15 April, 1998 – Testing comes to an end on Tarsus, and Leeta and the Astromancer candidates are shipped back to Rephidim.
(Airship) (Leeta) (Rephidim) (Test of the Astromancer)
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Tarsus Island
The first thing that comes into vision on Tarsus is the tower, although not nearly as impressive as the Tower of Babel, it is still a sight to behold. The spire stands twenty stories easily – another seven stories lies unfinished, jagged girders jut out, making the top of the tower appear to have spines. The island itself is fairly small, with only some scrabbly vegetation and some vines attempting to climb the tower. A wooden pier has been built off the side of the island, to accommodate landing airships.

The entire compliment of tower slaves has been sent outside. The cheetahs mill about doing stuff on their own. For the most part, they are just standing around with a few digging in the dirt. Not much time has passed since the steam incident with Rhys, and there is still a high level of guard activity. The crisp lupine patrols starkly contrast the random activity of the cheetahs.

Inside, a red-haired Savanite walks towards the elevator with a little girl cub in tow. Two hours have passed since Leeta rescued Rhys, and she is still looking for the little boy cub. The two candidates have left, probably to go to the upper levels to do something. Leeta arrives at the elevator and hits the button to go down.

Clunk, Clunk, Clunk. The elevator doors vibrate, but don't open. The elevator is taking its time.

Leeta heads outside taking the little cub in tow. She goes over to the nearest Savanite, who is occupied with a rope. The cub drags behind, holding onto her tail. While she has seen them back and forth, Leeta has mainly been with Tahir, and hasn't really gotten to know many of the other slaves. Except Naoko, who isn't outside, and the cubs. She approaches the vaguely familiar one and signs, "Have you seen the little Savanite cub?"

The slave looks up and shakes his head, then goes back to knotting the rope. From inside the tower there is a CLANG as the elevator arrives. Leeta takes one more quick look over the crowd then heads back inside. For a second the girl cub stays behind before being yanked along by Leeta's tail.

The elevator goes up, still working for the moment. The doors open. At that instance, Leeta hears a yell of pain from upstairs. She runs for the steps, the little cub is left behind a second time, letting go of Leeta's tail as it tugs out of her grip.

Leeta runs up a level and around a corner and sees Tahir curled up on the floor, holding his hand on his chest. Rhys is backed up against the wall, with his hands flat against it. Rhys is close, between the two of them is a device that they were working on. Tahir is next to the machine, with the little boy cub standing nearby.

Leeta glances quickly at the cub, checking and finding that he isn't holding anything, and runs over to Tahir. Down the hallway the girl cub is still catching up as Leeta crouches.

Tahir rolls over and holds his hand up to Leetah. The skin is baked and blistered, shrunken and split to show strips of pink flesh beneath. It has been burned badly.

Rhys screams at top of his lungs, "I DIDN'T DO IT! I WAS JUST HOLDING IT FOR HIM, I DIDN'T DO IT!"

Leeta stares at Rhys, then swallows and looks back at Tahir's hand. She rips off part of her skirt, and uses it as a binding. She glances around, seeing some scattered tools and then she takes a good look at the machine, to guess what happened.

A partially disassembled machine doesn't give any answers. Parts are scattered across the floor, and the sides of the device are opened up. It is a non-descript oblong box, with a funnel on top, several tubes and spheres interconnected along the sides, with a heavy base. The revealed inner workings offer no clue to their purpose.

I guess that's the food reclamation device, Leeta thinks to herself, momentarily confused by the technological mechanism. Looking back she has one of those odd moments of awareness where a thought comes in at random, the differences between Tahir and Rhys registering in her mind. His hair is getting long.

Rhys interrupts her thoughts, screaming over and over again, "I didn't do it! It's not my fault he's incompetent. I was just holding like he told me to."

