Leeta discovers more about the Silent Ones and their Empire
(Leeta) (Test of the Astromancer)
Tarsus Island
The first thing that comes into vision on Tarsus is the tower, although not nearly as impressive as the Tower of Babel, it is still a sight to behold. The spire stands twenty stories easily – another seven stories lies unfinished, jagged girders jut out, making the top of the tower appear to have spines. The island itself is fairly small, with only some scrabbly vegetation and some vines attempting to climb the tower. A wooden pier has been built off the side of the island, to accommodate landing airships.

In her wanderings, the fire-maned cheetah has somehow found herself back to the chamber where the first found the crate containing the large stone "box" with the hand imprint, the curious pin-prick lock, and its supply of books … only one of which she has read, having not endeavored yet to dig down any deeper.

It seems to beckon there, in the dim, occasionally flickering, artificial lighting.

Leeta listens carefully, the hand she used to open the box before clenching and unclenching slowly. She walks forward, and hesitantly presses down on the lid, expecting to get no response this time.

If that is what Leeta is expecting, then surely it must be a disappointment when she feels a sharp pin-prick in her finger … and, after a lengthy pause, the stone lid slides back, revealing the contents of the coffer just as it was before.

Inside the coffer can be seen the covers of a few books, bearing the emblem of the Star, and no title on the front or spine.

"Yesss!" The cheetah grins as the box opens, and reaches in. She takes out a few books, looking for the one she read previously, and briefly examining the first page of a couple of the other ones she hasn't.

The couple of other books Leeta grabs have exactly the same front pages. In fact, it appears that several of the books are duplicates of each other. "Holy Truths of the Star." It would appear that this is some sort of religious text, and, by the way it's written, by a quick scan, it's written in fairly basic sentences – insofar as Formal Sign in writing goes. The overall impression would seem that the books were meant for entry-level readers. There are a few smudges on the pages here and there that are shaped like fingerprints.

Another book is titled, "Wondrous Artifacts of the Star", and actually has illustrations … filled with various odd items that must be of technology comparable to some of the items long hidden within this tower, and some even more impressive (and ridiculously large). Most of them seem to deal with artifacts of war – armor, weapons, vehicles … and constructs which combine all three.

Leeta takes a longer look at the book of artifacts, looking to see if it contains detailed descriptions, and maintenance instructions, or is just a listing of wondrous items.

While flipping through the pages, the Savanite looks for any pictures that resemble armour she has seen the Templar Lancers wearing.

The book contains details, but the jargon is beyond Leeta's understanding, even if she understands the basics of Formal Sign. Perhaps there is more to the language than she realized. Some of the phrases use terms that have long been reserved for references to magic or superstition.

Part of the book is devoted to armor and robes. It would seem that much of the armor is meant to be worn with covering robes, obscuring the hard surfaces that protect the wearer.

The illustrations, however, show individual pieces, and give some rough idea about how they go together, as a matter of curiosity. And, yes, some of the armor looks precisely like that worn by some of the Templar Lancers, just missing the ornamental robes.

{These are really pretty, I wonder what it all means?} The fire-haired cheetah looks at a couple more images, mostly she is admiring the appearance, but is also looking for any special features to the armour that might be of interest.

Some of the accompanying text makes it clear that there is no such thing as a 'standard' example of the armor. While there seem to be countless classes and subdivisions, it would seem that the Silent-Ones take great pride in each suit of armor having its own individual quality – or at least, a certain personality shared among those worn by a Lance of warriors, but even among them, individual feature vary according to tastes.

It should be noted that, throughout the book, despite the military bent of many of the small figures drawn to show in contrast to large vehicles, there appears to be no such thing as a true uniform for the army that needed such equipment.

Leeta smiles, somehow all of the suits being distinct is much more comforting than if they were exact copies of each other. She closes up the book of armour, and examines another one.

The next book is titled, "Worlds of the Empire. It has several charts and maps in it, though they can only be called so with some degree of generosity, with no serious attempt at scale. They are more works of art, meant to show a tally of the various worlds under the dominion of this Empire … an Empire consisting of entire WORLDS.

She stares at the pages, trying to grasp the enormity, and keeps turning them, looking at planet after planet.

