May 7. The Freedom's Dream encounters a vegetated sky island.
(Airship) (H'rral) (Paradys Lost) (Paradys) (Roho) (Zoltan)
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The Freedom's Dream
The magnificent, ancient airship known as the Freedom's Dream sails along, a wooden figurehead of a Vartan bursting forth from a sea of clouds leading the way. The zolken envelope, containing the gases which suspend the craft, glistens in the light, making it a jewel of the skies, bound for an even more legendary jewel of sorts.

Darkness gives way to daylight, revealing a scattering of clouds slightly below the airship, and the ocean far below. For a long time, that has been all that there has been to see – water and sky blending into each other, broken only by clouds and by the Procession. But ahead and beyond can be seen a coastline.

Zoltan stands on his favorite spot on the deck, the mast right above the figurehead. He watches the sunrise quietly.

Roho lies on one of the benches by the railing, where he dozed off. His arms are folded over his chest, and he's snoring softly, his clothes covered in a layer of morning dew.

Zoltan squints his eyes at the coast – are they over a continent? Or simply an island…

A cheetah in a black dress saunters over to Zoltan, standing just behind and to the side of him.

Zoltan looks over his shoulder at the Savanite. "Good morning." He signs, "Had breakfast yet?"

Jezebel shakes her head. "I am not hungry," she signs, and looks past the Vartan, toward the coast as well.

Several of the crewmembers are noticeably anxious as well. There's no chatter, no friendly banter amongst the bats.

Zoltan inhales sharply and stretches his arms and shoulders, "Sea air always smell nice in morning… almost make me wish I could gets away with little bit of fishing," he scrawks. The Vartan looks ahead along the course of the ship, and down at the coastline as well… the sun makes the sand sparkle prettily in the morning sometimes…

Roho snrks, and wakes up as a wing brushes by in passing. He sits up groggily, and steadies himself with a paw on the railing.

Ahead, the scattered clouds are clustered more densely. Some of them pile up higher – rising higher than the airship's current elevation. The crew works to adjust, to avoid having to fly through the clouds.

Jezebel looks to Zoltan, and then walks up to the railing, looking out and down. She turns back to him, and signs, "We are not far, are we?"

One of the bats squeaks as he almost bumbles into Roho. "Sorry, doctor!" He scoots along nervously.

"Not very far," the Vartan replies. "Think we almost there… "

Zoltan peers out towards the cloud-bank.

The clouds ahead grow larger, swirling, changing shape, breaking up and dispersing … but there's one large cloud that stands out from the rest, especially as the airship's path brings it closer. It is almost uniformly round, not unlike a beehive, though more squat, and the movement of the mists seems to swirl about it in a never-ending spiral.

Zoltan squawks, "Morning Doctor, bench on ship more comfortable than nice soft cot?"

Roho blinks sleepily, "Actually, no. Oh well. Are we near land?"

Zoltan squawks, "We coming up on Lamu, you can see coastline from here." the Vartan's voice trails off as he inspects the unusual cloud-bank. "Hrrr… "

The captain walks along the deck after paying a brief visit to check on the air mage who is chanting away on the aft section of the ship. She still sniffles on occasion, but the ship hasn't been jostled quite so frequently as of late. Perhaps the sea air really is doing the air mage some good.

Roho nods, "I smell plants… I like the sea air, but it does get a little monotonous." He grins at the Vartan, "Sleep well?"

Zoltan waves to the captain, trying to signal him over when he's done with the rest of his duties. "I sleep fairly well. Been trying to sleep on floor more… it seem good for back."

Jezebel gives Zoltan a look, and then strides across the deck. The Savanite ship hands keep a respectful distance from her as she passes.

Roho nods, "Better than a mattress… " He stretches, "We going to dock?"

Zoltan arches an eyebrow curiously, ( She seems more quiet for some reason, it makes me almost as nervous as when she's trying to be friendly… )

Boghaz comes over as Jezebel leaves. "A good morning to you. By our navigator's calculations, it will not be too long, and then at any time we may find Paradys."

Roho smiles, "Good morning, captain. Glad to hear it."

Boghaz looks forward. "That's not all good, however. As you can see – " He points forward, but then looks to Roho and coughs, before continuing, "The coastline of Lamu is visible on the horizon. According to the charts, there is a Forbidden Zone on the coast. And, according to Paradys' path, once it gets into that Zone, it will remain there for some time. We must hope to find it before it disappears into the Forbidden Zone."

