Leeta returns to the Temple and finds things in disarray.
(Leeta) (Rephidim) (Shadow Kill) (Rephidim Temple) (Test of the Astromancer)
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Rephidim Temple
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.

The flight home was swift as Leeta was carried to the Temple in the arms of the Vartan, Zoltan. She was placed down about a block away and then bid a hasty goodbye as Zoltan rushed back to the forest to check up on Third-Eye.

The streets are quiet as night has fallen. The only noise comes from the heavy steps of guards outside the Temple, and the chittering of… Kavis? Very strange.

The Savanite now sprints for the Temple gates, her fists squeezed tight in worry. She has to find out what happened.

She blurs by several Zelaks and guards who seem to be questioning people outside. The guard at the entrance to the Temple has been doubled, and one of them now carries a flintlock. A Jupani in an armored mask stares at Leeta as she approaches.

Leeta runs up the guards, looking for anyone she knows. Someone who might have a moment to tell a slave what's going on. She pulls the scarf away from her collar and shows her colours to the armored Jupani.

Two of the guards exchange glances. "Didn't they order all the Temple slaves back in?" "I think so… This must be a straggler." The armored one opens up the faceplate on his helmet and peers a bit closer at Leeta's collar. His eyes widen and he stands bolt upright, snapping his faceplate back down before Leeta can catch another hint of his expression. "Get back to your quarters, slave. Now."

Leeta nods, and bolts inside. She wasn't going anywhere else. She knows the shortest route to Tahir's room, and even though she's still exhausted from the dance, her feet fly as fast as she can make them to take her there.

{Oh please, Star, let him be all right.} Corridors flash past her as she runs.

About halfway down the route, the Savanite encounters a 'roadblock' of sorts. Part of the hallway has been closed off. Zelaks prod at the walls and the floor with their antannae as if searching for something while an Inquisitor in dark blue robes questions a pair of Elite guardsmen. The smell of ozone is thick in the air, tinged with the sickly reek of blood. Several panels on the wall look to be burned.

One of the guards being questioned turns to look at Leeta. It's Varn… one of the guards assigned to the Candidates.

She slows down to go around the obstruction, her muzzle wrinkling at the scent. The fur on Leeta's back rises at the smell of the blood. As soon as she sees the guard, she darts to him instead. "Is he safe? Is he okay?" Varn may not understand the signs, but her expression is desperate worry.

"What's this slave doing here?" the Inquisitor, a graying Aquilan, screeches. He glares at Leeta, "Are you here on an errand? All slaves are to remain in their quarters until told otherwise!" Varn just looks at Leeta, his eyes reflecting immense sadness.

"Poor child didn't have a chance… At least it was quick," a voice behind Leeta whispers.

Leeta just stares at Varn, her eyes wide with dawning horror. {Tahir!} The corridor starts to spin, blood pounding in her ears. She grabs onto Varn's shoulderplate, trying to stay upright. {NO!}

"Get this slave out… NOW! I have no time to deal with distractions when there's important business to attend to," the Inquisitor squawks. Varn whispers something to the old eagle, who nods and makes some clacking noises to one of the Zelaks. The Zelak nods and starts to walk towards Leeta. Varn remains where he is; one armored hand slips around Leeta's waist to hold her upright.

Fire-Mane staggers, and starts to growl. Her ears flatten down against her head. She snarls and jumps to the side, dashing around the Zelak. She runs, chest aching, legs straining, and her vision blacking out around the edges. She has to get to Tahir!

"After her!" comes a loud squawk from the hallway behind Leeta. The sound of pounding footsteps as guards begin to converge hammer into Leeta's head. Tahir's room is only a little bit farther.

Leeta runs. {It's my fault. He needs me and I'm not there. He's got to be there. He's got to be okay. Don't let him be hurt!} She ignores the guards following, she ignores the ones about to appear. She just runs straight for the room.

Moments later she's there… and the room is empty. It's also slightly in disarray, the beds are unmade and several books and papers are missing. Moments later a gauntleted hand grasps Leeta's arm firmly as another Elite Guardsman appears.

Leeta yowls! and collapses to her knees. The only thing holding her up is the guard's grip. She chirps weakly, dangling from his gauntlet like a slain bird, calling for Tahir.

She tries to push herself up with her hand, but it only slides in her own tears.

The guard lets Leeta dangle like that for a long moment… as if unsure of what to do. Finally he reaches out and grasps Leeta's other arm and begins dragging her away from the room.

Leeta lets him drag her away. {I don't care. Tahir's gone. I don't care. He's gone and I wasn't there to save him. He's gone, he's gone, he's gone. My Tahir.} She can't think of anything else; nothing else matters. She lets the guard pull her and is as limp as a wet rag.

The Savanite is dragged, and later carried as the guard tries to make things a little more comfortable for Leeta, down into the deeper parts of the Temple, where the Technopriests work. Leeta, having worked mainly for the Inquisition, is unfamiliar with some of these parts… and definitely the deeper ones where she seems to be carried. The guard practically drops Leeta at his feet as he reaches a heavily guarded door and tries to knock on it while still holding onto the Savanite. "I've got her… she's here," the guard grunts.