It would seem that, from the descriptions, most of the worlds are but untamed wilderness, most with only one metropolis of any note, although populated by various races – many of them described as being uncivilized barbarians who depend upon the guiding hand of the Empire, lest they fall into chaos.

If the book is to be believed, one of these worlds is the home of the creatures that, here on Sinai, would be known as the Vykarin. No attempt is made in the book to phonetically describe the races' own names. The Vykarin here are described in a phrase-name that can be roughly translated as 'shelled clickers'.

{All these places, and I've only seen a little tiny bit of one world that would be lost among these other ones. How could it be possible, how could anyone rule all this?} The Vykarin world hold's her attention for a moment, then Fire-Mane keeps reading, randomly jumping ahead in the book to just fill her mind with possibilities.

The book has only some fleeting mention of other worlds, ruled by 'barbarians' outside the purview of the Empire. (It would seem that the whole of the galaxy is populated by barbarians, save for the Silent-Ones… )

One cluster of worlds is dominated by a homeworld populated by various flying aliens … 'aliens' who, by the descriptions and illustrations, are dead ringers for Eeee, Vartans, and various avian-types on Sinai.

A very sizable cluster is dominated entirely by reptiloids. And then, there also seems to be a stronghold somewhere in the galaxy dominated by the 'flat-faces'.

{The Silent-Ones didn't have a really great opinion of everyone else. Oh! They're all here.} Her eyes widen as she finds mention of her friends' ancestors, described in such strange terms. With a sudden thought she flips back a few pages, {What does their Home look like?}

The Silent-Ones' homeworld, described with considerable pride, would seem to be completely covered in one big urban sprawl. With the exception of gardens and parks (each the size of cities), and the oceans and polar regions, it would seem that there isn't a bit of wilderness to be found. Indeed, there doesn't seem to be any room for farmlands.

It would seem, though, that their building style is quite unlike, say, the Babelites. Rather than having layer upon layer, they seem to opt for wide expanses. Tall, multi-storied buildings do not seem to hold much attraction for them.

Nonetheless, very tall buildings with large interior enclosures seem to hold their imagination. According to the claims here, some of the cathedrals on their homeworld are large enough to have their own weather patterns inside.

Leeta reads in detail, {No wonder they thought everyone else was uncivilized if everything was so built up. At least there would be a lot of running involved here.} She marvels at the descriptions, examining a few of the taller buildings for features she remembers on the Temple.

It would seem that there are not all that many comparisons to be made here between Silent-Ones architecture and that of the Temple – at least, not with the interior. However, the great entrance – fashioned of stone, rather than the more mysterious materials inside the Temple's depths – does have a few faint similarities, at least in the notions toward statuary of noteworthies housed in alcoves and sculpted in a certain exaggeration of height and lightness of limb.

{Its so hard to believe, but its true.} Remembering something written in the Diary, Fire-Mane flips forward to where the worlds of the flat-faces are described. She looks for their home, specifically looking for any pictures of its native fauna.

It would seem that a detailed explanation of the fauna of any of the worlds outside the Empire is beyond the scope of this book. The most that is done is to have a severe-looking sketch of a 'flat-face' … a Human, by all appearances, and a very unhappy-looking one. But then, EVERYONE looks unhappy in these pictures. Apparently smiling is not in vogue.

Leeta frowns, possibly influenced by the expressions of everyone in the book. She turns to the homeworld of the Vartans. {I guess Zoltan will be happy to find out he isn't the descendant of some Life Mage's experiment. I wonder if this will tell me why they hybreed so well.}

Unfortunately, the descriptions of the Vartan homeworld don't tell anything more about its fauna … and precious little about its populace. It would seem that the bat-types and the hippogryph-types are dominant, and the various other fliers considered as lesser sorts … at least in the eyes of the writer.

{Maybe the next book will be a little less judgmental.} Fire-Mane closes the one on worlds, and takes another from the box.

The next book is titled, "The Courtship of the Emerald Princess." The borderwork on the cover page still shows some of the knotwork prevalent in the religious texts, but is interwoven with fanciful floral designs, and makes use of colored inks that are only faintly faded.

{Oh this one looks much happier,} Leeta observes, running her fingers across the coloured cover and then opening the book. She reads to see what it is about, hoping for a fanciful love story.

