vast, hideous Mosok who wears the tattoos and gemstone instead.... an obsidian blade, coated in blood....

Arkati Then she is back in the moment.

zahara carefully keeps her face neutral as she considers the memory, methodically picking at the smallest of details to discern more of the vision. Arkati, Ssithumi, and... someone else. Her gaze flickers over the assembled, hoping to spark more, to find the blade, and the connection between the three.

You are now known as Ssithumi

Ssithumi , still visibly fuming, rises up to speak, but pauses for a moment silently, visibly collecting herself.

Ssithumi Zahara's eyes move back and forth between the two, watching closely their facial expressions and linking them in her mind with her flash of vision, seeking, searching for an explanation.

Ssithumi More details seem to fill in, like a picture looked at, for the first time, through glasses....

Ssithumi Arkati's shouting... he screams aloud about the great destruction that will face those who oppose the Pathseekers.... she hears a name: "Omkai-zan-Rozalen"... then, from another time, Relazus speaking: "They seek a dark apotheosis. Theirs is a faith destructive to life itself. I fear that they speak to the one our weapon has slain"....

Ssithumi and then, watching from above, seeing Relazus run through the streets, knife in hand -- and being shocked to see no spirit fill his body.

Phoenix` ::So, how many casualties do we anticipate today? I told the cleanup crew at most three, but it is starting to look like that was a little conservative.::

zahara shares the details with the others via ring

Imrama ::Many thanks, Zahara. That was both illuminating, and disturbing.:: Imrama settles in to listen to Ssithumi's address.

Ssithumi clears her throat, and with visible difficulty, begins to speak.

Ssithumi "Though another here stands ready to accuse me, he does so without cause, for we never acted in violence towards him or any who stand allied with him." She seems firm in her resolve. (...)

Ssithumi "In the time before the Great Dying, the Pathseekers were indeed cast out, but it was for their use of cruel magics, for their acts against their fellows, for the cruel servitude to which they chained the noble ochilikami" -- she looks with hatred at the sapphire in Arkati's chest as she says this. (...)

Ssithumi "When almost all of our kind were wiped away by death, how did yours thrive in the mountains, far from the plague? When our kind were called up to battle against the progenitors by our mother Gaia, why did you look away?" (...)

Imrama ::Empress, again I would ask your opinion. As a master of the arcane crafts, how difficult would you expect it to be for you to destroy the sapphire Arkati wears?::

Ssithumi "There can be no union between the people of Rathess and the people of Eledathi while you still swear to your false religion."

Ssithumi With that, Ssithumi violently turns and seats herself again without waiting for a response.

zahara ::If I were to have access to it, I could destroy it rather easily. I expect this will not be a simple task, however.::

Ssithumi As she looks over the two Dragon-Kings, Zahara notes with interest that there is no visible trace of Neverborn Essence on Arkati's being.

zahara ::Hmm interesting. They bear no infernal taint.::

zahara "Please remain calm, we are gathered here today in the spirit of peace and healing."

Ssithumi The other Dragon-Kings clearly did not expect this sort of conflict to be the focus of this meeting. Staaklon seems somewhat concerned.

Phoenix` "I am curious," comments Phoenix.

Phoenix` "That is to say, I'm a little familiar with the denizens of Rathess and the religion they follow, but Arkati, we know nothing of your peoples' beliefs. I'd be most grateful for you to share."

You are now known as Arkati

Arkati rises again, seemingly in better spirits than a moment ago, and walks over to the podium.

Arkati "The True Path of Gaian Enlightenment began thousands of years ago. Our people have always been seekers of knowledge, driven by a fierce curiosity and a zeal for understanding."

zahara ::I am hoping,:: she replies belatedly to Phoenix, after some amount of calm seems to have descended, ::that there will be no casualties at all.::

Phoenix` "So, this curiosity, did it lead you to any observations?"

Arkati "Though we were created in this form by the mother of Meru, we sought to rise above the limitations of our form and achieve the true perfection of living being: the manifold spiritual existence enjoyed by the Progenitors." (...)

Arkati "We see no call to worship the Sun, for who is he but one in station above us? We strive to join him in the sky, or to craft anew a thousand others to swim through a thousand alien skies." (...)

