Spire of Light
An airy, circular chamber with translucent walls of mottled glass on all sides, giving a magnificent view of the surrounding lofty towers of the spheres of Light and Spirit. Soft, light colors dominate the room shades of white, ivory, yellow, and pale orange mixing in the carpet and on the upholstered chairs. Tall free-standing gold candelabras contain tapers, presently unlit, as the afternoon sun provides more than ample lighting. The chairs surround a massive basin of white marble veined with golden streaks, and filled with clear water. The shadow of the basin falls over one of the chairs in a curious fashion, seeming longer than it ought to be and making the chair appear discolored. A single door leads in from the spiral stairway that travels up one wall the shaft for it forming the only part of the wall which is not translucent.
New 22, 6105
An apprentice shows a vaguely terrier-like white-and-brown Gallah into the room. "I'm afraid you're a bit early, my lady. The others should be here soon."
"Very well then, I shall make myself comfortable for the wait," says the Gallah-like Elise. Dressed in but the simple garb of a commoner, chosen that the look they portray would better fit her appearance and thus assist in her day to day disguise on Caroban, the ex-Gallee pulls back the hood of her somewhat ragged cloak and makes her way towards the table in search of a seat.
The apprentice nods and departs, closing the door with a quiet click behind him. As Elise settles herself into one of the unoccupied chairs, a voice speaks.
"You would think," the feminine voice says, "that an apprentice of Scrying would be more observant, would you not?" The words are soft, refined, with an odd accent that renders her "th" sounds sibilant.
The canine lifts her head slightly in response to the sudden words, words spoken from thin air as far as her eyes can tell her. After a moment she moves her head again, tilting it down, and perking her ears that she might determine the origin of the voice by sound alone.
After listening for a moment, the Gallah to all appearances levels her head and shifts her gaze to the speaker, offering a response, "An enlightening look into his study habits, or … lack thereof, perhaps."
"Or perhaps my spell works better than I'd hoped." The voice comes from the oddly shadowed chair, and as Elise studies it, she can make out a female form in it, though the figure seems strangely hazy and unremarkable, as if her features were so ordinary that they weren't worth noticing at all. The contrast is especially striking between that and her lilting, beautiful speech. "I am sorry. We haven't met. I am Mage Lanthia of Shadow." She stands and bows, her arms folded together before her chest.
In response to the bow Elise stands, and offers a somewhat rigid and shallow dipping form of curtsey her military curtsey translated to her peasant appearance, a greeting so practiced she partially uses it even now. "Madame. Honored mage. I am Missy," she introduces herself.
"Oh, really?" the other woman replies, tilting her head to one side as she looks at the Gallah. She starts to say something else, then they hear the sound of the doorknob turning, and she shakes her head. She raises one finger to her muzzle, in a "shushing" motion, and sinks back to her chair.
Elise tilts her head to the mage's strange actions, but for the moment, says nothing of it. She shortly resumes sitting and shifts her eyes to try and watch the door while at the same time keeping an eye on the shadow woman.
The door and the shadow mage's chair are at right angles to Elise's current position, making it hard to keep both in view at once. As the entrance clicks open, a Fnerf in the armor of the Caroban Watch enters, moving with brisk, military strides, while just behind him a mage in gold robes walks. He pauses near the doorway, a slight, puzzled frown on his face, while the fox'taur offers Elise a shy smile and a nod.
Elise returns the nod, though she wears a serious and focused expression that does not seem to allow for a mirrored smile. She also nods to the man in golden robes, whom she watches for a moment.
The Fnerf crosses the room with a few easy strides, offering his hand to the Gallah. "I am Lieutenant Nyff Stonewater," he introduces. "You must be … ah … Lady de Bellfeel?" he continues, with some hesitation, rather mangling her name.
The mage in the gold robes turns to check the door behind him while the fox'taur moves further into the room. He chants arcane words as he does so, a frown of concentration on his face.
Standing again, Elise reaches to accept the hand. "Lady Elise Antoine de Bellefeuille … or for the moment, 'Missy'." She tilts her head curiously. "Excuse me a moment, but are we expecting a Mage Lanthia?" inquires Elise of the fox'taur.
The Fnerf nods. "Yes. It's just the four of us for this meeting. The roster for this mission hasn't been finalized yet; I think the current plans call for at least seven mages and somewhere between a few and several guards. You and I will be two of the guards, of course. Mage Lanthia and Mage Paranoi er, Mage Pearasin," and he nods, looking a little embarrassed by his slip, to the scryer casting beside the door, "are to be two of the mages. Have you met Mage Lanthia?"