As Leeta takes the time to read – and scanning simply does not do this text justice – a tale unfolds … one which Leeta has heard in many forms with the names changed. Or, rather, with names ADDED, since the 'names' here are but word combinations, not phonetic sounds.

It is, in short, a romantic adventure … a tale of chivalric knights in powered armor so empowered to be able to allow them to traverse the space above the world where the air is thin and cold and empty … and of a princess torn between her duty to wed a foreign lord to cement a treaty of peace between the nation of her father and his … and her love for a valiant warrior and once childhood friend, who strives to honor her in his endeavors.

Leeta reads, lost in the story.

However, while the basic story may be familiar, there are still details that are different. For instance, the battles taking place in space are certainly a different spin. Usually, the climactic battles take place in some far-flung kingdom on Sinai … or, depending upon the species of the protagonists, in the air.

There is also something to be said about the culture of the Silent-Ones … subject, of course, to just how much of this book can be taken as anything but fantasy…

Fire-Mane smiles, {Oh this would be great to tell the cubs. Everyone in here seems so brave and honourable. It was either a really noble time, or the story has been improved.}

It should be noted that red hair is not at all uncommon. Nor blue or green.

However … further reading (lest the reader faint) indicates that it must be a tradition to dye one's hair. Either that, or the protagonists' hair changes color with each costume change.

{Maybe the good guys come in a certain colour, I hope it's red.} Leeta speculates as she quickly skims the pages.

It also seems that the Princess has quite a liking for wearing elaborate masks … and not simply at masquerade balls. Some of the sub-plots involve cases of mistaken identity and 'changing places'. By inference … it would seem that the Silent-Ones must have a problem with being mistaken for each other – even among their own kind!

In fact, the masks are not restricted to just the Princess. It would seem that any high-ranking official or priest or lord sports some fashion of mask or ornate helmet, uniquely designed, often fashioned to allow one's head-hair to still show through … though the priesthood tends to cover up this hair with cowls. A few illustrations here and there help to give a better idea of the appearance … and seem to be drawn with more interest in showing fanciful costume designs than to actually show any action forwarding the plot.

The Savanite's ears wiggle, then she hugs the book against the front of her robes and grins, {This is great, it's much better than all the other ones. It probably is all fantasy, but I like it better.}

And another thing. The story is DEFINITELY more … ah … conservative than many of the stories of its ilk that have circulated about Sinai. If it were not for the violence (which, even then, is only described in abstract, idealized terms), it could probably be read to children. That is, to very, very patient children who don't go 'ewwwww!' at any mention of romantic inclinations. At least there's no kissing.

{I like the mask idea too, I wonder if that is why the Templars wear them so much.} She examines the book a little more before closing it, {This is a little tamer than I'm used to, some things seem be missing.}

The hungry present drags the Savanite back. {How long have I been looking at this? I should really save it for later. What else is in here?} She peers back into the box.

As Leeta digs through the books, she hits something … that isn't one. It would seem there is another box within a box, underneath the tomes.

The Savanite carefully moves the intervening books out of the way, looking for the box that they cover.

The box is of a similar design to that which encloses it. It, however, lacks the hand imprint on the top.

Rather, it has only an inlaid design of the Star set within its surface, made with fragmented pieces of some rich, mottled red semi-translucent stone that reflects much of the artificial light.

Leeta looks for some way to open the box where it rests, then tries to carefully lift it.

The box lifts out easily enough … having some indentations in the side that serve nicely as hand-holds. Once out of the box, it would seem the lid may very well slide back just like the larger box does … and, in fact, it does so easily enough during a simple examination.

Fire-Mane pushes the lid back, looking inside, and turning her nose away in anticipation of a puff of stale air wafting her way.

The opening lid reveals neatly folded cloth, or something very closely approximating it, arranged with pieces of a ceramic-like material that shines in patterns of red, black and gold.

Leeta runs her fingertips across the shiny surface, feeling the texture. She takes the cloth out of the box, and unfolds it, not knowing what to expect.

It would seem that Leeta has here the robes of the writer of the diary, most likely, with a few pieces of armor – quite possibly more for ornamentation than battle.

