• Nobles of Null is a forum based roleplay site where sci-fi and magic collide. Here, Earth remains fractured and divided despite humanity reaching out to the stars. Worse still, the trans-human slaves of one major power have escaped, only to establish their own Empire, seething with resentment at abuses of the past. Even the discovery of aliens, though medieval in development, has failed to rally these squabbling children of Earth together with its far darker implications. Worse still, is the discovery of the impossible - magic. Practiced by the alien locals, nearly depleted and therefore rare, its reality warping abilities remains abstract and distant to the general populace. All the while, unseen in the darkness of space, forces from without threaten to press in. For those with eyes opened by insight, it is clear that an era is about to end, and that a new age will dawn.

VotO Book 2 Chapter 4: The tallest mountain

Uso

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October 15, 2321
Mars,
Olympus Mons


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(This isn’t our picture, we should make one of our own soon)


The Acropolis felt like a prison yard this year.

The American Union's delegation was on one side. The ambassador sitting at the main table itself, a large, frumpy man stuffed into a suit who hadn't left Earth in more than half a century. There was a powerful disinterest around him, only vaguely tilting his head when he was spoken to by some of the two dozen people around him ranging from Lanyard wearing government agents, interested senators, generals, and Corporate representatives such as the one that had positioned himself behind his right shoulder: Ein.

He was wearing a suit in the same colors as the Ambassador with a deep black with faint pinstriping and a red tie but no one would mistake the suits as being similar. The thread-count on Ein's suit was massive, the expensive fabrics giving the suit an almost glossy look while still looking comfortably soft. His tie similarly looked like it might be more expensive than a simple suit, tied in an subtly elaborate trinity knot instead of the usual half-Windsor. His name was discreetly included in the pin striping and a subtle stripe of color was coming up from a barely-visible pocket square. The material and attention to detail set the two apart, to say nothing of their physical forms. Unlike the Ambassador, Ein looked fit with broad shoulders and well toned muscles. His jovial tone was being kept within the American Union's delegation just like how the Delegation was keeping to itself.

On the other side of the room was the space set aside for the Magnetic Assembly. Four-legged dog-drones would territorially mark out their area of the room, dutifully watching as the Assembly's smaller delegation talked amongst themselves. They had only brought two of their own Exemplars. Caxia was mechanical, with three metal legs supporting their body that was shrouded in a coat made up of mechanical arms that covered their body. Heram Wazu was certainly more human, hair brushed back into a ponytail, his body dressed in a suit with the jacket hanging off his shoulders like a cape with a dark green vest underneath. The suit was well made, though he looked out of place in it as if it wasn't something he wore like a second skin.

Further areas were marked out for the Soyuz, placing them closer to the MA while the GDW was setup closer to the American Union while the HFR's space was used more like a buffer zone.


 

steinOS

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Chief-Minister Yeniseyev and Colonel-General Burov were having a conversation at the CCM’s front row, having re-attended Olympus Mons after their presence at the last meeting. Both seemed to occasionally look over at the AU delegation, a dismissive look in their eyes - not so different from that of the AU ambassador. Burov’s black cybernetic hand scrolled through a datapad on the table surface; diplomats behind them travelled to and fro the Magnetic Assembly quarter, engaging in some data exchange and casual chatter with the latter’s delegates while the meeting was yet to commence.

Burov stood up after a short period, correcting his charcoal overcoat which was complimented by an underlayer of a white shirt and simple black tie. Evidently since the last time he was here, there was a new scar on his face - still pink, shrapnel scuffs at the corner of his hairline. He made his way past the others at the front bench and took a seat next to Wazu and Caxia. The first thing he did was put on a light smile and reach with his hand for a greeting - he already knew Caxia, but it was his first time meeting Heram Wazu rather than hearing about him. “Colonel-General Valeriy Burov, welcome to the pending pandemonium,” he introduced himself to Wazu with a joke. “We wanted to ask you if you’ve had previous dealings with any parties present at this… iteration of the AU delegation,” Burov questioned of Caxia and Wazu generally, then skimming his eyes over those the Magnetic Assembly brought with them.
 

