Higher Institute of Sorcery and the Supernatural
Favored by the Emperor-Potentate, this university sprawls over a wide campus of greenery, with packed sand paths between the buildings to afford good traction for its dominantly Naga students. (there are very few students of other species here) Poles with rungs sticking out in two or more directions serve as ladders from one level to another, though the more heavily used buildings also have long sloping ramps to allow the passage of wagons and small drokkar-pulled carts. The administrative buildings are crafted of a smooth orange-veined marble that looks almost melted into graceful sweeping curves, engraved with gilt in complex curliques… But the student dormitories and labs are built mostly of wood, evidencing the need to rebuild them every so often as experiments get out of control.
Inquisitor's Zeffel's Log. Despite the Exile known as Envoy receiving several wounds due to her involvement stopping a riot in Freedom Park (an atypical action that merits further study), Senior Investigator Kani will be able to proceed on schedule with her and the Technopriestess known as Buran Atiedei, who will provide any needed healing services. Together with them will depart Dean Malthus and a small delegation of mages from the Collegia Esoterica, a service kindly provided us in exchange for future services and a small meritorium.
I would have assigned a small force of fifty elite guards, perhaps some of the Templars as well, to provide protection for the ceremony, but there were certain diplomatic issues raised in discussion with their Minister of External Affairs, to the effect that only six guards will be provided, and of these, only two will be permitted in the room where the ceremony is to be held. Meanwhile, the Naga Empire is assured that it will have observers present, and that one of their mages, a Qing of the Sphere of Spirit, will be employed to assure that there is no chance that any improprieties will occur toward the body of the Mind-Mage Isstan.
This affair rapidly exceeds all bounds of belief, but hopefully some useful results will be produced. I have just now returned from seeing Senior Investigator Kani off, and I am confident that, Rephidim's position being advantageous, we should gain further understanding into the nature of the 'conspiracy' that may threaten the Temple within the space of a day…
Bassai and Qing stand outside the carved wood portico to the laboratory where the ceremony will be held. The Temple contingent should have been here several hours ago, but undoubtedly they will claim exigencies of the wind or other such difficulties that kept them from making their scheduled arrival on time.
A delegation of six elite Imperial guards stand nearby, or rather, rest in coiled position, their heads and bodies held upright proudly. In practice, only one Imperial guard will be permitted inside, as will one of the Temple guards, but since the Temple has insisted on sending a small show of armed force, the Minister of External Affairs has decided that Bassai can be honored with nothing less, lest the Empire be seen as uncaring of the lives of its Ministers.
"This severely interrupts my schedule. I'm almost inclined to believe it is meant as a personal insult." The Ringneck Naga hisses, "I think however incompetence is a better explanation than maliciousness. Will the delay effect you and your assisstant any Qing?"
A garter slithers at a breakcoil pace, chasing after Bassai. "Minisssster! Minissster!" he hisses, waving one little claw at the much larger Ringneck Naga.
The Witch-Doctor adjusts a hat on his head, a wide bowl of black lacquered wood meant to shade his eyes. "I'm being forced to hold some of the energies for the spell longer than I'd like, but it is tolerable, for the present," he hisses. A tiny bit of agitation still registers on his reptilian face, however.
The minister looks at the garter, flicking out his tongue, "Yes? What is it? Have they finally arrived?"
"They?" the garter blinks, looking confused. "I've no idea, ssssir," he hisses. "But I have newsss for you. When you are available, there may be matterssss requiring your attention, assss Minissster of Ssssavanite Affairsss."
The little snake quickly ducks his head. "But of courssse … they can wait."
"Many things are being made to wait today. This matter however, has been unsettled for several months. Inform me if this new situation becomes extreme, but I hope we will see a swift resolution today." Bassai hisses back to the little garter.
The garter ducks his head several times in a bowing gesture. "Of coursssse, Minissster. Good day, Minisssster." And with that, he darts away, deftly weaving about to avoid being unduly tread upon.
In the distance, near the entrance to the Higher Institute of Sorcery and the Supernatural, several carriages pull up. The carriages are not themselves permitted on the grounds because of the damage they would cause to the paths (especially if they overran a distracted student or two), so a group of visitors step out, and several men (vaguely seen far away) move to one of the carriage and pull out a litter, into which they help a winged figure.
The figures make their slow trek up the gentle slope of the university grounds.
Qing places a few lit blocks of incense in a small chitin censer. They war with the smell of embalming fluid that seems to hang around the Rokuga, but he appears satisfied anyway, mumbling a few words to himself that don't seem to make much sense. He looks up at the approaching entourage. "Another one? You'll have to wait until my office is open again before I can start another preserving process. Tell me when she's dead, and I'll take care of things after this ceremony."
A Copperhead Naga slithers up behind Qing, wearing the robes of a junior mage. He watches the witch-doctors actions for a moment then hisses, "Do you need my assisstance now… sir?"
Off to one side of Envoy, a formal figure walks, his silver-tipped black fur a sharp contrast to his intense amber eyes. And from his dark smokey gray padded shouldermantles and tunic to even darker swirling cape and dark red Star and Anchor insignias, doesn't look like someone apt to be in good spirits. But then, anyone who knew him would agree that Ciar is not the sort to know what good spirits even are.
Envoy strains her neck and fidgets, trying to see everything she can. "Are you sure I can't walk yet, Buran?" she asks the other robed figure next to her.
"Most of the ritual should be complete, Zarhx." replies Qing with a curt nod. His impassive eyes remain on the assemblage, four arms crossed and two holding the censer on the end of a wood handle.
A large Naga with black scales, and adorned in shimmering robes and a tall ceremonial hat slithers along with the procession, his clasped together so that his hands are hidden underneath his merged sleeves. His eyes are narrow-slitted, his gaze fixed distant, as if he does not need to look upon the physical things of this world to find his path.
Buran whispers back, "No. Not without opening those slashes again."
Ciar glances sideways at Envoy, speaking only once. "No." He then strides calmly up to the Naga delegation, executing a formal bow… though his expression does not change. "The representatives of the Temple of Rephidim greet you, and thank you for your assistance in this matter involving one of your respected and honorable citizens, may he rest in peace."
Behind the majestic black robed Naga follows a Rath'ani in somewhat more subdued robes, his colors gray misted near the hem to silvery white. He carries a sack over one shoulder, undoubtedly filled with the implements of the trade that his master is too important to tote about.
Bassai returns the bow, "Let us hope then that this ritual does not disturb his rest. It is being conducted only in the interest of favorable relations with the Temple. It is a gross indignity to someone who has already suffered."
Envoy cranes her neck, and smiles to the Ringnecked Naga. "Hello, Scholar Bassai!"
The Ringneck Naga gives a slight nod in Envoy's direction, then directs his comments to Ciar. "A room has been prepared, I trust you are all ready to commence?"
Ciar nods quietly. "Perhaps. But it shall hopefully serve to insure that others do not suffer. And I believe that Isstan would well have wished to protect other citizens of the Empire, as well as their allies of the Temple, from future harm. He was a most honorable individual, and in this way, perhaps, he can yet again serve the Empire one last time before his final rest."
Ciar gestures smoothly. "Yes, we are. Please, do as you wish, we shall follow and observe."
Buran makes sure that her supplies have survived the wild ride to the University. Whatever Envoy is planning, it wouldn't reflect well for her to fall ill in the middle of it.