Zoltan squawks, "Captain… you mind if I fly out and scout something. I gots funny feeling about bank of clouds out there. I go out and be back before anyone miss me.""

Boghaz nods to Zoltan. "Certainly. I would be sending out more Eeee scouts, but Wynona has us moving forward at a fairly fast clip. You're the only one strong enough to keep up with us for any appreciable distance."

Roho nods, "I'm afraid I don't know much about airships. Is a Forbidden Zone something that can be seen?"

Zoltan nods and starts gathering his supplies together. Not much, just a new sling, some stones, and a small pack of rations and supplies should something happen.

Boghaz says, "No, not until you are already well upon it. Of course, there are exceptions … but generally, a Forbidden Zone cannot be seen from a distance. It looks like all clear skies and smooth sailing … and then, suddenly, once you've breached the perimeter, the sky changes dramatically, and storms come out of nowhere."

Boghaz grimaces. "Airships which sail into Forbidden Zones … do not sail back out again."

Roho nods, frowning, "That's one thing I do know. Sounds like fun… "

Zoltan comes back, fully stocked. "MOST airships no come out again… " He hefts his small pack, "I ready to go… permission to leave, sir?"

Boghaz nods to Zoltan. "Permission granted."

Zoltan reaches out and rubrubs the figurehead's beak for good luck and shoots off over the side of the ship. He heads towards the strange mass of clouds.

Boghaz stands near Roho, watching the departing Vartan. "We'll have to keep clear of that cloud. That's some turbulence. It would probably tear us apart."

Jezebel watches from further along the deck as well, her eyes following the large black Vartan as he approaches the swirling clouds.

Roho holds the railing with both paws, facing in the direction of the cloud, but not seeing, "Do you know why Zoltan was drawn to it?"

Ahead of Zoltan, the clouds grow thicker, clustered around a cloud that visibly rotates – not spinning like a cyclone, but still at a noticeable and (to an airship captain) alarming rate.

Zoltan angles himself towards the cloud-bank, preparing to break away or brace himself… depending on how the first blast of wind hits him.

Boghaz looks, and says, "I did not notice before, from the distance. But then, Vartans have especially keen eyesight. That cloud … there is something unnatural about it. I think I had better have Wynona slow down the ship."

The flying is smooth … and then … *FLIP* The world turns upside-down for the Vartan, the sea above him, the Procession below … and then another flip as a turbulent blast sends him spinning.

Boghaz watches Zoltan's unintentional aerobatics. He isn't the only one who sees. The crew springs into action, and there are many bat shouts and screeches, as the airship veers to give itself considerably more of a berth around this strange cloud.

Zoltan screeches! He struggles against the wind as best he can, determined to get at least a peek at what it's hiding.

"Grab onto something!" one of the bats nearby Roho squeaks. "Run your arm through the rigging! We're going to hit some strong turbulence!"

Roho paws around, finds a belaying rope, and grabs it with one paw, his other gripping the railing, "Zoltan find trouble?"

The winds play catch with Zoltan some more, and then the swirling clouds swallow him up, out of sight of the airship. For the Vartan, there is darkness and disorientation. Back on the ship, the bat squeaks, "Yes, I'd say so! *URK!*" The ship jolts and pitches, accompanied by several startled squeaks and shrieks from crewmembers. There's a loud gasp and shudder as Wynona's spell comes to a premature end.

Roho winces, and wraps both arms tightly around the railing, hooking his ankles around a bench support.

"It's pulling us IN!" one of the bats shrieks.

The smell of dust and moisture fills Roho's nostrils, and the sound of whipping air grows louder.

Roho grits his teeth, biting down on questions, to let the bats do their work…

Zoltan continues his struggle, this time in blindness. He begins chanting prayers quietly as his wings try to score a few blows against the wind.

More screams and shrieks … more jolts and tossing about … and darkness.

For Zoltan, though, light comes back again … as he bursts out of the cloud. Or, after a moment of re-orientation … into the center of it. There is a wide, open space in the midst of this cloud, and an open area above that lets in the sunlight.

