In the grand hall of the Palace of the Sabaoth, a sweet-smelling haze rises toward the high ceiling, obscuring it so that it gives the illusion that the chamber has no ceiling at all, but simply disappears into low-hanging clouds. Considering how high Babel is already in the mountains, there is often plenty of truth to this 'illusion', though presently, outside (as can be seen through a few windows that dispel the facade), the Procession shines freely, unhindered by so much as a passing wisp.
The lengthy table has been set with places for a multitude of important guests the Lords and their entourages, representing the true Powers That Be within Ashdod. While the Sabaoth is, in theory, wielder of ultimate power, the truth is a bit more complex. The lords have their own authority, in an "empire" that stretches out far enough and passes through enough hindering obstacles that it is impossible to maintain it all with an iron grip by any means. Thus, while the Sabaoth may be the overall ruler, he still must make agreements and alliances with his "underlings" and their fiefdoms. That is the purpose for such a gathering as this, under most situations, with a few alterations. For one thing, there is another addition to the table a pretty young Eeee, purportedly once employed as a courier in faraway Rephidim is seated only a few seats away from the Sabaoth himself.
Brishen stares, astonished at a plate presented to her by a whisper-silent Savanite. Insects of every type seem present, some of which she hasn't eaten in years, or forgot existed. Mere bites would cost her a day's wages, and even though she may be a heroine of Ashdod, she's still a courier at heart, and can't disguise her amazement.
Thath, only four places away, seated to the right of the Sabaoth, has a larger proportion of fruits on his plate than bugs. The fruits present are just as colorful and plentiful as the bugs, the bulk of them coming from the "flat lands" (still rather hilly in their own right) of Saskanar, far to the west of Ashdod … where Thath happens to have some land holdings. Indeed, a good portion of the fruit offerings were probably presented as gifts from his impressive estates there.
Bats of high station recline in cushions on either side of the long table, being served by Savanites bearing platters, pitchers and other containers presenting all manners of fruit, insects and liquid treats. In alcoves along the sides of the hall, dancers perform, and music wafts through the chamber. More closely, for instance, a Naga with scales enameled blue one known as Delilah sways and writhes to festive rhythms, displaying an agility impossible to Eeee physiques.
Brishen brushes an errant lock of hair from her eyes, giving herself a chance to glance at those seated between her and the tall Eeee. But only for a moment The scent of the plate held steadily nearby is too much for her, and she takes one of each of the most expensive insects, as well as a few fried rock-hoppers.
The Sabaoth is propped up at his spot, his ornamental armor a thinly veiled framework that serves to keep him in an upright position when he hasn't the strength to do it on his own. Nonetheless, he IS doing better than when Brishen first saw him. Or maybe he just feels compelled to put on a better act. He eats nothing but a token nibble or takes an obliging sip, carefully taking samples of some produce from each of the major holdings of each Lord, brought as tribute to the Sabaoth and boasts of their own productivity and power to be seen before their rivals.
He can't be happy as he is What gives him strength to continue? Do I want to know? Bree closes her eyes for a moment, then looks down at her plate, selecting a spindly-legged cricket. There's got to be a way to stop all of this.
A tall and withered white bat next to Brishen turns slightly in his position to regard the beautiful young Eeee next to him. He smiles faintly, the polite smile that seems to say, "What a fine young lady," though he isn't necessarily one's archetypical 'grandfather' type. Most grandfathers aren't decked out with so many precious stones.
Brishen looks up, mid-bite. There really isn't a way to smile elegantly under the circumstances, but she tries, setting the remnants of the bug down carefully, and dabbing at her mouth with a zolken cloth.
The older bat starts to say, "I have heard you have quite a voice " and then there is a stir, and he looks away, as do several others. The music has stopped, and murmuring quickly dies down only the most powerful lords continuing their whisperings to the last, but even they quiet as well. Eyes turn toward the Sabaoth, who is standing. It would be impressive enough to think that he has managed the strength to stand on his own, but it is still his costume that allows him to maintain that position and those close enough to him can see, despite his best efforts, the pain caused by maintaining this posture with such an awkward support. It would seem the Sabaoth is about to speak.
Brishen glances away from the aged Eeee beside her, saved from a moment of embarrassment by the Sabaoth.
The Sabaoth speaks in a very formal tone, and verbose palace wording for elements that could be phrased far more succinctly. Roughly translated, his speech is a reprise of the many offenses of Rephidim, and its pride in considering itself the major power of Sinai simply by virtue of its altitude if nothing else, scorning the ancient wisdom of the Eeee and the stability offered by the immortal Sabaoth, He Who Does Not Die. Such is etiquette that it is not out of place at all for the Sabaoth to rattle off his own honorary titles, in effect praising his own wisdom as if he were speaking about someone else.
Black ears quiver faintly as Brishen watches, her outward appearance one of rapt attention. Inwardly, her emotions are considerably less focused. She tries to cast a surreptitious glance about, to see how those around her are reacting to the speech.
The Sabaoth finally gets to the point: He has learned, thanks to the honest insight of an Eeee who has not led a sheltered life within the well-protected city of Babel, that those in Rephidim have grown too certain of their safety. Even while their fleets are being winnowed away by the attacks of brave Babelite warriors, the fools still reside in their towers, thinking themselves secure and immune to any concerns for safety. And this, by the Sabaoth's implication, is something that is not to be tolerated. He goes on to vocalize as much, proposing to the gathered lords, that a bold assault be made directly on Rephidim Not the docks, not its fleets, but the City itself, so that the will of the people will be sapped, as they see that their precious Temple cannot defend them from the true powers of Sinai.
