Mar. 18. Pawtuxet pays a visit to Lord Titus haut Mikide's estate.
(Rephidim Countryside) (Eye of Madness) (Kaela) (Pawtuxet) (Rephidim)
The Mikide Estate
Manicured lawns and gardens are walled in by forest wilds, and punctuated with patches of trees and exotic plants that look entirely out of place, suggesting little bits of jungle brought back home from the master's expeditions to lands distant. Here and there, a stone monument or idol glowers out from amidst a cluster of trees and vines, but they overlook not some ancient tomb or temple, but a mansion. Here and there, an exotic bird or Creen chirrees beautifully … from the safety of a suspended cage, not the freedom to flit about. From the outside, the estate seems quiet and still, perhaps even recently abandoned, but those with keen senses can pick out the lurking guard, paid just as much to keep a wary watch as to keep out of sight.

The foxtauress archaeologist's investigations have yielded very little information about this find she heard rumors about in the far north, but the name of Titus haut Mikide, 'world-class explorer' (and high society playboy) came up again and again.

Finding his estate was a simple matter. Getting permission to set foot on it was a little trickier, but her credentials as an explorer herself seemed to help.

The sun plays peek-a-boo with passing clouds in the late afternoon, toying with the idea of dipping down to the trees in a while.

Pawtuxet studies her surroundings with unhidden interest, or perhaps fascination, as she follows a path leading towards the mansion. Her progress is interrupted several times, as she finds herself in abundant need to investigate certain monuments and objects. Finally she's standing in front of the house.

The foxtauress does not even need to knock. Once she reaches the front porch, the door opens, revealing a well-dressed cheetah inside. Evidently a butler. He nods his head to the foxtauress, and gestures as if to bid her to enter.

Ascending the stairs, she turns on the porch to overlook the incredible scenery, then tears her attention back to the actual purpose in being here, as the door is opened behind her. She smiles to the cheetah and returns the nod, then proceeds inside.

The interior of the manor visible from here is about as lavish as should be expected from someone of Lord Titus' station. The entrance leads into a high-ceilinged hall with stairs running along each side that lead up to a higher level that affords a view of the room over the edge of a wooden railing, and hints at halls that access the second level of the mansion, while several other doorways and passages provide plenty of ways to wander from the ground level.

The center of this hall is occupied by a fountain with an alabaster statue in its center carved to resemble some vulpine goddess bearing a pitcher from which issues forth streams of water that cascade into multi-tiered bowls below, the light burbling echoing off of the walls.

A richly-dressed poodle leans against the railing on the upper level overlooking the hall. "Good afternoon and welcome to the Mikide Estate!" the poodle bids, smiling widely.

The butler stands beside Pawtuxet, now holding a tray with a choice of tea, coffee or some sort of brandy. The tray must have not been very far away. The tea and coffee are still steaming. He stands at the ready, an impassive look on his face.

The hall – as the rest of the manor, by the look of it – is decorated with various trophies and testaments to Lord Titus' travels. In this particular room, the theme seems to be shields. Hanging on the walls are shields of various sizes and shapes, colors and materials, styles and even purpose. Most of them Pawtuxet can place – Considering many are of leather, wood or other materials which already look to be losing against the test of time, these would be souvenirs rather than artifacts in Titus' collection.

Having busily resumed closer inspection of the items found inside, Pawtuxet did at first not notice the poodle. She looks up, following the voice and at the same time discovers the butler's gesture of hospitality. She inclines her head towards the poodle, "Thank you." She smiles, "It's a pleasure being here."

Titus smiles, and works his way along the bannister, then down the stairs. "And it is my pleasure to have your company. I was told that you might be paying me a visit, Madame Pawtuxet."

Pawtuxet's right ear swirls towards the cheetah. She turns slightly and chooses a cup with a substance which resembles tea the most, before taking a few steps towards the stair base, as Titus makes his way down.

"Your report on your expedition into the ruins on the southern end of the Torean Peninsula was most fascinating," he remarks. "I also heard of how your breathing apparati came in most handy when you encountered that most awful scene at 'Little Rephidim West'." He adds this last bit with a frown and a sigh.

Pawtuxet slightly tilts her head sideways, "I guess rumors spread rapidly up here." She grins and looks around, "Quite a remarkable collection, you've got here. I take it, you know a fair bit about this planet's past."

Titus smiles, "Oh, I know a few things here and there. But I have several scholars in my employ to supplement that with what I really need to know, as the situation demands."

Pawtuxet looks back at Titus, "Well, part of the reason why I'm here, is mainly that I've heard rumors of a recent discovery of ruins, up north. And since you brought it up, something has puzzled me about the paquebot."

Titus raises his eyebrows, as he walks along the floor, passing by various curios and trophies, stopping in mid-motion of gesturing to one. "Oh? Well, it would seem we may have two interesting conversations to choose from now."