The swirling "cloud" forms a wall of moving mists and its floor as well, as if this were a gigantic, floating, ethereal chalice … or … not quite. The "bottom" of this cup is not cloud at all. Below (once Zoltan stops spinning enough to be sure which way is down) is earth.

Zoltan looks about, and above himself. ( What in Dagh's name kind of cloud is this? )

The Vartan's eyes spot what appears to be a tower – and then something very shiny. A dazzle of light – so bright that the Vartan is almost blinded by it! And then, out of the corner of his eye, he sees something very large bursting through the cloud wall, coming after him, closing in on him.

Zoltan quickly folds his wings up and allows himself to plummet downwards before… whatever that thing is… notices him.

There are several startled cries and the sounds of snapping cables, and protesting wood. Roho is swung about wildly, but he's firmly anchored in the rigging. When it all comes to a stop … he's hanging from a tangle of ropes.

The Freedom's Dream bounces backward, then bumps into the tower again.

Roho breathes deeply, trying to keep from panicking… and quite clearly aware that he's one of the only ones on this ship without his own wings.

The smells of a tropical island fill Roho's nostrils, whether or not he cares to focus on them. The airship must have lost a lot of altitude very quickly … or else …

Roho starts to slowly untangle himself from the rigging, then thinks better of it, deciding on keeping the secure perch. He sniffs around, at the scents of lush land, quite curious despite his fear…

Several of the bats launch out from the airship, holding mooring cables. There's not much time to figure out exactly what's going on, but they manage to anchor the ship before it can be pulled out and rammed again in the midst of the turbulence.

As there's time to survey the surroundings, the scene begins to resolve itself. There's an island here, covered with lush vegetation, in the midst of an open expanse of air which is, in turn, surrounded by a hollow near-cylinder of "cloud" which worms a wall that rises up and shields the place from the outside world.

Janus dangles from the riggings looking dazed and not a little confused.

After falling downwards just a bit, the hippogryph snaps his wings open, switching his attention upwards at whatever is coming through the clouds, and the tower and shiny thing below.

In the center of this isle is a tall tower of stone construction, with many glittering fixtures along its length. In some respects, it might resemble a lighthouse, except that it has no beacon emitting from the topmost level.

Zoltan resists the urge to investigate the island, and flies back to the airship. "Everyone alrights?!?!?" He scrawks loudly.

Once the ship stops pounding against the central tower, the bats tend to helping their wingless comrades. The deck is still hopelessly askew, several supporting cables having been snapped.

Roho slowly picks his way from the tangle, "Yeah… yeah, fine." He hops down to the deck, grabbing a rail as soon as possible.

Janus groans softly and starts to disentangle himself. "Define 'all right'."

Most of the cheetahs just hang on for dear life. They don't adapt to being tossed about quite as easily as the bats.

Jezebel clings onto a railing from the wrong side, her arms wrapped around the wooden supports and her legs kicking about.

Slowly, the black-garbed cheetah climbs back over the rail. By the expression on her face, if she had a voice, she'd be uttering a stream of curses right now. (She has hands, but they're far more occupied with clutching anything remotely stable.)

Janus grabs ahold of something that looks stable and glances about, fingering a lump on the side of his head.

The Vartan screeks! He quickly flies towards Jezebel, hoping to get to her before she goes over.

As soon as the Vartan is within reach … Jezebel grabs onto him, clinging to him in a fashion quite similar to that of a certain unlucky Khatta who dropped in some time ago.

Janus winces as he touches a particularly tender spot on his head. "Just out of curiosity… are we where we were planning to be?"

Zoltan winces! ( At least her claws don't seem AS sharp… or maybe I'm just getting used to this sort of thing… )

Roho starts trying to get his bearings, "If so, the Island of Shinies smells more lush than I would expect… "

One of the bats looks to Janus, then over the edge. "It … it must be … PARADYS!" He squeaks happily, and leaps free of the ship (leaving Janus alone in his current predicament). The Eeee flies wide circles around the tower … then screeches as a gust of wind sends him plummeting downward.

Janus turns to look at the sound of the screech.

Zoltan flies to a more stable part of the ship, "You alright?" He signs to Jezebel with one hand, then looks alarmedly down towards the Eee.

The bat spirals downward, flapping against the wind, and makes a less-than-graceful landing somewhere below, scaring several Creens. "DON'T WORRY! I'M OKAY!" comes a shout from the trees.

