There's quite a bit of vegetation to work one's way through, but there is a passageway that leads off to the south, through the wood, at the end of which can be seen the reverse side of the amber door visible from the outside. Light filters in, limning shadows of creatures caught in the amber … not all of them insects. There's a strange effect, as the creatures caught in the amber seem to be flattened somehow … or else the amber isn't as shallow as it appears. Whatever the case, there is a simple handle set in the amber, and hinges of wood that hold it in place.
Almost a week has passes and the supply ship should be arriving at the tower any day now. Meanwhile, the three explorers of Barabbas' tower have had quite a bit to keep them occupied. The camp outside was salvageable enough so that food and water wouldn't be scarce, and the kitchen in the tower even provided a small luxury not to be found in any other camping excursion.
The animals have been doing a number on the garden and many of the fruit-bearing plants are running a bit thin on food while the number of grazing plants has also suffered some reductions. The plants still seem to grow relatively quickly though, and it should only be a week or so before the blooms on some of the bushes turn into berries again.
After the incident with Skye's hat's feathers and Pearl, Lakshmi is a bit more cautious with the books in the top of the tower, and the animals. As each group of books is noted and catalogued in the tower's amber cupola, Lakshmi carefully carries them downstairs and stores them in the library, where the animals aren't allowed to go.
Before she starts her transcribing of the journal with Lochinvar, Lakshmi takes one of her empty journal books and writes one letter of the Imperial alphabet at the top of each of several consecutive pages. When she and Skye find a moment, she settles down with him and names and sounds out each of the letters with him, then shows him how each of the letters is written. Once she's done that, she gives him a pen and the journal for his own, to practice with. She instructs him to copy each of the letters as often as he needs to on each page, until he can write them easily and smoothly. She be checks back often with him for any problems he might be having, but she wants him to have something interesting and useful to do while she's transcribing.
Lakshmi also carefully makes copies of all the Earth Magic notes in her journals, so that even if some animal did manage to chew out some pages of the originals, the information would not be lost forever.
Once the books are catalogued and safely stored away from hungry and/or nesting animals, Lakshmi takes a bit more exploration time. She experiments very carefully, determining if the library door can be opened from the inside (she doesn't want anyone to be accidentally trapped in there); if the trapped downstairs amber door can be opened from the outside when the trap is turned off or from the inside when the trap is turned on (she doesn't want anyone to be sucked up by the amber by accident); things like that.
Thankfully, the amber door only seems to work on the outside and can be safely touched inside the tower. Also one of the switches from the control room seems to shut off its trapping abilities altogether.
Despite this, she also instructs the others to never use the door alone she doesn't want any of the animals slipping outside accidentally. Having someone to man the door while someone else goes outside is the safest way she knows to make sure that doesn't happen.
Outside, Lakshmi sets back up the magical posts that Fenter put in place and the ruby beast knocked down. She also leaves a warning note with a rock paper-weight for the folks that are due to arrive weeks, letting them know not to touch the door, and to be patient please that she or one of the others would be down to talk to them as soon as they were seen.
Sitting on the edge of the balcony, Skye carefully and slowly transcribes letter after letter after letter, his ears flat with concentration, his whiskers twitching every now and then. Throughout most of their time, he has stayed out of the way of the research bustle, his primary task being to make sure that a certain Naga remembers to eat. He does, however, listen in on the conversations and dictation, his sharp ears following choice tidbits of journal and tome selections. And from his perch he does pause every now and then, from looking down upon the desert from the top of the tower, to consider Barabbas' words.
"Boss'Laks'mi… " Skye looks up with a dry and knowing smile. "'ow does it feel, to be t'e c'osen heir of Tower an' menagerie?"
Lakshmi doesn't answer right away, as she also is entirely absorbed in what she's doing… so much so that she's unaware the tips of her bifurcate tongue can be seen between her lips. When she does look up, a bit absently, she considers Skye's words… then frowns. "Worrisome. I need to learn far more about the tower and the animals before I can competently protect it and continue its mission as a place of learning."
Lakshmi looks around a bit absently, "Why do you ask? Is it time to eat again?"
Skye shakes his head, quietly. "No, Laks'mi. T'e fact t'at, if yi read w'at t'e mage 'ad said … t'is tower and 'is critters, it's not anyone else's, but yours."
