JANUARY 12, 568 CY (1330 AY)
CASTLE EMBER
KINGDOM OF EMBER

        The sky burned brightly over the Kingdom of Ember.  This was
the regular state of affairs for the City In the Sun, and as such did not
register overmuch in Sumire Kanzaki's mind as she strode towards the main
gates of Castle Ember.  The sleeves of her violet Lipunese kimono hung
loosely around her arms and stirred in the warm sirroco winds that were
noticeable at this height along the slopes of Mt. Vesuvius.  Sumire's mind
was focused, her stride purposeful, and therefore she disregarded the
other passers-by as they entered and exited the great castle.
        "Excuse me, miss?" one of the gate guards asked, raising a
hand as his partner moved out of the guard station, one hand on the
hilt of his sword.  "Who are you, and where do you think you're
going?"
        Sumire came to a stop by the guard station, and regarded the
first guard cooly.  "I am Lady Sumire Kanzaki, heir to Kanzaki
Enterprises, and I have been summoned by Her Royal Majesty, Queen
Corrine the First of Ember, to talk with her personally before the
Lunching hour."  Her tone of voice implied that anyone with any sense
would have already realized who she was and why she was here.
        The second guard arched an eyebrow.  "You got any proof of
this, lady?"
        Sumire reached into her kimono's left sleeve with a
slim-fingered hand.  She pulled out a creamy envelope from within the
fabric's depths, its flap having been sealed with an embossed Pyricorn in
red wax before she had opened it two days ago.  Her fingers deftly
extracted the letter within and unfolded it.  "I believe this is proof
enough," she replied, handing the letter to the first guard. "Unless you
doubt your own Queen's written words..."
        The second guard frowned, but said nothing as the first guard read
through the letter he had been handed.
 

                                     Office of the Coordinator
                                     of Special Projects
                                     KHI - Kanzaki Enterprises
                                     Level 23, 455 Iridium Avenue
                                     Carlson Citadel
                                     Kingdom of Ember

                                     January 9, 568 CY

         Lady Sumire Kanzaki;

             You are hereby requested and required to meet with
         me in my offices in Castle Ember on the morning of
         January 11, 568 CY, between the hours of 10 and 11 AM.
         Please make arrangements with Lord Lonz or Lady Catherine
         to meet with me at that time, as there is something I
         wish to discuss with you in the privacy of my royal
         suites.  Please be prompt.

