Blocks of polished gray-black granite shot with silvery flecks form the walls and vaulted dome of this chamber, inset with high, narrow windows composed of multiple small panes of crackled glass. The chamber's walls form most of a circle, flattened on the only inside wall, where a single door leads to the rest of the tower. Nooks the size of small rooms are set against the walls at various heights, many unreachable save by flight or ladder, most furnished to serve various different purposes study, sleeping, reading, and so forth. Light gauzy curtains may be drawn before the assorted sections, to screen them for privacy.
On the main floor, a ring of comfortable ivory-hued seats, in various styles and types to suit different species, along with small matching side tables, surround like satellites a central dais. The dais's surface is tiled in runes that form a mage's circle. The "Procession" theme continues in the hanging ceramic braziers tinted silver, descending in a graceful arc from crystal-accented black velvet ropes fastened to the ceiling. On close inspection, other dark ropes are visible, crossing from various points on the walls and ceiling, though their purpose is not readily apparent. Arc-shaped black floor candelabras glitter with similar dangling crystals, providing additional lighting for the chamber after sundown.
A black Eeee in mage's robes stands in the circle, wings folded flat against his back, chanting, before a Gallah woman opposite him, seated on black velvet cushions. From one of the chairs, a senior apprentice watches, the look of concentration on his face so intense as to border on comical. Candles burn at strategic places in the circle, making the fine powder scattered along the edge glitter yellow and red in the light.
"All this hocus pocus, you'd think with magicking like this the world would have less problems," remarks the Gallah mercenary to the apprentice. Since the man arrived to observe, Elise, disguised as the mercenary Missy, has returned to the personality adopted for her disguise. She speaks in a non-Eeee form of Babelite that as often as not is laced with Gallisian words, and bears a distinctly Gallisian accent.
The apprentice starts at the canine's comment, as absorbed as he was by the ritual He raises one finger to his lips, in a reflexive shushing motion, then notices that the casting mage's concentration seems in no way impaired. "Uh … we do the best we can, truly," he says, finally, whispering. "Master Cyprian is very talented. I'm sure he'll be able to help you, whatever the matter is," he adds, loyally.
The canine nods appreciatively. "He certainly seems appreciated around here, monsieur." She shifts a bit on the cushions, eventually just laying her head down on one. "So, you know anything about Mage Cyprian here? I do wonder about people magicking … especially when it's me they're magicking," she adds in whisper.
The apprentice glances at the chanting mage, then back to the woman. He stands and moves closer to the circle, though keeping a discreet distance from it, and answers softly, "He's really quite good. He's the best Eeee mind mage the College has had for decades, I'm told. Er. Though, mind you, not many Eeee choose the Sphere of Mind. We tend to go more for the elemental spheres. Very basic, direct stuff."
Missy reaches over and pats the butt of her sword, nodding again, head brushing against the cushion. "Ah, direct approaches are something I am fond of myself. Ain't often I get the thoughtful types, you understand," mentions the mercenary.
The watching Eeee nods, and the conversation peters out with that. After a little while, the apprentice shifts to a side of the dais closer to the caster, and unstops a flask, shifting his weight from one foot to the other, nervously.
The Eeee's chant continues, his voice strong and even throughout, and power swirls like gray fog around the circle, lapping at the Gallah's folded legs, twining around the ankles of the mage. Finally, Cyprian reaches the final syllable, and the fog sinks into the bodies of the two figures like air sucked into a vacuum, devoured without a trace. The green radiance in the mage's eyes fade, and he reaches one hand out. The apprentice silently passes the flask to him, and as the black Eeee drinks, a voice resonates in Missy's head. I have missed you, Elise. Tell me everything, please.
Wafting a hand through the smoke as it circles in to her, the mercenary's widen a little in a look of surprise at the obvious effects. She sits up and pats herself as if checking for change. Meanwhile her mind reveals a very different person. I have missed you as well, Cyprian. To think that we continue to meet in such grave circumstances … I look forward to a calmer time. Regarding that, I will tell you this: We intend to end the dream ritual. Also, I have come to learn several facts about the ritual that may be of interest to you. Normally I would prefer not to involve you in such affairs, but I fear for your safety in this, and you are as much part of this as I. After a moment of checking, the Gallah looks relieved, and sits back some. "Excellent magicking, monsieur," she says, all though in a tone that hints that she might hardly understand what just happened.
