23 Nov 1998. Jynx, disguised as Prince Shiahd bu-Ahlmarahat, infiltrates the Inner Sanctum of the Society of Cinders.
(Artifact of Calderas) (Half Valley) (Jynx) (Silver Blade)
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Inner Sanctum
The Inner Sanctum, situated within an oversized "hunter's lodge", has all the trappings of a very elite gentleman's club. Bookshelves of rare literary works line many walls, and there are more than a few stuffed leather chairs for lounging and telling tales about great safaris in the Bowl. Humidors hold expensive cigars. There are trophies galore. Here and there is an old explorer-style globe painted in sepia tones. Expensive wood furniture. Fine art. Butler after butler after butler. One is to hold one's nose a few degrees higher than the common folk here.

At night at the lodge, big-time hunters from all over the globe gather within this exclusive lodge, talking about their adventures in the wild. Not just anyone gets in here, and the latest candidate for inclusion into this elite fold is a royal-looking leonine by the name of Prince Shiahd bu-Ahlmarahat.

His hands are shaken many a time (and, almost as often, given more of a squeeze than is really necessary), and he is given a choice seat near the fireplace. The room is heavy with pipe smoke and musk. One would hardly think it the gathering place of a secret cult bent on destroying the universe. Maybe a few game animals, though.

Prince Shiahd, also known as Feli Kurai, sits calmly in his chair of honor. His hand indeed is sore, since he has gotten to learn first hand of how people try to test their strength against lions. He gives an expressionless look around, seemingly not all that impressed.

For nearly a week now, the Khatta has been treated as the honored guest of the Society, having been shown around Half Valley, but not any of the risky places. This lodge is new though, and the disguised Khatta tries to take it all in.

Murmurs amongst those gathered circulate as much as the tobacco smoke as important looking individuals mill around leather upholstered chairs, plush couches with watered-zolk pillows, old (mostly non-functional) clockwork curiosities from Chronotopia, and various other art objects tastefully spacing rows of bookshelves and trophy cases. The murmuring dies down as brisk footsteps clack down a marble-floored hallway leading inward.

Prince Jynx, as he's secretly been calling himself, perks his ears up at the sound, giving an absent-minded scratch at his mane.

A coyote with a bit of white around the edges makes his way through the pungent haze. He has the look of a professor about him moreso than a hunter, from his smoking jacket to his wood-rimmed spectacles. Although he has the jacket for it, though, he does not have a pipe. Instead, he carries a couple of books tucked under one arm, and looks about – occasionally adjusting his spectacles – as if he might be lost.

The coyote stops in his search, however, looking in the direction that the brisk footsteps can be heard coming from.

The leonine Khatta gives the strange coyote a look over, trying to appear bored (Not hard for a cat, mind you). Nevertheless, this individual sticks out like a sore dew-claw.

A tall Cervani stag emerges from the archway, and pauses to regard the assembly with a perfect smile. His athletic frame belies a scholarly sense of taste that makes itself apparent in his manner of dress. An expensive suit of immaculate white is complemented by spotless kid gloves, and an oddly out-of-place swordsman's cloak draped rakishly around his broad shoulders. The buttons pinning his coat are brass, likewise the pin holding his cloak in place, and a gold-rimmed monocle dangles from his collar. He holds a long, ebon wood cane with a steel head bearing the likeness of a doe's face.

Prince Shiahd is a bit taken aback by the impressive Cervani, and his face betrays a bit of that sentiment. Not for long, though, as Jynx catches himself and goes back to his best regal look. He listens intently, since it seems the stag has something to say.

The coyote seems to have made his way closer to the Prince during the entrance of the distinguished Cervani. He wheezes once, coughs into his fist, then sits down in a chair near that of the Prince. The Hekoye smiles and nods at the leonine, pushing his spectacles an inch further up the bridge of his muzzle as he does so.

