Home to the finest magical teaching on Sinai, it sprawls over a expanse of land, sky, and underground. A mad mix of domes, towers, halls, theatres, and structures which can't quite be identified, it houses classrooms, libraries, laboratories, offices, and even some teachers' homes. Around it lies the Scholar's quarter, full of dormitories and apartments for students and teachers at the Collegia Esoterica, and the other trade schools.
Inquisitor Ciar has come calling upon the Dean of the Sphere of Mind at the Collegia Esoterica, putatively to share some information about a certain dream apparition who may have been sighted on the island… There is no wandering about corridors and halls getting lost for the Inquisitor; a page is dispatched to lead him directly to the Dean's office, and the secretary opens the door for him quite promptly… Very satisfying to see such respect for one's position, so rare in society today.
Inside, the office is quite large, with plenty of room to fill with artifacts and shelves … which is precisely what has been done. Shelves are loaded with books, scrolls and tablets, occasionally intermixed with curios which serve as bookends, sometimes perhaps inappropriately so, if they are as fragile as they look. The desk dominating the far end of the room is low to the floor, as the one reclining on a pile of pillows behind it is not the sort to use a conventional chair. The black, robed Naga sits facing away from the doors, staring away as if he were looking out a window at the surroundings … but like the rest of this building (and so many on campus), there are no windows, and he's only staring at a more-or-less blank wall.
"Ah yes! The Inquissitor," he says without even turning about. "Do come in. I've been exsspecting you."
A small sigh escapes the secretary, a mild-mannered Skeek, but otherwise she makes no comment, only steps back out of the office to leave the two alone to their discourse.
The Inquisitor, robed in black and gray, his dark hood pulled up to only expose a bit of silver-edged black muzzle, nods formally, then proceeds into the office. "Dean Malthus. We have come upon information that may be of… interest to you, and to your Sphere. And hopefully helpful to us as well, in the long term."
The Naga beams and turns about to pull out one of the stuffed leather chairs for the Inquisitor. "Do ssit down, Inquissitor. I foressee we will have a long and mosst productive talk thiss afternoon. I've already taken the liberty of cancsseling all my other appointmentss." The entirely black Naga seems to be well color-coordinated with Ciar, though it's almost certain that this is unintentional as Dean Malthus has always been obsidian-scaled.
Ciar nods again and sits quietly. "Impressive forethought. I hope it shall be a productive talk indeed." His bushy tail, pure black with silver fur-tips as is presumably the rest of him, curls about the chair's leg like a silent shadow… or perhaps like a snake. Perhaps an intentional gesture. "You have seen the notes I had forwarded to your office, I presume? Regarding the individual known as 'Envoy', and the investigation into the death of Mage Isstan?"
"Of coursse," the black snake hisses. Dean Malthus puts a hand to his forehead and seems to be concentrating. "No, wait, wait… Ah… Yess, it becomess clear. You, like mysself, are curiouss ass to the true nature of the apparition that the Exssile known as Envoy desscribed in her vission, are you not? Momentary vissions, a feeling that a forcsse iss 'walking over your grave' perhapss?"
Ciar nods. "The 'true nature of the apparition' would be an apt way of describing it, perhaps… " He pauses. "Though not being an initiate of your Sphere, I cannot claim to have had visions, the apparition is indeed something just on the edge of grasping, something I believe we both wish to bring into focus, into reality, so that we may understand its nature? We… may be a bit closer to the true answers, due to discoveries that may interest you."
Ciar coughs softly. "Of course, these answers are only bits, unresolved. Not yet answers. But teasingly close to one… We hope that you might be able to assist in bringing them closer to a focus, and an answer."
The Dean slithers across to a shelf whereupon a flagon of wine has been set, and several goblets. "Ahh yess, under the sscaless well, fur in your case we are kindred sseekerss of truth. I am of coursse, at your sservicsse, Inquissitor, and entirely willing to sshare what ssmall tidbitss of information I have. Would you like ssome wine? House Ysobram, Cerbancoss 4. A good red vintage."
Ciar's hood turns slightly to follow Malthus' movements. "Yes, that would be most welcome, I appreciate a good, vintage red. A house of the Empire, I take it?"
"You are quite percsseptive, my friend," the Dean says affably as he pours wine for both of them and offers Ciar his choice of the goblets before slithering about his own perch to relax. "Sso then, where sshould we begin? I am ssure there iss sso much of which we may sspeak."
