After a brief recess, the Solars resume, for still quite a number of delegates wait outside, ready to be judged and admitted -- or not -- into the fledgling Deliberative.
Phoenix` "I have something. I think that you might call it an opinion."
Zahara "Oh? And what might that be about?"
Phoenix` "Kittens, or ducks, or maybe the ferocity of our selection criteria."
Imrama "We do not seem to be attracting the very mightiest of Meru's heroes, true."
Zahara eyes Phoenix oddly. "I see. Well, we can speak on kittens and ducks later. Perhaps we should speak of the selection criteria."
Phoenix` "Right. Kittens and ducks added to low-priority discussions list. I thought I'd mention that we haven't really rejected anyone yet. Our constituents might be concerned that we're letting just anyone in."
Phoenix` "We have a narrow ...what is the word?... between being appropriately welcoming and too openhanded."
Zahara "I have already expressed my particular concerns about the entrants." She leans back in her chair and taps her fingers against the arm of her chair.
Imrama "It may just be a healthy quantity of self-selection. So far, each of the Exalts we've spoken with has come in the name of one of the leading nations of Creation. Which of them would you have turned aside?"
Phoenix` "I wouldn't have, as a matter of fact. Let us hope that the self-selection continues."
One of the servants strides over towards the table and announces that the next representatives are about to be led in. (...)
After a moment, not one, but two individuals enter -- a woman in neat clothes of tan and bronze coloration, and two short fighting scythes hung at her belt, who proceeds to walk up to the Solars and tidily salute them; and a young man, tousel-haired, clad in simple peasant clothes, and looking rather confused and overwhelmed, who oddly hangs back near the door. (...)
Those using the power of Essence sight notice immediately: the boy is a Chosen of the Sun.
"Nikoleta First-Harvest," the woman announces with a deep bow. "I come representing the nation of Ezelakis."
Zahara inclines her head in return, "And your companion?"
"An... offering, from the leaders of my people. Swift Falcon, a child of a farm family living on the coast. He took upon himself the touch of the Sun just as the Eclipse lifted; we thought that he would be well served to join those of his kind."
Imrama ::Saraya's shard?...Or one of the Nightblossom's?::
Zahara ::An offering? I wonder if they expect us to sacrifice him.:: "Ah, how kind of you to think of his well-being."
Phoenix` ::That can be determined.::
Phoenix` "Then, are we to understand that you are the proposed representative and this young man is to be given into the Deliberative's care?"
Nikoleta nods. "He is yours, to take under your wing or return, unwanted, as you see fit." She bows in supplication, and lets the Essence of Earth suffuse her skin in a show of respect.
Zahara gestures to the peasant, "Come forward, Swift Falcon."
The boy takes notice, walks over, and stands, somewhat uncertain what exactly he's supposed to be doing -- but with a glint in his eye -- before the assembled Solars.
Zahara stands and walks forward to meet him, studying his expression. "Is it your wish to remain here with us?"
He stands up straighter under the attention being paid to him, and -- perhaps subconsciously -- lets his empty-circle caste mark glint in the room's strong light. "Yes, Empress. I am touched by the Sun; I wish to learn more of the Sun's purpose for me, in the land taken by the Sun-Chosen for themselves."
Zahara nods thoughtfully, "And now, tell me why we should take you in."
He seems to almost get angry at the question. "Because I came here to learn from you. You might know my quality by the Sun's stamp upon my brow!" He snorts a little. "The Sunlands are the chosen land of Sol Invictus, are they not, where his chosen heroes might gather together once more to achieve their destiny?"
Imrama "The Chosen of the Sun will achieve their destiny wheresoever they are found. But we are made kin by dint of Exaltation, yes."
Zahara smiles, clearly pleased by his reaction. "Ah, there's the fire I expect from a Chosen." She looks into his eyes. "You will learn much here, for as long as you choose to stay. We will help you find your destiny."
The young Solar bows rather stiffly. "To the glory of the Sun!," he says, and turns on his heel to walk out.
Nikoleta waits for a response to her own offer.
