Arch-Inquisitor Melchizedek's Office
The hiss of steam escaping from countless valves and pipes joins with the crackle of erratic artificial lighting, in this cylindrical vault that serves as the office and interrogation chamber of the Arch-Inquisitor Melchizedek. The center of the chamber is dominated by a column-like bundle of pipes, cables and supports that run upward, bound together by a railed walkway about halfway up. Tattered banners of the Temple hang from the walls, amidst cracked panels and exposed machinery, and circling the column can be seen a few stations and tables wicked-looking machines that might be for controlling ancient instruments … or for extracting answers out of uncooperative "guests". The dim and unreliable light is supplemented by torch stands in alcoves ringing the room, and a solid-looking pair of reinforced doors provide the only visible exit.
As the heavy doors close behind her, Envoy glances nervously at all of the naked machinery. This isn't the office she remembers, and she wonders what other changes are being made in the Temple.
"Greetings, Envoy of Lothrhyn," comes a familiar voice from above. The Arch-Inquisitor must be on one of those platforms higher up, ringing the column … though he can't immediately be seen. "Please, have a seat."
There are several seats to choose from. Some are suited for those with wings, some without. All of them take tails into consideration. Some seem to be far from comfortable, though, having various instruments that might have surgical application. Hopefully the Inquisitor doesn't mean one of those chairs.
"Thank you, sir," Envoy says, and sits in one of the flyer-designed seats…
There are some scraping and scratching noises from high up on the column. There is a long pause … and then a loud hiss as some steam jets out from the base of the column. A platform lowers down a channel in the central column, carrying a black-and-red-robed Aeonian on it. The circular platform sinks flush with the floor … and then the Arch-Inquisitor steps off. "What can I do for you, Citizen Envoy?"
Envoy blinks three times at the arrival, and wonders if the Arch-Inquisitor uses the elevator solely for this purpose. "Well, sir, we had discussed the possibility of my working for you once I had… attended to my other problem. I believe I have things in order now, at least until I can attempt a more fundamental solution. There is, however, something I need to know first, sir, regarding a certain rumor."
"And that would be?" responds the Aeonian, as he walks over to a table. It has what looks like a metal gauntlet on it, though it's big enough to fit loose on a Titanian's hand.
The Aeolun wonders how to phrase it properly, then says, "Do you remember the party at the de Medici estate some years ago, where one of your … ah … more confused colleagues mistook me for your daughter? I was wondering why you'd never laid that rumor to rest, sir?"
"There are many rumors that float about the Temple, Citizen Envoy. I have spent a very, very long time trying to deal with them. After a time, I deemed it pointless," responds the Aeonian. "There were also rumors that you were my lover. The same was said about my servant. There are far better things for me to concern myself with."
Envoy clears her throat. "Ah, yes, of course sir. I was only concerned that such a rumor might have served to distract or confuse your adversaries for a time, and if I might be in any risk because of it?"
"My adversaries, if they are of any threat to me, know enough about me to understand that such rumors are absurd," replies the Aeonian, as he tinkers with the gauntlet. It appears to have a few wires sticking out of it. It doesn't appear that the good Arch-Inquisitor has any great knowledge about things mechanical, really. Either he has no idea what function the object performs and would like to pretend that he does, or perhaps he simply doesn't care about that aspect of the artifact before him.
The Exile eyes the mechanical artifact with a sense of unease. Being an artifact herself, she finds it far too easy to picture her own hand being poked and prodded at with equal indifference. "In that case, sir, you had mentioned that working for you would entail certain risks. I was wondering if you could elaborate on those, and perhaps on any benefits that might offset them?"
"In all honesty, Citizen Envoy," the Aeonian says, turning to look at a paper stamped with the seal of the Technopriesthood, "the risks might well outweigh any possible gains from me just now. I have been reinstated to my position as Arch-Inquisitor, yes, but I am not in any more favor with the powers that be than with the powers that were. That is, the risks would be so, unless your objectives have changed. What do you hope to gain, Citizen Envoy?" He picks up a crystalline shard lying near the gauntlet, and holds it up to a candle, rotating it as he peers through it.
"An education, sir," Envoy says. "I had hoped to be able to learn more about the etiquette and political information needed to operate successfully here. Also, it would give me an opportunity to get back into the Temple's good graces, if such exist. I foresee a time when I will need to make use of the sort of skills I could learn here."
"'If such exist'," muses the Aeonian. "Yes, your tongue has just a touch of an edge, but … subtle. Not a random jab blunted with a veneer of naiveté. Yes, I think you have changed." He sets down the crystal. "What sort of skills do you wish to acquire … and what skills do you have to offer to the Temple?"