Ciar selects one of the goblets, then gives it a gentle sniff. "Excellent bouquet, yes." He takes a small sip, comments quietly that it is indeed an excellent vintage, then returns to the matter at hand. "Begin? Perhaps with the first of these fragments of truth… We believe that we are certain of the species of the apparition in Envoy's vision… the phantom Mage. She was apparently a Jaguar, a rare species, much like the Savanites in appearance, yet capable of speech." He watches for the Naga's reaction. "Have there, to your knowledge, been any Jaguar initiates in the Sphere of the Mind?"
"To my knowledge, there are no jaguarss in the Ssphere of the Mind, or indeed in all of the Collegia Essoterica," Dean Malthus replies. "Indeed, they are a breed that iss all but losst to Sinai, sspoken of only in legendss. If we had admitted one in the yearss in which I have bean Dean, I am ssure I would have heard of it."
Ciar nods. "Very well. Still, it remains that the visionary Mage was a Jaguar… and for evidence of that, we have located one who is seemingly a relative, perhaps even a daughter of this phantom. She is, in fact, a Jaguar. Quite real, I assure you. She is an orphan, being raised by a member of another race, and… when questioned about her parents, she spoke in a strange tongue for a moment." The Keiltyn pauses, then haltingly tries to repeat a few of the sounds of the words Pouncer spoke when upset. Roughly, at least. "Are you at all familiar with that language, Dean Malthus?"
"Amazing," the Naga says to the vulpine Inquisitor's statement. "Sscholarss have recently propossed that jaguarrs might in fact merely be legendss of Marked Savanitess confussed with other storiess of Khatta wizards. Fasscinating."
Dean Malthus sips at his wine while pondering, then shakes his head. "Completely unlike any language with which I am familiar. Of coursse," he offers. "If it iss a transslation of the wordss that you dessire, perhaps if you were to bring the cub here, I could have her mind read?"
Ciar says, "Indeed, to most, they do not exist. Of course, we do not… " He looks directly at Malthus "… desire for her existance to be widely known until this matter is resolved. Surely you understand the danger to any who speak of this." He hesitates for a moment. "If I were to do such… bring the cub here to have her mind read by a mage… would it involve any risk to the cub?""
Dean Malthus frowns. "There iss alwayss a little rissk with any magic, Inquissitor, esspecially at the altitudess at which Rephidim fliess." Having exhausted his wine goblet, he slithers up to refill it, then offers the Keiltyn Inquisitor a refill. "Under normal cssircumsstancess, there would be no danger. However, if sshe iss indeed connected with that powerful entity that sseveral mind magess detected, ssuch an attempt could be quite rissky indeed."
"Envoy hass told you about thiss inimitable forcsse, hass sshe not?" Dean Malthus prompts of Inquisitor Ciar.
Ciar holds out his goblet, then sips politely after it's refilled. "I see. Risky for the cub, or for the Mage? This entity apparently has the power to murder one of your respected Mages from a distance, a force to be considered indeed." He tilts his head. "She had mentioned a force, yes… Might you explain further how it might be considered 'inimitable'? Not being of your Circle, I must admit I am not entirely familiar with the concept… "
"Yesss," the Dean says to Ciar's question about danger as he slithers back into the perch. "Ass you may be aware, magess are sometimess aware of the activitiess of other magess, esspecially if they are attuned to the magic which ssurroundss Sinai… At the time at which Mage Isstan was performing hiss ill-advissed attempt to commune with the Exssile, Envoy, it appearss that a number of mind-magess ssenssed some forcsse reaching out to tamper with the spell… The evidencsse remainss only fragmentary however, and largely anecdotal, making it imposssible to ssay if it wass the sspell itsself, or the effect of thiss outside forcsse that did in poor Isstan."
Dean Malthus says, "Recssently however, a sscholar propossed an interessting plan by which we might be able to disscover what had truly happened… "
The black Naga rubs his chin thoughtfully.
Ciar sits up a bit more. "And this plan would be?" He sips his wine and listens intently.
Ciar says, "What had truly happened is what I wish to know… and you, I suspect as well. The one responsible shall be brought to justice, that I can assure you of."
