Saruto is an Asternalian functionary with no past!
Nikulai says, "My lady, we have had little opportunity to speak at length since our meeting with... Her Majesty."
Saruto seems wistful this evening... perhaps unsurprisingly. However, as far as you recall, she seemed a bit more composed than this on the journey from Amalsand's castle to Iki-Ma. At your question, she snaps to attention, and replies, "Yes, I suppose things have been far too hectic, at that. And I surmise that something in particular is on your mind?"
Nikulai says, "Something is indeed -- Her Majesty's revelations of the changes in memory and written record that have occurred in Asteral. When I asked you to join me on This Side, we both knew that you'd be leaving your old life behind... but it cannot be easy to discover that you have, in effect, been erased."
Saruto nods her head a few times. "Very true," she replies, and then pauses for a full three seconds or so before adding, "But perhaps not for the reasons which you might think."
Nikulai half-smiles. "It cannot be easy to have your own memories called into question, either. But tell me, please, of your thoughts on the matter."
Saruto returns an eerily similar half-smile. "There is all this talk about how the rules change in order to ensure that things 'make sense,'" she says. "And now that I have -- for better or for worse -- attained that sense of insight which allows me to examine myself with more scrutiny, I realize that my life beforehand did not make the sort of sense that it does now."
Nikulai chuckles. "I confess that I never expected anyone to tell me that their life made more sense after associating with me."
Saruto isn't 'pacing,' exactly, but she is puttering around on her feet randomly. "It's difficult to explain, exactly, but... it seems almost like my life was directed in such a way that I was destined to interfere with the Voices' voting and contact Princess Bianca.... and hence, meet you and come here to This Side. It seems counter to everything that the rules of Asternal stand for."
Nikulai blinks. "If I have any more knee-jerk reactions, I shall run out of knees. When you said that, I had two immediate reactions. One was, 'Perhaps anyone, on looking at their life with such after-knowledge, would feel that they, too, had been a puppet of Destiny, that their actions were inevitable.'" He pauses, then continues. "The other was, 'Perhaps the Voices have some more elaborate plan for you.'" He scowls. "I mislike the latter, but I'll not flippantly dismiss your suspicions with the former."
Saruto says, "But do we trust the voices, Nikulai? If they truly are that which controls the goings-on of Asternal, then it seems as if something has gone horribly, horribly awry beyond even our present suspicions with the Lady Amalsand being named Queen!"
Nikulai says, "I trust the Voices as much as I would any sovereign, whether they claim divine provenance or no." He smiles. "In other words -- simply because I think they may have a plan does not mean that I think their plan will in fact be to our benefit. Everyone claims that the Voices have 'always' acted in the best interests of both Asternal and Our Side -- but if they can alter memory and record with such ease, then 'always' itself becomes suspect."
Saruto takes a few moments to think. "Well, we know, at least, that this 'always' was set in stone before Amalsand became Queen, because I remember it being so," she says. "That's something to work with."
Nikulai hmmmms. "This assumes that any previous tamperings you may have experienced were erased when you Crossed Over."
Saruto shakes her head. "But that's not important right now. And such speculation gets us nowhere."
Nikulai wraps a wing around you. "I confess that, despite the other dire implications that these revelations portend, I find myself most concerned with their effects on you. Still... what sort of 'direction' do you mean?"
Saruto looks up at you and asks frankly, "Nikulai, what do you think will become of Asternal, when al, this is done?"
Nikulai looks thoughtful, then confesses, "You ask a difficult question, my love, and one that I must honestly answer, 'I do not know.' Before, I would have said that the best outcome might be the restoration of Illandru to the throne, the removal of interfering outworlders like the Jakobas, and essentially, a continuation of the Status Quo, Asternal in its place, Calabria in its place, and all things as they were. Now, however..."
Saruto looks at you expectantly, quietly nodding for you to continue.
