Dec 02, 2022 12:44 AM
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She swoops down and pulls to a stop right in front of that gatehouse; it's only polite.

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The big gates are currently closed, with a couple of archers nervously peering out of arrow slits; one of the nearer patrols catches up to greet her.

"Greetings!" the unit commander calls to her. "That's a very impressive flying object you've got there. May we ask who you're visiting on behalf of?"

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"Myself, mostly, though I am conveying some Grendel with a shared interest in not letting the Druj keep being themselves."

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The Sentinels all have perfect poker faces, but it's clear anyway that the Grendel are not the flavour of the month here, although neither are the Druj.

"We are not - aware of any polities with access to flight, in the methods you have just demonstrated?" asks the commander again. Mostly with a sinking feeling that she might be very out of her depth here. "Of course, we stand ready to assist anyone who will aid us in the fight against the Druj," she adds, in case her question didn't sound friendly enough.

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"Yeah, you wouldn't be; the notes I cribbed from in my design of that are from people who live very far away, at best.

"And for what it's worth, I hardly intend to let the Grendel reap the primary benefits of my intervention here, when it's the Urizeni who were, to my understanding, dispossessed.  Even if certain Empire factions really probably ought to make amends for..."  She waves a hand in the direction of the Black Plateau, disgusted.  "That, you were here first by all accounts I've presently consulted, and it's just rude to profit from even a self-inflicted disaster."

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"Oh, good," replies the sentinel. "Some of us rather think the Varushkans have a few things to answer for as well, although we do acknowledge that some of the firebrands that go to Anvil encouraged them - and as for the Grendel, if they hadn't both invaded and threatened our children, none of it would have happened.

Would you like to come in and meet the Arbiter? I'm not really specialised in diplomacy, and you don't appear to have any intent to harm us, so I'm happy to escort you in."

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"The Grendel's position is that they were in fact trying to keep children away from the fighting, rather than use them as hostages, for the record; I can certainly see about confirming or disproving that.  Yes, I'd like to meet the Arbiter."

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"That's a very Grendel way of putting it, I'm sure they'd be very far away from the fighting in their salt mines," replies the sentinel, who also signals the door; a door opening process begins.

Willstone Spire has the kind of entrance-way that is especially convenient for killing anyone they don't want to be in it, a wooden tunnel with plenty of arrow slits and affordances for pouring boiling oil or similarly unpleasant substances onto potential invaders; beyond that, it is rather more haphazard.

Everything has been carefully polished and painted to attempt to pretend there is some semblance of order, but it's fairly clear that rooms have been built on top of rickety observation platforms and other rooms built on top of them and both ladders and staircases added wherever someone thought it'd be convenient, all leaning up against that vast stone pillar in the middle.

"Tertius, Follia, rearguard please; Gallus, with me; the rest of you, disperse and let people know, return here when done."

Myra is carefully shepherded into the Citadel between two pairs of sentinels, or at least this is clearly how they would like it to go.

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"Like I said, confirm or disprove.  If they were shipped out to the salt mines, that's bad-faith on their part.  If there's records of who's missing, I'll see about finding and returning them to their families.

"...Y'all really ought to have some damn war conventions, except that I think the Grendel are the only polity I know of who'd give any shits and frankly I'm hoping to render the idea of slavery being a Prosperous thing entirely false so you won't have much reason for war with them, war being the worst sort of thing ever.  And on the other hand the Empire on its own just doesn't have the slack for virtue-signaling in combat with exempli gratia the Druj, who'd exploit it given the opportunity.  ...Virtue-signaling as distinct from signaling Virtues, to be clear, but nonetheless, signaling held beliefs.

"...Always and always more work on my plate.  Well, at least I don't have my hands tied behind my back by my own noninterference precommitments.  Hopefully I have some sort of cultural deprogramming that'll work on the Druj on file.  They definitely need something like that, from what I've heard.  An entire culture raised on deriving pleasure from the misery of others.  It's...It would be absurd, if it wasn't so sad.  They deserve better than what they're getting for the crime of being born unlucky."

Her hand brushes over where her pendant lies, close to her heart, though it's beneath her flight suit.

"So much of a people is shaped by their environment.  I wonder what will become of their culture when the environmental pressures change?

"Unfortunately, I'm no seer, but...I have to hope it'll be beautiful.  That something worth existing will come out of even this crucible of pain that forged them.  Because I don't want to have to kill them, regardless that if it proved necessary, I know I'd do it.  ...No matter who makes that decision, it would still be my hand on the trigger.  I'm the one who's meddling with them now, who's planning grand designs for a future without an institutionalized torture culture in it.

