Rusty desert extends to the horizon, broken up by jagged rocks, and occasionally a rusted hulk of twisted metal, or a blackened crater. On occasion, vents in the broken rock let out wisps of smoke and sulphurous stench, and pools of strange colors bubble and burble of their own accord. The sky is free of any Procession, and while the land is red and speaks of heat just below the surface, the air is chilly or worse.
Travelling through the area around the ancient "gateway" has been hazardous, to say the least. Fliers, at least, do not have to worry about finding some way to make it across open chasms and pools filled with potentially toxic substances, but the clouds of thick smoke rise unsurmountable distances up into the air, and spread about laterally as well, making it hard to breathe in places, and necessary to make frequent stops. The night cycle of this world is downright freezing, forcing camps to be pitched close to the hot springs. At last, though, the party of three fliers has made it out of the worst of it, and into something more closely approximating what was found in a previous adventure on top of the Red Cliffs back on Sinai.
Now, there seem to be a few choices of where to go, although the decision may already be made. In the distance, a dark dome is visible over the crests, and as each obstacle is surmounted, it becomes a little more visible. This structure must be vast, for even after all this travelling, it's still quite a distance away. At least the ground about it can be seen now, allowing a better gauge of its location It is surely large enough to house an entire city the size of Rephidim, and then some.
Closer, but not directly along the route, is a lone, ruined-looking citadel that flies no banners, which looks somewhat reminiscent of the Fortress of Fire. No activity can be seen about it, and there are many craters and abandoned hulks littering the grounds at its base.
And then, there are the various ruined metal monstrosities to be found along the way. Many have wheels, while others seem to be giant, articulated statues. None of them are made entirely of metal some have chitin incorporated into them, while others have materials that may be LIKE chitin, but somewhat suggest glass or ceramic, though hardier than either of the two.
Zoltan carefully helps Wynona over some rocks, keeping a gentle grip on her hand for support. He looks to Kensington to see how the Korv is faring.
Kensington seems to be well enough, considering. Though not exactly bubbly, he energetically boosts himself over rocks and obstacles with his wings, picking his paths while maintaining a lively commentary about the surroundings as he goes.
Wynona wipes her brow with a free wing. "My magic doesn't work at all. I was hoping it was maybe the Forbidden Zone, but … it's gone." Her lower lip quivers. "I sure hope this isn't going to be our new home. I've spent my whole LIFE learning magic. Without it … what am I?"
"We goings to get back, you no worry," the Vartan says, squeezing Wynona's hand. "Besides, maybe it work over chunk of Himar that arounds here."
"Without it, yer Wynona… a bright girl wi' plenny o' her life ahead o' her," rasps the corsair, clambering over some stones. He stops to perch on a ruined piece of machinery and survey the land. "An' Zoltan's right… iffen there t'was one way o' gettin' 'ere, there'll be more."
Zoltan smiles at Kensington and then stops. He looks to the dome and then to the ruined building. "Exiles in Himar say that then from place called 'Life Dome'," he gestures to the huge dome off in the distance. "I bets that the place." He then points to the ruined building, "I no sure about that place… but if you wants to investigates I got no problem with it."
Kensington shades his eyes with a wing, and peers at the dome in the distance. "Well, it'd surely beat fillin' our lungs wi' smoke an' sulphur out 'ere. I be all fer takin' a gander."
Wynona coughs several times. She looks positively ill. Having the lightest body weight and an Eeee's metabolism she's been the most affected by the atmosphere. "I have no arguments. Just as long as we get inside." She hasn't sneezed once since she got here, though.
The Vartan nods. "Think it safe to fly there? Would be quicker."
Wynona nods in agreement. "The air is clearer here. It shouldn't be like the place we came from."
"Aye, we'd make better time," replies Kensington. "Iffen ye start 'aving an 'ard time breathin' again, Wynona, we kin wets down a sash. Ye wear its like a mask, an' it filters smoke out a li'l. Helped me out on burnin' ships, it did."
Wynona nods. "Thank you. I think we won't need that from this point on, though. At least … I really really hope not."
Zoltan starts to secure his pack so he won't lose anything in flight. "Hey Kensington, I bet Titanians would love this place." He opens up is wings and starts testing the air.
The air is definitely clearer here, and the land is more wide open than the jagged ravines of the fire-pits, allowing winds to blow through and keep the air clear. (Of course, that also makes it a bit more chilly, too, but the cloaks and bindings work well against that.)
THe Korv clacks his beak at Zoltan. "Heh, that they would! Iffen a lil' chunk was their 'oly land, they'd faints wi' joy fors a whole world."
Wynona giggles, despite herself, at the notion. "I think they'd all just scatter, unable to pick a single direction to go! We'd never see them again!"
A smirk plays across the hippogryph's beak… which fades into a slightly contemplative look. He digs through his pack and pulls out that funny amber 'helmet' he had worn back in Sinai and ties it to his head. He pulls the rim down over his eyes, looks at his chest, and then looks off towards the Citadel off in the distance.
Kensington grins at Wynona, then cocks his head at the Vartan. "Ye know, I beens meanin' ta ask… what's that helm thingie ye keeps whippin' out every so often?"
Wynona imitates Kensington's gesture, curiously regarding the Vartan, but not adding to the question.
"It see magic, I thinks. Champion of Amber loaned it to me." Zoltan points a taloned hand off to the northwest. "I see something that way… but it a long ways away."
Wynona says, "Magic? Here! Oh!" Heedless of the Vartan's caution about the distance, she immediately leaps into the air, winging off in something approximating the direction that the Vartan pointed in.
"Magic, eh? Not sure what it means, but… 'ey! Wynona, where d'ye think yer goin'?" The Korv takes to the sky as well.
"IT MONTHS AWAY!" Zoltan yells up after the bat. He tugs his 'helmet' on tighter and flaps up after his two companions.
Wynona flaps on determinedly, her eyes full of tears, and without the excuse of the smoke to explain it away. "I'll … make … it! Whatever … it … takes!"
Zoltan sighs and starts to beat his wings at full force, hoping to catch up with Wynona before she gets too far… or worse, exhausts herself and plummets to the ground.
Kensington rasps, "Let it sink in, girl… ye barely 'ad a few days in ye, much less months." He clacks his beak for emphasis. "Magic don't do th' dead any good! So comes back 'ere and make some sense!"