Jezebel just nods her head in response to Zoltan, not daring to free either hand to sign back.

Janus shakes his head and grumbles. With another glance around he tries to pick out a clear path toward the others.

"WHAT YOU SEE DOWN THERE?" Zoltan shouts back.

Boghaz scrambles awkwardly along the deck, reaching Roho. "Here. Those who can't fly, we're going to lower with the landing platform to the ground. I think it may be a little while before we can do repairs."

Janus flicks an ear toward Boghaz. "Optimist… "

A voice from the trees shouts back, "FRUIT! LOTS OF IT!"

Zoltan squawks, "That safe to do with winds blowing around?"

The ship's envelope bumps against the tower again as if to emphasize Zoltan's point.

Boghaz grimaces, then says, "Remaining here seems hardly like the safer option."

Zoltan looks back towards the tower, frowning at it. "I wonder if that cause of our problems… "

Janus follows Zoltan's glance, "It's a building. How could a building be the cause of our problems… barring the fact that we appear to have crashed into it."

Zoltan squawks, "SOMETHING is making winds blow here. I fly through all sorts of storms, flown over skies all over Sinai… and I never see anything like this. Airship seem to be pulled towards tower somehow as well… "

Janus hmphs. "Is there any way in?"

Boghaz nods. "It's certainly not natural. But then, look around us. Feel the air. We might as well be on the ocean right now, on a tropical island. If it weren't for this wind, I'd be getting a bit hot right now."

Janus looks from Zoltan to Boghaz, "Ok. I'm outvoted. Big surprise. So what's the next step? We need to get off this boat."

A red-and-purple Creen flutters up from the trees, perching in the rigging, its head staying in place while its body bobs with the movement of the ropes. It watches the group with glittering black eyes.

Zoltan peers over the side of the ship at the tower (slowly, as to not jostle the Cheetah clinging to him), "I no see any way to get in… "

"Can ship be fixed, Captain?" the Vartan asks Boghaz.

Jezebel gingerly pulls one of her hands free to sign, several times in succession, "Down please?" And then she snaps back to hanging onto the Vartan for dear life.

Roho sniffs over at the Creen, curiously…

Boghaz sighs, then nods. "Yes. Near as I can tell, we took very little damage to the undercarriage. We'll have to inspect the envelope for leaks … but I have high hopes."

Janus glances at Jezebel. "For once, I think we actually agree on something."

The little Creen pokes its serpentine head closer to Roho, its tongue flitting about.

Zoltan looks between the two felines. "I can carry two at time," he scrawks. "But trip might be little rough with winds… probably no worse then going down on platform."

Jezebel makes no ascent or protest, but keeps hanging on.

Janus shrugs to Zoltan. "With the winds like they are, you might be better trying one at a time. Safer, at any rate."

Boghaz says, "I think I'd best check on the envelope right away. If you're not inclined to take the platform down, just find a secure spot on the deck. We'll be pulling the ship low for repairs. Hopefully it won't be as inclined to thrash about, closer to the tree-line."

The bat looks over the edge. "After all, I don't see the trees tossing about."

Janus nods toward the railing, which he has a firm grip on. "I'm fine for a while."

The bat crew, meanwhile, flits about, tending to the rigging and the mooring lines. However, with the occasional gust sending an Eeee spinning, they tend to be working their way along by climbing or walking whenever possible, rather than just flapping from point to point as would normally be their inclination.

Zoltan frowns as he looks over the edge. "Is seem safe for now. although I hopes there way to get out of here." He adjusts Jezebel a bit in his arms and gets ready to head towards the ground, trying to make a note of where the gusts are coming from.

Roho stays safely at the ship's railing.

The gusts appear to mostly be directed more or less toward the center of the island (and the tower) rather than away. They come irregularly … but at this point, they seem to be a lot less of a problem for the Vartan than the much lighter and frail Eeee.

"We're going down now," Zoltan murmurs to Jezebel. As soon as he's sure she's readied herself, he prepares to jump down.

Jezebel nods and doesn't loosen her grip in the least.

Zoltan jumps off the side of the ship… bracing himself just in case another gust blows by… and trying to land somewhere near the tower's base.

Ratcheting noises start, as some of the Eeee crewmen begin cranking on pulleys on each side of the ship.

