Acherus: An RP of Politics and Betrayal

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"I think this conversation moved the wrong way, we are talking Pagans... Streetperformers in general. Gypsies are merely one of the many groups the king wishes gone. I believe as pagans already have a terrible reputation. Justification should be easy enough"

"They are known to be villains; we no further justification."

Shannows head turned sharply forward the Chief Justice, "Our business would be quicker and more efficient if an edict could be drawn up to aid in conviction. Say, any suspect fulfilling certain requirements can be convicted without trial. Would that be possible?"

"I'm sure mi'Lord Shannow can... provide a reason for those people to be ousted. Perhaps they are suspected for the loss of a few valuable pieces of property... or maybe a grotesque murder. I'm sure they are not too high in the regards of the people as it is. All we need is a little push, and the people may oust the unbelievers themselves." Aimee suggested. "They may even leave voluntarily if they suspect there are hostile feelings. No trials, no public outcry... it shouldn't even cost too much, shall it mi'Lord Seir?"

Alice absorbed the Vizier's belittling with a bitter smirk. She prepared to rebut when the cool voice of Mi'lord Shannow rang from her left. To her very severe surprise, the man was defending her.

Adrian had always spoken highly of Shannow, but Alice never quite understood why. The man just struck her as creepy. It was strange to see him jump to her defense.

But it didn't change the discussion being had. There was now some question of an edict allowing for the conviction without trial of any suspected pagan. The whole thing sounded like a witch trail to Alice. She suspected it would end a similar way. Plenty of good people being shipped to guillotines for the crime of being disliked by someone higher up in society. And even if it successfully culled the pagan population, she had nothing against them.

"Mi'lords and Lady." Alice spoke up from her chair. "If we are intent on having this inquisition, which I still do not support, I have a proposition that will lessen some of my, and I feel the council's, concerns. If we are to submit our citizen's to trial without appropriate evidence, let it be done in the neutral waters outside of Acherus. The law will then not need to be adjusted to fit rather more liberal execution of justice. A crew of the suspected can be loaded onto one of my ships, taken just outside Empire territorial waters and tried by some combination of myself, the chief of secret police, the spy master, perhaps even the actual arbitrator of laws. If they're found guilty, thrown overboard. No expense. If they're found innocent, they return home that day. Simple."

Alice looked around the table at the eyes of her fellow chairs. "All in favor? Say Aye."

To his surprise, Shannow found himself smiling genuinly for the second time in one day. Adrian's girl could pitch a compromise as well as her father...

"This seems an excellent proposition" he declared, "Direct, efficient and, if all is for the worst, deniable. I second the motion"

"Hm, that could work. Some hassle transporting the convicted to a shore but I see nothing wrong with that idea that I've yet to see. But I must ask, is it just any of your vessels that can be used as a mobile courthouse of sort or can there be a designated ship or ships?" Renard asked.

Renard was also taken a back by this new idea but like all new ideas, in his head he was searching for any possible flaw to the plan like all excellent ideas like these tend to have.

Alice's idea struck Morris as rather inventive and interesting, but he quickly began to wonder what she gained from this. It was only natural that an Admiral would think of involving the navy somehow, but it seemed like there were ways that involved less time and effort on her part with similar results.

Her mention of Morris' involvement meant he would likely be expected to participate at some point in time, so he casually pulled out his "novel" and began flipping through the pages in search of agents on relatively low priority assignments that he could redirect to the rather meaningless task of gathering evidence against these pagans.

After finding a few and listening to the other council members debate the proposal, Morris put his book away and spoke up. "I suppose if it must be done, than this is as good a way as any to do it. Aye. And should you require my aid, I should be able to to spare some time and resources. Although this seems a task more suited to Sir Shannow." He said with a surprisingly neutral expression on his face for someone voting to execute thousands. In the end, the fate of such people meant little to him.

"Lady Admiral, this is thousands of people we're talking about... are we going to take them all out into the ships? What shall we do about the tongues of those who are spared?" She had so many questions, but wasn't sure if her vote even mattered in the least. "I'm not sure the plan will solve our problem..."

She admit the plan was solid, but wasn't so sure it could be done on a bigger scale.