From somewhere, a page announces, "Secretariat Vandringer, of the Society." A butler that's been trailing after him places a snifter of brandy in the stag's free hand, who barely even notices it. "Greetings, my friends!" says the secretariat, in a firm, yet friendly voice. "I sincerely hope my hospitality has been up to your exacting standards." A number of those gathered raise glasses and cigars, cheerfully agreeing that they've been made more than welcome.

The Hekoye seems a bit taken off guard, and hastily takes up a nearly-empty glass of brandy from an end-table next to him, and lifts it up high a few seconds later than the others. A sloshed drop lands on his nose.

The Khatta peers curiously at the Hekoye curiously, what could he want with Jynx? He quickly looks away as the stag speaks, and imitates the others, raising his glass and emitting a bellow of thanks.

"Today, we officially welcome the newest member of our Society to the fold, the esteemed Prince Shiahd bu-Ahlmarahat." The Cervani makes a grand gesture over the gathering with the head of his cane, smiling broadly. "Please, Prince, step forward that I might have the honor of finally meeting you."

Jynx gulps, conciously trying to keep his tail from thrashing nervously about. As he is gestured to, the leonine Khatta rises from his seat displaying a regal, snooty smile, and steps forward as told to do. He gives a few head-nods to seemingly important people, and stops just near the Cervani.

The Hekoye's tail wags in a rather undignified manner, and he smiles widely, nodding to anyone who happens to be looking in his general direction.

Vandringer looks on, apparently quite pleased. Tucking the hand bearing his cane near himself, about belt level, he executes a stately bow, the snifter of brandy held aloft and to one side. Jynx's sensitive feline ears quite distinctly pick up the whistling of air as the tines of Vandringer's large crown of antlers passes in front of his face by a few inches. "On behalf of the Society of Cinders, I welcome you. Mwrawl purruchu lai owm'ye."

The Prince returns the bow with a nod, and upon the greeting, his heart skips a beat. It sounds Khattan. Unfortunately, Jynx doesn't speak Khattan. Thinking quickly, lest he have a massive heart attack, the Khatta responds in Rephidim standard, his voice lower than usual. "Greetings to you as well." He feigns a look of annoyance, "Let us not speak the language of my homeland here. After all, we have no secrets to keep from our brethren!"

The secretariat stands upright again with a resonant and good-natured laugh. His rich, bass voice holds the reassurance of a practiced speaker. "Ahh, you have my apologies, Prince bu-Ahlmarahat. I know a precious few words of Khattanese, and I'm positive I must have mangled it. Your choice of associates marks you as a person of discerning taste… Perhaps we can prove it to you more with a tour of our operation here. Primus Maximillan and I can show you some of the concepts the Society stands on that you will soon hold as close to your heart as all of us do."

"More than our linguistics ability," adds Vandringer, and the ladies and gentleman laugh politely.

This morning's breakfast, which had been inching its way up Jynx's nerve-racked throat, calms itself as his stomach returns to normal. The leonine Khatta adds a courtesy laugh to the joke, "Of course, of course, and might I add that you speak Khattanese rather well! But, enough for my words, on with the tour!"

The bespectacled Hekoye laughs loudly and claps his hands together enthusiastically. As soon as he gets a couple of looks in his direction, he coughs, adopts a more serious expression, and nods in the Prince's direction … then leaves his brandy glass behind as he shuffles up toward the Cervani and lion-Khatta. "Yes, yes, yes, you simply MUST see the grounds! But the interior first. It's simply wonderful. You'll love it here."

A clap comes from the assemblage, and is followed by a few more. The clapping builds, until all the members of the order show their approval for their newest peer with enthusiastic applause.

The coyote has a relieved look on his face, as he claps again, this time with the support of the rest, though unfortunately awfully close to the lion-Khatta's face. "Yes, you'll LOVE it!" he gushes.

Jynx's nerves calm for the moment, secretly thanking the Star that the correct words came to his mouth. He regards the Hekoye with a regal look, but sets his ears back as the claps come too close for comfort. "Of course, I'm sure I will. Now then, shall we continue?"

"Certainly! At once! Right this way!" the coyote grabs one of the Prince's hands and starts tugging him toward the trophy room. (That is, every room here is a trophy room, but there is still one distinctly labelled "Trophy Room", which appears to be the Hekoye's intended destination."