                                     Sincerely,

                                     Queen Corrine I of Ember
 

        Below the queen's signature was another red wax seal with the
Pyricorn embossed within it, as well four short ribbons secured by the
wax, one silver, one brown, one red, and one gold.
        "If you wish, you may as well trump Lord Lonz or Lady
Catherine to confirm my appointment," Sumire continued, still waiting for
the first guard to finish reading the letter.  "Although they are both
very busy people, and I sincerely doubt they would appreciate having their
duties interrupted by two guards who couldn't recognize their Queen's
handwriting..."
        "Erm, yes... well, this is certainly in order, Lady Kanzaki.
You may pass."  The first guard handed the letter back to Sumire as
the second guard, looking apologetic, moved back to his post within the
guard station.
        "Thank you," Sumire levelly replied, giving the guards there a
curt nod.  She replaced the letter within its envelope, slipped the
envelope back within her sleeve, and walked through the gates into the
main courtyard of Castle Ember.
        A bustle of activity swirled around Sumire as she walked
through the main courtyard.  Court officials and servants went about
their tasks, heading to and fro across the royal gardens and around
the five fountains that were the centerpiece of the courtyard; Sumire did
not pay them any attention.  She did not worry about running into anyone,
for the various functionaries seemed to part around her like a tide,
instinctually recognizing that she was not a woman to be messed with.
Very few would willingly get in her way.
        Accidentally, on the other hand...
        Sumire's forward motion was abruptly interrupted as another
person ran into her.  Sumire stumbled and fell backwards, saving
herself from serious injury (save for bruised pride) by virtue of her
athletic training and a quick roll to the side that allowed the sleeves of
her kimono to absorb the impact.
        "Ack!  Oh shit!  I'm sorry!" the taller person apologized as
they took a step back, and then strong hands reached down, grasped
Sumire's, and pulled the shorter woman to her feet.  "... Sumire?"
        "You idiot!  Watch where you're going --" Sumire's eyes
widened in recognition as she realized whom she had collided with, and
then abruptly narrowed soon after.  "Oh.  It's -you-, Kanna," she
continued, glaring up at the tall, muscular woman.  "I should have
figured."
        Kanna, Crown Princess and Blood-Daughter of the Queen of
Ember, rolled her eyes to the sky and let out a long breath.  "Good to see
you too, Sumire," she replied with a hint of sarcasm to her voice, a
sarcasm that rapidly evaporated as curiosity took hold.  "What are -you-
doing here, Sumire?  I thought you were going to be busy out at the
Citadel for the next few weeks since you just got back..."
        "Well, if you -must- know, Kanna," Sumire replied as she
started to dust off the fabric of her kimono, "your mother the Queen
summoned me here."
        Kanna blinked her blue eyes, and looked curiously down at
Sumire.  "Oh?  What about?"
        "I don't know... her letter didn't say."  Sumire glanced up at the
taller woman.  "You wouldn't happen to know...?"
        Kanna shrugged her shoulders.  "Damned if I know, Sumire.  Mom
doesn't let me in on -everything-, you know..."
        "Yes, I know," Sumire drawled, already starting to make her
way towards the main entrance of the castle proper.  "Honestly, Kanna,
some days I wonder..."
        "Hrrrm?" Kanna arched an eyebrow as she fell into step behind the
smaller woman.
        Sumire shook her head and let out a sigh.  Her short, brown
hair swung into place as her head motion ceased, her focus once again on
her final destination as she entered the wide hallways of the first floor
of Castle Ember.  "-Some- days I wonder how her highness has managed to
avoid a stress headache, given how much trouble you get into running
around Shadow.  If you actually managed to stay in one place for more than
several months at a time, you might actually manage to learn something
aside from how to beat people into bloody pulps."
        "Hey, some of us have -lives-, Sumire.  We can't all lounge
'round the castle and eat chocolates, as much as some of us might
-like- to,.." Kanna rejoined, glancing down at Sumire.  "And like
-you're- one to talk?  You're the one who's juggling both your
grandpa's research division and running around Shadow as well,
scouting talent and acting as a diplomatic attache' for mom's
ambassadors.  You're almost as much a stresspuppy as mom can get at
times."
        "Your comparison is flattering, Kanna," Sumire replied with a
forced smile, "but also a stretch.  Your mother, long may she reign, has
learned how to manage her duties well, and has an efficient staff to help
lighten her load.  -I-, on the other hand, must manage my duties
independently, dependent on no one's wits but my own."
        "So you admit you're an overworked stresspuppy."
        "Ye--" Sumire began to reply, but then her mouth snapped
closed as she stopped short.  She looked over at Kanna, who was
pointedly studying a Siamese vase filled with sunflowers that stood on a
short pedestal along one of the hallway walls.
        Sumire coughed.
        Kanna looked away from the vase and towards Sumire.  "You were
saying something, Sumi-chan?"
        "No," Sumire curtly replied.  "Nothing of consequence.  And
don't call me 'Sumi-chan'."
        Kanna nodded.  "You got it, Sumi-chan."
        Sumire quietly ground her teeth.  "Don't go there, Kanna."
        Kanna raised her hands in supplication.  "Okay, okay, I'll
drop it."
        "Hmph."  Sumire jerked her chin slightly upwards, and resumed her
journey towards the castle's central stairs.
        Kanna just chuckled quietly, and followed Sumire.

