Imrama Outside the Labyrinthine Cascade, Imrama and his group of Solarian volunteers work to load the Fable with as many crates and boxes as it can hold.
Zahara eyes the cargo curiously, "What exactly are you loading onto the ship, Captain?"
Imrama indicates the a crate to his left, "Topaz and lapis-lazuli from the South." He points to a barrel to his right, "Various fishes from the Northern coast." He raises the cask in his hand, "Fine wines and whiskeys from the Sunlands. Every beautiful or delicious thing I could assemble in the time I had for assembling, and a several gifts these generous people have added to the mix."
Zahara "And you intend to give these to...?"
Imrama "The poor, deprived and overworked refugees of Atomnos." Imrama continues moving boxes.
Zahara "Ah. Of course. So that they have a better idea of what conquering the world will net them."
Imrama "So that the people of the Sunlands can demonstrate their care and empathy for their long-suffering brothers and sisters from another world." ::And so that we may begin to establish an interest in the commodities we have to offer in trade.::
Imrama stops what he's doing and looks up at Zahara, while continuing to think to her. ::The Atomnosi are led by a zealotous oligarchy of unswerving ascetics. But their society is made up of human beings, with human wants and needs. If they can be shown the benefits of peaceful coexistence, their will to make war will fail.::
Zahara "Perhaps they will become our allies with such a show of compassion. It would certainly be better than another war, for our long-suffering people."
Zahara ::An intriguing plan. I suspect it will work better than a frontal assault.::
Imrama "Would you like to come along on our mission of interplanar understanding, Empress?" Imrama asks with a bright smile.
Zahara chuckles, "How could I pass such an offer up?"
Imrama "Excellent!" Imrama hands the last box up onto the deck, and calls to the remaining volunteers on the ground to come aboard.
Lucent "Going to meet the Locusts?" Lucent steps in, coming back from... something. "Count me in."
Imrama "Good to have you along, Lucent!" Once full of cargo and passengers, the Fable departs for the distant South West.
The Locusts' settlement has changed since the last time the Solars came to visit: the columns of black smoke have thinned and lightened, while the borders have drastically expanded, and a polished black road of obsidian leads out of its southern border, towards the area that was once Gem. (...)
Within its borders, however, it is still the hive of constant, tightly-organized activity, as Atomnosi move between the buildings -- although the sense of fatigue is clear even from hundreds of feet above. (...)
Though the chains are gone, elemental work teams are still at work in places, and the signs of the damage inflicted by the powerful weaponry on the Solars' last visit is still visible, though the repair work has done much to disguise it.
Imrama In scouting for a place to land, Imrama looks for an open area with the most favorable ratio of human laborers to Alchemical overseers.
There's one particular open courtyard where no oddly-angled fountain or hexagonal podium fills the space, and a group of laborers work on a few small projects around the outer border with little obvious immediate supervision.
Imrama brings the Fable to earth, flying out of the noonday sun to disguise his approach until just before the landing. As the ship comes to rest above the courtyard, the throng of Solarian volunteers give a shout of joy, and unfurl banners in both Riverspeak and Old Realm, welcoming the people of Atomnos in the name of human brotherhood.
The Atomnosi momentarily look up at the arriving party, and many of them briefly adopt looks of joy or disgust, but they do not tarry overlong from their set tasks.
Lucent ::They ARE rebuilding what we broke down, what did you expect?::
Imrama ::Nothing more than this.:: Imrama walks several feet up into the air above the Fable's deck. His anima explodes into a brilliant cascade of clockwork avians, and he addresses the laborers. "My sisters and brothers. I come with a message from the people of the Sunlands to the people of Atomnos: welcome to Meru. We hope that you find your visit to our home to be pleasant and refreshing."
Imrama The volunteers descend from the Fable, carrying trinkets and snacks to the workers around the courtyard.
As one, the gathered workers turn to gaze at the brilliant pyrotechnics that flare off of Imrama as he speaks, then to the volunteers who carry the lovely items out to them where they work.
Zahara watches Imrama work his magic on the workers below, musing at how easily he relates to the commoners
The effect is remarkable -- work grinds to a halt as the workers bask in amazement at the gifts, sampling the foodstuffs with anxious but eager mouths, holding the baubles up to a sunlight they are still unused to seeing as anything but a harsh scourge of the workers in order to appreciate their beauty, and otherwise behaving quite unlike good citizens of Atomnos.
Imrama "We come to visit your outpost in friendship. Please accept these gifts, and enjoy them in good health and good spirits!"
Imrama ::Lucent; I believe we have a crate of parasols in the hold. Could you ask a few of the Solarians to start handing them out?::
The peons seem quite happy to enjoy these gifts for a relatively long moment before a few young alchemicals -- their Essence still low, the transformation into Magical Materials still affecting only small parts of their bodies -- come over and begin to order workers back to their duties.