Lakshmi sighs softly, smiling faintly. "Skye… I wish life were that easy… but we live in a world where too many think might makes right." She sighs softly again, a worried crease forming between her eyes, and adds, "But… I'll do my best for the animals and the tower, for as long as I can."
Lakshmi rolls her eyes amusedly at herself, "Stars… I can't believe I just told you life wasn't easy. Pardon me… no offense was meant, Skye."
Lakshmi and Skye's winged Hekoye companion walks out of the library with another armload of books, to set them over with the small pile already out here. "If I might ask, are you that sure that you are the heir?" he asks, obviously having picked up their conversation out here. "I did read the note that he left about the needing of an heir first, after all. But are any of us capable?"
Lakshmi glances at Lochinvar idly… then smiles. "You've no family, I take it," she hisses, and goes back to her reading.
The coyote looks to Lakshmi, trying to work out the meaning behind the question. "I do, though I do not get back to see them as often as I would prefer."
Lochinvar puts the books down on the ground and continues, "Not only that, but the only way these texts say to care for these creatures is by magical means. None of us here can do that. So, are we even qualified?"
Lakshmi glances up abruptly. "Don't put the books on the ground, Lochinvar bring them out only one at a time! You need to treat them with care."
Lochinvar picks up a few of the books, gesturing to the covers on each. "Most of these are dictionaries," he says. "I figured that by pooling our efforts by giving both of yourselves a chance to translate, we might speed up matters slightly."
Lakshmi sighs softly. "Lochinvar, to address your previous question, if I understand the mammalian concept of family, it is much like one's schoolmates. There is a responsibility to one's schoolmates… to assist as best you can, to do what must be done in order to make things work out. Now… one book at a time, please? We are all doing what we are capable of doing. Shall we get back to work?"
Looking up from his careful scrawl of letters, Skye shrugs. "Barabbas made it plainly obvious. T'ose 'e were wit', 'is apprentices, t'ey were not acceptable. So 'e created t'e Tower. An' it was specifically crafted, to test t'e skills of t'ose who would try. T'e one to succeed, t'at one 'is heir would be. 'Is words, as spoken. And of t'e t'ree of us, mi'honor Laks'mi of t'a Imperial Sc'ool of Be'aviorists, is t'e only one of us wit' t'e skill with critters t'at 'e seeks. So t'e tower is hers."
"T'e rest follows." Skye shrugs again. "Are just skills an' care to be made an' learned. By Laks'mi's word."
Lakshmi nods a tad grimly. "I will learn… whatever is necessary." Then she goes determinedly back to work.
The coyote shrugs, putting down the Khattan/Imperial dictionary. "If you say so," he says, then picks the other books up to return them into the library.
"If I say so?" Skye looks back, his head tilted. "I don't see anyone else wit' a fair claim. Unless one wears a collar, but I t'ink t'e t'ree of us are our own furs, yes?" He shrugs again, turning to look out the windows across the desert. "Laks'mi, is t'ere enough t'ere, in t'e books, for yi to solve t'e food problem, or will we 'ave to get ingenious again?"
Lakshmi frowns thoughtfully, glancing at the book in front of her. "The answers are all here. I need to hire a trustworthy Earth Mage to teach me enough rudiments of magic so that I can implement the cantrips though."
Lakshmi hisses softly, "The tower can be self-sufficient… we just need to turn it on."
Skye looks back towards the central room, ears flat. "Laks'mi, yi might just wish to keep t'e doors locked t'ou."
Lakshmi nods. "The traps? They are. The outside ones are on."
Dawn came all too suddenly in the tower, although the balcony window offered an impressive view of the sunrise. Then the adventurers awoke to the shrill cries of a fuzzy little Creen who demanded breakfast, but the berry bushes had yet to produce anything quite yet. The other plants look even more thin now, and some of the fruit producing plants have been grazed from as well. The plants have been pruned fairly well, but they're not bare and the garden hasn't been grazed to sticks yet.
Today is the day that the caravan is expected to arrive, thankfully. And hopefully it will have a batch of fresh supplies and news from the outside.
Lakshmi feeds Lapis from her own supplies, and looks at Lochinvar. "I think it's time to move things along. We can't afford to wait for the resupply ship any longer. If it does not arrive today, I'd like to send you with a note to ask them to come earlier. Can you do that?"
