Fox 1, 6099 RTR (5 Nov 1999) Back in Bromthen, Lakshmi and Skye get a new job opportunity.
(Legacy of Barabbas) (Lakshmi) (Lochinvar) (Nagai Empire) (Savan) (Skye)
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Narcissa's Den
The abode of Secretary General Narcissa of Bromthen City is damp and musty … largely since the floor is covered in about an inch thick layer of water most of the time. The decor is Imperial in primary influence, with a stately cut to the stonework that is befitting a bureaucrat of prestigious office, but with aquatic touches – shell mosaics on tabletops, an aquarium (devoid of fish), and so on. About the room are stuffed, small animals of various types in life-like poses, perched upon shelves and in nooks.

After the festivities of Guy Fox Day, Lakshmi and Skye found themselves on an airship bound again for the Nagai Empire and to the estate of the Secretary General. The pair were treated well and delicately, and Lakshmi was given plenty of blankets to keep herself warm as the chill of winter was beginning to be felt in force throughout the city of Bromthen.

After a ride in a heated carriage, the two were escorted into Narcissa's offices and placed in a chamber to wait. The layer of water on the floor felt warm this time… perhaps the master of the house is able to afford a Fire Mage or Water Mage to keep the chill out.

Lakshmi looks quite relieved at that… The first touch of her coil to water had been quite tentative… not quite a wince, in fact, until she realized it was warm.

The various stuffed creatures lining the shelves are still there, with a few new additions. A beasthound sits on a raised table at the end of the sofa while a small stuffed vermite rests between its front paws.

A salamander Shiga shuffles into the room, his webbed feet splashing noisily through the water. "The master is with a Temple representative at the moment. May I serve you while you wait?" His small black eyes rest wholly upon Lakshmi, not even recognizing the Skreek.

Lakshmi hisses softly, "I think warm drinks would be a lovely idea, thank you."

Splashing quietly, Skye follows Lakshmi into the damp chambers, his paws folded behind his back. When she stops, he continues a handful of aces more, ending next to her. Skye nods at her words, "Mulled cider per'aps?"

Lakshmi hisses softly, "Oooh, yes! That is, if you have it?"

The salamander raises an eyeridge at Skye but bows nonetheless. "I shall fetch it immediately." He shuffles through a beaded curtain, his tail swimming through the water as he vanishes.

Lakshmi smiles slightly to herself, glancing sideways and down at Skye, but merely curls up neatly so that the blankets don't get wet. "Are you warm enough, Skye?"

Skye reaches up to straighten out his long whiskers before adjusting the rake of his hat. After the servant has left, he looks about, and nods to the Secretary General's collection. "T'e Secretary General 'as new friends … Oh, I'm fine. Even a bit damp, fur is still warm. Laks'mi … " Skye pauses, a heartbeat. "Do yi want me to speak, or will yi begin?"

Lakshmi sighs softly, then shakes her head, "My contract, my action, my responsibility."

Lakshmi smiles quietly, "It's not so bad… truly."

Skye looks back, speaking quiet. "Just be careful, yes? I 'ave t'is feeling t'at some types of tales yi may not be as comfortable wit'."

After a moment the salamander returns with two steaming glasses on a tray and a small trussed up yiffle. The little beast has small fruits and herbs braided into its oddly shaggy coat… almost decorative if one were to not consider the ultimate purpose. "It will be only another moment."

Lakshmi brightens, thanking the servant courteously.

"Thank yi," Skye takes up a goblet and wraps it in both his small paws, slowly sipping. "T'is is good."

The Shiga bows again and leaves.

Lakshmi takes a long drink, sighing contentedly at the warmth… then with evident pleasure admires the little yiffle. "What a lovely hors d'eouvres! How thoughtful of the Secretary-General." She swallows it neatly, then looks even more contented. "Mm… hadn't realized just how tired I was of trail rations."

Lakshmi settles, hot mug in her hands. She looks less cold and worn than she has for several days.

Chuckling softly, Skye nods. "May'aps we should venture back to t'e desert again?"

Lakshmi hisses softly, "Mmmm… " Her tongue flicker is extremely lazy. "Sounds good to me… "

Skye looks back with a wry grin. "Either t'at or we only go 'unting for slow and sleepy critters."

Lakshmi blinks sleepily at Skye, then hmphs softly, with a lazy grin. "Mammals… too frenetic!"

The beaded curtain parts again. "If you are ready, the master will see you now. I hope that you do not mind sharing your time with a guest?" The salamander folds his hands behind his back, hiding a bout of fidgeting.

Lakshmi raises an eyebrow. "Who might the guest be?"