Envoy says, "I have already demonstrated my analytical and memorization skills during the expedition to salvage Little Rephidim West. I have a certain skill at acting, which has proven effective in the past, although such deception isn't likely to be useful in the general service of the Temple itself. I am versed in several major languages, both written and verbal, and can quickly provide multiple written translations. Summed together, I could record and re-enact to a good degree of accuracy any event to which I am a witness."
The Arch-Inquisitor nods. "If you were not so conspicuous, you would make an excellent spy. More likely, you would be an ideal assistant for an expeditionary team, I am sure."
Envoy nods, "That has been the most successful use I've been put to, sir, both by yourself and Venerable Officer Miriam. I had … umm … inadvertently caused the rumor that it was you who destroyed the City of Hands, but as I was acting under your aegis of assisting Azhtar at the time… " The Exile just smiles apologetically.
"Any rumors about my engineering the destruction of the City of Hands have been largely quelled by recent events, Citizen Envoy," responds the Aeonian. "I would request, however, that you refrain from impersonating me again in the future. That would be inadvisable."
Envoy nods, "Of course sir. I really did try to convince them that I wasn't you, though."
"Would you be able to do a better job now?" asks the Aeonian, as he walks over to an easel next to the gauntlet. It appears to have some rubbings on a parchment on its surface. The designs look like they might be of Nagai or Savanite origin, though the figures are stylized to the point of being hard to identify as belonging to any particular species.
Blinking a few times before answering, Envoy says, "Yes sir, I'm certain that I could now convince almost anyone that I wasn't you."
"What has changed since then, Citizen Envoy?" asks the Arch-Inquisitor. "What would you do differently, and why?"
Envoy reflects on that question awhile, finally answering, "In that particular instance, sir, I cannot see any other course that would have resulted in getting past the blockade fleet. That was a unique situation however, in which my identity wasn't likely to be investigated closely. I have not attempted to impersonate anyone since then, aside from a role in an opera, nor have I seen any need to develop such a skill beyond what was needed for a staged performance. Knowing what I do now, though, I see that I could have saved myself a great deal of discomfort by not trying to keep certain things secret."
"Then you were indeed attempting to impersonate me, Citizen Envoy?" asks the Arch-Inquisitor. "How does that relate to your claim that you were trying to persuade those present that you were not me? One might perceive a contradiction."
Envoy says, "I clearly stated that I was not Arch Inquisitor Melchizedek, and that he was never here. The soldier I was addressing seemed to infer a different meaning to this, since I did happen to be using your voice at the time and the parts of me that were visible did happen to be blackened with coal-dust. Sir."
"Happen to be … ?" repeats the Arch-Inquisitor, as he traces some lines on the paper with one finger.
"Like this, sir," Envoy says, mimicking the unicorn's deeper voice. In her normal voice, she adds, "I had no way of knowing that this particular officer would recognize this as your own voice, although I do admit that I had intended for him to assume I was you, despite my denials. Apparently, the denials only convinced him further that I was you."
"It was a very educational experience," the Exile finally adds.
"It might indicate," says the Arch-Inquisitor, "that the guard, thinking that he saw me in body and heard my voice, assumed that to hear me telling him 'I am not here,' was a thinly-veiled suggestion to 'forget' my presence, so to speak. Obviously, he did not."
Envoy asks, "If it had been you, would you have had the guard disciplined?"
"No. The incident was reported to my superiors. For me to instruct a guard to follow my orders and not recognize the authority of my superiors would be to undermine the structure of the Temple," replies the Aeonian.
Envoy blinks, "Did I get you into trouble?"
That particular question seems to be ignored for the moment. "Regardless, my problem with this situation is that you freely admit to making yourself appear to be me, and to sound like me … yet you claim that you were trying to persuade the guard that you were not me," says the Aeonian. "What was your motive, then? Why did you wish to create a deception, yet you wished to dispel that deception at the same time … but not by removing the disguise?"
Envoy explains, "It is against my nature to actually lie, sir. So yes, there was a contradiction in my behavior. My solution to that contradiction was to attempt to get the guard to deceive himself based on purely circumstantial evidence. I did not claim to be someone I was not; he simply inferred it."
"I admit to trying to manipulate him, however," Envoy says, "if that makes any difference."
The Aeonian nods. "I will accept that explanation. Thank you, Citizen Envoy." His hand passes over an image of an armored figure with armored mitts that with some imagination resemble the one on the table. "I do not approve of your behavior in that incident, but I appreciate your honesty."
