Balcony in Faraon's Dome
Crafted from veneered wood set so tight together that it's all but impossible to feel any seams between the planks, the balcony overlooks one of the fabulous miniature gardens in Faraon's resort on the underside of Rephidim. The railings are carved thickly with animals and people of different species, so that one might appear to be dining in the midst of a crowd, were it not that they were all universally of the same light wooden color.
Following the rather amusing (at least from Faraon's point of view) gardening contest between two of his slaves, the golden dragon has adjourned to a balcony overlooking another of his beautiful gardens, this one a topiary with herbal representation of a hundred deadly animals. Perhaps there's some kind of underlying symbology to the placement of the creatures and the small ponds which shine blue under the light of the glowing flower-vines…
The golden dragon rests upon a pile of pillows and bolsters, and a small (for the forty-feet long creature) bowl of ice cream sits before him, the surface studded with small red nuggets of some spicy substance. He flicks his tongue out delicately, dipping a spoon into it and tasting.
As servants lead Bambridge and Zoltan in, after they have had ample opportunity to refresh themselves, more of the ubiquitous Savanites set more bowls of ice cream at their places at the table.
Faraon smiles thinly. "Ah! Do make yourself at home, my friends. I trust that you won't mind I began my dessert without you."
Zoltan picks out a little bit of sap that he wasn't quite able to wash out of his feathers. "No at all, sir. Thank you for letting me wash feathers off." He looks around for a place to sit.
"I beg your pardon for our tardiness, He Whose Wealth Stretches Like the Golden Savana," hisses the gray-cloaked shiga near the Vartan, bowing deeply at the waist. He stands again, hissing, "The sap from that contest sprayed remarkably far, and I had to remove some from my cape. A jolly show, wasn't it?"
Faraon chuckles. "Indeed perhaps I shall have to consider it as a spectator sport, hm?"
Servants fluff up pillows for Bambridge and Zoltan's seats. A Rath'ani bows low and murmurs, "Would the gentlemen care for anything to drink? Master Faraon's cellars are extensive."
The black hippogryph looks around at the cushions, and finds one suitably big enough to fit him. He folds his hands in his lap and looks around, not sure whether he's to serve himself or if he's going to be served.
Bambridge picks his way around some ponds to be seated at his place, perched somewhat unsteadily on big puffy pillows with no back support. After a few tries, he finds a way to sprawl out with his head close enough to his ice-cream bowl to partake. "It certainly is… , ah, exciting, Mighty Faraon. Wouldn't you agree, Zoltan?" The reptile takes a spoonful of ice-cream with a little spice nugget. Hmmm… not bad!
Zoltan shakes his head to the servant. "No for me… I gots to fly back." He glances over that the Shiga and grins, "I no think my passenger would likes me to be tipsy during trip to top of island."
The Rath'ani bows to Zoltan. "As you wish, m'lord." He walks across to take Bambridge's order.
The reptile jerks slightly at Zoltan's remark, but keeps from dropping his spoon. "Brandy for me, thank you," he mutters.
The Rath'ani smiles blandly and nods. "Will Himar Tossafruit brandy be suitable, sir? We have some excellent brandy of that type, aged twelve years."
Zoltan stirs at the contents of his bowl. He's never had ice cream before… just the crushed ices things they occasionally sell in the Bazaar.
The purpose of a sculpture in the form of a glass dragon, very like Faraon in shape, seemed unclear at first, but becomes more so as Kavi attendants in fancy robes trot up to the party gathering on the balcony. It was filled with a light amber fluid; as they perform some kind of ceremony, culminating in the pouring of a flaming liquor down the mouth of the statue, the fluid in the bottom erupts into a golden flame which dances within its glassy confines…
The golden flame-dragon makes a picturesque sight against the backdrop of the huge garden-cavern.
"Sounds delightful, my good rath-," hisses Bambridge. The shiga doesn't quite finish his sentence, pausing to marvel at the sculpture. "Decorative, yet functional. Masterful workmanship."
Faraon claps in appreciation. "I do so love a certain degree of showmanship," he murmurs to his dessert companions, head weaving from side to side as he admires the sparkles and glow of light and glass. "So then! Zoltanos Cambio, was it not? Had you spoken of a trip to that fabled island, Paradys?"
The Rath'ani bows low to Bambridge and scoots off to carry out his order.
Eyes widening, Zoltan stares in awe at the statue. ( Shiny!) He's jerked out of his reverie by Faraon's voice. "Yes sir… I spend several months there, I lucky to get back with my life."