"I'm afraid the Archpriestess is correct. If we were talking about a group of ten or so people, it would be a perfect plan, but for as many as we're talking about, it simply isn't viable. I'll suggest once again that we take a neutral stance, if they act against The Empire, we'd have public support to do what we please to them. I'm afraid I have to vote Nay on this plan of action."

Aaron wiped the sweat from his brow with the sleeve of his robe, he wasn't used to going against the council so readily.

"First of all I don't see how her father has anything to do with her ability to command. So long as she is fit to rule the navy her word has weight behind it regardless of age, family, or anything else other members of this council might bring up. We were all young once, and it is not something that makes sense to hold against someone.

Now as for the trials, I don't particularly see a reason why a new system need be set up. Why not give those accused of heresy a fair trial and investigation in our current system perhaps only using new laws? We are acting as if those that are accused are automatically guilty, or somehow need to be set aside. I am not convinced we need such cloak and dagger tactics to solve the problem.

I am also not overly fond of setting up new systems which give one side a blank check to do as they wish. We have our system already in place, it has been in place long before us and our king saw fit to not change it in his best of days. Surely those saying this is a mere question of loyalty will agree that the king's systems are good enough, and that we should not start changing them without extraordinary reason. The devout already know heresy is a crime, we need not the cloak and dagger approach to proving it." Christopher replied. The political posturing in the room was starting to get to him a bit. The different branches were obviously concerned with advancing their own plots. He figured the best way to deny them would be to play this up so that those who wanted to seem loyal would agree to change almost nothing.

"Like I side before, I am flexible either way. As Christopher said, the system has been in place and can take in the amount needed but only in certain amounts and is open for everybody to see which makes things certainly easier. The floating courthouse on the other hand, is deniable, cost-efficient yet it will make the masses wondering what on earth is going on those ships."

"I for one must say that I agree with Lady Admiral in the fact that is a good way to get rid of said vagrants in a short spectrum of time but I do not agree with the fact that not every single one of them is guilty of a crime. We can push them off the plank all we want but that's going to seriously stir the pot for the people that will eventually sympathize with them. That will lead to a mess that even we can't afford once the momentum of uproar the -freed- prisoners will gather builds up. If we are going to go through with the plan then we must not let a hint of what happens on those ships out. Either that or use the system we have already and apply it to the ships would be useless as it would use the same time if we gave them a trial on land."

"You can't rush the justice system in place because if you do then the blood of the innocent will spill over the shore. I know first hand that our system is not perfect but it's going to help -if we rush the process-. We either leave it or take much more stern procedures than just letting the frightened gypsies off the boat of death." Renard with sarcasm dripping through the last words...

"Don't presume to speak for my brother, Roderick. I think we all know what happens if you make a declaration and the Council does not agree. Our duty, first and foremost, is to the Empire. The Emperor is secondary to that, and when his wishes endanger the Empire, we must take steps to preserve it even if it means defying him. I dislike deceiving him, but his mind deceives him more than we ever could." He paused for a moment. "And know your place. You are his advisor and his voice to the people, but you do not speak with his authority."

He sighed and rubbed his eyes. "They are -gypsies-. They peddle from town to town. Sometimes there are thefts by Gypsies, certainly nothing that the Watch cannot handle. If all the gypsies in the Empire gathered into an army, a single charge of heavy lances would desolate them."

"I would like to propose... perhaps a break. To clear our minds. Perhaps an hour, or a few days so we can think on our plans. We need to think about the appropriate plan, and I am not sure that is possible in the few minutes we've been allotted. Unless there is another order of business... it would be good for us to adjourn for now..." She looked around. They were getting nowhere with the bickering, and it looked like no plan was getting a majority vote anyway.

She bit her finger. When it came down to it, this really was her responsibility, not something so strange or alarming that the whole council needed to be notified. Why was it being so blown out of proportion?

"I agree with the High Preistess." Alice said placing her palms on the round table. "We need a moment to come to grips with all thats been proposed. Perhaps we'll come away from it slightly less eager for bloodshed."

She looked around the chamber, trying to judge who might be worth the trouble of intercepting on the way out.

"Ah, a break would be good to clear the mind, after such a strenuous day of meeting, I propose that we reconvene no earlier than tomorrow. I'm guessing there's no objection to that?"

Aaron rose and wandered over to where Admiral Odde was seated. "Would you care to dine with me tonight Admiral? I like to make the effort to learn about my fellow council members, and it's been some time since I've last spoken with you. Would you like anything in particular to eat? I'm afraid my tastes are rather simple for one of my stature, I'd assume you'd want better than leg of mutton stew."