Leeta glares at the other candidate, feeling her muzzle tighten into a snarl. How dare he blame Tahir! But… blink, her anger vanishes, replaced by surprise. Rhys' expression… looks… exactly the way she remembers feeling when people were accusing her about her involvement with Mofat. She knows that feeling Rhys wears. Realization sinks in, along with a little sympathy.

Footsteps sound from down the corridor.

Leeta waves at Rhys, for him to come over.

The girl cub has come in, and has climbed up on top of the box. Tahir is just holding his hand, clutching it tightly. He's pretty badly burned, and isn't going to be able to use that hand for a while.

Leeta does her best to bandage his hand, signing once she's finished. "Are you okay, what happened?"

Her patient moans, "I… I had my hand in it, and it it burned me! Something… something made the power go on."

A Technopriest asks over the Savanite's shoulder, "What happened here?"

Tahir looks into Leeta's eyes, holding her gaze and then he glares at Rhys, clenching his good hand with and frowning.

Leeta signs, "It was just an accident. It's like the Temple defenses."

"Help me up"

The Savanite helps him stand. Tahir has his arm around her, and he's holding his other hand to his chest, and he looks at you and?

Leeta searches for something that might be a power switch over by the little cubs. They're standing on some empty crates, looking back with big eyes and just watching. The little girl's eyes are wide, and the boy is just kind of sitting there. He looks like he's watching a play and doesn't understand what is going on.

Rhys continues his tirade about how he didn't do anything, it wasn't his fault, and that Tahir is so incompetent and didn't know what he was doing.

Leeta waves her hands, STOP! Stop Talking. Remembering the Technopriest can read her signs she self-consciously pulls her hands in close and suddenly stops doing it.

Rhys also notices the Technopriest and tries to get a few more words in, "It's WASN'T my fault. Tahir doesn't know what he's doing. I didn't do anything, I was holding it, I was doing exactly what he told me to!"

Leeta signs back, "What was he holding?"

Tahir motions at the centre of the food reclamation device. It doesn't look like theres any switches or anything inside.

"What were you doing with your hand inside it?"

"I was installing some components and it just powered up."

Leeta makes a confused sign. She points Tahir's hand out to the Techno priest.

The guards come in and start poking around.

The Technopriest examines Tahir's bandage. It looks like Leeta did a pretty good job on Tahir's hand. He's examining it some more, readjusting the bandages that you put on. Then he looks at Tahir, "What happened?"

Tahir again, glares Rhys and then back at Leeta.

"You were working on the device, and it it powered up." She signs quickly, then looks down, "The more you explain, the more it will look like your fault, so… be brief."

Tahir nods, then starts explaining. "That. I was I was trying to repair it, and it… it went off!"

Rhys actually grabs Leeta's wrist, looks at her again, a gutter-rat look of desperation, "I DIDN'T do it."

She nods and signs, "Tahir… he didn't do it on purpose, it was an accident. I believe him."

Tahir nods.

Leeta pats the back of the Candidate's head a bit. Rhys jerks away, and he goes over to stand by one of the guards. The red-maned Savanite continues to sign at Tahir, "Everyone thinks, everyone is going to think its his fault. Tell them that it was an accident. He doesn't look like he did it on purpose."

Tahir nods, and adds, "It wasn't his fault, it was an accident, and… ah?"

The Technopriest tells the slave and the cub that she brought along in the elevator. "You, and her go back to your chambers. Now."

Leeta nods. Two of them, She holds up two fingers, then one, then point at them both.

"Are they both yours?"

She nods.

"Well then they both can go with."

Leeta walks by the box and takes a quick look at it for anything the little cub might have touched or interfered with, like a button. As best as she can see there is nothing, unless the cub might have gone into the box. Some muddy pawprints are on top of it, but it looks like for the most part all he did was sit there. He was playing with some pieces of paper; It looks like he robbed the privy again.

Leeta starts pushing the other two cubs down the hall, walking slowly so she can listen to the conversation. Her extra big ears flick backwards in her mane, focusing for sound. As best she can make out, Tahir is being questioned now what exactly he was doing, with the priest asking for some specific details again. Also, he asks if Rhys was doing anything. Tahir repeats, "No, it was just an accident."