Rubbing his muzzle, the little Skreek continues, "Yi know, I bet t'e crime rate in Nagai City goes up as t'e temperature goes down … " He turns as the salamander arrives, his little ears perking.

"Inquisitor Tobit of the Rephidim Temple." The Servant bows. "He is going over some paperwork with the Secretary General and the master does not wish to keep a fellow Naga waiting over a… " His eyes dart over to Skye. "… a warm blood."

Lakshmi hisses graciously, "If the Secretary-General would prefer, I would be happy to meet with him while an Inquisitor is present."

Skye gives Lakshmi a sidelong glance, and he tilts his hat forward a bit. For the servant, there is just a smile, as he smoothes out the nice, warm fur on his muzzle.

Lakshmi knows Skye has excellent hearing. She lowers her head to whisper very softly in Skye's ear (trying not to flicker her tongue) as the servant turns to lead the way, and before she starts following, "Please, Skye, let me do all the talking?"

Ducking his muzzle once, a small and subtle motion, Skye silently agrees.

The salamander carefully leads the pair through a flooded hallway lined with more stuffed creatures and some fish tanks with nothing in them except plants and algae. He pauses at a closed door, raps at it with a slimy knuckle, and then makes a sweeping motion for the two to enter. "The master awaits."

Lakshmi slithers gracefully in through the opened door. She happens to fluff out her blankets a bit as she does so… It might make it harder to see a small Skreek behind her, if one wanted to be unobtrusive.

Skye splashes and padpadpads after his employer, staying a pace behind, and in her shadow.

Lakshmi sways in a graceful bow, murmuring, "Secretary-General Narcissa," then waits politely to be introduced to the guest.

Inside the book-lined chamber sits the sea serpent Naga, his long whiskers trembling as he chuckles at a joke between him and his guest. It takes a moment to spot the Inquisitor; he's a small Skeek in crisp robes curled up on an oversized chair. The little mouse looks almost like a child compared with the large Naga-sized furnishings in the room, although the cut of his robes shows a certain level of status.

"Mistress Lakshmi, Master Skye," Narcissa says by way of greeting, bobbing his head in a bow. "This is Inquisitor Tobit. We were just discussing some new trade relations. Do make yourself comfortable."

The mouse struggles to stand, pulling his hood back and bowing, "A pleasure to meet you," he squeaks, small whiskers twitching.

Lakshmi nods politely, "And you also, Inquisitor Tobit."

Little ears perk up, Skye's whiskers rustling and going askew, as he spots the little Inquisitor. With a nod and a duck of his head, Skye taps the brim of his hat with one paw. "Good day and thank yi."

The Secretary-General waves a webbed hand at a couch. "Be seated, please. I cannot wait to hear the news of my new pet."

Lakshmi slithers over and seats herself comfortably. She hesitates, then hisses carefully, "I… find myself in a difficult position, Secretary-General Narcissa. On the one scale I wish to be strictly honest with your eminence. On the other, I'm sure we're both aware how important stories and myths are. They are… " she thinks a moment, then adds, "They are cheer for the worn and weary, and hope for those without purpose or goal. For some, they add meaning to life. When life is not easy, as it is not for some, it is surely not a kindness to destroy cherished beliefs."

Inquisitor Tobit carefully eases himself back down in his chair. One nice thing about being so small is that his feet dangle above the water.

Lakshmi hisses softly, "I feel the whispa fulfills some of those needs, Secretary-General. In the stories it is magical… somehow special, a hidden treasure. To actually see one is to be somehow gifted, to be a little different and more special than the mundane world around us. So," she says, her gaze on the Secretary-General very even, "while I personally might have caught a small nocturnal mustelid in a pale white phase of its coat… I would recognize it as such, and would no more say it was a whispa than I would declare conclusively that there is no such thing as a whispa."

Lakshmi watches the Secretary-General gravely for a moment, then asks, "I hope I am clear to your eminence?"

Looking to his friend, Skye nods, an almost imperceptible motion, a small smile crossing his long muzzle.

The Sea Serpent's earfans splay out somewhat. "I would dearly hope that the Mistress is not accusing one who wished such a creature of being worn, weary, and without goal?"

Lakshmi hisses softly, "Certainly not, your eminence. But I fear I cannot bring to you what does not exist."

"I see." The Secretary-General's whiskers droop. "May I hear of how your journey went, perhaps? And did you not observe the whispa that is currently in the Empire's hands?"

The mouse rubs his chin, as he fingers something in his pocket.