The emotions that Brishen perceives are mixed. A few bats most of those with houses within the great city of Babel themselves express their pleasure with fervent head nods and a few politely quiet murmurs of ascent to those nearby.
However, there are a number whose faces are crossed with frowns … or at least the most subdued of smiles. Most of these, as geography would have it, belong to those further flung from the City, with lands that for the most part are self-sufficient, quite capable of managing their own affairs without having to conquer Rephidim or any other empire to defend honor.
The Sabaoth's plan is appropriately vague, though it largely involves an attack on Rephidim by air, of course on multiple fronts, so that Rephidim will not be able to mount its defenses in a single spot … and so that the Eeee can capitalize on their superior mobility. Timing will be crucial, but the Sabaoth hints that he has another plan in store. "It is time," the Sabaoth proclaims, "to awaken the Plaguebringers."
THIS certainly promotes much murmuring … even from those who were dumbly smiling and nodding just moments ago.
Unfortunately, while this term must be familiar to the Lords, it isn't the sort of thing taught by tutors to common folk. Still, the name does say a lot on its own…
Brishen blinks. The Sabaoth isn't exactly wrong in his assessment of Rephidim. Still, her heart beats a little faster as she sees hints of discontent amongst the assembled nobles. She stays quiet, however, her eyes bright and watchful. Plague? Oh, wires… that's insane!
Brishen has seen enough illness in Darkside to last a lifetime. The idea of this being used in war makes her tremble, her knuckles growing white as she wrings her hands.
Suddenly, Thath stands. White fur is not unusual among Eeee, but his fur is of such a placid, chalky hue that it seems especially pale in contrast to his raven-black, long, straight hair. He moves with precision and calculation as he places his hands together in a traditional, supplicating gesture, even while his words are those of subdued protest. "Lord Sabaoth, Almighty One, Possessor of Ancient Wisdom, He Who Has Lived For Over Two Thousand Years, I humbly beseech you, that you might listen to the concerns of a lowly advisor."
Any surprise the Sabaoth might show is greatly subdued, if there at all. He looks to Thath, and says, without any floral verbiage, "Speak, Honored Advisor Thath."
Thath dips his head, then presents a speech of his own. It is burdened with much unneeded verbiage, though not so much as the Sabaoth's so as not to outdo him, of course. "… but I worry about the honor of our Navy, if they should be put into work to bring pestilence to not only warriors, but to children, women, and the elderly. Let them fear, but what glory is there in such slaughter?" And he is cut off with a wave of the hand from the Sabaoth.
Brishen's hands slowly unclasp to rest on her lap. There's a certain calm in knowing what's going to happen, but that doesn't stop curious brown eyes from fixing on the Advisor. How will he counter? How will the Sabaoth answer? What room will this leave for me?
"No! We are warriors! And in war, there are those who die," the Sabaoth's response can be translated. "We do not fight only those who carry swords, but those who allow them to fight. Craftsmen make their swords and armor. Farmers feed them. Wives comfort them. Children provide them with an excuse to fight the enemy. And the elderly encourage them with tales of times past. No one is a noncombatant. No one is exempt from the wrath of the Sabaoth!"
The overall effect is a statement of justification for unspecified cruelties that have a chilling effect upon so many present. But, one by one, heads nod. Thath presents a weak counter, and is quickly struck down by the Sabaoth's very timely retort. And, at last, when it appears Thath is pressing his point too strongly, the Sabaoth declares that Thath's advice is unbecoming to his position. "It is time," the Sabaoth proclaims, "for you to retire to your orchards, and reflect upon the wisdom of the Sabaoth. I will call upon you when I have further need of you." And thus, in a few words, and a great deal to read between the lines, Thath, the second-most-powerful Eeee in Babel, has just been stripped of his title and privileges and exiled to Saskanar the "boondocks" of the Ashdod Territories.
Without further word, the advisor removes his mantle, setting it down on the table … and leaves the chamber.
Brishen tears her eyes away from the Advisor as he leaves, though her ears strain to catch the slightest sound. For now, it's more important to see how the lords have reacted to Thath's dismissal. Later, she can find out just how much of that debate was real.
The elderly Eeee next to Brishen shakes his head, as the Sabaoth, without further ado, departs from the table. He needs to make no excuses or explanations, as he is assisted away from the banquet by several Savanites and reptiles. He is, after all, the Sabaoth.
If the Sabaoth expected this little performance to cement his support, he may be greatly disappointed when he is given reports by his underlings. The elderly Eeee stands. "That is enough for me. The Sabaoth has gone too far. And I'm not afraid to say that, either. I'm lucky to have a year ahead of me regardless. But if you have a decent drop of blood in your veins, you'll take your chances and follow Thath's example."
No guards move to grab the Eeee for his unpatriotic sentiments. No one shouts him down, though several give him disapproving frowns and head shakes. Still, no one voices any support for his position, either, and murmurs can be heard from a few of the lords, as they ponder what forces they can contribute to this campaign.
Brishen catches a spark of an idea as she looks down at her hands, then another. There's so much at work here, so many conflicting forces. She may not be able to stop the war, but perhaps she can change the content of its character And maybe even come out on top. She is who she is, after all, and part of the gleam in her eye is pure avarice.
Eventually, the hubbub dies down, and any further discussions of war dissolve into less weighty matters. Nothing further noteworthy happens at the banquet nothing, in the grand scheme of things but Brishen is left alone in a crowd with her thoughts and concerns and plans. Maybe a chance will come to act upon them. And maybe, just maybe … it won't be too late…