Imrama ::There may come a day when young Swift Falcon will rise to lead his people. But it does not look to be this day. Perhaps we should accept the emissary they have sent. For now.::
Zahara ::I agree.::
Phoenix` "If there are no objectors?"
Imrama "We welcome the nation of Ezelakis, and its representative, Nikoleta First-Harvest. Please take a seat, and we will discuss the details of membership in short order."
Nikoleta moves to the side, so that another can enter. (...)
And enter she does: a young woman, wavy strawberry-blonde hair cascading down to the midpoint of her back, clad in a long black and green dress, with a silver chain around her neck and a silver circlet atop her head -- recognizable as a Lunar Exalted of no small ability. (...)
As she approaches the bench, she bows and causes her anima to briefly flare, causing a spectral show of a thousand flying doves to fill the air behind her. "Jena Roderick, Lord of Bethen, one of the four Principals of the White Flats Alliance, at your service," she says.
Zahara goes back to her wonderful script. "Welcome, Jena Roderick. Please, present your case." She bows her head respectfully
"Certainly. I am one of the leaders of my nation, a state in which separate cities have banded together for the purpose of mutual aid. We produce food that is eaten across the south, and cultural arts that fill halls from Kirighast to the Empty Coast. We would pledge my nation's talents to the aid of the other Deliberative members, and my own -- not inconsequential -- talents to the aid of the Deliberative's rulers."
Zahara "Do you speak for the entire Alliance, or Bethen alone?"
"The entire Alliance, of course. I saw no reason to pledge less than our greatest strength to this cause."
Zahara ::She seems like an excellent candidate.::
Lucent ::We can never have enough southern people, no.:: Lucent says with a smile. ::That, and together with Chiaroscuro, it gives us a great hold on the center and west of it.::
Imrama ::And I, personally, would like to see more night-sky Exalts on the Deliberative.::
Lucent ::Agreed. I have met too few Lunars int he modern day... I wonder why.::
Imrama "Welcome, then, Jena Roderick of the White Flats Alliance."
Jena nods with a grin. "I shall convey your greetings to my fellows in the Alliance," she says, and steps lightly to the side.
Another woman enters: a tall woman of copper complexion, with her dark hair bound up in an elaborate arrangement and a severe black and copper outfit. She steps forward towards the Solars, at which point they can see the mark she bears on her right temple: a tiny circle of half black and half gold, like two snakes biting one another's tails. (...)
She speaks with a measured tone, but without any trace of warmth. "I am Junis Kel, current Astrological Emissary of the Chosen Child, under whose authority I hereby claim the position of representative for Varang in this, the transitional-period body of world governance."
To Essence sight, it is clear that she has access to Essence: Charm abilities, and a pool of motes upon which to draw in activating them. But she is not an Exalt.
Zahara ::She is... interesting. Not quite an exalt, but she can draw on Essence. :: Zahara passes the information on.
Lucent ::That is... unfortunate for her, then.::
Phoenix` "Forgive me, excellent Junic Kel, for looking in your soul with my magic eyes, but..."
Phoenix` takes off her helmet and lets down her hair, "...it was getting hard to breathe in there. So, I am become curious as to the nature of your Essence-manipulating abiities."
Phoenix` "As it is evident that you are unExalted."
The woman answers in precisely the same tone. "I am the current Astrological Emissary of the Chosen Child."
Imrama "The Exalted Deliberative would be greatly pleased to welcome the noble cities of Varang into our commonwealth. However, there is a certain base requirement for membership in the Deliberative which you, as Astrological Emissary, do not meet. I would like to discuss this problem in more detail with you, and ideally with the Chosen Child, so that we can move beyond that impasse."
Phoenix` decides to remove the lower jaw of one of her face masks so she can breathe more freely and puts the helmet back on.
The woman is visibly nonplussed. "You must misunderstand. The Chosen Child is the appointed ruler of the whole of humanity, and here in this period of Interregnum, we are empowered to speak and act in all ways for him. (...)
This Deliberative body forms the transitional government that shall keep order until the appointed moment of the Chosen Child's reign shall begin, and so it is written that he should have his Emissary sit upon this body, that he might more fully appreciate the efforts of those who come before him when that moment is reached."