For his part, Qing remains mostly quiet. He takes only a moment to look at Ciar over his shaded glasses before giving a quiet signal to four of the Imperial guards and his assistant.
"Come then, there will be time for social pleasantries after this task," Bassai gives Envoy a lingering look. "We will follow the honour guard, and you will follow us. There is no need for further delays."
The Imperial guards, all deadly-looking vipers, bow to the Spirit Mage and slither off to one of the nearby rooms. In due course, they return carrying a lacquered palanquin, within the silky curtains of which can be seen the motionless body of Isstan. Perhaps it is the unique way that the Naga Empire treats its dead that makes the rider seem as if he was not dead, simply… sleeping.
Ciar watches impassively, only his ears and whiskers moving a bit. He stays respectfully silent at this point.
The raccoon mage stays close to his master, Dean Malthus. He is a grizzled and old fellow, undoubtedly a professor with tenure in his own right, but the Naga guards do seem to make him nervous.
Envoy blinks, but remains quiet. The design of the building is perhaps making her feel a bit homesick.
The Temple guards stoop around Envoy to pick up her litter so that she can be borne in after the rest.
The copperhead Naga leads the procession, slowly swinging the specially prepared censer as he does, leaving thin lines of pale smoke that curl around the palanquin. To the right of the procession, Qing glides along, muttering formal prayers about 'sanctity of legacy' and 'undeserving lesser beings'.
Bassai follows on the left, a coil behind Qing, giving Isstan an honorable distance.
Ciar's ears swivel to bear on Qing, and he silently fixes the Naga with an intense amber stare… but says nothing.
Lidless ruby eyes look balefully back, but the prayers continue their relaxed rhythm.
The spell room itself has been sheathed in some heavy black wood oiled until it gleams, and braziers burn brightly at each of the four corners and each of the four sides, even though it is bright daylight outside; there is no skylight above to let in any of the sunlight. The guards bring the body in and respectfully, according to Qing's directions, position Isstan's body within one of the circles, geometric patterns in some hard-to-erase chalky colors radiating from there to enclose other figures. Envoy has been directed to another such circle, directly opposite from the body; Qing and Malthus occupy the same circle at a point halfway and to the side.
Once all the participants have been ushered in, and the observers relegated to the sidelines, five of the Temple guards and five of the Naga Empire guards file outside the room, leaving two armed soldiers within and glancing at each other uneasily, at the door.
The smell of incense fills the air.
The large black Naga, Malthus, is engaged in intricate ritual, setting up colored stones with crude runes chipped into their otherwise smooth surfaces, and arranging them in circular patterns about himself, alternating with dimly-flickering candles.
Buran settles herself just outside the spell-diagram, as close to Envoy as she can get without crossing or smudging any of the lines. Her satchel of healer's supplies is on the floor next to her. The Sphynx watches Malthus in fascinated silence.
Envoy eyes the preparations closely. They aren't the same ones Isstan made, so she assumes they are part of another spell.
Qing's droning monotone continues, but has passed into a language largely incomprehensible for many of those present. It's soft and relaxed, with drawn-out 's's that sound whenever the Witch-Doctor takes a slow breath out. All six arms twist and contort around him, like pale snakes attached to a larger ones.
Ciar quietly moves around the sidelines, dark cape swirling silently, until he's at a point were he's unobstructed in an approach to Envoy. And closest to her at an angle to most of the others in the room. He watches quietly, fixing his gaze on each occupant of the room, his form blending into the shadows between braziers… all except for his eyes, which shine brightly in reflected light. His ears seem to flick back and forth a bit as well. Listening.
Zarhx finishes a final circle of the room, bearing the censure and wafting the incense to all corners. He slithers to a spot just behind Qing, and waits for instructions. The Copperhead stares coldly at the Temple contingent, letting his baleful gaze focus specifically on Ciar, Buran, the one guard, and Envoy. His looks always seem to return to the Inquisitor, listening in the shadows.
Bassai has taken another isolated area of the room to stand alone in; One that puts him well away from all participants, but allows him a direct view of Qing, Dean Malthias and Envoy's expressions. His own is blank and patient.
"Almath… ssala… dre'lo… Isstan… tha'toss… ssala… dre'lo… Nagai… " One hand disappears under Qing's mantle, reappearing with a vial of red liquid in a smooth motion that doesn't interrupt his odd dance.
Envoy sits patiently, waiting for someone to give her instructions. She wonders if she should recite the chants that Isstan was using during the original ill-fated ritual.
Dean Malthus, his patterns of stones complete, takes out chalks and overlays a new circle about himself, weaving about the stones.
The black Inquisitor tenses slightly at the reaching of the hand into the mantle, then relaxes as the vial is revealed. He shifts position, his arms crossed quietly in front of his dark padded tunic.
"Malgath… ssala… dre'lo… Sshanalmostra-Ul-Nagasstrathti." Qing freezes for a split second, the red tinged vial held above high above his head. With his prayer complete, the mage hurls the glass tube into the circle holding Isstan, where it splinters into dozens of crystal shards. The red liquid splashes outward… but evaporates nearly instantly.
His circle-weaving complete, Dean Malthus folds his hands back together, his tongue flicking as he quietly chants, his eyelids narrowed to the point of being almost closed.
Envoy blinks three times at the breaking of the vial, and watches Isstan's body closely.
Ciar tenses slightly again at the sudden movement… but does not move himself, only watches.
The Sphynx's ears flick back in surprise, and she automatically looks around to see if anyone was hurt by the shards.
Buran's attention returns to Malthus when it seems that this isn't the case.
Bassai hisses quietly, his voice barely audible and directed towards Ciar and Buran, "I remind you why you are here, to investigate the death of a mage who was interrupted during a ceremony. I am sure any sudden movements are part of it, and you should endeavor to restrain yourselves. Force will not stop the energies they are using."
The Rath'ani mage begins working on his own set of circles, using a chalky paste he has just finished mixing (from what appears to be bone meal and other distasteful substances) to lay them out, adding numerous sigils. He frowns intently upon his work, glancing frequently toward Isstan and the Nagai mages.
One by one, the braziers on the walls gutter out, their yellow glows giving way to a pale blue off-light around each circle. Chill drafts circulate around the room, wriggling across observers like invisible eels. The Witch-Doctor speaks, but barely above a whisper. "Arise, that which was part of Isstan… coalesce from the rubble of an existence thought destroyed… rejoin us… drink of the essence of life, and rejoin us… though Isstan is no more… may his legacy take corporeal form… "
The guards gasp at the sudden coolness of the room, looking toward each other. The eldritch blue light reflects in their eyes.
Envoy just blinks and keeps still.
Zarhx stands ready behind Qing, a coppery shadow with a white mouth that makes him resemble the Witch Doctor. He stares, as if trying to make his eyes as cold as the room, and watches Buran.
Ciar stays visible only as a cold pair of dimly blue-lit eyes himself. Still unmoving, though he gives the guards a quiet, intense glance before returning his attention to the circles.
With a hissing noise like water cast upon black stone in mid-day in the Himaat, what looks like steam rises from the floor, coalescing into a writhing tendril.
The Ringneck Naga stares at the shapes formed by the smoke. He remains still, watching.
The fox's gaze drifts to each of the mages' faces and to Envoy's and Bassai's as well. Watching their reactions, rather than what they're reacting to.