Pawtuxet briefly glances towards the trophy, next to Titus, then back at him, "The incident at the paquebot was a total surprise to me. I never heard tales of similar attacks, nor their remains. And neither have any of those people I've asked. I suspect that perhaps the culprit could be of ancient origin… eh, biotech."

Titus hmms. "Well, unfortunately, I haven't much to say on the subject. Your analysis is certainly thorough … but what can one say without further information? Idle speculation does little good."

Titus says, "But about those rumors you mentioned… "

Pawtuxet nodnods, "True. I was mostly curious whether you, or your scholars, might know more on the subject."

Titus smiles broadly. "Well, I am glad to say, you have come to the right place! If the rumors you have heard refer to the place I am thinking of … then I happen to be organizing an expedition to visit that region. The preparations are being made even as we speak."

"I have been there before, you know. Or perhaps you have not heard of that excursion. That was much earlier in my career. There is a First Ones site in the area, on the edge of a Forbidden Zone. I commissioned the famed artist Kame Ikata to make paintings of the interiors of the structures we found there," the poodle says, leading the foxtauress along to another room.

Pawtuxet perks up her ears, as the conversation quickly snaps onto her reason for visiting. She padpads along, following Titus as he leads, "Kame Ikata?" She repeats, "I haven't heard of him, I'm afraid."

A doorway framed by the horn and skull of a very large beast gives way to an art gallery with numerous paintings hanging on the walls. "Oh, you've probably heard of him before," Titus says, "but he is not quite the artist he used to be."

"He was always an enigma – a Savanite slave who somehow possessed the ability to create fine works of art – such as what you see here," the poodle gestures to a collection of paintings. Some of the style looks faintly familiar – the foxtauress might have seen other works by this same artist or else by those trying to imitate his style, hanging in houses hosting parties and the like.

Pawtuxet steps inside the room, still looking at Titus, "Well, I might… though I rarely have the opportunity to study more modern art." She looks around at the paintings.

"However," Titus frowns, "he wasn't quite the same after our expedition to the frigid north. You see, I must hand it to him, he was a diligent worker. He insisted on staying to work late in a chamber we had just excavated. He remained in there – alone – painting a rendering of the interior." The poodle indicates a number of illustrations that are very precisely done, showing stonework and inscriptions and elements that do indeed suggest influence by the First Ones at the very least… and then … the paintings suddenly take a different turn, as if a completely different artist had taken over. Past the last illustration of a stone interior, there is one piece that looks as if it would have been another such illustration, but then a madman scribbled wildly all over it, adding psychedelic, ethereal and nightmarish designs.

Beyond that one piece which had promising beginnings, the remainder of the paintings along the wall are twisted and contorted landscapes, full of writhing plants that seem luminescent under a starry sky where the Procession pulses with preternatural brightness, and the sky itself seems full of coils and rings, shifting restlessly.

Pawtuxet looks over the paintings, as Titus points them out, furrowing her brows as the images begin 'distorting', "That's creepy… no one knows what happened to him?"

Pawtuxet looks back at the wall and seems to recognize the structure in the first paintings, "The First Ones… I believe. And this is the place to which you're now preparing a return expedition?"

Titus nods, "Not precisely. What I mean is that we will be returning to the vicinity of this First Ones site, but a bit beyond it."

"New information has been obtained – by means I am not at liberty to divulge yet – indicating that there is another site beyond, further into the Forbidden Zone," the poodle explains. "It seems to have some connection to this site, but just how, we do not know. We were never able to determine the purpose of the structures found at the initial site. And, no, it was not determined why Kame Ikata went mad, except for disturbances related to the Forbidden Zone."

"Savanites, after all," Titus says, "are weak-minded in the first place, so of course they would be especially susceptible to paranormal influences."

Pawtuxet nods, "I see." She glances back at the pictures aligning the wall "I'm very interested in this expedition," she begins, "Would it in any way be possible for me to, perhaps, be included as a member of the team?"

Titus mutters, "Of course, Ikata's owner was not very pleased with the loss of his prize servant's ability to produce beautiful landscapes. I felt obliged to buy enough additional paintings – at well above their market value – to fill out the rest of the length of my gallery wall."

Titus breaks from his muttering, looking back to Pawtuxet. "Hmmm."

The poodle grins, "Actually, I think something could be arranged. I have read much of your theories on the First Ones. I think that your input would be invaluable into discerning the purpose of any additional finds in that region."

Pawtuxet's tailtip twitches excitedly. She smiles to Titus, "I'm happy to hear that I might be useful. Especially if it means I'll be able to attend." Her gaze travels back towards the paintings, "There's something about this particular site which fascinates me, although I'm not entirely certain what that is. The rumors, perhaps. Or these." She nods towards the wall.