Lakshmi hisses softly, "I sent my servant to view it, your eminence, and the good Master Dorshall was kind enough to send back a letter discussing the creature he had. Their reports tallied exactly – the creature's fur did not glow at all, nor was Master Dorshall able to do anything to cause it to do so. The journey itself was fairly uneventful, alas. Due to repeated stories of the whispa's cunning, I set my most artful and hidden traps. I caught quite a few creatures, I must say… but not what you wanted."

Skye slowly crosses his arms, his little ears perking, flickering in a Skeek's direction.

"Creatures such as? Perhaps I could employ you again to catch something for me after the cold is gone." The Secretary-General's tongue flicks out contemplatively.

Lakshmi smiles, producing a neat bundle of papers for the Secretary-General. "I hope you will find my writings at least amusing, even if they do not relate the results we both wished for. I would be happy to seek out other creatures for your eminence, but – yes," her grin is wry, "after the cold is gone."

Rolling his eyes slightly, Skye rubs a squee-bitten paw.

The mouse's eyes dart away from Lakshmi as he notices Skye's glance, although he doesn't hide the grin on his face all that well.

Narcissa looks crestfallen. "I must admit I was somewhat disappointed. I was dearly hoping that a swamp dwelling creature would find comfort in my home. But perhaps I must be content in tending to the yiffles now and again. Unfortunately that work leaves me with an appetite."

Lakshmi chuckles quietly, then adds, "Secretary-General, let us not give up hope yet. Let me try again next year, if you are still interested, and we'll see what creatures we can find for you."

Lakshmi adds quite sincerely, "Believe me, your eminence, I also was quite disappointed."

"I look forward to it, Mistress Lakshmi. If you would be so kind as to tally up your expenses, I shall consider this a pending expenditure. You are still under my employ, of course… simply on suspension until things warm up." The Sea Serpent carefully folds some papers on his desk. "I shall arrange for a carriage to take you to the inn, in town."

Lakshmi brightens, then bows gracefully. "You are too kind, eminence. Thank you, and the Great Serpent watch over you."

Lakshmi politely withdraws so the Secretary-General may continue with his previous meeting.

With a silent but polite tap of his hat, Skye rapidly follows Lakshmi out.

The Inquisitor hops from his seat, splashing the water around his ankles. "If you don't mind, sir. I'll give you a private moment to read the documents thoroughly… and… er… leave you to your thoughts."

The Secretary-General makes a waving gesture with one hand, then his earfans droop sadly as he buries his snout in the mass of documents.

Noisy foot-splashes chase after Lakshmi and Skye as they exit the estate as the mouse rushes after the two animal trappers.

Lakshmi glances over her shoulder as she leaves the room, looking a little mournful herself at the poor Secretary-General's expression.

Stopping and turning, Skye orbits Lakshmi, giving their small pursuer long and thoughtful look.

"Madame… er… and sir. May I have a word with you for a moment?" Inquisitor Tobit hauls his robes up from the water pooling around his ankles as he splashes behind the two. "Preferably outside. I can dry my clothing out somewhat."

Lakshmi covers a small smile, then nods, "Certainly, Inquisitor. Damp clothes are surely displeasing to all." She heads outside, blankets close around herself.

Skye dryly chitters, "But yi get used to them … " He follows the two out.

Lakshmi gives Skye a wryly amused glance. "Dear stars I hope not."

Lakshmi turns and coils neatly once outside. "What can I do for you, Inquisitor?"

The Salamander servant bows to the three as they exit the door and step into the chilly night air. The mouse hops up on a bench and begins wringing the hem of his uniform out. "You seem to be explorers, or trappers. Might I inquire on what type of work you do?"

Lakshmi raises an eyebrow, then politely hisses, "Inquisitor, I am Master Lakshmi of the Nagai City School of Behavioral Modification. This is my capable assistant."

Skye nods, and interprets. "I find t'e critters, an' s'e makes t'em be'ave."

Lakshmi smiles at Skye.

"Pardon my ignorance, lady. I do not leave the Temple very often." The Inquisitor folds his hands across his lap, and smiles at the Skreek's words. "Critters… as in animals? You specialize in work with animals?"

Lakshmi hisses softly, "Indeed, Inquisitor."

The mouse's hand drops into his pocket. "Are you employed currently?"

Lakshmi watches the Skeek thoughtfully, wondering what possessed the Temple to send a Skeek to Nagai… unless he's far more than he appears to be.

Lakshmi tilts her head thoughtfully, then hisses politely, "I am always willing to entertain interesting offers, Inquisitor."

Lakshmi hisses softly, "Do you have some obstreperous beast you need tamed?"

