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Spring is in the War Room, playing an intricate game of Gateway with himself. One of the sides seems to be attempting to win without capturing any pieces.

zahara follows the traces of the familiarly unfamiliar essence of Spring through her connection with the manse, to the War Room. She stands in the threshold, quietly watching his game and resting her hand against the frame.

Spring glances up, after a few moments, and makes eye contact. "Hello, Zahara."

zahara smiles a little, "Hello Long-Awaited Spring." She approaches, trailing her fingers against the jagged edges of what's left of the table. She drops her gaze to study the board again, and shakes her head a little. "I don't understand how you can win with such tactics."

Spring "Against an enemy of equal skill, it will not be easy." Indeed, the "pacifist" side is clearly falling back, though the casualties remain relatively even.

Spring "I must continue to practice."

zahara "Hmm. But yet you believe you will eventually triumph without taking pieces?" She studies him, seeking to know what makes him tick, what is different and what remains the same.

Spring "Let us say rather that I must find a way to do so."

zahara "But, why?"

Spring sets the board aside. eating the piece he was about to move. "Because of a conversation I may have had with Erevel, and because of something I learned the day I dealt with the Bone Dagger Kings. And because I am not accustomed to doing things a certain way because that is the way they have always been done."

zahara "Ah. You have embraced change indeed." She shakes her head a little, smiling as he eats the piece. Such things are the same. "Regarding Erevel... or perhaps what happened afterward." She pauses, considering. "I should tell you that you were not... entirely alone there."

Spring "Oh?"

zahara "It has come to me that I know exactly why I was the same. In the process of integrating the influx of information with my own memories, I had not sorted out why your dream of the circle gave me a sense of deja vu." She sits on the edge of the table, regarding him, and her dress and posture mimic exactly that of her dream self. "I was there."

Spring "Hm."

Spring "This explains some questions that had been troubling me."

zahara "Of course, from my perspective, I was inside of ... myself," she adds, contemplatively. "Hmm? Which questions?"

Spring "The spell of rebirth requires Solar Circle Sorcery, and there is only one sorcerer of that power currently known to me."

zahara "Ahh, yes of course. Though... I was unaware that I even knew the spell before the dream-vision. I simply knew what to do in the moment it was necessary, as if I had always known."

Spring "Fascinating."

Spring "The Wasirranu continues to demonstrate powers I am unaware of."

zahara nods, and (sadly) reverts to her normal posture, though still seated upon the edge of the table. "Rather useful, for a tree." She grins.

Spring "Notably more talkative, as well."

Spring "That reminds me."

Spring "Earlier, I was looking for the courtyard in which we planted the trees together. I cannot seem to find it."

zahara Her smile gains a hard edge, and she stands, one hand on her hip. "There is an excellent reason for that."

Spring "Oh?"

zahara "Do you remember, after your predecessor's friendship with myself was shattered, how I released you and all the others from your oaths to me? In doing so I also released myself from mine to you."

Spring sits very still. "I see."

Spring "Are they, then, gone?"

zahara takes in his reaction, feeling the satisfaction she has longed for - but marred with a pang of guilt. "No, not gone. Not entirely. That would have been too quick, too easy. Do you wish to see what's left of them?"

Spring breathes. "Yes."

zahara turns away from him, heading silently towards the door. Not even checking to see if he is following. The corridors twist and turn at her command, opening up before them and swallowing the way back behind them. It becomes evident to Spring that their path is deliberate, a tracing of a rune through the manse.

Spring follows grimly.

zahara They stop, finally, before a dark wall engraved with the completed rune, which pulses with a sickly white light. "Gone/Forgotten"

zahara "There are two people in this world that can open this door." She touches the rune with her finger.

Spring "Who is the one who is not you?"

zahara laughs, "You misunderstand me. Cerin can open any door he wishes. The one I keyed it to was only you."