The Exile stares as well, trying not to lean forwards.
Like the light cast by a crystal trinket dangling from a merchant's booth and twirling in the breeze, fragments of color draw themselves out from the walls, sinking in toward the writhing tendril.
"Zarhx… " hisses Qing, his voice tense with concentration. "The apparition forms… strengthen it with more blood, then place the warding stones at the four corners… "
Bassai shows few reactions, a creasing of his eyeridges, and almost flick of his tongue, otherwise he is motionless.
Though the Rath'ani continues to chant, his voice sounds increasingly far away.
The fragments align themselves, stretching, contorting, melting … then congealing. The tendrils and points of light seem less like projections now, and more like something solid yet translucent that weaves just above the floor. More so, it suggests the shape of a Naga … but not a whole one. Ribs, the empty eye socket of a skull, an amorphous membrane that suggests molten skin … fragments of Isstan's form roughly held together in a way that suggests a corpse, but not one affected by any natural process of decay, and one all too animate.
Buran's gaze flickers to Zarhx for a brief moment, refusing to apologize for her concern, but acknowledging the necessity of stillness, then concentrates itself upon the … apparition, if that is the best word.
Envoy stares in fascination, pondering the possibilities. Suppose such a spirit could be impressed into another organism…
Slowly, some of the gaps in this apparition fill themselves in, caricatures of life. Isstan's form is traced out, and recognizable only in the most abstract sense. The way that the image's form quivers and periodically loses its composition, it is not hard to believe that it would instantly disintegrate without the sustenance of magic.
Ciar stays motionless as well, the edges of his dark cape wavering softly like a shadow in the chill drafts. His eyes still rest more on the reactions of those present, the apparition itself at the edge of his perception.
The Copperhead Naga reaches into the folds of his sleeves, bringing forth two vials that he shatters where the mists are thickest inside the circle. Instead of exploding outwards as before, the blood from the vials flows into the translucent form, as if filling Isstan's long vanished veins. The brilliant red fades as it flows up the ghostly shape, and in doing so, strengthens the corporeal appearance.
Zarhx then takes the ward stones from the table behind the witch doctor, and slithers to each corner.
The mouth, broken enough so that it suggests more so a pair of mandibles, splays wide, as if the ghostly Naga were swallowing a truffle whole. A gurgling shriek rips out of the ghost, assaulting the ears and other senses less well defined of all those present.
The scream dies away, and the apparition steadies … somewhat. Its broken jaw seals together, bridged by tiny scarlet ribbons until it fuses entirely.
Envoy draws back and lowers her ears at the shriek. It doesn't sound very pleasant…
Buran's ears slowly perk back upright amazingly, they were her only visible reaction to that terrible scream.
Bassai's eyes widen, and he pulls back. His gaze remains fixed on the eerie sight.
Vulpine ears flatten back at the sound as Ciar's hackles rise involuntarily, his claws silently tensing at his fingertips and against the cold floor… yet he still does not move.
The Copperhead also retreats from the shriek, then resumes placing the stones around the participants. His stare is almost locked on Envoy, the Rephidim guard, then Buran and Ciar, as he passes them in the room. He doesn't share such looks with the other Nagas present, or even the Rath'ani assissting Malthus.
Envoy doesn't even notice the Spirit Mage's assistant. Her attention is completely focused on the image of Isstan.
Qing presses the palms of his top set of hands together, held upright and raised before his face. His other arms are held out to either side. "Spirit of Isstan… that which was, and has returned… we ask of thee a boon. Take hold, and reside within the vessel we offer, that thou mayst clear a stain on thine immortal honor, and expose thy tormentors."
The hollow sockets of the apparition's eyes fill with orbs of luminescent red. The face turns to bear on Qing. "Vessel?" it hisses in a voice that echoes in Rephidim Standard, Imperial and a couple of other languages at the same time … the effect making it difficult to discern each word. "You offer nozhink. Let me go!" It hisses at Qing, bearing gleaming if ethereal fangs.
Envoy blinks in surprise. That doesn't seem very much like Isstan…
Zarhx stands opposite Qing, on the other side of the ritual chalk markings. Like an eerie mirror with fewer arms, he mimics the actions of the witch-doctor.
The Exile's feathers suddenly poof out, and she looks over her shoulder with a worried expression.
A shudder runs through Buran, despite her efforts to remain still.
There's nothing behind the Aeolun.
Ciar's outline suddenly and visibly shivers. He shakes his head, then looks at the apparition, ears flattened, his form tense.
The Copperhead pauses in his gestures, to stare at Envoy, then continues.
Envoy turns back to face the ghost-image, and whispers under her breath, "Isstan?"
The fox shows a flash of white teeth as he regains his composure, then silently glances at the faces of the other occupants of the room.
The apparition's head lashes around so quickly that it blurs, and takes a moment to coalesce into a more 'solid' form once facing the Exile. "You," it hisses.
The Witch-Doctor's lowest set of hands takes a clay urn with a stick in it from the table, the rest of the Rokuga in the same position, for Zarhx to follow. The lower arms flick droplets of red liquid at Isstan's ghost, while the mage speaks. "Isstan's living memory is besmirched, spirit. Though his soul has become nothingness in the belly of the Great Serpent, the deeds that live on are shadowed… Isstan's legacy is dying, spirit."
Bassai turns a little, to follow Isstan's focus, still watching quietly with his arms folded.
The ghost hisses as if in pain, snapping back to face the Witch-Doctor. "You taunt me! How does my legacy die?"
Envoy opens and then closes her mouth.
Qing's assistant starts into motion again, following the witch-doctor's gestures. He keeps glancing in the Aeolun's direction every now and then.
The Exile's wings twitch, and she looks over her shoulder again. Somehow, her tail has found it's way into her lap, and she's holding it tightly in her hands.
The apparition's coils creep about, rolling and unrolling while it awaits a response.
Envoy turns back towards Isstan, with a confused look on her face.
"The lesser beings mock you, spirit," murmurs the Witch-Doctor. He stops flicking blood at the apparition. "The body you shed was mistreated. Only we, the Nagai that yet live, could have brought you back… " He flicks a few more droplets, his voice low and smooth. "The outsiders persist however… the only way we may let Isstan's memory finally come to rest is by clearing the matter once and for all. Isstan's memories are the most pure… share them with us… "
The apparition's eyeslits narrow. "Is that truly what you wissssh from a mage of the Sssssphere of Mind?" he hisses with a rattling undertone, his accent changed again.
Ciar looks at Envoy, his eyes now reflecting the supernatural light of the apparition. And then at the apparition itself, his head tilting a little at the change of accent.
Envoy frowns. This just doesn't feel… right.
Zarhx slithers over, flicking droplets to wet the ground that Qing has. He lingers in front of the keiltyn, blocking the view.
Also watching Envoy closely is Buran, whose careful scrutiny keeps watch for any sign of injury to the Exile.
Bassai lets his gaze rest instead on the preparations Malthus and his assistant are making. He watches to see what the dark Naga does in response to this strange behaviour of someone he presumably knew well.
Flick-flick-flick. Tiny red droplets pepper the spirit, and vanish. "Yesss… good… " hisses Qing soothingly. Sort of. "This is precisely what we hope to achieve. We have even brought a colleague for you, that this process may be as smooth as possible. It is for Isstan's benefit as much as ours… that part of him which lives."