Skye's ears perk, and sharp eyes give the Inquisitor a closer, second, glance, including noticing that this is the second time he has fumbled in his pocket.

"It is a bit more complex than that. You see, the Temple has had a bit of property that needs investigation placed into its hands, but as it is not on Rephidim ground, they do not wish us to send anyone directly linked with the Temple to investigate it." The Skeek clears his throat. "In other words, they wish us to fund the exploration, but not take credit for it should it turn out to be valuable. This land belonged to an Earth Mage who was known for having various animal familiars, some which he is said to have shaped himself. I believe you now see how my interest was drawn to you."

It's hard to see what the mouse is fumbling with. Whatever the object is, it's rather small and probably somewhat round, like a stone or a small ball.

Lakshmi gives the Skeek a long, slow, studying gaze… then carefully hisses, "I take it this particular bit of property is a … ah … political hot potato? It sounds quite interesting, but I would need a bit more information before I could give a definitive answer?"

Skye nods in agreement. "Like w'ere t'ese lands be?"

Lakshmi nods silently, her curious eyes not leaving the Inquisitor.

"Not quite… it is simply not located on grounds that Rephidim currently owns or has any claim to, beyond the claim given to us by the man who discovered it. It is in the Himaat on the edge of the desert of sinking sands." The mouse pulls his hood back over his ears. "It is an opportunity for Rephidim to improve relations, or defuse something that may be dangerous. We do not know if there are any creatures still inhabiting the tower or how to deal with them properly if there are. If they were magically created, any magical means of capturing them or subduing them may prove harmful, and we are hesitant to send in men who may wish to destroy the place in search of treasure."

Lakshmi hisses softly, "Ah, I understand. Hm… what happens to the animals if they prove valuable? Will they just be sold off? Or will good homes be found for them all?"

Lakshmi hisses softly, "Who will determine their fate?"

Lakshmi blinks, then smiles down at Skye. "A desert… hot. How lovely that sounds."

Skye nods. "T'at is tempting enuff. I am tired of damp food … t'ou … it sounds, like it's a'ousecleaning matter? Or better said, a tower cleaning?"

Lakshmi chuckles softly.

"Our intentions will not be to destroy any of them unless the creatures are so dangerous that no other alternative is available." Inquisitor Tobit grins. "Their fate will be determined by a proper expert, one knowledgeable in the best treatment for the creatures. We would most preferably like to keep them in Rephidim for study… but we also do not wish to destroy rare specimens if they truly do exist. If you are an expert in such fields, Madame, we will consider your word first and foremost. Just keep in mind that you will be under Temple employ at the time, and all your findings must be reported as such."

The mouse's grin fades a bit. "There may be more than 'cleaning', I'm afraid. The mage left a few traps and the tower is quite the maze if our contact is to be believed."

Lakshmi hisses softly, "Reported as such? Explain what that means, please? And will we be required to keep our employ with the Temple a secret? You mentioned something about not being associated with the Temple?"

At his mention of employ, Skye stops, caught and still for a single heartbeat. The he shrugs, and looks to Lakshmi. "I can get yi to Himaat."

Lakshmi nods quietly to Skye, then regards the Inquisitor again.

"Only if you wish to keep it a secret. I do not know if the Nagai Empire will object to such work." The Inquisitor fluffs his robes to help air them out. "I mean that your findings, especially if they may be dangerous, are to be considered Temple property. We cannot allow gold diggers along this mission… which has made the entire process somewhat difficult. Most of our explorers are… er… currently unreachable on Temple business. The Khattan government does not wish us to send mages directly under Temple employ or Inquisitors to examine the tower, as they fear we may be biased or use it as a political maneuver. We have been encouraged to seek independant employ who have independent opinions, if that makes any sense."

Skye chuckles softly, giving the Skeek a very dry look, enough to help drive the water from their clothes. "Ah. Like bait. But t'at's fine. Boss'Laks'mi and I, t'is is w'at we do, and we 'aven't not found w'at we set out for yet. It's a tower, in Himaat, belonging to an Eart' Mage? Is t'e tower open, and expecting us?"

Lakshmi looks utterly lost in thought, fascinated, "So… animals no one's ever even seen before? What a challenge that would be!"

Lakshmi hisses softly, "Think of it, Skye! Brand new species even, perhaps!"

Lakshmi hisses softly, "And… no one demanding bottom line, over the animals' interests!"

Lakshmi sounds dreamy.

Skye dryly chitters, "I'll pack our desert gear once we get to t'e inn."

Lakshmi hisses softly, "Mmm? Oh yes… " she sounds a bit distracted, "How long do you envision this taking, Inquisitor? Will I need to return to Nagai City to make sure my animals are cared for long term, or not?"