Something of a smile breaks Elise's all-business expression, though only slightly. "Indeed I have, Lieutenant," she answers. Exactly where the Gallah saw the mage is left unsaid, the woman deciding it best left to the scryer to discover. She believes this course of action will allow her a better look as to her compatriots' abilities.
"Quite a woman, isn't she?" Nyff says, his own smile broadening at Elise's look. "I'm sure she'll be here soon," he adds, glancing around the room and frowning as he sees only chairs designed for bipeds stationed around the basin that dominates the room. "Mage Pearasin's just checking things out. It'll only take a minute," he continues to the disguised poodle, scratching his chin as he considers the seating arrangements.
"Quite understandable," comments Elise. "As to Mage Lanthia, I cannot say I know much of her from our brief encounter. I am however looking forward to learning more of those that may accompany me, as well as familiarizing myself with their individual abilities as related to this mission." The Gallah woman remains standing, but moves her hands to fold them neatly behind her back, almost as if she were standing at attention. "What of you, Lieutenant Stonewater?"
The mage finishes his spell by the door, and then starts circling the room, still chanting. A glowing line follows him as he moves, dropping from his hands to the floor.
"Me?" The Fnerf looks momentarily startled, as if contemplating something else, then rubs the back of his head. "I'm, uh, well. It's an honor to be chosen for the mission," he adds, speaking hastily as if to cover his earlier hesitation. "I'm eager to see the plans finalized and get started." Nyff watches the scryer again, his mouth quirking.
Elise gives the man a nod, and herself turns to watch the scryer more fully. "Your enthusiasm is well received, Lieutenant Stonewater. I appreciate soldiers who meet their duties with pride. There is much to do, and I too would seen it accomplished expediently," comments the Gallah idly.
The mage completes his circumnavigation of the room, and turns to face the other two, his hands glowing, the frown still furrowed on his brow. He strides to the shadowed chair, continuing his chant, gesturing over it. A line of light falls over the shadowed figure Elise sees in it, and for a moment she can make out the woman's features more distinctly a Gallah's face, short-muzzled, with floppy but pointed ears, and salt-and-pepper curly fur a common-looking person.
The scryer turns from the chair without seeming to notice the other mage, however, though he bares his teeth in a silent snarl. He turns from her position and repeats theprocess on each of the other chairs, while Mage Lanthia rises, soundlessly, and slips away from her seat to stand behind Lieutenant Stonewater.
A smirk crosses the ex-Gallee's muzzle, and she lifts her hands to clap fingers against palm quietly. "As you can see, Mage Lanthia is already present," she tells the man beside her. "And forgive me for not mentioning so sooner, but I was interested in merely watching. One can learn a great deal from simple observation in these cases."
"What is it?" Nyff asks, staring curiously at the just-vacated chair, then blinks, turning from Elise to Pearasin and then back to the chair. "She's here?"
"And quite effective," answers the canine beside the Fnerf. "I would offer to you that you may wish to be more observant. Perhaps, beginning with the area behind you."
"I knew it!" Pearasin crows, turning away from the other chairs to look at the one Lanthia vacated. "That shadow was all wrong!" He still looks faintly puzzled, however, and the reason is made clear by the fact that he is trying to focus on the empty chair as if expecting someone to materialize in it, then both he and Nyff turn to look at roughly where Lanthia stands. The shadowy Gallah shakes her head at Elise, a look of disappointment on her features, though she says nothing yet.
Elise lifts a hand as if to indicate the woman to hold. "You have proven, I believe, your ability. However there are matters we need attend now. We need call this meeting to order," the Gallah tells the shadow mage. She inclines her head to the woman, glances to the others, and looks back. "If you would?"
"We can be here for another hour while I take care of your little charade, or you can drop it now," the Eeee scryer seconds, his voice squeaking at the end. "Enough games."
"It is not a game," the canine says, and her body comes into startling focus with the words, as if her voice were too striking to conceal with shadow magic. "And I am not playing. You noticed the shadow, Mage Pearasin, but nothing else? No aura of magic?"
"No aura of magic," the scryer grudgingly concedes. "Not even after I enhanced my sense for it. And you moved while I was doing that, didn't you?" Grudging admiration leaks into his voice.
The Gallah mage nods. "I did, at the end. Dean Fyiara assisted me with the spell. Extraordinary results; I would not have expected it." She turns back to Elise, and bows slightly. "My apologies; we bore you with the minutiae of our craft. It is important to the task at hand, but it need not be of concern to your part in it. Let us discuss this hereafter, Mage Pearasin."