The bat is no match for Zoltan, and is easily overtaken. She looks as if she's trying to pretend he isn't there, though, focusing on her half-imagined destination in the distance. Perhaps too much walking has gotten to her.
The Vartan swoops alongside Wynona, hesitant to physically bring her down. "Wynona… you manage to keep you head when we on Paradys and you lose you magic, and you manage to keep calm during whole Babelite attack. Don't lose it now! You thinks I not want to get there as fast as I can either? My father is outs there somewhere… maybe hurt and in pain. But neither of us goings to be any good if we gets ourselves killed along way. We need rest, and who know… maybe we find faster transport in Citadel down there!"
The Korv glides above, shaking his head. "I don't be any good at this," he mutters to himself, and looks over the landscape while hoping Zoltan can bring Wynona back to her senses.
Wynona bites her lip, stubbornly flying on for a few seconds … but at last she slumps a bit, slowly losing altitude. "All … all right … I … I just need to get somewhere. Somewhere different. It's so desolate here. So … lonely."
"Citadel is different, and we can rest. Besides, I want you show you somethings." Zoltan nods to Kensington and then carefully swerves towards the towering structure. He tries to gently nudge Wynona off in the same direction with gentle gusts blown by his wings.
Kensington takes up a position flanking Wynona from the other side. "Aye, there's sure t'be a reason they calls it 'Lifedome', iffen that's what it is." He tries to steer along the course changes Zoltan makes, while remaining close to the eeee.
It takes some flying, but the threesome get closer to the citadel. It bears some resemblance in structure to the Fortress of Fire, but also some similarities to the Knights Templar stronghold of Golgotha back in Rephidim minus the mountain, that is. It shows no sign of life, however no watchmen, no patrols, no looters or scavengers or skulkers to be seen.
Zoltan looks for a level place to land… hopefully one near an entrance to the building. The lack of any sign of life disturbs him, but for all the desolation… it's still a place to hopefully rest for a bit.
The Korv seems to be less wary, and simply makes to land on the roof.
The mostly flat ground offers many places that afford a view of what looks to be the main gates of the citadel. The doors, oddly enough, look as if they were made to slide open rather than on hinges, and one of the two massive doors (together large enough to let in six Dromodons abreast) is ajar enough to let in the three side by side. The roof offers several perches as well, and plenty of metal and ceramic parapets to hide from prying eyes if there are any to be found in the area.
"Rawk, it'll be good to gives th' wings a spot o' rest," caws Kensington.
The Vartan whistles sharply and points to the gap in the door. "It mights be dark in there, look around for something to burn for light." He looks back to Wynona. "We really goings to need you inside. I know how Eee can see in dark."
"Well, that's a myth, really," Wynona says, ears blushing. "It's the EARS. I can hear my own voice echoing off of things. Good enough that I can find my way around. Ahem." She leans in to the doorway and opens her mouth as if to say something … but only a quiet squeak can be heard. She pauses, her head swivelling back and forth, then says, "The floor is solid. I think it's worth taking the risk to go inside. At the least, we'll get out of the wind!"
"Watch your step, though," Wynona cautions. "There are lots of objects laying about, and lots of damage. I don't think it's just old age. I think there was a battle here, and nobody stayed to clean up the mess."
"A battle, eh? I wonder if they lefts some weapons o' note be'ind." The Korv shoulders up, and looks askance at the other two. "Want me t'go first? Zoltan, 'ave ye still got that pilot's lantern?"
Wynona squeaks, "That would be nice. I can't really 'see' in the dark as well as I could with a lantern." There's a slight pout to her voice as she adds, "Or with magic."
Zoltan flutters to the ground and adjusts his headgear. He goes burrowing in his pack again for the lantern. "I think in place like this, it mights be safer if we go together." He pulls out the lantern and hits the 'starter' mechanism.
It takes several sparks and tries, but the lantern lights fairly quickly for how long it usually takes one of these to start a flame. The entry hall is illuminated in its flickering glow, revealing an ancient scene of combat rusted weapons and corroded pieces of armor lie broken and scattered about, intermixed with piles of rusty sand. There are, however, no corpses or skeletons to be seen.
Kensington's eyes light up as he steps amidst the wreckage. "Ahh, lookit this! Aye, this were a place fer fightin', all right… some interestin' weaponry we gots 'ere… " He begins rooting around like a child in a toy shop, pausing for a moment too look over his shoulder and rasp, "Oh, an' ye might wants ta find someplace comfortable t'rest too."
A peaked archway leads further in, into what looks like one of the sanctuaries of the Knights Templar. Colored glass windows have long been shattered, revealing not portals to the outside behind them, but rather alcoves with some sort of shattered mechanisms within. Like the Fortress of Fire, many of the structures have an oddly angled appearance to them like they really aren't quite right-side-up, but tipped over one way. Not all is like this, however, leading to a fairly incongruous look about the whole place.
Wynona runs her fingers across a ceramic framework of what might have once been a chair. There is no cloth gracing the bare skeleton. "I don't know just how comfortable this place can be. It's … it's positively ancient!"
The Vartan ducks through the opening and stoops to examine the armor suits, trying to determine what species the wearer might have been. "Try putting some blankets on floor, might make things more comfortable. Can you tell how big place is on inside? Maybe how many rooms?"
"Ehhh, nothin' a good bedroll can't fix, m'dear," rasps the corsair, picking up a rusted blade. He looks it over critically, and makes a few passes in the air with it before tossing it over his shoulder, grinning at the fact there's so much metal around he can afford to do just that.
The metal blade shatters as it hits the floor. Ah well. Metal can be melted down.
Quite a few of the weapons look like flintlocks … or, that is, the precious metal components thereof. The wooden stocks have long since disappeared.
As for the species of the wearers of armor … they seem to represent a wide variety of species. Many of them are of the winged variety encountered above the Red Cliffs, known as "Confederates". There is also a very strange set of armor that accomodates a humanoid torso … but with rings down below. Perhaps Naga armor?
There are pieces of armor that suggest that tailed digitigrades might wear them … and plantigrades as well. Overly large shoulder pauldrons seem to have been in style. A recurrent symbol is that of the Star … and a few pieces of armor that resemble a sword with wings … the same symbol that the Confederates wore on their uniforms.
One helmet has no room for a muzzle or ears at all. It could only be comfortable for a human, or something closely approximating one.
Zoltan nervously tips the bridge of his helmet down over his eyes and walks in a wide circle around the room, eyeing everything.