        The fourth floor of Castle Ember was the Queen's personal
domain, a refuge and sanctuary for her majesty, but the Queen of Ember was
not a solitary recluse.  Those who had business with her of a personal
nature (or with her secretary and regent, Lady Catherine) could gain ready
access to the Royal Suites to meet with her if she was around.  Of course,
if the queen truly wished to be alone at the time, she could enforce that
as well.
        But this was not one of those days, even though the fourth
floor hallways were empty save for the guards, and if one was
particularly paying attention a person could make out a pair of voices
coming up the stairwell.  One voice was feminine, smooth and aristocratic
but with a slight edge to it.  The other was rougher, more casual, but
female as well, and layered with tempered strength beneath it.
        They were, of course, arguing.
        "Look, what I'm saying is that you could -stand- to relax once in
a while!  Stop hanging around those society balls with Lord lah-de-dah and
Lady froo-de-doo..."
        "Oh?  And going down to Maison l'Roi's in the Ward of the Iron Pot
to hang out with the 'intelligent cogniscenti' of the city's working class
counts as 'relaxation'?"
        "Well, it does for -me-.  The food's good, and King's good
people.  Cousin Ramon and I hang out there at times.  And there's
plenty of cheese."
        "If I wanted to enjoy myself in a rustic and colorful
environment with plenty of cheese, I would go somewhere more
appropriate, like Friday's."
        "Yeah, but if a brawl starts there, you don't get to join in."
        "I'm not surprised that you would consider that a selling
point.  But then again, your tastes -have- always been rather more
middle-class than mine..."
        "And some days I wonder how the hell you can breathe in the
rarefied air of those social functions you attend, you arrogant
socialite."
        "Unfeminine gorilla."
        "Gold digger."
        "Rude tomboy."
        "Mom's office."
        "Urban bra -- Eh?"  Sumire blinked. "... oh, yes, right..."
        Kanna smiled broadly and opened the door for Sumire, bowing
towards the shorter woman as she did so.  "Your majesty, Queen
Corrine?  Lady Sumire of House Kanzaki."  Sumire rolled her eyes and
entered Queen Corrine's office.  Kanna hid a grin as she stood back up and
entered as well, closing the door behind her.
        The queen's personal office, like much of the rest of Castle
Ember, reflected the monarch's personal tastes, a mix of practicality and
artistry.  Drawers, cabinets, and shelves lined the walls, interrupted
with several comfortable chairs and two couches on opposite sides of the
room.  Several large landscape paintings hung from the walls above the
couches, as well as a map of Ember and a scribbled-on calendar.  At the
far end of the room was a gallery of windows, and a wide mahogany desk
covered with reports, knicknacks, and a small set of portraits arranged
around one corner sat in front of them.
        Corrine I, Queen of Ember, looked up from her desk and set
aside the papers that she had been reading.
        "You summoned me, your Majesty?" Sumire asked as she executed a
precise, formal bow towards the ruler of Ember.
        Kanna just waved, which earned her a glance from Sumire.
        Corrine's lips quirked upwards in a smile.  "Indeed I did,
Sumire.  I take it you're wondering why I called you here?"
        "I do admit some degree of curiosity, your highness, given
that your reasons were not specified in your letter.  Some matter of
importance, I surmise..."  Sumire gave a casual shrug of her
shoulders.
        Kanna coughed politely, and looked towards her mother.  "Um... if
this is private, mom, I can duck out..."
        Corrine waved a dismissive hand at her daughter.  "Don't worry
about it, Kanna.  This'll be brief, and you'll be hearing about it soon
enough, anyway."
        Kanna arched an eyebrow but said nothing.  Instead, she took a
step back and crossed her arms under her chest, standing quietly as her
mother returned her attentions towards the shorter woman in front of her.
        "Lady Kanzaki... I assume you're familiar with Lord Raoul?"
        Sumire tilted her head, curiously.  "He's the Ambassador to
Amber, yes?"
        "He -was- the Ambassador to Amber, Sumire.  As turns out,
Amber's had an actual -winter- this year, with snow and all.  Raoul's
snapped from the cold and begged to come back home.  Given that the man
can't fulfill his duties if he's hiding out next to the ovens in Castle
Amber's kitchens, I've decided to honor his request."
        Sumire let out a quiet, depreciating snort.  "Well, the man
never quite had a tolerance for extremes of the environment, your
highness.  I've heard that he's had problems traveling from Dah Rein
to Flaim without an extra layer of clothing."
        The queen pursed her lips, still regarding Sumire with an even
blue-eyed gaze.  "Be that as it may, Lady Kanzaki, we now have a vacancy
in our Diplomatic Corps.  A rather critical one at that.  And with your
acceptance, I would like to appoint -you- as the next Ambassador to
Amber."
        Sumire stared, her prior aristocratic smugness at a person she
clearly disapproved of shattered in an instant.  For several moments she