The Chief Advisor had been playing with a pen.

"Youknow, you object to killing them. You object to throwing them out, and your suggestion is killing them? Meh. . . "

He looks to Shannow

"Shannow, care to meet me in the Library after this meeting? I wish to discuss this operation in detail. As I will be giving part of the funding in case the Master of Coin cannot justify it I find it fair that I help out with the planning"

Roderick rises

"I agree hopefully we can come back and not be so willing to kill so many. Also do remember you shall do nothing without council approval Chief Advisor. This is not something any of us are allowed to do without a vote." Christopher said as he stood up. He would wait for the others to leave before leaving himself. It was a custom he had started long ago and wasn't about to break today.

( Ehem, eaten post came back to life )

"Alright, so be it." Renard said as he pushed himself from the desk and raised from his seat.

"I shall look forward to the continuing of this -wonderful- discussion." Renard bowed to the respective council members and saw himself out of the heavy doors.

As he walked the gallant halls of The Palace surrounded by both guards and extravagant artistry his cough came back. His cough could be heard, echoing through hallway even when he covered his mouth. A royal guard near him paid no attention to the ailing man but even if he would have tried, it would have fallen on deaf ears. Renard only trusted the guards in the cities and not these stone-faced killers and he preferred it that way.

Renard exited the Palace feeling the cool air rush over him. He breathed a little easier in the open air and not the closed, chilled air inside the Palace. As grand as the palace was, it was still constricting to Renard's throat and his breathing.

Alice studied Aaron up and down, politely. "Leg of mutton stew will be quite enough. I'm not picky about my food, as long as it's filling." She stood up and nodded politely. "I look forward to it. I will see you at your estate then Mi'lord."

Shannow looks to Roderick and nods, "The calx ate in the details" he said, "We must get on their good side"

There was the sound of a door, and looking over his shoulder, he gestured to a young man in a plain, dark uniform. The officer brought had arrived with a briefcase and an air of calm purpose matched only by his superior.

The Bureau Chief started leafing through papers, scanning paragraphs, writing notes and, eventually signing a few sections. He closed the case and handed it back, but as the officer made to leave he was stayed.

"How is your dancing, Daniel?" inquired the cripple, "There is to be a ball, and the Bureau needs a representative with the requisite number of legs. I trust you will oblige?" The officer bowed, and Shannow added, "I will attend another meeting after this; I would have you along."

The officer nodded again, and stood by Shannow's chair. To the others still in the room, Shannow announced, "My esteemed Councilors, may I present to you Captain Daniel Evans, my aide and representitive"

The High Priestess stayed in her chair awhile, thinking as she tapped her foot. She smiled and nodded at Daniel, having seen him once before. "Captain. I see Lunae still favors you..." Being Shannow's aide couldn't be good for one's health, but Lunae seemed to keep him out of trouble and in the shadows.

"It's a pleasure to formally meet you mi'Lord. I'm Ai-... High Priestess Aimee Lunae." Her teachers frowned when she introduced herself by her real name, or without her title. So much formality.

"The pleasure is mine, Mi'Lady" responded Daniel smoothly, "To serve so high and enter the presence of the great and good"

Shannow chuckled softly, remembering how his own lost charm...

Aimee coughed awkwardly as an excuse to cover her mouth with her handkerchief. She tried not to let his words fluster her. Honestly she should be used to greetings like that now. "Mi'Lord Shannow... I would like to ask your advice on the problem discussed in the meeting. Is it possible to frame the gypsies for crimes without leaving an obvious trail leading back to the council? You are, after all, the master at these sorts of things..."

Roderick looks over to Shannow standing with Aimee. Walking over -perhaps- interrupting the conversation.

"Ehemn, Priestess, please forgive me for asking you to do something as low as this. I cannot begin to imagine what a position this puts you in. But I must sadly request something further. Shannow and I are gonna work out some of the details of the whole operation aswell as write some suggestions for the funding. If you wish to come along we can all meet in our office and discuss the matter over a glass of the finest drink present in my cabinet at the time"

He gives a small smile to Aimee before looking to Shannow and requests him to come along.

Shannow nodded to the Advisor, and winced as Daniel helped him to his feet.

