Dec 19: Leeta reads a 6000 year old diary of a Silent One Priest
(Leeta) (Test of the Astromancer)
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Up another flight of stairs, and no sighting of the errant cub yet. However, the red-maned cheetah's keen senses prove sufficient to pick up the tell-tale trail of cookie crumbs that lead up to the next landing.

Leeta's ears flick again, listening for sounds of the little cheetah as she diligently follows the trail. Her feet softly pad on the stairs as she bolts up them. Her stomach feels tight from her lack of food.

She gives a small chirp as she reaches the landing and looks around, sounding just like a bird.

It would seem the fire-maned cheetah has managed to really get herself lost this time. The doors here look a bit like those to the rooms that Tahir searched earlier with his key … but this is a different hallway … and one of the doors is open.

Leeta darts for the open doorway, looking from side to side and listening. She has to catch up with the cub before someone finds out. As she reaches it, she looks inside.

The room has a few crates in it, here and there, most of them having been opened, the lids only loosely set down. Perhaps Tahir or others have been searching here recently. The closest crate that the fluorescent light from the hall falls upon has an emblem scrawled on the lid – a four-pointed star.

The Savanite stares curiously at the symbol, remembering Rhys' necklace, and her beliefs. {A moment to check won't hurt, and… the cub could be in the box.} She enters the room, ears flicking, and tries to open the crate.

The crate provides no trouble opening at all, as the loose lid slides off. It is more of a problem, rather, to get out of the way as the sides – the pegs having been pulled out earlier – fall free from each other, only being held up by the weight of the lid.

Leeta scoots her feet out of the way of the falling sides, cringing with her ears going flat against the sides of her head as the room echoes with the noise of the heavy wood slats hitting the floor.

The crate opens to reveal a box-like structure that almost completely fills it – the size of a foot-locker, with smooth, polished sides of some sort of ceramic-like material, but inlaid in bands with pieces of a deep green rock with dark swirls in it, polished flat and smooth as the rest of the surface. The top surface of the box has a depressed area in the shape of a right hand – slightly larger than Fire-Mane's own, with a full compliment of fingers. Within the depressed area, a few small pinprick holes can be seen in the surface, but nothing within them.

Leeta just stops herself from barking at the annoying collapsing box. Rubbing her head she puts the lid down, and flexes her hand as she examines the cube. {With any luck, there will be food in this.} She touches the surface gently, then slides her hand towards the imprint.

The surface is cool and slick, polished, with only a few tiny scratches – quite possibly from very recent manhandling if someone was opening these crates carelessly.

After tracing a few of the dark swirls with her fingertips, she looks at the imprint. {How could a hand get pressed into stone? What kind of hand is it?} She compares the features of the depression with her own palm.

The hand could well be Jupani or Khattan or Human … or even Savanite, for that matter.

The details are not very distinct, though. It seems that it is more likely the hand was ground into the stone, rather than this being some manner of imprint. In fact, there is a hairline crack running around the outline of the hand's shape, perhaps suggesting that the hand itself was crafted separately and then inlaid into the stone.

Leeta gives another hopeful chirp for the cub, then presses her hand into the imprint. She's edgy, expecting to hear someone in the hall at any moment.

Fire-Mane's hand fits in the depression not quite perfectly, but well enough. Ever so slightly, it feels as if there's a bit of "give" as the hand is pressed in, as if the depression area might be meant to push in further.

She tries to push the block down, watching the small holes on the sides, and the swirls, ready in case this cube does something like the crate did.

The panel pushes in, with an audible click – and in that instant, Fire-Mane feels a pin-prick in her index finger!

Leeta pulls her hand back as if stung by a bug, then looks at the palm-print to see if one is there. She licks her lips, then sucks her finger.

There is no bug. If she has been stung by anything … it could well have been by something within the tiny hole – one of many – visible in the stone inside the hand's impression. One of them happens to line up perfectly for the spot where Leeta was pricked.

She looks at the block again, trying to see if anything else has changed, and being very conscious of all the other holes. She does her best not to stand in front of any, or look in directly in them, while trying to see just what pricked her in the palmprint.

