The entire court has been on edge since Empress Berenene finished daily duties.

She reclines on plush velvet, the thread-of-gold shirt Rizu picked out that morning not nearly as vibrant as the healthy glow of her skin. That is no accident on Rizu's part, and she is satisfied. One must be with what one has, she knows, even if it feels like an inadequate amount.

And she has no leave to be upset, when Rerenene withholds the permission required to show her unhappiness in public, so, with a glance at Berenene's projected composure, she keeps her misery to herself.

(It does not placate the urge to glance to the South, and she must consciously stiffle it every instant she nears a window.)

Rizu follows her empress's lead. The deep flush across Berenene's cheeks earlier, anger compressed to the point of deadly stillness, and the paleness following it upon receiving intelligence of her chief mage's fate, might never have existed. If Rizu had not witnessed the aftermath, she would not have known the depths of emotion concealed by Berenene's lazy scrutiny of her court's antics. Berenene wears emotions as easily as she does the jewels on her finger, and expects her staff to do the same.

But the individual members populating the Namornese Court did not survive Berenene's changing favor by being unobservant. Gossip travels in a series of waves, sly and unstoppable, leaving speculation in its wake. Even the dancers' smiles become stranged, supple movements and fluttering sleeves becoming just a little bit wooden. As for the various nobility who courted Lady Sandrilene's entourage, in hope of elevated positions... no wonder none succeeded, if their efforts were this wooden!

Where are the bright lights and bold colors, to celebrate the changing of seasons? There were once glowing mage-crystals in every corner, pulsing with trapped rainbows and painting the entire hall in a sea of bright color. Sparks would burst over one noble or another as they courted, harp strings humming to hide the indecent propositions whispered between two young lovers. Courtiers used to mill about, crystal chinking in hand, plotting suspended for the present and exchanging smiles that outshone every attempt at magical entertainment. Where is the enthusiasm that once appeared rain or shine, snow or gale winds?

The real magic - what made Empress Berenene's court so vivid that young ladies wept to leave it - is missing.

Because the entire court is on edge, watching Berenene. The courtiers are nervous, unwilling to upset their liege.

Add one Emelan-sourced new element to the court game, and they are unable to understand her.

Berenene waits on her throne - it is a throne, whether she sits in antique polished wood or hardwood floor - with an expectant smile, no one takes the hint that life must go on. Rizu glances at Berenene, and for an instance, hates the other four mages for the strain evident in every exchanged gaze. Daja, she rages at doubly so; the other three might have changed the court, but they do not make her look south.

But Rizu chose to stay here, and she will deal with the consequences - even ones that are not her fault. She takes a deep breath, glancing at the girl sitting beside her, who did not have her heart broken, but the fragile portion of her pride shattered.

As the other girl turns to her full in the face, glancing from her not-jade eyes to the dusk of her skin, to the soft ripe curves most men do not have, Rizu smiles.

She tries to make it feel real, and tries to sit to that Berenene can see it.