Inside a roughly pyramid-shaped structure of artificially formed "sandstone" and frosted glass, the architects in the service of the Khattan Emir have constructed a mock-up of an impressive park meant to house displays for every known creature on Sinai that could possibly be contained in such a marvel as the Zoological Gardens. Cleverly positioned walkways crisscross the miniature park, allowing views from above, and a chance to stoop over and inspect more closely, while some of the paths along the edge of the display cut down into the floor, revealing cross-sections of planned subterranean sections. Plants stand in as miniature representations of trees, and some examples of their larger cousins are potted along the outer walls as examples, interspersed with larger models of statues and decorative archways and other features of the planned park. Water trickles through channels and under bridges, while large rotary fans (powered by unseen slaves) keep the air comfortably circulating.
Dignitaries from various realms mill about most of them coming from the same continent, due to geographic convenience. Those of the Nordikan persuasion have a tendency to be politely occupying one hand or the other with a glass of fermented beverage. A modest "buffet line" has been set up alongside one side of the chamber modest, that is, compared to the Emir's own extravagance, but still well-stocked simply out of the necessity of accommodating the varied tastes of the many sapient species of Sinai who might be in attendance.
A bug-headed Nohbakim with a turtle shell and three sets of appendages (not counting his feet) seems intent on sampling something of every single one of them. "Tell me, honored Magus," he clacks to the winged Exile beside him, "which of these would be your favorite?"
He hardly seems to give any notice to Ophelia or any of the other nobility present. But then, a good number of the nobility particularly from Rephidim and Gallis seem to be doing their utmost to ignore her as well.
"I haven't developed preferences yet," Envoy replies, her Nohbakim improving with use. "I like new things best." She too samples a little bit of everything, and watches the gathered dignitaries as well.
Ophelia pokes along though the buffet line, putting odd-looking canapés onto her little plate, as she subjects the other Exile to a discrete examination.
Envoy smiles to the unicorn, glad to see an Aeonian again.
The Zelak-Nohbakim just nods, antennae flicking, and continues to load up his plate and it probably wouldn't have affected his plan if he were recommended a favorite anyway. He seems intent on trying it all … with the exception of some of the Babelite delicacies. He seems to be mildly disturbed by the squirming little bugs. He turns around, looking both ways … then, with perhaps a clumsy attempt at stealth, scoops up a few of the bugs with a tentacle and deposits them onto the floor. Some of the bugs skitter off, but most of them are just too sluggish to go much of anywhere.
The Countess takes the smile as a sufficient opening. "Good day! I couldn't help but see you here. I'm the Countess Ophelia, of the Northern Shore." She pauses, her muzzle and the insides of her ears pinking a bit. "It's inexcusable of me, I'm sure, but I fear that I can't recall your name."
A couple of scrawny Himaatian Khattas make their way through the crowd, dressed in poor-man's finery robes that are of fine materials, but ill fitting, most assuredly tailored for someone else, and perhaps rejected by the original purchaser, and then snatched up by these felines at a fraction of the price. One of them a tawny cat with puma markings is bespectacled, and the other a black cat with milky spots on his mouth and nape carries an odd bundle of tools, scrolls and books under one arm. They make a circuit around the chamber, frequently bowing and quickly making introductions, then moving along.
The Exile bows, and introduces herself. "I am Envoy of Lothrhyn, Lady Ophelia. You may have seen me on Rephidim a few years back, as a performer. I have heard that your realm successfully resisted Gallisian influence."
The bug-headed creature almost drops his plate, flicking his antennae as if in surprise … and then he shuffles over very close to Ophelia. His antenna wiggle curiously, and he studies Ophelia as if some strange specimen or a finely sculpted statue were brought to his attention.
Ophelia looks enlightened. "I was sure I knew you from somewhere, yes. I have a little glass figurine of you, or someone very like you, at home as well. The Gallisians found the county not to their liking, I believe."
Envoy quickly introduces her curious companion. "May I present the Mage Barabbas, architect of the Earth Tower of Himaat, and recently awakened from suspended animation. He doesn't speak Standard, I'm afraid, but if you know Khattan or Zerdan… "
Barabbas continues to circle around Ophelia, stooping down to examine the leonine tuft at the end of her tail. He then stands up and chatters something to Envoy.
Ophelia curtsies, and offers her hoof to the Mage Barabbas, having to turn in a half-circle to face him as he examines her tail. "Charmed, I'm sure."
Envoy looks to Barabbas in surprise, and responds with, "Aeonian."
