Of the sights to be seen in the city of Rephidim, one of the most impressive (if not THE most impressive) would be the legendary Temple. More so than any palace or castle or fortress to be found on the surface, the Temple is an embodiment of ancient and almost timeless authority. But it is also an embodiment of corruption, for anyone who knows any of the truth, and the state of disrepair of so much of the temple is a standing testament to this. Nonetheless, Templars and Inquisitors and Auditors and Priests make their way through its gleaming corridors, tending to daily business and personal agendas. Like it or not, here can be found the driving force behind Rephidim … and much of Sinai at large.
Zoltan enters the open gates of the Temple; after checking in with the guards outside, he quietly walks in. His hooves clatter against the stone floor.
Zoltan pauses for a moment to lean against a wall and rub a sore spot on his wing. He's been flying a great deal more than he's used to lately and it's started to take its toll on his muscles.
A bat in the robes of a technopriest shuffles by, chattering in a high-pitched voice at some acolytes who struggle to keep up with him, nodding their heads at frequent intervals.
Zoltan looks around. ( Bats… only bats would be able to see very well in this darkness. I wonder why there's no windows here? ) He muses to himself.
The technopriest notes Zoltan, and finds a good stopping point, then shoos off the acolytes to get to work with a wave of his wings, then folds them back again, almost blending with his robes. "Aha. Zoltan, so prompt and punctual you are!" the bat squeaks. "But, alas, not all are so. There will be a delay before we head to the underside again. But fret not. You are here, and I have seen you, so as long as you're ready when we are, you'll be paid for your full time since you walked in."
The bat Nassar chatters on at a rapid pace about the troubles he's had with getting the proper materials requisitioned for making some minor repairs and such, and about how much trouble there has been with some of the recent break-downs in some odd sector, and so on and so forth.
The Vartan brightens. "Is good. There work you needs Zoltan to do meantimes? Or someplace can wait where I no get in way?"
The bat hmms. "I can't think of a thing. But return right here in, oh, say, an hour? Best to check in three-quarters of one, just in case someone gets their work in order and displays something approaching competency."
The bat begins chattering again on and on about his duties … but as he walks along without even giving Zoltan a chance to follow, it's quickly evident that he really doesn't care whether he has anyone to listen to his banter or not.
Zoltan nods and smirks ever so slightly. It's always nice to get paid to do nothing at all, especially by the Temple. He starts to look around, he's heard many things about the Temple… it would be interesting if he could get a look here and there while he has the chance.
While the state of the stonework is in disrepair (save for some ugly reinforcements here and there that do nothing to try to preserve the aesthetic beauty of the original carvings) it is nonetheless impressive, which is just as the Temple should be. The lack of any windows to give proper illumination makes things just a bit too dim, though there are torches and lanterns here and there, providing just enough to avoid blundering into someone else, though not necessarily enough to be just sure who you almost blundered into.
Zoltan slowly ambles down a hallway. He looks upwards at the stone… wondering how many years it has stood… and how many years until it falls. He resists the temptation to yank down one of the torches to illuminate his path a bit better, and just meanders on as best he can.
A line of cubs and kits in Temple Scout uniforms goosestep by, armed with parcels containing little baked morsels stamped with the emblem of the Star-and-Anchor, to deliver to those devotees of the Temple who were loyal enough to order them. They each have stern, serious expressions on faces that would look more at home giggling and laughing. But on they march down the corridor, slowly disappearing into the gloom, though their regular steps can still be heard.
Zoltan squints in the darkness, his eyes are good… but only in daylight. He turns another corner, hoping that it might lead him back the way he came. But in the half darkness it's rather hard to tell.
( I'm going to need an hour just to find my way back, I fear. ) O o . The Vartan thinks.
The public corridor eventually widens out a bit. The wall-mounted lighting is more frequent. In alcoves can be seen statues of venerated personages, behind grates (made of chitin spines) that have been bolted into the stone in a most unattractive manner to guard the statues from the habit of commoners to rub their noses. Already, many have noses that have been rubbed to the point of visible wear and a shiny finish.
A sign verifies that one of the corridors branching off from here leads into a section of the great Sanctuary, where the public Temple ceremonies are held. Even while there are no ceremonies taking place, it is as much of a "tourist attraction" as the Temple offers to those who can afford to be here.
Zoltan pauses to examine the statues. There's probably no hippogryphs, hmp.
No. No hippogryphs.
Mostly poodles, actually.
Zoltan glances around to make sure nobody is looking, then makes a quick *NYAAH!* face at a poodle that looks a bit like Titus. He quickly sneaks over towards the Sanctuary, anything to get away from all the poodles.
Speaking of poodles, one can hardly miss one who walks by, dressed in magenta and yellow-green robes that almost seem to glow in the faint light. His fur has a dirty look about it, and his face seems sculpted into a perpetual leer. He gives the Vartan no apparent notice, though, as he strides by, accompanied by some aides who are mostly dressed in brown, except for a repetition of the garish colors of their superior.
