Of the sights to be seen in the city of Rephidim, one of the most impressive (if not THE most impressive) would be the legendary Temple. More so than any palace or castle or fortress to be found on the surface, the Temple is an embodiment of ancient and almost timeless authority. But it is also an embodiment of corruption, for anyone who knows any of the truth, and the state of disrepair of so much of the temple is a standing testament to this. Nonetheless, Templars and Inquisitors and Auditors and Priests make their way through its gleaming corridors, tending to daily business and personal agendas. Like it or not, here can be found the driving force behind Rephidim … and much of Sinai at large.
After getting her chores done in record time, a Savanite kit has managed to get some free time to get away from the Mikide Townhouse, and to make a trip to the Temple. In the afternoon bustle, it's a bit of a trick navigating through the crowds, but there are sometimes advantages to being small not to mention being especially agile and swift of foot.
Once again, the Temple lies ahead, the gates open, many people coming in and out the main entrance either on business, sightseeing, or even on matters of prayers and offerings by the faithful.
Kaela hurries along as best she can, trying to work her way through the crowds. She can hardly believe that she wasn't able to get through to the Princess Emerald Eyes in her dreams last night… But her errand can't wait. She hurries up towards the gates to the temple, only half certain of exactly where she's headed.
The spotted kit gets hardly any notice at all as she navigates through the main entrance and into the Temple. Some Eeee and Vartans march by, looking like they comprise a work crew of some sort. For a moment, a big black Vartan looks somewhat familiar, but the whole group is soon gone, taking flight outside the Temple, thus preventing any further investigation.
Eventually, Kaela makes her way through the corridors to areas with less traffic … and the turns seem vaguely familiar … familiar enough to end up in a hallway that surely is the one that Azhtar's "apartment" adjoins.
Kaela slowly walks along the hallway, regarding each door and trying to remember which one leads to Azhtar's home…
Up ahead, a door opens, letting out a tall, dark unicorn dressed in robes of black and red. He quietly closes the door behind him.
Kaela blinks. Wasn't that the unicorn that Azhtar served? She waits for the unicorn to move out of view, so she can approach the door he exited from.
The hallway is long, largely featureless, and poorly lit, leaving many shadows, especially in the shallow alcoves which contain the doors to rooms adjoining the hall. There are some panels that flicker, but they are supplemented with light from much simpler wall-mounted torches at odd intervals down the length of the corridor.
The black unicorn walks down the hallway in the direction toward Kaela with slow steps that clip on the hard surface of the floor.
Kaela carefully examines one of the doors, one footpaw shuffling on the floor as the unicorn walks in her direction. She's busy doing something important. Really. Pay no attention to her.
*clip clip clip clip … * The Inquisitor's cloven hooves strike against the hard surface of the floor, the whites of his eyes and a few highlights of his red mane breaking up the shadows within the folds of his cowl. If he has noticed the only other occupant (assuming there are no others lurking about) of the corridor, he has given no indication of it.
Kaela suddenly realizes… she ought to have hidden. Her mind runs quickly as she tries to look calm and nondescript. (Now he'll know you were here, and Azhtar might get in trouble later… but maybe he'll forget. Or maybe he won't pay any attention to you. Just act casual, and don't look at him or let him see your eyes. If he doesn't see your eyes, he won't remember you. )
Does the unicorn pause just a moment to look at Kaela before passing? Or was that just her imagination? Whatever the truth, he says nothing, and the clip-clip-clip of his hooves eventually dies away as he continues down the corridor and turns a corner at the distant end.
Kaela waits just a moment longer, then hurries to the doorway that the unicorn entered the hallway from. Little footpaws patter quietly against the floortiles as she dashes, her eyes scanning the hallway quickly. Surreptitiously, she tries the door to see if it's locked.
The door is not locked. It should slide open easily.
Kaela slowly opens the door a crack and cautiously glances inside.
Inside … Kaela can see Azhtar's quarters again. Azhtar herself is kneeling amongst some throw pillows, head bowed, looking to be deep in contemplation.
Kaela tentatively knocks at the door to alert Azhtar to her presence.
Azhtar's head jerks up, and she immediately stands and walks toward the door to open it for her visitor.
Kaela opens the door the rest of the way, not waiting for Azhtar to do it. She smiles up at her tentatively.
Azhtar looks down in surprise, then smiles, and beckons for Kaela to enter.
Kaela steps into the room, carefully closing the door behind her. "Hello," she signs.
Azhtar smiles and nods, signing, "And greetings to you as well. I am glad to have such pleasant company. Won't you sit down?"
Kaela sits down, fidgeting with her hands a bit. She's obviously a bit disturbed by something. After several moments she finally signs, "Mama's getting worse."
By the look of the depressions in some of the cushions, it is evident that there has been another visitor sitting here. Of course, it's not hard to guess who…
Azhtar frowns, and signs, "I am sorry to hear that."