There is some further mumbling from the Technopriest, and a louder order aft "Get a doctor already."

Leeta, as she gets farther and farther away, goes slower and slower. Footsteps are coming up behind her rather quickly. She pick up a little bit of speed and moves over so it looks like she's waiting for the elevator. She stands beside the closed door, the tenth floor elevator door. Idling the time, Leeta looks down and notices the boy cub is a little taller, and presumably older than the girl cub. She pushes the button again.

Rhys and the guard walk by, with the guard giving the slave a very odd look.

Her eyes widen, 'oh wait!' and she follows the two.

Rhys isn't looking at Leeta, completely ignoring her in fact.

Another guard is following up behind. The nosy Savanite can still make out "well, how long were you up here? Was there anybody else here? Did you see anybody tamper with the Machine? Does your hand hurt? Do you need anything for it?" Rhys isn't saying anything, or looking around. He completely ignores everyone with his gaze on the heels of the guard ahead. Leeta pushes the little boy cub forward, shoving him closer to Rhys. If one of the candidates was even accused of attempting to attack one of the other ones, he would probably get put to death. The possibility of this occupies Rhys' thoughts completely.

Leeta stomps down the stairs, following the entourage into the elevator.

Rhys pushes 3, he's staying on the same floor as Leeta. The red-haired Savanite stops her selection. She puts her hands behind her and leans against the back of the elevator. Star my butt is huge! It feels like a rock. It has to be all that running up and down stairs. She looks down at her tailtip, the black spot flipping back and forth. She curls it around her ankle, watching the door. Too many of the Savanites here have kinks. She catches her tailtip in her hand, on second thought, best to be really safe.

The elevator rattles downward, clank clank clank rattle… drag… squeal…

Drop…

The clenched grip on her tailtip becomes more than just concern for her tail…

… for a couple seconds, then stop. BADAMANABAM! The doors open and Rhys exits with his guard. The pair turn left, to the opposite end of the corridor. Leeta follows them with her eyes just as the boy cub pulls on her dress. He's looking after the candidate, staring up with wide eyes. Leeta nods, and pushes him to follow.

The other guard takes up a position outside the elevator. It looks like he's going to be watching the floor. Leeta exits and heads back to Tahir's quarters. The girl cub runs ahead and is rolling around in the basket by the time the older Savanite catches up. She's playing in the trash, typical kitten. Leeta takes up the Mandolin, and plays randomly for a few minutes. Her mind is distracted, wandering. She really wants to hear someone approaching, and plays like that. Impatience is rewarded, within a couple of minutes she hears something, and then Tahir opens the door. It looks like his hand has been treated a bit better. He's got a guard as escort.

Leeta jumps off the bed and runs over to hug him. He grimaces as she does, "Careful." Sorry. He hugs her back, then sits down on the bed. With a loud sigh he says, "I can't fix it with my hand like this."

"I can fix it"

"No you can't"

"If you tell me what to do."

"It's? I don't know if I can or not."

"What is it that needs done?"

"There is some circuitry, and re-wiring, and? apparently the power supply is working fine."

"We could take that out."

"We could also damage it."

"I'm… willing to try."

Tahir holds up is hand, "Well, do you want to risk this?"

"It's that or starve?"

"Mmmmm? Sigh… I don't know. Might just be prolonging the inevitable."

"How do you mean?"

"Rhys commented that this place is just a big death trap, and I'm starting to agree with him."

"Well? there was a thing that came through the wall at… "

"Yes… you mentioned the? the drill you said."

"Theres no way we could send a signal?"

"Well, I've seen the Savanites throwing rocks over the edge."

Leeta smiles knowingly, "I'm sure that'll work."