Ciar tries to peer around Zarhx, his nosepad quivering as he tries to pick up on the scent of the blood… to see if it is, indeed, that.
Dean Malthus hisses in Imperial, "Honored Isstan, your advances in transplanting of memories are well remembered. But the matter of your death is not. We wish to recreate the ritual you last took part in. We wish to find out who attacked you. Can you help me? Please, guide me through the spells you cast."
The Copperhead's white fingertips are reddened from the bowl of viscous fluid he dips them in. The scent wafts into the fox's nose: blood, without a doubt.
The apparition dissolves slightly for a moment, then reforms. "As you wish," it intones … then suddenly melts into the floor.
Ciar's ears flick up, startled.
Envoy frowns further.
Zarhx looks questioningly at Qing, before staring once more at Envoy.
Ciar stares at the mages intently, questioningly.
Bassai flicks out his tongue, slithering forward as if to interrupt, then halting as he thinks better of it. Malthus has his attention, and he watches the Dean for any unexplained changes.
Qing's shoulders sag, letting his arms fall from their warding patterns. The Witch-Doctor leans on his work table a little for support, making less of his length be forced to stand up. "It is… all right," he hisses, breathing a little heavier than before.
Malthus shows no outward signs of any change. He stands still within his circle, eyes narrowed to slits … then closing entirely.
Envoy watches Malthus as well, hoping for a hint at to what's going on.
The silverblack fox turns his attention to Malthus… watching both his face and his body for signs of movement. His eyes narrow.
Malthus fidgets with his hands constantly in repeating, meaningless cycles, his head bobbing slightly, his body rocking just as slightly, his gaze dull and focused on nothing in particular. He appears the part of someone in deep contemplation … or lost in a world of his own creation.
Envoy begins to fidget and glance around the room, as if looking for something.
Noticing Malthus' behaviour, Envoy risks a whisper to Buran, "The Dean is starting to act like Isstan was before our ritual, when he was supposedly ill and being treated. Disturbed by visions, he'd said."
Ciar suddenly glares at Envoy, raising a single finger to his muzzletip.
At Envoy's whisper, the Dean snaps out of his trance, and turns to gaze at the alien, his tongue flicking toward her.
Ciar stops. And turns back to watch Malthus, trying to notice any differences from his previous movements.
Zarhx also turns his attention towards the Aeolun, following Malthus' gaze.
"Yes," says the black Naga in Rephidim Standard, with only the barest traces of a hiss on the "s".
Qing looks satisfied to just sit back upright again. He rests on a base of his own coils, and watches with his arms tucked under his white mantle.
Buran shakes her head, just the slightest bit, in a 'now you've done it' gesture. Like Ciar, she signals Envoy to be quiet. Explanations can come later.
The Ringneck Naga finds himself reaching up to where a pendant might hang around his throat. With a quiet hiss and an annoyed flick of his head, he slides his hands into his robe, and listens, and watches…
There is something different about the Dean's stature. He doesn't seem to have that regal, proud bearing that is indicative of almost any Naga, even in the lowly Garters. The Dean hisses, "Nothing is so important."
Ciar's eyes narrow further as he notices the rather profound change.
Envoy slumps down and keeps quiet.
The Dean's gaze focuses on Envoy or rather on where her face was before she slumped down. The snake asks, "What sort of illegal activities?"
Envoy looks back up. That's something from her pre-ritual conversation with Isstan!
The Dean says, "That sounds fairly impressive. That would require a true master of the Sphere of Mind."
Bassai glances away from the Dean, unable to stare at a Naga who bears so much shame.
The Dean nods. "And most of them are dead."
The Rath'ani mage had stopped chanting some minutes ago, and now looks up intently at his Dean who appears to be holding a one-sided conversation with Envoy.
Ciar blinks, tilting his head at the apparition. Bits and pieces of memory, it sounds like. He watches Envoy and notes her recognition.
Buran's eyes turn toward Dean Malthus, surprise at the sudden change showing in them. Then they return to Envoy after a few long minutes.
"What was your part in this Envoy?" Bassai hisses quietly, "What were you asking him to do? Who are dead? This ritual is to recreate what happened, you should add your side."
"Death is a curious thing. So is life. Are you alive, alien?" the Dean asks in a distant-sounding voice. There is a pause, then he nods. "Technically, you say. Death can be technical as well." His conversation continues, speaking of mysterious things, and then … "As for Shadowspite, that one is truly legendary. He can only be contacted by way of the Faceless Men."
The Witch-Doctor looks to observe impassively, but his shaded glasses are off, his unblinking crimson eyes trained on a spot between Malthus and Envoy.
Another pause where he looks to be deep in thought, then the Dean says, "Who can tell? There are many Guild Halls. Perhaps you could find some in Babel and Nagai."
Envoy tears her gaze away from Malthus, and tells Bassai, "I had come to see Isstan to find out if he knew of any Mind Mages that would work for criminals, because a friend of mind had been put under a spell by one to make him think he was the assassin Shadowspite… "
"No," says the Dean.
Ciar's eyes open wide, and his ears perk. He quickly makes mental notes, as he _does_ seem to recognize that name… Shadowspite. Faceless men? A valuable clue, perhaps… At any rate, he listens very, very carefully.
Envoy says, "Now he's responding to the question I asked about records regarding Mages… "
"Answer Isstan, ask Isstan. Not me. Show us your half of it, I think things will work better if you do exactly what you did before." Bassai hisses.
The Dean continues speaking, and then, he looks over toward the door … then back to Envoy. "Be careful to speak of the City of Hands." Another pause. "If you do not know why, then there will be no end to the trouble." Another pause. "Ignorance is bliss, but bliss is no more."
Envoy turns to the Dean, and asks, "Bliss is no more than what?" Just what she asked Isstan.
The Dean responds, looking at Envoy, "No more than nothing. It slips away. It is but an illusion as is so much we take for reality. I have seen much since we last parted."
Ciar nods his approval to Bassai.
The Dean quickly adds, "And here you shall ask what. But do not bother."
Envoy asks, "Can you show me instead?"
"Show you?" responds the black Naga, a flicker of emotion showing through the haze.
Zarhx remains focused on Envoy, as motionless as Qing is, his eyes narrowed to slits.
Envoy asks, "You can transfer memories still, can't you?" This isn't too different from acting…
"You wish my memories, then?" asks Dean Malthus.
Envoy nods, and asks, "I need to know what has passed, if I am to understand the danger of the truth."
The Dean responds, "You ask for something of mine. What do you offer in return?"
Bassai takes out a pad, and starts jotting down the conversation in short form.
Envoy offers, "I can show you what really happened inside the Palace of the Priest King." Then, aside to the others, "Isstan was unconscious for the final confrontation… "
The blue-lit braziers burn lower still, with a feeling that the shadows are pressing out of the corners of the room. The guards look on nervously and feel for their weapons.
The dark Naga's head jerks back a bit at this, and something … ethereal … unsettles about the sides of his neck … but he regains what composure he has. "That would be a reasonable exchange," the Dean replies at last. "Bear with me, while I make preparations."
Ciar gives the guards a warning glance and shakes his head. He keeps his attention on the changes, glancing at and listening to everything.
