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By Edward Bolme A tale of Moonlands

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Hrada slouched in Agram's large throne, his arms draped idly across the heavy armrests. He tapped his foot in impatience.

"My, when you slouch like that," said Warrada casually to her brother, "it makes you look so young." The corner of her mouth twitched with a small smirk as Hrada immediately straightened up and sat in the throne properly. Good posture was essential to the illusion of power in a throne as large as Agram's, and she knew they'd need as much power - and illusion - as possible.

She heard Morag approaching. Morag was a Magi powerful enough that he hadn't even used his legs for untold centuries; now they just dwindled away to nothing beneath his torso like a forgotten dream. A whispering sound as of slow-beating wings accompanied his movements; not too loud, not too timid, not too fast. They were the sounds of calm confidence, as if he owned this place. She had to ensure that the idea to try to take it for himself didn't enter into his head. Silly girl, she chided herself. He's already thought of taking over. It's what you would do if the roles were reversed. Instead, he's doing something else. Something secret. But what? she asked herself for the thousandth time.

With fluid grace she moved across the room and sat coyly at the side of the throne, her long, green ponytail splayed out behind her. She leaned against the side of the throne, knowing it would imply that she relied on Hrada's leadership for support.

The sounds drew closer, then Morag entered the throne room. Warrada watched carefully as he crossed to stand in front of the throne. He was large and powerful. A hooded red cloak concealed his features, save only the narrow, slitted eyes that burned with hate and raw power. One of the few true Core Magi, he wore bone armor made in the fashions of Cald and d'Resh, but his magics were as slippery as those of any Orothean. Warrada was uncertain whether he was one of Agram's original followers, or a Shadow Magi held so long in Agram's grip that almost all traces of his former life had left him.

Morag nodded ever so slightly to Hrada on the throne.

"You asked for me?" said Morag. Actually, he had been summoned; summoned by Hrada, who had taken to calling himself the Dark Czar. Warrada noted that Morag avoided using the term 'summoned,' which of course carried the implication that he was the junior partner of the remaining Core commanders. He had deep pride, this one did, but he'd seen Zet fall before the twins, and he was too clever to repeat Zet's mistake. That made him all the more dangerous.

"Yes," said Hrada simply. And, Warrada noted with an inward sigh, without authority. She had much to teach Hrada about being a leader. Perhaps too much. Warrada began toying with her hair to distract Morag; hopefully he wouldn't notice Hrada's foibles.

"We are going to strike back in revenge," continued Hrada, "and sack Naroom for all the wrongs they have done to us."

"All the wrongs?" asked Morag wryly. "Wrongs like what? Defending themselves?"

"Why, Morag," said Warrada, faking a believable tone of approval, "you've got a sentimental streak."

Morag laughed, a hollow, resonant sound. "Of course not," he said. "I hate the whole of the Moonlands, and I want to see them all burn beneath my heel. But I don't have to twist their actions to hate them; I simply hate what they are. I hate that they are happy, I hate that they are on the surface, I hate that they are still alive. Unlike you, Hrada, I do not try to justify my motives behind pathetic weakling surface-dwelling concepts like 'revenge' for 'wrongs.' My hate needs no words for crutches. Are your motives so pure?"

"Words can be as powerful as dreams," said Hrada, unconsciously quoting his sister, "for they can sap your enemy's will to fight against you even as you strike."

"And we will strike," nudged Warrada, trying to steer the other two away from a direct confrontation.

"Indeed we will," said Hrada proudly. "It is time for the Core to rise. It is time to conquer the Moonlands."

"It's been tried," said Morag reservedly. "And not with the best of results."

"Ah, but we shall not make the same mistake that Agram did," said Hrada, presenting Warrada's strategy as if it were his own. "Agram reached for the whole pack of eebits, and they eluded his grasp. He tried to seize five regions at once, and failed in them all. We shall concentrate our force into one devastating blow. A single overwhelming strike on a single region." He paused, then added, "We shall strike at Naroom."

"Why there?" asked Morag. Simply because he'd asked, Warrada could tell that his interest had been piqued.

"It has long been the leading region of the Moonlands," answered Hrada. "The other regions look to them for guidance and confidence. Most recently, they sheltered and trained the young Kyros, who defeated Agram and caused us such pain. But now Kyros is gone, and we can strike back. We shall attack them, burn the forest, and scatter their people. This bold stroke will strike fear into the hearts of our enemies."

"And with the knowledge of the Great Library in our hands," purred Warrada, "we shall topple the rest of the regions, one by one. Without Naroom, they will be unable to mount a unified defense."

Morag contemplated this for a moment. He raised a hand to scratch his chin, but so deep was the darkness under his hood that Warrada could not even tell if there was a chin in there to be scratched. She wondered if there was indeed nothing left but his baleful eyes, and the gesture was a remnant of earlier days, days lost to time three thousand years ago.

"I... like it," said Morag. "But I can't help but wonder if your motivations are less strategic and more... personal?"

"Strategic, yes, for when we defeat the greatest region, the others will be easy," said Hrada easily. "As for personal reasons, yes, they are there, but they did not make the decision, they only reinforce it. Besides, aren't you the one who says that personal reasons are the most pure?"

"Indeed I am," said Morag, nodding again, deeper this time than last. "And it makes me happiest when personal vendettas fall neatly in line with strategic needs. Nevertheless, destroying Naroom is no small feat. They do not have our strength, but they have superior numbers. They have Eidon, and Salafy, his protég? Orwin is a respectable foe, and they have Yaki and Tryn..."

"Plus there's Poad..." added Hrada. Warrada turned her head so that Morag wouldn't see her roll her eyes.

"Pshht!" said the Core Magi. "I could kick that runt over the head of an ormagon. The question is, do we have enough? We have the two of you, and me. The other Shadow Magi have fled, and you drove off Zet and Korg. Nagsis has vanished without a trace, and we haven't seen Togoth since Kyrus collapsed his geyser - sorry, his 'Core-rupted Inter-Regional Darkness Projector and Transport Access Gate.'"

While Hrada chuckled at Morag's imitation of Togoth, Warrada noted, much to her annoyance, that Morag had made no mention of Agram's fate. He had, in fact, never referred to Agram by name...

"We may be three," said Hrada firmly, "but we are enough."

"Indeed we are," added Warrada, "but there is also a fourth..." And so saying, she pulled out a black jellybean and rolled it in her fingers.

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