Below, the best landing spot turns out to be a clearing near the base of the tower, and not far from immediately below the airship. Colorful Creens can be seen, but they scare and scatter at the Vartan's descent.

Janus pulls himself closer to the rail and looks down, trying to track Zoltan's descent.

An odd pile of wood near the edge of the clearing, upon a second glance … is not merely a pile of wood at all. A partially collapsed wooden shack leans against the base of one of the fair-sized trees.

The ship's deck jerks lightly at regular intervals, but slowly approaches a more level position, as the bats crank in the mooring lines more on one side than the other. Once it is fairly horizontal, the Eeee on each side of the ship match pace on the cranks, to begin the slow (and jerky) descent down to the tree-line with the vessel.

Zoltan gently lands, and places Jezebel on the ground. He peers curiously at the shack. ( Does someone live here? Or perhaps DID live here… ) He walks closer to it.

Janus looks at the captain. "Is the landing boat set up?"

Jezebel at first sits on the ground where Zoltan puts her, but as the Vartan walks over to the shack, she staggers back to her feet, and takes a few tentative steps to follow.

Boghaz, back from making an inspection of the envelope, nods. "We have some secure cables to make the ride down a little less bumpy." The envelope thumps against the tower again, making the deck shake. Boghaz frowns. "But still bumpy."

Janus shrugs. "I've already got a lump. What's a few more?"

"You should rest." Zoltan signs to Jezebel as he inspects the shack. "Look like you gots bumped around on ship."

The shack looks to be long abandoned – save perhaps for any wild creatures which may have taken up residence here, as evidenced by a few Creen nests. The wood is untreated, and badly rotted.

Jezebel nods and slowly walks over to a tree, to sit down, resting her back against it, while the Vartan explores the dilapidated shack.

Zoltan picks through the wood, hoping to find something useful inside.

Janus pads over to the landing boat and hops in. "All aboard!"

Roho walks over to join Janus.

Entry into the shack is fairly easy, considering that it's missing a wall and then some, and its roof is collapsed. Picking through the rotten wood, grubs and debris, there's little to be found, save for some bone fragments and broken pieces of rock.

A few Savanite slaves join Roho and Janus, though most of them remain on the ship. The landing platform begins to slowly lower, at a faster rate than the deck itself as the mooring lines are cranked in.

The platform strains against the securing cables, swaying all the way down … but it does reach the bottom safely enough, without pitching any of its occupants over the side.

Zoltan collects the bone and stone and carries them out into the light to get a better look at them. "You been quiet today." He signs to Jezebel as he looks over the items. "Something wrong?"

Janus hops out of the boat when it reaches the ground and looks around, heading toward Zoltan and Jezebel after he gets his land-legs back.

Jezebel smiles back to Zoltan and signs, "Nothing at all. We have found Paradys, have we not?"

Zoltan cocks an ear at the sound of approaching footsteps. "Think so… but this no look like island made of gold to me… and sure not look like what Shokar described."

Jezebel frowns. She signs, "I suppose it's possible … that this could be just another sky island."

Janus stops a few paces away and glances at the shack. "Anything in there?"

Jezebel looks around, then signs, "But … surely most sky islands are cold and desolate. Just rock."

Zoltan holds out a handful of rock and bone. "Found these… and many bugs."

Zoltan rub-rubs one of the stones against his chest-fur, trying to polish it.

The stone, with a bit of polish, shines and glitters brightly. The bone pieces are shiny as well – most of them small, with holes through them.

Janus ahs. Then, "What kind of rock is that?"

Zoltan peers at his 'treasure', "Is shiny rock!" He inspects the holes a bit more closely. Perhaps they were strung together in a necklace… or on a Vartan's tail.

Janus shakes his head slowly. "Shiny. Right."

Jezebel leans back against the tree, looking up at the huge central "tower" (actually, something approaching a man-made mountain that should make the citizens of Babel jealous).

Janus turns to look at the tower. "No entrances in sight from here. I wonder if it's the same all the way around."

Zoltan pockets his findings, and peers at Janus. "You different color now… what happen, you shedding?"

Janus coughs and glances at Zoltan. "Not exactly."

Jezebel grins and puts her arms behind her head.

Zoltan glances at the tower. "Maybe you should no work on ship-deck as much. Sea air bleach you fur."

Janus looks back at Jezebel. "As I recall, you always were easily amused."