There is a scraping noise and a pop, after a pause, and the top "lid", as demarcated by the topmost green band, lifts a crack, and then glides backward, almost soundlessly, revealing a hollow interior of the box.

Nothing drops on the cheetah's feet. Yet.

Leeta stretches up on her tip toes, tail out behind her for balance as she leans to peep over the edge of the box.

The interior of the chest holds books, all of them marked on the cover with an emblem of a four-pointed star – the Star, without the Anchor. They are great with age, but fashioned of materials unlike anything … anything, that is, except for a few ancient tomes Fire-Mane has glimpsed only on rare occasions, in the possession of certain high-ranking Technopriests and other Templars of note.

By the whiff that Leeta briefly catches as the box opens … a strange smell, but quickly gone … it would seem this box hasn't been opened in a very, very long time.

She shakes her head to clear her nose of the scent, and reaches forward to take up one of the books. As she does, she watches the lid, in case it repeats its quiet motion and threatens to trap a part of her. Her selection is random, taking the closest one to her.

The lid does not close. Nothing traps the cheetah. The book has no title visible on the outside – only the emblem imprinted in its cover to identify it in any way.

Marveling at the strange material, Leeta opens the book and starts to read. Her ears still twitch, listening for sounds of the cub, or someone else who might have heard the crash earlier.

There are no sounds. Leeta is either very alone, or anyone present is very quiet and very patient.

The book opens, revealing its contents. The pages are written in symbols that look very familiar … in fact, as Fire-Mane studies them, she finds that she can make sense of them, because the symbols suggest the various Formal Signs. It's Savanite … in writing!

The red-maned Savanite just stares. {Its true, its really true. Everything Tahir said. Formal sign! On books only the highest Technopriests see. These prove it!} She has to keep reading, to know.

The book has no title. It appears to be some sort of journal, though a good number of the pages are smudged and blotted. It seems the book has been greatly abused. There are a few entries, though, that are still readable. While a great deal of it deals with apparently mundane details, a few excerpts can give the basic gist of some of the early entries…

"It is a dark age indeed. Only the light of the Star provides any hope at all, though many of my brethren have ceased to believe that it still glows. I, however, remain faithful. Many of the tongue-waggers have given up hope, though a few are determined to find some way off this world. I am ashamed to say that it seems our best hope lies in the efforts of a few of the flat-faces and their masked lackeys."

"The smelly howlers, of course, are of no regard, or the talking prey-creatures. It may be that technology is greatly hampered by this world, but we have demonstrated that it has not failed entirely. By proper experimentation – and repeated supplication to the Star and prayers for wisdom – we shall prevail, finding some way to shield our instruments from the pervasive, strange radiation of this world. … "

Leeta reads, understanding only some of the terms. The references to the other races seem such a strange way to think of them. {Tongue-waggers… I've always thought something was wrong with us because we can't speak, and this is just a whole different way of looking at it.} She keeps reading, trying to understand the technological terms, looking for some of the devices Tahir has told her about. She wants to know those are real too.

"The flat-faces seem intent on noise-making, despite my attempts to enlighten them in the use of hand-sign. The glove is indeed a marvelous work of technology, and functions at least sporadically here, but it is most humiliating to be forced to utilize it. It makes it seem as I were somehow handicapped since I cannot partake of noise-making in the same way as the flat- faces and their companions. … "

The tone of the writing bites into Leeta almost as much as her hunger, but she keeps reading. {Maybe it will tell me how to fix it, or something else… } She's not really sure what to think of the long ago signs of her ancestors.

More writings continue. Another one might be of note:

"Some of the flat-faces have a device that they acquired from the world of fliers – a jet pack meant to allow non-fliers to navigate in that walker-unfriendly world."

"However, it is deemed too unsafe to attempt use of the pack to reach the surface. Experiments suggest that equipment suffers a greater incidence of malfunction with every decrease in altitude. No doubt, the machine would break down part way down to the surface … and even if the pilot survived the fall, return would be impossible. … "

Leeta sighs, it wasn't much of a hope anyhow. She looks for entries on the radiation, and others about the flat-faces and what they decided to do with their devices. Her real hunger momentarily forgotten as her curiosity runs free.