"As impressive, and undoubtedly useful as this test has been, there are other places to conduct experiments. Need I remind you our planning here is critical," reminds Elise, her tone echoing a military trained tone of authority. While watching the others she moves from where she was standing and again retakes her seat. "Honored mages and member of the Watch, shall we not take our seats and discuss this?"
"And Mage Lanthia," the ex-Gallee looks up from her chair to the woman in question, "do not think that I have missed the point of this test. That you could remain hidden from such direct attempts to discover you is extraordinary, and more to the point, of possible use to this mission. However … I would ask that, as unusual as this may be to you, we discuss our thoughts at the table. There is little need for subterfuge during our planning sessions."
The shadow mage raises one eyebrow but makes no further comment, only returning to her seat and folding her arms across her chest. Stonewater turns an armless chair sideways and rests his folded forelegs on it, settling his haunches to the ground, while he watches the scrying mage.
Pearasin coughs to clear his throat, then takes his own seat. "All right, let's try and make this to the point, shall we? These are the topics I want to cover: the size of the mission, specifically the number of guards to bring, any recommendations on personnel, and the 'cover' we will be using once we're in Ashdod. We're not making any final decisions, here, people the Council will do that. But we can make our wishes known. Anything else before we begin?"
Elise folds her hands neatly in her lap and nods her head as everyone begins taking their seats. "If we are all acquainted with each other, then, there is nothing I have to comment upon at the moment," she says.
The other two likewise nod, and Pearasin clears his throat again. "Excellent. The number of mages is going to be at least seven, maybe more. At a minimum, we're taking two scryers, two dream mages, two shadow mages, and one chaos mage. Some consideration is being given to bringing an elemental mage or two for firepower. We'll have at least two non-mage guards for physical protection. Comments? Let's start with you, Lady de Bellefeuille."
"Given the nature of Ashdod, I would suggest increased non-mage guards. At any one time the current allotment of two guards will leave two to zero active non-mages, providing sleeping mages with little to no protection during the night hours. As Ashdod, and especially Babel, favors subtle tactics I would suggest a minimum of four non-mages. As for mages, given that there are no less than two disabled College mages in Babel, I would suggest one life mage. Also, given the nature of the dream realm and the possessions involved, I would also suggest a mage of the Sphere of Spirit. Finally, though I do not anticipate or advise brute force in this mission, I cannot deny it may be necessary. Thus I also suggest a minimum of one offensive mage, preferably of Air or Fire," advises the lady.
The shadow mage beside Elise tenses as the woman speaks, but the scrying bat merely nods to Elise's words. He gestures to the basin, and speaks a single unfamiliar word. The water takes on a soft glow that bathes the room, and a faint, quick echo of the poodle's voice resonates for an instant, then is gone. "Noted," Pearasin says. "Stonewater?"
"I agree with Lieutenant de … Bellafweel," the Fnerf says, stumbling over her name again but getting a bit closer this time. "We're going deep into enemy territory. Let's bring as much firepower as we can get."
The Eeee nods, and the water shimmers again. "Noted. Lanthia?"
"I disagree. We cannot bring an army. Our strength will lie in stealth, not arms," Mage Lanthia says, a chill in her voice underlying the careful words. "The more people we bring, the harder it will be for me to keep us concealed. Nine people will be difficult enough; more is an invitation to disaster."
"Bellefeuille," corrects Elise. She then holds up her hand high enough where it might be seen, requesting to speak further.
"Noted," Pearasin says to Lanthia, while the basin repeats the recording trick, then he nods to Elise. "Bellefeuille?"
Elise lowers her hand as she is called upon. "I believe a middle ground should be reached, though indeed I would lean towards stealth. We must remain concealed for at the very least as long as we require to discover the location of the ritual site and learn how to approach it, preferably longer than that. However to think the Babelites will simply bow to our authority on this matter and cease their several year long ritual without a confrontation is … something we should hope for, but by no means count upon. We must have sufficient force to strike if the need arises. Stealth will be useless if we are not able to do anything with what we learn. That said, I would agree that our numbers should be kept as small as possible. Though we will need striking power, an army would be foolish. Best the dagger, not the hammer," she explains.
The Eeee scryer listens, tilting his head. "Would you care to revise your earlier recommendation in light of this, or do you stand by your original suggestion as appropriate?" he asks, voice mild.