Envoy says to the others, "While Isstan made his preparations, I asked my companion if I was doing the right thing. He said that he did not trust the Mage, but conceded that he didn't seem to be hiding anything… and that he was afraid."
The Dean looks as if he is pantomiming, going through the motions with imaginary objects.
The Temple guard drops his gaze and lowers his hands.
Qing finally moves, and it doesn't look anticipated. With a slight jerk, the Witch-Doctor starts.
The candlesticks the Dean rearranges, however, are quite real.
Envoy watches closely, to see that the Dean is recreating events accurately.
Ciar tenses quickly, watching Qing.
With chalks, the Dean makes yet another runic circle … this one running across the lines he has already transcribed on the floor about his coils.
The Witch-Doctor's sudden motion catches Bassai's attention, he looks up and sees Malthus adjusting the candles. His pencil is poised over the paper, and he glances at Qing questioningly.
The Dean finishes a second circle, one that overlaps some of his previous work, but is nonetheless a separate construct. That done, he slithers back to his original position.
The Rath'ani mage starts to look worried, looking over to his colleague, Qing.
Envoy warns the others, "Isstan's ritual took several hours of chanting."
"Were those markings part of it?" Bassai hisses.
The spirit mage's returned gaze holds a vaguely disturbed look, which is more expression than the Witch-Doctor has used during the entire night.
The Dean announces, "It is ready. Please. Be seated within the center of the circle," he gestures to the new one of chalk, "but be careful not to disturb any of the lines of chalk, or the candles." As for disturbing lines, they look somewhat disturbed already, with how they overlay the Dean's previous constructions.
Ciar's paw slides quietly along the edge of his tunic's ornamental sash, then behind its edge. He holds it there, watching Qing, his posture tensed.
Envoy moves carefully to the new circle, her limbs a bit stiff in their bandages…
Dean Malthus chants and sways, going through an intricate ritual.
Envoy listens to the familiar chant, closing her eyes and opening her mind.
One of Qing's arms draws itself from the white Rokuga's mantle, sifting slowly, as if idly, through a bag on the work table.
Buran watches Envoy, mentally noting which bandages are likely to need replacement after this. She carefully and (as unobtrusively as possible) tugs her bag of supplies closer.
Ciar growls very quietly, deep in his throat, and tries to get Qing's attention without disrupting the ceremony. His eyes narrow as he edges closer to the circle, keeping an unobstructed path between himself and the witch-doctor.
An hour goes past. Plenty of time to cast a ritual of the nature Isstan supposedly performed. But he shows no signs of stopping.
The Rath'ani mage looks edgy.
The Copperhead sways suddenly, after the long period of stillness where he was simply observing Envoy. He rubs beside his eyes, and seems distracted, and glances once towards Qing.
Envoy relaxes visibly.
Zarhx starts to mumble quietly, his words barely audible, "You must relax, You must not resist the images coming … nor those passing out."
The Exile's cheek twitches…
The Witch-Doctor has occupied himself at the work table, muttering nearly inaudible things to himself, and describing odd shapes in the air with his hands. Some hastily discarded ritualistic tools are shoved off to one side, leaving the same ordinary-looking bag alone on the table
The firelight of the braziers flickers as if stirred by a wind … a wind that is felt by none gathered … and then all lights in the room go out entirely, save for the foxfire glow of the magical circles themselves.
Ciar quickly listens around for any sudden movement as his eyes adapt.
"There are more people in this room, its like a crowd. Many thoughts… it's hard to pick out just hers and what she hears." Zarhx hisses quietly, "It's becoming hard to concentrate… "
Where the overlapping runic circles cross over, there are visible glowing moire patterns of random, writhing color.
Bassai looks at the guards at the door, and Ciar's increasing nervousness. "Inquisitor, you have a Soldier. I do not advise you interfering personally, in fact I advise you stand back until the mages indicate this is other than what they expect."
"Something is not right, Minister," murmurs Qing to the ringneck Naga beside him. "Something is… was here. It was completely unidentifiable."
Ciar turns to regard Bassai coldly, and speaks in a dry whisper, so as not to interfere with the mages. "I am aware of my duty. And considering the outcome of the original ceremony, perhaps the indication of mages might not be a valid and timely warning."
Ciar looks to Qing. And considers that. Then looks to Bassai again. "Other than what they expect, I believe."
"It was there for only a moment," whispers the Witch-Doctor, half to the Minister, half to himself. "I must see if Malthus' aide knows to… "
The Rath'ani whispers in a dry voice to Qing, as if his lips were parched, "He expected something strange to happen. Wait and see, colleague."
Time passes … slowly … painfully slowly. And when it seems that it will go on forever … when four hours or better have gone into this dreadful ritual … a trickle of blood runs down from the side of Dean Malthus' mouth.
Malthus' eyes snap open!
Envoy suddenly gasps for breath, while still in her trance…
Noticing the thin line of blood, the first change in a long while, and a not very good seeming one, Bassai slithers towards the Sphynx. He slides quietly on the stones and hisses to her, "Get ready with your supplies."
The Inquisitor focuses on Malthus and Envoy, glancing from one to the other.
Buran's eyes focus on that drop of blood … then she shivers again, ears and whiskers perking. Her gaze begins to dart around the room as if looking for something.
The Dean of Mind shouts, "IT'S HERE!" in Imperial … and his upper body jerks backward as if to avoid a physical blow!
Ciar jumps! and looks around hurriedly.
"Sssomething about this… is making my fangs ooze… and my coils tense… " whispers Qing. He picks up the bag from the table. "This is… bad ma-" At the sudden movement, the whisper erupts into a hiss, like scalding water.
The braziers ablaze with fire once more … and then are ripped from their places, scattering hot burning coals across the room!
Bassai points at the Imperial Guard, "Open the door, get a healer." He twists, wriggling to duck the flying coals.
Ciar yelps surprisedly and dodges a sizzling coal, then looks across the circle at Bassai. "Would this qualify as 'other than expected'? He nods, and gestures to his Temple guard. "Let the Imperial find a healer, remain here. Stay your weapons."
The apparition of Isstan bursts up from the floor again, its coils whipping wildly in a way that suggests a cyclone. It lets out an unearthly scream … and then bursts into fragments that sizzle into nothingness.
Buran lets out an involuntary shout as she evades skidding coals, making a desperate grab for her bag of supplies. Hopefully, none of the coals ignited it.
"I wouldn't know, you did not supply me with a transcript of what supposedly happened the first time. Qing, are you still in control?" Bassai hisses loudly.
Envoy doesn't react to anything going on in the room.
The Imperial guard stands frozen for the moment… Then hisses in Imperial, "Falling Swords!" He hurries to the door, and pulls on the handle.
"Zarhx, what is happening, what is going between them?" The Ringneck Naga demands, staring at the Copperhead.
"It won't open!" the panicked Naga guard exclaims. "We are trapped in here, Minister!"
Ciar shields his eyes as the apparition shatters, then looks at Envoy, watching to see that she's still breathing alright before ducking slightly into a defensive crouch, ready for whatever happens next… or to move somewhere, if necessary.
Coals and errant bits of dust, crystal shards, and other flying objects whip around Qing, his mantle flutter. "By the Might of the Majestic One of Infinite Coils and Inscrutable Mysteries… instill within me the power to banish that which seeks to destroy… "
Envoy's face is lined with tension, but she's still breathing.