Kensington sifts amonst the weaponry a little more, until he picks up the remains of a flintlock. "I wunner iffen th' powder's still potent after alls this time."
The Vartan pauses as he reaches a corridor and peers down it for a moment. He pulls his helmet back up and shines his lantern down the hallway.
Wynona curiously follows Zoltan, trying to keep in the light.
She can't help but to pick up a few pieces of metal along the way … some fallen medallions that corroded as they are are still metal.
The Korv tosses the corroded flintlock aside, and follows along as well, turning his head this way and that to try taking in all the sights.
Through the archway, the sanctuary opens up into a large chamber with a ceiling higher than the corridor is long. Strange mechanical constructs are suspended from the ceiling and between the walls, of unfathomable purpose, with cables running between them. Past shattered colored glass and overturned pews, is another door, partially ajar. Several columns, statues and pieces of machinery block the way, looking as if they had been toppled there to form some sort of barricade. By the signs of combat beyond, it appears that the barricades did not succeed … and another set of doors can be seen beyond.
"Kensington, I goings to go down here and look at something. There a glow down this way." The Vartan points down the hall, and then seeing that his two companions appear to be following him, he starts down the corridor. He grasps Wynona's hand in his own and slowly picks his way to his destination.
Kensington nods distractedly, studying some of the smashed items around the room, trying to guess at what did the damage to the different mechanisms or pieces of furniture.
It takes a considerable amount of scrambling (as there is too much debris to safely fly) but at last the group gets past the barricades and broken arms and armor, reaching the next set of doors. These are closed, with no sign of any handle on them. They have a symbol which is a variation of the Star upon them, the points ending in four serifs.
To one side of the door is a panel, and some strange little buttons, like someone one would find in the Temple. They're all broken, with signs of wires beneath.
Zoltan releases Wynona's hand and puts the lantern down at his feet. He moves towards the doorway and gives it a gentle push.
The doorway doesn't even pretend to budge. It appears to be another one of those sliding doorways … but there are no handholds to grab.
Wynona walks up to the panel and the buttons and places her hand up against the panel. "Hmm. I think I've read about something like this before somewhere … but … uh … nothing. Figures."
After a few moments of rattling and banging around in the dark, Kensington joins Wynona and Zoltan in front of the door, lifting a foot to rub a stubbed toe. "So, what 'ave we gots 'ere?"
Zoltan offers his lantern to the Korv. "Something behind this door. I going to try and open it… you probably should stand back." He looks towards Wynona as he says this, indicating her as well.
Wynona blinks, and scampers back. "You're … not going to just haul that thing open with brute force … are you?" She looks at the large hippogryph incredulously.
Kensington accepts the lantern, then eyes the door doubtfully. "Looks mighty solid, ol' bird. Prob'ly rusted, too."
Zoltan rubs his chin and looks around at the floor for a metal bar that could possibly find use as a prying tool. "It give me something to do. There a glow coming from behind door."
A thick metal blade still quite solid despite the layer of rust on its surface provides the most usable tool for the moment.
"Glow? I … I don't see a thing, Zoltan," squeaks Wynona. She looks askance to Kensington as if for reassurance.
"Must be th' helmet thingie," speculates the Korv, standing to one side. He holds the lantern aloft to light the door so the Vartan can see where to pry.
The Vartan takes the blade and tries to jam it into the crack of the door. "Urngh… "
"But if it's magic, then how … ?" Wynona lets the question die in the air, as she watches the Vartan work.
The blade loses a lot of its rusted metal as the hippogryph pries into the ancient doorways … but it does manage to break the seal. The door lets out a quiet hiss that lasts for a couple of seconds, and the air suddenly smells stale.
Zoltan wiggles the blade around, trying to get a big enough opening to get a hand-hold… and a peek at what's behind the door.
Kensington makes a sniffing noise at the odor, but doesn't seem to pay much heed. He's probably smelled worse things on cramped ships.
Alas, nothing can be seen behind the door. The door almost dove-tails together (though not truly, or it'd never open) in such a fashion that it would have to be opened wider to see anything beyond. Still, there's enough room to slip some talons in, and the doors don't have any opposing force that would shut them again … just lots of friction and static resistance.
Wynona says, "Oh! Don't hurt yourself, Zoltan!" She covers her mouth with her hands, and draws in her wings as if for protection.
The Korv looks impressed. "Eh, don't worry none, Wynona. 'E's a strong fellow, 'e'll manage."
The Vartan abandones his sword and jams his hands into the opening of the door. He braces his feet on the floor and starts to pull. "Is… hurngh… no problem. Just… uf… like openings… urngh… tight crate!"
With a flexing of mighty muscles that pull taut like steel cables (not that any of those present have seen all that many of those in action), the Vartan pulls outward on the doors. There is a protesting screech of metal, as showers of rusted flakes rain down on the heads of those just outside the doorway … and the sanctuary is slowly suffused with dim light that comes from behind the door.
The black Vartan is limned in the glow as he pulls the portal wide enough to see through … and then …
Wynona lets out a squeak of amazement, her mouth still covered with her hands.
Kensington squints, holding the lantern away to peer into the room.
Zoltan grunts and grips a spot on his arm. "Ow. Door not only thing that gettings rusty."
The Vartan blocks the better part of the view into the chamber beyond, but it is much smaller than the sanctuary, dominated by a cylindrical shaft running up to its ceiling high above. The room is free from the rusty pallor that the rest of the citadel has gained from untold years of dust being blown about, but it is far from pristine white. The glow eminates from glass windows in the cylinder, pulsating slowly, and accompanied by a very soft thrumming sound that matches the cycling of the light.
A strange altar is set before the cylinder, its surface littered with glassy panels that glow faintly, their light reflecting off of the glossy armor of a fully armored Vartan that kneels before it. His armor, obsidian black, is the most complete that has ever been seen on a winged creature. Even the wings are armored, right down to separate ceramic or metal (or whatever this material is) sheathes for the feathers, it seems!
The kneeling figure does not react to the three intruders, keeping his unbroken vigil before the altar and the column of alien energies.
"Paradys… " Zoltan murmurs, the pain in his arm forgotten. He scrawks to the kneeling figure and takes a hesitant step forward.
The Korv glances around cautiously, edging up to Zoltan's side. "What… is it?" he breathes.
The black-armored knight does not respond. Reflections of glowing panels on the altar and walls make patterns that seem to dance across his armor from the point of view of the hippogryph as he steps forward.