The door slowly begins to cycle open, not as smoothly as the one in Tahir's room. This one grinds noisily as if it isn't used very often and catches on its own workings.

The Savanite just lies there, feeling her spirit sinking as far down as she is under the Temple. Inside she is dying like a fading fire.

Gentle hands take Leeta and carry her into the room. A female raccoon looks concerned as she tries to help Leeta in through the stubborn door. "Show some strength… He needs you right now," the Rath'ani whispers as she struggles with the much larger cheetah.

Fire-Mane looks up at the Rath'ani like she's the Star itself – a hopeful chirp escaping her lips, and a new light shining out of her tear clouded eyes. Her legs find strength again, and she stands. {Tahir! I'm here for you.}

The room itself looks … quite similar to Tahir's room. Books are piled everywhere, a desk, and a bed with a lone occupant curled up into a ball and clutching a pillow to its chest. The robes it wears and the pillow it seems to be trying to burrow into conceals most of its appearance… but Leeta catches a glimpse of red hair poking out. The figure doesn't even acknowledge the newcomer; it just lies there in the bed facing away… its body jerking in choked sobs.

The raccoon puts a finger to her lips in a 'shush' gesture to Leeta and beckons her to lean close so that she may whisper in the Savanite's ear.

Leeta can barely hold back from rushing to the bed. She aches to comfort him, but crouches to listen to the Rath'ani. Her eyes never leave the curled up figure.

"He was moved here for protection. It's a very long story… but the Technopriest Candidate was murdered today. He and your master were very close, and he is not taking this very well." The raccoon glances back at Tahir and points to two steaming pots on a small stove off to the side. "Try and get him to drink some soup or some tea. He hasn't touched food or drink since the accident. You know him better than I, and we know how important he is to you. The only words to escape his lips were your own name."

Leeta nods, the news sending her cold inside. Feelings of guilt, happiness and sadness clash inside but one thought rises up. {Tahir needs me strong.} She goes to the bed, softly settling her weight beside him and brushing his shoulder. She makes a small bark, leaning to surround him with her arms.

The raccoon quietly backs out of the room, and the noisy clatterings of the door closing fill Leeta's ears. The figure in the bed relaxes a bit and raises his head to look at Leeta. His bright blue eyes seemed dulled now and his face and hair are matted with moisture. He grabs Leeta's arm and buries his face into it, sobbing, "It's all my fault, Leeta. He's dead and it's all my fault… "

Leeta pulls him close against her and holds tight, not wanting to let go. She knows exactly how he feels, his thoughts the same as hers were. She rocks Tahir slowly, letting him cry into her clothes. She'd have to let go to sign, so she doesn't, her hug saying all she wants to right now.

Tahir suddenly tries to push himself away from Leeta. "No. Don't touch me. I'm a murderer… I killed Delwin. I'll probably kill you too eventually." His voice trembles like a frightened child's.

Leeta doesn't let him; she shakes her head and holds on. Now more than ever she wants to speak, to give him more comfort than can be carried in the quiet chirps she makes in place of the words, 'No, No, I'm here for you.'

The human weakly tries to pull himself away, but crying has a way of draining the energy out of you… and Tahir has been crying for a very long time by the looks of it. He lets himself go limp in Leeta's arms, murmuring "… killed him… should have been me… " between sobs.

She holds him, shaking her head and making small noises in her throat as she rubs up and down his back. Leeta holds him up, her own tears coming slowly again as she listens to his loss. Gently she puts one hand on the back of his neck, and squeezes softly. Placing her other hand down where he can see it, she signs, "No, No. It wasn't your fault."

"Yes it was! Yes it was!" Tahir sobs, striking the mattress with his white knuckled fist. "We'd switched duties today without telling anyone. They wanted to kill ME. Delwin never hurt anyone… " He wipes his face with his sleeve. "I'm the traitor. He was just an old mechanic who wouldn't hurt a fly."

Leeta gives a small cry, releasing her other hand and letting it slide down arm before signing. "No Tahir, no. I should have been there to protect you. It's not your fault. You're not a traitor. Please Tahir, don't say such things. It's not your fault, someone wanted the Captain Astromancer dead, they want all the candidates dead. Please Tahir, don't blame yourself."

Tahir relaxes a bit more, his voice clears as he begins to slowly calm. "There was nothing you could have done. The guards couldn't even save Delwin. Something… something happened when they were walking down the corridor that distracted the guards… made them think there was a threat in front of them. Then someone snuck up behind poor Delwyn and slipped a knife into his back. They think it was a Kavi disguised as a janitor." He sighs, long and deeply, and rests his head in the heels of his hands. "The assassin escaped through one of the vents and then was lost in the sewer system outside. It all happened so quickly." He shakes his head.