Bassai moves in front of the Copperhead, blocking his vision and staring at him. "Answer! What aren't we seeing?"
Ciar's dark cape ripples in the same wind as he stands fully up again, still tensed and ready, but trying his best to maintain authority in the face of forces he's never before seen. "Who is causing this?"
At each point of the compass about the room, where the braziers once rested, thick black smoke rises … but like the formation of the apparition of Isstan, the 'smoke' coalesces, into eight distorted forms. Each of them looks like a collage of pieces that vaguely look like pieces of corpses, tatters of cloth or skin waving in an unfelt breeze, trailing off until they vanish into nothingness. Their faces are a mangle of parts, some having what appear to be a multitude of eyes, or just two, or a single one, offset. Asymmetrical and chaotic, they appear to be vaguely humanoid, but their bodies below the torso fade into insubstantiality. They hover, watching, waiting.
The Sphynx scoops up her supplies, holding them tightly lest they be ripped from her hands. Her ears flick back against her skull as she, too, instinctively adopts a defensive posture, fur still standing on end.
The Temple guard puts his hand to his sword, looking around the room wildly. He is a Jupani, wearing a black armband over one chitin-enclosed arm, but at the moment vanished homelands are the farthest thing from his mind.
The Imperial guard, seeing no answer from Bassai, begins hammering on the door.
Bassai hesitates, watching the forms in the corner.
Ciar growls quietly and deeply, showing his teeth, but maintains his calm. He glares at the smoky forms, and then his eyes widen as he seems to notice something about them. "Be cautious, these might well be more substantial than vapor."
Qing takes a glass lense from his bag, raising it to one eye and trailing a thin, filmy bit of something over it. "… By the Great Serpent, from whose coils come all things, and to whom all things go… grant me a sliver of your divine insight… show me your foes, that would undo your children… "
Buran stares at the … things … intently.
"Guard! Watch the things in the corner, interpose. Do not attack." Bassai orders, looking at Malthus' attendant, back to Zarhx, and finally at Qing. The witch-doctor's seeming control gives a fleeting sense of security.
Zarhx, awakened from his vision of things only guessable at, yells, "CHIGAI!" He topples forward, clutching at thin air, and slumps onto Bassai.
The Minister shudders, catching the collapsing mage. He lowers the Naga to the floor. "Qing! End it!"
The Imperial guard backs down from the door, which now shakes under the impact of weapons from outside. Unfortunately, since the whole lab was designed to withstand the side-effect of spells gone wrong within, the doors are made of an extremely hard wood that barely shudders at the impacts.
Ciar glances at Zarhx out the corner of his eye, but is responding to threats at the moment… and he's not one, he's unconscious. He keeps his eye on the smoky forms, trying to make contact with their 'eyes'. "What are you?" He asks again. "Can you speak?"
"NnnOoO," answers a voice from the ceiling of the room. "BuUut IiI caAn!" A decaying coil, dripping with greenish plasm, melts out of the ceiling, and lands on the floor with a wet splat, as the remainder of the creature's length coils on top of that.
It looks like a Naga … but with a single arm coming out of its chest, with a bony claw bearing sharp, wicked talons.
"By the Great Serpent's will… " The Witch-Doctor reaches into his bag, coming up with a fistful of sand. He hurls it in a wide arc at the monstrous beings, his crimson eyes ablaze. All six hands come together simultaneously, with a loud clap. "BEGONE!"
The Imperial guard moves to his Minister's side, interposing himself between Bassai and the enemies. The Temple guard moves likewise to protect the Senior Investigator.
The sand hits one of the shadowy 'compass' beings full force, and with an unearthly shriek, it explodes … the pieces raining against the wall and then melting into a fine mist that dissipates and melds into the shadows.
Buran calls out to thin air, apparently to something no one else can see. "I don't understand what you want! I don't know how!"
The Jupani looks patently worried, looking back at Ciar, then over at the horrendous creature that has appeared. Will mere weapons be good enough?
Ciar turns, his muzzle wrinkling in disgust at the sight. "What… " He then backs away slightly at the sight of its claws. "Guard, stay your weapon but be ready, don't anger… it. I suppose it's already dead."
"Chigai!" The Minister hisses, his coils churning. "Qing, bind, banish or destroy it now. Protect those still in the ritual."
Ciar keeps his eyes on the thing. "Minister, what is this?" He speaks to the slime-covered 'Naga' itself. "Who… or what are you?"
Another scoop of sand is taken from the bag, but the Witch-Doctor is breathing heavily. "The chigai… is too strong! I haven't enough time to destroy it!"
"It is a legendary spirit of the underworld." The Ringneck Naga hisses, watching the single talon, "A malevolent demon. They do not exist."
"IiiIIi aAam yYouurR beeTter!" the one-armed 'Naga' cackles. "BoOokuUruU! SsSLlaAy ThEm AaAll!" it shouts to the shadowy beings. They at once move forth from their positions.
"It might be possible to restrain, but… " hisses Qing, whipping his head back and forth between the horrid creatures. "Try to push the warding stones inward! Toward it!"
Panicked, the Rath'ani mage who had up to now been looking from Malthus to the strange creatures to the newest apparition, unlooses his spell at nearly the same time that Qing did, calling out guttural syllables and pointing at one of the horrific creatures that advances upon him. "Dagh take you!" he yells.
The wretched monster approaching the Rath'ani lets out a howl of anguish, and begins to shake and shudder, staying its advance. Cracks appear on its bony frame … and it crumbles away like sand!
"Can you bind it… " Bassai is interrupted by Qing's words, he slithers for a stone. "Protect my back." He tells his guard.
Two down. Six and a Chiga to go.
The Imperial guard nods to Bassai. "They'll have to kill me before they can take you." he assures the Minister.
Ciar says, "Well then, if they do not exist, then why… " He stops and gestures to the guard. "Warding stones! I will move them, protect me but watch for your safety." He ducks and edges towards one of the stones. "
The Chiga's coils wrap around Envoy, staining her fur and feathers with its cold ichor. "CcooOOomMe, AalLiEen! IiMmmOorTaAl!" It laughs shakily.
The Jupani nods. "Yes, sir!" He draws his sword, a not-very-good grade of steel, and prepares to defend Ciar from the monstrosities.
"We move them in at the same time, right Qing?" The Ringneck hisses, crouching and putting his hands on the stone. "Can you bind it? To Isstan's blood, or the exile?"
With the directions to the stones, the white Rokuga directs his attention at the Rath'ani. Perhaps it seems a little strange that Qing is finally forced to raise his voice. "You! The aide! We haven't the time to destroy the chigai, but perhaps we can restrain it!"
Envoy twitches her cheek, still held in her trance.
Dean Malthus wrestles with one of the semi-skeletal, hovering monsters. With a loud cracking 'back-hand' from one of the creature's pincers, Malthus lets out a cry of pain and collapses to the floor.
Ciar skids to a stop as he sees the Chiga grab Envoy, then gestures to the Jupani guard. "Over there, take the warding stone and do as they say! I cannot lose the Exile." He moves over to where Envoy lays and shouts to the Chiga. "You! Leave off her!"
One of the weird, half-incorporeal creatures lunges toward the Senior Investigator at just that moment! The Jupani looks torn between two orders, then swings his sword, hacking at the creature. "Sir! I can't abandon you!" he yells.
