The sun beats down with great ferocity as Zahara and Riordan near the outskirts of Solaria's great marketplace. As always, the Sunspot Bazaar is crowded and loud, yet filled with the most delightful smells.
Riordan "The senses find themselves intoxicated as one draws near, I think," he says, marvelling at the pedestrian beauty of the enormous market.
zahara "Not quite as varied as pure chaos, but the range of things produced by simple human ingenuity and hand-held tools is rather impressive."
Riordan "Indeed," he says, "I do not think the finest artisans of the Lapis Court would ever produce this," as he reaches over to a nearby stall and selects a coconut in which a selection of thinly-sliced fruits have been placed, topped with a blend of five local spices, brown sugar, and cream. "I mean... look at it." He holds it up for Zahara to admire.
zahara smiles, and inspects the dish. "It is both a simple work of art, and it looks delicious." She glances over at the stallholder and slides a coin to him. "I wish more people took an interest in the aesthetics of everyday items."
Riordan "After a while, the joys of yet another achingly beautiful work of phantasmal artistry begin to grow dull," he says, with a half-frown. "I sometimes think that my kindred do not benefit from having only themselves as their foremost audience."
zahara "Hmmm. Yes. Perfection can be stagnant." She takes one of the coconuts for herself and plucks one of the fruit slices, tasting it. "Have you ventured to Creation before?"
Riordan "Once, but it was an odd trip." He look up at the sky for a moment. "It is one thing to journey through these lands on the back of a great story, narrative force driving your heels and sweeping away all that is mundane and empty before you, and quite another simply to... visit."
Riordan digs a spoon into his coconut, takes a bite, and closes his eyes in enjoyment.
zahara "What did you do here the first time? What story did you ride?" She finds a table in a "quiet" corner of the market and sits down, stretching in the warmth of the sun.
Riordan "There was a great quest," he said. "As your kind have been known to embark upon into our dwellings." He looks out at the next set of booths, which sell a variety of decorative and commemorative Sunlands objects. "It was for a lady, all very embarrassing."
zahara grins and takes another bite, watching him. "Is the story lessened by your embarassment?"
Riordan "No," he says, "only my own pride." He sighs very faintly. "I was one of three suitors for the lady's hand, and each of us was set a different task to perform, that we might prove our unique worth to her."
zahara "Ah," she says gravely. "Ladies can be fickle creatures."
Riordan "It is true," he says, picking up what appears to be a necklace emblazoned with the Sunlands seal. "It was not meant to be. The egg of a mountain was not a sufficient present, it would seem."
zahara "Ahh I would have appreciated such a thing, I'm sure. What was the present that won, and who brought it?"
Riordan "It was the hilt of the knife that slew a man who lived," he says. "I didn't think it was as impressive," he says, a bit petulant. "Joreshta was the one who brought it; I am certain he and his bride have established a grand freehold in the distant reaches of the tapestry."
zahara "I think I would rather prefer the egg, ....unless I got to watch the slaying I suppose...."
Riordan grins. "I hoped you would say that," he says.
Riordan "It seems to me that your kingdom thrives under your leadership, Empress." He looks out on the bazaar.
zahara "I try not to disappoint." she winks.
Riordan "Do you think they will speak of the joys of these... coconuts," he says, looking oddly with one wide-open eye at his, "when they sing the song of Zahara Zhan, the Sunlit Empress?"
zahara "Not unless you are the one who writes it, Rio."
Riordan "...is that a challenge, Empress?"
zahara "Who better to write the song of one whose life has been so... touched by the Fae, than a Raksha?"
Riordan A darkness passes over Riordan's face for a moment. "Is that what Tevezst intended to do? To draw power from your story?"
zahara "Draw power from my story?" She laughs darkly. "I AM his story."
Riordan "...what?" he says.
zahara shapes a sliver of coconut into a pale version of Tevezst's Sword. "At one point I thought to erase his name from all knowledge for what he did. For how he shaped my life so precisely, to make me who I was." Her eyes glitter chillingly.
Riordan "He..." Riordan blinks. "I did not know. What..." He lowers his voice to a whisper. "What did he do?"
zahara "Do you know how I was thought of as a child?" She mimicks the nigh-forgotten words of her family, her community. "Such a kind child. Such a caring girl. So full of warmth and love. You're lucky to have such a thoughtful, sweet little girl." She laughs bitterly. "Oh, if they could have seen who I became. But Tevezst and his lackeys came and slaughtered them all, before me."
Riordan gasps. "No...."
zahara "Oh, yes. And worse. Can you guess what happened when he offered my sister's life in exchange for my compassion? Oh, Riordan, do you ever wish it was you who I offered it up to, so willingly?"
Riordan looks utterly horrified. "That..." He swallows. "That is not what I do," he ends.
zahara "What do you do?"
Riordan "I feed hope and joy, not extinguish it," he says. "I quest after improbable eggs and woo beautiful women; I tell stories such that they become grander each time, and seek the beauty in every thing," he says. "Like this coconut."
zahara "And Neshi?"
Riordan "...well," he says. "She is..." He thinks about her "proclivities." "She hones and polishes the hope before extinguishing it at its height," he finally says.
zahara "So you only feed the hope and joy, and do not ... feed upon it?" She sounds skeptical.
Riordan "I do not destroy it," he says. "If you look on a beautiful painting, or make love to a beautiful woman, or hear a newly-written song for the first time, you may be nourished by it, yet it still remains...."
zahara "We all destroy things, Riordan." She curls her fingers around the sliver of coconut and stares down at it, though unseeing. "I, more than most. I found him, and I chained him in my dungeon. I cut him off from wyld, from life, from Essence. And I made him pay for my loss. I used him as he once used me."
Riordan "But... that is not the end of the story," he says. "He is not still in your dungeon."
zahara "Are you sure?" she cocks her head to one side and smiles slightly.
Riordan "I am sure," he says, and grins, ever so slightly. "I can see your Cup."
zahara "This story is what you came for, yes? To find out how it ended?"
zahara "And what do you offer me in return," she asks softly. "To be the one who walked with Zahara Zhan, the Dreambreaker. Who supped at her table and perhaps at her soul and lived to tell the tale? The only one who truly knows what happened to Tevezst?"
Riordan grins all the way. "As I have come with you here to the fixed lands... I will show you what I have to offer you, Zahara," he says, and then continues to take in the sights and sounds of the bazaar.