Zoltan thinks, ( So that's how they see in this dark… their clothing lights the way. )
A hushed whisper carries as the poodle departs, though whether it's uttered by him or one of his aides, it's not immediately evident. "… responsible for the destruction of two airships? Marvelous. I would like to see the look on his face when… " and then they turn the corner.
Zoltan glances back at the noise, but the figures are already gone. He turns his attentions back toward the sanctuary, peering down the corridor.
No more movement is evident down the corridor. The one that leads toward the sanctuary is only lit by the ambient light of the larger one it adjoins, and by a pair of lanterns hanging at each side of a double door at its far end. The far end, however, is but a short jog.
The hippogryph's curoisity starts to get the best of him. Besides, if he's not supposed to be there, he'll just say that he got lost… he wouldn't be lying, really. He half walks, half runs to the end of the hallway and very slowly opens the door.
The door looks as if it should be expected to creak noisily when opened. It doesn't, but rather slides effortlessly open on well-oiled hinges, revealing that just beyond is a shadowed balcony … overlooking the grandeur of the Sanctuary.
Zoltan walks out across the balcony, peering down over its edge.
A sign nearby warns the visitor, "No flying allowed." Actually, several other prohibitions are listed as well, but that just seems to be the one grabbing the most immediate notice just now.
The balcony is located about midway up a large chamber that is lit a mite bit better than much of the rest of the Temple encountered so far, most of that light coming from an uncertain source high above. The interior of the Sanctuary is a wonderwork of plastics, ceramics … and even that most precious of materials, metal.
Zoltan frowns at the sign. Lettering has yet to change suddenly when he makes nasty faces at it… yet he still tries.
Along the walls at various elevations can be seen other balconies, though some without evident access, many of them sporting arrays of glassy baubles, some of which glow in various colors or flicker on and off, or display strange patterns on their surfaces.
Zoltan looks around the room in wonder.
Grand columns rise upward, sturdy supports for the chamber as it reaches its apex in a dome overhead, alternating with long, colorful banners with the emblem of the Star and Anchor, and scenes depicting the history of Rephidim.
The Vartan leans out on his rail as far as he possibly can, trying to get a good look at everything.
At the floor, there is standing room for a multitude of persons, and some seats toward what might be called a "stage", dominated by the oddly-shaped altar (also complete with blinking, glittering lights), and a multitude of other structures of unknown purpose.
A few movements down below hint at some noble sightseers, as well as some of the penitent who have come to offer prayers.
Just as it seems Zoltan is about to fall off the edge … something grabs at his tail.
Zoltan ERKS! His head snaps around.
A cheetah looks back at Zoltan with a look of disapproval at first, but she quickly averts her gaze. She nonetheless still holds firmly onto the tail with both hands.
Zoltan's ears droop and he tries to smile as sheepishly as he can. "Sorry," He whispers; as voices probably carry very well here. "Is just so many shinies here!"
Zoltan lowers his head to get a better look at the Savanite's face. There's a certain cheetah with brown hair and green eyes that he remembers he's supposed to keep an eye open for.
Actually, the accoustics from this point seem to dampen the sound. Zoltan's voice comes across as barely audible. But the cheetah nonetheless nods. She doesn't let go of the tail, though, while Zoltan's still on the rail.
As for the cheetah, she is dressed in simple white garb, with a dark blue enameled collar about her neck that identifies her as property of a high-ranking Inquisitor. And, as a matter of fact, she does have green eyes.
Zoltan kneels on the ground so he can look the cheetah in the face, perhaps anyone nearby will just think he's genuflecting. "Hr… pardon me for asking. But is you name Azhtar?"
Azhtar lets go of the tail as it looks like the Vartan is going for safer footing. She nods her head, and makes a gesture of apology.
Azhtar just stands there silently, head slightly bowed, in the darkness of the balcony overlooking the chamber. From here, probably only someone from the stage would have a good chance of seeing the contents of the covered balcony, unless one were at the very edge.
Zoltan starts to rummage through his pocket, trying to find the scrap of cloth. "Was told to find Savanite named Azhtar by a fox named Jarik when I was in Hiamaat. You know who Jarik is?"
Azhtar's muzzle jerks back up, as she looks at Zoltan with wide eyes. After a pause, she nods slowly, not letting her eyes stray from Zoltan's.
Zoltan blinks, a Savanite that makes and holds eye contact is something he doesn't see very often. He finally fishes the ragged piece of cloth from his pouch and hands it to the cheetah. "He ask me to make sure you okay. There was lots trouble in Himaat with poodle named Kazhir. I not hear anything more about it since I leave tho."
Azhtar blinks again, waving a bunch of hand gestures that … well … would mean something to someone who understands Savanite.
The cheetah's hands shake as she takes the scrap of cloth. Her fingers curl, tensing on the fabric.
Zoltan shakeshakeshakes his head. "I no understand savan sign. Is any paper you could write on?"
The cheetah remembers herself, and looks back down again, and reaches to her side for a clipboard. As personal secretary to an Inquisitor, she is certainly prepared in that department.