Skye looks to Lakshmi and tilts his head. "Or would it be better for 'im to go to t'e Imperial city, and get supplies from yi Sc'ool?"
Lakshmi thinks about that… then nods. "They'd come, if I gave the correct codes. All right… and it's probably closer too."
Lochinvar shakes his head. "Not really, with the sandstorm that is surrounding us," he replies. "Trying to get through it without the assistance of a mage would be near suicide."
Lakshmi looks curious. "How do the Nohbakim manage it then?"
"The Nohbakim are far more adapted to living in the Sea of Sand than us," Lochinvar says. "No doubt they may be able to resist the intensity of such storms also."
Lakshmi eyes the garden thoughtfully… then takes some appropriate bits of the plentiful rations-for-sentients, and crumbles and scatters those in opportune places, so that the garden can get a tad bit of rest from the grazing. Then she goes back to her studying. She has things to learn in order to make this place alive again, and she's focused on that learning.
Pearl stops trying to paw a chunk of algae out of the water and instead trots over to munch at the newly proffered goodies. For now, Lapis is content to nap across Lakshmi's neck.
Skye sits on the edge of the steps, quiet, considering. "T'e question, Laks'mi, is do yi need 'elp? And if so, where will yi get it from?"
Lakshmi nods. "We need help now, yes. Lochinvar cannot get it for us… neither can we go out to get it. So… we need the Nohbakim to arrive, either with supplies, or to take Lochinvar with a message to my school so they can bring more supplies. Once we have an Earth Mage, we will be able to make the tower self-sufficient." She frowns thoughtfully, looking out the amber door. "Although… it is odd, now that I think about it… "
Skye looks back, his ears perking, "Yes?"
Lakshmi looks puzzled. "Fenter told us that we should not disturb the magical poles he set up… which the ruby beast did. So theoretically they shouldn't work any more… and yet… they are. Look… " She points to the door. "The golem is turned on at night, and it's morning, and I've not turned it off yet. But do you see it there? It's not outside the door, glowering at us, is it?"
Skye shakes his head. "But 'e's left no mechanisms, for t'e spells required, did 'e?"
The coyote edges towards the door, and looks around. "I've seen some movement outside. Maybe it caught something and is otherwise occupied?"
The drone of the sandstorm outside changes pitch slightly. It's been easily ignored, but the slight change in this constant jerks it back into perception.
Lakshmi smiles. "If it did, perhaps that something is edible." She sighs, "That is the problem, Skye… no mechanisms. Still… if the magic poles work because the golem believes they do… and a golem is merely a mindless mechanism… then why wouldn't something similar work on plants, I wonder?"
Skye tilts his head, quiet. "Yi 'ear t'at?"
Lochinvar looks out towards the storm, head tilted. "Did you -? Ah. I wasn't the only one."
Lakshmi nods, her head tilted and her eyes alert, "Shall we head for the balcony, gentles?"
Lakshmi suits her actions to her words.
Skye nods quietly, and follows Lakshmi up the stairs.
The winged coyote follows the Naga and Skreek.
Lakshmi slithers swiftly up to the balcony and looks out intently.
From the balcony, a dark spot can be seen in the churning sandstorm, growing darker and more distinct until it becomes a hole in the storm.
Lakshmi leaves the others at the balcony, slithering back to the central room. There, she goes to the "traps" chair and flips the switch that turns the sand golem off. Once that is done, she slithers back to the balcony.
The fore of a sandship emerges from the hole, and upon its decks, a chaos mage in robes brightly colored stands with his arms held out. Behind him, little robed figures scurry across the decks, as well as other figures in different cuts of mages' robes.
"It looks indeed like our ride is here," Lochinvar says, squinting a little at the ship coming closer.
Skye frowns quietly. "I don't like t'e look of t'at. A w'ole bevy of magicians?"
Lakshmi laughs! "Excellent, it's Fenter! Let's go down and greet them… I have a package prepared of notes for them." She picks a package out of her belt pouch and smiles ruefully at Skye. "We shall see."
The ship drops its sand anchor into the dirt and begins to slow as it nears the tree.
"Before we do," Lochinvar says, "I'll go make certain that the sand golem is off."
