Caiatl was sitting alone in her private quarters. She glanced up, awoken from her reverie when Taurun arrived.
"Empress," Taurun said, bowing. She was a stickler for formality. "The other councilors are awaiting a decision regarding our arrival in Sol."
Caiatl gave her a wry look. As if she didn't know.
Taurun waited. When Caiatl didn't answer, she pressed further. "Have you made a decision?"
Caiatl sighed and shifted in her seat. "Not yet," she said. "There is much still to consider. Sit down."
Taurun hesitated, caught between her dedication to formality and a direct order from her empress. She gingerly lowered herself into a chair.
"The Guardians killed Ghaul," Caiatl said.
"Yes," said Taurun.
"Stories say they've killed greater enemies too."
"Other deities of the Hive. One of the great worms."
"And a sibling of Xivu Arath," Caiatl added.
"Perhaps then, the costs of this venture do not outweigh the benefits," Taurun mused.
"We need every resource at our disposal," Caiatl said.
Taurun was quiet.
Caiatl leaned forward abruptly in her seat. "Do we need to make war to regain the Legion?"
Once more, Taurun was silent. Eventually, she said carefully, "You don't believe we would win?"
Caiatl saw the blade hidden in Taurun's question. "We would win," she said. "After a long, grueling war. We'd sustain huge losses. And we'd leave ourselves open to further devastation at the war god's hands."
Taurun's gaze turned thoughtful. "Yes, probably." She studied Caiatl's face. "So what do you suggest?"
"We… negotiate," Caiatl said quietly. "With the Guardians."
Taurun observed her customary moment of silence. "Some of the councilors won't like it."
"I know," Caiatl said. She stared past Taurun, her jaw set. "I don't either."
"You'll have to make a gesture for them. A nod to our legacy as conquerors. If they see it as a true, equal negotiation…" Taurun trailed off.
"They'll call it weakness," Caiatl finished.
Taurun nodded. "Especially after fleeing Torobatl."
They shared another silence. The ache of mounting stress began to push at Caiatl's temples.
Her voice was weary when she spoke again. "Then we will demand that the Guardians kneel."