To Aimee, he said "Unfortunately, on this scale our power comes from fear, not secrecy. But if you want to be blameless, either establish their behaviour as blasphemous, or provoke action that you can then punish"

Morris was glad to see that the meeting was adjourning for the time being. A lot had happened today and he needed to give out new orders to his men. He sat for a moment, going through what he wanted to do in his head before standing and bowing to the remaining council members. "Lords and Ladies... I bid you adieu for the time being." He said as he rose from his bow and exited the room.

As he made to leave the keep, he kept a close eye out for people following him or watching him. Once he had made it out and was certain the coast was clear, he ducked into a nearby alley. It was empty, so if anyone tried to watch him, he would know it. He found the bag that he had placed there before the meeting and opened it up. His common soldier disguise was inside, just as he had left it, and he quickly changed clothes in order to go meet a contact. Flipping open his book, he quickly searched for the one he was looking for. With a nod, he closed the book and stored it in his bag before heading for the nearest barracks.

When he arrived, he found the soldiers outside training while the master at arms drilled them. Morris slipped quietly into the crowd and waited as the master at arms shouted out orders. Eventually, his eyes fell on Morris. Recognizing that rusted iron helm, he broke off what he was doing. "Alright men, let's see if you've been paying attention. We'll have a sparring match between you." He said pointing at Morris. "And you." He pointed at the largest soldier there.

It was almost comical, the way the small soldier was dwarfed by that large monster of a man. He looked up at his large opponent and was infuriated by the cocky impudent grin he saw! This man thought he had this won simply because he was the larger man. The small soldier simply could not let that be. The two made eye contact and with a nod, the fight had begun. With a roar, the small soldier unsheathed his blade and charged his massive foe. The big man laughed and drew his own blade, simply brushing the attack aside. But the small soldier would not be deterred. He quickly regained his balance and moved into to strike again. Blow after blow, the big man turned aside and after much time had passed, both men were exhausted. Looking on his opponents face made the small soldier smile. He would lose this fight. He had always known that. But the mental blow he had struck was great, and the large man would never underestimate one like the small soldier again.

It was a passage from Morris' novel that represented part of the code for confirming identities with this particular contact, and that was how the sparring fight played out. "That's enough! What a pathetic display. Come with me, you'll be getting some special training. The rest of you, normal drills as usual." The master at arms called out before walking inside, gesturing for Morris to follow them. Once they got inside, where they were alone, he turned to Morris and continued to the second part of the code. "Just what are you trying to prove out there?"

"I just want to show everyone that even a small soldier like me can make a difference." Morris replied. The two nodded, and Morris handed him a piece of paper with several names and locations on it. "These are Lord Fairclough's orders. The top 7 are to be reassigned to observing his fellow council members. They must take the utmost caution not to be caught, and if they are they cannot be linked back to our Lord. The bottom 7 are to be distributed to the following locations and observe the gypsies there. Understood?" It was a fairly simple relocation that wouldn't lessen his information coming in from other countries by much, and would both allow him to keep an eye on his fellow council members, and give him some information on the gypsies the Chief Advisor seemed to want gone so desperately should he be required to play a part in that particular plan.

The master at arms nodded and after studying the paper carefully, threw it in the fireplace nearby. Morris nodded as well,and left with a heavy sigh. Things were going to start getting dangerous quickly.

Christopher went home his personal guard of eight meeting him outside the palace. These men were his most trusted advisers, his most loyal and well trained troops, and his personal bodyguard. He had rewarded them well as these men had proven themselves through out their military careers. Christopher knew that even should the rest of his army be infiltrated, these men, handpicked for their ability and incorruptibility, would stand by him.

"How was your meeting sir?" One of the eight asked as they took their positions around him. They were as armed as any soldier would be when going out into the field.

"Not here. Too many eyes and ears." Christopher replied as they walked back to his home.

Once back at the house he lead them to the war room built generations ago under the manor. The only way to access it was a single door and a long staircase leading into what had used to be a dungeon. Once they had entered the room, posting a guard behind them, he felt free to speak albeit it quietly so that even the guards outside couldn't hear.

Christopher had wanted this basement to be something of a war room and panic room, here he could be rather undisturbed and safe should any others outside the nation or on the council try to spy on or kill him.

