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Imrama In the early evening, with the last trickles of sunlight still fading in the western sky, a knock comes at the door of Zahara's quarters. A single hand beats out the staccato rhythm of some ancient sky shanty, and then falls patiently silent.

Zahara looks up from her studies, a thick sheaf of papers, with a sigh. "Come in" she says, and though it is not a yell, the command carries well enough through the door.

Imrama opens the door and enters. He carries another sheaf of papers tucked under his right arm, and a serving tray covered by a purple cloth balanced on his left hand. "Good evening, Empress," Imrama says with a bow. "I would like to speak with you, if you have a moment."

Zahara smiles, "Good evening Imrama. Please," she rises, and gestures toward a more comfortable set of chairs, with a small table between them, "Sit." She tucks her quill behind her ear and follows her own advice.

Imrama sits on the well-appointed seat, and places the tray on the table between them. "Thank you Zahara. I have been struggling with a difficult problem for sometime now, and have come to ask your advice. But first,"(...)

Imrama whips the cloth off of the tray with playful flourish, revealing a tall bottle of clear ice, containing a mass of bright, shifting colors - greens and blues and purples. "Rovash was nice enough to bring me a bottle from the Northern Courts, and it seems only fitting to offer something in return for the favor I've come begging for."

Zahara grins, "A wonderful gift, Captain. I do hope you will share it with me." A momentary flash of... something crosses her expression, and then it is gone. "It has been a long time since I have tasted the fruits of the Wyld."

Imrama grins. "Of course. During the years I spent searching for the Terminal Aerie, I grew quite fond of Boreal Rum." Imrama uncorks the bottle, and the smell of winter fills the room. He pours out a glass, the ribbons of shimmering light congealing in its bowl before he presents it to Zahara, and pours one for himself. "To your health, Zahara," Imrama says, raising his glass high.

Zahara raises her glass, admiring the scent and colors. "And to yours, Imrama." She takes an appreciative sip of the wine, savoring the flavor, if it could be called such. "The Wyld holds many splendors among its terrors."

Imrama "And all too frequently, there is no division between the two." Imrama shoots back his glass at one go, and leans his head back. His eyes flash with a bright green radiance, and then he sits up stiffly again. "As I said, I've come to seek your advice: I am faced with a difficult political problem. I believe they case may best be resolved through subtlety and cunning, and so I thought it best...

Imrama ...to engage your unparalleled expertise in this area."

Zahara takes another sip of the wine, lingering, before answering archly. "I am at your service, my friend. What is this problem of yours?"

Imrama recorks the bottle and carefully removes the serving tray to the floor. Taking up one of the papers he brought to Zahara's quarters, he unfolds it three times, into a rough, hand-drawn map of the present boarders of Creation. Placing the map on the table, Imrama answers. "The alliance of the Deliberative is already growing. I hope to see most of the nations of the world under its banner...

Imrama ...within the next season."(...)

Zahara leans forward, looking over the map as he speaks.

Imrama "We have before us the first opportunity in a thousand years to forge a mighty instrument out of the broken shards of human civilization. It is our duty, it is our destiny. And yet, I worry."

Imrama Looking over the map, Zahara sees that Imrama has made notes in each region and on several of the larger states noting major exports, industrial capacity and natural and arcane resources.

Zahara "There is always the possibility of making the wrong choices, of choosing an ally who will come to betray you. Doubly so in this age."

Imrama "Precisely so. I worry because in order to unite humanity, we must cast our tent wide, and open this alliance to any who would joint with us against the enemies of Creation. We will need all the allies we can secure, if we are to rebuild and reimagine the wonders of the past."

Zahara "And then there is the fact that we cannot even agree amongst ourselves, much less when we add other leaders to the mix."

Imrama "I know that when we make our grand solicitation to the throwns and crowns of the world, not all who answer will share our noble commitments. I believe that given time, the vast influence each of us wields, and the evidence of their own eyes, that justice and freedom for all serve to benefit all, many who may have come to us with false intentions will come to a change of heart."

Imrama "But still, I worry. I have in mind at least one such villain, who I cannot expect to reform. Indeed, who I would not even seek to change. I have an enemy, Zahara, and when he comes to petition us for entrance into the Deliberative, as I suspect he one day will, I worry for the quandary he will embroil us in."

Zahara nods slowly, "There are some I would never allow into the alliance myself while remaining a part of it. Tell me about this enemy of yours."