Their conversation is interrupted by a knock on the door. Without waiting for permission, it is opened. Behind it stands a Technopriest. Leeta steps away from his gaze, but the look follows. He glances at the Savanite, and then the candidate. "The decision has been made, we've chosen an Astromancer. Pack your things, we're leaving." He walks away.

"uh… Oh!" Fire-Mane's hands flutter.

The cub has crawled out of the wastebasket. She's got an armful of papers. She's all ready to go.

Tahir looks at Leeta, meeting her confused stare, "Um? should we try and bit more of an explanation?"

The cheetah NODS

He starts running out the door. The priest hasn't gotten far and is briefing the guard. Leeta follows Tahir

Tahir hesitantly tugs on the Technopriest's robes, "What do you mean its over. Aren't we trapped here?"

The withering gaze slides over Leeta, and then down to Tahir. The raccoon states without any inflection, "It's over, the testing is over. The ship will be here in a couple of hours."

The guard seems surprised. Tahir is momentarily speechless. Leeta's hands sign, "Who?", and she covers it up as soon as she realizes what she is doing. The candidate unfortunately, isn't looking at her, and the Technopriest doesn't answer, even if he understands. The Savanite clenches her fingers together, I have to stop thinking with my hands. No mumbling, no seeing yourself think.

The technopriest isn't all that ready to give an explanation yet. He continues down the hall. The guard has his orders, and doesn't look like he's going to let anyone past. Reluctantly the other two return to the cabin. Tahir shrugs at the mess in the room, "Well, I guess we'd better pack."

Leeta puts her mandolin away, "Mhmm. Done."

Tahir stares at his pile of books.

"I can help you pack those."

"Well, if they've chosen, maybe I don't have to read them anymore. Ah wishful thinking… "

Leeta watches Tahir pack. Her mind keeps going back to the box upstairs, wondering if she should ask for it. She watches then snaps out of it and starts to help, he's hurt. The cub is emptying items out of the box almost as quickly as they are going in, and putting them next to it.

Leeta tries to show the cub how much more fun of a game it would be to put things into the box. She takes a book, shows it to the cub, puts in the box. With a big expressive smile she takes another book and puts it in the box. The fire-haired Savanite pretends it's the most exciting thing she's done in a while, and tries to get the cub to follow along enthusiastically.

The cub picks up a book and puts it in the pile of books you've been taking books from. Close enough Leeta things, and goes back to packing for Tahir. She makes him sit on the bed while she does. Tahir is kinda sitting there, dangling his legs and looking at his hand. He looks really tired.

"Well, at least its over I guess." Leeta signs, trying to look hopeful.

"I… I suppose but, now what?"

"Well? will they told us if we've won, if you've won."

"I don't know, if I had won, you'd think they would have told me."

"Are they going to kill Rhys, if it's you?"

"No! He'll be my advisor, or I'll be his. "

"Are you sure?"

"That's what I've been told. The reason why they had multiple candidates was in case the Astromancer was murdered again, They'd have somebody to replace him instead of having to go through the long tedious process of creating more candidates."

"Y'I'know, but if there was more than one. If there was an Astromancer and a backup advisor, wouldn't that still make temple politics? Some factions decide to try and kill you so the second in charge become in charge? Maybe they'd want to get around that by just getting rid of him before there even has the chance."

"I have a little bit more faith than that."

"I'm sorry, I've read a lot of Moffat's books, it's just… in my head."

"I'd rather not think about it, but? I've got a bit more faith than that. They wouldn't have gone through all the trouble of training us, creating if they wanted one, they would have made one. "

"Yes?"

"I'd rather not think about it."

Leeta keeps packing. Her hands are busy so her conversation suffers. Finally she's done. "There, all finished?" her signing trails off as she holds a thought. "Do you think they'd let us take some of the things upstairs?"

"Well, there's some weapons upstairs, if I understand correctly. It really depends what, this is a storage area, I'm sure they take things from here if it's necessary.

"There's a box with some of the Silent-One's stuff in it."