"Indeed?" Faraon reclines into the pillows, lapping up spoonfuls of ice cream with great delicacy. "It would be a most signal honor if you would grace us with a tale of your explorations there, my friend."
The Wooden Shekel takes another spoonful of ice cream, and remains silent, listening to the cavern echoes of the other two diners as they converse.
A moment's pause finds the Rath'ani walking quickly, almost seeming to float in his robes as his feet are invisible under the hem, stopping by Bambridge's side to pour brandy into a wide-bottomed crystal tumbler for the shiga, a liquid of a slightly thick consistency and golden-red in coloration. He bows again.
Zoltan taps his fingers against the table, mulling over what he's able to tell and what he isn't because of his promise to Kryago. "Well, You ever hear of Shokar, great one? Famous Vartan explorer?"
Bambridge bobs acknowledgment at the servant, then takes up his brandy and sips, trying to keep track of the conversation while mentally estimating values of various objects in the room.
Faraon pauses, then nods. "I am told that Vartans revere his memory as one of their greatest treasure-seekers a folk hero, as it were. His finds have graced the royal jewels of several monarchies… He supposedly disappeared upon a voyage to seek out an island made entirely of crystal, or so enriched with mineral wealth as to make no difference… "
"Paradys." Zoltan scrawks. "Turns out though, the island was no what it fabled to be. There was no secret treasure or island made of gold. I set out with Captain Bog-haz to find it, and we ended up trapped there by strong winds for months. Instead of finding gold, we find cannibals." He sits up and traces a rather vicious looking streak of gray down across his chest, a wound caused by one of the cannibals that nearly tore his chest open.
"Rather a disturbing discovery, I'll wager," sympathizes Bambridge, with another sip of his drink. "Did you find any sign of the explorer Shokar around the island?"
The golden dragon raises his eye ridges. "Ah yes. The esteemable Prince Boghaz, exiled by his father from Babel. You keep interesting company, Zoltanos." He laps up another spoonful of nugget-enriched ice cream.
Zoltan nods his head. "Shokar's crew landed there generations before us, they took some of cannibals as wives, some of the winged Khattas you see in Rephidim are they descendants, look like Solus but have straight Khatta leg stance, I no found out what happen to Shokar though. I hear he leave main Vartan settlement on island and never come back"
The golden dragon flicks his tail. "Ahhh, intriguing… One can only speculate whether he might have perished attempting to return to civilization… Or he might have been on the trail of something greater." His eyes are half-lidded as he flicker-looks at Zoltan, as close to devoting attention to the griffon as he could be without actually fixing both eyes upon him at once.
Bambridge crunches a spice-nugget as quietly as possible before responding. "I imagine he must have been devastated at the true nature of his discovery, Lord Faraon. The greatest find in centuries merely a barbaric island of savages. That his crew chose to stay could have not been any better for the spirit."
Faraon's eyes betray no hint of approval or condemnation of Bambridge's statement as his quiet voice replies, "Perhaps that is so, my friend. Smaller disappointments have crushed many spirits."
"I not know. You see, the cannibals were followers of a sick death-religion. I hear they had power to make people insane." The Vartan shivers a bit at this memory, quietly cursing the fact that he's been completely useless in stopping Necropolis since coming to Rephidim, while she continues to torment his children. "After she took one of my slaves prisoner, we all join up to stop the monster once and for all. We went to war with cannibals, many died… but we wiped them all out. After that we lick our wounds, explore island a bit more… and then leave. Some of Shokar's followers in Island stay behind… some came with us."
"Fascinating," Faraon whispers. "Who is this 'she' of whom you speak?" He laps at his bowl, cleaning it, then sits back to watch Zoltan again.
Bambridge goes silent a little while longer in an effort to finish his ice cream. It's impolite to have any left after the host is finished, after all.
Zoltan stirs at his dish again. "There was strange wind preventing us from leaving. It go away after we kill cannibals." His ears perk. "She was cannibals death-goddess. Go by name of Necropolis… I know little more abouts her beyond that, all my searches for more information been useless." He chuckles. "I even go to Sylvanian opera to find out more, was one where actor was murdered… you hear abouts that?"
The Wooden Shekel looks up, his interest piqued by the mention of the murdered opera star… but something seems slightly amiss. His head weaves a little bit, though his brandy glass is still almost full.
"Mm. Something flickers… " Faraon considers, looking into the heart of the flaming statue, and then whispers, "Ah. There was some concern about the subject, as the Assassin's Guild denied any responsibility for that death, and the Temple had been investigating the matter, but apparently no suspects have yet been found in the matter." The golden dragon pauses, then continues, "There is something amiss, Zoltanos. You have spoken of this Necropolis in the past tense, but your manner suggests that whatever problems she caused you, may yet continue in some form or way. Perhaps if it is information you seek, I may ask some of my sources dealing with legends and myths to look into the matter."