The Prince, openly agitated (and inwardly too), snatches his hand from the Coyote. "I am quite capable of walking on my own, thank you!" The ears remain set back, and he adds a small snarl for effect.

"Oh! Oh, my pardon. Heheh," the coyote laughs nervously. "Now, just this way … ah … if it pleases you, of course."

Vandringer takes a sip of his brandy, and with a faintly bemused look on his face strides after the Hekoye and the Prince.

With a regal nod and a return to a calm look, the Prince follows behind.

Sanctum Trophy Room
The Trophy Room of the Inner Sanctum is – so the owners claim – without rival across all Sinai as a taxidermical tour of the many wild creatures to be found on the surface – plus a few from the air and sea, as well. Of the larger specimens, there may be only a head, or perhaps (in the case of even larger ones) merely a set of teeth or a horn. For smaller specimens, most are poised in realistic and dramatic poses – alighting upon a branch, or pouncing upon prey for all eternity. Unlike a museum where such a selection might be found at least in part, the trophies are open to the air, without a protective glass to shut them away. The air is heavy with the smell of pipe smoke, with just a faint hint of preservatives.

The Hekoye's words stumble upon themselves half the time during his tour, as he points out various specimens, tries to tell something of them, then realizes he has gotten it all wrong. "No, no, no, I'm sorry. That's not the fearsome Blatherbeast of Tralle, that's the Vandersnatch. Hmm. Awfully puny for a Vandersnatch … Oh! Silly me, that's a vermite. How did THAT get there? Ahem. Now, over here are mounted the poisonous stingers of a high-flying wyrm. It happened to be passing over Half Valley, you see. Quite a rarity in these parts… "

Although Prince Jynx is still nervous due to his situation, he has to try hard to keep from laughing at the strange Coyote, fighting to retain his composure. He looks at the specimens with interest, wondering how they managed to get so many.

"Ahem, well, I suppose when you see all of this," the Hekoye ventures, "you must be in awe of the variety of life to be found in nature. A world of predator and prey, in perfect balance. And we, ah, you see – I mean, speaking in generalities, of course – we, being of the sapient species, are quite obviously predator some of the time, though – especially when things get rough in the Bowl – sometimes prey as well. It's all very delicate, and quite wonderful, really. Now then … ah yes … Terribly sorry. I was trying to build up to something dramatic and insightful, but I'm terrible at this speaking thing. I'm not a bad writer, you know, but – ah yes, where was I? Our PURPOSE, that's it… "

"Oh, by the way, terribly sorry not to introduce myself," the Hekoye interjects, interrupting his own speech. "Primus Maximillan, at your service. But you can call me Max. That is, Primus is my TITLE, not my first name. It's a common mistake."

Jynx crosses his arms with impatience, "Yes, yes, and it's apleasure to make your aquaintence, er, Max, but we were discussing the purpose of the Society?"

As the coyote talks, his hands flutter about in a nervous attempt to illustrate his points, or perhaps just to keep themselves busy. His books have been left behind in the main lodge room, and he hasn't a cane like Vandringer's to occupy his hands. "Oh! Yes, the purpose. Well, of course, you've already learned most of that, but – ah – I might as well tell you again, for the sake of protocol. Or tradition. You know. That sort of thing. Our PURPOSE, of course is to change the way the world is. That is, to end the current age and bring about the NEXT age. The Age of Eden. Or the New Eden. I rather love the name, myself. I think it sounds positively … ah, but nevermind that. In any case, it is our mission to bring this about."

Through all this, Vandringer keeps quiet, perhaps out of respect for the coyote, or perhaps simply not to add any more to the overabundance of words that fill the air already.

"Age of Eden?" The Khatta arches a brow, "what do you mean by this? And how to you plan to accomplish it?" He attempts to hide his normal feline curiosity voice, instead asking in a calm, low, leonine one.