Ray of Meep

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Secretary General Rosa Lucchese felt smaller, more isolated. She was as Earth-borne as a European could be: rich brown hair, above average weight and average height, a navy blue military uniform with few badges to speak of, a desk worker accustomed to over a century of peace and prosperity. All her men under her carried out the day to day work well enough, the biggest nuisance being corporate pirates and pirate pirates, which could be easily swept under the rug. The Commonwealth had the right balance between economic power, technology, and human rights that made it the best superstate to be a citizen for.

That all changed within just a few months. While the GDW came to a draw with the CCM in the One Month War, the consequences of started the conflict has done more damage after the war than the war itself. The space colonies which suffered the most economic toll from the war were clamoring for independence. The loss in military assets made interplanetary and interstellar trade less secure, which only further exacerbated the economic consequences and civil unrest. Suddenly, as a desk worker who's greatest skill was getting reelected, Lucchese found herself completely unable to meet the challenge, out of her league and losing allies quickly. Her entourage with only two-thirds the usual size, as the space borne delegation completely embargoed the summit. Admiral Vencencio who usually attended was nowhere to be found. Officially, he was killed in action during a skirmish with rebels in the Jovian system, but rumors say he defected.

Lucchese reviewed her notes on her datapad. She already agreed to a non-aggression pact with the HFR and the CCM, along with a trade agreement specifically with the HFR. All she had to do was play nice and say yes and nod as the HFR would inevitably restate its proposals. The AU was actually the more troubling participant here. Its back was against the wall as well, and was likely to strongarm her into some unfavorable agreement that in turn made their lives a bit easier. Well, a known problem. They've been allies for centuries with the regular ups and downs.

Only now did her eyes wonder to inspect the HFR delegation, giving her more apprehension. Unknown problems. She examined the two leaders, both Asian in birth with nearly invisible cybernetic enhancements, only made apparent by the segregation of skin on their exposed hands and faces. Lucchese knew the woman, Grand Admiral Hak of the RSC well enough, but she barely ever saw Kal Young, President of the GSZS on the international stage. Her datapad told her he was a fierce nationalist, young, energetic, and willing to take risks. Why did the HFR replace Luo Meng with him? She was similarly fiery during negotiations, but that usually only amounted to superficial theatrics. If the documentation was to be believed, Kal personally attended conducted executions of pirates before he climbed the political ladder. Or maybe that was all theatre as well.

In general, there were new faces here, and a vastly different power hierarchy than decades past.
 

Uso

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"I used to work for some of them," Heram replied, standing up to greet the Colonel-General with a handshake. "We built their infrastructure, designed their weapons... you could say we know them better than they know themselves. The Ambassador himself is just here as a political appointment, it is his handlers that'll really be fielding your questions." There was a confidence here. Even though such a feeling might be inappropriate Heram couldn't quite keep it hidden. There was blood in the water and it wasn't his.

The American Union was feeling the effects of war in their own homes for the first time in their memory.

The GDW and Soyuz both had massively damaged energy infrastructure.

The HFR was still being outplayed by the Daqin.

and the Daqin had just made themselves an enemy of everyone.

In his mind, the Magnetic Assembly was best positioned out of everyone for the upcoming year.

"But I wouldn't worry too much about that. These meetings don't happen without dozens of agencies, departments, executives, legislatures, and local governments hashing out their goals ahead of time. Their delegation has a narrow set of approved items they want, and a narrow list of what they are able to offer. They have a heavy inertia and couldn't stop themselves if they wanted to. They can't react like you or I can." Wazu was suddenly aware of how much he was over-sharing. The Soyuz were their allies but all the same he didn't need to answer questions that had yet to be asked.

A mistake Caxia wouldn't have made.

Caxia would also extend a greeting to the Soyuz delegation. It was short and to the point, perhaps handled through automation. There was always the possibility that Caxia's body was being left on auto-pilot or perhaps being remotely-controlled entirely. Caxia could be anywhere, working on more important projects while still being present through remotely piloted bodies.