Kame Ikata's "transitional" illustration is superimposed with writhing forms … though there seems to be some sort of strange order and symmetry underlying what initially appears to be chaos – as if the lines are alive, organic, conquering the angular lines of the stone room being illustrated. If one looks at it just right, one can see a shape being formed … it looks like a stylized, unblinking eye that stares out of the painting at the viewer, ghostly and fainty luminescent in its rendering.

Titus nods. "I should be curious to learn more, myself, of the reasons behind this." He frowns. "After all, it put Kame Ikata into the Rephidim Asylum. That was no small loss."

Pawtuxet shakes her head, "Definitely not… I am only slightly familiar with Ikata's other works, but these give a very clear impression of his talents."

Titus nods and smiles. "I have the largest collection of his collection, you know. Er, that is, the largest collection of his works from his greater period." He waves at the more disturbing works. "I don't count those."

Pawtuxet looks towards the works of less greatness, "They're certainly not as beautiful as the other paintings… but still, considering the circumstances under which they were made, they might be more important than we think."

Titus shrugs. "There is little point in trying to decipher the rantings – or brush-strokes – of a madman. Granted, Kame Ikata was truly gifted, but he is a Savanite, after all."

Pawtuxet nodnods, "Savanite, yes. But that might not necessarily be the reason why he turned mad." She shrugs, "The symbols aren't familiar to me, but perhaps there's a deeper meaning with them, unrelated to Ikata. Assuming that his condition is caused by something at the site, and not just a random twist of fate."

Titus looks slightly disturbed, but nods and adopts a thoughtful position, putting one hand against his chin, and resting his elbow on the other hand across his chest.

Pawtuxet still cannot get her attention entirely off that last painting. She hmms and walks towards it, frowning. Then, she takes a few steps backwards, "There's something… about this picture." She looks to Titus, "Have you noticed that?"

Titus says drily, "Yes, there's definitely something about it. Madness, insanity, a very bad nightmare after eating too much kyootcumber salsa… "

Pawtuxet nodnods, looking back towards the prime example of framed madness, "Well, yes… I noticed. That wasn't what I meant, though." She lowers her head slightly, concentrating, as if trying to make out a certain part of the painting, "I might be wrong, of course, but there seems to be something afloat. As if it's not in the picture, but a little above."

The pattering of small feet can be heard only a few seconds before the young Savanite, Kaela, pads into view around one of the corners, bearing a tray with a pot of steaming liquid, as well as a stoppered flask of a swirling red-brownish liquid.

The poodle walks over, not yet noticing Kaela, leaning over toward the vixentaur (perhaps a little too closely) as he tries to see what she's seeing. "Hmmm. Well, he DID use some expensive metallic pigments that do tend to cause it to reflect a bit differently as you walk across and look at it… "

Titus ahems, noticing Kaela now. "Well! It's about time. I think I could use another drink… " He walks over toward the tray.

Pawtuxet blinks a few times, as her eyes begin watering, seemingly too caught up in whatever she thinks she's seeing, to notice much else – apart from the commotion behind her. She looks up as the Savanite kit enters. "Oh, hello there", she smiles.

Kaela keeps her eyes slightly lowered, as is proper. First, she fills a small crystalline cup with the murky liquid, and offers it to her Lord. Then, she moves to refill Pawtuxet's tea.

Titus sips at his drink leisurely, while he returns his attention to the painting once more. He furrows his brow and squints his eyes as if that might prompt some revelation … but judging from his expression, it does not.

As her cup has been refilled, Pawtuxet smiles and takes it again, then looks towards Titus who's resumed studying the painting, "She's cute. I rarely see Savanite kits, up here."

Only when looking just the right way at the painting can Pawtuxet make out that strange 'eye', and the symmetrical swirls around it. They do not seem to form any recognizeable symbols, but there's something vaguely familiar about the sort of patterning she sees. Something vaguely familiar … but not quite familiar enough to place.

Titus smiles, "Well, young Kaela is especially well-behaved for her age. Either that, or she's older than she looks. I can't really be sure how old she is. You would never guess it, but she was born wild, as were her parents."

The cheetah butler comes into the room, and makes a nod toward Titus.

Kaela nods deferentially to the pair as she takes a step backwards from them. Turning, she quietly pads back towards the kitchen.

Titus looks distractedly toward the butler, then back toward Pawtuxet. "If you'll pardon me, it seems that my attentions are needed elsewhere. You are certainly welcome to examine these works for as long as you wish, and are welcome to come again whenever you wish."

Pawtuxet quietly sips her tea, intently watching the painting. o O { There's definitely something there, but he doesn't seem to notice it… } She turns towards Titus, "Thank you, I'd like to have a few more looks at these."

"Very well then. It is good to make your acquaintance, Madame Pawtuxet." He smiles and bows. With that, the poodle strides out of the room, leaving the foxtauress alone to make what she can of the odd paintings.


GMed by Greywolf

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