just stood there in front of the queen's desk, her hazel eyes wide and her
lips parted in surprise.
        Kanna, meanwhile, gaped.  Partially at her mother's proposal, and
partially due to the fact never before had Kanna observed Sumire be caught
so speechless.  She privately wished she had one of Keitaro's Trump
Cameras on hand to catch an image of this moment.
        "But... but... your -Majesty-!" Sumire protested as she
finally regained the faculty of speech.  "Regardless of what your
sources may have told you, I'm just a minor functionary in the
diplomatic system.  There's others with decades and centuries more
experience than I have; I'm hardly qualified..."
        Corrine leaned back behind the desk, counting off on her
fingertips.
        "Defusing the Kal Wadi hostage crisis with Kanna..."
        "Eh?"
        "... Improving the Fanmetal forging process acquired from
Atreides... Arranging for the technology exchange between your
grandfather's company and Amber for the startup of their zeppelin
fleet..."
        "Well, those were just natural extensions of my current
position in Kanzaki Heavy Industries; they hardly count as diplomatic
efforts..."
        "... Helping Prince Shizumaru with the current Daikyou Accords
with Lipun and House Shinohara and Izumi, achieving a nice little 'in' for
Ember metal exportation..."
        "Well, I have always had the highest respect for Prince
Shizumaru's goals, your highness... and the export trade was so that
Amber would not be pressuring them to strip-mine their own
resources..."
        "... Brokering the production and distribution of Ember helium
from a -competitor- to Amber for their selfsame zeppelin fleet..."
        "Well, it'd hardly be fair to have Kanzaki Enterprises have
the lion's share of the profit from Ember's export ventures to the
outside world..."
        "... Oh, and the renewal of the revised Ice Export Agreement
between Amber, Ember, and Frostspire."
        Sumire let out a throaty laugh.  "Oh, really, it was nothing.
Truly, a trivial effort..."
        Kanna did her best to hide a smirk as Sumire's natural
aristocratic bent reasserted itself.
        "Need I go on?" Corrine finished, flashing a smile up at
Sumire.
        Sumire smiled back, bowing towards her queen.  "Of course not. I
concede the point, which you've well made.  I accept your offer, Queen
Corrine, and I assure you, I will strive to the upmost to promote the
interests of Ember within Amber, with the dignity and grace that someone
such as I possess and other representatives are sorely lacking."
        Kanna rolled her eyes, and Sumire glanced at her, a
self-satisfied smirk beginning to grace her lips.
        Corrine just quirked an eyebrow at Sumire and the byplay
between her and her daughter.  "That's very thoughtful of you, Lady
Kanzaki.  Unicorn and Pyricorn know we need more level heads within
the diplomatic corps down there.  But, keep this in mind, Sumire..."
        "Hm?"
        "Being an Ambassador means that you're going to be a
representative of the Kingdom of Ember as a -whole-... both good and
bad aspects."  Corrine steepled her fingers in front of her face,
unconsciously mirroring a gesture that her father had used long ago.
"I have faith in your ability to try and promote the good, Sumire, but if
I start hearing of Ember's reputation suffering due to inordinate social
posturing, unwarranted friction with the royal family, overwhelming
national bias, or -worse-... well, the speed with which your ass would be
hauled out of the Embassy would not be measured in miles per hour, but
light-years per second."
        Sumire's left eyebrow twitched.  "Ah.  Yes.  Right.  I will
keep that in mind, your majesty."
        Corrine smiled again. "Good.  See that you do."
        "Is there anything else, your highness?"
        The queen nodded.  "Actually, yes.  Your formal appointment to the
position is scheduled for a week from today in the Great Hall.  I would
prefer it if your personal affairs were in order by that time, both with
your family and your position in Kanzaki Enterprises. Scheduling
arrangements can be made with Lady Funaho and Lord Lonz, whom I have
instructed to assist you with making the transition from Ember to Amber.
I trust that you won't make their workload -too- overloaded due to this?"
        Sumire tilted her head in acknowledgment.  "I believe I can
handle it, my Queen.  But I thank you for your staff's support."
        "Then with that out of the way, Sumire... Good luck.  And
thank you."
        Sumire bowed once again for good measure.  "You're welcome,
your majesty."
        Queen Corrine nodded back in acknowledgment.  "Take care, you
two," she smiled as Sumire stood up straight and turned to go.
        Kanna uncrossed her arms to wave at her mother again.  "Later,
mom.  Thanks for letting me sit in on this."
        "You were standing up the entire time," Corrine and Sumire
replied in unison, and then blinked at one another.  Corrine started
to chuckle, while Sumire adopted a suitably miffed expression.
        Kanna laughed.  "C'mon, Sumire, let's get outta mom's hair."
She took the shorter woman by the shoulder, and gently but firmly
escorted her out of Corrine's office.
        The queen's laughter was quietly audible through her office
door for several minutes after Sumire and Kanna had left.