"We are pleased to welcome to you Olympus Mons." Caxia said, "Though we are familiar with speaking to the American Union, we are unfamiliar with speaking to the GDW. Though we do find their silence on the matter is all we need to know about them."
 

steinOS

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“Can’t react like you or I…” Burov nodded slowly. “I like that. It’s true - and I don’t want to be a hypocrite by ignoring the fact that we have our own bureaucratic tangles behind the iron curtain. But at least we don’t pull bills out of our ass for results,” he smiled, the brash military flourish developed in his years of service steamrolling any kind of political persona he’s supposed to present here. The man was clearly not a fan of having more than one face.

“Haven’t spoken to them much myself - but I know first-hand what they did.” The Colonel-General responded to Caxia, his smile fading and his eyebrows becoming somewhat strained. “I was recently discharged from the military hospital, you see. But enough about that.” The man stood to his feet, ready to return to his designated seat. “Our delegation would like to have a brief word with yours in private after this meeting. There’s a matter for your immediate attention.” He gave a nod to the two of them in conclusion.

With that, Burov corrected the collar of his shirt and proceeded to sidestep along the aisle, returning to sit beside Yeniseyev in the Soyuz quarter.
 

Ray of Meep

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Lucchese watched as Kal coughed twice into an invisible microphone to grab everyone's attention.

"My sapient brethren." His face hard and impenetrable, he spoke upon directional speakers placed in the room delivering a mix of Korean and Chinese into customized words digestible to each person that had a seat directly before the tables. He scanned the mostly human attendance, with a small minority of Aos Si hailing from the Soyuz and the HFR, and high cyborgs that came from the Magnetic Assembly. "Today, we stand at a critical point on our path as a thinking species. Within the past year, we've embroiled ourselves in interstellar conflicts amongst each other that threaten to drag us back to the stone age. Meanwhile, everyday with new archaeological discoveries, both within our grasp and at the furthest edges of our reach, we are not only reminded that we are not alone in this small slice of the galaxy, but that we are quite possibly outmanned and outgunned; there are other sapients out there who do not appreciate our existence."

"Therefore, as the leader of a portion of this interstellar community, I call upon my equals to lower your guns against each other, and instead train them outward; I call upon a united, self defense front. First, we must resolve familial issues within the house." Kal's eyes moved to the AU delegation, the Ambassador in particular. "Mr. Ambassador of the American Union, the Magnetic Assembly has proven its capabilities at the Battle of Reiss, the Battle of Atlantica, and the Battle of Hahana. For over a century, the Union has enjoyed technological research that has come out of the Hawking system, while the system in turn has appreciated the security and manpower provided by the greater Union. I ask you to acknowledge the independence of the system and establish bilateral national security and commercial agreements as equals."
 
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CadetNewb

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"Awwww, they're still fighting?" a woman spoke, her voice softly fond as one would to a littler of kittens. Veiled in black, her shape inscrutable behind layers of onyx silk embroidered with gold, the woman approached the delegation. "We know you mean well, but shouldn't we leave it to them to settle?" she suggested, the Royal We featuring prominently. Grasping her garb with a flourish, the bulk of the travel-wear was pulled aside before being drawn into a tiny pack on her fanny, revealing Zhuli Danwei Si herself. Her clothing now a sun gilded obsidian cheongsam, she approached. Golden tail flicking about every so often, she looked about them all in turn, leaning close and eyeing them all from head to toe.

"Hmm. Where, where, where?" the Empress of Daqin pondered aloud to herself, pacing across the representatives with a judging gaze.
 
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Uso

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"This would be acceptable," Caxia said. Both Caxia and Wazu had read the proposal and knew what it entailed. They wanted to be in charge of course, and this was a setback in terms of their own authority but it did solve many of their other problems. On one side, they needed to bring an end to the war and allow their people access to Earth once more. At the same time, they would still need to continue undermining the American Union if they wanted to hold onto the SLE in Atlantica while ensuring their own survival... but Wazu was never one to be without a plan.

He'd read the agreement.

He had a good idea of what was next.