Spring gazes at Zahara thoughtfully for a moment, then reaches out to touch the door.

zahara The white light melts from the rune, running down across his hand and arm with a sigh. The wall shudders and with an ominous grinding noise descends into the floor.

zahara The ground in the small courtyard is a sorry sight. The earth has become black and scorched, with once-verdant grass lying dead in great concentric circles. In the center are two trees, once beautiful and rapidly growing; now, their bark is mottled with black spots and their branches wilting, weighed down by rotting leaves wracked with mold and fungus,

zahara while pestilent insects crawl up and down the trees and bore holes into the wood.

Spring lets out his breath in a hiss, looking at the devastation. He starts forward instinctively, Essence welling at his fingertips, then stops, and looks at Zahara.

zahara is staring at what's left of the trees, her face carefully impassive, her eyes though are unfocused and her fingers clench.

Spring "May I tend to them, Drea...Zahara?"

zahara "Do you think you can replace what has been broken and lost?"

Spring "Let us say rather that I must find a way to do so."

zahara "They are yours to do what you will with, then." She steps into the dead zone, not quite a White Room, but merely a place deliberately deprived of healthy Essence flow. "But know that they are yours alone." Was that a trace of... wistfulness in her voice? Or merely another attempt to manipulate?

Spring "...thank you, Zahara." He steps forward, glowing intensely, and begins to run his hands along the bark of the nearer tree, hissing quietly the way a hostler might.

zahara does not respond, merely taking in the deathly silence of the room aside from the crunching of footsteps and the hissing of Spring's breath. There is no soft breeze to rustle the leaves. No sunlight to warm them. The only light is that which they bring themselves and that streaming through the door behind them.

Spring glows ever brighter, as if attempting to give the trees the sun they need with his own light. He does not turn to look at Zahara, but is clearly aware of her, standing in the doorway.

zahara watches the healing light wash out of him, over the trees. So similar. So different. She shivers as she remembers his uncharacteristically gentle touch on her grievous wounds, so long ago after her world had changed. Before the world changed. How close had she been to death, broken, twisted, alone. But... not alone. She turns away, wrapping her arms over her stomach.

Spring speaks without turning. "Please excuse me, Zahara. While I wish to continue our conversation, I find myself unexpectedly busy at the moment. I am not sure I can accomplish it by myself."

Spring **accomplish this task

Spring 's desire for help is apparent, but his wary belief that Zahara will refuse is also clear, and so he soldiers on, attempting to handle the monumental challenge himself, so as not to oppose her.

zahara is silent for a moment, feeling the easing of the wounded room, so long ago filled with warmth and love. She feels the inhalation of the manse itself as the festering wound within it is reopened and then tended with sorrow and care. Then something inside of her snaps. And she shudders, the light is so bright in the darkness. She whispers, "We were friends, once." (...)

zahara turns to lean her hands against the wall, her head dipping down until her forehead touches the chill stone, which crumbles a little. "We can't go back, Long-Awaited Spring." She closes her eyes and reaches, into parts of herself that she had closed off, into the walls themselves, pulling them back into alignment. The ceiling splits in the center, and falls away. The light that floods into the room, joining with his,

zahara The light that floods into the room, joining with his, is blinding.

Spring squints upwards, into the newly opened light, and takes a breath of air not stagnant, but fresh.

Spring "Then we must go on."

Spring "Thank you, Zahara...my friend."

zahara "We must go on," she agrees, stepping slowly back from the wall. Her hands drop to her sides and she turns to him. "You apologized to me before, wishing to work together again. But it is not enough." She looks past him, to the devastated trees. Already they look as if they are not on their last breath.

Spring "What do you require?"

zahara steps forward until she stands before him and drops to one knee with her head bowed. "I must also apologize to you."

Spring stands stock still, then reaches down to help Zahara to her feet. "I forgive you, Zahara. You need not bow to me."

Spring "Only stand beside me, and be my companion and friend."

zahara half-smiles, though her eyes are distant. "There has always only been above me, and below me. I do not know how to stand beside." She blinks and looks at him again. "But I understand that you have taken up the profession of teacher."

Spring "Indeed, although I confess that I am still a student in some things as well."

zahara "There will always be more to learn."

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