Unfortunately, there doesn't seem to be much about technology that means much to the cheetah. It seems like the writer was not personally well versed in the use of technology … or at least the types of technology he may have utilized are mentioned so casually and obscurely, taken for granted … and thus in passing and so vaguely as to be of no use. However, there are more logs of curious meaning:

"Blasphemy and treachery! Easily the majority of my brethren have abandoned hope entirely, and have made plans to settle upon the surface. They have lost faith, believing that our people have abandoned us – or somehow cannot reach us. Even worse, though, several of the priesthood have forsaken their vows, taking spouses."

"What matters the propagation of our species on this world, if we cannot be true to our calling? Do they think that our whole race beyond this world has ceased to exist? What will our people think when they come and find us fallen to such depths? Oh Star! I pray that you would bring the burning light of the Inquisition to this world to cleanse it of impurities! … "

The hatred almost boils off the pages at her, enough that she holds the pages away from herself, to distance the vehemence. {No wonder people had difficulty with the Silent-Ones. Spouses, priesthood? Didn't they like children… } Leeta tries to find more references on these subjects, trying to figure out what order the author thought was correct; also, she tries not to think about the rescue that never came, and the present situation on Tarsus.

More entries …

"Madness! The flat-faces have machinery that they have endeavored to use, devices of the darkness, that warp the blessed code of life. Thinking themselves like unto the Star itself, they set their machinery into action in secret, without letting us know, to generate beasts for labor and food, 'more suitable' for this world, in their thinking machine's estimation."

"As is no surprise, their accursed thinking machine has been afflicted with madness. Several pet animals were generated, from the home world of the flat-faces, but shaped like men. Now, there are more children to feed, warped and degenerated versions of the howlers. Of course, their secret blasphemies are open now for all to see. … "

{The cloning device… they… made people from pets?} Fire-Mane shakes her head, trying to figure it all out.

Unfortunately, the book gives no real answers to this problem just yet. Instead…

"The shell warriors can find no peace here on the island. They serve us no defense against airborne beasts, and only become more restless with the limited amount of land to roam. They are only simple creatures, and can only benefit so much from our enlightened influences. Hence, we have decided to send them to the surface, to fend for themselves."

"They are hardy, and should be able to scavenge and hunt easily. They eat far too much for the island to continue supporting the lot of them. … "

Perhaps Leeta is not the first to be concerned with shortages of supplies while dwelling on a sky island…

{These would be the Vykarin I guess. } She turns a few more pages.

"The island has passed again over the wild lands where our treacherous brethren exiled themselves to the surface. With one of the lighter-than-air dirigible, the flat-faces managed to make contact with the blasphemers. I refused to go along, since I would give no blessing on such traitors to the faith. When the flat-faces returned, they reported that my fears have been justified."

"A new generation has come – and, so I have heard, the traitors' children have been born with many deformities. Rather than face the fruit of their sin, the mutants were slain at birth by their parents. The flat-faces reported that the surface-dwellers have fallen into savagery. Of course, they gave this report with certain obscene pleasure, feeling inferior compared to the followers of the Star, but I trust the truth of their reports. Our once-brethren are truly lost. … "

Fire-Mane looks at her fingers, and the overly thick claws she keeps chewing down. A small example of how she's different, her hair a better one. Third-Eye, and all her sisters, each one with something a little or a lot wrong, that could be called a deformity. {I'm descended from priests? The Priest-Kings go this far back, even further? What else is in this?}

There is more, though the writings are drawing to a close, even though the pages have not been filled completely…

"I draw near the end of my life, yet I have not seen the end to the depravities of those around me. The few faithful who have kept gazing upon the Star have become fewer, until it is only I who remain among the flat-faces and their companions. And now I learn that the flat-faces have been making use of their blasphemous technology, for purposes I cannot fathom. With their ability to mold flesh and replicate it, I believe they have been taking samples of themselves, in some misguided attempt at immortality. Or perhaps this is something they have done long ago. None of them seems to care that I have discovered their secret."

Leeta stares at the pages, and keeps reading.