Barabbas takes the proffered limb and examines it with scrutinizing interest, digging what looks like a variation on a jeweler's eyepiece out of his robes, affixing it to one of his segmented eyes and peering through it.
"He's been asleep for a very long time, Countess," Envoy explains. "Your people may not have arrived or spread far when he entered stasis."
Ophelia snoofs in mild bemusement, watching the Mage as he examines her hoof. Her muzzle wrinkles slightly as a thought occurs to her. "There's nothing wrong with it, I hope? No curses, or anything?"
To Barabbas, Envoy whispers in Khattan, "An Exile race, very rare, believed to be based in Lamu, but most rare creatures are believed to be from Lamu anyway. She may be allergic to iron, and could be as old as your Tower, or older. Aeonians age very very slowly."
Barabbas stands up straight again, putting away his scope, and bows to Ophelia, clasping his six appendages together. He then turns back to Envoy. "Most intriguing," he says in the Zerdan/Nohbakim tongue. "The quality of the hide is most curious … Ah!" He then switches to Khattan. "Enhanced longevity would explain it. Allergic to iron, you say? Fortunately, that is an exceedingly rare material."
The Aeolun doesn't correct Barabbas on that, since there is still a lot of history the Mage is catching up on.
Ophelia flicks her ears, addressing the Mage in Khattan. "Iron has never agreed with me, no."
Envoy smiles to see that there is a language they all have in common. "When I was first discovered, I was dubbed 'The Aeolun' and touted as a mythical creature from the mountains of Aeonia. The term has stuck with me, despite my being an Exile."
Barabbas nods. "Ah, so you are a ruler of the Aeonians, yes? Most intriguing. If your species is particularly long-lived, I suppose this would result in a particularly stable cul " His antennae wiggle a bit, and he turns back to Envoy. "An Exile? I had taken you for a Nohbakim, given your hybrid structure."
"Actually, I am a self-aware golem of sorts," Envoy says, wondering how the news will be taken. "My origins are a bit complicated. I was even adopted by Zelaks for a time."
Ophelia begins to answer Barabbas, but stops short as the subject of the question apparently changes in midstream. Instead she begins to sort through her canapés.
"A golem?" Barabbas' antennae warble. "How utterly magnificent! How were you created? Who created you? Are there more of you?"
Ophelia nods politely and smiles.
"I was created by living tower, in order to interact with humanoids better," Envoy says, looking around for potentially useful interruptions. "Lothrhyn created me, although my structure has undergone radical change since then. I assume she has created more like me since my separation from her."
"A living tower?" Barabbas seems to be even more intrigued now. "Like mine? No, no, you said created by … that would imply sapience! I must meet this Mage Lothrhyn!"
Ophelia eats canapés and smiles, plainly lost.
The two gangly looking felines happen to wander over to the little cluster. "Greetings and salutations!" the puma-like Khatta says in Khattan, clapping his hands together and bowing, then moving his hands about busily to punctuate every phrase with a gesture. "I am Assad, and this is my cousin, Rashad. We are most honored to have you present at the unveiling for our plans for the great zoological gardens of the Emir! I hope you are needing for nothing?"
Rashad just mimics the posture of his puma-colored cousin, saying nothing, and nearly dropping a scroll to the floor, as he struggles to shuffle the burden under his arm after attempting to bow.
Envoy explains, "I'm afraid she does not reside in this universe, since I cannot contact her. I have a copy of her mind, but I cannot … fit it … in the mental capacity I have now." She turns to the Khattas and smiles, glad for the distraction.
Rashad blinks when he sees the bug-headed Nohbakim, and a grin crosses his face, as he suddenly becomes far more conversational. "Honored Mage Barabbas! You must see the plans!" He practically bowls the Nohbakim over to a nearby table, and, in a flurry of unrolling of scrolls, tries to show him everything at once.
The Countess smiles, and nods in greeting to Assad. "A most excellent party, yes. Lovely canapés."
Rashad gesticulates wildly, frequently having to stoop down to pick up something he drops. "Here is the Vykarin pen … and here is the great Pool of Wonders … and here are the alien gardens … and here is the grand Babelite Menagerie … and we have a great plan for keeping the eeps from detonating … and here is the Hooka Discovery Center, with an interactive exhibit for cubs, titled, 'Build Your Own Hooka'… "
Assad beams. "But … ah … what of the models? The layout? You are from … Nordika, that is correct?"
"I find it very well laid out," Envoy comments. "And with Barabbas' invisible fences, accessibility and safety will be impressive."
