Meditation Chamber of Inala
Stonework of white marble with blue veins forms truly majestic architecture, and intricately formed patterns, but the serious nature of the structure is perhaps compromised by the preponderance of female (and less often male) Eeee figures depicted on columns, in wall reliefs, as grotesques and wall sconces, and as statues in alcoves, engaged in every hedonistic act imaginable, sometimes in almost comical attempts to engage in as many vices as possible simultaneously. While most of the temple has an airy, open structure to it, and the ceilings are invariably high and the spaces wide, this particular chamber is sealed off, without any windows, with braziers giving off heat and light, and chutes channeling off the fragrant smoke. Cushions are piled about, potted plants are suspended from ceiling hangers and on pedestals in corners, and a fountain dominates the heart of the chamber.
Envoy has been slipping in and out of a daze, and at this particular moment, she feels more coherent than usual. She is no longer bound, but she reclines in a pile of cushions, and she hardly feels any sensations in her limbs. Her head lolls to one side, and she can feel a damp spot on the cushion her cheek rests against, as it is stained with drool that has escaped from the corner of her mouth. There is an archway leading out into a corridor, and across the hall, she can see that there is another chamber just like the one she's in. She sees the tip of a wing, and hears a girlish giggle, and catches a glimpse of a pudgy limb of a strangely overweight male bat, all the more grotesque for how the Eeee are typically rail-thin.
There is one other occupant of the room … a tan-furred female bat with long black hair that is styled into exotic, curving braids that loop about her head in almost crown-like fashion. She is adorned sweeps of scarlet zolk that wrap about her waist and drop down in front and back, leaving the sides of her legs exposed, revealing finely carved bands of red chitin.
A tunic of red zolk is supported by one shoulder, leaving the other bare, along with her midriff, and several red chitin earrings shaped like tear drops run along the outer edges of her enormous bat ears. As an odd addition to this costume, her upper face is hidden in a mask of red chitin, beautifully covered in swirling veins of enamel, shadowing her almond eyes.
The red-clad Eeee daubs at the side of Envoy's mouth with a cloth, and carefully readjusts her head, then removes the damp cushion and puts another in its place. There is something about her that strikes Envoy as familiar … Yes … it's hard to tell, with the mask, but this was one of the Yodhinala a very young one that Envoy saw on the airship. A fragment of a memory comes back … Wynona using a spell, wildly shooting out streaks of blue energy … striking several warriors, and a tan-furred girl across the face.
Envoy feels as if she hasn't even the strength to hold her own head up straight, or at the very least, if she tried, her muscles might spasm uncontrollably. At the very least, however, she can direct her eyes, and has enough control to almost be able to bring things into proper focus, but her eyes flick uncontrollably now and then.
Blinking her eyes slowly, Envoy looks up at the young priestess. "'S yer name?" she manages to say, the lack of sensation from her tongue and lips making it all the more difficult.
The masked priestess bows. "I lost my name with my face. I am now Ghaz-Kutsuk." Envoy can't be exactly certain where she picked up this knowledge, but Ghaz-Kutsuk translated, literally, "Worth Nothing (any longer)", emphasized as a name is a term applied to someone who has been disgraced such that he or she is no longer worthy of a name. This is not something common to modern Babelite culture, but the sub-culture of the priesthood has very strong traditions.
"Dress lake Rephthpptt… " Envoy's words end with a spray of saliva which had pooled in her mouth.
The bat daubs at Envoy's mouth again. "Dress like Rephath? No, you must be confused. Rephath tends toward leather armor. But don't concern yourself. I have been given one last task to tend to you until High Priestess Gariazadze comes to deal with you. Then, I shall be going to the Culling Chambers. I pray to Inala that you do not find displeasure in my presence such that it increases your grief, Envoy of Lothrhyn."
Envoy blinks slowly again, and asks, "Grief?"
The bat ducks her head, averting her eyes. "I did not mean any disrespect. I was only referring to your … condition."
"Gar-eee," the Aeolun tries. "Gar-eee at sea, do what to me?"
The young bat blinks uncomprehendingly to Envoy. "I … I do not understand … 'Gari'?"
Envoy tries again, wrestling with her once versatile tongue, "High Please-test."
"Oh!" At last, recognition reaches Ghaz-Kutsuk's eyes. "High Priestess Gariazadze. We rescued you from your captors. A prophetess sensed your glory passing over a shrine in the southern country, and passed word to the temple. The high priestess herself came out with several priestesses, including myself. There was a short battle, and my face was burned by the air mage, but we were victorious. But then, you collapsed, and went into convulsions. For a time, we thought you were dead. But we found you were alive. And in a vision, a prophetess informed us that you were no longer the Avatar of Inala, but were to be brought to the Temple regardless."
"Are mage," Envoy gets out. "Why-no-na. Where is?"
Ghaz-Kutsuk nods. "She is being well treated. Inala fancies her to look like Rephath, and wishes for her to be made up so, for her pleasure. She is greatly distraught, but she has been given Wine of Forgetfulness, and has calmed down considerably. Alas, she does not seem yet to be enjoying our offerings."