"I stand by my original suggestions, but offer what I have just said as an addition. I understand that they in some ways contradict." The Gallah in unusually spartan peasant clothing holds her hands out, then brings them together. "But they are book ends. Comments offering what should be included but not exceeded, as well as suggestions. I leave it to the Council to decide what is best based on my tactical advice."
"Noted," Pearasin acknowledges, then turns to the other mage. "Lanthia?"
"I can hide myself from you when you are standing in front of me staring right at me, Pearasin. With Fyiara's help and another talented shadow mage beside me, I might be able to do something almost as good for a party of nine. I cannot do the same for a team of fifteen or more," the Gallah states flatly.
Another nod. "So noted. Anyone else?" the scryer asks. Nyff shakes his head and glances to Elise.
"Perhaps we should include another shadow mage. Or else split the group, assigning one team the scryers and some guards while an infiltration team of a few works under the obscuration of a shadow mage," suggests the ex-Gallee.
The Eeee mage shakes his head, holding up a hand to forestall a comment from the shadow mage. "The group has to stay together," he explains. "The shadow mages are needed to keep the scryers from being detected when we conduct our probe, and we'll be using the dream mages as a focus. Conceivably, we could send a separate 'attack' team, but they would need to communicate with the scrying team for information again, increasing our exposure. Not to mention that the College's resources on this matter are not infinite."
The ex-poodle nods her head in understanding. "Understood. I withdraw my comment," says Elise.
After some consideration, Lanthia adds, "If the Council does see fit to send more than ten people, a third shadow mage would be my recommendation, as well. Of course, that further compounds the trouble of already having too many people but would still be better than stretching two shadow mages too thin."
"Noted. If we are done … ?" Pearasin inquires again, glancing around.
"I have no further comments," Elise answers. The Gallah officer glances towards the others to await their responses.
Nyff shakes his head, and the shadow mage waves one hand. Pearasin nods. "Personnel recommendations, next. We've put an eye towards using those who're of Ashdod nationalities i.e., Eeee and Fnerf where possible to minimize the conspicuousness of the party, but that's not feasible for a number of options, unfortunately. For scryers, we're considering Mages Lucret or Whitestar. For dream mages: Mystico, Yffryn, and Sslithi. For Shadow, Kymie, or Dracon. For Chaos: Fyiara, Anastia, or Kiljoy. Elemental: Firerunner or Lycos. For guards," he rolls his eyes back a moment, and gestures to the pool, which recites, "Redcoal, Dyinspore, Fearbrought." "Okay, right. Any other suggestions?"
"I am afraid College personnel is not something I can assist with, considering that I myself am not privy to personnel files. Thus I have no comments at this time," replies Elise. Again she turns to regard the others near the basin for their responses.
"Actually," interrupts Elise as if suddenly struck with a thought on the subject, "I would recommend against Mage Yffryn. Given her close relations with the previous Dean of Dream and her … questionable methods, I would prefer she be replaced."
"Noted," Pearasin says.
Lanthia leans forward to ask, "They are not seriously considering Kymie, are they?"
"What's wrong with Kymie?" the Fnerf asks, his voice sharp.
"Other than that she's a slimy, annoying, incompetent twit? Nothing," the Gallah says.
Pearasin clears his throat. "Do you want that in the record?"
"Record that I object to Kymie's inclusion on the grounds that she is not competent to work in concert with another shadow mage. I would also recommend Stalker as shadow mage instead," Lanthia instructs.
"Stalker?" The scryer looks nauseous.
"He's an Eeee. And he's good."
"He's a Sylvanian," Pearasin protests, offended.
Lanthia just looks at him.
Elise notes the exchange of suggestions with raised brows. Her eyes look between speakers as each argue their point, and at last she says, "We cannot overlook someone simply because of their race."
"Noted," the scryer concedes at last, lip curled back in distaste.
Stonewater adds some suggestions for guards, and Pearasin clears his throat. "The last order of business the mission's cover story. These are the alternatives proposed so far:
"The sideshow. This option makes a virtue of necessity. Instead of trying to avoid strange looks, the mages and entourage pose as a down-at-the-heels carnival, using members of their own diverse races to comprise sideshows, and making 'attractions' out of 'magicians' and 'fortune tellers'. We'd use no actual magic, but depend on skills at related things sleight of hand, juggling, fireworks, et cetera. We don't have to be especially good, since we're not pretending to be successful, but it could help explain toting around odd combinations of reagents, giant crystal balls or mirrors, et cetera.