"I honestly don't know Leeta. If you wish, attempt to smuggle it, although I'm sure that your baggage would be searched."

"Well, I'm sure they would notice a 3' tall box. It might be hard to fit in the mandolin case."

"Well I don't think they've made technology yet that can create space"

"Can we bring the Speaker-Glove?"

"Uhh It was dismantled, for… he holds up his hand. Tho… mm… I could get the parts

"That would be good, I could play with them."

"Well, I'll get my baggage on the ship, and I'll get the Speaker."

Tahir heads for the door, he goes off in one direction with an escort, leaving Leeta to load the boxes. She drags them down the hall, to the elevator, and outside on the first floor. A couple of the lower level guards move in to help. She stares, I thought they just watched Up ahead is an airship.

A familiar looking Savanite with one ear runs up and hugs the younger slave. Fire-Mane grins and hugs back as best she can with her full hands. Naoko signs, "We're saved! They came." Leeta nods.

Naoko tells her, "They came out of nowhere" as she nods in reply. There is quite a bit of motion on and around the airship. Leeta puts down some books, "Okay, well I have to get Tahir's stuff loaded. He got hurt. But… both the candidates are okay."

"Theres the other one is already on the ship."

"Is the other cub with him?"

"Yes he is."

"How did he look, the candidate?"

"How do you mean. He looked okay, you said that one of them got hurt. He didn't seem to be injured."

"Was he… worried?"

"He looked concerned. But he also looked relieved.""

"Hmm… Okay. Well I guess I have to load boxes." Naoko waves to some of the other slaves and gets a few to come over and help carry boxes


Box loading detail involves struggling them up the gangplank then maneuvering them through the tight corridors of the airship, having to wait as someone opens a door or adjusts their grip, or any other number of unseen delays. It leaves one with few opportunities to sightsee, yet conversely, also with considerable time to examine in minute detail the immediate surroundings one is trapped beside in the sporadically moving line. It doesn't take Leeta long to notice, even with the distraction of work, that there is something interesting about this ship. It's similar to the one she flew up in, the one that blew up. This airship is awfully like the previous one.

The cabin Leeta is assigned to is on the same side, the same number of doors back from the bow. Inside, there's that scratch on the wall, the one burned into memory from many hours of staring at it. That spot on the floor where, well… best to avoid thinking about that. It looks like the original airship was rebuilt in painstaking detail. On impulse Leeta has a quick look around, even the Kami Ikata "original" painting is present, covered with a protective sheet. The painting she duplicated from memory while Kami was aboard has been duplicated again. A considerable task, considering the painter has now gone into a whole new realm of inspiration, lost his mind, and can't paint anymore, and this work was from his "Before" period. All in all, an exceptional job of recreating the ship has been done.

Even down to the ship hands, those Vartans who were on board the ship when it left.

Of course, there is the other possibility. The airship never exploded at all.

Once Leeta has finished helping load the boxes, then she is put in Tahir's room and told to stay. She is, after all, just another one of his possessions though a much more animated one. With boxes stacked all around the cabin, it looks amazingly like the inside of the Tower. No room, lots of things in storage. Typical Temple architecture.

It's a moment before she notices the cub is gone. Thinking back, she last saw her dash a few steps out of a Vartan's way, that may have turned into a run somewhere else on the ship. Probably she's gone to see Naoko or something. Leeta decides there is no sense in going looking, she'll be noticed before the cub is, and that'll only guarantee they make sure she doesn't wander out of the room. Nothing to do but wait.

Leeta sits on the boxes, and tries to remember which one had the book she wanted to sneak out. Hopefully it got packed; she had a keen interest in the romance. It was good, so odd to see a story written in the ancient Beautiful and Eternal Sign, to read about Savanites, well really Silent-Ones, but still her species and only her species as the only stars and masters exploring the tangles of honour, politics and romance. The elaborate descriptions, four or five pages going into the detail of just one person's robes, robes Leeta will never have. She sighs, thinking about it, such an odd fantasy and such an odd world and a romance that spanned planets and the dark spaces between the stars.

