Of the sights to be seen in the city of Rephidim, one of the most impressive (if not THE most impressive) would be the legendary Temple. More so than any palace or castle or fortress to be found on the surface, the Temple is an embodiment of ancient and almost timeless authority. Yet, it is also an embodiment of corruption, for anyone who knows any of the truth, and the state of disrepair of so much of the Temple is a standing testament to this. Nonetheless, Templars and Inquisitors and Auditors and Priests make their way through its gleaming corridors, tending to daily business and personal agendas. Like it or not, here can be found the driving force behind Rephidim … and much of Sinai at large.
A troublesome exile has been taken from her cell, and is presently being escorted through the hallways of the Temple. She is being led by a male and female Jupani, and being followed by a Zelak. The wolves are silent and tense, a mood likely induced by their prior argument with her cell guards. Not much was audible on the exile's side of the door, but the general impression is that her transfer to their custody was not scheduled.
Envoy scratches at her cheek, causing another clump of grayed skin and fur to fall off, and wonders where she's being taken this time. Maybe someplace with sunlight??
The wolves lead her with the precision of people who have spent a long time working together. Each one's motion compliments the other, and one of them always manages to keep an eye on the exile, while the other watches and leads. The Zelak follows closely behind, as an intimidating shadow that occasionally clacks.
Envoy decides not to ask where she's going, or to query the Zelak about its hive…
A featureless door in one of the hallways seems to be the final destination. The male Jupani starts to slide it open, while the female informs Envoy, "Inquisitor Vassoy will see you now. You should cooperate and answer his questions." She steps out of the way and directs the exile inside.
Envoy takes a look through the doorway before entering…
Almost completely bare, this room is paneled with ceramic tiles on floor and walls, with the ceiling being alternating strips of some porous-seeming material and some kind of clear plastic which cast a harsh white light that eliminates all shadows. A round table sits at the center, at which a single chair has been provided. One wall boasts a wide, thin mirror. The sole exit from the room is a door to the north which has a narrow slit to permit a guard to look in on the occupants.
Envoy sighs, and steps up to the chair and table. How many of these rooms does the Temple have?
The door closes behind the exile, leaving her with the room's other occupant.
A Savanite stands on the far side of the table, facing the mirror. From behind, a few of his features are still discernable; he is of normal height with a strong build. The strangest anomaly however, is his dress: the cheetah wears elaborate robes, individually tailored, and patterned in gold, black and green designs which draw attention upwards. A tall elaborate headdress adds to his height, compensating for his stature, and covering his ears. When he turns, it is with a balanced dignity that shows none of the cringing associated with slaves. His amber eyes have a practiced coldness in their unyielding stare.
Envoy blinks, trying to place the Savanite's face. She assumes he's one of the Twelve times Twelve to stand that way…
Envoy finally holds up a hand and signs, "Have you come here from the City?"
The Savanite's face has no features that the exile recognizes. He is young, quite young for the rank of Inquisitor, assuming of course a slave could somehow achieve that status. His expression is firm, with his lips held in a slight frown. He blinks once at the signed question, making no reply, then places a sheet of paper on the table.
Envoy looks down at the paper.
The paper contains a short list of seven questions, along with the written instruction that states: Answer each in detail. The cheetah taps his finger beside the first one.
'What were you doing in the Missing Shekel?'
Overhead, one of the lights flickers with a pinging sound that seems surprisingly loud in the small room.
Envoy looks back up to the Savanite and asks, "Do you want me to answer out loud?"
"Yes," is his terse gesture.
The cheetah takes a notepad out of his pocket, along with a pen, and prepares to write down the exile's reply.
Envoy says, "I went to the Missing Shekel in hopes of observing criminal behavior. I'm still not sure if I did or not, though."
There is only the hum of the overhead fluorescents, and the scratching of the stylus against the paper as Envoy's words are written down. As soon as he is finished, the Savanite taps beside the second question:
'Did you observe the Shiga known as Tugsley Pine attacking a Rhian?'
The Exile nods, "He seemed to be defending himself in the beginning."
The third question, 'In self-defense or without provocation?' was covered in Envoy's answer to the second. So, after the cheetah writes down her reply, he skips to the fourth:
'Has the Shiga committed any other crimes as far as you know?'
Envoy suggests, "Well, he did offer to sell me into slavery and split the money with the two that were holding me down."
Question six is 'Do you believe that the Shiga intended to sell you into slavery?' The Inquisitor indicates that one now.
Envoy says, "No, he said that he had no intention of doing so when he brought me to Chiri's surgery. He was worried about how he was going to get the money to pay off the others."
This answer is recorded. The lights above continue to buzz in a way that makes the ears start to ring after a time. Once the Savanite finishes writing, he looks back at Envoy, and gestures towards Question five:
'For what reason were you attacked by the Kavi and his associates?'
"He said that they didn't like being watched," Envoy says.