Zahara quirks a brow.
Phoenix` "Oh, well, if it is written then it shall be done."
Phoenix` "But first please submit to the Chosen Child to have a more suitable Emissary selected."
Imrama "I find your religion fascinating, but your beliefs are not currently shared by this body. This cannot possibly be a new experience for you. Given this reality, I hope you can understand that we cannot offer you a seat at our table. I say again, however, that I would be very pleased to continue these negotiations further, after the first round of interviews."
The Emissary is clearly deeply displeased -- perhaps "scornful" would be the correct word -- of these events, however predictable they might be. "The Chosen Child is displeased at this defiance of his destined ascent!," she says. "We shall be lodging formal protests over this matter."
Zahara "Ah, then, you may pick up the forms on your way out."
Imrama ::With who? We're the people you lodge formal protests with? I'm not sure that this person is entirely possessed of all her faculties.::
Junis Kel turns on her heel and storms out.
Phoenix` ::I think 'formal protest' may be diplomatic speech for 'inconsequential war.' I'm not sure, though, as I am not a diplomatist.::
Imrama ::It certainly would not be the term's first use with that meaning, Phoenix. Take the Gulgoroth Ignominity, for example...:: Imrama's thought trails off as the next candidate enters.
The flap of wings greets the room, as two birds -- a swift falcon and a rather improbably large, slightly ponderous owl -- fly rapidly in from the door towards a space in front of the Solars' bench, where they rapidly transform. (...)
The owl becomes a vast, bulky man of bluish-black complexion, with a single rhino's horn jutting from his forehead, thin scale patterns upon his arms, and brilliant red tattoos in the shape of vicious thorns, all across his body. Zahara recognizes him immediately as one of the Lunar Triumvirate of Lachu Atapis; Imrama notes with interest that his name is Zahir. (...)
The falcon transforms into a rather smaller woman of reddish-brown complexion, long hair that shades into dark feathers, and fine silver filigree tattoos. She is the first to speak. "Greetings, Solars; we come to you from Lachu Atapis."
Zahara "Greetings, we are pleased to see you here."
"Thank you for having us," she says. "I am Eji, Sworn Second to the Council of Lachu Atapis."
Zahir speaks, in his low, deep voice. "Your circle spoke to me once of the inability to ignore the world beyond, and the events of Calibration prove you spoke true. I come to pledge the support of the Silver Pact of Lachu Atapis to the cause of this Deliberative."
Zahara "It has been a long time, it seems, since that visit," she reflects, thinking of Markuran and his trials there. "I am glad that you have decided to join us. Your strength will be needed in the time to come."
Zahir nods. "I shall fill the position of representative to this body, but the nature of our Council demands that I will not be able to be present for all Deliberative business. I wish to select Eji to serve as my proxy, in case of my absence."
Zahara "That seems a reasonable measure, Zahir."
Zahara ::Any objections?::
The horned man nods. "I must return to Lachu Atapis now, but I shall be present for the first convening of this body. Eji will take care of all necessary arrangements until that time."
Imrama ::I have none, Empress.::
Zahara "I look forward to meeting with you again."
Zahir nods, then in a flash his vast owl form flies out of the room, as swiftly as it entered.
At this point, two different extremely tall, reedy individuals both push through the door: a ludicrously pale man with spindly arms, a great blue-steel helmet covering his head and a sharp blue sword at his belt; the woman, darker but dramatically more severe, a miniature whirlwind practically swirling around her at all times -- a God-Exalt and an Elementalist. (...)
They are arguing with one another as they walk up to the line demarcating the edge of the carpet; both pause for a moment, then launch themselves forward, turning their incomprehensible shouting towards the Solars at the head of the room as they advance forward.
Zahara puts on her 'listening' face
Both of the two individuals pause for a second, with complete silence -- but then, both try to jump the gun on speaking first, and they just shout over one another again -- then turn to accusing one another of, well, probably something.
Zahara clears her throat. Loudly.
Phoenix` "I am tempted to begin shouting incomprehensibly at the two of them."
Phoenix` "But one is given to understand that escalation rarely improves these situations."