Janus chews on his lower lip. "Right, Zoltan. I'll keep that in mind."

Zoltan squawks, "You maybe get mistaken for Savanite… fur look almost like you gots spots."

Janus rubs the side of his cheek. "Yeah… Someone else mentioned that once."

Jezebel just keeps grinning.

Janus walks away from Zoltan muttering softly under his breath.

Jezebel slowly stands back up, her tail swaying behind her as she walks over to Zoltan. "Never fear," she signs. "Everyone knows Savanites can't talk."

Zoltan blinks as Janus walks away, then looks blankly at Jezebel. "Cheery." He signs, pointing to Janus' back.

Janus crosses his arms and looks up at the tower again. "I wonder if there isn't an entrance at the top."

Zoltan signs, "Was just trying to help… guess he must get that lots."

Jezebel looks to Janus, then just nods, and walks to Zoltan's side.

Zoltan squawks, "I saw nothing at top of tower. Maybe if we look closer at base of it?"

Janus looks back and nods. "Yeah. Maybe so. Could be something easily missed from the air."

The base of the tower wouldn't be all that far away, past the edge of the clearing. It would represent a bit of forcing one's way through the undergrowth to reach it, but surely not a herculean effort.

Zoltan flexes his taloned fingers. "We soon see." He starts attacking the underbrush, trying to clear a path.

From the opposite direction of the tower, a group of Creens, startled, shoot into the air, calling out as they scatter.

Janus follows Zoltan's example, attacking the underbrush with obvious determination.

The vines are stubborn, but for as many as are still alive and strong, there are many more that are dead and withered. The obstacles don't prove to be as much of a challenge as they might look at first glance.

Zoltan pauses, glancing back behind at the Creens. ( Oh Dagh… I hope we're alone here. )

Between the two of them (for Jezebel doesn't seem quite so inclined to tear apart the jungle), the Vartan and feline work their way toward the base of the tower. Even though the tower is ultimately cylindrical, it is large enough that when they reach the wall, it might as well be flat. The foliage reaches all the way to the stonework, vines creeping up its surface far above the tree-line.

Zoltan frowns, "This going to take forever to clear."

Janus reaches out to touch the wall. "Yeah… and then some.

From somewhere off to the right (facing the tower), there is a crackling noise and a snap of popping wood. A couple more Creens flee to the air.

Zoltan's ears go back and he hunches down at the noise. He tries to see if he can spy anything through the trees.

Janus turns to the right and looks. "Why do I get the feeling we aren't alone?"

At first, there is nothing to see … but Zoltan's keen eyes pick up something faintly wrong about the lighting in the trees. And then, a few more crackles and sparks, and the reason shows itself … a bobbing ball of blue light slowly glides along, crackles of energy reaching out occasionally to burst pieces of wood.

Zoltan hisses as he sees the ball and hunches down even more.

Jezebel follows Zoltan's lead, diving into the tangle of vines and branches.

Janus looks confused, but is not one to be a rebel. He too dives for cover.

Zoltan keeps his eyes glued on the ball and tries to keep as still as he can.

Janus looks around with his eyes, trying hard to keep everything in sight.

The ball continues to approach, not changing in its speed or course. Aside from the occasionally popping piece of wood, for the most part it leaves no real trace of its passing, save for the lingering scent of ozone.

As it draws closer … Janus' fur begins to stand on end. A similar phenomenon afflicts Jezebel's fur … and also Zoltan's feathers.

Zoltan hisses again, and starts to slowly scuttle out of the way.

Janus looks from the ball, to his fur, to the ball… and very quickly and as quietly as he can, backs away from it.

Jezebel starts to retreat as well … and then breaks into a mad sprint, crashing through the branches which tear at her as she flees.

Zoltan looks nervously to the ball as Jezebel retreats, hoping that it won't pursue.

The ball bobs along at a steady pace, following a path that keeps it at a uniform distance from the wall at the base of the tower. It seems to show no reaction to the movements of those hiding in the bushes or openly fleeing from it.

Janus sees that the ball does not pursue Jezebel and rolls to his feet, putting a bit of distance between himself and the walls of the tower.

Zoltan slowly backs away, watching the strange ball. Perhaps this was the shiny thing he saw from the sky?

*CRACKLE* Without warning, the air itself seems to break and tear as bluish light breaks through, arcing through the trees in the direction that Jezebel took flight. A few more pieces of wood pop … but the ball continues gliding along.