"This can be the start of normalizing relations." The American Union ambassador said with a forced interest. He hadn't read the agreement of course, he had people for that. His own concerns extended as far as his own neck and the Union was finding it increasingly unsafe to move beyond the confines of Humanities home.

but that didn't stop Ein. His ambitions extended well beyond Earth and Hawking.

"Empress Zhuli Danwei Si. We have a seat for you and your entourage here. We had thought that given the circumstances you would not be attending." Ein offered, eager to offer her a seat with the American Union on one side and the HFR's seating on the other. Unlike many, his plans weren't that covert. He wanted the Daqin on his side... or at least their markets, their money...

Wazu wasn't the only one here with designs.
 

CadetNewb

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Golden eyes turned to and fell on Ein in one smooth, graceful motion. The moment they looked into him in silence seemed to stretch on, but that moment passed as she spoke with a smile.

"Of course, We thank you. Though, we were beginning to relish the thought of having to improvise," she remarked, making her way over to sit. Unlike the others that had brought a retinue, the Empress of Daqin had come alone, something that was very uncharacteristic considering the bluster and bravado that the Empire was known for. Zhuli was always a question that was difficult to answer - was she acting according to a plan, or had she come here like a cat on a whim? "You are right however, this is something that could have been delegated to someone much lesser," Zhuli added. "However, given the harm that has occurred, We believed that We may be able to remediate issues more quickly in person instead," the nearly bicentennial woman offered, her gaze turning towards the Soyuz and GDW representatives.
 
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Ray of Meep

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This was odd, Lucchese noted. The Empress of the Daqinren, was she truly alone, or were her guards in active camoflage, hiding around this building? The Secretary General scanned around the room, a poker face hiding nerves. Meanwhile, the entire HFR entourage was stone faced, both the humans and the Aos Si, both of whom had major grievances against the Daqin, especially their enemy #1, the empress, yet they said nor did anything.

Instead, Kal continued on like a dumb robot reading a script. "If the American Union and the Magnetic Assembly have come to an agreement, then I would like the diplomats of both nations to come to the center of the room to sign the documents that recognize Hawking independence and formal trade and security relationships." He walked to the center where a small podium was placed, with an assistant placing several documents made of paper, along with ink pens. More so a tradition nowadays as digital information has come to dominate, but physical still had its practical uses, including the difficult to create forgeries. Furthermore, it was undoubtedly a good shot for the camera, with the HFR overseeing two opponents end their hostilities.
 

steinOS

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Chief-Minister Yeniseyev eyed the HFR delegation, noting their general neutrality in the appearance of the Daqin at the summit. Fingers held his bristled chin; did that non-reactiveness come from diplomatic training, or internal confidence about something? It would certainly be a show of diplomatic skill to prioritise their responsibility as a mediator over the two-legged grievance that just walked in. The Colonel-General lit a cigarette in the meantime, pulling closer a ceramic ashtray that rested on his left.

He had some doubts that this forced peace would last - nevertheless it was a piece of history to be witnessed. Perhaps things would have turned out differently if the CCM didn’t opt to back the independence of the Hawking system - maybe the GDW fleets would have been roped into Atlantica instead. But now, the Magnetic Assembly would become a bridge between Soyuz and America, something that didn’t exist for the last 250 years or so. Judging by the situation at home however, the outlook of Soyuz citizens is unlikely to change.
 

Uso

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"Your lessers don't return my calls. Really makes me feel unwanted you know? If we were in touch I'm sure we could have brought this trouble in the GDW to a more favorable outcome for all involved." Ein replied as he helped seat Empress Zhuli. He was never one to be satisfied by just one, and right now he wanted to get behind the Daqin just like how he was behind the HFR, the American Union, at times even the Assembly. He carried with him that Aura of professional friendliness that came with someone who could make you surprised that they remembered your name, "The AU and the Assembly have been at each other's throats and still both find need of our services. You might enjoy a tale or two of them both fighting over rights to purchase soldiers during the battle of Reiss."