The last item on the list simply asks, 'Is there anything else you would like to tell the Temple now?' The Cheetah waits, ready to write.
Envoy looks up at Vassoy's face, "Yes. I need sunlight." She scratches again, releasing another patch of dead skin.
The cheetah's amber eyes stare into the exile's gold ones; there is the slightest hint of a sympathy on his face before he looks away to write that answer down. After the brief note, he returns to gazing at her, his pen held ready over the paper in case there is anything more.
Envoy examines the Savanite. "Have they told you about the City of Hands yet?"
A fluorescent overhead flickers and goes dark. It is out for a second, then comes alive again with a loud click. Immediately after, the inquisitorial cheetah signs, "No," and turns to a fresh page.
Envoy blinks at that. "You're an Inquisitor though."
"No he is not, he is my slave," a voice hisses, interrupting the silence and the lights. It comes from the Savanite's headdress, which opens to reveal a small garter Naga seated inside. His robes match the cheetah's in colour and design, while still managing too look a little fancier. "However, for all the freedom and information I am given in my job, as my little demonstration shows, you'd think he could be. Now why is the City of Hands relevant? There is nothing in your file about it."
The lights flicker… And then die! As the room plunges into darkness, a deep voice rumbles, shot through with static, "That is irrelevant to your investigation, Inquisitor Vassoy."
As Envoy's eyes adjust to the darkness, she can make out a dimly lit rectangle where the mirror would have been, a shadowy form behind it… Could this be some kind of monitor?
Envoy says, "Who else is watching??"
"Then I have finished my investigation, and my prisoner can be released," Vassoy hisses, with a hard bite to his words. "I find no evidence of her criminal activity."
There is a long pause. The lights flicker, stroboscopic, and then a blue flash illuminates the ceiling as one of the panels fries. When the lights come back, there is a distinct gray area above and the mirror once again reflects the Savanite, the small garter, and the Exile.
Envoy frowns, and looks to the little Naga in confusion.
The cheetah is still staring at Envoy with a neutral expression, while the garter has stretched up to look past the headdress at the mirror behind. He waits for a reply.
The voice speaks again from the mirror. "Envoy is not being held on suspicion of criminal activities at this time. However, she is being detained for her own protection, to ensure that certain… conspiracies… do not terminate her before we have concluded our investigation of very sensitive issues."
Envoy blinks three times towards the mirror.
The garter flicks out his tongue at his reflection, then slithers back into his seat inside the headdress. He faces Envoy, and his hands wave in a sign that only she could possibly see, "You are a pawn in a much larger game." Hissing loudly to the room, he asks, "How long is this protection going to last? She was brought in by one of the over-enthusiastic Bazaar guards. Why does she need to be sequestered in the Temple now, when she was free before?"
Envoy frowns. She always seems to be a pawn.
"Your attention to civil liberties is commendable, Inquisitor Vassoy, but at the time of her detainment, Envoy herself brought to light certain irregularities in Temple procedure which must be rectified. However, since she has proven, after some persuasion, to be quite cooperative, she will be permitted to return to her home and her normal routine… with a bodyguard to ensure her well being. Envoy will be denied passage out of Rephidim for the time being, pending approval of any extra-curricular travel by the Temple." The voice is, despite the static, calm and self-assured to the point of infuriation.
Envoy blinks again, and asks the mirror, "I can go then? What about my other bodyguard, Bem?"
"I see," Vassoy hisses, in a slightly friendlier and more subservient tone. "That is all well and good for her, but still leaves me curious as to why my questions had to be approved. I hope you are not considering me involved in these irregularities, as I have always strived to follow your fine example. I trust someday you will see fit to inform me of these details. In any case, I have the answers I need, and can put this file away."
Envoy still looks at the mirror in confusion.
Only memory supplies a shadowy form behind the mirror. "Your dedication is not in question, Inquisitor Vassoy. And with respect to your Zelak, Envoy, it has been tended to for some time now by your mentor, Vielanika, and your room has likewise been maintained by her, for the interim." A slight pause. "She is aware that you have had urgent business with the Temple, but were I you, Envoy, I would be cautious how much I involved her in these affairs."
Envoy blinks again… "But… wasn't she here?"
The deep voice crackles from behind the mirror, "No."
"I have no recommendations for guards you might use, but several you should avoid," Vassoy hisses, staring out of his seat into the room. He holds a short staff in his hands, and uses it to poke through small openings in the headdress . His cheetah ride steps back, and turns, allowing the Naga to look at both the mirror and Envoy. At the moment however, he observes neither.
The calm voice rumbles, "Your suggestions will be taken into account, Inquisitor Vassoy. For the moment, however, I have some words for the Exile. Privately."
The Naga nods, and uses his staff to hook closed the cloth doors that form the front of the headpiece. "Very well. Guardsmen Gord and Jell are outside with their Zelak, and I'll leave them at your disposal. Dromo, take me back to the office."