"Much like the Forbidden Zone deeper in the Himaat, it is encircled by an almost constant dust storm. We can pierce through it somewhat, but it is rather hard to find unless one knows what they are looking for." The mouse clears his throat. "Would you object having us send an explorer with you? He is a flier and proved to be very useful on his last exploration mission – one which I may tell you about should this mission prove to be a success."

Lakshmi blinks, raising an eyebrow. "A flier in a tower? Wouldn't it be a little… cramped for him? And why would you not be able to trust us with information about this individual before we accept him into our party?"

Inquisitor Tobit rubs his chin. "You misunderstand me, Madame. I mean that I cannot speak of his previous mission. His name is Lochinvar, a winged Hekoye with some Vartan inclinations. We believe he's a hybrid of sorts, but he is reliable and has a good head on his shoulders. He is skilled in weaponless fighting, with may be useful to you should you choose to have him along. We would like to keep him in circulation, so to speak, but the final decision will be yours. He's back at the inn with me if you would care to 'interview' him."

Rubbing his muzzle, Skye looks back. "E's been t'ere before?"

Lakshmi hisses curiously, "A… hybrid? Explain, please?"

Lakshmi hisses softly, "And by keeping him in circulation… do you mean he's a Temple employee?"

Skye hurriedly adds to Lakshmi's question, "And for 'ow long?"

The mouse's hand dips back onto his pocket. "Not so fast now, I only have one mouth." He holds up one hand and ticks off on his fingers. "Lochinvar has not been to the tower before; he has been doing some exploration and returned to us only a week ago. As for being a hybrid, as Vartan genetics seem to allow them to interbreed with other species and he is the only known winged Hekoye we know of – a 'hybrid' is the only answer we can come up with." He coughs and flicks up a third finger. "He is a Rephidim dock-worker independently hired because of his specific skills. Strictly contract. His last contract ended when he returned from his previous mission, and as he brought back a man whom we thought was dead, I feel obliged to keep him employed with a job if I may find it. So far, though, the only work I know of is as my transport." He lets his breath out. "I am sure that he can answer your questions far better than I."

Lakshmi hisses softly, "Hm. So, if I understand correctly, he would be hired by myself, and I by the Temple?"

"He will be considered under limited contract just as you and your assistant. But as you are the expert in this matter he would be under your authority," Inquisitor Tobit replies, "If you have any specific arrangements for him, as long as he does not object to them, I am sure that they may be arranged. As he is a stranger to you, I would gladly set up a clause that you may dismiss him at any time you wish. As a flier, he can leave whenever he sees fit after all."

Lakshmi tilts her head thoughtfully at the Skeek. "Has this employment option been mentioned to him? I own slaves… Do you know if he will be comfortable around them? As his current employer, have you observed him being steady in startling circumstances? A spooky individual is not safe to take around animals, after all."

The mouse chuckles. "He is an experienced dock-worker; he works alongside loading slaves every day. As for his jumpiness, I believe that after the conditions of his previous mission I can say without a doubt that he handles himself well with surprises. He has even had experience with discovering new forms of plant and animal life." He hops from the bench and gestures to a parked carriage around the side of the estate. "You may conduct your own interview back in my room if you like. I believe that the good Secretary-General needs some time to himself and would not mind my extended absence."

Lakshmi nods, satisfied. "Very well then. You speak highly of him. I will be happy to meet with him."

Skye dryly chitters, "I wonder if the Drokars would t'ink a winged coyote tastes better t'an a black Skreek." Straightening his whiskers, he turns to Lakshmi. "Look. Yi really don't 'ave much of a c'oice do yi? Yi don't take t'e employ, yi will be regretting it for t'e rest of your life, yes? Like me being able to walk past a clock tower wit'out … " He looks to the Inquisitor and changes his focus. "As for him, boss'Laks'mi … talk to 'im, let 'im walk wit' us a bit. Eit'er he'll fit in or get et. Remember, not many folks would 'ave taken a second look at a Skreek. And if 'e does get et, we'll make sure it's before we do, yes?"

The mouse nods and shuffles off towards the carriage. "If you will follow me. My ride is not heated, but I have a few extra blankets."

Lakshmi gives Skye an astonished glance – then laughs delightedly. "Yes, of course, Skye – you do have such a succinct way of putting things sometimes!" She smiles at the Inquisitor. "We'd be delighted."

Skye splashsplashsplashes after Lakshmi, easily climbing into the carriage – and finally out of the water.