"My fucking sense of responsibility, at it again.

"I don't know how some people stay sane, dealing with world-shaping, world-shaking decisions.  I honestly don't, really, but I suppose I'm high-functioning in that I can put off the panic til later.  Most of this is semi-automated, anyway.  Outside of initial directives, I'm just...handling exceptions, and special circumstances."

She laughs wryly, despairingly, as if at a private bit of humor that she's clinging to to ward away her own demons.

"Not that that means anything, really.  Everywhere I've ever been has been exceptional somehow, no matter the other similarities."

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"We're fairly sure they all died; Sadogua rescued a few of them, ostensibly for us, but he kept the 'most promising'.

I'd love not to have a reason for war with the Grendel, but they'd have to stop invading us first. It'd be nice if they didn't take slaves while they were doing it, but it's their habit of showing up with an army anywhere along the coast that they think they can get away with that's particularly obnoxious. The Empire has absolutely no interest in their landmass apart from to get them to stop that, but we would rather like Spiral and Feroz back.

There has been a little success with the Druj subject tribes, I hear, over in Holberg - the Sand Fishers were rescued from the Druj and are shaping up to be model citizens. They just have to be taught that there is in fact any reason to do anything but cower.

Anyway, you'll probably just have to go over all this again with the Arbiter. Her office is just up here."

The commander politely ignores all the philosophical and sanity-related talk, and Myra is efficiently conveyed through the Citadel's winding (but quite spacious, and mostly outdoor) passageways to yet another precariously balanced wooden room. The commander knocks on the door and waits a moment.

"Do come in!" calls a voice from inside. The commander opens the door and politely gestures for Myra to enter; the other sentinel at the front stands aside to let her past.

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The Arbiter of Willstone Spire is sitting behind a desk which is covered in paperwork, but extremely neatly; there are specific piles for everything, places for all the writing supplies, and everything is in its place.

The office is similarly packed with folders and concertina binders full of paperwork extremely neatly arranged on many shelves. There are two wooden chairs loosely arranged facing the desk, with plenty of free space around them.

She's an older lady with faintly blue-grey hair which goes well with her blue and silver robes, wearing quite an imposing circlet and matching vambraces; she might be wearing a wide leather belt too, it's hard to tell at this angle.

"Ah, you must be our flying visitor?" she says, standing up to greet Myra. "Do excuse our Sentinels, please, their arete is in combat and threat assessment, not so much in pleasantries and diplomatic overtures. Do take a seat; if you'd like a drink or similar, I'll send them to fetch something for you."

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"Unprovoked aggressive wars.  Ugh, why."

"...Who the hell's Sadogua, anyway?  I find that I don't like him much."


"There's nothing to excuse, madam Arbiter; they've been quite professional, as well as informative, and they humored my ramblings besides."  She offers a slight bow, respectful, to someone she considers as having authority over the domain she intrudes upon but no authority over her, and twists away her flight helmet (with an unnecessary gesture), to reveal her whole (and seemingly totally human) face.  "I've no present need of refreshments, but I do appreciate the offer, and if you wish for something, I'll happily serve as an excuse.  As for whether I am the flying visitor, indeed I am she."

She waits for the Arbiter to sit, but does sit down herself.

"I have some topics of my own to mark on the agenda, I believe, but what would you like to discuss?"

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"An Eternal; I'm sure the Arbiter can tell you more."


The Arbiter notices that her guest is waiting to sit, waves off the Sentinels, and sits down. The Sentinels back off out of the room but are clearly waiting just outside the door, presumably ready to burst in if there are sounds of violence, or something.

"Firstly, just some background on, who you are? And what your intentions are here, if you're willing to divulge any. I regularly deal with Heralds, other Spires, and occasionally visitors from other parts of the Empire - and our Grendel neighbours, of course - but you don't immediately seem to fit any of these categories? I apologise if I am expected to be able to recognise you, if so, I must humbly petition you to refresh my memory."

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"I am not anyone you'd be expected to recognize, no; I'm a traveler from far-distant places who has been within the Empire's sphere of influence for less than a day, and I first arrived in Feroz, on top of all that.  Even had a Winged Messenger been dispatched the first time I spoke to the Imperial bureaucracy, it would not yet be very likely it had arrived.

"As for my intentions...

"Sapient flourishing, generally; more specifically, turning the Black Plateau off, for real this time - then hopefully assisting in resettling the refugees and repairing the region and making sure nobody tries to war about that later.  That fucking rock and its sequelae are a personal affront, pardon my language.