Buran straightens up, having made some kind of decision. She shouts, "Chiga! Your quarrel is not with them! If it's the living you want, then try me!" She looks serious, too claws out, ears back, and eyes firmly fixed on the creature.
"OoOo HoooHoooOOo!" laughs the Chiga, affixing its empty gaze on Ciar. "IiI sShHaaAalL doO As Ii PlLeeA AaaAaaa!" It recoils, putting up its one claw as if to ward off the Technopriest.
The Rath'ani mage looks oddly at Qing, then perks his ears up as he realizes what the Rokuga is trying to do. "It just might work!"
Qing twists his neck to look over his shoulder at Buran. "No, you fool! You can't hurt a chiga without thistlebark!"
Meanwhile, one of the semi-skeletal monsters dives toward Ciar, its mandibles clacking ominously.
The Imperial guard watches Bassai's back… His patience is rewarded as he lunges for a creature that approaches too close, striking out with two short-swords in his hands! "Minister! Have a care," he hisses.
Ciar ducks, and then sees he can't do anything right now to help Envoy. "Right. Good. Cover me as you were." he tells the Jupani. "Just hold them off." He flicks his ears as he hears the motion towards him, then dives for the floor and ducks into a roll, simultaneously tearing free his cape and flinging it towards the 'creature' as he tries to regain his footing.
The angry Sphynx doesn't reply to the Rokuga's shout, instead addressing the … thing … once more. "You aren't afraid, are you?! I'm just a Sphynx. Surely you can defeat me! Or I'll come to you!"
Bassai looks at the Rokuga and the Rath'ani, "Qing, are you ready?" The last wardstone sits untended.
The Witch-Doctor begins sing-song chanting again in the strange language of spirit magic. As magic sometimes has to be, his tone is unhurried, the mage forcing his voice to level. He only replies with a nod to Bassai and the Rath'ani, his arms beginning to twist and undulate again.
The Rath'ani frowns, listening to Qing's chant, then begins to move the rest of the stones, now that they have been replaced by Bassai, to form a circle that will hopefully protect those within from the spirits outside. As he touches each stones, some that Bassai has placed, he chants quietly, gesturing in the air with one hand.
When the chiga fails to respond to her challenge, Buran flicks out the claws on her toes, crouches, and charges the monster. She doesn't seem like a Templar anymore, just a running mass of spotted fur, gray feathers, and pure predator. "YAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHH!!!!"
The Ringneck Naga twists around, ordering the Imperial, "Guard! Take the last stone." He slithers forward, pushing his own towards the centre, trying to dodge what he can barely see behind himself.
Ciar's cape catches one of the monsters in mid-air … for a moment, the cape is actually suspended in air, enwrapping the creature … but then, there is a sizzling noise … and the cape falls to the floor, empty … and the monster is free, howling angrily.
The Imperial guard hisses to Bassai, "Sir, it will be better if I protect you." Suiting actions to words, he lunges for another attacking monster, battering it away bodily. His short swords are not as effective as one would hope, wounds that would be fatal to any normal person only letting loose gouts of some ichorous substance from these 'Bokorus'.
The Jupani howls loudly as he hacks at the Bokorus, keeping Ciar's back free of encumberment.
The Chiga, meanwhile, slides its coils free of Envoy, leaving a trail of steaming slime, shrinking back under Buran's charge. "NnNoOOo! IiIt caAaan't BeEee! YoOuU'rE GoOnnNe!"
"You're right! I'll just have to work quickly then." The Minister hisses, moving to slide each stone closer, shrinking the space around the Chiga.
The Rath'ani aide calls to Qing, "I've adjusted the ward stones. Now we need to recreate the spell… " His tail has fluffed out with the stress of the situation.
Buran lunges for the monster, baring her teeth and claws as she leaps for it.
Ciar, seeing Bassai successfully moving the stones, tries to keep the creatures busy and away from the Minister, with his loyal guard keeping off any who get too close.
"Minister, please pull Malthus within the warding circle!" shouts the Witch Doctor, pausing in his spell. He looks back at the Rath'ani. "Let us begin, colleague!"
"BuUuRraAan!" the Chiga shrieks, and then puddles of goo spread out on the floor, sizzle, and vaporize. Its form disintegrates at Buran's very touch, soon leaving nothing to indicate its presence, save for the slime trail left on poor Envoy.
Bassai stretches down and grabs the Dean of Mind, gently pulling him away from the creature and into the wards. "Inquisitor, get Zarhx fully inside."
The Rath'ani begins chanting as well. His spell-crafting sounds different from Qing's at first, but slowly merges to sound as if they were both reciting from the same book.
The mass of teeth, fur, and feathers sails through the air, its target suddenly gone. Buran crashes into the floor a little ways past the puddles, where she lies stunned.
Qing continues the spell with the Rath'ani, but now he also watches the technopriestess, surprise creasing his brow. (That… can not happen… )
Ciar, meanwhile, does his best to keep the Bokurus away from the chanters with the help of his guard. Risking injury, perhaps, but it seems to be the only chance.
Envoy blinks and snorts suddenly, then pinches her nostrils shut. "What stinks?"
As the Minister struggles with the lengthy body of the Dean of Mind, his guard shouts, "NOoooooo!" when a body lunges past him, scales shedding from the strangely mish-mash face. Five finger-claws rake out against Bassai's side! The viper guard turns to lunge for the wayward Bokoru.
The groggy Exile looks around, trying to see what's happening in the darkness but not attempting to leave her circle.
The Ringneck Naga hisses in agony, knocked by the blow. One hand clutches tightly at his side.
The Witch Doctor chants, but still seems aware. "Almath, ssala, dre'lo Bokuru, almath, ssala, dre'lo, by the Serpent's sanctimonius spleen, get in the circle! Almath, ssala, dre'lo… "
The Rath'ani's chanting falls out of sync with Qing's. Still, there is a palpable effect as the markings upon the ward-stones begin to slowly glimmer with life.
Ciar looks around… "Guard! Keep them busy for a moment, I need to get Mathus into the circle… " He tries to get closer to the unconcious Dean to move him.
Envoy eeps as she finally sees the shapes of the Bokoru.
Qing adjusts his speaking speed to match his colleague once more, only able to watch with just his spell for commentary.
Bassai's hand feels a sticky warmth amidst the torn strips of the side of his robe. He has been injured by those corroded talons!
The Jupani barely notices Ciar's order, putting all his might into a swing that cuts a Bokoru in half. The wretched monster claws up at the air, its upper part still animate…
The Imperial guard lunges and flattens its bokoru against the ground! He hisses, "For the honor of the Empire!" as he sinks its teeth into the horror's shoulder…
The minister squeezes his hand against the wound, trying to rise and pull himself, and the Dean back into the circle. His mouth is squeezed tightly shut, but not enough to hold back his hisses of pain.
The Dean Malthus is quite a heavy burden, but together Ciar and Bassai manage to haul him bodily within the circle of wards.
Poison gouts from the viper's fangs… Having almost no effect upon the Bokoru as it rears up, throwing the guard back. The guard however, retches and spits. "By the First Ones, who made you?!"
Ciar calls to his guard. "This way, into the circle! Quickly!"
"Get… get Zarhx." Bassai wheezes, twisting the frayed edges of his robe around his hand, to press against his wound.
The door of the laboratory shakes and shudders under the effect of unseen blows!