Zoltan swallows. "Last time I saw place like this was on Paradys." He slowly moves towards the kneeling figure and reaches out to touch his shoulder.
Wynona takes in her surroundings, cautiously reaching for one of the glowing panels on the walls … but not actually touching it. "On Paradys? What do you mean? I was on Paradys and I certainly don't recall anything like this!"
Kensington's wing-claws rest on one of his swords uneasily. "I don't even knows what this is all about, but be careful… "
As the Vartan touches the kneeling figure's shoulder, the armor plates shift … and move.
Wynona lets out a squeak of alarm!
The corsair circles around, now actually gripping the hilt of a sabre. It doesn't actually slide from its sheath, yet. "Wynona, get back!" he barks.
Zoltan yanks his hand back and holds it against his chest. He doesn't move from his standing spot just yet… although he seems ready to take a flying leap backwards at any moment.
The plates move … and collapse. Whatever was holding the armor in place falls apart, and a cloud of dust flies free. A breeze is stirred up, blowing the dust about the room and then out of the door. Perhaps it's only the imagination, but the sound of the wind whipping through the citadel sounds like the cry of a Vartan, fading into the distance.
The finely-crafted pieces lie on the floor, another strange flintlock weapon amidst them, this one with a stock of some sort of ebon material which is not wood, and quite free of rust or decay. It's a bizarre combination of sword and rifle, with a revolving chamber much like the alien "flintlock" that the Vartan carries.
Zoltan lets his breath out explosively. "Just another corpse… Just another corpse… "
The armor bears the symbol of the Star, bounded with serifs. Except for the absence of an upturned crescent at the bottom, it would look like the emblem of the Knights Templar. The Bounded Star and Anchor.
Wynona takes several sharp breaths. "I'm sorry. I'm being such an airhead. This place is just so … so … charged. And I still can't sense any magic."
Kensington's crest slowly smooths back down, and he lets go of his sword. "Hurr… is it even a corpse? Mighta been armor stacked up an' posed… looks pretty complete. It might e'en fit ye."
The Vartan kneels down next to the armor and reverantly arranges it as neatly on the floor as he can. He hands fall on the weapon, which he turns delicately over and over in his hands. "This place too strange. Full of empty suits of armor… I wondering what kill them all." He turns to look at the glowing pillar on the center of the room.
Wynona looks at the altar before the collapsed armor. "There are symbols of light here."
As the weapon turns over in the Vartan's hands, the reflections on the obsidian-like surfaces are faintly distorted, making curving shadows that glide over the surface … in the same fashion as they did on the armor.
"Whate'er 'twas, it 'appened a long time ago." The corsair still looks suspicious, but seems content to roam around the room, looking things over. "Seems they wents ta lots o' trouble to seal this place up. Must've been important. What's that, ye say, Wynona?"
The Vartan carefully places the weapon next to the armor pile and turns to examine the altar. "You mean Scrying?"
"No, I don't mean Light," giggles Wynona. "I mean light." She points at the altar. There is a dark panel, and just underneath it there appear to be glowing symbols projected onto it.
Kensington wanders over to Zoltan to give the armor a cursory glance, then eyes the altar the figure was kneeling in front of. "What be so great about this 'ere thing, anyway?"
"I saw something like this on Paradys once." The hippogryph glances at Wynona. "Was inside the tower… where Sphynxes no wanted people goings. I… I think I knows what some of these symbols mean." He moves to the spot that the armored figure had been occupying and squints at the screen and its glowing buttons.
The Korv rubs the bottom of his beak thoughtfully as he looks over the altar. "Destruction? Warnin'? It seems t'come back to me a little, from me classes as a lad in Chronotopia. I remember, I wasn't sleepin' that day, 'cause I was makin' eyes at the damsel two rows o'er from me, an' I happened to look at th' chalkboard."
Kensington peers over the strange altar some more, noting the ten bars on the display, all lit save the last. "Hmmm." He looks at the column, and the cables leading away from it to check for a correlation in number.
The Vartan's feathers poof out. "They was going to blow whole place up I think. The knight must have stopped it at last moment." He carefully rises up from his kneeling position. "Is frozen at last number. Watch what you touch… no wants to set it off."
There doesn't seem to be any obvious connection between the cables and the number of bars. There are more than enough for each bar and then some.
The corsair ponders this. "Aye, we'd best leave well enough alone, then," he murmurs, stepping away from the altar. "We were right… there were a reason for sealin' this place up. We better shuts it tight again. Though we don't 'ave t'leave empty 'anded. He jerks his head at the pile of armor and the strange sword Zoltan holds.
Zoltan nods, smiling a bit. "I think he was a Champion, Kensington. There only one Vartan Champion in Golgotha… now I find outs there was another." As carefully as he can, Zoltan packs away the bits of armor and lets the strange sword hang from his belt for now.
Wynona says, "But … if we're stuck here … in a place where metal is littered everywhere … is it worth anything more than chitin on this world?"
The bat says, "Oh! Sorry. I guess I'm just talking to myself. Just wondering whether it makes any sense for me to be such a lightfinger with all these pieces of metal." She rattles a pouch full of rusty pieces.
"Sure 'tis, Wynona!" laughs Kensington. "We'll be goin' 'ome, eventually. Might as well 'ave some souveniers, eh wot?" He sobers a little. "'Sides… I'm guessin' this armor'n sword 'as some special meanin' to our big chum 'ere."
Wynona hmms. "Well … I guess it's his COLOR." She giggles. "And it's shiny!"
"You shouldn't burden youself down. I sure we finds more on the way… and we probably come back here after we find Cambio." The Vartan ties the bits of armor to his pack as well as he can manage and then steps out the door. "For now though, I thinks we should rest a bit. Is been a long day. Maybe tomorow we go see if there way we can get into dome to north… could be they gots some way of taking us to where everyone in Himar is that faster than going by wing."
Kensington nods agreement. "Aye, sounds good t'me. I think we should seal up this 'ere door as best we can, too."
Zoltan rubs his arm again. "I hopes that this closes easier than it open."
The citadel might not have all the comforts of home, but compared to the hazards faced by camping out near the hot springs (or, worse, NOT near them), it has been positively luxurious. Thankfully, the weird moans and howling noises caused by the wind let up fairly early into the night, and it's still dead calm outside as the sun rises.