On a pauldron – small by Templar standards – there is some scrollwork in the place where the name of the wearer would typically be. It roughly translates as "Word-Keeper," or "Scribe," or even "Librarian." Perhaps the Silent-One tradition is to put a title there instead.

{Wow! The colours! I'd probably seem like a ghost of the past to everyone if I wore this around.} She enjoys the intricate and complex uniform, holding it against her own drab robes and fantasizing. Carefully, Leeta folds it back into the box after examining the remaining pieces. {I will, but not right now.}

Oddly, the costume has TWO right gloves.

One of them is quite different from the other. It has a hard carapace-like covering for the forearm, and tubes that run to a bulb-like protrusion set upon the palm of the glove.

It resembles an illustration in the Book of Wonders, though it has its own unique design changes. If it is indeed the same thing, it is known as the "Holy Hand of Purification."

Leeta examines the harder glove, with its projector. {Well, it might be a holy oil sprinkler, or… hmmm. I think I'll be careful with it.} Gingerly the Savanite puts it back in the box, then checks the remaining glove to see if it is inside out.

The other glove is simply that – a glove – which matches the left one. It has several folds of outer fabric that give it a flimsy appearance, but its internal structure is more akin to a gauntlet. Considering that this 'cloth' has survived for … well … a really long time … it must be pretty durable.

{This must be some kind of Zolk, or maybe something stronger.} Fire-Mane isn't sure what it could be, but carefully puts the glove back into the box, and follows it with the rest of the armour and robes. Then she repacks all the items into the larger cube. {I hope this keeps opening for me, it has lasted this long.} She puts her hand on the top, to slide the main lid shut.

Leeta stops outside of Tahir's room, and balances the small box of tools on her hip and against the wall. She reaches over and taps the door, then turns the handle. Entering, she tries not to imagine than she can smell her friend's recent meal.

"Hullo." comes a child's voice. Tahir sits in the middle of his bed, bits of greasy machine parts lie scattered around him, staining his blanket and his clothing.

The cheetah chews on a hard piece of plastic she picked out of one of the parts boxes. It doesn't help her hunger much. Carrying the box over, Leeta finds an empty space where she can put it on the sheet, then signs, "Sorry I took so long, I got involved in something."

"Any closer?" She looks at the scattered pieces.

The human nods, "A bit, I'm going to have to find a way to power this decrepit thing again… and I hope the soil works here." He wipes his brow. "So, what did you get involved in?"

Leeta's tail twitches back and forth behind her as she thinks how to answer. "It was in one of the storage areas, where I found the little cub hiding yesterday. I wanted to take a closer look at something I saw while fetching him."

"It was a box with a Star on it," the fire-haired Savanite adds.

"Mmhmm." Tahir says absently, polishing a grimy part with the edge of his sheet. "The sign of the Silent-One's."

Fire-Mane bobs her head, waiting till Tahir glances her way again. "I opened it, there were books inside written in formal sign, on a material I've never seen before."

The candidate sets his tools down. "Like what, Leeta?"

"Like plastic, but not quite." She indicates her chew stick, "There was a story book, a book on weapons, another on worlds, several about the Star, and a diary of a Silent-Ones Priest… "

"… What do you remember? The diary said this Priest was the last Silent-One on Rephidim." Leeta adds, after a small pause.

"The last priest… hmmm." Tahir taps his brow, leaving a grayish oil stain. "I think I remember her name… Rela… no… "

"She didn't think much of everyone else. There were… names… " Leeta pauses, brushing back her mane. "There was a lot of hatred in what she wrote, and… a view of the Star I'm not used to. She would have considered me some kind of vile freak, and didn't approve of the cloning machine that made you, and the other kinds of people on Sinai. Things that should be destroyed by the Star's light."

"Rema… that name rings clear as a bell now. It had to be her." The inquisitor candidate scoots back, knocking a couple of metal parts to the floor. "Unfortunately, Leeta, that's how most of the Priests of the Star were."

"But if they're the priests, aren't they right? Is everything I believe in wrong?" The Savanite blinks rapidly, her hands clenching, "is all that she wrote true?"