As he spoke, Wazu was already on his way towards the center of the room where the documents were waiting to be signed. He didn't need to be further prompted to do so, unlike the ambassador for the AU who needed one of the support staff to point him in the right direction and urge him to get out of his seat so that the needed documents could be signed. Each of them would go through the motions, using a half dozen pens to sign on a half dozen dotted lines.
 

CadetNewb

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"You will have to forgive them then," Zhuli replied. Settling into her seat, she gave a subtle nod of appreciation towards the man. "They do not wish to trouble Us with 'trifling' affairs, though We are certain our opinions on 'interesting' affairs will differ," she remarked with an amused smile. Watching the signing proceed, she couldn't help but smile with amusement as she listened to the human. "If the American Union says its child is now an adult, then so it will be," the golden horned woman watched, pens dancing across paper in the distance like skaters across ice. Even so, she spoke more to Ein than anyone else. "With this family affair concluded, it is only fitting that attention be turned to mending wounds, and that requires one of the most timeless resources of them all." Golden eyes smoothly turned to Ein like sensors locking, the movement as graceful as it was inhuman. "But, they refuse to take the labor that We sell," she observed.

"What is that American phrase?" the woman asked, playfully feigning ignorance with a smile. "The one about horses drinking water?"
 
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Uso

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She probably meant that other saying about horses and water,

and
there were no protections in place to protect metaphors from the torture Ein was about to inflict upon that metaphor.

"... The horse will never drink bad water," Ein replied, demonstrating the depth of his knowledge of both recent history and Old Timey horse-based sayings from America, "So drink from the spring where horses drink. You know Stellar does bottle-water from those springs everyone wants. Everyone needs it after all, and all of your human counterparts at this meeting have confidence that our product is exactly what we say it is. That's why we're consistently making gains selling our products for the work-horses here.

And they say when it comes to Horses, a buyer needs a hundred eyes,

...not all of us are as optically gifted as Caxia..."
 

Ray of Meep

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Kal watched patiently over the mother and daughter of nations, attempting to reconcile their differences, first by barely legible, handwritten names on dried wood pulp. Of course, the real work was yet to be done, mountains of logistical planning, people and resources moved back and forth. More scribbles on paper. Only then, can true peace be realized.

Speaking of which...

Secretary General Lucchesse felt her hair rise under her uniform as President Kal spoke again. "Now we must repair the relationship between the Soyuz and the Commonwealth. The One Month War, thankfully, was short with less than ten-thousand military and civillian casualties. However, ten times that number have been displaced from their homes, and the chaos of the war has embolded piracy in the Sol system. Even now, the lack of a formal peace and solid ties between the Soyuz and the Commonwealth is keeping high economic uncertainly not seen since---"

He paused, his voice hardened slightly, "--- the Zhongzhi event. I call upon leaders of both superstates to come forth and declare a formal peace, and redirect their efforts to the third party who was ultimately responsible for this meaningless war."

Now was the time to play nice and save face. Lucchesse leaned forward instinctively, even though her mic was built into her uniform. "The GDW accepts all responsibility for starting this war by launching a preemptive strike due to false information, forcing the CCM to retaliate in defense. As we speak, we are investigating the matter and improving our security and intelligence." She stopped short of making any accusations, but somewhere under the Alps was the sealed container holding the corpse of a first-class Daqinren, along with broken pieces of their technology. The CCM even holds the broken body of a Daqin frigate that was lurking in the Yasny system.
 

CadetNewb

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Zhuli gave a small laugh that pleasantly lingered in memory, but it was difficult to tell if she were doing it with or at Ein. However, the proceedings had finally come to a point that they caught her attention proper.

"No need to be so humble," the Empress spoke, her gaze settling on Lucchesse. "The fault is Ours, after all, We are ultimately responsible for Our children," she pointed out, golden eyes falling on Yeniseyev in turn. "Reparations are in order should you both be willing to accept them," Zhuli spoke with confidence.
 
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steinOS

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The Chief-Minister watched the Secretary General make her statement in stillness, his hand leaving his chin. He was noticeably away from his microphone; once she finished talking, his shoulders rolled back faintly as he stood up to his feet in the busy hall. Yeniseyev looked immersed in thought as he wandered the inner circle, opting to slowly walk by in front of the AU delegation, until he stopped directly across the desk from Lucchesse. The older man looked her in the eyes for a few seconds in silence, then giving a nod.