Luckily the town wasn't too far away and the Inquisitor was able to rapidly move the Naga and her companion from the chill night air into a marvelously furnished room at the Gilded Truffle, an upper-crust inn catering mostly to tourists.

Inquisitor Tobit made a quick stop to pester room service for dinner and then allowed everyone time to settle in. The cabin was well heated and comfortable. When the Inquisitor returned, a winged coyote almost twice the small rodent's height followed behind him.

Lakshmi sighs in quiet relief at the warmth… a full stomach in the cold is an unpleasant digestion experience!She then studies the coyote with intent curiosity from her relaxed heap of coils near the fire.

"Madame Lakshmi, Mister Skye, this is Lochinvar. Lochinvar, this is Madame Lakshmi of the Nagai City School of Behavioral Modification, and her assistant Skye." The mouse gestures back and forth between the three.

Looking up and up to the Inquisitor's strange companion, Skye just nods, waiting for the proper introductions to begin.

Lakshmi hisses softly, "How do you do, Lochinvar? I hear you are interested in employ? I am in need of someone strong, steady, and dependable that is not afraid of new things."

Skye dryly chitters, "And 'as a modicum of common sense."

Lochinvar smiles at the Naga and Skreek. "Pleased to meet you," he says, then looks at the Naga. "I certainly would not turn down work, especially given the off-season in the shipping trade. Of course, this is assuming the Inquisitor can spare my services?"

Lakshmi smiles at Skye, "Of course." She looks back at the Skeek and Hekoye inquiringly at Lochinvar's last comment.

The Hekoye explains, "I provided the Inquisitor transport here, and am acting in a guard capacity."

Inquisitor Tobit seats himself. "This will be Temple business, although you will not be traveling quite so far as last time." He winks at the Hekoye. "You will be serving under Madame Lakshmi, of course – and will ultimately be under her authority."

Nodding to the Inquisitor, Lochinvar looks back at Lakshmi. "Then you have my services, Madame Lakshmi."

Skye leans back, finding a comfy space of wall. "So, w'en yi are not transporting Inquisitors, is t'ere a place yi call a 'ome?"

Lochinvar turns to look at Skye. "I live on Rephidim, and usually work the docks there. But as I said, it's the off-season."

Lakshmi hisses softly, "Excellent. Thank you, Lochinvar. Hm… I think first of all I need to know how long the Inquisitor believes this endeavor may take. I have animals in the city that will need plans made for their care if this is going to take longer than, say, a month or two?"

The Inquisitor rises up. "This shouldn't take more than a month, although transport may be a week or so depending on how the winds blow. You will be allowed to take however long or short of time as you need."

Lakshmi nods. "Then I believe my usual precautions for my animals will suffice, and we will be able to start as soon as we are packed for the desert. Er… Lochinvar, you know where we are going, yes?"

Lakshmi hisses softly, "Do you have any preparations you need to make?"

Adding to Lakshmi's question, Skye quickly chitters, "Or gear yi will be needing?"

"All I know of is that this has something to do with a tower in the Himaat," the winged coyote answers. "As for preparations, I don't have many to make. I traveled here fairly light – save for a passenger."

Skye tilts his head, looking back. "T'e Inquisitor said yi can fight?"

"If you will excuse me," the Inquisitor squeaks, "I shall leave you to converse privately and get to know one another better. My room is right next door and I will be waiting to hear your ultimate decision. Meanwhile, I believe I shall find out where room service has gotten off to."

Lakshmi hisses softly, "Certainly, Inquisitor."

Lochinvar grins. "I've been able to hold my own in … situations."

The mouse bows and quietly shuffles out of the room, pausing in the doorway to shake out a small bit of moisture still trapped in his shoe before exiting.

Lakshmi grins quietly to herself as the door closes, pleased that she's not stuck wearing such awkward articles of clothing.

Lakshmi looks at Lochinvar. "Could you describe one to me, perhaps? I'm interested in hearing how you handle yourself in emergencies, please?"

Skye just drips a bit still, not letting it bother him. Old habits.

"Probably the most recent that comes to mind," the Hekoye says, "was defending a Titanian and Rath'ani while they were fixing a machine, from these creatures that were hideously deformed 'Hookahs'."

Lochinvar continues, "It was just a Jupani Temple Guard and myself against a whole swarm of these."

Lakshmi hisses softly, "Hookahs? I don't believe I know what those are?"

The coyote smiles slightly. "Native creatures on Arcadia."

"Rather fond of candy they are," adds Lochinvar, as an afterthought.

Lakshmi hisses slowly, "On… Arcadia. You're surely not referring to the seventh planet from the sun?"