        The following week passed in a blur for Sumire Kanzaki.  The
first to hear of her sudden change in position were her parents and
grandfather, of course.  Once congratulations had been roundly shared by
the family, the rest of Kanzaki Enterprises was informed.  Sumire set
herself to work, rapidly delegating her various duties to her subordinates
and selecting an interim Coordinator of Special Projects who would serve
in her stead when she could not make immediate company decisions.
Personal belongings and several wardrobes worth of clothing were packed,
as well as a selection of familiar furniture to fill the rooms of the
embassy in Amber.  The rest of the week was spent shuttling between her
apartments and offices in Carlson Citadel and the offices of Lady Funaho
and Lord Lonz in Castle Ember, making the arrangements for her moving into
the embassy, sending notifications to King Tylor and Queen Yuriko about
the change in ambassadors, as well as determining wether any staff changes
would need to be made in Amber once Sumire arrived.
        And then, there was nothing more to be done.
        It was time.

JANUARY 19

        Sumire Kanzaki regarded herself in the wall-length mirror that
stood along one wall of the small antechamber to the Great Hall of Castle
Ember.  The room was reserved for visitors and dignitaries to prepare
themselves for royal audiences, and as such was relatively spartan, save
for the mirror, a row of windows perpendicular to the mirrors, and low
benches along the other two walls.  The light from outside lit the room
with a slight saffron glow, reflecting off the mirrors, floor tiles, and
gold ornamental trim of Sumire's uniform.
        The uniform itself was not one that Sumire wore often; she
generally preferred to wear her long purple dresses or stylish
kimonos.  However, given her occasional missions for the Kingdom of
Ember (either alone or accompanying Kanna), she had rightly earned the
uniform she was wearing as a member of the Ember Special Forces.
        Sumire fretted with the cuffs of the sleeves of the purple
double-breasted swallow-tailed jacket she wore, straightening them
over the light silk long-sleeved turtlenecked shirt underneath.  She
had already secured the sleek white trousers with a brown broad
leather belt at the waist, and had pulled on a pair of mid-calf purple
leather boots tipped and trimmed with gold.  Once satisfied with the
placement of the jacket, a deft motion with her hands (already clad within
white, fingerless leather gloves) secured the white silk cravat at the
base of her neck.
        Now that the uniform was arranged to her satisfaction, Sumire
leaned forward to study herself more critically.  Her short brown hair was
secured with a hair band that went nicely with the white parts of her
uniform.  Her skin was clean and clear, save for the beauty mark that was
at the corner of her left eye.  She was more than physically ready for an
audience with the Queen of Ember and the nobility of the court.
        Save for one thing.
        Good Pyricorn, she was nervous!  And for the life of her
Sumire could not figure out why.  Was she not the proclaimed heir of
Kanzaki Enterprises?  Was she not a master of her family's martial
arts style, the Kanzaki Fuujinryuu?  Was she not the woman who had
just the week before seen the Queen of Ember in a private audience in the
royal suites?  No mere person, male or female, could claim these things.
        But these thoughts did nothing to calm Sumire's beating heart. She
needed a distraction, motion and action... and she knew just how to obtain
it.
        Sumire lifted her hands and clapped them together, and in a
burst of flame her naginata appeared in midair.  She easily grasped it