Taking out her mandolin she starts to play a rising series of notes, climbing, a stairway of a melody interwoven with the formal mass music of the Temple Rephidim. It is both longing and hopeful. There are no words, though the melody is occasionally punctuated with a Savanite bark. Scandalous, at least it would be according to the Silent-Ones novel. A half an hour later she is still playing, partway through the third rendition of the song, when the door opens and Tahir comes in. "I'm real sick of that song Leeta," he winks, then flops on the bed, "and hi."

Leeta immediately stops playing, going over and examining him. She's relieved to see his hand is looking much better. She signs, Where were you?"

"Oh, just getting some things down in the Tower." He unbuttons his shirt, and there are some computer parts, and all sorts of other little things in there, and a glove.

Leeta grins, a really BIG GRIN.

"It's going to take me some time to assemble it." He shakes his shirt, and a couple nuts and bolts fall out and on the bed. "Will that fit in your mandolin case?"

Leeta nods, pulling it over, opening it up and starting to pack away the objects.

"They wish to talk to us as soon as we take off." Tahir adds, passing components over.

"I… I can be there too?"

"They want you to." Tahir meets he eyes, "they asked for you to accompany me."

Leeta nods.

Tahir sits on the bed, leaning back, watching Leeta sneak away the parts and pieces. Resigned, reluctantly, he says, "Well, we were supposed to come here to learn something. Did you learn anything?"

"Uh? I think so." Leeta signs in reply.

"What did you learn?"

Uhhmm. Mhmm… mmm. Leeta's fingers twitch but don't form any signs. Bark!

"They told me about a badge." Tahir suggests, leading her answer.

"ahhmm? Mostly… mostly about all the history." Leeta slowly replies.

"History," Tahir locks his eyes on hers, "The Silent-Ones history."

Leeta nods, "Uhmm… I guess I should have learned to be a little more subtle."

"Well, you said yourself. It's hard for you to make yourself less seen." Tahir crosses his arms behind his head, "What did you say, the star marked you?"

"Yes"

"Hmm… " He's silent for a moment, then continues. "Well, can't be helped now. Uh? Even though it may be our last meal. They're going serve, going to make some Coudum I think. I know you haven't eaten in a few days. You can help yourself, I'm not feeling particularly hungry."

"I'm really hungry" Leeta signs. So hungry she's got a headache.

A few minutes later, a real in a big tray is brought in. It's bugs, and bug food. Leeta digs in, not caring. Several days of starving is enough that if the food looks unappetizing, simply don't look, just eat it. She does.


Forty-five minutes later, Knock knock knock! Then door opens. There are two guards standing there, they motion for the two to come out the door. Leeta dutifully waits, letting her master go first. Tahir pulls himself out of bed, shaking off his brief nap. The Savanite follows, fingering her torn clothes. Maybe she should have changed that ripped dress. Tahir hasn't changed either though, and really, how nice does one have to look for sentencing.

They're escorted through the ship, a new location, completely new that Leeta has never seen before. Lots of candelabras, the polished gleam of the room is striking and even though all that glitters is not metal, it has one of the richest decors she's seen in a long time. The room has Cathedral type walls, with shelves that are full of books and old stuff, ancient small machines, perhaps broken, definitely artifacts. Tables are covered in maps and drawings. The only place Leeta has seen a greater concentration of old tech is in the repair shops of the senior Technomancers, and the quality of the equipment on display suggests this is the office of one superior to even those.

The candidate and the slave are ushered in. The guards take their places on either side of the door. Both the human and the Savanite are motioned to sit down. Leeta waits, Tahir slumps into his chair with a heavy, defeated thump. Leeta takes hers immediately after, bowing her head and watching the Technomancer from under the edge of her mane.