Lochinvar says, "I don't know of any other."

Skye tilts his head, looking back. "T'e w'at?"

Lakshmi's glance at Skye is of the we're dealing with a madman?! type.

"I suppose that's why the Inquisitor suggested my services," Lochinvar offers, noticing the concerned looks being exchanged. "It's likely that the Temple is interested to see if this tower is anything like the Gateway Tower that allows passage to the various planets."

Looking between the two of them, Skye begins to pace, slowly walking around the winged Hekoye.

Lakshmi hisses softly, "Er… all right… so the Inquisitor knows of this ah… belief of yours?"

Lochinvar nods. "Not just belief. The Rath'ani on our party did manage to bring back a few samples."

"Also," the Hekoye notes, taking a hold of his tail, and pointing out a particular "shiny necklace" intricately attached, "I obtained this while I was there."

Padding up, Sky takes a closer look at the necklace. "May I?"

Lakshmi is just sitting and thinking, and watching quietly.

"You may look," replies the Hekoye, "as long as you do not take it off my tail."

Lakshmi finally hisses with slow incredulity, "You're saying this tower allows passage not only to Abaddon, which I'd heard of… but to all the planets?"

The necklace in question is made up of dozens of links of carefully shaped wire. Most of them are an odd coppery-gray color, but one is silver and shaped like a "x", and another looks like gold… shaped like a Jupani head.

Lochinvar continues to watch Skye inspect his trinket, but replies to the Naga, "Apparently so, yes."

Lakshmi hisses softly, "Fascinating… and we're going to another amazing and magical tower? How many of these towers are there in the Himaat, I wonder?"

The rest of the links are shaped like rocks, trees, plants, and other natural formations.

"… never seen t'e dark coppery metal before … " Skye stands, continuing a slow pace, his breath a whisper. "So yi 'ave climbed all t'e way up to t'e stars?"

Lakshmi falls silent, thinking again.

The coyote merely shrugs at the question asked by Lakshmi.

Skye pauses for long moment. "If t'is first tower, if it's supposed to be like our Tower, w'at was it like … w'at might we be expecting? T'e Inquisitor spoke of beasts an' traps?"

Lakshmi rouses herself slightly, "Ah, good point, Skye… Lochinvar was telling us how he was dealing with the attacking creatures as well."

"We didn't notice any 'beasts' or 'traps' at the Tower we traversed through. As for the tower itself, it was just that – a tower. No other structure attached to it. Twelve windows. No roof," says the winged Hekoye.

Skye dryly chitters, "And a dust storm about it?"

Lochinvar adds, "This one, I understand, is made of stone. The one we used was crystal."

Lakshmi hisses softly, "Hm. Interesting. Do you know anything else about it, Lochinvar? Height, roof, size, anything?"

The Hekoye thinks for a moment. "It seemed pretty important to the Inquisitor to send people to this tower who would not simply just charge in without thinking, setting off whatever traps there might be. Also, it was inferred that these traps could be obstacles that are cryptic in nature – requiring some thought to get by safely."

Lakshmi looks interested, then cautiously inquires, "Does that sound like the sort of thing that might appeal to you?"

Skye blinks. And then stops. He stops dead still.

Lakshmi glances at Skye?

Lochinvar grins again. "I probably wouldn't be here if it didn't."

Lakshmi hisses softly, "Excellent!" She smiles, adding, "I had to check. Ah, and as Skye asked previously – apparently there's a dust storm around this tower?"

"It's in the desert," the coyote notes. "You get dust storms in deserts."

Lakshmi gives the coyote a dry glance. "Of course."

"Oh, one last question," Lakshmi hisses, sounding hopeful, "do you speak Imperial, Lochinvar?"

When he looks back to Lakshmi, Skye swallows. He pauses, then, and when he speaks, it is soft and quiet. "W'at 'e just said. A tower wit' all sorts of unknown inside, to be looked at, t'ou't a, an t'en t'e breaking into it to be carefully planned."

Lakshmi gazes at Skye, then murmurs, "Later, Skye?" and glances back at Lochinvar.

Lochinvar replies back to the Naga in good Imperial, "Of course. When you travel around on various shipping lines as I have, it becomes necessary to be familiar with a variety of languages."

Lakshmi chuckles, replying in kind, "I am glad to hear it."

Lakshmi glances a touch worriedly at Skye, then smiles at Lochinvar. "Well! We need to get packed, but we should be ready by tomorrow, and it seems you already are ready, yes? So… we should go prepare. Shall we meet at the carriage then?"

The coyote nods. "Certainly. What time tomorrow?"