Wynona is up and packed, travelling lightly … as any self-respecting air mage (with powers or not) should be expected to do.
Leisurely gliding nearby is Kensington, who beats his wings every so often to keep a level altitude. He seems to be lost in thought, almost daydreaming as they travel.
Zoltan adjusts his bulky load, although the weight doensn't seem to bother him. "Shall we head for dome?"
"I be all fer it, Zoltan," rasps the Korv, waggling his wings in an aviator's affirmative gesture. "It'd be nice t'talk to someone, an' our rations could use some roundin' out."
Wynona does a barrel-roll in the air. "I'm in, too!"
The Vartan angles his flight, smiling to himself… It's nice to see Wynona in better spirits. "Let's go then!" His wings slap at the air as he shoots off in the direction of the shining structre.
As the dome slowly gets closer to the fliers, so to speak, more details are visible on the ground. There are several giant broken statues, and what look like great bug carcasses on the ground. The dome itself isn't quite as perfectly smooth as it looked in the distance, but is still translucent looking to be dark to black near the base, gradually fading to clear at the top. There can also be seen three dark lines that trace across the rocky and sandy ground away from the dome, vanishing in the distance. Something large and box-like travels along one of these lines, puffs of smoke or steam rising from its front end.
Zoltan hovers in the air, squinting at the strange… thing. "Maybe it some kind of ground Wyrm or Gooshurm. Want to go check it outs?"
The Korv whistles shrilly though his beak. "That ain't no Gooshurm! It's a steam engine! I seen 'em back in Chronotopia. They gotta be manned, so maybe there be someone onnit we kin talks tae."
"A steam engine?" echoes Wynona. "Aren't those terribly dangerous?"
Nodding, the Vartan grins to Wynona. "It might be a ride to where we wants to go. C'mon… at least they maybe gots some food."
As the group flies closer, the dome looks more and more, for all the world, like a gargantuan swollen beetle, its multitude of legs serving as buttress supports for its considerable mass, as it lies buried in the red earth. The lines across the ground are metal rails, and the steam engine traverses one set of these rails, en route to an orifice of the great bug.
"Eh, they ain't that dangerous," caws Kensington. "Ye just wanna make sure ye ain't sittin' too close to th' engine, 'cause they blow up sometimes. Heh, heh… Titanians… "
The "engine" is revealed to consist not only of a machine belching steam, but several carriages being pulled along after it, large enough to hold a respectable amount of cargo or passengers, or some mixture. Given that the carriages have windows, perhaps it could be the latter.
"I bets if we can land on its, we can ride it into dome," Zoltan scrawks. He looks to Kensington and Wynona and hurries his pace towards one of the carts.
Wynona tucks in her wings and follows the Vartan. There are eight carriages following the engine, the foremost carriage laden with rocks, and the rearmost carriage having barrels of small cannons sticking out of it. Nothing indicates any reaction to the incoming fliers, however, and no signs of motion can be seen, except for a hint of some movement in the cabin of the engine, where the operator must be.
"Aye, let's hitch a ride! It don't look like they gots conductors to collect tickets, so's it must be free!" The Korv tucks his wings in to swoop on whichever cart Zoltan seems to be choosing.
Zoltan makes for the rock laden cart, a bit curious as to what might make the rocks so important. He aims for a spot in the back of the cart, hopefully out of sight from the conductor.
Wynona heads for the same one as well, but then alights instead on the one just behind it, hiding herself on the roof and folding her wings flat against the surface.
The rocks don't look particularly special. They're a bit rusty looking, like everything else (including the carriages), but they're blacker than most of the rocks Zoltan has seen in these parts.
As the carriage train moves along, it passes some scrubby-looking foliage alongside the tracks. Perhaps some plant life DOES grow outside the life domes. It sure doesn't look like much to bother counting, though.
The Vartan gives one of the rocks a pat and hunkers himself down as best as he can.
The rock leaves some sooty traces on Zoltan's claws … but against his feathers or hair, it'd probably be unnoticeable.
Something thin and stringy flits out of the window of the carriage Wynona is perched on. It's rather like the tongue of a Naga.
Kensington shifts on his perch on the edge of the cart. "Hmmm… We must be in a supply train. This stuff 'ere is coal… they burn these rocks t'run their steam engines."
A whistling-twittering noise can be heard from the cabin of the engine. A flash of turquoise can be seen in the window for just a moment.
Zoltan's ears perk at the noise.
The Korv remains pretty much oblivious, chattering on about about coal. "… and so's it 'ad t'do with ships, an' I was interested. There were 'speriments wi' steam engines on airships, ye know… an' I heard tell that coal weren't actually rocks! 'Twas dead stuff, plants and things, crunched into black hard stuff by the ground for years an' years. Long 'fore me grandpapa, even."
Wynona quietly squeaks, "Uhm … plants?"
That Naga-tongue thing flits out of one of the windows again.
"Keep you voice down," Zoltan whispers. He rubs some of the soot off on his feathers, and then grins to himself. He picks up one of the rocks and stretches it out to the Eee.
Wynona fumbles for the rock, then manages to grab it, and pulls it up to inspect more closely. Her hands are now blackened with soot, and she frowns as soon as she notices this … but doesn't make a sound at it.
"Aye, plants! It squinches up inta black ooze, thens 'arder inta black rocky stuff." The Korv ponders this, having lowered his voice, and glances around at the landscape. "Come t'thing o' it, this might mean Abaddon 'ad more plants than this long ago."
Zoltan flicks his finger around as though it were the Naga tongue, and then touches it to another coal rock in his hand. He makes an 'ew!' face and then winks.
"What could mash plants into rock?" the Vartan mutters.
Wynona raises her eyebrows, gets the most bizarre look on her face, then shrugs and smiles. She dusts her coal-marked hands upwind of the "Naga tongue". Being an air mage, she is an expert at knowing such things as aerodynamics, and the coal dust hits the tongue. For whatever good that does.
A hissing and sputtering noise comes from inside the carriage, and a few very grouchy-sounding noises accompany some angry thumpings.
Wynona throws herself down again, letting the coal tumble away.
"More rock, a'course," rasps the Korv, He watches Wynona and Zoltan curiously, especially at the strange noises. "'Ere now, what're ye two up ta?"
Zoltan shrugs. "Naga shouldn't stick his tongue out window so close to coal bin. Wind might throw dust up on its," he whispers and then cranes his head up to see how close they're getting to the mouth of the dome.