Seated behind the desk is a rotund, distinguished raccoon in the elaborately embroidered robes of his station. He folds his paws across his belly, stares across the expanse of his desk at the two seated before him, and starts his lecture. "Well, I believe that both of you know why you're brought in here. We've made a decision for the next Astromancer. It was not an easy decision. Rhys has a great mind, and is quite charismatic, which are traits that Rephidim needs in an Astromancer." He pauses, letting this observation think in, then adds "But he's also arrogant, and not very adaptable." "You Tahir, are calm and thoughtful in your decisions. You come up with several plans to solve a problem, and are willing to talk others opinions to help you choose among them, among them. What you've been lacking in is leadership qualities. You're shy and willing to sit quietly and let people march all over you."

Tahir nods, looking down, looking over to share a quick glance with Leeta. Leeta returns the look. These things are true, she's told Tahir herself, but also warned him that standing out draws bad attention. Good advice for a slave, not for a leader. She looks back at the raccoon.

The raccoon look at the Savanite, a quick, dismissive sort of glance before refocusing his gaze on the Candidate. "We were surprised when you took on a slave of you own. But we allowed it, because giving you a taste of being responsible for someone seems to have helped you. We had no idea that it would make the impact upon you that it has. A good impact, I think." He graces Tahir with a brief smile, then turns his steely gaze on the cheetah. It's strange how a raccoon's mask can look like an executioner's hood.

Leeta coughs

"Your protection of Tahir, is very… almost maternal. We were at first worried that you'd smoother him, that you'd protect him too much, or that you'd become arrogant." The Technomancer pauses, letting the truth of that sink in. His next statement is more hesitant, an uncomfortable admission. "We, We… fear that quite a bit; especially after that incident that the guards reported about you taking your collar off during lunch." Leeta bows her head.

"And as you've been told, we're also aware of your sneaking in and out. Once we had you observed and saw that you went to fetch candy for Tahir. Other times though, you're difficult to follow even though you aren't hard to find. We wished to catch you in whatever you might be up to and thought that the best way to observe you would be in a way you wouldn't suspect. So we assigned special watchers to you, ones that you would feel comfortable around." He motions to the door.

Leeta turns around, looking at the door behind her, and look there are the two little Savanite cubs. "Them?" Leeta signs in surprise.

The raccoon stands up. "Scout Galen, Scout Glenda, I'm ready for your reports now." The little boy cub walks up, and talks. The little boy cub talks!

Leeta stares in utter shock. Her hands flicking, her tail coils, her head, just shakes.

Scout Galen reports, "Leeta was nice, she, snuck us food when they stopped feeding the slaves. She would talk to Tahir all the time. I only understood part of what they said, but most of the time she was encouraging him. Once Leeta started feeling sorry for Rhys because he didn't have any friends, and wanted me and Glenda to play with him."

The other little girl cub walks up, Scout Glenda. She's a bit younger and gets in line with Galen. Leeta's tail is poofed with surprise. Big tail.

Glenda adds, "There was that time in the hallway with Rhys and the water squirter and Leeta saved him, she was SO FAST. And… and… she didn't stop even though it was dangerous. She'd play for Tahir and help him study, and we didn't see her doing anything bad."

The Technomancer nods, "Thank you Scout Galen, Scout Glenda. Leeta, you may have a moment to recover."

Tahir signs, "You need to brush out your tail."

Leeta tries to wipe down her fur, get her tail looking normal, get herself looking normal.

The cubs come over and actually give her a hug. "We're sorry we had to trick you." She can't find it in herself to be mad at them, her surprise is mostly from seeing them talk. Savanites, can't talk. She pets them on the head.

The little boy cub walks over to Tahir, and says "I'm sorry about your hand. I didn't mean to do it. I didn't know it would hurt."

They're both dismissed, and bound out into the hallway. A happy squeal is heard before the door closes again. "Ya! We can wash the paint off now."