Envoy blinks, then smiles. "Thank you sir. It is refreshing to know that somebody in authority appreciates honesty." After a moment, she also asks, "Would any tasks I perform for you actually require deceit or outright lying, sir?"
"No," answers the Aeonian. "That is not my way of handling affairs. I believe that the truth, one way or another, always comes to light. Without honesty, there can be no trust. And I am unwilling to sacrifice trust for the sake of expedience."
"There are other things," says the Aeonian, "which can be sacrificed instead." He rolls up the parchment and puts it back into a bone scroll-case.
"I see why you are often out of favor with the powers that be then, sir," Envoy says. "Umm, no offense intended towards your peers."
"That would be the old hierarchy," says the Aeonian. "The new regime has different reasons … and ones which I cannot wholly argue against. Do you remember the burning of Darkside?"
Envoy says, "I barely knew what Darkside was at the time, but I remember hearing about it at the Bard's Guild."
"I had my reasons for my reaction to the Captain-Astromancer's death. I can still see why I did what I did. But I can tell you this: I was wrong. I can also tell you this much: I would probably do it again, if the present Captain-Astromancer were to be assassinated." The Aeonian rolls the table holding the heavy gauntlet over to the side, and pulls up wooden panels that form a box around it. "Of course, I will not be allowed to do that again."
"Darkside, in my eyes, is a festering wound," says the Aeonian. "All manner of illicit activities, prohibited by the Temple, are carried on openly there. The Guard may occasionally pass through, a shining torch of light to drive away the shadows … but they will return again as soon as our people have passed. Sometimes, Darkside will be so bold as to attempt to snuff out the flame."
"I attempted to cauterize that wound," says the Aeonian. "I struck at businesses which catered toward the worst of vices. But I would be a liar to suggest that innocents were not harmed as well, as the Guard raged through the streets."
"If Darkside vanished," Envoy asks, "wouldn't those activities just appear in a different location? It would seem to me that places like Darkside are merely symptoms of a problem or lack in society, not a cause for them."
The Aeonian nods. "The present Captain-Astromancer would share that opinion, I presume. It is all good and well to find a cure for the cause of the disease. But until that cure can be found, the symptoms must be treated as well, or worse infections will arise. I have treated the conflict with Darkside as a war a war which was declared by the blade of an assassin through the back of our leader."
Envoy nods. "How did you react to the revelation that the assassination had been engineered by Arch-Inquisitor Moffat, if I may ask?"
The Aeonian looks to Envoy, as if considering his words. "I would rather reserve commentary on that revelation, at this time. But it makes me think of a question I would like to pose to you."
Envoy sits up straighter. "Yes sir?"
"What do you think of the Temple? Why would you care to work for it? Is it solely because of what you personally hope to gain from it, or do you have any faith in the objectives of the Temple?" asks the Arch-Inquisitor.
"So far as I have been able to determine, from personal experience, the objectives of the Temple are simply to maintain the status quo at any cost," Envoy says. "I realize that in such a large organization, it is likely that different branches will actually have different goals, which they will pursue at the expense of other departments with which they must compete with for resources. I believe the Temple to currently be a runaway bureaucracy that cares little for the people it is supposedly serving, and very intent on maintaining its own power. As for my opinion of it … I cannot give one, not of the Temple as a whole, because I cannot see it as being a whole."
Envoy says, "In some ways, this internal warfare acts as a check to any one party or faction gaining too much power. The Temple seems to have maintained the status quo successfully for as long as I have been able to determine, given my limited access to actual historical records."
"That is unfortunate, Citizen Envoy," says the Arch-Inquisitor, turning away. "I do not see how, in good conscience, you could have any dealings with such an organization."
Envoy smiles, "I don't deal with organizations, sir, I deal with individuals. You are not like any of the other Inquisitors I have encountered, and yet you function here in a hostile moral environment. Since my opinions have no way of impacting the functioning of the Temple, I don't see how they could be relevant. Likewise, it is unlikely that dealing with Templars will corrupt me by association. My skills are unlikely to find an important use outside of a governmental body however, except perhaps in a criminal one."
"I am inclined to ask you, then, whether you would consider work with a criminal element, if given an offer," says the Aeonian.
Shaking her head, Envoy says, "Criminal organizations rely upon the exploitation of the weak, and I cannot support such activity. The Temple, at least, is only partially guilty of exploiting the innocent."
The Arch-Inquisitor raises an eyebrow. "Perhaps your experience with the Temple has been too limited. I think you might benefit more if you were given an opportunity to work with someone else within the Temple hierarchy."