Nikulai says, "The Voices pose a mystery, and one that we do not have the luxury of allowing to remain unsolved. And when young Tybalt sinks his teeth into such a mystery, particularly one involving ancient magics, I have found that he does not let go until he has drawn its blood.
"I do not know if Asternal's current form of governance will endure the revelations that must now be unearthed."
"What will follow, I cannot say -- though I hope that her people will preserve the best of what those Voices have wrought."
Saruto bites her lower lip for a moment, and then murmurs quietly, "What about what the Princess Zashikor said through Tybalt? What if there originally were Seven Masters of Asternal? Perhaps the Voices are just their will, left behind, until they themselves return?" She closes her eyes, and then shakes her head. "I apologize. My brain has been spilling over this for hours and hours and much of it does not make sense."
Nikulai smiles. "As has mine, and it makes precious little sense to me." He muses. "The return of the Masters has occured to me, as well -- and perhaps these strange conjunctions portend precisely such an event. The Asternali have accepted the divine provenance of the Voices for untold centuries -- would they be so obedient to rulers of flesh and blood? And would those Masters be as virtuous as their disembodied counterparts?
"To direct a disembodied Voice to 'always act for the Good of Asternal', or even 'the greater good', is one thing -- but to make those decisions one's self, benevolently, never allowing one's selfish desires to interfere -- that is another matter entirely."
Saruto gets a less-worried, more-ponderous look on her face. "We've been assuming, lately, that the Voices' wills are counter to what is good for all of us," he says. "But, the people of Asternal propser, and the new Queen seems to be an excellent ruler. Perhaps there's something we're just not seeing?"
Nikulai says, "Actually, since meeting with Amalsand, I have assumed that when the Voices put her on the throne, it was, in fact, the Best Thing For all Of Us. I do not, however, assume that they have all the information that we do. When Amalsand's Dark Side was... purged... she did indeed become a Capable and Benevolent Sovereign, far more so than our still-indecisive Prince Illandru.
"The Voices may indeed be benevolent to all, though you will forgive me if I harbor some uncertainty on that point. However, I have seen many peoplehurtle headlong into disaster with the best of intentions.
"There may be something we just are not seeing. There may, however, be something that the Voices are not seeing."
Saruto get a 'eureka!'-like look on her face. "People still followed Prince Ilandru!" she says. "If the Voices do rewrite everyone's memories to suit what's best for the land, then why not keep everyone loyal to the Queen? There's got to be some meaning in that!
"That, more than my own interference with the election process, seems to show a... a flaw of some type, I believe! But... what does it mean?"
"And a flaw in what?" asks Nikulai. "In the 'plans' of the Voices? In whatever is rewriting the history of the Other Side, if it is not the Voices themselves?"
Saruto says, "In... in the workings of the land! Or perhaps in our assessment of what's happening to it."
Nikulai hmmms. "So which, then, is the flaw? Amalsand on the throne, the loyalty to Illandru, or some factor beyond our ken?"
Saruto scratches her chin. "Any and all of the above, perhaps," she admits, downhearted. "Perhaps we don't know enough, all told..."
Nikulai laughs, and flops back on the bed. "I think that is the curse that we all toil under, from cradle to grave." He chortles. "And some of us are twice-cursed, because no night passes without making us keenly aware of the fact."
Saruto sits beside you, apparently still too antsy to relax entirely. "I think I almost wish there I were more like these Repense kinsfolk of which you speak. At least incoherent babbling would be something more."
Nikulai scratches that hard-to-reach spot between wings. "I should disparage them less now that I, too, seek insight into the ways and means of augury. Still, for me, such insights are just another tool for reason -- not signs of forces beyond my control." He smiles, kneading your shoulders, still aching from the long hours of flying. "I would make a dreadful astrologer, and perhaps no better a priest. I have seen the threads that bind souls and psyches, trammeled through dozens of minds, seen the forces that shape and influence the way people think and feel and grow and act... and ultimately, it seems to me, that our lives rest on our choices and our will."