Imrama "He is powerful, and he is sly, and most of all he is vile. Given a moment's chance, I would kill him, honestly and cleanly, and leave the world the better for it. My heart could not abide him in our midst. And yet...and yet he is powerful, and his holdings are vast. He does not truck with demons or the dead, or any of the less tolerant of the Faerie courts. If he comes to us with an...

Imrama ...outstretched hand, I have no grounds to refuse him other than my own contempt."

Zahara "What did he do to make an enemy of you?"

Imrama "There are a thousand easy justifications. He is a tyrant and a warlord, as are most of the powers and potentates of the earth. But the honest answer is that he wronged a friend of mine. I have a merciful soul, Zahara, but even I have my limits, and he has long since passed beyond them."

Zahara sits back in her chair, toying with her goblet. "Perhaps it is good that you know your limits now."

Imrama "It is. It is vital that each of us know our limitations. How far we may bend without breaking, and when me may expect a break, and plan for it accordingly. I know my grudge, my hate, and I would not surrender it to anyone. But I am determined not to place my anger before the success of this enterprise of ours. For I know it is a finer thing, even, than my revenge."

Zahara "Has this enemy of yours no successor that would be more palatable?"

Imrama "He is mighty enough, and well protected enough, that I must honestly doubt my ability to simply kill him out of hand. It may be that, given time, and a better understanding of his nation, I could devise a plan to unseat him, but such a gambit would be far more likely to succeed after he had already joined the Deliberative, when the military and economic capacity of his lands became known to...

Imrama ...me, and I had had a chance to study him and his court."

Zahara raises a brow, "But of course, the assassination of a member of the Deliberative would set a poor precedent."

Imrama "You understand my predicament well, then, Zahara. This is why I have come to you. I know that you have great skill at the craft of rumor and intrigue, undermining opponents without overt conflict. In such a situation as the one I have described, what would you do? What course would you recommend?"

Zahara taps the side of her glass thoughtfully. "Am I to assume I know this friend of yours?"

Imrama "You may, for the purposes of this discussion."

Zahara tilts her head to one side, her gaze sharp. "I see."

Imrama 's visage remains open, patient, and interested in Zahara's response.

Zahara "All empires have enemies. Ideally this enemy of yours would be undermined and bereft of his authority before he could think to join us, if not slain outright. But if the General must join the Deliberative, his influence must be limited. We are not the only ones who can be... convincing."

Imrama "Very true, Empress. That is just one of many reasons why I believe it would benefit us all to devise some sorcery or protocol to ensure that members of the Deliberative are free of Essence-based influence while the body is in session. It will protect our deliberations against enemies both external and internal."

Zahara very deliberately sets the goblet down, the barest hint of her fingerprints marring its shape. "In session may not be enough, but it is all we can control. As you well know, I have... experience in this area. I will see to it that no Essence-based effects can disrupt the proceedings."

Imrama eyes the slightly tarnished glass. "I see the the veils of my questions have fallen away, Zahara. I want you to know that I meant all that I said: your enemy is my enemy, and I believe that we can overcome him by standing together."

Zahara "The dance was elegant," she acknowledges, and stares broodingly at the faerie liquid. Then she smiles fiercely, though the tension still fills her body. "He will fall, in time. And his tale will be told in hushed whispers to frighten children."

Imrama "I do not doubt this. It is a certainty upon which the world can depend, and the only reason why it will not come to pass by my hand directly is that you and Cerin each have a claim that far outweighs mine."

Imrama "But I meant what I said - I will do all I can in the service of your revenge."

Zahara "Thank you, my friend. I will count on you, as I have since you joined us." She turns to look into his eyes. "On the day we met, I believe you had already sworn revenge on my behalf, though I did not yet know you."

Imrama "I came to your kingdom to seek out your friendship, Zahara Zhan. You had my loyalty before you ever knew my name."

Zahara Her smile softens a bit. "I called you a fool then, and it is still so. Have you no regrets, now that you know better who and what I am? I have my own enemies with the same reasons for hate."

Imrama "Yours are a finer person than you think yourself to be, Zahara Zhan. I have seen proof enough to know the wisdom of my decision, and we shall both see far more before our work is done."

Zahara "My cup runneth over," she says, a hint of amusement in her eyes.

Imrama "Ah, but no, Lady. That is the beauty of Boreal Rum." Imrama demonstrates, poping the cork off of the bottle with his thumb and refilling Zahara's glass to overflowing. Rather than falling over and onto the floor, however, the veins of colored light spiral upwards into the air where they drift and pulse.

Zahara sends a breath towards the nearest spiral, and it swirls for a second, then shivers, coalescing into crystals which fall to the table and shatter.

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