There is silence from behind the mirror.
The Savanite turns with only the briefest motion of his hand, which might have been the sign, "Bye" or just Envoy's imagination. Dromo walks towards the door with a confident stride, maintaining his tall posture. It is opened for him, and then the Naga and Savanite are gone.
Envoy blinks again, all alone in the chamber.
More silence, and then the calm, infuriatingly unrushed voice speaks. "Envoy, you may have protests of your innocence or unfair treatment which you perceive the Temple has dealt you. You may have questions or statements to make." A slight pause, just enough for Envoy to think of everything she wants to tell the mirror, and then the voice says again, "I am uninterested in any of these. At this moment, my priorities are to restore the integrity of the Temple and to resolve the unanswered questions which you have only added to. Toward those ends, I will expect you to keep confidential your information regarding either Isstan's death, or the City of Hands."
Envoy blinks again, "But I was doing that BEFORE you brought me in anyway!"
"As you are an Exile, it is understood that you are not familiar with the idea that there are 'proper' agencies which deal with political, military, and governmental issues," the voice responds. "It is your duty as a citizen of Rephidim to inform the Temple of such critical information, as it is the duty of the Temple to store and maintain the information for future generations, and to direct further investigations as necessary. However, specifically, the revelation of information concerning a murder investigation might confuse issues and alert suspects, thus making it difficult or impossible to apprehend them. Furthermore, irresponsible rumor-mongering concerning a legendary city might make it difficult to maintain the quarantine which was ordered by Arch-Inquisitor Melchizedek, and which is presently being continued for the interdiction of whatever threat may remain there. Is that understood?"
"Not entirely?" the Exile says. "When I tried to communicate information with the Temple voluntarily before, I was either met with disbelief or accused of heresy… "
The implacable mirror responds, "You will be assigned a liaison with whom to communicate all further findings."
A smile breaks out on Envoy's face… the first in quite some time. "Really? And he will listen to me?"
"Yes," the voice responds.
To all appearances, Envoy might well be talking to herself in the mirror.
"Who are you?" she asks the mirror.
A long pause, and a clack.
A panel slides back into the wall, then to one side as a black-cloaked figure steps out. He slowly draws back his hood to reveal the slim profile of a Saluki. "Your caution is understandable," he says. "I trust that this dispels any remaining doubts you have."
Envoy asks, "Why hide from me, though? Or were you hiding from Vassoy? Who is going to be my Temple bodyguard? Will he have to live with me? Can it be a Savanite? Ciar lied to me when he claimed to have Vielanika in another interrogation room, didn't he? Who is to be my contact in the Temple? Why would the imposter Faline have set me free when it would have drawn no notice to let me be tried and executed instead?"
Inquisitor Zeffel raises his hand. "As I said, I am not interested in your questions. Either the answers will become self evident or else it is not yet necessary that they be disclosed. I need only one thing from you, Envoy."
Envoy frowns, "Silence?"
The Saluki looks into Envoy's eyes. "Yes. On the subjects that the Temple wishes kept confidential."
Envoy looks up, "And that's pretty much everything, right?"
"Incorrect," Zeffel says. "For the moment, I will ask you not to reveal details concerning the death of Mage Isstan, or about the City of Hands. The first is standard operating procedure with any murder investigation… And the second is a subject about which we do not wish to provoke unneeded fear or curiosity on the part of treasure-seekers." He raises an eyebrow. "Surely this is obvious."
The Exile just looks up into the canine's face, "If you say so, sir. What do I tell people if they ask me where I've been all this time?"
Inquisitor Zeffel begins walking toward the door, clearly expecting Envoy to follow. "You were detained by the Temple, of course." He waits at the door with one hand on the handle.
"How much will my bodyguard be told?" Envoy asks. "Will he know to expect attacks from the Temple itself?"
"As I have said, you were detained by the Temple for questioning," the Saluki repeats patiently. "It is clearly up to you how you control your own bodyguard. Step through and we'll begin your exit processing." Inquisitor Zeffel opens the door and gestures for Envoy to go out.
Gord and Jell snap to attention from where they were quietly chatting and wait for Zeffel's orders.
Envoy walks out with her head bowed down.
"See to it that her things are fetched and brought to room Beta-50," the Saluki orders of the guards. He follows behind her with the Zelak in close attendance.
After much bureaucracy and paperwork and certification, the exit processing is completed… Envoy's belongings are restored to her, and she is once again allowed to step out into the air of the outside world. It's twilight and a fog bank has rolled in, making this hardly the fresh step into a new morning that bards would sing about, but still it's freedom.
Aside from the plainsclothes Jupani following Envoy at a discreet distance, anyway.
Envoy walks off into the fog towards the Bards' Guild; The Exile scratches away another patch of dead skin, and wonders if she'd get into trouble for sunbathing in the morning…