A call to the Empress

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The Lord Marshall approaches the front gate with her point guard, a little past the dinner hour, at the appointed time. Human guards on the front gate, expecting this arrival, open & allow them entry. At the front door, a human opens the door, bows & steps back to allow entry. As they enter, a dark elf with earrings, greets them & escorts the Lord Marshall to the room on the right side of the hall.
"Your guard may wait in the room to the left side of the hall."
"And we are fine to leave the doors open?", asks the Captain.
"If that is your wish." The dark elf bows. "I will have some refreshments brought in while you wait." He disappears down the hall and through another door.

After a few minutes, several human servants come through the same door bearing covered trays and pitchers. They split up and enter the two rooms, setting out an assortment of snacks and setting the pitchers on side tables, filling glasses with the dark liquid, then quickly disappearing again.

Shortly there after, the Empress enters the room where the Lord Marshal awaits.

"Thank-you for coming." She says after completing the formal greeting. She takes a filled glass and sits, "As we are both very busy, shall we get down to it?"
"But of course, Empress." the Lord Marshall says with a wide, wry smile. "Exactly how I like to work, straight-forward & to the point. Exceedingly refreshing. I've never been much for the diplomacy & have always preferred the front lines. But as position & duty & circumstance have required, I've answered the call. Be it to arms, to duty, to king & country.

What is it we wish to be discussing? The unfortunate situation in Calenhelm? The situation on the front lines at the Dark Reaches? The direction of our nation? A new leader of us all? Choose your topic or shall we get some really strong hot beverage & discuss far into the night, all of it & how we will manage our realms? It is far beyond time that some order is brought to this chaos?"
"I agree. However, it is the beginning of my day, so this is just fruit juice, but I will have something stronger brought up if you like. Some fine vintage of Wheatley's perhaps?" Angerona summons a servant and gives instructions.

"Specifically, I would like to discuss the candidates for the high crown. There are many, and several I know nothing about."

The servant returns with a bottle of wine bearing the fleur de lis. She quickly opens the bottle, pours two glasses and sets them on the low table between the ladies, quickly departing.

"I think I can guess your motivations for running, and I would agree. Al'zoon is the biggest threat to all our realms, but please, I would like to hear your reasons in your own words."
Taking a polite sip of the vintage, not wanting to muddle her thoughts, the Lord Marshall pauses to consider her words. While the Empress was direct with her approach, the Marshall has learned, over time, not to take everything on face value. And while short & direct were her preferred way of communication, not so much with most other nobles.

"I realize it is the start of your day to the evening of mine. I was referring to the strong morning drink the humans prefer. But this is lovely.

I'm sure if I thought long & hard enough I could take up our precious time with long lectures & theories on everything in detail that we all would like to see happen for our realm but the short of it is: To bring order to chaos, to end the threat of AL'Zoon & the Dark Reaches, to bring peace & plenty to all our peoples & provide stability to our realms going forward."
"That is a good start, and I think all the candidates can agree that is what we want, the question is, why would you be the best choice? What makes you believe you would be a better ruler than everyone else?

Some of the heroes have expressed their concern that once Al'Zoon is defeated, you would be too focused on your own realm and perhaps not allow some of the other races their cultural freedom. Some are afraid of being drafted. What would you say to this?"
The Marshall barks out a laugh. "And the self-same question could be said to you as well, Empress. Are you also not in the running? Your culture is highly unique amoung all the races. But to first answer your question.

I am not a tyrant or despot. Every Lord Marshall has had to earn their title through battle, command, & honour of the people. Every Rocholm has lived their life through the ranks, from lowliest apprentice to the highest suited rank of their ability. Every man, woman & child, from the time of capability, has learned how to defend themselves & others, farm & provide for everyone & fabricate items for use, sale, trade. While the Rocholm are a true standing militia, & are in a constant state of war, we are also not a wartorn country. We feed ourselves & produce our economy. We only have been so militant now because it is required. When there is no war to fight we would not be at war but a productive member of our society, providing food & materials to all. I would never call to arms the unwilling. An unwilling fighter on the front lines is asking for a weak foundation. Our society has need of all talents to flourish thrive & survive. There are more than enough people in this land willing to fight but we always have need for farmers & fabricators.
We need to have a nation left, to worry about life after the war. He is knocking at our proverbial door. We must not let him in or he will sweep across our nation & continent & finish with you, yes?
And ultimately, why would I be the best to rule? Look to my country for your answer."
"Thank-you. Indeed the same questions have been asked of me. While this is my fourteenth grand council, this is the first occasion I have chosen to run. I too believe there is no greater threat to us all than Al'Zoon. I recognize that the culture of my people is unique, and usually misunderstood by outside eyes. I do have some understanding of the cultures of other races. I am willing to explain why I believe I would be the best choice, but I have not yet heard a compelling reason for your selection."
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Briefly puzzled, "My country is the example of my leadership for the past 100 years. We have survived & thrived as a nation in my time as Lord Marshall & grown to respond to the developing threat of the Dark Reaches. We have kept them from all of you since they have become more active. Whom better to deal with this situation than someone whom has lived it all of their life & most of everyone else. I have what amounts to several of their human generations of experience to handle a situation like this & see beyond the immediate threat to a longer, larger picture.

But please, tell me why you see yourself as the person for the job? If it looks like support is not going my way, why would I throw my lot in with you?"
Angerona smiles. "Thank-you, that is a good answer." She sips her juice. "As for myself, of all the candidates, I alone have faced Al'Zoon. Some of my warriors began their own careers during the Time of Troubles. Before I ascended my throne, I watched as he slowly infiltrated all the realms and set them against each other, until they did the work for him; fighting amongst themselves, making it easy for the villain to step in and conquer the realms one by one, beginning with the dwarves." She stands and begins slowly moving around the room.