Lochinvar wanders from the balcony to the central chamber.
Lakshmi smiles at Lochinvar. "It is. What's the matter, Lochinvar… don't you trust me?"
"I just like to be sure," Lochinvar calls back, entering the chamber with the levers.
Skye follows the big Hekoye into the central room.
Lakshmi gives Skye an amused glance, and follows them both. "Yes, of course," she murmurs dryly. She glances around in a business-like fashion… animals out of this room, all the books in the library, everything tidy.
When Lochinvar checks the switches, the sand golem looks to have been disabled, although the amber door is still active. The traps leading up to the top chamber have been disarmed as well. How else could the three have made it to the top chamber so quickly, after all?
Lakshmi leans against the doorjamb, her arms folded, an amused look on her face. "Sure you don't want to pat me down or anything as well, Lochinvar?"
Lochinvar looks back at the Naga with a slight hint of confusion on his face. "I did say I saw movements in the sand outside the tower door," the coyote says. "It's nothing about trust, but just about being sure and assuring our continued safety. In case it is still out there."
A shrill note from a horn being blown outside echoes through the tower.
Lakshmi smiles and shakes her head, "Yes, of course… even though you watched me go to turn it off only moments ago. May we go down now?"
The winged Hekoye nods. "After you," he offers.
Lakshmi laughs aloud, then grins and shakes her head at Lochinvar. "You know, everyone says the Nagai are sneaky… but d'you know what I see? I see all of you Temple folks, projecting your own fears and failings on us, so you can call yourself pristine and pure." She snorts amusedly. "What hypocrisy! Certainly, I have nothing to hide." She nods to Skye. "Why don't you stay up here? Lochinvar's behavior is making me suspect our supposed 'deliverers.' Lock the doors behind us… and here, you should keep this, too." She hands the keys to Skye.
Lakshmi bows sweepingly to Lochinvar. "Ready? Would you like me to turn my back for you first?"
The coyote shakes his head. "I am purely attempting to act in the best interests of all of us. As for staying up here, I will not. I will meet the ship with you both."
Skye snares the keys from Lakshmi's hand, and flourishes them with a flash. He then tucks them away somewhere. "I'll keep a wary eye out, Boss'Laks'mi."
Lakshmi hisses softly, "No, Lochinvar, you will not be giving the orders, nor will you be determining what is best for me… or for Skye, I suspect, who is quite capable of taking care of himself. You were hired by the Temple to follow my orders, and I've put up with your barely veiled hints quite patiently. Now… you are going to come with me, and we're going to meet this ship."
"As for checking the lever for the golem," Lochinvar continues, "you did not say what you did when you entered the chamber. I was merely making sure that the lever was set for our safety. Nothing more."
Lakshmi hisses softly, "Enough stalling, Lochinvar. Are you coming or not?"
"I am coming," the coyote replies.
Lakshmi nods and heads out the door, pausing to be sure he's with her and not near Skye.
Skye waits patient, quiet, as the two leave the central chamber. Then, for the swiftest moment, he calls Lakshmi back, standing on tip toes, to whisper something so soft, for her ears only. "When you want to come back, make a coil in a big loop. If there's trouble, cross the loop. I will watch, sharp. And listen too, from the balcony."
Lakshmi nods quietly to Skye, her eyes troubled, and whispers softly back, "If I cross the loop… turn on the golem." Then she leaves.
Once Skye is sure that the others are safe and down and out, he locks all the doors and traps behind them.
"Pardon me, Lochinvar," hisses the snake, "I'm on my way… "
The Hekoye raises an eyebrow, and steps aside for Lakshmi, then follows her down the stairs to meet the sandship.
Lochinvar returned to the sand ship alone. Whatever else was going on aboard the ship couldn't be seen, beyond some of the mages shuffling around, and a big white thing happily snuffling at the coyote when he boarded.
Lakshmi curls neatly up in the center of the mage-warded area, puts her packet of information for the Temple in her lap, and waits… although she does grin and wave at Fenter and the Nohbakim she recognizes.
Half an hour later, a familiar looking Skeek Inquisitor leaves the ship with a small entourage. Fenter, the chaos mage, has a darkened shape floating over his head. A Khatta mage in rainbow colored robes has a similar apparition over her head except it cycles colors slowly. A chubby looking Khatta in Himaatian silks and an oversized turban follows along, with an odd bone white colored creature with googly eyes and a long "o" shaped mouth.