"To recreate the eventss of the spell-cassting, of coursse! It wass propossed that by a dialogue between a mage of the Ssphere of Sspirit, and one of the Ssphere of Mind, and with accesss to the participantss of the original ritual, the sspell could be recreated, and perhapss cluess garnered to the identity and locatssion of the invader… " The black Naga looks off into the distance, perhaps through the walls at the horizon, or perhaps just at the wall with unfocused eyes. "Of coursse, at the time, Envoy wass away on an expedition, sso her permisssion could not be obtained… And accesss to Isstan's body would now be a matter of diplomatic privilege ass well as sscientific curiosity."
"Hiss body iss of coursse, interred in the Empire," Dean Malthus adds as an aside to the Inquisitor.
Ciar ahhhs. "Of course. Re-create the scene of the crime, in order to see from what location the assassin's arrow had been shot. I was not aware that such a thing was possible within the realms of magic. That might well lead us closer to the answers, yes… " He focuses on his goblet for a moment, thinking, then looks up again from within his hood. "I can assure you of Envoy's permission for such a re-creation, that would not be a problem at all… Isstan's body is… necessary? And can such a… ah… request be granted?"
"Without accesss to hiss body," Dean Malthus says with a thin smile on his reptilian lips, "it would be mosst difficult to reproducsse hiss sspirit, ass my colleagess in the Ssphere of Sspirit would tell you, dear Inquissitor. There iss the added quesstion of cosst however… Ssuch an exssperiment might be dangerouss, if the recreation of the sspell also rewoke the agencssy that wass ressponsible for the original attack. I fear we magess are not of ssuch sstaunch material ass Temple guardss, and thuss regard our livess ass ssomewhat less expendable."
Ciar shakes his head. "I know nothing of spirits or what is requiried to… reproduce them, I'm afraid. Yet I do wonder, if action is not taken to discover the attacker now, when might she… or it, strike again? Is there any particular reason why Isstan was singled out, or will others of your Circle fall as they become involved in rituals of knowledge that this entity finds interesting? I would fear that Isstan was only the first if this malicious agency is not brought down, Dean Malthus. That your mages will soon be unable to concentrate, always feeling the possiblity of this presence appearing in their visions and destroying them. And I would fear for your own safety as well, every time you conduct a ritual."
Dean Malthus steeples his fingers, looking quite inscrutable. "A posssibility. Of coursse it iss completely unnecesssary for me to remind you that the Collegia Essoterica and the Temple have long enjoyed a good working relationsship, inassmuch ass we order our resspective sspheres of influence and lend one another aid… Thus enssuring that we will be available when we are truly needed." He closes his eyes and places his fingers upon his forehead as if meditating.
Ciar nods quietly. "That is true. If you wish to perform such a ritual, I would see to it that healers, Temple guards, anything you wish would be standing close by, at a moment's calling… safety in numbers, unlike the unfortunate Isstan. And that if the attacker's name or location was discovered by such an undertaking, the Temple's full resources would be dispatched with haste to capture or destroy this malevolence. We wish to protect you and your Sphere."
Ciar says, "And all of the College as well."
"Mmm, the materials involved for adequate protectssion nothing like ssimple chalkss and flimsy paperss ssuch ass hedge wizzardss might use will cost ass well," Dean Malthus says. "But let uss not quibble about ssuch detailss. The Temple wisshess to commission a replicatssion of the eventss which brought about Isstan's death, yess? Then sshall we agree in principle, if not yet in detailss, to thiss reenaction?"
Ciar's tail quietly curls and uncurls around the chair's leg. He waits for a moment, one clawtip tapping softly on the side of his goblet… then nods. "Yes. If such a thing is possible, it would be our best hope for determining exactly what happened. We wish to comission a replication of the events that brought about his death, in principle as you say. Details of cost and materials I shall leave to my superiors." He sips the last of his wine. "I would, of course, wish to be present for the reenactment itself."
The black Naga smiles. "I would not dream of assking it be any other way, Inquissitor. Sso then… " He taps a clawtip against his cheek. "Thiss jaguar cub, do you believe her in ssome way involved in thiss mysstery?"
The Inquisitor's hood changes shape a little, as if his ears are moving a bit under the fabric. "It seems highly likely, yes. She is a Jaguar… rare enough as it is. Envoy mentioned that the cub 'moved the same way as' the older jaguar in her vision, which to me is indicative of direct relation, a trait carried to offspring, yes? Secondly, she is an orphan, yet when questioned about her mother, was hesitant, first expressed a sort of awe, then when pressed further, responded with a crying burst of an unknown language. She is also very quiet, reserved… moreso than many of her age, as if she's troubled. These all seem to add up, in a way."