The Vartan's pupils narrow, although he manages to keep his feathers from bristling. "I speaks of her in past tense because I thought I killed her. I saw her body consumed in flames on Paradys… yet, things been happening to me and my family that suggest that she still out there somewhere, playings with me. There was strange attack on my personal slave by wooden stick with hand on end of it… and sometimes I understand words that I no should be able to."
"I have to admit an interest in this affair as well, Master Faraon, Zoltan," murmurs Bambridge. His voice is somewhat lower than before, and he touches his paw to his head every so often, trying to mask a wince when he does so. "The facts were stated as the actor having been poisoned, and I recall hearing of a transaction recently in which a servant of an unknown party procured some waashu venom, a controlled substance. The transaction took place in… ah… my district, and so it's associated with me, to some extent. I'd like to find out what's going on before anything potentially disruptive happens from it."
Zoltan looks over to the Shiga. "Two Aeonians is accused of the murder." he says. "Poison was slipped into food, and apparently they immune to poison."
"It is not beyond the reach of reason," Faraon muses. "That you might have slain, perhaps, some sort of pretender or acolyte pretending to be this death-goddess… Or that this Necropolis might have had a successor of some kind. In either case, it appears that her agents, whomever they might be, allow her to operate here." Unsaid is the fact that Faraon takes a dim view of others shaking up the state of affairs on Rephidim without his permission.
Faraon looks curious to Bambridge as well. "The Assassin's Guild takes care of contracted murders, Wooden Shekel it is their province, not that of thieves," he murmurs. "Perhaps if you suspect that someone might have hired an assassin, I might arrange a meeting between you and one of the Faceless Men, so you might inquire further."
Zoltan takes a little nibble from his bowl, "If you could help me find Monster, Great Faraon, I would be most grateful. What she do to me is one thing… but she also torment those I love. I gots two very young children that I give my life to protect."
Amazingly, the golden dragon actually looks sympathetic. "Ahhh, yes. The nestlings. Very well then, Zoltanos Cambio, I shall have inquiries made. My agents will contact you if and when they learn anything related to this Necropolis, or to the legend of Paradys, that might help."
The shiga's head droops a little bit as if he were suddenly fatigued, wagging from side to side slightly. "I would normally have… nothing to do with the… Guild of Assassins, Mighty Faraon… However, I know the servant that… that acquired this venom, and he used my n-… " The reptile clutches his head. "F-forgive my, my lord… but the ice… my metabolism… nngh… "
( He has so much power… I wonder how he rose to such a position? ) Zoltan thinks to himself. "I very grateful, sir. It would-" He stops and looks over to the Shiga worriedly.
Faraon looks startled at Bambridge's unease, then calls to a Rath'ani peremptorily. "Bring hot towels immediately for my guest. And something warm to drink."
The Rath'ani servant blinks, and then scurries off. "Immediately, Master."
Bambridge's spoon slips from his grasp, and the shiga's head falls onto a pillow. He ceases to move.
Seconds elapse while servants are presumably trying to warm up suitable towels and find something hot for the Shiga to drink.
Zoltan quickly rubs his hands together, attempting to warm them. He scoots closer to Bambridge and places his hands again the lizard's temples and covers him with a wing until the servants return.
Faraon watches with apparently dispassionate eyes.
( He's bigger than an egg, but hopefully I can warm him a little bit. ) the Vartan thinks to himself. He pulls Bambridge closer and folds his other wing around him.
The servants come up with nicely warmed, fluffy dry towels, hot enough that one might wince at first touch, and a little Savanite following behind them carries a mug of some hot brandy drink.
The Rath'ani bows to Zoltan and offers him towels with which to tend to the cold-stricken Shiga.
The reptile's eyes crack back open sluggishly. "Mph… it is… most unseemly to go unconscious at … dessert… " he rasps at Zoltan. "Thank you… "
"I owes you one for helping me come here." Zoltan whispers to the Shiga and starts helping to wrap him up. He winces a little at the heat of the towels.
The Savanite kneels before Zoltan and nervously waits for the Wooden Shekel to take the hot drink.
A few minutes under the hot towels seems to get the reptile moving again, if a little jerkily. He has enough coordination to accept his drink, and about half a mug of it seems to revive Bambridge enough to speak normally again. He hunches beneath the towels, his chagrin more than evident.