The young bat adds, "High Priestess Gariazadze wished for Wynona to be given over to the Den of Dark Desires, but Inala forbade it for now."
Envoy's mouth ticks up in a wince. "Whoo talks Inala?"
In the back of Envoy's head, a bit of recognition flickers. Perhaps it's from having Inala in her head so long. Wine of Forgetfulness is basically wine that has been laced with drugs. It should calm down Wynona all right … and make her not terribly interesting in conversation in the least. As for the Den of Dark Desires … it is no great secret that the Temple of Inala, when you get down to it, is in many ways a brothel serving nobility who offer generous "sacrifices" and "donations", and are in turn allowed to privately "worship" with the so-called Children of Inala who dwell here. The Yodhinala are selected from the females of the Children, who are born into the service of Inala.
The Den of Dark Desires is so named because there are some nobles whose particular pleasures take violent, often lethal turns. And, as Inala is one to cater to just about any sort of pleasure, there are those who are "honored" (condemned) to serve in the "Den of Dark Desires", to satisfy these particular cravings on the part of the wealthy and powerful.
The masked bat blinks. "I … do not … understand? Who talks to Inala? For Inala?"
"Yess," Envoy hisses. "Boat … both."
Ghaz-Kutsuk, now that there is some understanding, smiles and nods. "Inala indwells Her priestesses from time to time, in dreams, and when they ritually prepare themselves for the indwelling of Her spirit. Through Her miraculous presence, the high priestesses gain the ultimate honor of experiencing new forms of pleasure that only Inala could teach us. Sometimes, however, it is fatal, but what higher honor can there be, but to end one's life with the spirit of Inala Herself within you?"
Envoy gurgles and coughs as she tries to laugh. "Not all cracked up to be."
Ghaz-Kutsuk blinks. "Oh … I am sorry. I forget myself … that you … were the Avatar." She bows her head. "Please forgive me for any insults, but rest assured that I will not live long regardless. When High Priestess Gariazadze comes, she will tell me whether it is the Den of Dark Desires, the Grok Pit, or the Wine of Eternal Sleep for me, and I will trouble you no more."
Footsteps echo down the hallway. It sounds as if someone is approaching, though the acoustics are unfamiliar enough that it's not clear just how many.
"No," the ex-Avatar urges. "Flee. Live. Not worth dying for Inala. Lousy goddess."
Ghaz-Kutsuk jerks back as if struck. "Is this a test of my faith? I assure you, I live only for Inala, as ever I have. Inala's name was the first upon my lips, and it will be the last as well."
A rustle of cloths can be heard, and the jingle of jewelry. The footsteps pause just outside the doorway, and it sounds like some Eeee are conferring. Perhaps there are three of them.
Envoy just sighs at the response, and listens to the sounds from the doorway.
Ghaz-Kutsuk bows her head. "If … if I have found favor in your eyes, please remember your servant and … " But before she has time to finish this statement, the High Priestess the one who earlier gloated at Envoy, and who so much deserved a good spit in the face strides into the room, looking smug and triumphant, with two lesser priestesses nonetheless still ornately garbed in jewelry and ornate fur markings at each wing.
The Aeolun rolls her eyes to focus on the new arrivals, and remains quiet.
The High Priestess's eyes scan Envoy, and then she turns to look at the masked bat, her gloating smile quickly vanishing. "Ghaz-Kutsuk. You have tended the former Avatar well, and now I have arrived. The Exile shall have no further need of your services. Your face has been irreparably marred, and the Yodhsunala insist that their healers do not mend scars. You are too young to bear healthy offspring. You may therefore report to the Culling Chambers."
The masked bat's head drops in resignation. "Yes, High Priestess Gariazadze."
"Flee," Envoy urges once more.
The High Priestess jerks her head back to Envoy, and narrows her eyes. "What was that? You speak. And what is you have to say?"
"Inala," Envoy gurgles, almost whispering. "Inala … dresses … you … funny."
Gariazadze's eyes shoot open at this. "WHAT?!" she shrieks. Her two escorts shrink back, as if fearing that she might strike at them to vent her frustrations.
Envoy chokes on her own laughter again, causing a convulsion.
The High Priestess seethes … but then her expression turns into a cruel smile. Without looking away from Envoy, she says, "Ghaz-Kutsuk. As you know, you are my own flesh, my own blood, and you were very beautiful, before the ex-Avatar's friend marked your face. Acknowledging your loyal service, I was going to tell you that you would be granted the option of taking the Wine of Eternal Sleep … " She looks toward the masked bat, then back to Envoy. "But you shall serve another purpose, to the glory of Inala. The ex-Avatar here will know that you go to the Den of Dark Desires because of her disrespect for me."
At this, the red-masked bat loses all composure, dropping to her knees, her shoulders shaking in choking sobs. "No … no, please … I beg of you! Have mercy!"
"Guilt?" Envoy says to the High Priestess. "Sin against Inala, guilt. Shame on you."