"The Artifact. That should be a good place to start as any. No, no, no, it's the HUMANS. Well, which part do YOU think I should start with?" The Hekoye looks to the faux Prince. "I mean, something like this doesn't exactly have a beginning and an end." He pauses, then says, "Well, I guess the 'Age of Eden' deserves more attention. That should bring it all about. Yes, yes… "

"The 'Age of Eden'. A return to nature, the way it should be," the coyote says, nodding in agreement with himself. "You see, Sinai has been despoiled. It is marked with the scars of technology. Its resources are plundered for the sake of ultimately useless things, in the big scheme. And there is one cause to blame for it all. One villain responsible for this scourge!"

The Hekoye looks expectantly to the Prince.

The Prince gives the Coyote a strange look, "Villain? Now, who would this be? And what would a weak insignificant race such as the humans have to do with all of this?"

"Ah, but that's just it," the Hekoye says, "They are NOT weak and insignificant. Why … have you ever talked to an Exile? Just listen to them! Every last one of them comes from a world where humanity … OPPRESSES all of furred kind!"

The Hekoye continues, "Why, the truth of the matter is … not one of the sapient species came to being … except through the unnatural tinkering of human-kind. Yes! Through magic and through technology – ah, that is, where they're distinct … sometimes they blend, after all – they took the beautiful creatures of nature and warped them to resemble themselves!" The Hekoye coughs a few times. "Ah, excuse me there. Mustn't get too excited."

The leonine Khatta gives a startled blink, obviously puzzled. He then gives a small laugh, as though he were let in on some sort of joke. "Come on now, you can't be serious can you?" He grins, part for show and part reality. "All the humans I've ever seen are little more than furless, clawless bookworms."

The coyote frowns, then says, "You shouldn't be so skeptical. Ours is a very serious purpose indeed." He glances askance to Vandringer, but the Cervani's expression is out of the leonine's view. "Who rules over all Sinai? A furless, clawless bookworm they call the Captain-Astromancer. And generation after generation, century after century … always it is, a HUMAN! They have their taint upon this world, and wherever they go, pollution follows. Witness Chronotopia! That is proof enough. No, there is only one solution – to free all of Sinai from the taint of humanity. First, by purging this world of all the furless humans. Next, by freeing all beings of Sinai and returning them to their natural forms. The Artifact of Calderas alone – an artifact as old as the planet itself – can accomplish that!" The Hekoye nods solemnly.

"Of course," the coyote quickly adds, "there must still be caretakers, lest we be unprepared for when more humans come to taint Sinai again. Therefore, those chosen of our Society shall bear the Mark. They shall retain their forms, so they may rule over the kingdom of beasts fairly and justly, keeping the balance of nature."

Fighting to keep his fur from standing on end at the chilling words, the Prince asks, "And the artifcat will acomplish this?" He pauses, then continues, "What if the people of the world refuse to do as you instruct?"

Primus Maximillan nods. "The Artifact shall do this of its own power, once given the ancient command. Through diligent research into the secrets of Sinai and the ancient race that created it, we have learned these holy mantras that shall bring about the Age of Eden. The Artifact is the key to power of the planet itself. None shall be left out of the new Age. And once they return to their natural forms," the coyote smiles, "they will no longer protest, for sapience will no longer plague them."

Jynx's stomach ties itself in knots, his head swimming, trying to realize the impact of all the information he has just learned. He's not sure what non-sapient Khatta looks like, but he's sure he doesn't want to be one. Putting these thoughts aside for the time being, the cat forces a smile onto his face, "I see now! This plan, why, its wonderous!" He makes a few wide gestures with his hands, then gives Primus Maximillian a hearty pat on the back, "I apologize for questioning you my friend, it was uncalled for." Suddenly, the real reason he came to this place pops back into his mind, "As for the artifiact, do we already have it, or is it yet found?"