Faraon murmurs, "I can see I shall have to be more careful choosing desserts for my guests," with a trace of humor in his voice. "I hope this shall not lead you to think ill of my hospitality, Wooden Shekel."
"It is I who should offer his utmost apologies, He Who Is a Lodestone Unto All Precious Metals," hisses the shiga hurriedly. "It was… that is… I must admit to never having tried this… iced cream before. I didn't realize it would… ah… do that."
The golden dragon chuckles at Bambridge's imaginative titles. "Tell me, have you ever been to Abu Dhabi, Wooden Shekel?"
Zoltan looks quietly back and forth between the dragon and the Shiga. His eyes fall upon the remainders of his own dessert, unsure if it would be impolite to eat more after this incident, or leave some remaining and possibly insult his host.
The burglar appreciatively pats his Vartan associate on the shoulder, as a sign that he should be okay now. "Finish… " he murmurs, waving a paw at the bowl dismissively, then regards the golden dragon again. "Ah, sadly, my travels have been limited to the Nagai Empire, Rephidim, and the Savan, my Master."
Nodding, Zoltan quietly tucks into the remaining bits of ice-cream in his bowl. He picks up the little spice-cubes and crunches them down as though they were little after-dinner mints.
"Mm, perhaps the heat of that land might agree with you," Faraon murmurs. "But that is a thought for another night. Very well, I will arrange with the Faceless Men to meet you at a later point, Wooden Shekel. When you are not otherwise distracted by certain errands." He pauses. "If you learn of any new developments with this opera actor, be certain to advise me as to your findings, of course."
Zoltan whispers to Bambridge, "I be happy to share with you all I know. I saw whole thing, and I got good memory of that night. There was lots I was trying to remember at that time."
Bambridge bows his head within his towel wrappings. "Immediately, my Lord. It might ease some Temple pressure for this to be resolved. Before we conclude dessert, I have one more minor thing to mention that you might find notable." The reptile nods back at Zoltan, hissing, "Any leads could be useful… "
Faraon sits back as it seems that the shiga's problems have been dealt with adequately, winding within his pillows so that it becomes hard to discern a beginning and end to his coils. "Indeed?"
Zoltan sits back up, his head buzzing a bit from gulping down the last few bites he had of his dessert.
"In a recent … ah, freelance job I did, I recovered some papers as well as the usual … wholesale merchandise," hisses the Wooden Shekel. "They appeared to be pages of the journal of one Arch-Inquisitor Caesar Moffat. He is, of course, presumed deceased, but he wrote in his logs a wide variety of information, from Temple guard movements, to Darkside dealings, to cryptic babblings about a vindictive plan and his colleagues." He turns his paws in circles nonchalantly, continuing, "It might make more sense to you than to I, since it seems to encompass a far grander scale than I am used to. If you would like to see them some time, I would be only too happy to retrieve them from my lair, at your convenience."
This elicits a moment of long silence from Faraon.
"An excellent idea," the golden dragon murmurs. "You will of course, be richly rewarded if any of the information proves to be useful… Or indicates leaks within the organization that should be, ah, 'plugged'."
His head is however, fixed upon Bambridge, both eyes looking forward, in what might signify extreme attention.
Zoltan wipes at his chin with a napkin, trying to hide his nervousness. ( Assassin's guild, thieves, dead Arch-Inquisitors… I wonder if I should be hearing this. )
The reptile appears somewhat startled at the interest, but regains his composure and dips his head for a moment. "By all means, your Affluentness. They are not totally complete, and somewhat garbled, but I will retrieve them as soon as I am given leave." He sits there for a moment uneasily. "Ah… please ignore the remarks I wrote in the margins."
"Excellent," Faraon murmurs. "I shall send an escort to expedite the delivery of such valuable documents."
The golden dragon allows his head to waver again, shifting side to side to regard both Bambridge and Zoltan. "As you may have heard, of course, the Arch-Inquisitor Caesar Moffat was dangerously addicted to certain drugs, which produce a feeling of robustness and energy for a short time, their drawback being the extended period of lassitude which follows this… stimulation, among other psychological problems. This may explain the rambling quality you noted about the document, Wooden Shekel… Nevertheless, as he was highly placed within the Temple, some of this information may still be of interest."
(Valuable! Jackpot!) The reptile tries to hide his sudden euphoria with a polite smile. "Ahh, yes, yes! He /did/ mention some sorts of drugs, as well as a suspicion that his source was being tainted. If what you glean of those entries gives rise to a need for my services, however small, please let me know."
The Vartan just nods his head. He's heard all sorts of rumors, yes… all he knows for sure is that the Arch-Inquisitor is most assuredly dead, or so unreachable that he might as well be dead.