Azhtar looks as if a thought has occurred to her, but she does not move her hands to share it just yet.
Kaela nods slowly. She carefully signs, "I… think that if I could take Mama to the City of Hands… there are Savanites there who could help her… "
Azhtar looks back to Kaela. "Really? I … " She looks as if she shakes aside a particular question, then continues in sign, "If you took your mother there, I do not think she could return. Nor could you… " She sighs and lets her hands drop.
"But if that is your wish, if your mother would be willing to travel there for what purpose you have in mind, I will do my utmost to assist you," Azhtar signs after a pause.
Kaela swallows hard and nods. "I know," she signs. "But… she'll die if I don't find someone who can help her… "
Azhtar pauses again, then signs, "I do not know if this will offer any help at all, but I have learned that a ship has come from distant Ur, bearing an Eeee prince and a healer of some reknown, who was originally from the Himaat, and who now travels wide and far, helping those who have need of his skills."
"His skills are not magical," Azhtar warns, "so I do not think that he could truly cure what afflicts your mother … but perhaps he could somehow help."
Kaela nods slowly, swallowing. "Do you think," she signs, "that he would see Mama? We spent all our money on the last healer… He said nothing could be done… "
Azhtar frowns. "I do not know. But surely something may be of interest to him. Perhaps something can be arranged. His name is Roho. The ship Freedom's Dream is in port, undergoing repairs, and he is a friend of the prince who owns it. He might be found at the ship, or perhaps wandering Rephidim. He is a blind desert fox who carries a staff. The rumors I have heard indicate that money means little to him. I do not know if that means he would work without pay, however."
Kaela nods slowly… "Thank you," she signs. "I'll try to find him… maybe he'll be able to help… "
Azhtar nods. "If there is anything he requires," she signs, "please let me know. I will do my best to help."
"After all," Azhtar signs, smiling, "it would be but a small thing to do for the Queen."
Kaela nods several times, her tail echoing patterns of gratitude as it sweeps through the air behind her. She reaches to hug Azhtar, her inner ears suddenly turning a bright crimson.
Azhtar embraces Kaela, hugging her and patting her back lightly, purring gently.
Kaela purrs faintly, closing her eyes and savoring the embrace for several seconds.
Outside, through the door, a steady *clip clip clip* can be heard echoing down the corridor.
Kaela quickly looks back up and takes a half-step away from Azhtar, watching her expression with some degree of worry.
Azhtar looks worried as well. She quickly signs, "Best to leave now … or … " she looks toward the door that leads into the kitchenette.
Kaela glances towards the other door. She really doesn't want to go out there into the hallway as the unicorn approaches, so… Hesitating only a moment, she hurries through the other door.
As Kaela disappears into the kitchenette, she catches a glance of Azhtar patting the cushions to hide any evidence of a small visitor sitting in them.
With the door closed, the kitchenette is dark … and apparently packed with everything one would need to cook meals, though there's not enough room for the cook to be able to get around with anyone else standing about.
Kaela crouches in a corner of the kitchenette, being as quiet as she can manage and just listening.
The clip-clip-clip stops, and then there is a single knock, mere moments before the door can be heard sliding open, and someone entering, closing it again behind. And then … silence.
Kaela hardly breathes, she holds so still. There's something she doesn't trust about that unicorn… those eyes of his, probably…
After another long period of silence … there's a sound like that of … a Creen trilling? No … it's some sort of instrument.
Kaela restrains her curiosity (albeit with difficulty) and remains hidden in the kitchenette, fearful of what would befall her… and Azhtar… if she was found.
On occasion, the notes sound like the calls of a Creen, but at others they sound like a pipe, at times sharp, at times low and breathy. The melody sounds somehow familiar, in style if not in tune.
Kaela fidgets. Finally, unable to restrain her curiosity any longer, she quietly creeps back to the doorway to the kitchenette and presses it open a fraction of a centimeter, peering into the room through the gap, trying to get a glimpse of the instrument being played… and which of the two is playing it.
The unicorn is sitting on some cushions, a low table between himself and Azhtar. The latter is playing the colorful instrument that usually is perched beside the door, fashioned to resemble a stylized Creen. By the looks of it, the unicorn's eyes are closed, and he sits with hooves crossed, hands together, as if in meditation.
Kaela smiles a little bit and just listens, lurking in the doorway.
At last, Azhtar's melody ceases, just as the unicorn's eyes open. Whether he opened his eyes in response to the music ending, or whether the music ended in response to his opening of his eyes, it is impossible to discern. He nods his head.
Kaela lets the door shut again and edges back to the corner she'd been crouching in. She goes back to waiting quietly and just listening.
There is the sound of a door opening, the clip-clip of hooves, and then the door closes again.
Kaela moves back to the door and opens it again.