Leeta rubs at her arm, her spots don't wash off, and why would anyone want them to? She wants to Bark! Bark bark bark! after the cubs, but keeps silent. The raccoon waits patiently, giving the cheetah a few moments to recover and the cubs exit.

"What we need is an Astromancer that can adapt, and can handle himself in a crisis, and who can keep a cool head. Of course traits like compassion don't hurt either." He his mask and steely-grey eyes are turned on Tahir. "You lack the charisma of a leader, and your confidence could be more than what it is, but I feel that with Rhys," he pauses to add significance, "and Leeta, advising you, that you're going to have these traits."

Standing up with a grunt, the Technomage approaches Tahir and shakes his good hand, "Congratulations, Captain Astromancer, Tahir Archelaus the First."

Leeta's hands flutter. Wow.

"The ceremony will be on Landing day, and soon you'll be taken for training. Both of you. Tahir, please return to your room." The raccoon gestures towards the door, then turns his mask on Leetah, "And you… I'd like you to remain please."

Stunned, Leeta stares, finally remembering to bow. Tahir gives her a quick hug, squeezing her wrist with his good hand. The cheetah responds, sliding her arms around him to carefully return the hug. It's held for a moment, then released. Tahir walks out, and the guards also walk out with him.

The raccoon goes back behind his desk, settling himself into his chair. He looks up at the standing Savanite. "I want you to know that your protectiveness of Mr. Archaeolous is appreciated. If it comes down to it, you may be the only thing that stands between him and an assassin. It's obvious that we need to have you trained to protect him. Of course, there's no way physically you could stand up with to most assassins, but hopefully there will be the element of surprise. We intend to provide you with a weapon, something subtle of course. Obviously, if a Savanite is seen walking around with a loaded flintlock, it would draw attention. The weapon will have to be something decorative, unfamiliar." He reaches under his desk, pulls out a wrapped artifact. Drops it on the desk. KLUNK.

It's the glove. The Silent-One Battle-Glove. The Fire-Arm.

Leeta's hands spread in wonder, "Oh… Wow."

"Now… keep in mind, we are aware of your interest in it. Obviously you've been watched. We understand the workings of the glove. You will of course be trained in its use. Keep in mind that the fuel it uses is practically liquid gold." The Technomage places his black-furred paws on either side of the relic. "It is not a toy. If you're seen misusing it, it will be taken away, and you will be punished. You will also risk being reassigned. Congratulations, we will discuss more of this when we reach Rephidim."

Leeta bows again.

"Go see your master."

Leeta bows a final time. Prrow! Over the chair! Zoom.

< hr >

Much of what happens after the return of the airship to Rephidim happens quietly in the background. The citizens, even most of the Temple staff don't know that the candidates have returned, that the Captain Astromancer has been chosen. Tahir and Rhys, and Leeta are taken off to a private part of Rephidim and trained for several months. The education for the Captain Astromancer and his new Advisor focuses on the technical and social aspects of their roles. Leeta's lessons are different.

Fire-Mane is taught by the temple champions, pushed and battered daily to develop her fighting ability. She is taught how to interpose herself between blows and shots meant for her charge. Known tricks of assassins, and some of the Temple's secret methods are shared to enhance her ability to notice things that seem suspicious. Finally, she is trained in the use of the glove. Certain specific hand signs, will make it cause to light a flame, light up a room, or act as a flame thrower. It doesn't take much practice to see that the Battle-Glove tends to break down. Played with, used, it breaks but still, Fire-Mane is trusted with it. As well as the self-defense techniques, she is trained in few more formal things that will assist in her role as the Captain Astromancer's assistant. This ranges from elaborate formal behaviour in public, the proper methods for responding to nobles and other heads of state to more mundane things like grammar so she can help the Captain Astromancer prepare his inaugural speech.

Fire-Mane will remain always by Tahir's side; seen and unseen. Assisting, serving, protecting, but above all, being his friend.

---

GMed by Zoltan

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Today is 21 days before Candlemass, Year 25 of the Reign of Archelaus the First (6124)