Some hissing-noises that sound vaguely bird-like come from the carriage.
Kensington glances up along to the carriage, then makes a low, "Ahh… " noise. He snickers to himself.
The Vartan's ears perk again. He scoots closer to the edge of the bin and listens to the carrage.
A few hiss-muttering noises can be heard from the carriage, but nothing intelligible.
However, from Zoltan's better perspective, he can see that there are bars on most of the carriage windows.
Zoltan's ears go flat. "I think we on a prison train… " he spins around to look back in the direction of the approaching dome. "I hope that means that dome isn't a prison… "
The orifice is much closer now, and large enough to not only swallow up the train, but with enough room for small bug-like vehicles or bug-drawn wagons to scurry in and out as well, providing a small amount of traffic that congests at the bottlenecking gateways.
"Prison train?" whispers the Korv, looking puzzled. "Why would they loads coal all over it? An' only 'ave one prisoner in there?"
The Vartan carefully leans over to try and get a better view into the train and its occupants. "Or why they gots guns… and speak Vartan."
Wynona's ears poke up over the top of the carriage. She says, "I think I hear more in there. They're just very quiet."
It looks like only the rear carriage has guns … and it doesn't sport the barred windows that the forward carriages do. The interiors of the carriages are fairly dark, but a glint of green can be seen in the first carriage (that is, the one after the coal wagon), and some glints of tawny gold and russet red as well.
"Quiet, Malachite," says a voice in accented Rephidim Standard. "There's nobody but us to hear you complain!"
Zoltan hunches back into his spot. "Nothing to do now but wait until we reach end of road I guesses… "
The train passes into the chitinous archway into the hull of the collosal bug-dome. For a moment, things grow dark … but then light again. Within the shell of the great bug is, indeed, a city, but more than that, fields full of crops, some of them ready for harvest.
Fliers of many species flit about amongst the chitinous rafters and buildings some of which rise from the ground, but just as many suspended from the ceiling or jutting out from the walls in terraces.
The Korv looks on with great interest. "By the crosswinds, this place be somethin'," he rasps. "We could takes ta th' air, iffen ye thinks we shouldna be on this train any longer'n we 'ave ta."
The sunny sky is visible through a mostly transparent dome, and it is filtered through the wings of many great flying insects … or insect-like THINGS, as they appear to be hybrids of bug and machine, ridden by or containing winged beings that use them as vehicles. Similarly, bug-vehicles skitter about on the ground.
Just inside the entrance, a great statue of an Eeee stands … or something that roughly approximates it, about four or five times as tall as the real thing, and fashioned of a collage of machine and chitinous insectoid parts. More surprisingly, perhaps … it moves, and holds a giant flintlock at the ready, as if guarding the gateway.
Zoltan seems momentarialy lost at the sight of all the strange bugs, Kensington's words manage to snap him out of it. "Yah. Good idea… maybe someone here had heard of Himarians." He starts to spread his wings.
Kensington opens his wings as well. "Iffen any o' us gets lost in th' dome, we kin meet at that big eeee statue… thingie."
A flight of Vartans glides past. There are bird-cries here and there … definitely in the Vartan tongue, or a very close variation of it. It has a certain accent to it that has flavored that of all the Abaddonian Vartans. Something … that sounds Babelite, really.
The black Vartan jumps from his seat in the coal, shakes the dust from his feathers and takes off after the Vartans.
The train starts slowing, as it approaches a building. This, too, resembles something very bug-like in structure. Wynona, rather than waiting to see where the train will stop, takes flight after Zoltan, looking all about herself in amazement.
At least there should be some comfort in that the Korv, Eeee and Vartan don't LOOK the least bit out of place. Their races are quite common here, by a quick glance.
The Korv follows soon after, shaking his head. "An' Zoltan… I guess I just don't knows th' language out here, so I'm gonna 'ave ta stick near ye… wait, wasn't someone on that engine speakin' Standard?"
However, there are other creatures to be seen that don't look quite so familiar. Insectoid near-humanoids lumber along, somewhat like Zelaks in appearance, but walking upon two legs, each with four arms, and strange proportions and musculature that suggests something other than a standard Zelak exoskeleton.
Wynona squeaks to Kensington, "Yes, I most certainly heard Standard. That … doesn't really make much sense, now does it? Not that ANY of this does, now that I think of it."
Zoltan scrawks something to the Vartans and waves an arm. "Yah," he says over his shoulder. "I no gets to see who speaks it though."
One of the Vartans scrawks something back, then chirps something to his fellows, and splits out of the formation. He flies over to run alongside the threesome, and scrawks some more at Zoltan.
"Weren't there a name? Maktaklai, or somethin'?" The corsair stairs at the insectoid beings below, with an odd expression.
"Malachite," says Wynona. "It's a green rock. A magical component."
Wynona says, "Very expensive. It's very oxidized copper, essentially."
Zoltan shaking a few more bits of soot from his feathers, Zoltan whistles to the other Vartan, pointing outside of the dome.
The native Vartan makes what sounds like a laugh, then scrawks something back to Zoltan, making some pointing motions as well.
The Korv nods, causing his flight path to dip momentarily. "Huh… we better remembers thet name. We might 'ave ta find 'em later… d'ye speak Vartan, Wynona?"
Wynona squeaks, "No, sorry. I mean, I know a few phrases … but only directly pertaining to my job. Like, 'Stop!' and "Don't sneeze!'"
Wynona scrawks something.
Wynona squeaks, "See?"
Zoltan's eyes go wide and he almost drops out of the sky. He manages to recover and starts squawking rather energetically.
Wynona squeaks in alarm at Zoltan's reaction. "I didn't mean it LITERALLY! I was just demonstrating!"
The native Vartan scrawks something back to Zoltan, his expression showing some mild alarm at the big black hippogryph's faltering.
"Cambio Herbir here… and he a HERO!" the black Vartan says, his hands trembling.
Kensington looks on with concern as well. "Are ye all r-… he WHAT?"
Wynona squeals, "That's GREAT! I KNEW Herbir was a good egg! Er … I mean, so to squeak."
Zoltan bunches up his fists and squawks!
The native Vartan seems taken aback. He scrawks something back.
"Always one step too slow… " Zoltan sighs, running his hand through the feathers of his head. He scrawks in reply, although his tone is much more muted now.
The confused Korv caws impatiently. "What? What's happened now?"