"Mmmm!" the high priestess responds, looking amused. "A clever one, you are! But Inala is most powerful of the Seven Sisters not only because she offers pleasure … but because she is devastating when she takes it away. You live only because of Inala's whim, for she commanded that I not lay a hand upon you, and that I see to it that your needs are met. Beyond that … " She smiles wickedly. "… I do believe I have considerable room for interpretation."
"Imag-eee-nay-shun," Envoy hisses. "Not pretty on you."
The high priestess laughs, and leans in, planting a kiss on Envoy's nose before she can manage so much as a muscle twitch to react to the attempt. "You're a feisty little thing. When Inala tires of you, I will see if she will let me have you as my play-thing."
"Beware," Envoy warns, trying to look disgusted by the kiss. "Bat-er-eees not incloooded."
Gariazadze flashes a perplexed, confused look at Envoy's last statement, then it vanishes as she resumes her practiced, smug look. "I suppose that is some sort of joke. You won't find things so amusing. There is no end to my depravity. I delight in it. And it is my willingness to do anything, anything without qualms, that has lifted me to this position. Which reminds me… " She waves her hands to her escorts. They go over to Ghaz-Kutsuk, and begin to lift her off the floor.
Envoy licks her lips, getting a bit more feedback from them now. "Ahh. It is good to have hobbies, when you have no friends, I suppose." It takes a bit longer than usual, but she does get the entire sentence out.
While her escorts continue to try to lift Ghaz-Kutsuk, whose legs seem to have failed her, Gariazadze looks back to Envoy. "Hmm. Sounding less like a trained chibix, I see. Now then … I am obliged to convey to you an offer from Inala Herself. She wishes to extend to you an offer: If you so desire, you may become a priestess in Her Temple. It is something unheard-of, unprecedented, and had the suggestion not come from Inala Herself, it would be nothing short of blasphemy. However, there is a condition. A message must be borne to your fellows in Caroban that you have come here freely and willingly, and that you stay here of your own choice. We can't very well have those mages bothering the temple, after all."
Envoy manages a snort. "How kind of her. Too bad she doesn't trust in your ability to convert those that would come looking for me. But then, your charms are limited. You should not feel insulted, really."
Gariazadze forces a smile. "I have little concern about those who come here. I am more concerned about those old bags of bones up in Caroban. Shall I take your response as a 'no'?"
"Inala knows that I hate her," Envoy says, rolling her eyes for emphasis. "If I agreed, she would have me killed before the ink was dry on the letter to Caroban."
Gariazadze frowns, her impatience showing. "Your answer is plain enough to me, but for the sake of formality, give me a plain 'yes' or 'no'."
"No, then," Envoy replies, then grins. "I would not want tomake a mockery of your order, after all."
"How thoughtful," Gariazadze says in a voice dripping with venom. "Now, the other formality is that I am to ask you, 'Is there anything that you require to make your stay more comfortable?'" She stands back at this, looking as if she's bracing herself at the obvious opening for more sarcastic responses from Envoy.
After a few moments of thought, Envoy says, "Yes. The company of Wynona Windcaller, undrugged, unharmed and unbound, and a room which receives plenty of sunlight and fresh air."
Gariazadze seems almost surprised. "Mmm. Oh yes. She is a pretty little thing, isn't she? Very well then. But I warn you … if she attempts to escape, or if she attempts to use magic, she will be struck down on the spot." She grins wickedly. "I promise."
"I would also like to talk to one of the Yodhblakat," Envoy says, nodding with her eyes at the mention of punishment. "And access to the collected myths and legends of the Kindly Ones as well, so that I might learn to appreciate and respect them better."
Gariazadze wrinkles her nose in distaste. "A Yodhblakat … here? Only with a guard to keep her in line. As you wish, then. Will that be all?"
"For now, yes," Envoy says. "I suppose asking for a Life Mage is out of the question though?"
Another frown from Gariazadze. "I can request a Yodhsunala."
Envoy smirks at the tone. "How ironic. Please do then. I'm sure she won't be needed more than a few days or weeks."
Gariazadze resumes her pasted smile. "Very well then. If you're done with Ghaz-Kutsuk, we'll take her away, and prepare your new quarters."
She waves a hand, and the escorts start dragging the sobbing bat out of the room.
"Actually, I will still need an attendant, since I can't leave my room," Envoy says. "Since Wynona will be under guard as well, we will need someone who can run errands. Ghaz-Kutsuk will serve well in that position."
Gariazadze turns to give Envoy a fake smile, looks away … then gives Envoy a double-take. "Will … WHAT?!"
Looking up at the High Priestess again, Envoy adds, "Surely you can appreciate the irony of having her serve the one who ruined her face … and therefore her life? I know it is a cruel thing to do to her, but it will at least serve Inala more directly than being tossed to a bunch of deviants."
Gariazadze's ears turn beet red, and even the white fur of her face takes on a pinkish cast from the redness underneath. She shakes. "You've … bought a reprieve … but once her use is done, it will be done as I have commanded … and it will still be your fault, Exile!" She snaps to the escorts. "Drop her!" They do, and she storms to the archway leading to the corridor.
Envoy grins after the Priestess, noting to herself that she hadn't set any rule against Ghaz trying to escape.