"I'm sure I can trust your judgment, sir," Envoy says. "There is one thing, though, that I was hoping you could help me with?"
"What would that be, Citizen Envoy?" inquires the Arch-Inquisitor.
Envoy looks at her feet for a moment, then back up. "As you know sir, I hold the somewhat unpopular notion that a malevolent entity known as Necropolis is once again at large. During a recreation of the event that led to Mage Isstan's death and my … uh … rape, rather remarkable spirit manifestations caused some damage to observers. One of the primary participants was Dean Malthus of the Sphere of Mind, who performed the actual channeling of Mage Isstan's spirit, and in such a position would have had direct experience of both Isstan's and my own memories that were involved."
The Aeonian says, "I was not aware that you had been sexually assaulted, Citizen Envoy."
"During the ensuing hearing, however, he put forth a conclusion which I can only believe to have been contrived on the spot in order to hide the truth behind the event and to avoid upsetting the Nagai world-view," the Exile says. "I was wondering if the Inquisition had ever followed up on his conclusions after knowledge of the City of Hands became commonplace. I refer to 'rape' in this case as an intimate violation of my person, sir, specifically my mind and memories. I can't think of any other term for it. Although, I can't discount that that may have been a goal of the Chigai demon which seemed intent on carrying me off."
"Understood," says the Aeonian. "Perhaps 'violation' would be a term that would less strongly suggest such connotations. In any case, yes, there has been an ongoing investigation, especially in light of the claims made by the Babelite Ambassador of the involvement of a ghostly entity in the disappearance of eight Savanite servants."
Envoy blinks, then asks, "May I speak candidly sir, without fear of … incriminating myself?"
"No, I am afraid, Citizen Envoy, you most probably may not," answers the Aeonian.
Nodding, the Exile keeps her silence. "I don't suppose I could see Dean Malthus' actual deposition? I can't help but feel a certain amount of personal animosity and menace regarding Necropolis, and any insights the revered Mage may have would be of great use to me. And if my request is simply ungrantable, is there any reason that you can give me for not approaching the Dean myself?"
The Aeonian pauses as if in thought.
The Aeonian Arch-Inquisitor says, "Very well, then. I will request a copy of the deposition. I cannot deny you any opportunity to visit Dean Malthus under your own initiative, but he is quite capable of denying you a place in his schedule."
Envoy blinks in surprise. "I will not consider a visit then, if I might be able to study his actual deposition. I'm beginning to worry about the number of people that know I'm involved now, frankly, especially if Necropolis proves to be a genuine threat. I would not, however, turn down any opportunities to join an expeditionary force to Aeztepa."
"Be careful, Citizen Envoy, lest you be granted any such opportunities," says the Arch-Inquisitor. "I believe it would be in your best interests to not venture into that particular Forbidden Zone."
Envoy cocks her head, and asks, "Is there anything you know about the situation that could shed light on why, or how, Necropolis found me, or why a Chigai would have come after me?"
"That would assume that a Chiga was indeed coming after you," comments the Aeonian. "I should perhaps note that a Technopriestess also involved in that ceremony has mysteriously disappeared during one of her frequent vacations from the Temple. That could mean nothing … but there are always other possibilities, when so many factors are unknown."
Bowing her head, Envoy says, "Forgive me then for reading more into your cautionary statement than was intended, sir."
"I would give as much caution to anyone who dared brave Aeztepa. It has long been a Forbidden Zone not only to the skyways and to the general public, but to exploration by the Temple as well," says the Aeonian. "I do not intend to veil my true words behind double meanings."
"Do you need a means to contact me then?" Envoy asks. "I'm afraid I still have no permanent residence, if you need to get a message to me."
"You are fairly easy to follow, Envoy," says the Arch-Inquisitor, as he walks back to the base of the column. "I will see to it that you receive a copy of the deposition, before I depart again for the City of Hands."
Envoy stands and bows, then does a double take at the mention of the City of Hands, as well as 'again'. "Uhh … I don't suppose you could ask Queen Third Vision if I'm still exiled from the city, could you?"
"You are no longer exiled from the City of Hands, Citizen Envoy," says the Arch-Inquisitor, as he steps onto the platform.
Envoy blinks, amazed that the Inquisitor would have known about it in the first place, then turns and knocks on the heavy door to be let out.
With a hiss of steam at the base of the column, the platform rises up the channel, carrying both the Aeonian and the table with the gauntlet that he rolled onto it earlier. Meanwhile, the door cycles open, providing an exit for the Aeolun.
Stepping outside, Envoy wonders if she should have asked about all the extra security around the Temple. Oh well, no sense in pushing her luck at this point…