Phoenix` ::That's funny. I am sort of hoping that our new friend meets with some unexpected disaster. Perhaps he will fall down and break his crown.::

Arkati "Through our dedicated principles of asceticism and practices of extreme ritual purification, we strive for the apotheosis that lies within the grasp of all living beings, to take our place at the table of the Gods."

zahara :: chuckle That, my dear, can happen after they leave. We must build a reputation for remaining impartial during meetings such as these, or we will lose our status.::

Phoenix` "Oh. That sounds like a..." She pauses. "That sounds like a highly diverting activity."

Arkati "We have dedicated all effort within our beings to accomplishing it."

Phoenix` ::Ah, you are right. We'll be patient.::

Phoenix` "How delightful! So tell me, what exactly is it that brings the followers of the True Path to such uncomfortable terms with your fellows? You seem like an agreeable lot."

Arkati "We were cast out from the society of our fellows." Arkati glares at Ssithumi for a moment. "Their slavish devotion to worship and their zealous, lockstep culture could brook no dissent, allow for no approach that did not align with their own." He pauses for a moment. (...)

Phoenix` rests her chin in her hands and leans forward with interest.

alsoquin "It was the war with the Progenitors that drove the great wedge between us, however."

Phoenix` "Ssithumi, Staaklon, other whose names I don't know, if you have anything to add please do so."

Phoenix` In a smaller voice, "But let's save the formalities of introductions for later?"

alsoquin Staaklon rises up, a little uncertain of himself. "We... know, in the Vesathar Valley, that there are those who were cast out from our people... the Lost Souls."

alsoquin The representative from Scag speaks up without prompting. "You mean the Infant-Slayers?" Arkati shoots him an acid look, and he sits down, a little embarrassed.

Imrama stands up: "All are free to speak here, without fear of retribution. Please, Dohoroth of Scag - what can you tell us of these Infant-Slayers?"

alsoquin Dohoroth stands up, looking surprisingly sheepish for a reptile. "They, uh.... they were driven away from our people (so they say) because of their wickedness... They stole into the nurseries and took the younglings, they said, the ones who had yet to awaken, and performed terrible rites upon them... then sought them out when reborn to kill again."

alsoquin He clears his throat. "Or, um, that's what I have been told." He sighs. "Though we remember many lives, many of our souls were naught but weak or unenlightened then, and the trauma of the Great Dying made cryptic much that was once clear."

Imrama "Thank you Dohoroth. In summary then: Akati accuses Ssithumi and her people of the murder of his predecessor, and the attempted destruction of his people."(...)

Imrama "Ssithumi, in turn, denies this allegations, and accuses Akati and his faction of the use of criminal magics, mistreatment of fellow Dragon Blooded, the enslavement of deities, and conspicuous absence during both the Contagion and the war against the Primordials."(...)

Imrama "This account has some similarities to legends and traditions from other communities, but so far has not been corroborated by any other direct testimony. Akati, you have denied none of these accusations directly, and I so I want to offer you the opportunity to do so now."

alsoquin Arkati and Ssithumi both nod vigorously, almost in unison, then fix one another with a vicious glar.e

You are now known as Arkati

Arkati stands up, his glare still fixed on Ssithumi until he arrives at the speech podium.

Arkati "The True Path does not steal children or seek to slay the spawn of others. Any such notions are a cruel work of defamation against us." He grips the podium with both giant, meaty dinosaur hands. "It springs, I am sure, from our method of raising the youth, which differs quite a bit from that of our fellows." (...)

Arkati "Where they choose to grant enlightenment as a gift unearned, we ready our spawn for the struggle towards apotheosis they will dedicate their lives to, and in the process forge the bonds of Essence that will join them to their spirit-families in the time beyond."

Phoenix` raises an eyebrow.

Imrama inclines his head and raises a finger in gentle correction. "That is an answer to a legend which has not yet been connected with your movement. But I must ask you, Arkati, to answer Ssithumi's accusations: where were your people in the Primordial War? In the Contagion? And what of your relationship to the Ochilikami?"

Arkati clears his throat. "We... chose not to war with the Progenitors, and took particular exception to the means by which our fellows did so. As for the Great Dying, when we were driven out, we lived a nomadic existence." (...)