"My mother had us stay away, refusing envoys from many leaders. She passed during this time, officially making me Empress, though I had in fact been leading for many years as she declined, she still had the final say. Eventually, it became clear that without our help, all would lost. In exchange for Shadowrose, my current home, the Dark Elves entered the war. We too have unique skills and abilities when it comes to conflict. Together with what was left of the other races, including your predecessor, we defeated Al'Zoon, and Lord Az'Caine locked him away in his tower. It is clear imprisonment does not work with this creature. He must be destroyed.

I am clearly the best choice because I have the experience, and connections, to defeat Al'Zoon. Everyone else is wholly unprepared for what lies on the other side of that border."
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Lifting an eyebrow in curious surprise & following her movements in the room, "You've been to the other side of the border? I had not heard. I know Az'Caine has been investigating but I hadn't heard that anyone else had been there recently. Other than some strange, strong magic & Selunari very few are able to pass through the border.

"Your mother was wise, to keep you all secluded until the end when you were needed most, to prevent infiltration. According to that theory, perhaps this time it will be the Kanask will be our saviors.

"Which connections are these that you speak of? And will another deal have to be struck to encourage your participation?

"But I concur with your assessment that he must be ended. Why was he not finished off last time? Only sealed away in some sort of prison?"

"But I'm just wool-gathering & speaking out loud now." Flipping a hand in the air.
Angerona refills her glass, then sits again. "I have not been across the border in nearly 300 years, since the last time Al'zoon was defeated, but I can't imagine he will differ from his previous tactics, gathering all kinds of monstrosities to him. I have heard that some of his previous allies have been defeated, but he will have found something worse to replace them. The biggest mistake we can make in this is underestimating him. With the activity of the Sect here in Calenhelm, and their professed love of him, it is safe to assume he has already begun." She pauses to take a sip.

"I would not pin any hopes on the Kanask elves. They have not left their realm in centuries and have no dealings with any realm outside their own."

"As for my connections, suffice to say that the humans are not the only race with whom we have diplomatic ties. We are also the only provider of the sky crystals that power the portals used for travel. Also, if I were not willing to involve my people, I would not be running. His defeat will benefit us all."

She thinks a moment, "I was not privy to events that transpired to lock Al'Zoon away. The Arcane Sanctum kept thier secret too. I only recall meeting Lord Az'Caine afterwards, he seemed such a sad young man."
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"I have never underestimated any opponent. That's pure hubris. The greatest warrior can be brought down by the smallest of colds. Never think that the smallest can't be the most sigficant lynchpin in a machination. Thinking of all the options is what has kept the Rocholm going for as long as we have.

"I do not think that he has been standing by idle for centuries only to use the same tactics. Left to his prison for so long undoubtedly he has been doing a lot of thinking or gotten perhaps crazier. Studying his old ways would certainly help understand some of his thinking but as current activity shows he is finding new ways to commit the oldests felonies & treasons. The sect is proof of his old ways, the elementgnolls of his new ideas.

"And as for the Kanask, just spinning ideas & theories. They too would been threatened by his progress. Never say never to a possibility, a potential.

"Would you still involve your people if you didn't make the high crown?", eyebrow raised in further meaning.

"We will have to approach Az'Caine about the methods used to defeat Al'Zoon just to see if it is something help us with his defeat."
"Agreed. While Al'Zoon does seem to using some new ideas this time around, he also appears to be employing those that succeeded last time. He had all but won then, until we stepped in. This time, I want to stop him before he gains footing." She sips her juice.

"We do need Az'Caine to return, I hope it is soon. The Arch Mage is a member of the Grand Council, and while the Fatespinner is not, the role is usually a voice of reason when there is none to be had in the members."

"I believe I would be the best choice, but if another were to be selected for the high crown, we would all have to work with them, as difficult as that may be. Only united do we have any hope of defeating this threat. We can go our separate ways once it's done."
"As I believe I am also the best choice. And a united front is always the best reply & one I uphold. If it looks like you are not in line to win, whom would you support & see as the best candidate?

"Whomever wins, my army is at the behest of the nation to help defeat the growing concerns.

"I am uncomfortable with the Fatespinner off haring around the world at some undisclosed location, perhaps coming to harm. I'm concerned for her safety. The Earthweavers should be given greater respect & due for all that they do for us. I don't see this being given as much by their fellow comrades. It disheartens me. They are vital in our battles.

"I must be on my way Empress. This has been a most enlightening & entertaining conversation & I hope we will have more in the future. No matter who wins we must have our nations best interests at heart for all of us to survive, work together & defeat Al'Zoon. Ferret out the threats & mitigate theirs dangers to make us all a stronger nation of varied people."

Lord Marshall stands to leave & presents a small respectful bow, enters the hallway where her guard form up around her, & proceed out the front door into the night.
"At this time, Lord Marshal, you are my next choice. I believe you have the drive and discipline to see this through. We will worry about what happens after when we get there. It may be many years if we cannot bring the races together swiftly.

Following that, Grand Duchess Victoria. I see you skepticism, while she is very young, I have had the opportunity to know her well as she spent many months in Shadowrose. She has the love of the people, and is wise enough to understand that it will take us all to see this through. She is someone we can all work with, and may e what is needed to bring the races together."

The Empress stands. "Thank-you for taking the time for this meeting. We shall meet again in council."
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