"The meeting did not go well. I fear we may have to mobilize our forces. For now though we will play this close to the chest. Keep standard force amounts but keep some more men on standby. It seems a couple of councilors believe they can make plans and enact them without council approval. I wish to know about any disturbances that come through the grape vine, I will not sit idly by while some think they might go against everything this nation is."

Christopher said, holding the bridge of his nose. He hated having to do this, but he couldn't be sure certain members of the council wouldn't try something. As Lord commander he had a duty to make sure nobody threatened the security of the nation. He was going to be cautious though, having the troops ready to be called on without calling on them was a safe way to not over step his authority while being ready to act should others try to overstep their own.

"Yes sir. Did anything else come up?"

"Fortunately no. Let's just hope we don't need to actually mobilize the troops. Besides it is time for monthly drills anyway, I want evaluations of their readiness and physical fitness."

"I would be honored mi'Lord." She said to Wanderswill, rising and stretching, unnoticeable beneath her robes. Although she had already formed a plan, she was curious as to what these men were up to. Why are they planning to do something now? This issue isn't new... it's just the first time the Chief Adviser has brought it up in the meeting. Is he trying to do something, and use this for cover?

She leaned her staff on her shoulder as she walked, the censer hanging behind her.

Renard saw as the rest of the council members leave the palace as he waited outside for his throat to get better. Morris had looked particularly careful with who was following him and Renard didn't bother. He had a large number of guards in the city at his disposal if we wanted to observe them but they only had jurisdiction inside the city and not numerous manors dotting the countryside. Those people could afford their own private armies after all.

Renard instead made his way to his office where the Justice Hall is located. The majority of trials that deserved the attention of the court goes through there and always Renard oversees the results of the trials or the trials themselves, making sure that they went off without a hitch.

He went through the halls and quickly to his office. The office was clean and kept with bookcases lining the walls. He put his folder down and grabbed his writing utensils. He walked up to one of the bookcases and pulled a particular book slightly off the shelf. Predictably, the bookcase unhinged from the wall and with a loud creak he pulled out the portion of the wall slightly so he could snake his way through. He pushed the wall back and with a click the wall was back in place.

The room was slightly long but as narrow as a wine cellar. It was not as extensive as some of the panic rooms he had seen but it had all that was necessary. Renard walked to a chest and fetched some paper. He pulled up next to a desk directly in front of a large array of scrolls facing outwards to him built into the wall. Renard cracked his hands before writing the details of the what they had discussed in the meeting today like he had been ever since he was put on the council. He underlined certain words that stood out, added notations dictating his thoughts as if he was afraid that any moment his memory would fail him.

When he finished he placed the scroll into the array. His weapons rack jingled as he pushed himself from the desk on his way out. On his way to the exit he passed another array of scrolls that he had yet to update. It was dossiers of the council members compiled and handwritten by Renard himself with observations by guards, government workers, and officials. Renard caught himself walking by the desk. He looked to the dossiers then wrote a few anecdotes to each one before he left.

Renard exited the Justice Hall and fetched his horse. He made his way back to his home through the winding streets and the wide avenues. On his way several guards greeted him and a few even addressed him by his first name. He wrapped his overcoat tighter as another gust of wind came through when he came upon the paved road to his home.

It was a fairly decent estate as it was only just within the city's reach with other mansions there as well, their torches or sometimes guards at the gates. The Wooden walls surrounded his home and other utility buildings nearby. The walls were crude wooden stakes pointing into the sky but it was sturdy. The place was built into the side of crest of the hill with the woods towards the rear. He greeted the men that overlooked his estate. They were guards who volunteered to guard the Minister's life. He had accepted out of knowing them closely or going through their portfolios, recommended by his trusted connections.

The Wooden gates closed behind him as he dismounted his horse and the greetings of his men resounded around him. Mortimer met him at the steps of his home. They exchanged a nod and walked up the steps.

"So what is the council having you do now? More inquiry on how to deal with the Gypsies?" He joked but Renard looked at him back with a stern face.

"No, they want to kill them."

Later that evening

Aaron had just finished preparations for his guest when he heard a knock on the door. His foyer and dining room were now both wall papered with naval charts and all the tables had model ships on them. Aaron made extra effort to track down some of the diagrams of Admiral Odde's maneuvers to display as a center piece, and had success in finding one as a centerpiece for his foyer.