Arkati "Many of us, those who the True Path looked towards for guidance, settled the mountain that we might serve as a beacon for our people, but we sought to form a homeland. It was to that end that we bargained with Injara." (...)

Arkati "It is true that as a result many of us survived the Dying, but it was entirely a fortuitous accident -- perhaps the Gods' gift to us in payment for our nomadic suffering." He glares at Ssithumi again. (...)

Arkati "Finally, it is true, there is no purpose in hiding it -- I bear with me one of the ochilike spirits. Rozalen serves as a beacon, a mark of my role and a gateway to the greater existence that we seek. It has been so since the dawn of our Path."

zahara "What did Injara ask for in return for the land?"

Imrama "Why don't we ask her ourselves?"

Arkati Ssithumi and Arkadi both do a doubletake in Imrama's direction.

Imrama The great doors open, to permit the grand entrance of Rovash the Infinite, and his beloved, the shadow of the former Injara.

Imrama "I present to the assembly two friends of the court of Solaria: Rovash the Infinite, and the her late majesty, Injara."

Arkati Rovash and Injara walk over to the podium. Injara walks with an understated elegance, while Rovash hams it up for the court -- seven hands wave to the different delegations present in the room, one hand blows a kiss to Phoenix, and three perform the motions of an obscure Hundredfold dance in rhythm with his footsteps.

zahara idly contemplates whether or not she feels guilt over her treatment of Rovash in the White Room.

You are now known as Rovash

Rovash winks at Zahara, just before using 17 of his hands to crudely push Arkati out of the way, then another 23 of them to gesture broadly in deference to his lady as she takes the stand.

zahara smiles back at Rovash, mildly gratified that she does not.

Imrama ::Phoenix, Zahara, my apologies for the theatrics. When I read in the chronicles that we had a mutual acquaintance in Rovash, I thought that his lover might be able to shed some light on our predicament.::

Phoenix` catches the kiss and blows one back.

You are now known as Injara

Injara stands proudly -- for one centuries dead, certainly -- at the podium, and politely addresses the Solars. "Injara, former Queen of the Sunlands, and sworn servant of the Solar Deliberative." She performs an ancient salute shared only between Solar lords.

zahara returns the salute crisply.

Imrama "Lady Injara, this assembly seeks to clarify a point of history in which you figure prominently. Can you please describe what arrangements your ancient administration made with the Dragon Kings of the 'True Path of Gaian Enlightenment'?"

Injara nods to Imrama, while Arkati looks on with what does not appear to be a happy expression. "During my reign in the lands on the shores of the Southern Grey River, I had close relations with the people of Rathess -- they had been our allies in the war against the Primordials." (...)

Injara "I was not yet born when the two peoples who stand before us split from one another, and I knew naught of their separation when Arkati first approached me." (...)

Injara "He spoke to me of the suffering experienced by his people, and how they had sought to settle down in one place after their life of nomadicism."

Injara "At first I sought to treat with them honestly, and granted them the peak of Mount Eledath, that they might have a small place to call their own as we discussed greater arrangements, but then it was brought to my attention how they had not sided against the Primordials in the great war." (...)

Injara "In so doing, I sought to restrain their ambitions. I offered to them a nearly empty five hundred mile square plot, in exchange for great wealth on their part, with the proviso that any mile in which a true devoted citizen of the Deliberative dwelt they must leave alone." She grins, and Rovash laughs uproariously.

zahara smiles at that, doing her best not to look too terribly pleased.

Injara Arkati rises to his feet in fury. "And the Solar Deliberative has passed from the world! The land you granted us -- and then stole back by sending your followers to squat it in defiance of us -- that land is now rightfully ours!"

zahara "The Solar Deliberative is indeed in the world, Arkati, and the Empire of the Sunlands is a large part of it. Indeed, we here are members of it."

Phoenix` stands up quietly. "Arkati, are you familiar with the concept of reincarnation?"

You are now known as Arkati

Thirteen quietly enters through the door Rovash and Injara just came through, walking towards the Solar dais as inconspicuously as possible, which is really not very much at all.

Thirteen ::My apologies for being late. I was babysitting faeries.::

Arkati glares at Phoenix with a look of pure hatefire.

zahara ::Welcome, please sit...:: she gives him a quick summary of what he's missed.

