Cherry Blossom Procession 4 1 3

[16:44] <Minaplo> ["How was your chat?" Asked Minerva lightly as Raphael approached; behind him, Juno was already back to reading.]
[16:52] <Raphael> "… illuminating," Raphael said. His arms were folded as he took up a position alongside Minnie. "That one worries me in a way Marshal Caine doesn't."
[16:55] <Minaplo> ["Howso?"]
[17:03] <Raphael> "She knows the full story, but seems content to use the war as an opportunity to settle old scores. That she's a political fanatic is expected, but the streak runs wider than I'd thought."
[17:05] <Minaplo> ["Hmmmm."-
[17:07] <Minaplo> ["Marshal Caine would've told her the full story, and he's also the one who arranged for her release. We should try to find out if he's using her as just an attack dog, or if he's giving her a greater role in whatever it is he's planning." Said Minerva. "Later on, I'd like you to speak to him, try to find out."]
[17:08] * Raphael nodded slowly. "I can do my best, Madame President."
[17:11] <Minaplo> ["Thank you." Minerva favoured him with one of her sweet smiles. "In the meantime, I need you to do me a favour of a different kind."]
[17:11] <Raphael> "Ah?"
[17:16] <Minaplo> ["Could you go find Kuzmin for me? The Emperor is about to arrive soon, and he's not picking up his cell."]
[17:26] * Raphael stared at her.-
[17:26] <Raphael> "… It seems as though we should be keeping better tabs on the Soviet Premier," he suggested, giving the hall a quick scan as though he might have just been hiding out of sight.
[17:27] <Minaplo> [Kuzmin was not hiding in the audience hall.-
[17:28] <Minaplo> ["The man can be rather elusive when he wants to be." Said Minerva. "Last I saw, he was sitting on a step over there-" She gestured toward one of the exits nearest the doors to the rest of the palace- "Puffing on a cigar, chewing jerky and downing spirits."]
[17:49] <Raphael> "I'll see to it, ma'am," he said. He was still looking around the hall, searching for a different figure.-
[17:49] <Raphael> "And Yanmei's gone too…" he sighed, shaking his head. "I'll see to that as well. Can you do me a favour and stay in sight of the others for the time being, Madame President?"
[17:49] <Minaplo> ["Of course."]
[17:56] * Raphael nodded and hurried off towards the garden.
[18:00] <Minaplo> […-
[18:02] <Minaplo> [It was the sort of outside you didn't get in most of France. The air was thick: flower perfumes mixing with dense humidity, turning the air sweet and cloying. The flowers bloomed a dazzling array of colours, gleaming a little too brightly beneath the pounding heat of a cloudless sun.-
[18:02] <Minaplo> [In the distance, Raphael would hear the chirp-chirp-chirp-chirrrp of cicadas.-
[18:04] <Minaplo> [Eventually he'd find Kuzmin tucked away in one of the numerous gardens surrounding the audience hall. This one consisted of a square perimeter of red and blue and orange flowers, within which was a square pool of cool, clear water, housing carp. Within that square was a carefully manicured 'island' of land, sitting prettily beneath a large tree.-
[18:04] <Minaplo> [Kuzmin was sitting on this island, back against a tree. He had his boots off and was dangling his hairy feet in the water below.-
[18:05] <Minaplo> ["Ah, Guillory!" Shouted Kuzmin, gesturing to him with a hand full of cigar. "Too much for you too, eh?"]
[18:50] <Raphael> "Not quite, sir," Raphael came to a stop a few steps away, his gaze taking in the rest of the garden before finally settling on Kuzmin. "President Linden asked me to find you. Apparently the Emperor is about to make her appearance."
[18:57] <Minaplo> ["Oh, is that all?" Said Kuzmin. "Come on, Guillory, take a seat, cool your heels in the water- look, the carp are nibbling at my toes. Probably feasting on all the dead skin, hah."]
[19:05] <Raphael> "…" Raphael's brow wrinkled as he considered this little bit of impropriety, but he didn't move to sit. "I'm afraid I can't, sir. The Chancellor has wandered off as well, and security being what it is…"
[19:07] <Minaplo> ["Don't worry, Guillory." Said Kuzmin, gesturing with his cigar hand at some point over Raphael's shoulder. "There, she's just going inside now."-
[19:07] <Minaplo> [And indeed, if Raphael turned to look, he'd see Zhang Yanmei walking hand-in-hand with the Spectre- Sophia- the latter wearing an outfit suspiciously similar to Yanmei's own.]
[19:13] <Raphael> Turn he did, just quickly enough to be granted a moment of bewildered squinting at the scene. The relationship between Sophia and Yanmei was not a secret, of course, but it was such an unexpected sight that he could only stare.-
[19:13] <Raphael> "… Well." He muttered as they finally disappeared back inside.-
[19:13] <Raphael> With a grunt he took a seat on the ground next to Kuzmin, his legs crossed primly beneath him rather than being left to dangle in the water. He rested his hands on his knees. "For a moment then, sir."
[19:19] <Minaplo> ["Good man!" Said Kuzmin with a loud laugh. He plunged his hand into his jacket and took out a packet of jerky. "Jerky?"]
[19:22] * Raphael accepted a piece with a murmured thank you, tearing away a strip with his teeth and considering the pool in silence as he chewed.
[19:27] <Minaplo> ["Fucking hot, here, eh?" Said Kuzmin. "Betcha miss Russia already! Haw haw!"]
[19:35] <Raphael> "I'd prefer the cold, certainly. Although I don't think I was saying that at the time…" He waved a hand. "Something about the grass being greener, I suppose."
[19:35] <Minaplo> ["Uh-huh."-
[19:35] <Minaplo> ["Between you and me, Guillory, I don't think you saw my country at its best."]
[19:38] <Raphael> Raphael gave Kuzmin a sidelong look. "… Perhaps not, sir. I wouldn't judge a nation by the way it looks during wartime."
[19:39] <Minaplo> ["But you can judge it by the type of man it produces during wartime, no?"]
[19:41] <Raphael> A moment of silence.-
[19:41] <Raphael> "I suppose you could."
[19:46] <Minaplo> ["Haw haw."-
[19:46] <Minaplo> [Kuzmin grinned. "In that case, let me formally apologise that you were introduced to my country through a fuckhead like Menshikov."]
[20:05] <Raphael> "…" How did one diplomatically respond to something like that? Not that Kuzmin himself seemed all that concerned with the concept. "Well, I would say that it's not something you need to apologize for, Premier, but… well, thank you."
[20:06] <Minaplo> ["You're welcome. Cigar?"-
[20:08] <Minaplo> [Regardless of whether Raphael took one or not, Kuzmin ploughed on. "I heard about what the fucker did on the Bell. Men like him make it that much harder for the Soviet Union to maintain its alliances. I'd love to be able to replace him with someone else- maybe that lovely Lady Snow, heh- but unfortunately, the rules say war heroes get a lot of slack."-
[20:11] <Minaplo> ["In truth," Said Kuzmin, his voice dimming to a low, growling whisper- "Between you and me… I don't have as much control over the Ministry of Defense as I'd like."]

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