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Imrama At one of the long reading tables in the Cascade's great library, Imrama waits patiently for Zahara to join him. He sits at ease in a wheel-chair, deep in thought and with a plethora of maps arrayed before him. Despite the initial protests of the library workers, he has brought his tea in with him.

zahara arrives after a short time, trailing her fingers along the spines of the books as she walks through the library. She looks lost in thought as she proceeds, not really paying attention to where the shelves are, but avoiding them nonetheless. She walks slightly past Imrama, then halts and reverses her steps. "Ah, there you are."

Imrama raises his eyebrows together with his tea cup, and displays a wide grin. "Indeed: here I am." Imrama drains his small cup. "Thank you for coming to join me. Please help yourself to tea if you like. I have an important question to ask you about your ambitions for the Sunlands."

zahara "Ah." She hesitates, then sits down across from him. "Tea would be lovely." She lifts the teapot and pours the steaming liquid into a cup, then holds it in her hands, staring down at it, watching the way the little fragments of leaf swirl.

Imrama The tea has few leaves, but a sharp and familiar smell: alcohol. Imrama wastes no time once Zahara is seated. "Empress - you once entrusted to me the responsibility to serve as your agent in matters of diplomatic strategy. The question my recent thoughts on the subject have generate is as follows: are you satisfied with the current borders of the Sunlands, or do you wish to see them expand?"

zahara does not look as if she's heard him at first, then she sips the 'tea' thoughtfully. "I - we - must be powerful enough to defeat our enemies. We must retake Lookshy, deal with Thorns, and of course there is the matter of the esteemed Lunar general in the East. I am uncertain that our current strength will be enough."

Imrama The liquid Zahara sips is approximately one third mango-leaf tea, and two thirds heated rice wine. "It is, of course, quite possible to increase our strength through coalition building; indeed, we have already done so. But there remain a number of much smaller nations and peoples along your borders to the North, East and South that could, I believe, be brought under the banner of the...

Imrama ...Sunlands, if such was your want. I have identified the possibilities on these various maps." Imrama gestures about the table.

zahara half rises, leaning over the table to get a better look at the various maps. She studies them thoughtfully, then sits back down, sipping her drink which, she has decided, is rather good. "Hmmm you have been thorough indeed."

Imrama inclines his head deeply towards Zahara. "Thank you, Empress." He draws out the first map. "The most pressing matter has to do with the small collection of client states formerly under the protection of Lookshy. The intelligence I have access to dates to before my convalescence, but if these nations remain nominally free of the Mask, there may still be time to approach them."(...)

Imrama "Since the Sunlands enjoys the unique benefit of a magically-enforced treaty of non-aggression between itself and the Mask of Winters, you are particularly well positioned to invite Mugadesh, Starshalla and these other nations into union with your own."

zahara "Do you have leverage by which you plan to convince them to join? Aside from simple martial threat."

Imrama "In this specific case, I am thinking only of the promise of protection from the Mask and his dark ambitions. But in each of the cases I have identified, I believe that there is a much stronger strategy than simple bully-work. You have never had to rely on naked force to expand the Sunlands in times past; I would hardly encourage you to begin doing so now."

zahara "Ah yes... the only city we took by force we... gave away."

Imrama turns up the corner of his mouth a bit. "If you're thinking of Crystal, I don't view that as a gift, but as a magnanimous loan to the Deliberative, one which I, as a member thereof, expect you and your government to be duly compensated for." Imrama shifts back to his original subject. "There are also several states between the Grey, Yellow and Maruto Rivers, North of Tereveth that would be...

Imrama ...good candidates for expansion."

zahara runs her finger down the map where the rivers lie. "Aside from more land, what do they bring to the Sunlands?"

Imrama strokes his chin. "Tesr and Arosh would increase access to the major river-lanes, and if you eventually expanded all the way to the Yellow River it would certainly raise the already sizable profile of the Sunlands. The nation is vast and powerful, to be sure, but it remains somewhat of a backwater geographically. None of it is essential, however. I bring all this up because I believe these...

Imrama ...nations can be yours, not because I believe they must be. That is for you to decide."

zahara pours herself a second cup of tea and drinks deeply. "River-access is definitely good, although the eventual addition of aerial shipping lanes should ease our trade problems. We do need more of a presence there, I agree." She fidgets with her rings. "Will you make initial diplomatic contacts with these nations you outlined, and let me know which ones seem most amenable to the idea?"

Imrama "With much pleasure, Empress." Imrama bows from his wheel-chair. "The two other areas I've identified are the collection of city-states to the East, and the Water Wardens, the last jungle tribe besides the Arczekhi not loyal to either the Sunlands or to the Silver Pact."

Imrama "With your leave, I will begin to make the necessary inroads, and report back on the finer prospects."

zahara "You do indeed have my leave, Imrama. Thank you for researching this and moving forward with the finer aspects of diplomacy." She smiles. "I believe you have outdone yourself here today" A chuckle, "You must be very bored, lying in bed all day, hmm?"

Imrama "It is frustrating. I am accustomed to a more active life, to be sure. But as a child, I spent many days losing myself in books, and the collection here in the Cascade offers many possibilities unknown to me then. for instance, In re-reading the exploits of our Circle, I believe I have found a hear-to-fore over-looked incident which may prove useful to us in our current Deathlord problems."

zahara "Oh? Which incident is that?"

Imrama "When you and Birds and Markuran first met the Mask of Winters, there was a confrontation between him and the Walker In Darkness. It seems that some ancient grievance exists betwixt the two. The resolution of the conflict came when the Mask dismissed the Walker, apparently by some mind-altering Charm. It seems to me that this is an exploitable bit of information."

zahara "Hmmm that is an excellent point." She leans back in her chair, sipping the 'tea' thoughtfully. "It seems like so long ago. Perhaps Cerin will recall what he used on the Walker... the ancient grievance was Walker's murder was it not? The Mask slew him as a mortal."

Imrama "Just so. Reason enough to attack him once. Perhaps reason enough to attack him again."

zahara chuckles, with a wicked smile. "I imagine it would not be particularly difficult to nudge the Walker in that direction again."

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