9 New, 6097 RTR (23 Jan 1998) Brishen returns to the City of Babel.
(Airship) (Ashdod) (Babel) (Brishen) (Sabaoth's Wrath) (Ur)
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The journey to Ashdod has not been very long at all insofar as transcontinental airship journeys go. Not once was the ship delayed by patrols … and for much of the trip, the view outside the ship has been obscured by that magical shroud. Similarly, it is probable that the speed of the ship could be attributed to the efforts of several Eeee and Naga mages aboard the craft.

Perhaps strangely, perhaps not, the 'cloak' is used, off and on, even while the ship has reached the shores of the Ashdod Territories, and is not dispensed with until Babel itself is in sight – the foremost feature being the great tower that rivals the mountain ridges that the metropolis is nestled within.

Unless things have changed greatly, the tower is taller than when Brishen last saw it. However, its girth and height is already so immense that the difference is negligible by sight alone.

The airship undergoes significant changes about the courier bat. The sails are drawn in, and other sails are furled back out. To Brishen's eyes, there is little real difference … but by the shades of gray, MAYBE they are brighter colors. They certainly bear emblems and designs where before the ship was far more plain.

A few locks of hair are brushed aside as Brishen gazes at the great city on the horizon. For a long time, she just stares at the tower, her breath catching in her throat. It's only when she turns away that she notices the changes the ship has undergone.

Savanites, Nagai and Eeee move about, at varying degrees of rush (according to their status, of course), to make preparations for the ship's arrival. A slave disassembles some of the railing, and carries the stained wood belowdecks … while another slave comes up with railing of far more ornate design, even incorporating studs of … metal!

Before Brishen's very eyes, the ship is changing from a nondescript trader vessel … into an ambassadorial vessel of the Sabaoth's High Fleet.

Much of the change in demeanor is lost on the little courier, unfortunately, her eyes trailing down to the streaks of blood that cross her once-bright blouse and pants. A slender hand picks at a hole in one sleeve, where something had torn at her in her headlong flight. A dart for all she knows.

As the ship draws closer, the traffic becomes more dense, though none invade the invisible "avenue" that the ship follows, passing the Tower, and heading for the Palace. THE Palace.

Brishen looks up, suddenly, and whispers, "Reico. Oh, wires… I never had a chance to tell… " She blinks back tears, taking a deep breath, then gasps. Surely she isn't going there.

Off to one side, a canopied litter borne by a flying host glides along, passing the airship. A jewel-bedecked passenger can be seen within, some royal and very important Eeee whose business also bears him to the palace. But it would seem that this airship nonetheless has the right of way, by the path the litter follows.

Brishen's hands tremble as she dashes to a newly-adorned railing, and leans out to look at the Palace. She remembers seeing it once, when she could ride on her father's shoulders. It seemed enormous then. It still does.

The palace rises from the city in much the same way as the other towering homes of the rich and powerful do, on the uppermost levels, except that there are decidedly fewer "bridges" connecting it to other structures … making security just that much easier to handle, perhaps, even in a city comprised mostly of fliers. (After all, bridges also provide a place for fliers to hide behind during their approach … or departure.)

The building is decidedly asymmetrical in form, a meandering upward procession of tiers and stories, with the exposed ceilings of lower levels occupied by lush gardens and orchards. Little dots of brighter light – which Brishen knows should be very colorful, though she cannot see – indicate the presence of various Creens and birds of paradise imported to populate the garden and provide a musical ambiance.

A wide plaza indicates the area where persons of importance would land in their litters and howdahs … or where ambassadorial ships would be temporarily moored for their passengers to disembark in orderly fashion along with their belongings. That would indeed seem to be just where this ship is headed.

Brishen closes her eyes for a moment, then looks down again. It can't be real. It – Maybe the stories her father told her were true after all.

An elderly female bat, the ship's nurse, approaches Brishen, holding a cape that shimmers faintly in the light, and drapes it around Brishen's shoulders. "Here, young lovely," she squeaks. "We haven't a thing on board for you to wear, since we weren't expecting you … but at least you can look a bit more presentable by bundling up in this. Once you're in the palace, they'll fix you up just right for seeing the Sabaoth, don't you fret!"

Brishen sniffs, looking up at the nurse. Her mouth opens, staying that way for a moment before she can find her voice. "Thank you." She only blinks once when she notices she's speaking in Eeee. It's so easy to fall into old habits.