"Oh Tahir, I would have tried. I'm sorry, I'm so sorry." She reaches out, and brushes her fingers through his hair. Her eyes blink back the water that keeps filling them, "I thought I'd lost you. There was nothing left for me. You are so vulnerable. You all are; you shouldn't have to live with threats of assassinations, more caged than any slave. I wish it hadn't happened, that Delwyn was still here. This isn't right."

"I had heard… the threat of dangers and assassinations. But… but I never thought it would be me." Tahir's shoulders slump. "I feel like something is happening, something too big for me to understand. I suppose it doesn't matter." He points to a pillowcase off to the corner of the room. "They wanted to drag me out of the room and into here as soon as the news hit, but I managed to stay long enough to fetch a few things. I couldn't find the coat… but I have everything else of yours."

Leeta hangs her head, "Thank you Tahir, for thinking of me. The coat is gone now; my sister and I gave it a funeral dance so the Savanite it once was could join in the Procession. That was why I was away. Please forgive me."

Tahir shakes his head. "There was nothing you could have done. The assassin would have killed you as well." He rubs his temples with his hands. "I've been told to get my affairs in order here… the Bridge Candidate and myself are going to leave Rephidim for training on another of the sky islands. Some kind of record storage facility."

The Savanite nods, rising from the bed and going over to the counter. She takes the soup, and a few quick mouthfuls of it to ensure it's safe, then places the bowl on a tray and brings it back to the bed where she puts it down. "You need some of this. They will let me come with you, won't they?"

Tahir chuckles softly as he watches Leeta taste his food. "The Technopriests said you can stop doing that now. They've pretty much established that you're looking out for me." His smile quickly fades, "If you want to come with me… I'd appreciate the company a great deal."

Leeta's ears wiggle, "Well it is much nicer food that I usually get, I don't know if I want to go back to the bread and bugs in the cafeteria. I do want to come with you, but… why are you frowning?"

"I'm just thinking about poor Delwin." Tahir says quietly. "I'm sorry… he was a good friend of Tahir's on the expedition. It is going to take me a little while to recover from it all."

"He was your good friend now as well; try and remember and hold on to the good things. No one is gone as long as we don't forget." The Savanite carefully slides onto the bed, so she doesn't upset the soup. She smooths the covers in front of her, then signs, "When will we leave? I want to tell my family goodbye, and I will have to give those files to someone."

"Very soon I think," the human says softly. "After today they want to get us out of here as quickly as they can. Two days at most."

Leeta nods, "It won't take me that long. The guards and the Champion both said Moffat's replacement, Inquisitrix Esther, is a good person. I'll leave the files where she can find them. My family will be harder; I'll just have to tell the ones I can."

Tahir manages to crack another smile as he stirs his spoon around in the bowl. "Perhaps I'll find something about the speakers the Silent-Ones used when we reach the island. There's supposedly a great deal of old technology there as well."

"That would be nice; I wonder what kind of voices are inside them. Maybe you'll only be able to find ones that sound like a gravelly door." Her ears wiggle, then the Savanite looks around the room of the former Technopriest Candidate. "It's sad, really; I settled things with Third-Eye tonight, and now I'll have to leave her. After all these years of never wanting to see her, I have to go away now that I do… "

"There wouldn't be any use for a Vartan airshipman, would there?" Leeta asks.

The human smiles a bit more. "You reconciled? That's good… I was worried for you. How did you manage it?" He rubs his chin at the question. "I'm not sure. I'm not the one who picks the crew… only my attendant."

Leeta brushes her mane back, then presses down along her tearstripes with her thumbs, squeezing out the water. "It just happened… I don't know how to explain it. She was stone; she barely even blinked when she saw the coat. She wouldn't reach out. Then when I was over the Temple I saw the commotion, and I thought something had happened to you… I wanted the Vartan to drop me right then. I thought I was losing everything… "

The Candidate grits his teeth. "I understand that feeling all too well."

"Then when we landed she still was so cold, and it was too much. I hated her, and I loved her, and she didn't care… and… and… and then she stopped being all the things she is, and became my sister again. How she used to be before Grandma died and she disappeared. The big sister I lost so long ago." Leeta has to wipe at her eyes a few times, just from trying to describe the events, and feeling the emotions again.

Leeta signs, "The one I hated for never loving me, but she does, Tahir. I know it. It's just been buried so deep in her; her life has been so hard, that's the only way she can face it."

Tahir just nods and places a hand on Leeta's shoulder. His soup is still untouched. "I'm sorry you have to leave Rephidim so soon after this. It probably won't be an easy thing."

The Savanite nods, her eyes drying again. "It's all right, Tahir, I'll see her again I'm sure. I'm still hopeful, I'll tell Zoltan. He used to work for the Temple; if he applies he might get brought along with us. If not, at least I'm glad the Star let us fix things up before we were separated."

"I'm just glad you're safe, Tahir. Would you like me to play for you? It might help you eat your soup." Leeta's ears wiggle a little, as she gets her mandolin, and provides her friend with some dinner music.

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GMed by Zoltan

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Today is 11 days after Reckoning Day, Year 24 of the Reign of Archelaus the First (6123)