"To my knowledge, I'm a human, albeit with more direct access to magic than most, and I suppose an argument could be made that I'm a Herald of something-or-other, but that would be...significantly wrong even if it's the best available approximation, because much of my power is mine alone and built by simple artifice, rather than 'divine intervention'," she scarequotes, "and I'm not especially empowered to speak for the being whose power I occasionally draw upon, though we share interests."

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"I think we will get along very well, then.

I must warn you that not all factions in Urizen will be quite so overjoyed as us with the disabling of the Black Plateau, particularly while the Grendel are still occupying Spiral - and, of course, the Druj, in part. Supposedly, the Plateau presents a disincentive to anyone warring over the area - although I must note that it doesn't actually seem to have stopped anyone.

Gaining power from Eternals is all well and good; worshipping them is rarely a good idea. I would be wary of even mentioning 'divine intervention' around most Imperials, regardless of how sarcastically you do so. We are of a fairly pragmatic bent in Urizen, especially in recent years, but others may pester you with endless questions about that, rather than your actual intentions and strengths.

I think I'd like to hear some of your topics, if you don't mind; then we can discuss how we can coordinate our efforts to best serve the purposes of restoring Spiral, and perhaps I would like to hear a little more about what you have from the Grendel."

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"If they want an actual disincentive to warring then perhaps they'll like the reasonably well-thought-out plan that involves realigning the Black Plateau, rather than seeing what attempts I can make at disabling it; my patron is rather against wars, and her aura would actually work to discourage such violence, though it's not so blunt as an aura of peace.  I've often described the feeling of her as compassion, feeling cared about, uplifted, and encouraged to care for others in turn, and I suppose I'll do so again here.  And it does have the advantage of netting an invested defender against any future occult bullshit.

"On the other hand, Eternals have a seemingly deserved stigma, if the example I have is typical, and even if I can vouch that this one actually cares about people because they're people, as I do, it's not like anyone should take my word for it; I'm clearly compromised by my position.

"Here's what I have from the Grendel so far; the tools I used to secure this treaty are also available to Spiral's disaster relief efforts, and beyond, should Spiral wish it."

She passes a spot-printed copy of her treaty with Feroz to the Arbiter.

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"Aligning it with an Eternal which has at least fewer deleterious effects does sound like a workable plan, although I worry that you may have trouble with the Synod, particularly if you present it as if you feel... somehow obliged to the Eternal in question. We have used Lashonar's effect on dreams to influence emotions across the territory before, so there is some good precedent, if we tread carefully.

The Eternals that we are aware of as an Empire tend not to, as you say, care about people because they're people - in general, they are not really sufficiently aware of what being people entails to succeed at this, even if they intended to do so. Does your 'patron' have a name that we might recognise, or at least a Realm that you're willing to share?

The Arbiter raises her eyebrows slightly to indicate she is impressed with the printing.

"I'm afraid it will take me a few moments to read this in detail, if you don't mind."

She lets Myra put the treaty down on the table and picks it up rather than taking it from her hand, then reads the treaty, occasionally nodding to herself.

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"She's from far enough Away," and Ionnia can hear the Capital Letter, there, "that attempting to analogize her demesne, insofar as she has such, to the Realms you know would likely be outright anti-informative; the closest English translation of her self-concept is perhaps It That Embraces.

"I can certainly find a way of framing the relationship as less...

"Mmm.  Neither of us are obliged to the other; it's shared interests and mutual benefit, as well as some small actual fondness on both our parts.

"Speaking of names, and forgive me if I overstep, but I don't believe I know yours?"

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"Hmm. So, more like a Labyrinth spirit than an Eternal, then? Those are, if anything, less popular - but undoubtedly are better at understanding people, and there have got to be good ones too, I suppose.

Oh, I do apologise, I got caught up in attempting to work out which set of courtesies would best apply to you and entirely forgot to introduce myself! I'm Ionnia Willstone; I'm also used to being called Arbiter, but you can call me Ionnia if you like. And yourself?"

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"I wouldn't know; I've not met any to compare, nor read of them.  She's...there's a certain vastness that I'm thinking means that Eternals are closer analogues, but I'm just working on (metaphorical) auras alone, not knowledge."

 

"Myra Northwind, first name family name; you can call me Myra - I've chosen Administrator Myra as a suitable formal address since that's most of what I'm doing here."