Rashad pauses a moment to smile widely at Envoy, then returns to his rapid-fire "tour" of the plans. "And this area is designated for future expansion for the Wandering Roams exhibit … since we're not really sure how much room we need … and here, we'll have the juvenile waashu exhibit can't quite house the full-grown variety, after all … and here we'd like to have a blynx pen, but it was cynically suggested to me that we should just leave it empty, and nobody would be able to tell the difference anyway!" He laughs nervously at his own joke.
Envoy points to the cut-away of the subterranean section, and asks Assad, "Are you going to put in a Zelak hive exhibit there? I imagine Titanian engineers could create mechanical Zelaks for it."
Ophelia smiles at the Puma. "They're all quite lovely, I assure you. I'm from the County of the Northern Shore, yes."
Rashad looks to Envoy. "Titanian … engineers?" Then, he breaks into a sudden laugh. "Oh! Ho! You had me going there a moment, most esteemed magus! Ho ho!" He slaps his knee and drops a book in the process.
Barabbas peers over the maps and sketches and listings, antennae flicking. "Overwhelming," he buzzes.
Envoy smiles automatically, something she's learned to do in place of looking confused.
Assad sets the other feline's book back up on the table, then asks of Ophelia, "Ah … the Northern Shore? Oh! Gallis!"
The Aeolun watches for Ophelia's reaction to the faux-pas. The unicorn's horn looks much more dangerous than her own, after all.
Ophelia drops her canapé. It rolls away under the table. "Very near there, yes. Right next door, as it were."
Assad ponders this. "Ah … My apologies, my … ah … geography is not the strongest. My strength is in architecture, most esteemed lady of the north. What sort of creatures might be found at this Northern Shore? Perhaps something we have overlooked in the collection at the zoological gardens?"
Envoy asks, "Is it true there are pre-sapient versions of some species to be found there?"
Assad hmms. "Really? I wonder how that would be taken. There was some controversy over the 'cat' exhibit you know, those little four-legged creatures you find all over Elamoore. Or, that is, that you would have found all over Elamoore, once upon a time, many years ago."
Ophelia flicks her ears. "Oh, my, all sorts of creatures, to be sure. Many of them are best avoided, though." She turns to Envoy. "And we've got some of those as well, I'm sure."
"Northern Shore has a fishing economy, does it not? Fishermen usually find interesting animals in their nets," Envoy comments.
Rashad chatters on, "… and here is a section for Exile creatures that is, unique specimens that came out of the Forbidden Zones … we're pondering a section full of Krozite monsters, but we may just have to satisfy ourselves with a representative example of some of the more common or interesting varieties, given the unique nature of many of the creatures found there… "
Assad snaps his fingers. "Aha! Yes, I do believe we have plans to have a snark exhibit in the Pool of Wonder … ah,making sure to keep the snarks separated off from the more gentle creatures, that is."
"It is a shame you couldn't exhibit deep-water species," Envoy says, looking towards the model of the pool. "A bathysphere exhibit would be impressive. Deep-sea animals usually generate their own light, after all. There may even be an intelligent race of cephalopods in the deep oceans."
Ophelia says, "We've any number of fisherfolk. I'm sure you could find all manner of interesting things in the markets. There's no telling what's going to be pulled in with the nets, you know."
Rashad looks up from the table and turns toward Envoy. "Fascinating! Positively fascinating! Perhaps … some water mages might be able to simulate the environment? And if we devised proper reinforcements to contain water under pressure… "
Assad drums his fingers on his chin. "We are on the edge of the Sea of Himaat. Perhaps if we included, as part of our exhibit, a tour out to the Rift… "
Rashad looks dubious. "I don't think the Rift goes down nearly far enough for what the illustrious mage has in mind."
"There would still be the problem of feeding the animals," Envoy comments to Rashad. "You'd need to study them in their natural environment long enough to know their needs. Otherwise, preserved specimens may have to do. If Faraon ever gets caught, perhaps you could have him stuffed and put on display near the entry."
Rashad nods. "Oh! Yes, that would be a draw! The Emir wanted a dragon exhibit, but by the very nature of the specimens, that would be … most hazardous."
"Not to mention controversial!" adds in Assad.
"I suppose. Dragons tend to vary quite a bit from one individual to the next anyway," the Exile says. "Still, artistic recreations could be substituted."
Rashad nods enthusiastically. "We have several sections setaside for sculpture and taxidermy displays. They require … significantly less maintenance than the live displays."
Assad asides, "But the Emir isn't so enthusiastic about them."
"Perhaps Mage Barabbas can … make you some dragons," Envoy suggests, hopefully. "Safe ones. Smallish."