"The big downside here is that we attract lots of attention this way, and if our act doesn't fool people, we could be in big trouble right from the start."
The scryer pauses to underscore a new option, then continues, "Magical disguises. With the right spells, even the most unusual among us could blend in. But while this would fool non-magical spies, it would reek of active magic to any trained to notice it."
He continues to the third option. "One noble and his entourage of slaves and guards. One of the Eeee mages poses as a noble travelling to Babel, and everyone else is either a slave or a guard or both. This doesn't require as much acting as the carnival thing, but poses a special problem: whether we invent the name of the noble, or use an existing one, we're vulnerable to being spotted as a fraud. After all, there are only a finite number of nobles in the country, and nobles tend to know each other, or at least each other's reputation."
For the fourth option, he offers, "Avoidance. We travel at night, avoid roads, avoid towns, camp in fields, stay out of town. This idea hinges on just not being noticed in the first place. Of course, if anyone does notice us, we look terribly suspicious this way, but at least we don't need to tax our acting skills, one way or another."
Pearasin finishes, "Does anyone have any other suggestions to offer in addition to these?"
Elise considers each option carefully, giving each some thought, before responding. Thus the ex-poodle does not offer a suggestion as to which plan to take right away, allowing for the others to speak first as she reviews.
Stonewalker shakes his head. "Nothing to add to the list here."
"I think you know my mind on this subject already," Lanthia says, darkly. "I have nothing else to add to it, and several options to remove."
A nod from the Gallah officer. "These options seem sufficient, and for a moment, I believe they are worth exploring. As such I have no suggestions to add to the list."
"All right. Preferences? Let's start with you, Lanthia," the Eeee mage offers, his tone faintly sardonic.
"Avoidance. The others over-complicate the affair and play against our strengths and into our weaknesses. We are mages and guardsmen, not spies. It ill-befits us to pretend otherwise," the Gallah answers, her accent more pronounced in the clipped sentences.
She adds, "I cannot guarantee shielding on magical disguises twenty-four hours a day. Some priestess or hedge wizard will likely notice and put an end to that charade."
"Noted. De Bellefeuille?" the scryer asks.
"I must speak against magical disguises. The upkeep and magical signature alone would be worrisome, but considering we are seeking out practiced mages, the idea is simply out of the question. I would hesitate to choose complete avoidance. Given Babel is a city filled with those of both keen perception and paranoia I believe it would be trying to maintain our cover within the city itself. Mage Lanthia may perhaps have suggestions that may make such a plan more feasible, however as it stands I could not recommend it. Regarding the carnival plan, I believe this has merit. Some amongst us are skilled enough in mundane arts to pose as performers. It would also allow us an airship docked directly to the city our … traveling carnival, if you would. And finally as for the idea of nobility … this also has merit, however, perhaps simply a rich merchant could be used in place of nobility. Merchants are many, and they travel far and wide, and are less celebrated than the nobility," Elise offers, explaining in detail her review of the plans.
Stonewalker, who looked a little distant through this, perks up at the last. "Perhaps a merchant selling slaves, even. It would explain our diversity," he adds. "Though … uh. We could get in trouble if someone tried to buy us."
Elise clears her throat, looking rather surprised at this. "Think of the nature of Babel. Undoubtedly someone would attempt to buy one of us, and if we were forced to sell someone simply to maintain the guise, we would be dooming that person to terrible fate," she mentions.
Mage Lanthia gives a skeptical snort at this last, but also adds a nod. "The merchant idea has merit, though one who keeps slaves, not sells them. It is not as complex as the carnival idea, and would still allow us appropriate baggage, in the form of goods for sale. I would prefer avoidance, still … but I concede there are advantages to such a plan."
"I believe that I myself am capable of acting within either role, though due to aesthetics I would not recommend myself or anyone else that could be viewed as an unusual species for Babel to be the merchant. I would suggest an Eeee, or else, a Naga or Fnerf. It would be simple enough to assemble clothing and such for disguises as slaves or guards. And, we would have reason to dock an airship within Babel, which both allows us a mobile headquarters and a ready means of escaping if we are discovered. Yes, I would suggest the merchant and company plan, followed by the carnival if the former proves impossible," says Elise. She sits up and unfolds her hands, gesturing at the water. "I would suggest you note that everyone be tested for individual abilities that may suit a disguise role, that we might better appear as actual slaves and guards. Also, I would have you begin acquiring clothing and seeking a potential merchant to act as our apparent leader. That is my suggestion."