with her hands before it could fall too far, and slid into a ready
position, the shaft and blade of Koucho-no-Tsubasa, "Butterfly's Wing",
held parallel to the floor.  Sumire started moving, slowly at first, into
the various traditional stances with her weapon.  Her footwork was smooth
and graceful, becoming a dance with the naginata as she twirled and spun
the weapon like a baton, decapitating and eviscerating imaginary
opponents.
        Sumire's movements became faster and faster, until at one
point, she whirled Koucho-no-Tsubasa in front of her with one hand
until its shaft blurred into a propeller-like disk, her other gloved
hand raised above her head like a match referee's.  With an abrupt
twist of her body she grasped the staff portion in both hands and
drove the golden blade towards the floor, stopping mere millimeters
before the point would pierce the tiles.
        "Kanzaki Fuujinryuu - Kochou No Mai!" she exclaimed in a a
harsh whisper as she stood frozen in that position for the briefest of
moments, before pulling back and up, lifting the naginata in a sweeping
maneuver.  She twirled the weapon above her head, more slowly this time,
and added several diagonal forward chops for emphasis.
        "Well, -you- certainly look like you're about ready to give
those ambassadors down in Amber what for," a voice commented from the
doorway.
        Sumire didn't stop moving until she once again held the
naginata at the horizontal towards her imaginary opponents.  "Let's
just say I'm sure they'll be getting more than they bargained for,
hmmm, Kanna?"
        The taller woman laughed from where she leaned against the
doorframe.  Kanna was clad in a uniform similar to Sumire's, save that her
swallowtail jacket and boots were colored red instead of purple, and cut
so as to allow her a full range of movement even with her larger, muscular
frame.  Her weighted staff was slung behind her back, the large golden
sphere protruding over her left shoulder.  A sheathed basket-hilted
cavalry saber hung over Kanna's left hip.
        "From what little I've seen of the diplomats down there,
you're gonna bowl 'em over."  Kanna paused.  "Literally, in some case; I
-swear- some of those guys need to go on diets."
        Sumire gave a quiet snort.  "It's a rather unfortunate
side-effect of the diplomatic profession that -certain- ambassadors
take unfortunate advantage of their host country's hospitality."
        Kanna arched an eyebrow.  "And you, of course, will be immune to
this?"
        "But of course."  Sumire smiled, resting her naginata against the
wall opposite the windows.  "After all, I am the very model of restraint,
poise, and elegance, unlike some people I could mention."
        "Of course," Kanna dryly replied, ignoring the verbal barbs
thrown her way.
        Sumire moved back to study herself in the mirror, once again
straightening her uniform after her impromptu workout.  "So, is there any
particular reason you've decided to visit me?"
        Kanna nodded.  "Actually, yeah.  Lonz wanted me to remind you that
the ceremony was about ready to start... you're the last one and the most
important one we need for this, next to mom."  She grinned.
        Sumire nodded, straightening the cuffs and waistline of her
jacket.  "Well, you can reassure him that I will be on time."
        "Gotcha."  Kanna smiled, and waved from the doorframe before
pulling away.  "Seeya on the flip side, Sumire."
        Sumire chuckled, and shook her head to get the last few
strands of her hair into proper place.  "You too, Kanna," she
murmured.  One last glance in the mirror, and she was as ready as she
would ever be.  She picked up Koucho-no-Tusbasa's shaft in her
white-gloved right hand, turned smartly on her heels, and departed the
small room.