Phoenix` ::Perhaps we should try and return to a semblance of decorum.::

zahara ::Yes, indeed you are correct, Phoenix.::

Thirteen ::Hm.::

Thirteen ::I feel the need to mention that the Solar Deliberative is no more, although the newly constituted Exalted Deliberative is developing nicely.::

Imrama "Indeed - we, the Circle of the Sunlands, with the help of our many allies, have restored the Deliberative of old, reimagined for a new and even more glorious age. We have called the many nations of the Dragon Kings together, in part, so that we could invite you into alliance."

Arkati There is some positive murmuring from the delegates who are NOT involved in the blood feud at Imrama's words.

Imrama ::While I do not think we can, should, or will be entirely beholden to the old precedents and practices, I do see our restored Deliberative as in continuity with that of our ancestors. It is a finer implementation of the same ideal. A different set of shoulders, on which the same mantle resides.::

Thirteen ::I agree with the spirit of your words, but I remind you that we are dealing with a fae bargain.::

Imrama ::No, we're dealing with a long out-dated agreement made by a Solar monarch, whose regime is connected to Zahara's more by coincidence than anything else.::

Arkati looks at Imrama. "You deny us our land and hold alliance with our sworn enemies, the murderers of the founder of our Path. How can we call you ally?"

Imrama "Arkati, we have demonstrated plainly that the terms of your ancient bargain have already been met by the present Empire of the Sunlands. As to our alliance with Rathess, we have put that aside to treat fairly in the dispute between your two peoples."(...)

Imrama "Yet you have proven unable or unwilling to present any evidence to support your claim of malfeasance on the part of Ssithumi and her people. If there are any in this assembly not of Eledath who disagree with my words, let them speak now."

Imrama surveys the room with a cool eye.

Arkati None of the Dragon-Kings speak up.

Phoenix` ::Well, that topic is closed, then.::

Imrama "However, clear evidence against your faction is also lacking. Therefore, I submit there is only one being in this room fit to testify on question of the Pathseekers. I call upon Rozalen to speak."

Arkati fumes in anger. "We will have no more of these proceedings today!" he shouts, almost petulantly, and grabs his discarded robes. (...)

Arkati From within, he grabs an obsidian knife, still caked with blood, and stabs it point down into the table in front of him. He whirls and storms out of the room, and his entourage follows.

Imrama ::I am disinclined to allow him to leave. What say the rest of you?::

zahara ::I do happen to agree.::

Thirteen "Excuse me."

Thirteen gestures at the intricately engraved doors, and the writing on them twists and writhes, grabbing onto the doorjambs and slamming them shut.

Arkati turns around and his face is literally wreathed in flames. "How dare you deny me passage!"

Phoenix` "You forget your manners, sir. Recall that you are enjoying our hospitality at present."

Thirteen "Would you like some water? Your face appears to be on fire."

Imrama "Arkati, we have called a witness. Please do not abscond with them before testimony has been given."

Thirteen "If necessary, I can manufacture some water for you, using the extremely advanced weapon systems in the enormous deathship we control utterly, which you are currently aboard."

Thirteen "Please let me know."

zahara walks over and inspects the knife before touching it

Arkati The blood caked on the knife is incredibly old.

zahara wrenches it from the table effortlessly and returns to her seat, turning it over in her hands. "Now, Arkati, if you would allow Rozalen to speak?" She smiles mildly.

Arkati looks from side to side in anger, and then stands petulantly still, but with the gemstone visible to all.

zahara "Rozalen, can you speak freely from within your... current arrangement?"

Arkati The gemstone flashes and shimmers in a unique pattern, one that those with the ability to comprehend languages beyond the norm know to mean "Yes."

Thirteen "He says yes."

Imrama "What is your relationship to Arkati?"

Arkati "He is my... liege," is probably the closest translation.

Thirteen translates all this unless he explicitly doesn't.

Imrama "How did you arrive at this arrangement?"

Arkati "We underwent the bonding process after my previous liege, Omkai, was slain."

You are now known as Rozalen

Imrama "Was there ever a time when you were without a liege?"

Rozalen "The purpose of the ochilikami is to bond with the Dragon-Kings. There was a time when I bonded as Tohatep did, before Omkai."