One of the Bokurus shrieks, flying in pursuit after Dean Malthus. As it flies over the warding stones … suddenly it is as if it has struck an invisible wall at full force. With a loud *SPUT*, it disintegrates against the ward, sparks tracing the 'wall' for just an instant.
Ciar looks puzzled. "Zarhx?" He looks around, then notices the other still outside the circle. "Yes. I will. Guard! Over here now, cover me!" He quickly heads out of the circle again, heading for the unconcious Naga.
The Jupani looks over at Buran, then calls to the Investigator, hurrying to his side, "But what about the Technopriest?"
With the ward in effect, the Rokuga sets one hand one the Rath'ani's shoulder. "Maintain the circle! I must try to destroy as many bokoru as I can, before they can leave the laboratory!"
The 'broken' bokuru, split almost down the middle from the Jupani Guard's earlier sword attack, flies down toward Buran, its one remaining arm bristling with spikes and claws. It shrieks menacingly as it descends toward the winged feline.
The Rath'ani whispers to Qing, "Looks like there's just one no, one and a half left." He gestures toward the pacing creature outside that seems to be looking for a way in. "I'll keep it going, you get that one!"
Ciar ducks low to avoid a Bokuru. "Is she… right, go get her into the circle. I'll get Zahrx. Hurry! She's being attacked!"
"Soldier, protect the Inquisitor." The Minister hisses, waving the Imperial viper his way.
Buran stirs and moans slightly. aware of the approaching bokuru, but still too disoriented to sit up, let alone defend herself. That impact with the floor was pretty severe.
The Jupani roars and turns from where he'd nearly reached Zahrx. His sword drips liberally with ichor.
The broken Bokuru slams into Buran's half-prone form … and shatters like glass before vanishing into thin air. Buran, it would seem … is untouched.
The Imperial guard turns as well… And both guards stare dumbfounded at the unexpected disappearance!
The door shudders again.
Ciar reaches Zahrx, dropping into a rather undignified skid to stop on his far side, then crawls towards him to try to get his arms under his unconcious form to move him.
The one remaining Bokuru gibbers madly, soaring through the chamber, rising and ducking, slashing randomly, but remaining outside the Ward Circle.
Bassai's wound stings, the pain seeping deeper. He twists his robes tighter, increasing the pressure.
On one such pass, the monster's sharp talons swipe at Ciar, raking his ear despite the Inquisitor's quick duck.
Qing pours from the circle toward the last bokoru, hissing like a hot spring. His arms are outstretched in a great white fan, as if to embrace the demon spirit. "By the Great Serpent's will, disperse… disperse like the nightmare you are, upon the rays of dawn… "
The Bokuru spins about, preparing for another pass … but then it hesitates, turning to face Qing. It howls angrily, shrinking back.
The dazed Technopriestess looks around, startled by the apparition's sudden disappearance. "What… ?" But it sounds more like a moan than Rephidim Standard.
The Jupani turns back and blanches, seeing that he left the Senior Investigator wide open. Inquisitor Zeffel will kill him! He yells, "First Ones!" and tries once again to hurry to the scene before something irrevocable happens.
The Imperial guard slithers quickly toward Bassai, though he looks sick throughout his entire length. "Minister! You are hurt!"
Ciar yelps in startled pain, then shows teeth and narrows his eyes, the white fur in his ear now stained red. The pain only drives him more, though, as he growls and moves the unconcious Zahrx as quickly as he can towards the circle.
The haggard Witch Doctor advances nonetheless, his arms still outstretched, and his Imperial changing to incomprehensible magical rantings. Coiling his lower body beneath himself, the serpent strikes, his head tilting to one side, and his jaws clamping onto the demon creature's neck.
"Yess… " The Ringneck hisses back at the viper, "but nothing can be done till the door is open. Rest in the circle, you look like the dead yourself. Qing will finish this."
Just as Ciar manages to pull the prone Zahrx into the Ward Circle, the remaining monster lets out an agonized wail, and begins to shake violently.
Its wail dissolves into a warbling gurgle, and pieces of it fling off in every direction, disintegrating into thin air.
The remaining frame shrivels in the Rokuga's grasp, the monster's 'dying' moan diminishing into a quiet, high-pitched squeal … and then, with a puff of smoke … it is gone.
The door crashes open, splintered at that very moment by the panicked guardsmen outside! Temple and Imperial guards file into what looks more like an abattoir than a successful and productive spell workroom of the Naga Empire. Light pours into the dusky room.
Envoy hides behind her wings at the sudden burst of light and noise.
Ciar lets go of Zahrx, glances quickly around to see that everyone else is safe… then, as the final Bokuru breaks up, collapses to pant hard and put pressure on his ear with a paw. It's not bleeding heavily, but looks like it hurts quite a bit.
"Help me stand so they will not see how badly I am cut." Bassai hisses quietly to the Viper. He hisses with relief as the door bursts in.
The white Rokuga wipes his mouth for a moment, and then recoils as light streams into the room, clapping a pair of hands to his eyes. "Nngh!" The middle set of hands begins feeling around the floor. "Where… are my glasses?"
The Imperial guardsman opens his mouth, about to yell… Then looks at the Minister and helps him up, confused. "Why?" he hiss-whispers.
Buran struggles to sit up, looking around for her supplies, having lost track of them in the fight.
Ciar moves, startled, as the door breaks. Then sits up and slowly rises to a standing position. Dignified, though he's holding a bleeding ear and panting quickly.
Envoy blinks to adjust her eyes, still sitting in her circle and wearing a girdle of green slime.
The Temple guards press around the Investigator. "What happened, sir?" "Looks like a fight in here!"
"Because I do not wish to lie wounded on the floor in their presence." Bassai replies to the Viper, leaning heavily on him for support. He calls loudly to the entering Imperials, "Summon a healer."
Similar questions are being put to Bassai. One of the Imperial guards nods and slithers off at break-coil pace.
Ciar quietly retrieves his cape with his free paw. And though he probably won't be able to stop panting for several minutes, answers in between . "A fight, yes. With things that do not exist. The procedure was… successful. In a manner of speaking."
"It will take some time to piece together just what happened," The Minister replies, "but something else was brought by their memory ritual."
The blinded Witch Doctor coils upright again, discovering his glasses near the upset work table. He head turns this way and that. "Yes, healers… immeadiately. Even the slightest wounds left by the bokoru are not to be ignored."
It takes long minutes, but Sephira herself bursts into the room, and stares aghast. "Bassai! Oh, Bassai!" she wails, and slithers quickly to the Minister's side. At least he can be assured of the very best medical care the Naga Empire can offer.
Ciar, still panting, motions his guard over, and whispers just a short sentence. "Zeffel will be told that you defended me with your life, and that is all."
"We encountered a chiga, and bokoru, Sephira. Such creatures of… ptoo… creatures of foulness… corruption," murmurs Qing, gingerly picking his way around some glass toward the life magess. "Your work is cut out for you." The Witch Doctor looks over some prone forms in the chaos of what was once a lab. "And perhaps mine."
Envoy tries to rub the slime off of herself, and wonders if all of this will be blamed on her again.
Bassai smiles at Sephira as she rushes to him. It is a pained one, that he still manages to put some happiness into. He hisses quietly to her, "It is a small price to pay for your close attention my love, but I will try not to make a habit of it."