He answered the door himself, waving off the manservant who moved to do so, to see Admiral Odde and two of her guard waiting. "Welcome to my humble villa," Aaron said, bowing slightly. "Do come in, as you can see my fascination with your line of work is becoming an obsession. The dining room is right this way," he said, leading her into the dining room, and pulling out the chair set for her. "Would you like your guards to eat with us or should I arrange that they eat with the kitchen staff?"

Alice crossed the threshold into Aaron's estate. It was spacious and comfortable and lined with a truely disturbing quantity of memorabilia designed to commemorate her. There were naval maps depicting waters she'd conquered. Naval maps depicting maneuvors she'd developed. Replicas of ships she'd pilotted. A highly characterized portrait of the Red Abraham. Every little detail seemed designed to recognize and flatter her.

Alice was suddenly very aware she was a pretty twenty year old in a strange older man's house...

"Yes..." She hesitated. "You have quite an ... enthusiasm. For the Navy. I can see." She brushed a frayed lock of black hair away from her eyes. It was a good distraction for the other hand, which serruptitiously felt for the knife handle just underneath her dress. It had been a hell of an occasion to wear a dress. She knew she should have come in casual clothes, pants. Like real people wear.

"You are very curteous to accomodate my guards. A young woman in the streets of Acherus can be at much danger. I don't want to make you uncomfortable though, you don't appear to have any gaurds on your end of the table. So I suppose ... Oh! How about one and one? I'll send one of my guards to your kitchen and keep one here. You can bring one of your own if you feel very uncomfortable. Though I assure you I'm unarmed and don't mean any insult." She said, smiling businesswomanly. This was a business meeting after all but there was never harm in exercisng charm. She was merely nervous to do so until she understood if the decorations had always been there or if they'd been acquired just for her this evening. Though honestly she didn't know which eventuality she prefered.

She sat herself at on end of his dining room table and crossed her hands in her lap. She studied her surroundings with a sailors eye. All that really told her was that she wasn't on a ship. "So. If I may ask, what is your opinion of this Gypsy Mess? Although I suppose its fairer and to the point to ask your opinion of our Grand Advisor? Also, whats to drin- ... What's to do about all this ... rubbish?" She looked at her guard seated comfotably to her left. A tall black man with an imposing scowl. He smirked lightly.

"Ah, right to the point, I like that Lady Odde, but I think I've made my opinion quite clear in the council chambers. I think that we should maintain a stance of inaction towards the Gypsies, at least until they do something towards us first. And as for a guard on my side of the table, I hardly think it's necessary, should I be found dead here, there'd be little doubt you'd have some repercussions." Aaron smirked slight at this comment.

"What I actually wanted to speak to you about was your brazenness in standing up the the adviser and by extension the Emperor. Perhaps you should enlighten me on this little outburst, if you keep up like that, you may not be a long serving member on the council. But first," he motioned towards a servant standing by the kitchen. "Would you care for glass of wine? It's straight from the Seir family vineyard, and it's quite a vintage if I do say so myself." The servant poured Aaron a glass and moved over toward Alice.

Alice studied the wine nervously. And then smiled nervously. And looked at her guardsman, who smirked.

She took a sip. It was quite good.

"My brazenness?" Alice questioned setting the wine down. "Well, I've always been brazen. My father was a pirate before he was a politician. But in this case I can't say I fear for my standing. Opposing the Advisor is indeed opposing the voice of the Emperor. If he were in better health it might be a scarier proposition but it is widely known in our circle that the king is off his rocker. I don't stand for humoring dying old men at the harm of the Empire as a whole." She tried to gauge Aaron's expression. It was always a touchy subject, treating monarchs like actual people. Some folks got sensitive about it. She took another sip of wine. And then took a rather larger portion.

"As for the Advisor, the man is tasked with repeating everything the Emporer says but the only thing the Emporer says anymore is lunacy. Therefore the only thing the advisor says is excuses for lunacy. Theres gonna come a time when the king will pass and perhaps at that time the advisor's words will clarify. Or perhaps he'll pass too."

Alice paused and thought about what she'd just said. She blushed slightly. "From Office. I mean."

"In the mean time I hold no special hesitation to call stupid plans stupid. I suppose that makes me somewhat unique on the council. Tell me, how do you feel about the state of the Empire?"

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