Tahir says nothing for a moment, he just watches Leeta's hands. Finally after letting his breath out in a quiet sigh, he answers, "Perhaps you simply follow a different star than Rema did."

Leeta takes the vacated space on the bed, and sits looking down at the sheets. She doesn't sign, instead poking at a few of the grease stains. Her tail hangs limply over the side.

The human puts his hand on Fire-Mane's shoulder. "Leeta, it happened over six thousand years ago. You can't let the voices of ghosts do this to you."

The Savanite keeps looking down at the sheets, and the parts spread out across the bed. She signs limply. "Would I be better, if I had a voice? Her book said the humans offered to make her better children, out of some of their animals."

"Define 'better', Leeta." Tahir says. "the Silent-Ones thought they were better than all of us because they couldn't talk. They'd probably view you as a savage for the few noises I've heard you make."

Fire-Mane nods, looking up with a slight smile. "She did, you should see what she called you in her Diary."

"Humans I mean, not you specifically. I keep forgetting you were there." Leeta quickly adds.

Tahir smirks and pats Leeta's shoulder again. "Parts of me were there at least. But you summed up her attitude towards the other people of the expedition fairly well. She was… hmm, very professional."

"What was the expedition about Tahir? Her books showed all these worlds. I never thought there could be so many! Empires like there are on Sinai, but of Star systems, not lands. Why did all those different people, especially when they each had their own areas, and didn't get along, decide to come here?" Fire-Mane looks into Tahir's eyes.

"Answers to the mysteries of the Ancients." the human replies, rubbing his neck and managing to smear MORE grease on himself. "They left ruins all over the galaxy, dating up to but never younger than a few million years old."

"Sinai was a treasure trove of such ruins, at the time, recently discovered by a scouting expedition, and perhaps answers would be found here that would explain who the builders of these distant ruins were… And what happened to them." Tahir continues. "But such an expedition could not – would not be politically feasible to allow any one race to control. That was why there were so many different races involved in its funding, in its crewing and construction, and its operation."

Leeta nods, looking around for a cloth to hand Tahir, and not finding anything suitable. "That makes sense at least."

The candidate grins. "Instead, we came to be ruins ourselves. Or ancient artifacts at least, but we adapted."

"Why didn't anyone come when the Temple crashed? Rema wrote like she expected a fiery retribution to arrive at any moment. Oh, I guess you wouldn't know that would you?" The cheetah returns the smile.

Tahir leans over to peer at the box of tools Leeta brought in. "I guess something blocked our signal, or the people who came after us ended up worse off than ourselves."

The Savanite passes the box across before signing, "Do you know why some of the Silent-Ones went to live on the surface, or who built Tarsus?"

The human flops across the bed and goes digging through the box. "Rephidim got too crowded, the Silent-Ones wanted space. And I'm not sure who built Tarsus, I think the First ones did… just other folks added onto it." he grunts, making a small gleeful sounding noise as he digs out a strange wrench-like tool with a crystal on one end.

"What sort of power source do you need for the device, will anything do?" Leeta follows the motion of the wrench in Tahir's hand.

Gritting his teeth, Tahir says, "I was hoping you wouldn't ask me that until later. Unfortunately I've only found one compatible power source… the one in the speaker glove you found."

Fire-Mane pauses a moment, then waves, "I'm really hungry Tahir. Rema didn't think much of having to use the speaker, and it's not worth starving to be able to talk with someone who can't be bothered to learn sign."

"I'm glad you feel that way. The Temple will need people like you soon enough." Tahir ruffles Leeta's hair with his grimy fingers, then coughs as he realizes what he just did. "Er… sorry."

"That's okay. It'll wash out." She smiles, running her hand through the spot to make sure it isn't too greasy. "There was another thing in that box Tahir, some kind of Silent-One weapon. Its might have a useful power supply."

The human abruptly sobers at the mention of this. "What did it look like?" he asks, a hint of nervousness in his voice.

"It was in the weapons book, it was called the Holy Hand of Retribution I think… " Leeta gestures at her right arm. "It would come up to about here, and had solid sections like armour, and a round projector on the palm. Why are you worried about it?"

"Purification. The holy hand of Purification." Tahir corrects. "It was just a nasty Silent-Ones Weapon, it could also be used as a light source… but I mostly remember it from the flames it would shoot out."