        Sumire stood and waited in front of the giant, Pyricorn-
embossed, gold-plated doors that marked the main entrance of the Great
Hall of Castle Ember.  The butt end of her naginata rested on the floor as
she held her weapon upright.  Two guards flanked the doors, their staves
vertical and unchallenging.
        If she strained her ears, Sumire could barely hear voices
beyond the doors; most likely one of the diplomats, or perhaps Lord
Lonz, expositing on her qualifications.  She refrained from tapping
her feet, whistling, or engaging in any other manner of distractions
to pass the time.  It wouldn't be long, now.
        Finally, a louder voice was heard from within, and the great
doors opened, revealing the room beyond.  Sumire straightened herself
further, and strode purposefully into the Great Hall at a measured pace.
The sunlight gleamed off her uniform's decorations and Koucho-no-Tsubasa's
golden blade, making it look as if she was carrying a long-handled torch.
Sumire' footfalls made no sound as she walked, courtesy of the long ribbon
of red carpeting that had been spread down the length of the Great Hall,
centered between the tall pillars that supported the arched ceiling.
        The Great Hall itself was filled with dignitaries and
courtiers, and they watched Sumire as she walked the length of the
room towards the dais at the far end.  A giant pennant with the
Pyricorn rampant on a gold field hung above the platform and the
Obsidian Throne of Ember that sat upon it, and pennants representing
Ember's allies in the Lava Circle and elsewhere hung between the
pillars.  The red carpeting terminated a distance before the base of
the dias's steps, and Sumire walked the last several feet not on plush
carpeting but on the hall's alternating silver-red and black-gold tiles.
        Sumire came to a halt before the wide dais.  The assemblage
quieted as Queen Corrine stood up from the throne.  A large ruby in a gold
setting hung from a gold chain around Corrine's neck, and seemed to glow
from within with an inner fire.  Sumire immediately went to one knee in
front of the queen, laying her naginata on the floor crosswise.
        "My Queen," Sumire said, her head bowed.  Out of the corner of her
eyes, she could see a pair of hoof-prints scorched into the tiles of the
Great Hall, bracketing her where she kneeled.
        Corrine began to walk down the steps of the dais, her
footsteps quiet yet very loud to Sumire's ears.  It did not take her
very many steps to cross the distance from the dais to Sumire.  Her
skirts rustled, and Sumire could briefly see the red trousers the
queen wore underneath them as she kneeled down and picked up
Koucho-no-Tsubasa's shaft in her left hand, holding it upright.
        "Sumire Kanzaki," Corrine announced in a clear, strong voice. "I
have summoned you here for a purpose.  After long deliberation, I and my
Privy Council have decided that you would best serve as our next
Ambassador to the Kingdom of Amber.  Do you accept this duty with all the
rights and responsibilities thereof?"
        "I do, my Queen," Sumire replied, keeping all nervousness out of
her voice.
        The queen nodded.  "Very good." She regarded the blade of
Sumire's naginata for a moment.  Its golden metal was etched with a ruby
tracery that was all arcs and curves, a tracery that reminded Corrine
strongly of Werewindle, or the Pattern that rested within the heart of
Vesuvius.  She smiled slightly, and then swung the weapon around so that
the flat of Koucho-no-Tsubasa's blade rested against Sumire's right
shoulder, the cutting edge facing away from her neck.
        "Repeat after me, Sumire Kanzaki," Corrine commanded, standing in
front of the kneeling woman. "'I, Lady Sumire Kanzaki of the House
Kanzaki, take this blade from the hands of my Queen.'"
        "I, Lady Sumire Kanzaki of the House Kanzaki, take this blade from
the hands of my Queen," Sumire repeated, her head still bowed.
        "'Where my Queen commands, there I shall place this blade.'"
        Sumire calmly recited the queen's words, now committed on this
course of action.
        "'I dedicate this blade to the cause of my Queen, the death of her
enemies, the protection of her allies, and the defense of her Kingdom, as
long as our blood shall flow.'"
        Once again, Sumire repeated the words.
        Corrine nodded, and pulled the blade of the naginata away from
Sumire's shoulder, repositioning it so that the tip pointed towards her
chest.  "Kiss the blade."
        Sumire leaned forward, the bangs of her hair brushing against the
sides of her face, and gently kissed the flat of the blade that she had
forged.  She then raised her head as the queen lifted the naginata away
from her, holding it upright once again.
        "Officers and nobles of the court, by the power invested in me by
the Pyricorn of Ember, I do hereby declare Lady Sumire Kanzaki to be the
Ambassador to the Kingdom of Amber," Corrine announced. "Ambassador
Kanzaki shall serve as my representative there for as long as she is
capable of carrying out her duties satisfactorly."  She then leaned
forward, and murmured to Sumire with a grin on her lips and a twinkle in
her blue eyes.  "You can stand up now, Sumire."
        Sumire blinked, and for the breifest of moments a slight blush
graced her cheeks, seen only by Corrine.  "Thank you, my Queen," she
murmured back, before getting to her feet.  The Queen of Ember handed
Koucho-no-Tsubasa back to its owner, and then took several steps back. She
began to applaud, and was quickly joined by the rest of the assembly.
Sumire could see Kanna, standing to the left of the throne, give her a
grin and a thumbs-up before she began to clap as well.
        The sound of applause filled the Great Hall as Ambassador
Sumire Kanzaki turned to face the audience, and bowed towards them
gracefully.  For once, there was no arrogance or social posturing in
her pose or gestures.  Sumire's investiture and appointment was
complete, and her pride for the occasion was rightly earned.
        With a smile, Sumire began to meet (again, or for the first
time) the people she would represent.

FIN


Appointment
A Story of Unicorn No Seishi
Written by Philip J. Moyer on 4/3-4/11/2001

Corrine, Queen of Ember, created by Philip Moyer.
Kanna, Princess of Ember and Lady Sumire Kanzaki adapted by Philip Moyer from the Sega Saturn dating/strategy game _Sakura Taisen_.

Disclaimer:
This story was inspired by a discussion on 4/2/01 about characters in the "Unicorn No Seishi" Amber DRPG campaign conceptualized, designed, and Game Mastered by John Biles, 2001. No money is being made from this story. It is copyrighted to Philip J. Moyer, 2001.