Imrama addresses the odd couple. "Stop. The House of the Deliberative is a house of peace, and more to the point, you are embarrassing yourselves."
The two become quiet.
Imrama "Winter Leaf will speak first, Elana Jiye will speak second, and neither of you will interrupt the other. Proceed."
Winter Leaf clears his throat. "Ahem. I come to you in the service of the Syndics of Whitewall, to humbly beseech you for admission to the Deliberative."
Zahara casts a covert grin at Phoenix's comment
Imrama nods his head to indicate Elana.
"From the Haslanti League, I, the leader of the Inescapable Air Brigade, greet you and offer as well the greetings of the League's ruling classes. We hereby petition for acceptance into the Deliberative."
Imrama "Thank you. I would like you to each explain, briefly, what complaint against the other has led you to argue so. Elana, please go first."
"Of course." She nods. "Throughout the course of our recorded history as nations, Whitewall has acted to sabotage the interests of the Haslanti League; they have undone our plans, struck into our land, and now," she looks at Winter Leaf with disgust, "they have even taken to carrying off our Gods, to blight our fields and starve our people!"
Imrama "Your rebuttal, Winter Leaf?"
"We have stolen nothing," he says. "The Trio of Ice abandoned the Haslanti because of the wrongness of their actions, and came to Whitewall that they might treat with the Syndics, with whom they were always cordial." (...)
"In fact, it is we who have the proper right of complaint, for the forces of the Haslanti aggressed strongly against us during the war, and have continued to strike at targets of importance to Whitewall even after the cessation of hostilities, in order to weaken our city and cause us to be overrun by fiends!"
Imrama "The dispute between your nations presents us with a quandary. We would like very much to accept both of you as full members of this body, but the Deliberative charter requires peace and mutual aid between all members."
Phoenix` "And so, caught up in your nationalist fervor, you overlooked to treat one another as human beings and merely respond to them as effigies of the nations that you so loathe?"
Imrama ::Well put, Phoenix.::
Phoenix` ::Thank you.::
Both of them try to respond to this criticism -- again, at once -- though, to their very slight credit, they both stop once they realize they are doing it.
Imrama "The conflict between you must be resolved in order for your membership to be finalized. We would be very happy to act as impartial arbiters in this dispute, once a careful study of the situation can be made. That is, of course, if you and your nations will agree to abide by the judgment of the Deliberative."
Both of them look like they're about to start yelling, look at each other, look back at the Solars, and shout "FINE!"
Phoenix` claps her hands in delight.
Zahara shakes her head a bit, and waits for the next.
A man walks in, clanging every step of the way, before removing his helmet to stand before the Solars. Tall as a barn, muscled like a prize piece of livestock, and intensely blonde, he holds his helmet -- emblazoned with a Hawk crest -- under his arm and says, "Hey there."
Zahara smiles, "Welcome. May I have your name, and who you represent?"
"Sure thing. I'm Jelter Hometra, ma'am, of the Bloody Talon Hawkriders!" He makes an elaborate gesture that is presumably some sort of "code" for his unit. "I'm here from Mount Metagalapa!"
Imrama responds with an equally elaborate First Age salute. "Officer Hometra: please present your case for admission to the Deliberative."
Zahara "A pleasure to meet you, Jelter Hometra."
"Yeah. We keep the Hinterland Corridor safe, and we've teamed up with all the countries nearby to be admitted into the Deliberative! We do things our own way, but we totally come together when there's a problem and our hawkriding skills can't be beat!"
He makes a little bird shape with one hand and skims it through the air. "WHOOOSH."
Zahara "I should like to see a demonstration of that someday."
Jelter grins. "I can totally show you that." He grins, and Zahara notices the Essence that flows within him -- the moonsilver tinge to his blood, the unusually sharp teeth -- and the wings, folded and hidden under his tunic.
Zahara grins in return, looking him over. "Your enthusiasm is contagious."