"In fact, one of them taunted me, telling me that on his world, they have dumb beasts that look like our kind, but run upon four legs. In fact, they have samples of flesh from numerous creatures of their homeworld, and the capability to generate them – He boasted that he could create 'children' for me, but 'better' – That they could communicate by waggling their tongues, and would walk on their heels like the flat-faces. I, of course, forbade him to ever undertake such blasphemy."

{That's just wrong. I agree with him here, and that frightens me because of the other things he's written.} She frowns as she reads on.

"There is yet hope, however. Our kind may have fallen away from the true faith, but there are young ones of the lesser races. They may be inferior, but there are many eager to learn, and perhaps even they, handicapped as they may be, can serve the Star in a small way."

"I have undertaken to train them in the ways of the Star. The flat-faces disdain the teachings as superstition, as do many of their companions, but welcome my ability to teach their young the rudimentaries of math and science, while they trouble themselves with other pursuits. There will be a new Priesthood and a new Inquisition as well, and this wrecked ship, until our true brethren return, shall be our new Temple. I may not live to see the day, but the flame is kindled. … "

The rest of the entries devolve into rambling, and a few obscure theological references and complaints. And that is the end. Not once has the writer mentioned his own name. Or, perhaps 'her'. One never knows.

{Just like Tahir said. Everything is true, and they all know it, and they still treat us like animals.} Leeta growls at the book, its shown her too much she didn't want to accept.

With a clatter, something falls elsewhere in the room. A crate lid, by the sound of it.

Leeta puts the book back in the strange block, and tries to coax the lid back across the top by putting her hand in the imprint again, and sliding the top.

With a faint whine and a noticeable delay, the lid at last complies, sliding begrudgingly shut again. With an audible pop, the imprint rises from its depression back to its normal depth, and the box is sealed once more.

Feeling a little less guilty, but still as angry, Leeta goes looking for the source of the sound in the room.

Directionally … there's only one possible location for the culprit. A crate, just a paper-wad's throw away, with a lid that has fallen away from it. The crate is on its side, evidently empty. Evidently, that is, except that the opening faces away just a bit, and Leeta can pick out some bumps that look suspiciously like an ear and the side of a cub's face … moments before it vanishes again.

She pads around the front, crouching down to look into the box. Her tail twitches behind her in frustration. "There you are!"

The cub smiles sheepishly, hugging onto his tail with both hands.

"Bad! You've been bad, you shouldn't go stealing cookies." {I shouldn't go opening boxes.} Fire-Mane slumps, and sits on the floor, clenching her hands into fists. She waves for the cub to come closer. "I'm sorry, you're hungry. We all are. Come here."

Tilting his head a bit, as if trying to read Leeta's expression, the cub finally releases his tail and moves over to sit next to Leeta.

Leeta pulls the cub into her lap, "Its just you'll get punished if you get caught. It isn't fair, they know!" She signs just in front of his face, then slides her arms to hug around him and rests her chin protectively on top of his head.

"Mew." the kitten replies, seemingly happy with the fact this his punishment won't come from Leeta at least.

{I'm really not sure how to take that ancestor. I think I'd have a hard time being around him. Or her I guess. Deformed… I wonder what that bit about understanding the cloning process meant. Did the author interfere with it somehow?} She shudders, thinking what that might mean for Tahir. His stories, then seeing them written in formal sign. It's ashock that makes her mind spin.

The cub, unable to reply, just sits and wiggles his toes.

{At least if they were celibate, I'm not directly related… } Leeta looks at her pricked finger, {… though, close enough to open the box. I wonder if it would work for any Savanite, or just the Royal kinds. Princess Fire-Mane, starved to death on Tarsus. I think I'd better get back to doing something about that.}

She slides the cub out of her lap and coaxes him over to the other box. Lifting up the sides, she has him hold two, while she keeps the other two in position and puts the lid back on. "There." Fire-Mane wipes her hands on her robe, then exits with the cub in tow on her tail. When she isn't thinking about food, her thoughts are all about what Tahir will say about this discovery, and if she'll be able to use it.

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GMed by Greywolf & Zoltan

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