The native Vartan scrawks some more, pointing to a great structure in the very center of the bug-dome, which forms a supporting pillar rising all the way up to the ceiling. It looks like a great chitinous palace and tower, but also much like a living creature … or some sort of alien engine, with numerous pipes or hoses reaching out to supporting organic structures.
Wynona squeaks, "I'm DEFINITELY going to have to pick up the local language."
"Herbir left on mission… with 'Sinai warriors'." Zoltan looks off in the direction of the large structure. "And person that know where he gone off to is that ways."
Kensington looks the tower over with some small amount of disbelieve. "It all be so strange… jus' when I sees stuff I thinks I knows, it shows an odd side." He raises his bill at Zoltan. "We gonna visit th' tower, then? Any way ye can prover yer Herbir's son ta them might open some doors fer us."
"Just my feathers, and name we both share." Zoltan whistles something to the other Vartan and dips his head in a bow. "I doubts he told anyone abouts me, although he might no have told many his full name. We see how far it gets us."
The native Vartan scrawks something back to Zoltan, then bobs his head and flies away.
"Well, we should do what ye thinks is best, Zoltan," muses Kensington. He waves a wing in mid-air at the dome in general. "Yer our only means of communication, so yer learning th' most about this… though I 'ave ta say… it seems like I recognize a lot o' this stuff."
"I wants to hurry… faster I go, better chance I gots of catching up." and with that, Zoltan starts off towards the massive central building.
At the great column-palace, the threesome is welcomed, though Zoltan pretty much has to do all the squawking. His word at being the son of Herbir is readily accepted, and the threesome are readily accepted as honored guests from the far-off world of Sinai.
Ushered into the great hall of the palace, the group is seated and presented with much food and beverage … despite Zoltan's frustration at the delays in pursuing his mission with all due haste.
The food, perhaps not surprisingly, is of primarily Eeee cuisine, with a few vegetables thrown in, and several wiggly worm-things of various colors. Wynona is delighted, and digs in. She doesn't seem to mind the architecture, either. Bugs, bugs, bugs. Even many of the servants are insectoid, though they do not speak Even Zelaks have that up on them.
Kensington, for one, seems quite pleased to take up time he can't spend talking occupied with eating. He readily scarfs up whatever is put in front of him, squirming or no, and comments favorably on the flavor despite the fact no-one can understand him.
Zoltan pokes at his meal, watching it wiggle around on his plate. Despite having spent the past several days eating nothing but tasteless traveling food, he doesn't seem to be all that hungry.
Wynona stuffs her face so full that she wouldn't be able to converse even if she spoke the language.
A lone Eeee in some sort of priestly robes steps up on a dais at one end of the hall, and addresses the guests which include more than just the three aliens. His squeak-scrawking is in the same language all the natives use, of course.
As the Eeee steps aside, those about the room start striking their hands together in applause. Even the apparently mindless insectoid servants mimic this, clacking their mandibles and manipulators together, as the wall-shell at one side of the chamber slowly slides upward.
Zoltan sits bolt upright, his eyes wide. "No… "
The Korv pauses in mid-scarf, crumbs and a something wriggly falling from his beak. "Hrunf?"
"Remember whats I say abouts the Champions?" the black Vartan whispers. "Well, they exist here… and they goings to kill one of they lancers. I… I… " He shakes his head. "I think these people and knights are enemies, or at war, or somethings… "
As the wall slides upward, behind it is an enormous bug-like … thing. That describes pretty much all of the architecture, but this is far more alive, connected to the walls with tubes that look like wriggling worms, greedily feeding upon the body of a great hive queen. The insectoid head has swollen and bloated outward in a very non-insectoid manner, growing into a massive, pulsating, brain-like mass that is half again as large as the bug itself. It has several manipulative appendages, but seems to be quite immobile. Tubes run from it to a number of upright bug-constructs, looking both like great beetles … and chairs, the mandibles and pincers placed in such a way that would make it very uncomfortable to sit in any of these thrones.
A massive, well-muscled figure strides out. A Vartan … Eeee … no, a chimeric hybrid of all the flier races known. His face is that of a Vartan, but Eeee ears rise from his head, and Eeee-like wings grace his back … though they are far more muscled and massive than the fragile constructions the bats rely upon. A Kujaku tail trains behind him, and he stands on cloven hooves. His left arm ends in a Vartan set of talons, though his right arm is fused with a chitinous gauntlet. His eyes glow red in the way that it is said Sylvanian Eeees' eyes do.
"Thur gonna kill a lancer?" The Korv looks vaguely discomfitted at the notion. "Well, th' lancers ne'er did nothin' for me. They… eugh!" Kensington's face scrunches up around his beak at the sight of the grotesque buggish brain-thing.
The muscular figure wears ornamentation that looks almost like an exoskeleton on him, with mandibles of a great stag beetle forming a crown and horns. His chitinous pauldrons rival the worst Templar armor that would require wide doorways to traverse. He looks out upon the audience, and the applause silences.
Kensington doesn't look as revulsed by the chimera-like creature, but studies it with a sort of morbid fascination anyway. "It's a bleedin' Nobahkihm ta end all Nobahkihm," he mutters.
Zoltan feels something cold in the pit of his stomach. He unconciously rises to his feet as the figure walks in. "I… can't… can't let it happen." he whispers, more to himself than to anyone else.
"Eh? Whatta ye think yer doin', Zoltan?" Kensington glances between the Vartan and Wynona, half rising as well.
The chimeric creature turns to look at Kensington. In a harsh-sounding language, he addresses the Korv.
To Wynona, the chimeric creature looks, and he makes some high-pitched sounds which are barely audible.
And then, he scrawks to Zoltan.
In crisp, clear Rephidim Standard though with a hard-to-place accent the creature says, "I am the Overseer of this Life-Dome, and the speaker for the Progenitor. On behalf of the Confederacy, we welcome you."
The black Vartan looks back at the grotesque bug… thing, and then to the Overseer. "Where is my father? And what he do to become a hero?"
The Korv jerks briefly, as if he's received some kind of shock, though it's all surprise at being addressed. He starts responding with the same hard syllables, made even harsher by his own gravelly voice, but stops as Zoltan speaks. Confused, the bird merely sits back down, watching Zoltan.
The Overseer says, "Cambio Herbir returns with his warriors and my people to secure the Pit of Himar against our enemies. He shares our enmity with the Silent-Ones, and wishes to free our land of their bloody crusade. He aided our warriors against their Titans, and somehow succeeded to disable them with 'magic' from his world."