"Oh! Yes, the Artifact," the Hekoye says, sounding far more cheerful now that he has gotten such a positive response from the Prince. "Yes, indeed, we have only very recently discovered its location. Namely because our spies have determined the location of its long-time possessor, the Lady Calderas." He chuckles to himself. "How ironic! It seems she has taken up residence in the Province of Xanashire … the very heart of King Xante's ancient rule. Purportedly, she lives very close to Falcon's Watch – the very LAST place I would expect her to live. After all, Falcon's Watch was the home of her husband's worst rival. That being King Xante, of course. But you, being a student of history, would know all of that already, so I apologize for boring you with details."

Primus Maximillan shakes the Prince's hands several times, beaming. "It's so good to know that you understand our way! Once you receive the Mark, you shall be among the chosen, to rule with us over all of Nature, as its benevolent caretakers. And all of the evils of Humanity shall be burned away under the holy fires of Primus. That is, the sun – not me, of course!"

Prince Shiahd nods, "Yes, I am aware of the rivalry." Inwardly, the Khatta fumes, knowing of yet another rivalry. He shakes the hand of the Hekoye with a firm grip, increased due to his inner anger. "And it will be a pleasure to be a part of the chosen. What, may I ask however, is the 'Mark'?"

"Oh!" says the coyote. "Sorry to neglect that little detail." He rubs around in his forehead fur, which shows pretty much nothing, as he says, "Just a tattoo on your forehead, made with special magical inks that the Artifact will recognize you by, as one of the Elect. You'll have to have a bit of fur shaved away for that, but once it grows back, nobody will notice a thing."

The leonine Khatta grimaces. The last thing he needs when he gets back home is a huge tattoo on the top of his pate, not to mention the excuse he would need. "I see. Well then, is that the tour, or is there more to this place?" He gives a look around, trying to appear interested. "I assume we are going to begin our quest as soon as possible."

"Indeed!" says the coyote with a clap of his hands. "We were rather worried when you showed up later than expected. We'd hoped to give you some more time to rest and recuperate before we begin the Hunt. But now that we're all ready… " He looks over to Vandringer.

"Yes, we'll introduce you to one of the invigorating aspects of the Society," smoothly replies the Cervani. "The Grand Hunt is central to the first phase of our operations. Come… while I enjoy being around priceless pieces of art and fine wines, I feel like enjoying a breath of fresh air… and Primus, don't you have some excerpts from Tallowin's Journal of Arcane Objects to translate?"

The Hekoye starts to follow the Cervani and Khatta, then stops in mid-step. "Oh! Yes, I COMPLETELY forgot about that! I'll work on it at once, your Secretariatship!" With that, he quickly pads away, leaving the Trophy Room through one of the other doors.

Vandringer's look of bemusement stays in place well after Maximillan is gone. He leaves his half-full glass of brandy with the butler, and produces a pipe and tobacco pouch from a pocket in his coat. "Let us visit the gardens, Prince."

Jynx watches the Hekoye as he leaves, then follows along side Vandringer. "He is sure a strange fellow," he says with a chuckle. "Ah, gardens. Yes, I do believe that would be good to contemplate all I have learned here tonight." If one were to pay attention, he would notice the Khatta's tail thrashing from side to side, but Jynx tries to keep it at a minimum. "About this… hunt?"

The secretariat leads Jynx back up the hallway and through some wide double-doors. The afternoon sun floods a garden fairly bursting with colours of all kinds, laying on beds of verdant greenery. Stone fountains gurgle with clear waters, and the occasional groundskeeper passes by to tend the blooms, or yank weeds. "Brilliant man, the Primus," muses Vandringer. He leaves an unsaid 'but' in the air, and instead says, "Yes, the Grand Hunt. Have you any questions about this glorious calling?"

The false lion nods, "How do you plan on getting this artifact from the Lady Calderas?" He stops and looks directly at the Cervani, "From what I know, King Xante's lands are hard to infiltrate."

"A learned observation," replies Vandringer, pausing by a tall topiary in the shape of a contemplative feline. He places his monacle over his right eye to inspect it. "Various ruffians, and dissidents live where no true population can be supported by the land. It is dangerous for mere commoners to tread there." The secretariat pauses to eye a twig that's out of place.

Jynx looks puzzled, "Forgive me, I'm out of study, but what do you mean about the lands no longer supporting a population? How then does the Lady Calderas remain there?"