Brishen draws the cape around herself, huddling within the shimmery garment.

The nurse nods and shuffles away. By the knobby joints of the nurse's wings, it is quite likely that she cannot fly and will be taking the landing platform down to the plaza. In the meantime, the ship has come to a precise stop over the plaza, governed more now by magic than its sails, and the mooring lines are taken down by several Eeee who plunge off the sides, calling out eerily as is their ancient tradition for such an arrival.

The process of landing and being received at the Palace is indeed something that could have come out of a dream. Brishen is lowered down on the platform rather than being expected to fly down, and is presented to the Palace in the company of the captain of the vessel and its ranking officers. Nienne, the dead agent, is obscured by swaths of cloth and a dark linen draped over his prone form carried on a plank by Savanite slaves. Brishen is received as if royalty, and ushered into the Palace. The Sabaoth is not present for this welcome, but his most prominent advisor, Thath, stands in his stead. The pale bat, with his long tresses of straight, silky black hair, is a fairly striking figure, the sort one does not soon forget, and he watches the whole procession with utter calm and well-rehearsed, cold precision, giving Brishen just the proper and respectful greeting as befitting a hero or royalty.

Brishen looks at everything and everyone with enormous brown eyes, wrapped tightly in her cape. {So this is what it feels like. I had no idea… }

The courier-turned-heroine is escorted into the Palace, past several Eeee warriors and the Palace Guard, and various officials and nobles that Brishen has no hope of recognizing by name, title or function, except that they seem very important and very well aware of their own importance … and by their expressions, perhaps a few might be doubtful about Brishen's worthiness for such a reception. Or maybe that's just a case of paranoia and nerves on the courier's part…

At last, Brishen is escorted into a chamber, and the guards leave her in the care of a veritable army of female Eeee, Nagai and Savanites. The lavishly decorated chamber, if not a small garden for all the plants to be found in the open sills and in every nook and cranny, is dedicated to personal appearance – a royal dressing room.

If Brishen were unsure of her importance, the treatment she receives here would possibly work against such uncertainties. The attention of every last person in the room seems focused on the bat, as they spring into action to tend to her needs. A warm bath, complete with fragrant and expensive oils, is hers, and a complete manicure. Several hairstylists vie for her attention, and clothiers take her measurements … and begin to fashion her a new garment before her very eyes!

Brishen, stunned, tries to take everything in. A small part of her mind squeaks {This can't be happening} over and over again.

The clothiers do not give Brishen much choice in the style of her attire. It would seem that somehow they have managed to catch on to her inability to detect colors, and don't question her on the matter of hue at all. Either that, or perhaps there are simply certain colors expected in the court, based upon factors loftier than whatever etiquette Brishen has had to learn so far for her day-to-day dealings.

Brishen squeaks as her hair is tugged this way and that. "I – I'm sorry. I haven't had a chance to. Oh, bugs. There're probably twigs in there."

With all the trouble given to Brishen's hair … if there WERE any twigs, it can be certain they wouldn't have survived the process. No mirrors are presented to Brishen for her approval … so she's largely left to guess … but she can still sneak a peek in the reflections on some of the shinier decorations about the room. My … is that HER?

Brishen blinks, then blinks again.

At last, after considerable time, Brishen is adorned in regal splendor, with expensive fragrances and … well … She looks like royalty. Finally, it would seem that her attendants see it fitting to roll out a standing mirror for her to look at just how she looks.

"Um. Um, um, um." The little courier, newly attired and very confused, almost reaches up to brush at her hair before she decides that she couldn't possibly reproduce what was done with it. "Um."

The dress she has been adorned with is of a traditional design from an age before any ancestor she can name, aside from the oldest of mythic origin stories, but with a few recent touches, such as the fresh flowers that have been woven together to form a crown for her pinned hair. Gauzy veils would give the appearance of an extra set of wings if her arms were held outstretched (which she surely has no reason to do so), and the drapes swirl and dance with every movement she makes. Every piece, every cut, is professionally arranged to be flattering, and her curly tresses seem at one with the flowery arrangement upon her head.

{Wow, I look pretty good.} Bree smiles, though the girl reflected in the mirror looks more nervous than anything else.