Saruto relaxes a bit more when you take the initiative to make it so, and she chuckles a fair bit at your teasing (though perhaps not false) self-deprecation. "Speaking of which, I still haven't decided on a color or a pattern for what dress I am to wear to the Don Fabrizio's wedding, you realize."
Nikulai chuckles. "First we should decide if you would prefer to wear the finery of Asternal, or our local efforts."
Saruto chuckles, too, albeit much more softly. "First, we need to see if the finery of Asternal will still exist."
Nikulai wraps his wings around you and nods, his head on your shoulder. "Indeed we must, my love."
Saruto rests back, and closes her eyes. "Still, we've seen no *solid* indications that Talis' presumed 'apocalypse' is another beyond his own delusion."
Nikulai nuzzles your ear. "Indeed. I cannot say if his memories were true or false -- but his decisions seemed foreordained. I have met many stubborn individuals in my life, and walked in minds ossified with obstinance -- but never have I seen a psyche so rigid. Nothing we said, nothing we did could have swayed him. It reminded me..." He trails off, looking at his pocket watch, ticking away. "It reminded me of clockwork. TICK, there's an apocalypse approaching. TOCK, Zashikor betrayed us all. TICK, I'm going to kill you all."
Nikulai says, "That watch is a marvel. Flying, running, riding in a bumpy carriage, looping and leaping and dodging in battle -- it may skip a beat now and then, it may lose or gain time, but through it all, still and nonetheless, TICK. TOCK. TICK. TOCK. Just like Talos."
Saruto takes a few moments to digest things mentally. "Dierdre seems to enjoy the same clockwork analogies," she says quietly. "Perhaps it's a scary sign that we are thinking along the right lines."
Nikulai chuckles. "Never, ever let her know that I said this, but Dierdre would make a fine Bisclavret. I think it no accident that Chen Chanraise lay in the midst of their modernism -- I suspect that Dee's own family line, could we follow it, would lead right to that of the Duke.
Saruto laughs outright. "From what I know of your island's history and politics, Nikulai, I can see where you could make the entire Rinaldi court burst into laughter with that remark! Perhaps they might even elevate you to Counthood."
Nikulai chuckles. "I'll leave that honor to my father for as long as he sees fit to continue breathing."
Saruto smirks. "Right. I forgot," she says flatly. "Your system of government and inheritance makes sense."
Nikulai laughs. "I have never made that claim."
Saruto says, "Be that as it may, I still shudder to see Calabria in a position where glowing orbs of power decided their power structure..."
Nikulai nods seriously. "As do I. And I shudder all the more at the thought of what it would take to accomplish such a transition."
Saruto winces. "Perhaps we should theorize about the apocalypse some more, love. It's less frightening."
Nikulai says, "Not the sort of thing one wishes to contemplate before retiring, no."
Saruto laughs again. "You and your multiple entendres, Nikulai," she coos teasingly.
Nikulai laughs with you. "Honestly, sometimes I don't even realize I'm making them. Please don't let anyone else know; it would compromise my reputation for wit and brilliance."
"And let the world know that I'm the true mastermind of our little duo?" Saruto says, "I'd never dream of it!"
Nikulai grins. "Let us retire, then, my love, and let the apocalypses and paradoxes sort themselves out. I doubt they stand much chance with the two of us arrayed against them."
Saruto allows herself a smug but subtle grin. "Indeed," she states, meeting your gaze. "And, barring all else, perhaps I can explain my dreams to you in the morning for some clue."
Nikulai raises an eyebrow. "Or perhaps you will permit me to observe them directly."
Saruto gets furrowsome. "After today, I fear that they may actually be too tumultuous to be of any use, to be perfectly honest."
Nikulai chuckles sympathetically. "And were they not, I suspect that my own tumult would spill over into them."
Saruto offers a sympathetic smile. "If I cry out in my sleep, I know that you shall be here in more than one capacity to see to it that whatever it wrong is made right."
Nikulai embraces you. "With all my heart and soul."
( Fade to Black )