"Thank you, m'lady," the green-eyed mage replies, inclining his head after he finishes the draught from the flask. "Joff, you may leave us now. Thank you for your time." As the apprentice bows and withdraws from the room, the black Eeee's eyes remain on the Gallah. I am as anxious as you to learn more, and will be grateful to see these dreams at an end. Ah did you know Mage Envoy has broken free of "Inala's" possession?
Returning to her lounging, the mercenary again rests her head on the cushions, though her expression drops from bored to simply exhausted, an indication of a disguise left to split now that the apprentice has departed. Truly? I am pleased to learn of it. At the time of our last meeting Envoy and I were getting along rather poorly due to some … lapse in her morality. But, anyway, allow me to fill you in on the basics of what has occurred. Feel free to ask questions, and if you have none, I will expand on a few points. I am in need of your knowledge on the Seven Sisters as well, so I may ask of you questions. A faint smile forms on the mercenary's face, and she shrugs a little. Forgive my appearance, as well.
What is there to forgive? Cyprian asks, a faint smile on his lips. In my mind, you could never be less than beautiful, my lady. He steps down from the dais and holds out a hand to help the disguised poodle down, all the while listening, patiently, as she unfolds the story for him. I won't ask who the College sent with you, he says as she nears the end. I am sure they are competent, and there are doubtless many details I do not need to know. When she describes the reason for her visit and explains the ruse of the "cover" note, he adds, I hope your journey to my guild hall was not so hazardous as it seems you feared.
The disguised poodle gladly accepts the hand and rises to her feet, following the black bat down as she relates the story in her mind. You are kind to say so, Cyprian. Farther down she tilts her head as if considering something. It is best you do not know the entire plan, as well. It burdens you with knowledge that some would surely desire and take would they know you possessed it. The journey to Babel was uneventful, the journey to your guild hall … was enlightening as to the Babelite attitude. I admit that I attended a bar, wherein I was glared and laughed at, and on the continuation of my flight I preserved a woman from a hostile gang only to get the barest of thanks in acknowledgement. But I do have a question for you, Cyprian, does the name "Diphath" mean anything to you? I recall the name in Babelite mythology, though only in the vaguest terms.
Diphath? The mage seats himself on one of the couches, curling sideways on it to watch Elise. There is a tale told of one of that name by the Yodhrephath … He frowns for a moment. Let me recall it for you, my lady.
Certainly. And if you do not mind, I will join you in sitting. With that mental politeness "spoken", the Gallah mercenary settles herself onto the couch near Cyprian, laying her head back against the cushions and looking quite comfortable. Indeed, I would also mention to you that I am aware of some bad blood between this goddess and Rephath, though I was unable to determine why, or how greatly it exists. The name seems to invoke scorn in Babelite culture, that is all I truly know.
After a few moments, the story seems to blossom in her head, like a memory of someone else telling it to her, from a long time ago, rather than Cyprian relating it for the Gallah now. The effect is quick, if disorienting.
Diphath was a mortal woman, a countess, in the days before Ashdod was unified under the Sabaoth, when nobles ruled their fiefdoms with absolute authority, and warred openly with one another. She was a warrior of some renown, who drank the blood of her enemies, it is said, for strength, and she lived in a stronghold of Mount Rephath, where she plotted the movements of her armies. Some said she could read the minds of men, for she never waited for her neighbors to attack her instead, she always struck the first blow, attacking and killing any she thought might threaten her. Others called it mere cruelty, or fear.
One day, word came to Diphath that the Goddess of Vengeance, with her huntswomen and her horribs, was crossing Diphath's lands. The Countess sent word to her armies, and plotted an ambush for the Goddess, before the Grey Warrior could reach her stronghold and threaten her. Diphath gathered all her people, and timed her blow carefully, so that Rephath was surrounded when they struck. The armies of Diphath swarmed over the huntswoman, howling and screaming for blood and death, and they slew many of Rephath's forces. But the Goddess herself was not so easily defeated. She rallied her remaining people behind her banner, and carved a path through the lines of the trap. Once she escaped, she brought her people in to harry the armies that had assaulted her, striking again and again, without warning, without sign, until the last Eeee soldier was dead or fled, and she had Diphath herself cornered and dismounted.
"Countess," Rephath told the woman, "You are a fool, and you have spent your armies for naught. I only crossed your lands that I might visit my own temple on this mountain. Had you let me alone, I would have done no offense to you or yours. But now that you have drawn my ire, I will see all that you have and all that you are destroyed."