Azhtar half-glances toward Kaela, a worried expression in her eyes, still holding the flute in her hands.
Kaela blinks and signs, "What's wrong?"
The Inquisitor, standing on some cushions in a corner of the room, off to one side, signs, "Nothing at all."
Azhtar's gaze drops, suddenly taking an intense interest in the styling of the instrument she holds in her hands.
Kaela's eyes widen and she looks from Azhtar to the unicorn and back again with sudden fright in her eyes.
The unicorn steps off the cushions, and strides to Kaela, looking at her intently.
Kaela swallows nervously, backing a half step away. Her eyes remain carefully lowered. She's being very, very respectful. Really.
The Inquisitor reaches to Kaela's chin to lift it up, and regards the insignia on the collar which identifies her as property of Lord Titus haut Mikide.
Kaela keeps her eyes downcast, shivering nervously as the Inquisitor examines her.
A faint smile plays on the Inquisitor's lips as he regards Kaela's face. The smile does not come across as comforting in the least. He retracts his gloved hand.
Melchizedek turns to Azhtar and signs, "Next time, brush away the hairs. If they were on the floor, I might mistake them for yours, but you would never have any reason to sit on that cushion, facing away from the door."
Kaela quickly lowers her face again as the Inquisitor releases her chin. Her shoulders are hunched forward and inward as she tries to pull into herself and appear even smaller.
Azhtar's eyes are downcast as well. She half-nods at Melchizedek's comment, but signs nothing in reply.
Melchizedek just … stands there … quietly, for several long moments. Does he enjoy watching people sweat?
Kaela swallows hard, shivering and waiting for the unicorn to hand down the death sentence that he presumably will… She bites down on her lower lip as she suddenly begins to feel like she might break into tears.
The Inquisitor signs, "I have business to tend to. I will ask of this later. I trust that you will have plenty of time to fabricate a convincing story, as usual." With that, he turns and walks toward the door, giving Kaela one last scrutinizing look before he slides the panel open and steps into the corridor.
The door closes. *clip clip clip clip… *
Azhtar lets out a long breath, as if she had been holding it for this whole interlude. Perhaps she was.
Kaela takes a deep breath, hurrying over to Azhtar. "What'll he do?" She looks up at the older cheetah plaintively.
Azhtar looks to Kaela, and signs, "I do not know. If he planned on doing anything … I imagine he would have done so immediately. I … I know him better than anyone and yet I still do not understand him."
Kaela nods uncertainly. "If he tells Titus… I… I don't know what he'd do… "
Azhtar stands and reaches out to comfort Kaela, signing with her free hand, "Don't fret. He is the sort to ask questions of the nobility not to tell things to them."
Even so, Azhtar's expression doesn't exactly look calm and reassuring.
Kaela nods slowly. "But now I can't go to the City of Hands," she signs. "If I go, he'll know you know where I went… "
Azhtar looks down. "You are probably right," she signs, then looks up, "but it does not matter. If you believe that it is necessary to save your mother who is by all rights our Queen then I must do my utmost to aid you, no matter what the consequences."
Kaela hugs Azhtar tightly, squeezing her eyes shut.
Azhtar strokes Kaela's head hair. She tries to purr, but it's forced, and she just gives up, instead holding the kit for a little while longer.
Kaela finally pulls away. "What will we tell him when he returns?"
Azhtar shakes her head. "We will tell him nothing. You will return to Lord Titus. It will be my concern. If there is any danger, I will have word sent to you by way of Earth-Hand the boy you know as 'Gart'."
Kaela nods softly. "All right… I… I'm sorry… "
Azhtar smiles and shakes her head. "There is nothing to be sorry about. We are slaves who dream of freedom. Unless we abandon our dreams, there will always be risks," she signs. "Take heart, and endure."
Kaela swallows hard. "When we go… to the City, I mean… I want you to come, too."
Azhtar smiles. "We shall see," she signs. "If the Star shines upon us, there is yet time to see what may be done."
Kaela nods softly, smiling up at Azhtar.
Kaela signs, "I should get back soon… the healer… what was his name?"
Azhtar smiles back. "Roho," she signs in the phonetic. "And his ship is the Freedom's Dream, at the Docks. It is a ship of strange design. If you ask where the Prince's ship is, you should have little trouble locating it."
Kaela nods a few times, closing her eyes as she mentally visualizes the signs to herself several times to memorize them. Opening her eyes again, she signs once more, "Thank you. And I'm sorry for causing you trouble… "
Azhtar's eyes twinkle as she signs, "You are no trouble whatsoever, your Highness."
Kaela's ears turn a rather shocking shade of crimson. She really isn't comfortable being called that. "I… I'll try to come back and talk to you soon… "
Kaela smiles up at Azhtar tentatively, then moves to the door and out into the hallway. There, she pauses for just a moment to regain her bearings before heading back towards Lord Titus' townhouse.