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"Eternals do tend to be - larger - but that might just be an accident of which entities we've made more or less friendly contact with.

Pleased to meet you, Myra. It sounds like you may be just the miracle that Urizen needed.

This is an excellent treaty, I see where they attempted to wriggle around the implementation details here and there and you've had to patch it up. Getting the Empire to agree to a treaty is a bit like herding kittens, and I'm sure the Brass Coast will be deeply unhappy that this makes it harder for them to justify taking back Feroz, but much better this than the Grendel rampaging around unchecked.

We have... a lot of disaster relief to be done, unfortunately. Possibly more so in Zenith and Morrow than Spiral, even - Spiral's been a bit of a mess for some time now, and most of the Spires are quite self-sufficient, whereas Zenith and Morrow were full of peaceful people, tending ancient wonders, until the Druj came through and ruined and despoiled... well, everything, really.

We've finally cornered their armies in Zenith, and the Highborn are doing something to resolve the worst of the depredations, but I think that will only attend to the tortured souls - not that that's a small thing - rather than the destruction of libraries, total loss of agricultural land, and so forth."

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"I'm glad to meet you as well, Arbiter Willstone.  Hopefully I live up to expectations."  ...There's a notable lack of vim to that line.

 

"Well, the Brass Coast did sign the treaty ceding it in the first place; they can't just declare backsies because I showed up.  I'm quite happy to extend them a similar offer, though."

 

...

Somehow, it is the destruction of books that makes her react like someone's jammed a dagger into her heart.  "Of course they'd do that.  And yet, some part of me is still surprised.

"Whoever or whatever brought about the Druj's culture - and if it wasn't engineered by someone somehow I'll eat my hat - deserves a thorough thrashing until it is completely incapable of replicating the feat.  They're the sort of evil you can't turn away from their path."

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"We have, also, signed the same treaty with regards Spiral," she admits. "At the time, it looked like the only way to slow them down from also taking Sarvos and the other coastal territories, and we could ill afford to fight them, with the Druj rampaging. We were expecting to turn our attentions back to retaking it once the Druj have, well, been turned from their path, as you put it.

However, if redrawing the borders there is the price of a cleansed and revitalised Zenith and Morrow - I won't say that we will gladly pay it, but pay it we will."

Ionnia nods solemnly at Myra's reaction regarding the libraries; that appears to be - if not quite expected, then heartily welcomed, and considered very proportionate.

"They knew that to us, burning the books is more salient than burning the people; a human soul returns, and lives again; a book destroyed is simply gone, and the world diminished with it."

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"I'll have to check the exact words of it over, I think; the Druj presence in this theater is...well.  A compelling argument that the treaty in question is moot, as regards Spiral's disposition after this operation; can't be Grendel territory while it's occupied by Druj, and to the victor goes the spoils - in this case, plausibly me.  I don't know as much of the nature of what affects Zenith and Morrow, but you will have the Steel Legion's aid in your reclamation efforts.  ...Ugh, that sounds so pretentious, but it's also an accurate description."

 

"...The wilful destruction of knowledge is the worst sort of sin, I quite agree, though depending on how much memory passes or doesn't, there's still much lost in a death."

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"It's very straightforwards, anything that gets through the Senate usually is," she replies, and rises from her seat with an unexpected gracefulness, plucks a folder from a shelf, and a piece of paper from the folder:

There will be peace between the Empire and the Grendel for two years, to be renegotiated in eighteen months during the Spring Equinox 385YE

The Grendel will not trade with the Druj, nor offer them any other material assistance in their military engagement against the Empire

The Grendel will release Imperial slaves, one for each day that the treaty is upheld, with the first lot two weeks after the treaty then each month after that.

The Empire cede the regions of Afarjasse and Morajasse in Feroz, and Ankra, Cinion and Ateri in Spiral to the Grendel

The Empire will not build any shipyards or navies in the Bay of Catazar for the duration of the treaty

The citizens currently in the regions to be ceded will be allowed two season's grace to relocate to Imperial territory with all of their possessions

No raiding will take place from either side against the other

Any altercation that involves citizens of the Empire or the Grendel in the others territories should be dealt with between the ambassadors in the first instance.

"The Grendel have reneged on the bit about slaves, of course - they claimed that the people who left the other regions of Feroz, which they had already taken by force, counted as our full portion of released slaves - even though most of them weren't slaves in the first place.

As for souls and memories - we know the memories do remain with the soul, but accessing them is currently excessively expensive and difficult. If the Empire had any breathing room, improving our methodology for this would be our top priority."

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