The Vartan gasps and flattens himself against the ground. ( Please… I hope she's alright… )

Janus cautiously backs in that direction, keeping an eye on the ball of light.

The Vartan's feathers slowly begin to "relax" – at least, as much as they might without the influence of the strange ball – as the orb of light passes on, to the point of disappearing amongst the trees again. The smell of ozone slowly dissipates.

Janus feels his fur start to settle and turns to move more directly in the direction that Jezebel ran.

Zoltan nervously rises to his feet as the thing leaves. He quickly spins on a hoof and runs through the trees after Jezebel.

The signs of the forest – and his knowledge of how to read them – guide Zoltan along the path Jezebel took, and he soon catches up with her. The cheetah is collapsed against a tree, her two good eyes wide and staring. But she is breathing.

Her headband has been snagged out of place in her haste to flee, partially revealing Jezebel's disfigurement – in the form of a third, lifeless eye. But it looks even more lifeless than usual. Darker.

Janus rips through underbrush, cursing his curiosity, Jezebel's panicking, the boat's luck, and everything else that he can think of.

In the distance, there's a loud, high-pitched shriek, followed by several Eeee shouts.

Zoltan gingerly scoops up Jezebel, he winces at the sight of the third eye… now knowing where she earned her name.

Janus stops after several minutes of shredding and getting lost. He leans over and rests his palms on his knees, panting heavily.

Jezebel's hands shake as she reaches out for Zoltan, patting at him, as if reassuring herself he's still there.

Zoltan gently pulls the headband down before someone sees what it hides. "I get you to Fennec doctor. You'll be alrights. You hurt very bad?"

Janus closes his eyes and tries to listen for the sounds of the boat being repaired.

The ratcheting appears to have halted momentarily, but Janus can pick out the sounds of a commotion of several shouting Eeees that probably would indicate the direction of the airship presently.

Janus stands up and heads in that direction, still grumbling under his breath.

Jezebel's head turns toward Zoltan, but her eyes just stare right through him. She slowly nods.

As Janus pushes his way into another clearing (some of it fairly recent work), he finds several of the crewmen gathered about.

Janus shakes his head, "Don't go near the tower. There's some sort of guard."

Zoltan nervously waves a hand in front of Jezebel's eyes. "What happen? Third-Eye… can you… see?"

One of the Eeee looks to Janus and squeaks, "Did you see it? Did you see that blue ghost? It zapped Wynona!"

Jezebel slowly shakes her head from side to side. She fumbles a sign for "Nothing."

Janus nods to the Eee, "I saw it. I think it zapped Jezebel."

"Back to the ship!" one of the other Eeee squeaks. "We've got it low enough so it isn't bashing about. Best to stay there until we figure out what we're up against!"

Zoltan carefully stands and holds the cheetah in his arms. "I take you to ship, Doctor Roho heal you. If he no can, then I swear that I find someone who will, even if it mean spending every shekel I gots. You be alrights."

Zoltan starts off towards the ship, albeit at a much slower pace. He acts as though there might be strange glowing orbs hiding behind every bush.

Janus nods, looking back toward the tower. "I'm going to wait for the others."

The Savanite workers on the ground load back up onto the landing platform just as Zoltan finally comes out of the trees, bearing Jezebel.

Janus walks over to Zoltan and looks at Jezebel, "Is she alright?"

Zoltan heads towards the platform. "She been blinded. Anyone else get hurt?" the Vartan glances around, hoping to catch sight of the doctor.

Janus nods. "Wynona got zapped, too. Don't know how she is doing?"

One of the bats answers, "She's up on the ship. Doctor Roho is tending to her."

( So the orbs don't like magic users then? ) The Vartan thinks. He looks up at the ship, "Tell Roho that he gots another patient coming up."

Janus turns and walks toward the loading platform.

Zoltan sits on the platform, carefully cradling Jezebel in his arms.

Janus settles himself for the ride. "Why did it zap her and not us? She wasn't any closer."

The platform slowly rises, leaving the ground, and returning to the deck … which suddenly seems like a much safer alternative to the ground after all.

Zoltan looks back towards the tower. "Who knows… maybe it no like females."

Janus shakes his head. "Maybe not."

---

GMed by Greywolf

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