Imrama "And of the two methods, which do you prefer?"

Rozalen "My existence is to bond with the Dragon Kings. I continue to exist while my fellows are dissipated to the death winds. I am content with this existence."

Imrama "Under what conditions did you accept your first liege?"

Rozalen "I was selected to bond with Omkai. He sought to raise our existence above the mere partnership of the ochilike bond, to ascend into the multifaceted being of a Primordial. I... supported this goal, and followed the strictures he crafted in support of it."

Imrama "Ah."

Imrama ::I do not believe that we have a case against Arkati or his faction, based on current evidence.::

Thirteen "Was this goal successfully reached?"

zahara ::He does not sound particularly sure about this support.::

Rozalen "No. Omkai was murdered before we could reach apotheosis."

Thirteen "Why did you support this goal?"

Rozalen "...the bond is its own form of slavery," the gemstone "says" "quietly." "Better to be one small part of a vast power than half of a weak, mortal being, riven in two by internal conflict."

Thirteen "I am not sure I agree.

Thirteen "What are your goals now?"

Rozalen "To achieve apotheosis. To achieve vengeance for Omkai's death."

Thirteen raises an eyebrow at Imrama.

Imrama ::"Don't look at me, Thirteen - I wanted to break that accursed gem, not admit the testimony of a spirit still in a state of bondage."::

Thirteen "What will you do if it becomes apparent that the government of Meru cannot permit you to achieve one or both of your goals?"

Imrama left the room (quit Gryphon.Magic Star?.net Atlantis.Magic Star?.net).

Phoenix` stands up. "This is absurd. This is shameful, ridiculous, adolescent! I ask that when this meeting is over, it be struck from the scrolls of history that the Phoenix of Ashes were ever present here. And I ask you, all of you, what is the purpose of vengeance?"

Phoenix` "Vengeance is what brought Creation to its knees, over and over again. There are things eating at its edges that we CANNOT NAME AT ALL which have found us because of our petty vengeances."

Phoenix` "This is enough."

Rozalen 's spiritual voice is quiet for a moment.

Rozalen Ssithumi stands up, slowly and quietly, in her seat at the other side of the room.

Rozalen "Our concern is not with these things," the spirit says. "Our need for justice is above a--"

You are now known as Ssithumian Tohatep?

You are now known as SsithumiAnTohatep

SsithumiAnTohatep "STOP." The word echoes at a volume sufficient to deafen any mere mortal who might have somehow wandered onto the floating city slash death-fortress, as Ssithumi leaps up on top of the table in front of her.

SsithumiAnTohatep The glow that normally leaves trails behind her eyes expands, covering her entire skin, and the air around her begins to spin and whirl of its own accord; the bass timbre that undercuts her voice grows until it is the only sound when she speaks.

SsithumiAnTohatep "Your accusation is true, yet your call for vengeance is empty," the voice says. "I know this, for it was I, ochilikami-Tohatep, who made the choice to kill Okmai."

SsithumiAnTohatep Arkati reels back at the statement, and Rozalen flashes spirit-lights of uncertainty and shock.

SsithumiAnTohatep "Relazus acted to protect me. He plotted, in the back of his mind, to separate ourselves while I slept, to drive me out in the painful way that no ochilike will do for less than the greatest reason. He slew Omkai, as I had meant to do, for the reasons we have stated he treated with the Neverborn, and betrayed Meru to its enemies."

SsithumiAnTohatep Ssithumi's head lolls to one side, in the odd manner of those possessed entirely by the spirits. "Do you carry on that dark work, Arkati?"

SsithumiAnTohatep Arkati is clearly stunned, but shakes his head somewhat meekly (for him, at least) as Rozalen flashes even more brightly and chaotically.

Zahara is mildly surprised to discover that Arkati seems to be telling the truth. "Interesting. And Rozalen, do you?"

SsithumiAnTohatep Rozalen's flashes grow suddenly silent.

Zahara "Please answer."

SsithumiAnTohatep Arkati seems suddenly somewhat nervous; he looks down at the gem set into his chest with concern. But the spirit still resists.... until Ssithumi steps gently down from the table, still glowing brilliantly, and silently slips an obsidian knife from some secretive hiding place.