Diphath, her wings broken and her body bleeding from a hundred wounds, wept and pled for her life. But the Goddess showed her no mercy, and dispatched her to her Sister, Death. She razed the dead Eeee's stronghold to the ground, leaving only a ruin of blasted rocks and a single broken statue to mark the place where once Diphath had reigned. The ruin she left, that all might take it as a warning of the consequences of crossing Rephath, and she cursed it, so that none would dare to settle there and so undo her warning, or come to offer tribute to Diphath's name.
I've heard rumors that Diphath is worshipped as a goddess in some of the outlying provinces, Cyprian adds. It may be this tale of her is not the oldest one.
The canine's head nods slightly to the unspoken words. Then, I wonder, why ever would the dream ritual piece take place in an abandoned temple of Diphath? You would think it would be Rephath they would choose, her temple and her priestesses, like it appears to be done with the others. I do wonder if this is a clue to the nature of how well the priestesses of Babel truly understand what transpires here? If they are unaware, surely this would enrage them … and be a useful tool, besides. Also I cannot fathom why Diphath would be dismounted in the story. I am unaware Eeee ever required mounts, what with having wings. Her head rolls and she turns to watch Cyprian quietly as their silent conversation continues.
Cyprian chuckles. My lady, you have legs so I am sure you have no need of Drokars, true?
Missy lifts a brow, smirking slightly. Point taken. However, I am simply wondering as to the nature of Diphath. But what of the priestesses? Have you any indication that they are aware of what transpires, of what I believe is a plot by someone within the palace itself?
As for using an abandoned temple … it would surprise me if the priestesses had assented to this and opened their temples to the Royal Mages. I should think they would judge it heresy, if they knew the truth of what was attempted, Cyprian relates. They know that their own powers have grown stronger, or waned in the case of those who have been defeated in dreams but if they know the cause, they do not speak of it. If they knew, as you suspect, that the Sisters were only being used as a waypoint towards some larger goal then I am sure they would be outraged.
Indeed. The ex-poodle's head lowers some, and her brow narrows, focused. Her hand idly reaches over to rest on her sword hilt, thumb rubbing the pommel as she considers. I never thought that I would say this, but it may well be the priestesses themselves may be useful in dealing with the ritual itself. If only I could be certain of their knowledge … and of how to approach them. Their age-long loyalty to the crown also worries me; I do not know enough of them to guess at whom they would side with if they knew they and their goddesses were being used. What think you?
If they knew their goddesses were being used, I am sure they would rebel. But therein lies the dilemma the Yodh have no love for the College, my lady. They would hardly take our word for it, no matter how many of us attested to the truth of it. And what proof could we offer, save the understanding we have gleaned through magical means? The mage's wings twitch, then settle against his back once more.
Perhaps if we did not tell them, but let them discover on their own … I do believe the Yodhbarada are insatiably curious. If information were planted, then they might be obligated to search, and discover the ritual themselves. From there I imagine a revolt could be expected and this in turn may allow us the breach in the palace defense in which we may operate. It would also not hurt to place a secret name to the planted information, one I might use to identify myself to the priestesses personally and keep them from knowing the College is active here. I am certain I could come up with a convincing cover story. Perhaps being an agent of a certain political group who seeks the throne, or whatnot. I am sure there is no lack of potential usurpers in Babel for them to mill over. A smile again crosses the Gallah's face, though unlike her last for it bears the mark of insidiousness. Of a plan forming. Yes, give them a lead … let them pursue it. They are capable.
Cyprian frowns, considering this. The Yodh must have already been given some kind of story to cover the mages' activity. Several, from different Sisters, have spoken with Mage Envoy, and the Exile, to be quite honest, is not one to keep any information she has from anyone, if asked. Either what Mage Envoy knows was not enough to raise suspicions, or they are keeping their doubts to themselves. Or they have some alternate explanation which satisfies their curiosity.
Missy shifts again, this time reaching up to tap a finger against the lip of her muzzle as she plots. Well, I shall consider it later. If it is impossible, then so be it. Now then, have you ventured to the palace? Or, close to the Tower of Babel that you were able to note any specifics? Guard changes, food deliveries, access ports, what have you. Also, have you any speculation as to just what the Seven Sisters could be called to form? I cannot help but feel there is a meaning to their being called; after all using them makes the ritual that much more obvious. If they simply wanted faceless power that could have been achieved in another manner I would think.
The Tower is little trafficked, m'lady. Only the most important representatives of the state, or the temples, are permitted within, and only rarely for them. Since the boomer, there may have been more people coming and going some rumor that the High Princess has considered retrieving other artifacts from within, to avenge our people against Rephidim but there are no regular "deliveries" to the tower. No one lives there, and few work within, Cyprian answers, after some consideration.