"Of course," Faraon murmurs politely. He smiles thinly and then looks back between Zoltan and Bambridge, tailtip swishing slowly like a metronome. "Well, the night grows toward morning, and perhaps it is time for us to seek our respective rest. Is there anything else that you might care for, before you go, Wooden Shekel, Zoltanos?"
"Oh, nothing could top off an already perfect repast, Master Faraon," hisses the Wooden Shekel, finally shrugging out of the towels. His cloak has soaked up most of the heat anyway. "I must say, it has been an absolute pleasure and honor to partake of your hospitality. I will speak with your specialists concerning my… um, errand. Perhaps those deciphered journals will make my endeavor that much easier."
"I just needs to fetch my new gardener." Zoltan scrawks in reply. "Which I am very grateful for, if there anything I can do to return you favor someday… just call on me."
Faraon chuckles to Zoltan, "Should one begin a long and lucrative business relationship with stinginess? Consider it a token of my esteem. Your tale has been most interesting."
The golden dragon continues, "I'll have an escort detached immediately to help carry your new slave back, and you may expect someone to meet you as well, Wooden Shekel, to give you more detailed instructions on your errand. I trust that the coming days shall find you both in good health."
Bambridge struggles his way out of the huge pillow-pile he'd entrenched himself in. "I have no doubt (mph) that this (rgh) mission will just be the beginning of a (umph) mutually profitable relationship, Lord Faraon. (Whew!)" Finally standing, the shiga sweeps his cape to one side, and practically folds in half with his bow.
Zoltan bows deeply to Faraon one final time. "You is greater than even legends say, Faraon. Thank you. I do my best to make very good business partner for you." He turns and leaves quietly, hoping to catch up with 'Star' before the escort finds them. ( I walked into the dragon's mouth and stepped back out again with a jewel. Jezebel will never believe me. )
The golden dragon bows his head to his two guests and chuckles. "Very well. Goodnight, gentlemen, and may the Procession light your way, and shadows confound your enemies." Servants filter in unobtrusively to lead the guests away.
Faraon's idea of an escort appears to be four armed Vartans who, if not quite as buff as Zoltan, still look quite rough and ready, and Bambridge's informant who is a sleek black leather-clad Skreek female named Kilri. The flight up from the underside of Rephidim is a stunning one for Bambridge, as the Procession's band goes from being a sliver over the horizon masked by the edge of the floating sky-island, to a scimitar thrust into the night sky, matched by a dagger on the far horizon. They coast past the Port and make their way toward Darkside…
Two of the Vartans carry the Savanite slave who is Zoltan's latest acquisition, and Kilri, Faraon's agent… The other two keep their hands free, ready to draw crossbows at a moment's notice.
Zoltan flies in, a silhouette against the gleaming procession. He lands gently on the street and gives his passenger a shake. "We here now." he whispers, just in case he closed his eyes again.
It takes the lizard a few moments to release his death-grip on one of Zoltan's arms, but after he opens his eyes, he finally lets go, landing with a bump on the cobblestones. The reptile stands up, and dusts himself off. "Ahh, good… " He glances around a few times to orient himself.
Kilri steps down from one of the guard Vartan's arms. "Good, we can get going," she says crisply, holding on to an oilskin-wrapped packet. She motions to the guards. "You can go now."
The Vartan guard so addressed snorts, but nods without saying anything. The other one releases the Savanite slave to Zoltan's custody, and then they troop off to make the flight back.
Zoltan looks quietly at his slave, then at the Skreek and the lizard. He gives his flintlock a quick check and then pulls out his crossbow, notching an arrow into it with amazingly skilled hands. "Is no safe here, you want me to stay with you in case trouble show up?"
Bambridge bobs his head. "I've lived here for a long time. Long enough not to say no to that offer. It won't take me more than a moment to retrieve the documents I hid, keep an eye out."
Kilri snorts. "I'm going with you," she says to Bambridge. "We've got a lot to talk about. If there's no more business to take care of with the Vartan, we can get moving."
The Wooden Shekel eyes Kilri from beneath his cowl for a moment, but just shrugs. "Very well, then. Zoltan, I hope you took care of whatever business you needed with Faraon. Thanks for keeping my back covered."
Weapon at the ready, the black hippogryph nods. "I did. Thank you, you need me again you know where to call."
"I will. Farewell, my friend." With that, the shiga jerks his head at Kilri, and turns to head back into deeper Darkside.
Zoltan turns in the opposite direction and leads Star out of Darkside. "You probably not had breakfast yet, have you?" he signs as he walks away.