SsithumiAnTohatep Finally, Rozalen answers, in the same flashing speech "We did. With Omkai, we treated with the Neverborn."

Thirteen "Elaborate."

SsithumiAnTohatep Arkati swallows as his chest-gem lays out the story. "To ascend to the founder-state, we needed to know more. We first sought to speak to the Yozi, but they rebuffed us... so we turned to those who had been slain. We travelled to Netheos and saw that which had once been Auna." (...)

SsithumiAnTohatep "Though Arkati knew not why I demanded it, it was my insistence that we move to the mountaintop that saved us from the Dying."

Imrama "You knew, in advance, of the great Contagion? And you warned none but your own?" Imrama's voice is nearly a growl.

SsithumiAnTohatep Rozalen's silence answers the question better than any words could do.

Zahara "Are you still serving the Neverborn now, Rozalen?"

Colapso left the room (quit Ping timeout).

SsithumiAnTohatep "I did not serve them. We... made an exchange. Omkai granted them knowledge that they sought of the living world; they gave us what we sought of the metaphysical nature of their existence, and warned us when they sought to annihilate all life." (...)

SsithumiAnTohatep He pauses. "I have heard nothing from them, since."

Thirteen "What knowledge did they seek?"

SsithumiAnTohatep "Knowledge of the Deliberative. Their movements. Their weaknesses." Pause. "If they had begun to destroy themselves."

Zahara frowns. "What did they have to say about that?"

SsithumiAnTohatep "They told us what we sought to know and sent us away again. We did not ask; the Exalts were not our concern."

Imrama 's countenance turns from hot wrath to a grim cold. "To offer intelligence on the defenders and defenses of creation, to sit idly by as all that lives in Creation is whittled to a mutilated remnant this is well within the definition of service to the enemies of Creation."

SsithumiAnTohatep Rozalen says nothing.

Phoenix` shakes her head as if faced with a naughty child. "So, now what are we to do with you?"

Imrama "It would be difficult to imagine a more demeaning punishment, given that you already exist in a state of perpetual slavery."

Thirteen "I disagree. I have already imagined several."

Phoenix` "Perhaps there's something tasty we can make of these broken eggs, though."

SsithumiAnTohatep The glow surrounding Ssithumi suddenly shrinks inward and fades, and she stumbles slightly as the air steadies again around her.

Zahara ::Ah, but what about vengeance?::

Phoenix` sinks into her chair finally and leans on her fist, thinking. "It is reasonable to expect, I think, that an informant once can be an informant a second time?"

Phoenix` "I'm sure that if you paid our deceased acquaintances another visit, they might have some interesting questions to ask, and perhaps, you might have some interesting things to tell them, which may not necessarily be true things that would serve their machinations in a way beneficial to them."

SsithumiAnTohatep Ssithumi manages to right herself and walk -- slowly -- back over to her seat. In response, the Dragon-King onlookers let out what seems like one vast bated breath with relief.

Phoenix` "Or you know alternatively, I understand there are many exciting crystalline structures or metallic alloys which require distillate of spirit in their manufacture."

Phoenix` picks a piece of imaginary lint off her sleeve.

SsithumiAnTohatep speaks up, her voice a little faint. "I ask that we... not destroy Rozalen for his crimes." She looks over Arkati from head to toe, and continues. "He is the only other."

Phoenix` nods. "Excuse me; this is a matter for the final judgement of YOUR people, not ours."

Phoenix` "I ask, instead, that you render that decision."

SsithumiAnTohatep stands up again. "Then I condemn you, Rozalen, to separation and imprisonment, for the duration of time it takes us to" -- her voice catches ever so slightly -- "restore the ochilikami to our people. At that time we can judge if you deserve leniency... or destruction." (...)

SsithumiAnTohatep She looks up, to Arkati's face. "And I... ask that you, and your people, forsake your claim of land and your quarrel with Rathess, so that our people may once again draw together into the singular nation of the Dragon-Kings."

SsithumiAnTohatep After a moment, Arkati nods, as if under a great weight. He slowly reaches down, rips the rapidly blinking gemstone from his chest, and places it on the desk in front of him, right next to the bloody knife.

Zahara "You have made a wise choice, Arkati."

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