Lakshmi eyes the group with amusement, but rises politely and nods to them all. "Good morning. I would guess from your preparations for meeting one lone Naga that you've heard Lochinvar's story. It must have been a doozie, I must say. I do hope you'll give me a moment to present my side of the story as well?" She smiles courteously, her hands visible and holding only the packet of information.
Fenter winces a bit as he eyes the warding sticks and then pauses to glance at his feet.
Inquisitor Tobit simply nods his head. "Of course. I am not here to persecute, although I must be the bearer of bad tidings regardless. But please, continue."
Lakshmi hisses softly, "By all means let us dispense with the bad tidings first. Do tell me, please? I hate worrying unnecessarily."
The Hooka dips its snout in the sand and inhales a small pile of it. It rattles its joints and then sneezes out a small cloud.
Lakshmi smiles faintly at the Hooka's antics.
"Rephidim and Nagai are at war," the Skeek explains. "The Emir has requested that both sides of this expedition leave, and has requested that this operation be placed in the hands of a neutral party specifically, the Collegia Esoterica, which has formally declared their neutrality on this issue. Unfortunately, this also places you and your assistant in a similarly uncomfortable position.".
The chubby Khatta folds his hands in front of his face and bows to Lakshmi. "Many pardons for this most unfortunate occurrence, oh Naga with scales that shine like glittering stars."
Lakshmi nods slowly, thinking… then bows equally politely to the Khatta. "But there is no need to ask for pardons, oh Khatta of notable talent, as this is exactly what was desired by both my assistant and myself." She smiles ruefully at the Skeek. "While I am not happy to hear of the war, in some ways this feeds quite nicely into what I believe the tower's previous owner desired. Er… may I suggest we sit, as this will take a bit of telling?"
Lakshmi settles gracefully into a heap of coils, and offers the packet to the Skeek. "As per our contract, here are the preliminary notes for the tower. They are written by me and contain a simple map, a list of the library's contents, a polite request that you please pay the Hekoye in your employ the amount agreed upon for the duration of his participation in my party, and a short recommendation for him, should he wish it."
The Inquisitor's head dips. "I would prefer to stand. Not out of any measure of disrespect but simply because if I sit down, I would probably get an excessive amount of sand in my robes." He accepts the packet and hands it to the turbaned Khatta.
Fenter, on the other hand, promptly plops down in the sand.
"Where is your companion, might I ask?" The Skeek peers about. "I would prefer that he join us for this news."
Lakshmi blinks… then covers a smile as she realizes the truth of the Inquisitor's words. She nods, her smile rueful. "It does seem that the environment has been inclement every time we meet, has it not? Well then… let me update you all." She takes a breath, and begins speaking, "The former owner of this tower was a Nohbakim named Barabbas. He was an earth mage, and studied extensively here. It was his wish that his tower continue to be a place of 'new learning.'"
The rainbow robed mage glances down at Fenter and then abruptly takes an interest in a portion of the sky.
Lakshmi hisses softly, "To insure this, he designed his traps in his tower so that the person that won through them would be his successor. I have won through his traps… therefore it is my responsibility to follow his wishes and to protect his 'children' the animals. I am, therefore, saddened to hear of the war, but pleased to hear that the Collegiate Esoterica will be part of the tower's new protectors." She pauses, then raises one finger. "So far, I believe we have need for only one trustworthy earth mage." She takes a breath, her excitement shining in her eyes. "Gentles… I believe with that one earth mage… that we can make the tower come alive and self-sufficient again!""
The Inquisitor taps his chin. "An earth mage can be supplied. As for your responsibility… " He glances to the chubby Khatta.
Lakshmi turns to the Khatta. "Notable one… would you be able to supply an earth mage for the needs of the tower?"
"Oh yes yes!" The chubby feline nods, bouncing his turban around. "We shall allow the Emir to choose the finest earth mage on Sinai, as long as they are part of the most esteemed Collegia. We are very very gracious for your help and will treat the tower as though it were our most dearest child and we thank you for all of your help. We wish you safe journeys." He bows again.