Still shaking slightly, the cheetah begins to write … then scratches it out … then writes again … then scratches so hard as to tear the paper … then writes again, rips off the sheet and hands it to Zoltan.
Zoltan gingerly take the sheet and starts to read.
Zoltan looks up from the paper. "His airship crash, only him and poodle survive. I meet them when I on way back from Himar… they had trouble with sandpeople, but we manage to get through alrights. Later, Kazhir show me you letter… he say that you and Jarik is all traitors… " He pauses for a moment, trying to think of how to phrase the rest.
Azhtar's jaw trembles at mention of the letter. Her hands clench into shaking fists.
Zoltan says in the most quiet voise he can muster. "I try and kill poodle, but made mistake of trying to make him tell Jarik that he plan to kill you all. He got away and ran to trader for protection. We follow… but only allow in if we promise to no fight. I left next day. Not know what happen to Jarik or Kazhir after that. Is surprised there no bounty on me yets."
Zoltan says, "Before I leave, Jarik gave me cloth… and ask that I make sure you alrights."
The cheetah begins to sign something … then grabs her writing pad again, and begins scrawling onto the pad, pressing very hard, and making rough, jerking motions, as if she were slashing at the paper with a blade rather than forming letters with a writing utensil. In fact, the paper tears a few times. Looking quite upset, the cheetah hands the paper over to the Vartan.
Zoltan accepts the paper. ( I would have assumed she'd be happy to hear her friend was well… ) He thinks.
Zoltan reads, wincing now and again and shrinking down just a bit.
The cheetah fidgets and worries the the scrap of cloth in her hands, stretching and crumpling it and looking very unhappy.
The cheetah abruptly snatches the paper back, and tacks on another note, before thrusting it back to the Vartan.
Azhtar goes over to the balcony, and rests a shaky hand on the rail, looking over the edge, down to the floor, far below.
Zoltan reads the last bit, and shrinks down a bit more. "Kazhir showed me letter, I took from him and spoke to Jarik. Then gave letter back to Jarik after I realize that he not a traitor like Kazhir said. I try to kill Kazhir when I realize that he could cause trouble for all of us… but I fail." He sighs. "Is thought Jarik managed to kill poodle when I see you alive… if he told anyone, you would no be here."
Zoltan crumples up the notes and hands them back to Azhtar, to dispose of.
Azhtar's shoulders slump as she hears the rest of the message. She collapses against the railing, and her shoulders shake as she sobs quietly.
The cheetah grabs her pad again, and begins scrawling rapidly on it, a couple of tears spattering against the paper. As she writes, the strokes get more and more violent, until it ends in several torn swipes, and she just gives up and hands the crumpled paper over.
Zoltan winces at the letter, ( My mother was a what? Yeeegh… I'll never think Savanites to be a meek race again. ) "But… but… how you still alive if… " the Vartan blinks then sighs. "Oh… blackmail."
The cheetah is now sitting on the floor, leaning back against the short banister and rail, her tail curled about her and flicking in an agitated manner, while her hands cover her face.
"If it helps, Jarik no mean to cause trouble." the Vartan whispers. "He care greatly for you."
The cheetah turns toward the Vartan, her eyes focused on his again in that way so unsuiting a slave. Somehow her deep green eyes seem darker than normal in this light.
She calmly takes one more scrap of paper, and carefully and delicately renders a beautiful wordrune on it. Suitable for framing. This one she carefully removes and hands to the Vartan, without a single tear of the paper.
And then, Azhtar tucks away the scraps of crumpled paper, staggering to her feet, trying and failing to look … normal and undisturbed.
Zoltan drops his head, much like in the way a slave does to avoid eye contact. "Is should have killed the poodle. Bah… should have never gotten involved at all. Poodles always mean trouble."
The cheetah … smirks at this last comment.
Zoltan examines the paper and can only nod his head. He rolls it up like a scroll and waves it, "You mind if I keep this? Probably keep me out of trouble later."
Azhtar looks at the scrap of fabric, and returns it to Zoltan. She bows her head now, looking more in line with her station, and makes several gestures of apology to the big Vartan.
Zoltan shakes his head. "Is alrights. I should apoligise to you, no meant to upset. Is seem all this goes deeper than I throughts it did."
Azhtar shakes her head. She sighs at her frustration, and impulsively stands on her tip-toes and gives Zoltan a quick peck on the cheek and a brief hug, then abruptly turns and dashes away, toward the doors that lead back to the corridor.
Zoltan blinks in surprise!
As the door softly closes again not even making an audible bump the Vartan is left alone in the darkness of the balcony. Nobody on the floor below seems to be staring in this direction or otherwise giving any indication that the recent "scene" was noticed.
Zoltan pulls himself up slowly and shakes himself out. He makes a sudden squeak of surprise as he realizes that his time to meet up with his crew is growing nearer and he gathers himself up.
Zoltan bursts out the door and shuffles down the hallways and corridors as fast as he can. In the darkness there's a loud *THUMP* and the sounds of angry Temple Scouts scattering out of the way.