Finding a place to sit, Skye follows Lakshmi's advice. His whiskers need straightening. Maybe I think too much. He looks up at Lakshmi and Lochinvar. But it is the Temple. . The little black Skreek listens, albeit for a while, distractedly.

Lakshmi hisses softly, "How about half an hour before it's due to leave?"

"I will be there," says the Hekoye.

Lakshmi hisses softly, "Excellent. In that case, we really should be going. We have quite a bit of packing to do. Skye, shall we?"

Lakshmi hustles Skye quickly from the room.

Skye follows Lakshmi out, nervously, his long tail twitching.

Lakshmi shuts the door behind Skye and herself, and hisses worriedly, "Skye, get a hold on yourself! Great Serpent, man, you practically advertised there! You should have just forced a smile and said it was nothing – you know I'd have asked later!"

Walking to the far corner of the room, Skye turns around, his paws shaking quietly. "Khai!" he sharply chitters, his arms crossing, looking back up to Lakshmi. "Laks'mi … it might not matter. T'is is t'e Temple we are dealing wit'. And t'e Temple, as any Darksider could tell yi, t'e Temple doesn't not believe in coincidences. T'ey make coincidences … Think about it. W'at t'e Hekoye described, it's not an exploration. It's a second story job to end all second story jobs. So it 'as critters too, but t'ey need yi once yi get in … but to get in, t'ey don't need a guide, t'ey need a … a t'ief." He looks back, swallowing. "Do yi t'ink it was coincidence t'at t'e Inquisitor was t'ere? His business wit' t'e Secretary General wasn't important enough to even stick around! Laks'mi … t'ey know!

Lakshmi listens as she slithers around the room, pouring two warm drinks from a flask, adding just a touch of something alcoholic to one mug, pushing that mug gently into Skye's hands, pulling the couch over with her tail, settling on it and urging Skye to do so also… She frowns, thinking, then hisses, "Well… from what I've heard about the Temple, they're incredibly arrogant – think they have dominion of the entire planet." There's no recognition of the irony inherent in the Naga's words – she's simply stating what she believes. "So… if that's the case, wouldn't they have just arrested you?"

Skye settles down on the couch with a flounce, accepting the offered mug with both paws. He takes a first deep and long sip. Wiping his muzzle with his tunic sleeve, Skye shrugs. "T'e problem wit' t'e Temple is, yi can't tell. W'y arrest yi w'en t'ey can use yi, yes? I wonder 'ow 'ard 'e would 'ave pressed if we said no? It just fits … too well. Like fur on a paw."

Lakshmi hisses softly, "Mm… it's possible, I suppose. I'm no expert on the Temple, after all. Still, Skye, we don't have to be blatant. So we won't let it be obvious that it's you figuring out any traps… We'll say I thought of it. If you wish, I'll dismiss the coyote for some pretext, and there won't be anyone from the Temple there at all."

Skye lets out an almost silent sigh. "No. If t'ere are hungry beasties in t'ere, t'en he will be very valuable. And it would let them know w'at's up." Shaking his head, he just gives Lakshmi a dry and long humored look. "It's yi fault, yi know."

Lakshmi looks a bit hurt, "Mine?! How so?"

Shaking his head, he takes a breath, and is once again his pragmatic self. "Yi taught me to be … honest . Oh well, it comes wit' t'e territory. So w'at's t'e worst t'ey can do? Turn my brain inside out? T'ere's not much t'ere so maybe I s'ould be not much worried, yes?"

Lakshmi looks like she's having trouble figuring out whether to look guilty or pleased! "No, Skye… you're not that person from then, in Rephidim. You're my assistant now. I don't know if I can stop the Temple if they try to arrest you, but I know I would certainly do my best to slow them. We're not going to let them turn your brain inside out… and," she sounds a little pained, but adds, "if you really think it's dangerous for you… I could send you back to Nagai City. Or," it takes some effort, but she gets it out, "or we could refuse the job."

"It's fine, Laks'mi," Skye says with a smile, "We take t'e job, and we bot' go. Bot' yi and I know t'at if I let you go out t'ere all by yourself, yi'd be walking in circles afore yi even left t' city. An t'e critters would be all upset wit'out t'eir Skreek to bite. So, we bot' s'all go. If any'ting, it's my fault, for getting sloppy. Katja would 'ave my 'ide for being so slips'od. T'e problem is, of course, yi never told me being respectable could also be so much fun."

Lakshmi looks confusedly amused, "I… don't know whether to thank you or apologize, but… all right, Skye, if that's how you'd like to handle it."

---

GMed by Zoltan

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