Imrama walks out, but not down, over the courtyard, approaching the young Alchemicals.
Zahara leans against the bow rail, idly twirling a lock of golden hair between her fingers.
One of them, clearly the eldest (though not by much), turns upwards to Imrama, his glittering green Jade hair flowing in the air from a head of flesh and bone. "You are disrupting the work in this sector."
Imrama "Nahum, Habakkuk; I'm glad you've come out to join our celebration of peace and interplanar understanding! Let me ask you: would you like to learn a new game?"
The question takes the Alchemicals back -- it seems quite likely that no one has ever asked them this question in their entire lives. "A... new game?"
Imrama gives a broad smile and leans down in a show of intimacy, though he remains well above the heads of the two Exalts. "Yes! We've brought several along. The big favorite is called Gateway. It has at least 200 known variations, each one with a depth of strategy that can take whole lifetimes to master. Yoru, would you like to teach the basics to these two gentlemen?"
Yoru, with an ease born of years of hustling, deftly slides a table out in front of the two exalts while casually dropping the pieces into place with the other hand.
Zahara studies the patterns of the society, the ones that are left at least, while this all goes on, contemplating the best way to sabotage them.
The very same gloomy, lockstep rigidity that allowed Atomnosi society to survive in the harsh environs of Autochthon's belly here seems to be a weakness of sorts: faced with actual joy and pleasantry, its citizens become difficult to motivate towards backbreaking labor and trudgery.
Zahara hops off the ship, walking down the air, and idly picks up some of the work they'd been doing, accomplishing things in a minute or so that should have taken an hour.
As Zahara tugs at the Essence trails that hold the society together, Nahum frowns at a circular game piece bearing a red lotus sigil. "I... can only play this when an auspicious arrangement exists in one directional quarter?"
Zahara looks over at her handiwork -- a clean, carefully arranged rack, although for what is somewhat unclear.
Zahara cocks her head to one side, shrugs, and moves on to something else. For her, work like this is play.
Imrama His primary purpose now apparently taking care of itself, Imrama muses to his friends, ::Should we go and see War-Cardinal Caleb again?::
Lucent ::Long as we can do so without passing by that creepy Malakim.::
Zahara ::Hmmm? Oh just let me finish this.::
The five-cornered black-glass-and-ruby War-Cathedral stands before the Solars, and the two posted guards do not seem surprised to see them.
Imrama offers the guards a perfunctory bow. "We have come to see the War-Cardinal."
The response is similarly perfunctory. "Please follow," a guard says, and leads the Solars in to the familiar meeting room.
The tall, dark form of Caleb the War-Cardinal sits, back to the door, in the otherwise empty room.
Imrama "Greetings, Caleb. We have returned, as promised, to continue our prior discussions." Having nothing else to relax against, Imrama sits down on thin air.
Caleb "You have," he says, and his chair slowly and evenly rotates around until his blank metal face points towards the Solars.
Zahara studies his nonface intently, to see if she can discern what he's thinking and feeling behind that mask of an expression
Lucent "I believe we were talking about the residents of Atomnos stablishing diplomatic and trade relationships with the denizens of Creation, as well as certain compromises to be made in regards to what you could, or not, touch and modify in the Land of the Sun?"
Caleb "Yes." He stands with an elegant movement, his dark form intimidating in its vast height. "You placed your offer before us before."
Lucent "And you had a long time to think about it."
Caleb nods. "The needs of our people are great, but open war with the Sunlands will not achieve them."
Imrama watches the War-Cardinal, examining his beyond-stoic features and weighing every word that Imrama has heard him utter up to this point. Sifting through the meager collection of details, Imrama searches for something, anything that will yield a deeper understanding of how this adversary may be turned to a friend, or overcome all together.
Caleb Caleb's iron visage holds his secrets locked tight, and the battle to extract them is fierce -- but Imrama's subtle, careful digging finally begins to pull them out: (...)
Caleb his secret stocks of weapons even beyond what the Solars have seen so far, his perhaps excessive pride in his unshakeable front, the specifics of his plans to outmaneuver specific rivals in Atomnosi society by hitting specific resource targets through conquest in Meru, but most importantly:
Caleb the exact level of difficulty facing the Atomnosi in keeping their vast workforce in Creation fed.
Imrama stans up. "I'm glad that we have come to the same conclusion on that point. We should begin, then, to hammer out the details. Fix exchange rates and settle on parcels of territory. Identify the ways in which our nations can be of mutual aid and benefit to each other. And of course, exchange diplomatic representatives."
Caleb nods. "Of course. I have selected a representative for your governing body."