A nod in response to the Eeee's statement, and Missy tilts her head, looking up to the bat. She leans closer to watch him, placing her head against the top of the couch. Then it is likely that the Tower is unprotected inside … Do you know of ways to access it? I have considered a possible approach from within the Tower itself. I am however uncertain if there are ground level access ways. Certainly there must be some way to enter it, perhaps many ways, and even some leading to the palace. Do you know how one might enter the Tower?
Cyprian laughs. My lady, it may be that the Tower has no mortal guards upon it I do not know. I would, however, be quite shocked to learn it unprotected. There are entrances at the top of the Tower one each, facing north, south, east and west. When the Plaguebringers emerged, they carved their own exits that were sealed behind them, and I do not doubt that more such entrances exist, though where I cannot say. I have never heard of any entering the Tower from the ground level.
As for the High Princess's new Palace, Cyprian adds, I have been there on a number of occasions; an elaborate and expensive confection, that. Her Grace has a taste for the finer things, and a love for entertaining. Quite the opposite of the Tower, in truth you may find nobles and servants headed to and fro from within at all hours,
Missy just shakes her head, looking faintly worried up until the Eeee speaks of the palace. She does frown slightly however regardless. I had expected to assault the guards at an entrance using our combined efforts, then proceed through the Tower. But that need not be if the palace freely admits guests. If that is the case, well then, a group of us could infiltrate it right, as they say, under their noses. Still I dislike the idea of using disguise so close to the head of the serpent, where eyes might freely focus on us. But it may be the only option. Perhaps a distraction could facilitate our further incursion, or magic. In any case the role of the noble is not a role I am unaccustomed to.
The dark mage shakes his head. I am sorry, my lady, you misunderstand our geography. The Palace and the Tower are not, to my knowledge, connected.
After a moment, he adds, There were rumors of secret ways between the old Palace and the Tower, which perhaps you had heard. However, the old Palace was destroyed by the boomer. I doubt that the new one could have such hidden ways without it becoming common knowledge, as the construction was so recent.
Such is the peril of working within an unfamiliar country. I had not intended to visit Babel for, well, for as well as I was able to foresee, barring war or peace. Missy's head lifts again and she glances towards the window and notes the amount of light, if there is indeed any, and then looks to Cyprian. It is a troublesome mission we partake, Cyprian. If we should fail … in which case we undoubtedly would be killed in one fashion or another, you must flee Babel. Should we succeed there may arise a great commotion, depending on how we go about it, and you yet may need to vanish for a time. I wonder sometimes if we are capable enough to manage this at all. I tell you Cyprian, it gives me no pleasure to involve so many civilians in something so dangerous.
The sky holds the purple-blue cast of sunset, with pinpricks from the brightest "stars" in the Procession showing in an arc above. Civilians? The black Eeee holds out one hand to cup the canine's cheek. My lady, we are the mages. This is our war, not yours. I fear you are the civilian in this battle. He glances through the glass, and shakes his head. You had best be on your way.
When the disguised poodle returns to the front desk, she finds that Mage Flutenote has left behind a pack of the requested items, along with a sealed scrollcase, which she dutifully gathers and takes to her rakhtor, who doesn't appear to have eaten anyone in her absence. The flight back to the warehouse by a different route, at Cyprian's suggestion, after her recitation of troubles on the way there is mercifully uneventful.
The next several days seem hectic for the mages, as the scryers continue to focus their efforts on pinpointing the locations of the remaining outlying rituals. As it turns out, none of them are located in currently-used temples, although the one on Mount Zakaro is based from an abandoned shrine to that Sister. The one on Mount Gorphat is located in a supposedly cursed cave where, by legend, a hermit was slain by travelers who purported to seek his advice.
But the greatest fuss surrounds Fyiara. The Dean of Chaos closets with the two dream mages for some time, discussing the details of the spell, and then the three set out to accomplish it. The process is intricate and exhausting, even to watch, as the three work in sixteen hour shifts, with two of them chanting together at any given time. The main work, Elise is told, is done by Fyiara, but the two dream mages continue the chant while she sleeps, to keep the ritual from dissipating before it can be completed. The regimen of chanting allows only the briefest of breaks, to grab a bite here, frequent sips of drink to keep all-too-dry throats moist.
The constant drone of chanting blurs into the rhythm of life for Elise and the other guards, a sound that accompanies them waking or sleeping, and only becomes noticeable if, for any reason, it stops.
On the twenty-first day after Elise's return from the Guild Hall, it stops.