"Yes, that's the name. Fire does that, would it have a power source you could use?" Leeta tries not to smile too much at how the Hand works.

Tahir keeps his displeased face. "I dislike weapons like that, especially in the hands of someone claiming to be using such a thing for the side of good. You haven't seen charred corpses I'd wager." He shakes his head, "It requires fuel, not the energy cells that the glove uses… incompatible."

"… thank God." Tahir adds in a quieter tone. Perhaps Leeta misheard that last word, or he just slipped on the more common pronunciation of 'Dagh'.

Leeta's smile vanishes, "It all sounded much more romantic in the book; Everyone was shooting off flashy things, and no one died that didn't deserve to, and they didn't suffer. I just thought it was funny Tahir, what it does and my name. You're right."

The human blinks. "Rema had a romance novel?" He suddenly falls over in the bed, laughing and scattering more bits of machinery around. His previous mood entirely forgotten.

The cheetah stares at the sudden hilarity, her ears starting to wiggle, "What's funny? What? Tell me." She tries to get her hands in his face where Tahir can see them.

Staggering back up, Tahir wipes his eyes, leaving more little smears of grease to be cleaned off later. "It was just… well… Rema was so prim and proper. She was so serious and stern… to think she kept romance novels tucked away… " he giggles a bit more.

"Well, it was really tightly locked up." Leeta's ears wiggle frantically as she listens to the human's laughter. "I wanted to bring it down here, to read after we fix the machine… or just so I wouldn't be thinking of food all the time if we don't."

The human turns the tool around in his hands. "We will… we will. So, is there anything else you wanted to ask me?"

"Nothing that can't wait till later." The cheetah signs, then snaps her fingers a few times in momentary thought. "Well, I was wondering if you knew of a way we could use the Exile helmet to call for help, and just what you meant earlier by hoping the soil was right. I wanted to go outside and see if I could dig up some bugs. I'm almost ready to eat dirt, and the other slaves probably feel the same way."

"We'd have to hook the helmet into the main computer in the temple. They're only interface units, not communicators in themselves." Tahir polishes the crystal on the end of the 'wrench'. "And the way the food dispenser works is that it uses various types of organic matter and minerals to make something edible. I'm hoping we can just put dirt and waste products into it and get something to sustain us… "

"I spend half my time thinking of that first beetle sandwich I had when I came to the Temple, and how much I'd like it now." Leeta chews the plastic bit in her mouth. "So it wouldn't work then, if we ate what was in the ground beforehand."

Tahir hmmms. "For some reason, I don't think eating dirt will nourish you much. Oh… that reminds me." He reaches under his pillow and pulls out a small, tightly wrapped bundle. "This is for you, some bread I smuggled in to help you keep your strength up. It was from my last meal."

Leeta looks at the tightly wrapped bundle, taking it. Her mouth waters and her stomach aches even stronger. "Do you know if Naoko or the cub got anything… I'm really not that hungry." She is.

"I'm not sure… although I doubt it. I know the cub is with Rhys right now on floor six, if you'd like to ask him. I haven't seen the old one all day, but since she works in the kitchen Hopefully she managed to sneak a mouthful of something." Tahir says. His expression looks a bit sad, he knows his friend well enough to know how she truly feels, but he also understands Leeta well enough to know why she's trying to hide the truth from him.

"I don't want to be the last Savanite on Tarsus, I'd be just as bitter as Rema." Leeta holds the package down with her tail, pressed against her leg as if it might vanish when she stops paying attention. "I'll eat some of it, I promise. I just need to be sure."

The human nods. "You'll do what's best Leeta, I'm sure of it."

The cheetah slides off the bed, taking the bread in one hand, "I'll be back as quick as I can, and then help you any way you need. Nothing else really matters until we get that fixed." She waves at the scattered parts, moving towards the door.

Fire-Mane slips into the hallway, and walks; running would be wasteful. She keeps the bread hidden inside her robes, and tries to think of romantic warriors in constantly changing hair colours who battle across the stars, and not about how hungry she really is.


GMed by Greywolf & Zoltan

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Today is 10 days after Reckoning Day, Year 25 of the Reign of Archelaus the First (6124)