"It is time," the mistress of the chamber announces, and a gilded pair of double doors, previously closed, swing open to reveal a different way out of the room than the entrance Brishen took earlier.

Brown eyes fix on the floor, resolutely. Not necessarily out of respect, or fear, but more out of concern. Brishen tries to catch glimpses of her feet, and not trip. It wouldn't do for a hero of Ashdod to trip.

The corridor beyond the doors is a short one, and opens into a much wider hall. The tall-ceilinged chamber has many open windows set high on its walls, letting in the sunlight – and the occasional Creen – and would provide a means of exit or entry, though such would be completely unthinkable (and punishable by death). In nooks at apparently random altitudes, hanging plants flourish, though the color they add to the chamber is lost on certain eyes.

In the center of this chamber is where the great table would be set for a dinner … but there must be no great dinner tonight. The place for the Sabaoth to be seated is empty, though Thath, the chief advisor, is present, watching Brishen with his severe and judging gaze, and clasping onto a gilded staff that bears testament to his high station.

"Welcome, heroine of Ashdod, deliverer of elixirs, friend who has dwelt among our enemies but never fallen from faith," Thath pronounces with a subtle nod of his head. "Let all present honor this one who risked her life without a moment's pause for the good of the Sabaoth, may he live eternal, and the good of Babel and all of Ashdod."

Brishen closes her eyes for a moment, then looks straight ahead. Coincidentally, this is right at Thath, and she almost looks down at her feet again. She manages to catch herself, however, and keeps her eyes respectfully lowered. {This is right? Right? Try to remember! Remember what? Oh, I don't know – It's been so long!}

"Speak your name, honored guest," Thath bids formally, "so that all present may remember you, and honor your family."

There are several present, indeed. Over there is some emissary from the Plains of Saskanar, by the looks of him – the flat areas where dwell those Eeee who grow orchards and who favor only fruit, over the more succulent taste of insects. And there is a noble with a more barbaric look to his hairstyle and demeanor, though crammed into royal robes, a representative, no doubt, of the mountain tribes bordering Aelfhem.

Brishen whispers, at first, then pauses. When she finds her voice again, her name is spoken with a clear note. "I am Brishen Kara."

"Welcome, then, Brishen Kara, to the Palace of the Sabaoth. He is, sad to say, unable to preside over his court … but come with me now, for he desires a private audience with you in his chambers." Thath beckons with the sharply-clawed fingers of his free hand, the other tightly grasping the ornamental staff.

Slender hands tremble faintly, quickly clasped together as Brishen walks across the floor towards the tall adviser. There is no hesitation in her step, though her heart flutters nervously.

No guards accompany the advisor and the one he now escorts. Brishen and Thath pass out of the chamber, through a maze of corridors, and past many guards … until they come to a chamber dominated by a pile of mats laid out in the center of the floor. A very weak, withered bat is bundled up there, roughly propped up by a mass of pillows, rather than suspending from the ceiling as so many Eeee are accustomed to doing when at rest … unless they have not the strength or health to cling without risk of loosening their grip and falling to injure themselves against the floor.

Brishen keeps her eyes fixed on the floor. When she's expected to speak, she fervently hopes, someone will say something.

"Leave me," the pale bat on the floor says to his attendants and consorts. Several beautiful females of widely varying age – and in attire that diminishes even Brishen's present grandeur – leave the room, all with sad countenance. If what Brishen has picked up over the years is true, they have well good reason – the Sabaoth's harem of 'consorts' (for he does not take a wife) face death as surely as he does. For, any who enter into his harem do so for life. If he should die, they shall be purged as well, along with much of his court.

It would seem that the Sabaoth's bid to leave is not meant for Thath – or for Brishen – as Thath shows no sign of moving, and does not move aside to allow Brishen any exit. Instead, the Sabaoth's gaze drifts over to Brishen, and takes some time to focus on her – if it does indeed at all, presuming he is not merely relying upon his ears.

"You, too, leave me," the Sabaoth says … but he is not looking at Brishen. It would seem that even Thath is surprised, for it takes him a moment to respond. "Me, my lord?" This is greeted with a slow and painful nod of the head.

"I wish to speak alone with the one who has delivered these healing elixirs to me," the weak ruler croaks.

Brishen takes a deep breath, trying to quiet her fluttering heart. She's dreamed about moments like these, but now faced with one, she finds herself without the faintest idea what to do, or how to act. She winces inwardly, profoundly aware of how little she knows.