Ophelia ahs, plainly impressed. "Does he make dragons, then? What an unusual specialty."
Barabbas' antennae twitch at this. "Making new creatures expressly for inclusion in a zoological garden? How preposterous! … Hmm… " Although most would have trouble telling, Envoy has been around the Nohbakim long enough to be able to tell that he's now deep in thought.
Rashad and Assad both look hopefully to Barabbas. "The Emir would be pleased!" Rashad gushes. "The Emir would be overjoyed!" Assad agrees.
"I can provide the biomechanical specifications, if needed," Envoy whispers to the Nohbakim.
Barabbas nods to Envoy. "That would be most helpful! I have not worked with any genuine dragons."
Assad looks to Ophelia. "But of course … if you have any suggestions about important creatures of your homeland that should be included in the zoological gardens, feel free to let us know. We hope to present a marvel of all Sinai, where people of the world over may learn of the wonders of our varied lands and the ecologies of far-off places that they would never have the time or ability to visit in their entirety within a single lifetime!"
Envoy smiles. "Creens are halfway to being dragons, and have pleasant temperaments already. Otherwise you could advertise for a dragon. Paying it a salary might get expensive over time though."
Rashad drums his fingers on his chin. "I have heard that dragons prefer hoards of gold. That might invite thieves … and an angry dragon."
Ophelia considers. "When I return home, I shall inquire of my counselors which of our creatures we might best contribute to your undertaking."
Assad beams. "Thank you ever so much, your highness! That would be most helpful!"
"Is the Emir planning an expedition to capture some Zakis or a Goliath?" Envoy asks, glancing towards the spot in the model set aside for the Wandering Roams.
Assad sighs. "Alas, there has been some difficulty in finding some brave souls to undertake such a venture. Goliaths are legendary in their ferocity, and the Wandering Roams are a wide and desolate land."
"I had hoped to study these creatures myself someday," Envoy admits. Turning to Barabbas, she asks, "Aren't some of your discoveries based on studies of Zakis, sir?"
Barabbas' antennae lift. "Yes. Yes, they are. In fact, they are crucial to my understanding of the workings of many species of Sinai, and how the building blocks that comprise them can be rearranged to create new species."
"Do you suppose they might be living artifacts then?" the Exile asks, "created by the First Ones for some ancient task, and now left to their own devices?"
Barabbas nods. "That is not far from my supposition. I think that they are, indeed, components of a larger living artifact … or the descendents of creatures that once long ago, united, served in that role."
Envoy turns to Assad and Rashad, and says, "I would be interested in joining an expedition to the Wandering Roams, if it is still viable."
Ophelia gestures with her plate. "That's most adventurous of you."
"It's the sort of thing I was built for," the Exile says with a slight shrug. "And I'd have to explore and study the region eventually in any case."
Ophelia says, "It must be comforting to have a definite purpose."
Assad and Rashad look positively overjoyed. "You would?" "Truly?" "The Emir will be most pleased!" "He will throw a party, I am most certain of it!" "A banquet, even!" Both Rashad and Assad lick their chops in contemplation of the Emir's legendary extravagance.
Ophelia oohs. "Indeed?"
Assad mrowls, "It's his way."
Rashad nods. "And a very fine way it is!"
Envoy nods, "I would liken them more to feasts than banquets, accompanied as they are with dancers and other entertainment, but without the fighting that usually breaks out in the presence of so much wine and stimulation."
Assad nods soberly. "The Emir would not tolerate such displays."
Rashad adds, "The punishment would be death."
Assad winces at the thought, then quickly shifts topics and queries, "How soon might you be able to embark on such a quest? Perhaps … perhaps a ship might be arranged!"
Rashad smiles. "With the illustrious Earth Mage Envoy of Lothrhyn … the Wazir would surely be compelled to be most generous in his allowances!"
Envoy blinks, and says, "I suppose as soon as Mage Barabbas feels he can spare me. But the Wazir tends to appreciate me for my economy, I should warn you."
Assad and Rashad deflate at the revelation.
Barabbas laughs. "With your revelation of your origins, I should hope that you would hasten to return, most certainly, so that I can learn more … but thanks to the life mages of your College, I think I have more time to spare than ever before. By all means, do not let me detain you from whatever adventures you have your heart set upon!"
The Exile bows and smiles to Barabbas. "Thank you, sir. And don't worry, I'm very durable."
Ophelia finishes her final appetizer. "So there's definitely to be an expedition, then?" She tries to sound not overly eager. "And another party to accompany it, one supposes?"