“The CCM acknowledges and accepts this resolution - with reparations in the course of fulfilment as agreed.” Yeniseyev’s voice was unexpectedly booming, enough so to be caught by the Secretary General’s microphone and thus heard across the chamber. His body turned leisurely, looking around the room at the others present as he walked towards the central column where the documents had been signed. “Accept them?”, Yeniseyev’s moustache flexed to reflect an underlying smirk. “You misunderstand, Daqin. Here, we outline our reparations and you agree to fulfil them.”

The man laid a hand on the surface at the center of the room, finally turning to face the AU delegation directly. “If you would be so kind as to appear before everyone here,” he tapped his resting hand. “We can start with some questions for you, since you visit so rarely.”
 

CadetNewb

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"Āla āla," the Empress exclaimed in surprise, her golden scaled tail gently swaying every so often in what could only be delight. Unlike Yeniseyev, she didn't seem to bother with any microphone or other voice augmenting technology, and chose to speak as though they were all at the same table together. "It almost sounded as though we would have no choice but to agree!" Zhuli smiled with amusement at his implying. "If so, that is quite daring young man," the timeless regent praised Yeniseyev, rising from her seat. "We will reward you for that as is fitting for such bravery." With that, the woman cleared the table in a single, playful hop. There was an eager spring to her heels and an excited clack of her heels, as she strode over to her new spot in the room. "Our children believe you foolish, but we believe they are being overly confident if not arrogant. Your own demeanor is appropriately совет considering your heritage," Zhuli smiled, the foreign word gently accented as it left her gleaming lips. "Go on," she encouraged him, her voice warm as though she were speaking to a small child.

"What would you ask of us?"
 

steinOS

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Yeniseyev remained where he was, the scent of Zhuli reaching him as she rushed over. Apparently, still a woman despite her mutated nature. Now he got a better look at her eyes. “Your children have been up to no good,” he stated coldly, a headmaster meeting with a parent.

The Chief-Minister’s right arm moved up near the pocket of his trousers and out with an open palm, his body turning to direct Zhuli’s attention to the Magnetic Assembly delegation. “Going as far as having a fleet arrive into Hawking to steal the territory away for yourself before your American partners could attempt to recover it.” His eyes moved to the AU delegation, there was almost a hint of sympathy in his expression, the rest contained knowledge that they brought it on themselves.

“Was it an attempt to increase your bargaining power against them? Or, perhaps to prevent those peace documents from ever being signed?” Yeniseyev’s gaze returned to her.
 

CadetNewb

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The scent of the Imperial Flower, the Chrysanthemum, was left in The Empress's wake. Pleasant without being overbearing, it was faint, working in subtle ways. Just as it faded out of mind in one moment, Zhuli's scent would ever so tickle the nose and offer surprise the next. Surprise which the Empress of the Jade Throne emanated for the briefest of moments, her eyes widening in almost girlish, innocent disbelief and even confusion. But that splendid sight quickly faded away and was replaced by something superb. Laughter. Bright like the sun, the womanly sound was sweet to the ear, even as she tried to stop herself, a hand elegantly held up to shield her lips.

"Oh, no, no, no!" Zhuli began, her black dress parting ever so slightly as her golden tail wagged with mirth. "If We willed it, it would be so," she corrected Yeniseyev. "As Our American peers did not recognize the Magnetic Assembly at the time, neither did We," Zhuli raised her hand, a single tear lifted away from her eye, only to vanish into her tiny pack-turned-purse, the fabric shifting to her convenience. "It was only fitting that We would aid Our American allies, even if We only poked and prodded here and there," the Empress kindly explained. "Of course, this 'Azathoth' was quite the curiosity for Us. Unfortunately, my adopted children were impetuous and attempted to please Us on their own. They did not fair well." Her soft, golden gaze continued to be returned to Yeniseyev as she waited. "What else would you ask of Us?"
 
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