Thath at last bows his head. "As you wish. I will return immediately if you should summ – " … and he is cut off with a hand-wave from the ruler. Thath gives Brishen an unreadable look, and then turns and exits the chamber with a reluctant step.

Brishen and the Sabaoth are, save for the plants and trappings of wealth and the open sills that provide a panoramic vista of Babel … alone.

"So," the Sabaoth croaks, breaking the silence. "What is your name, since Thath did not announce you?"

The little courier's eyes try to take in everything at once: The tall adviser as he leaves, the Sabaoth, the city beyond. She remains so still however, that she could very well be a statue. A statue that jumps slightly as she is spoken to, "I." She bites her lower lip. "I am Brishen Kara, my lord."

"Kara. Kara. No, I don't recognize that name. But no matter. It will be remembered now," the Sabaoth mutters. "Now then … I understand you came from Rephidim, where you have been living, apart from your people. What can you tell me of it? How do the people of Rephidim deal with the constant onslaught from my troops? How can they bear quaking in fear every day at the prospect of imminent destruction, of fire raining down from my battleships without warning?"

The Sabaoth says, "Do any buildings still stand, or have they retreated to holes in the ground of their floating island?"

{Oh, wires. The war. What am I supposed to tell him? There are troubles, but… } "My lord," the courier squeaks, hesitantly. Her wings tremble as she considers her response, "I… "

"Yes?" the Sabaoth croaks. "You may speak freely. After all, I owe you my prolonged life. Please … sit down." He gestures to the various large pillows thrown about the room and on the floor.

Brishen bites her lower lip, nodding. She tries not to ruin her beautiful dress as she sits on a large pillow. "The city still stands, my lord."

"Ah well," the Sabaoth whispers. "All in good time. Wars take time. I've seen countless, after all, in my many years." He gazes over to Brishen. "And I will see many more."

A lock of curly hair trails down to tickle Brishen's muzzle as she nods. "I. I don't know much of the war, outside of Rephidim, my lord. Elsewhere it may be different, but in the city… "

"Go on," bids the Sabaoth.

Brishen's eyes cross ever-so-slightly as she tries to look at the offending lock. It tickles, but she tries to ignore it, "There are rumors of war, and fighting now and then on the docks, but many have chosen to forget that Ashdod and Rephidim are at war. It's easier not to think about it, my lord. Not as frightening."

Brishen bites her lower lip. That didn't come out quite like she'd wanted it to.

The Sabaoth takes a bit of time, but he definitely frowns. "That is definitely not what I intend. To forget? Rephidim is fighting the greatest power on Sinai … and the people in the city can forget this?" His gaze wanders off to the window.

The elder Eeee's brows furrow. "This will change. The wrath of the Sabaoth will NOT be forgotten! We have toyed with Rephidim for too long. It is time to make it clear that the Sabaoth is displeased."

{Oh, wires, no!} Her voice trembles as she continues, "My lord… For the Temple, and its soldiers, your wrath is very real. But… "

The Sabaoth waves away Brishen's words. "Do not trouble yourself with it further. I will summon my commanders and we will SEE about this. I am very disappointed. But not with you. You have done well." He lets out a long sigh. "But I must be alone with my thoughts for now. I am … tired."

Brishen's words muffle to a faint squeak. "I'm so sorry. I don't want anyone to be hurt." Her hands fly up to cover her mouth as she realizes she's spoken aloud.

Perhaps the Sabaoth did not hear, or perhaps he simply does not care, too wrapped up in his own more immediate concerns. He coughs roughly. "Leave now. And summon my physicians… " He breaks off into another stream of rasping coughs which shake his whole frame violently.

Brishen dashes towards the door, nearly flying. Thath will know what needs to be done.

The courier needn't say a word. As soon as she is through the door, with the sounds of the Sabaoth's coughing audible in the hall, the physicians dash in to tend to the Sabaoth's needs. Thath is nowhere to be seen … but some lesser Naga attendant with painted scales bows to Brishen. "I will show you to your quarters, Mistress Kara."

Brishen is brought up short by the Naga. "That would be… " And then the realization of what she's done catches up with her. The last thing she sees is the face of the attendant, before she crumples to the floor.

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GMed by Greywolf

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