Vandringer smiles, though his attention still seems to be on the errant twig. "By population, I refer to something like a township. The farmlands that once supported the Xante regency and its people were despoiled in the War of Vassals. Tragic, really. Lady Calderas is of a different breed than the common folk that might try to eke out a living there, however. Much like you and I, above the unfortunate rabble that, as it is, can not be blessed with the status and material wealth we high-born are accustomed to. She, with her contacts and resources, can probably live comfortably with whatever goods they can supply her, either by shipments or trips to more developed areas."

The Prince nods, "So, you intend to send a force there and take the artifact? What then will you do with the Lady?" The cat's heart pounds faster, even though he's somewhat angry at his grandmother at the moment, he will fight to keep anyone from harming her.

"It really depends, my friend," replies the Cervani, drawing a small pair of pruning shears from his cloak. He puffs a pleasantly aromatic stream of smoke from his pipe. "She is noble, and in essence one of us. I will offer her a position with we of the enlightened few, though I'm not sure I can trust her entirely. Should she go back to her treacherous ways of the Compass Rose, then I suppose she'll have to be removed." Finding the proper angle, the Cervani snips the twig away from the topiary. "This is the way of our kind… the unfit and out-of-place must be removed, that the whole may thrive. That's part of what I'd like to discuss with you."

Jynx's neckfur stands on end angrily, but luckily is hidden by his false mane. "Depends on me? How so?" He looks at the Cervani suspiciously, "What is it you would like to discuss?"

Vandringer turns away from the topiary and smiles down at Jynx, curls of smoke mingling with his antlers. "Depends on her, mostly. Her reaction to us, and her degree of cooperation. Perhaps her reaction to you, mmm? Indeed." The stag places a hand on Jynx's shoulder. It's oddly heavy. "You may be the first of our Society that she encounters, if fortune smiles upon you in the Grand Hunt. Thanks to your generous donation from your Himaat palace a month ago, our coffers have been more packed than ever. Our investments have yielded excellent returns, and make substantial resources available to us." The Cervani's smile widens. "And to you. You didn't really think we'd send you on the hunt with nothing but your own personal wealth, did you?"

The Khatta tries not to shiver at the touch, "I-, uh, of course not!" He forces a laugh. Of course he gets the gist of what is implied, but the very thought of it sends his skin crawling. This is his grandmother after all! "S-so, we plan not to take the artifact by force then, but by payment?"

"Payment? I don't think it will be that simple, Prince Shiahd." The Cervani chuckles in just the right tone to sound as if he has limitless patience. "We will allocate a certain – generous I'm sure you'll agree – amount of funding to supply you with servants, supplies, loyal soldiers and underlings, etcetera. The Society takes care of its own, and with our contacts, resources, and support, we'll aid you on your search for what rightfully belongs to all of us." He takes his hand back, and breathes deeply of the fresh air, his pipe in one hand.

"Ah, of course." The Khatta contemplates this. "So it is my task then? When do you wish for me to start?" The sooner the better, he thinks.

Vandringer walks along a grassy pathway between flowerbeds surrounding marble sculptures. "There are quite a number of us similarly outfitted, and with your addition, I'm sure we'll find it all the sooner. Firstly, however… I'd like to ask you a question."

Jynx follows the Cervani, then stops to look up at him, "Yes?"

"What do you think of Primus Maximillian's… vision?" The Cervani stands overlooking a flowerbed, his back to the Khatta. The only minor pause in his speech since he's met Jynx surfaces in that sentance. "Do you agree that the best use of the artifact is to achieve his ideal of 'purity'?"

Jynx is totally taken off guard by this question. Could it be that a member of the Society is having doubts? He quickly tries to think of an honest sounding response. "Well, I suppose… if the humans have truly done as he says they have, although it does seem a bit comical. I don't suppose many people would be inclined to agree with him… " he pauses, "but then I suppose they lack foresight."

Vandringer's back stiffens. He stands more upright, and slowly turns around.