"And where is pit of Himar?" Zoltan asks. His voice sounds as though it were on the edge of cracking, yet is tinged with a coldness as well.
A membranous portal opens up on one end of the hallway, letting in sunlight from the dome outside. In flutters a great bug … a Plaguebringer, though somewhat modified, with a larger body. Its rear splits open, disgorging several guards who drag in their prisoners a green-scaled Naga, five Savanites, and a dark-skinned, red-haired human woman.
The guards about the room are armed with strange weapons that are like flintlocks … but not. They look like insectoid parodies of flintlocks, with distorted limbs serving as the stock and trigger, and with a mandible-flanked orifice serving as the muzzle. They keep close watch on the prisoners as they are filed in.
The Overseer says, "It is a fair travel from here. After the ceremony, we will gladly show you a map. In fact, if you would like, you will be taken there to be reunited with your father. Or else you are free to remain here as guests until his triumphant return."
Zoltan closes his eyes for a moment, and then re-opens them. There's a subtle change to him though in that short span of time. He turns to Wynona and takes her hand in his… then… he gently kisses it.
Wynona has definitely lost her appetite. "Zoltan," she whispers. "I … This … Oh dear."
The Overseer continues, "I believe we have much to share with each other. We look forward to learning more from you about the wondrous world of Sinai. And how you got here."
"Sinai?" says the human, and she turns to look toward the three aliens. She is jabbed along by the stinging pincer of a mantis-pike held by her guard. "You're from Sinai? Tell them! Tell the Knights that we need " She is struck again by the pike, and cries out in pain.
The Vartan places his hand on Kensington's shoulder, gives it a squeeze, and then moves from his place at the table and towards the prisoners. "My father is helping you battle Savanites… and Knights." He looks to the Overseer and points to the assembled prisoners. "Like these?"
The Korv just shakes his head slowly, unbelievingly. "But… Zoltan, ye… " He stands partially again, but can't find any words.
The Overseer nods. "That is correct. The Knights and 'The Temple' are corrupt and wicked on your world as well. We fight a common enemy. Together, we can eradicate them from both our worlds once and for all."
Zoltan's face is hard, his voice is cold as ice as he walks towards the prisoners. "The sworn enemies of my father… the Knights and the Temple… " He looks for all the world like he's ready to leap on the prisoners and gut them himself.
The Overseer smiles, and gestures to the guards. The guards lead them up to the bug-chairs. One of the Savanites is forced down into a chair, and the multiple chitinous legs wrap around him, holding him securely in place, as the mandibles slowly grasp for his head.
Kensington doesn't sit back down. He exchanges tense glances with Wynona.
Zoltan moves to the side of the grotesque bug… maybe he's trying to get a better look at the goings on.
The insectoid head of the great grotesque bug swivels to eye Zoltan with its six or eight optical organs. It clacks its mandibles together, but doesn't appear to be saying anything or trying to express anything meaningful.
The Korv grinds the edges of his beak. (I wish I'd thought to ask about the train,) he thinks wistfully.
Wynona wrings her hands, her eyes closed, as she chants some meaningless gibberish. It doesn't seem to be doing anything except drawing stares in her direction.
"Enemies of my father… the Champions, the Temple, and the Savanites… " Zoltan says, picking up his pack in one quick motion. "These things make him a hero… if that so… then… " and in one swift motion there's an ebony black blade in his hand, strange runes etched across its surface in silver. In one blindingly quick motion he's in the air and headed over to the bulging brain of the bug. His sword slashes out to hack a channel into it. "THEN I HAVE NO FATHER!!!!"
The Overseer shrieks in a voice that sounds like many, and which is echoed by a roar from the bug-thing, "NOOOOOOO!" There is no time for the guards to react, before the black blade has found its way into the soft, pulpy mass of the great brain. Even though its leathery surface provides some resistance, the finely-honed blade cuts swaths of destruction through the writhing mass.
Darts whip through the air as the guards fire their bug-weapons in the initial panic, but none find their marks, ricocheting off of the bug-chairs that line the "stage". And one even bounces off of the Overseer's armor.
The pinkish meat sizzles as it touches the hippogryph's talons, stinging painfully … and a suction seems to be pulling the weapon inward.
"RUN! RUUUN!" Zoltan screams. He releases his blade and pulls out his revolver, firing it at the dart shooting guards.
One of Kensington's sabres is drawn, whining as it's freed from its sheathe. "Oh, ye done it now, Zoltan! Wynona, hide! Run! Or get under th' table'r somethin'!" He jumps onto the table, scattering dishes and glasses to assail anyone who seems to be a threat. He grabs a platter with a huge bug-roast on it, and jerks it up as a makeshift shield on his left wing.
One of the dart-shooting guards goes down, his weapon falling to the floor and breaking on the impact. The living weapon screeches and thrashes about, firing a couple of darts randomly before it settles and dies quietly.
One of the darts ricochets off of Kensington's makeshift shield, and imbeds itself in a nearby wall. The living wall turns a faint shade of green in a widening circle about the impact point.
Another guard is felled by an expert shot from the hippogryph's revolver, and the smell of gunpowder permeates the room.
The Korv leaps down from the table to wade into the fray, style set aside for quick lethality as he lunges at his nearest assailants.
The Overseer and the Progenitor, meanwhile, scream in agony. The Savanite in the restraining chair manages to wriggle free as the restraining pincers convulse violently … though the cheetah is bleeding from many wounds as a result of the sudden extraction.
Two more of the dart-gun-holding guards fall to Kensington's blades. That just leaves two heavily armed thugs on each side of the stage … and the five guards accompanying the prisoners. The latter hold their mantis-pikes menacingly … two of them moving down the line to stun each of the prisoners lest they get away too easily.
The surface of the bug-brain bubbles, erupting in places to spew vile substances on the Overseer and nearby surfaces.
Zoltan draws the Champion's sword that has so recently found its way into his hands… and as he continues firing at the guards… he points the muzzle of the other weapon at the bug's head and fires everything the weapon has into it.
Alas, the recoil from the Champion's weapon was a bit more than the hardy Vartan was prepared for. He is knocked back off of his hooves, sent crashing into the table. The shell buries itself somewhere in the bug-brain (It's a large target), having apparently no effect.
And then, it explodes.