Imrama "No one is more pleased than I with the prospect of increasing the might of the Deliberative's Air Cavalry. I must ask, however, about the reputation of Metagalapa's hawkriders for banditry and harassment of trade lanes."
alsoquin scratches the back of his head and grins sheepishly. "Oh, yeah, that!" He laughs. "Well, you know, sometimes we need stuff, and we're way away from home..." He trails off for a second before continuing. "It's hard to keep all the guys in line all the time."
Zahara smirks slightly.
Imrama "The free flow of trade is good for Creation, and its people. I believe that, in the economy that is now emerging from the errors and fallacies of the Second Age, we can provide your people with opportunities to live, and live well while maintaining your basic way of life. But you will have to commit to respect the lives and property of those of your neighbors who are not our collective enemies."
Jelter makes a bit of a funny face, then grins again. "Well, we don't want to make you guys mad or anything!"
Imrama chuckles earnestly. "I believe you will fit in well in this assembly, Jelter Hometra. Tell me: which of Metagalapa's neighbors will share you as their representative?"
"Oh, well, it's really just Transrock and Nurredin and Granth." He thinks for a second. "And some tribes who came out of the forest, I guess." He grins again. "But we're workin' on more!"
Imrama "You keep workin' then, good sir! We'll be pleased to have you aboard!"
Imrama ::He is dishonest in a way that he does not view as dishonesty. I like the man, and I believe he should be with us, but we'll need to make sure that his coalition formed of its own volition.::
One of the servants comes in as Jelter progresses away. "There is a slight holdup with the remaining candidate," he says. "I apologize, but it will be several minutes. Perhaps your Excellencies would care to take another brief rest?"
Varanim Once the non-Solars are all shuffled out, Varanim pokes her head in from a side chamber. "You people do this all day? That's awful."
Zahara stops herself in the middle of a stretch, and looks over at Varanim's head. "Ah, not every day, but there is much responsibility in rulership."
Varanim She comes the rest of the way in, robe now flung over one shoulder. Apparently underneath she's wearing what looks like a northern-style tunic with the sleeves torn off in deference to the relative heat, pants with slightly mud-stained knees, and boots with most of the grime knocked off. Altogether, it's clear that she was dressed up previously. Her left arm is also wrapped in bandages,...
Varanim ...though it doesn't seem to pain her.
Varanim "Still, it's good that Jena's here. Having the First and Forsaken Lion at the table is a big catch."
Zahara stops once again, narrowing her eyes slightly. "Mmm. Yes. If we can get him to swear the Oath of Peaceful Accord."
Imrama , who was making to have a smoke when Varanim spoke, drops both the pipe and the match on the table in front of him. "What's that about the First and Forsaken Lion?"
Varanim spins her staff to lie across her shoulders, looping her arms over it and stretching. "Ah," she says with a contented expression as her shoulders pop. "Did she forget to mention she works for him? Slipped her mind, I guess."
Zahara "How is it that you know of her and her entanglement with the Lion?"
Varanim "Pillow talk. She was totally hot, before you ask."
Varanim shrugs. "Or I saw them in a room together, with his lips moving--figuratively speaking--every time she talked. Take your pick."
Zahara eyes Varanim, enhancing her senses to hear the meanings behind her words. "I'm going to assume you mean the latter, since you likely value your life."
Varanim "I thought the first explanation was more fun," Varanim sighs. "So, yes, you might want to find out what His Firstness wants to know that he can't just ask you himself."
Imrama "This is...disappointing, but not entirely unexpected. We have been extending the benefit of the doubt to our candidates, a policy I believe we should continue. Following their acceptance, there will need to be an orientation, in which we will more aggressively sift out any who are beholden to the enemies of Creation."
Varanim "Undead problem in her country, sold out to the Deathlord to spare her people. Very touching, means you can get at her through them if you're interested." She arches a cynical brow at Imrama. "Faster--and right--if you just assume they're all lying to you."
Zahara "Hmm, yes, a thorough secondary screening process. Cerin and Lucien should be able to help with that."
Zahara sits back in her chair, rubbing her thumb against her ring absently. "Everyone but you, of course."
Varanim "That's thrilling generosity. What do you want?" Varanim does not appear to believe in the general charity of living creatures.
Zahara "I want to know what you know."
Varanim "We'd be here for years. Narrow it down a bit?"