"I agree completely of coursse," the black Naga says. "Circumsstantial evidencsse iss often all we have to go on. Perhapss then you sshould alsso arrange that the cub be brought on thiss trip? A tour of the wonderful ssightss of the Empire How could any young cub of whatever sspeciess ressisst?"
Ciar shifts position as he considers that. "An excellent idea, yes. I shall have to speak to her adopted parent. It would look rather bad for the Temple if we were to go about taking cubs without permission, of course. Indeed, I doubt any cub could resist a trip to see such magnificent sights."
Dean Malthus regards Ciar curiously. "Of coursse I could read your mind, Inquissitor, but it would be highly unethical of me to do sso. Sso I assk you curioussly, what brought thiss matter up to Temple attention now when it hass lain idle sso long?"
Ciar coughs, then regards the Naga calmly. "Reading the mind of a Temple Inquisitor can be quite dangerous, yes." He toys with his empty goblet. "What brought this matter up? Let's just say that in all organizations, there are those who fail to recognize the obvious… I'm sure you must deal with those of that sort as well? We… My area in particular, have realized that this attacking force is truly a threat, not simply a one-time criminal to be sought after and dealt with. Their 'eavesdropping' on Isstan was for a purpose, and the 'they' might well be a group, not simply a renegade Mage. Either way, the attacking force represents a threat to your Circle, the College, to the Temple and Rephidim itself."
Ciar muses for a moment. "If a root appears in a stone wall, you must immediately seize it and remove it. For if you ignore it, it will spread into the foundation, through the cracks, growing and spreading until it undermines the foundation itself, pulls apart the stones, and your structure crumbles. Does that make sense, Dean Malthus? That… is our present situation. We must seek out and destroy the root now."
Dean Malthus says, "Of coursse. It iss only ssenssible." He drums his fingers upon the table and then continues, "The Temple iss the foundation upon which Rephidim ssociety hass been built. I ssensse that you are concerned by more than the death of one mind-mage, Inquissitor… " He waves away any protests or denials. "No, no, it iss a thought sso great I cannot help but ssensse it, desspite my effortss not to noticsse. Do not fear. I will not tell anyone of our disscussionss. However, if the College of the Ssphere of Mind might provide ssome assisstance with these matters?… "
Ciar nods. "The death of one mind-mage is in itself significant, yet that which shows at the ground's edge is not all that exists of a Bromthen pumpkin-truffle. I thank you for your discretion; it is for your own safety as well. And as for assistance from the Sphere of the Mind, we would be grateful for assistance… However, I would prefer that you keep any activities under the guise of simply investigating the death of Mage Isstan. For now, at least, so as to not attract undue attention and so as not to endanger any members of your Sphere."
The black Naga sips his wine slowly, and then refills the Inquisitor's goblet. "An excellent vintage, issn't it? It benefitss from breathing in the air a little. Well then, I sshall resst assured that the future of the Temple ressts in capable handss, Inquissitor Ciar."
Ciar sips his wine, then visible edge of his muzzle parts a bit in a quiet smile. "Yes, it does. Excellent indeed, I shall have to recommend it for Temple functions. My commendations to the Empire for producing such fine wines. And… I thank you, Dean Malthus. I shall rest assured that the Sphere of the Mind rests in hands and coils just as capable."
Dean Malthus beams. "Very well then, I'll have my ssecretary sspeak to yourss and we sshall have the detailss worked out ssoon, I am cssertain. Will there be anything else, Inquissitor?"
Ciar quietly finishes his wine, then shakes his head and stands slowly. "I believe that was all, I thank you for your time… You have been most helpful to me and to the Temple; such assistance is always due recognition. I look forward to the resolution of this crime, and the end of the threat to both of our respective circles. With your assistance, I believe that will be soon. Thank you, and a good day to you, Dean Malthus."
The black Naga bows to the black fox. "Allow me to show you out then, Inquissitor. And my doorss are alwayss open to you, sshould you need help in any wayss." He conducts Ciar to the door, opening them to reveal that the page has been waiting for the hour or so the interview has taken.
Ciar regards the page, then nods to her politely, gives Malthus one more nod, deeper than the one given the page, and bids farewell. "I shall remember that. The same for you, of course, simply ask for me at the Temple, and I shall meet with you as soon as possible. Good day." With that, he turns and pads silently out into the sun, looking oddly monochrome in the color of his robes and fur against the bright colors of the afternoon.