Lakshmi smiles. "Excellent! I'll be happy to help the earth mage turning on spells to turn them on in the safest order for the animals."
The Inquisitor folds his hands behind his back. "That is not possible, I am afraid. The Emir has declared neutrality in the war. As a student of the Nagai, you cannot remain."
"We must take you with us when we leave. I am quite sorry for this, Master Lakshmi," Tobit squeaks.
The Khatta bows several times again.
Lakshmi tilts her head at the Inquisitor. "As I said previously, I am declaring my neutrality, in order to best care for the animals and the tower, which is my responsibility. My good Inquisitor, you asked me to do a thorough job… I have."
"So you cut off all alliances to your country? You declare yourself no longer a citizen of Nagai?" The mouse's eyes narrow.
Lakshmi hisses softly, "Certainly not. I am going to learn magic with the Collegia Esoterica, and be a neutral, as I said previously."
Lakshmi smiles at the Inquisitor. "Sir, my contract with you is ended. I believe I have done an excellent job. You can give my salary to the Behaviorist's School in Nagai City." She turns to the Khatta and bows gracefully. "Oh Khatta of unsurpassed grace, it is my hope that our learning from this tower will be long and fruitful. In what helpful way shall we begin our collaboration?"
The Inquisitor sighs. "Master Lakshmi, as cruel and unfair as you see this, I have no control over the matter. As long as you are a citizen of the Nagai, you will not be welcome in this tower, and if you do not leave with us then the Emir shall send forces to evict you once I depart. I should also note that this could very easily turn into a political situation that neither of us wish to involve the Emir in. If no is your final answer then I shall wash my hands of it and leave, but in doing so you will risk your precious research to be lost when the Emir sends his forces to remove you."
Lakshmi tilts her head politely at the Khatta. "Does the Inquisitor speak for the Emir in this matter?"
The Khatta bows again. "Oh great Naga with scales like flowing sands, he unfortunately most assuredly does. The great Emir has asked that all parties must leave here so that he may avoid involvement in this war and ruffling the fur or scales of their allied friends."
Lakshmi hisses softly, "Alas, then I fear since the Emir has deferred to the dictates of the Temple, and the Inquisitor has made blatant threats, I must point out most regretfully that my claim on the tower predates that of the Khatta… as the previous owner's last will and testament designates me as his heir."
Lakshmi hisses softly, "Furthermore, if the Emir believes he is giving the tower to the Collegia Esoterica, it would seem to me that his claim on my presence is moot."
Lakshmi hisses softly, "Perhaps I should be negotiating with a representative of the Collegia Esoterica."
Lakshmi hisses softly, "I would, after all, far prefer the tower, myself, and the Collegia remain aloof from the war. It would be a shame if the Inquisitor's actions forced the Emir to make the regrettable decision to take sides in a war he so obviously wishes to remain neutral in. It would seem wiser by far for us to have a Collegia representative here for negotiations, don't you think?"
After several attempts at speaking and being cut off by the snake, Tobit straightens. "I see you have made your decision. So be it, Master Lakshmi. I dearly hope this does not endanger the Himaat or its Emir in this war. The Temple hereby withdraws from this conflict unless further requested otherwise. I shall send word to your school that you performed admirably for us while in our service. Good day." The mouse bows and turns around, walking back to the ship.
Fenter pulls himself up from the sand and dusts his backside off. The Khatta wrings his hands nervously and starts to follow behind, joined by the Hooka and the rainbow robed mage.
Lakshmi calls politely to the Khatta, "Pardon me, most excellent Khatta, but for the sake of the unique animals within this tower I would like to assist in the off-loading of supplies."
The Khatta pauses and turns around to bow. "There will be no off loading of supplies, most gracious and well spoken snake. There were no supplies on the ship except what was needed to care for those on board." After that he hastily jogs back to catch up with the Inquisitor as they board the sandship.
Lakshmi raises an eyebrow. "Interesting. I had not realized the Emir's care for the animals 'like our children' would extend to starving them? Do you not want the tower to be here when the Emir returns?"
This only prompts a frown from the plump Khatta, but no reply as he boards the sandship. The vessel starts moving once more, and, after circling the tower, it passes through a gap in the sandstorm. The sandstorm then seals back in on itself … leaving Skye and Lakshmi alone with Barabbas' Tower.