The leonine Khatta's heart sinks, did he say something wrong?

The secretariat's face bears a wide grin, and delight dances in his eyes as he turns to face the Khatta. "You, my friend, are just what the Society needs. You have this foresight. You have this depth of vision that we are striving for."

Jynx relaxes, once again giving thanks to the Star. He returns the grin, "Of course I do, that is why I have sought out others of my kind." He gives the Cervani a comical-conspiratorial wink. "Vartans of a feather you know."

"It is a great relief to me that you are not consumed in the… somewhat extreme nature of Primus Maximillian's ideals," says Vandringer, clasping his hands behind his back. "Since you will be encountering it, you should know that there are more uses to Calderas' artifact than the rendering of Sinai's population… taintless. I have read a few things about your kingdom, and I know that your older brother will be receiving the lion's share of the inheritance once your father is ready to pass his legacy down. And your answer tells me you are not going to accept less than you deserve."

"Of course I won't!" lies Jynx, "One way or another, I will get what is rightfully mine." The Khatta has no idea what he himself is talking about, but simply tries to make it convincing. "What other uses does the artifact possess, if it simply does not… 'untaint' the populace?"

Vandringer taps the end of his cane against the sod to emphasize his points. "The Primus and I disagree slightly on what the Artifact can accomplish. I believe that, used properly, it will rebuild the structure that should dictate how our culture functions. There are those that do not acknowledge us as their betters… Calderas knew that, and he attempted to use the artifact to right this injustice. He nearly succeeded… but he didn't study the artifact he sought enough. Didn't know it well enough before he started using it." He raises the shining steel head of his cane. "I, on the other hand, have studied it. Once it is in our possession, I can use it to sweep those who will not bow to us from the face of Sinai. And those that remain will know their place as our servants. Your servants. My servants. Where fate decreed they should be by the stations they were born to."

"Of course they will! Who can stand against us?" Jynx flatters the stag as best he can so as to learn more and better utilize his disguise. Inwardly, the Khatta cannot believe his ears. These are the words of a madman! "So I assume that as soon as we acquire this artifact, we will put it to good use with all due haste?"

The secretariat smiles, and sets his cane back down. "Certainly. Why should the world have to wait for order to be re-established? I surmised that this interpretation of our mission would be more to your taste than Maximillan's misguided ideology." He secures his cane under one arm, and claps his hands, and a number of Khatta and Khattha dressed in laquered wood armor emerge from several paths in the garden. The doors to the lodge open, and a squad of zelaks marches from it. They stand impassively, and the felines form a ring around Jynx, going to one knee and bowing their heads.

"Your retinue awaits, Prince bu-Ahlmarahat," murmurs Vandringer. "You may join the Grand Hunt at your leisure."

The Prince arches a brow, surprised at the sudden flurry of activity. "Of course, of course." He tries to think of what to say, stunned at the transpiring of events that has happened this day. Mentally his mind races, and his body aches from the long day of meeting other members of the Society. Finally, the Khatta settles on a tired yawn. "This is all very impressive, I am much obliged! But if it agrees with you, might I retire for the time being?" He gives another yawn, "its been a very long day."

"By all means, my friend," replies the perpetually smiling stag. "You may take all the time you desire. If you have any questions or concerns, don't hesitate to talk to me." With that, he turns away and returns to the lodge. Through the doors left open by the zelaks, he can be seen conversing and laughing with some of the lords and ladies, until he disappears into the gathering.

Jynx takes a final look at all his accompaniment, still reeling a bit with amazement. Walking back into the lodge, he makes his way to his guest room, giving nods and smiles of courtesy at the various passers by. As quiet as he can, he slips into the very lavish room, one fit for the greatest hunters of the world. He gives a long, pent-up shiver as his mind races over all that he has learned, and checks to make sure his bags with his instruments of disguise are undisturbed. He then slips into the soft, expensive bed, and curls up kittenishly. How do I get myself into these situations?

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GMed by Bambridge & Greywolf

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Today is 7 days before Ring Day, Year 25 of the Reign of Archelaus the First (6124)