1 Reckoning, 6105 RTR (14 Nov 2001) Envoy returns to a not-so-warm welcome in Babel.
(Airship) (Ashdod) (Babel) (Envoy) (Rory) (Spheres of Magic) (Wynona)
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A whirlwind of travel and visits to exotic places has taken Envoy from Rephidim down to the conveniently local Himaat, to enjoy the luxurious hospitality of the Khattan Emir, to pay another visit to Barabbas (content, but looking not quite so healthy as last time she saw him, despite not only his own best efforts, but those of the best Khattan physicians and life mages), and to do other special errands. Rory's opinion of Barabbas and his creations could be best summarized as "Darrrrrrrrk!" Barabbas, for his part, was more than a little curious about the small Aeonian as well.

From there, it is on to Babel – a much longer trip, since it doesn't work out this time that Rephidim or Caroban happen to be going Envoy's way. As it is, a few seasonal storms cause some minor delays on the way; Envoy and Rory end up cutting it close on their attempt to make it to Babel in time for Reckoning Day. When the Tower of Babel and the mountain range of the Seven Sisters loom in view, it is One Reckoning; at sunset, it will be Reckoning Eve, recognized by some as the true start to this Rephidim-designated holiday.

It is autumn in the northern hemisphere; this close to the equator, the seasonal changes aren't as severe as they are in some quarters, but Babel also happens to be at a fairly high elevation, being amongst the mountains. End result: it's chilly, and the Winsome Smile is braving a storm as it approaches Mount Dronnel and the Tower of Babel en route to the new Guild Hall of Babel. Despite the cheery name, the craft is fairly ramshackle, the only one that Envoy could find willing to make the rest of the trip from the Gigi Coast. Envoy's fellow passengers (with the notable exception of Rory) have been tight-lipped and generally not social in the least, having a distinct air about them of heading to Babel on business rather than pleasure.

Peering through the small porthole of a cramped cabin, Envoy comments to the figure on the bunk, "We're almost there, Rory. I can make out the city through the rain."

The unicorn sitting on the bunk hardly notices; he seems far more wrapped up (literally) with the task of trying to feed some scraps of lunch to the two long carapaced centipodal creatures from Ashtoreth that Envoy usually wears as "fashion accessories". "Yeeee!" he squeals. "Stop it, Knick! Hold still, Knack!" Not that he has the slightest idea which one is which, either, as one of them skitters across his mane, and the other furtively nibbles at the snacks held in his off hand.

The Aeolun turns away from the window to see how Rory is doing. "I think they like you, which is good. I'd feel better if you took one of them with you when it's time to leave the Guild Hall."

Rory peeks out from underneath one of the creatures as it migrates from his mane, over his nose, toward the hand full of munchies. "But then you wouldn't have a matched pair! And they tickle! I'd be giggling all the time."

Envoy grins, and says, "They keep still when you wear them. It's been a long time since you've been to Babel. Do you remember what it looked like? I've never seen it without the big pit in the center."

Rory frowns at the reminder of the pit. "Well … I didn't really get out much from the Guild Hall. I mean … without wings, I guess Babel is a lot bigger than if you have them, and you can't really get around as much … though, really, I guess I had about as much to explore around the Guild grounds as I ever did on Rephidim, anyway. Just not as much as Lamu. Now that was big. But … oh yeah … Babel. Well, it wasn't anything like Caroban, even at the Guild Hall. The buildings were all really old, and though you could tell magic was used to make them, you could tell they had been around a really really long time. The neat thing was finding the secret passages – those were all over the place." He grins.

"I bet the architects really liked playing hide-and-seek as kids," Envoy comments. "Are you good at finding secret passages? I've only ever seen a sort of secret closet at the new Guild Hall."

The unicorn nods. "Well, I think maybe the secret passages used to get used for important stuff, once upon a time, but after a while, it just sort of got forgotten, and the doors would get little wears around the edges, and after a while, even kids like us could find them. Actually, I never found any on my own. The Scryers were always best at that, of course – even though a lot of the passages had scry-foils built into them, Scryers just tend to be more skilled at finding things. It's part of their training." He then breaks off in another fit of giggles as Knick and Knack chow on the crumbs in his hand.

"I always thought secret passages were for servants, so that they could do their chores without really being seen," Envoy says, and sits on the bunk next to Rory. "The new Guild Hall used to belong to some noble. It's really fancy. I think you'll like it."

Rory looks somewhat disappointed at the explanation about the servants using the passages, but brightens up at the report on the new Hall. "Ooo! Are we pretty close to being there yet? Do you think we can see it from here?"

Envoy checks out of the porthole again to see how much progress the older airship has made.

Outside, for a moment it looks as if the sky has gotten suddenly a lot darker … but Envoy's eyes quickly adjust, and she realizes that, actually, there's another airship out there, very close, blocking her view of Babel. Given the size of the airspace, and the relative lack of air traffic she'd observed, especially with this storm, this is highly unusual.

"There's a big airship in the way," she reports to Rory, and angles her head this way and that to try and see if the larger craft has any recognizable markings.

Envoy's heraldry is a bit patchy, but the emblem on the side looks like one she has seen before – some sort of merchant guild, Ashdod-based, possibly Saskanar. It does not, however, have any cargo in its under-slung cargo netting – fairly curious for coming in to Babel, since Babel would be an unlikely spot to go for a merchant with an obviously short-range airship like this. More likely, such a ship would make a short jog out to Saskanar for fruits, and merchants coming to Babel for fruits would be equipped to go to more distant places like Rephidim. In any case, that's hardly so much a worry, as the airship is visibly closing very quickly on the Winsome Smile, and it looks like a sideswipe is inevitable.

"Uh," the Aeolun starts to say. "Get your things, Rory. I think we're about to be boarded by pirates," she finally gets out, keeping her voice as level and calm as she can while grabbing up the two halves of her quarterstaff and starting to screw them together.

"Pirates? Darrrrk!" Rory says, his expression betraying that he has no idea as to the serious nature of the situation, and quite possibly thinks it a novel game. "We'll fight them off! Uhm … " He looks at the squirming Knick and Knack, and holds them out to Envoy. "You want to be the captain?"

"Captain?" Envoy asks, as she sets the two bioweapons onto her arms. "This isn't a game, Rory. Even if these aren't pirates, they're about to hit the ship on our side. We need to get to the deck and be ready to flee."

"Oh?" Rory's grin melts quickly as he finally gets the message. "Ohhhh!" he says, as a little more registers. "Ohnoohnoohno!" he frets, as he grabs Mr. Porky away from the pillow, and unceremoniously stuffs the doll head-first into his sling-bag, buckles the bag closed (curly hog tail still sticking out) and picks it up. He's just in the middle of, "Do you think a spell would – "

– and then the ship lurches as it is hit in the side by the other airship! The unicorn falls over. "Yaaaaa!"

Envoy has to grab at a wall brace to keep her own footing. "Are you okay, Rory? How long would it take you to cast something that could hide us while we escaped?"

"Oof!" says Rory, as he rolls back away from the wall, as the ship rocks again. Pounding can be heard above, and many shouts. It sounds like a battle is already engaged. "Uhm … it depends on if anyone is specifically looking for us, and … uh … we're not at sky island level anymore, so … uhm … are we just going to hide, or … oh! I can't fly!"

"I'll have to carry you," Envoy says, strapping on her own pack and taking up her staff once more. "I couldn't fly fast though, and if someone chases us I wouldn't be able to outrun them."

"If we tried to hide in the cabin, would that make it easier for you to cast something?" the Aeolun asks.

Rory nods. "It's easier to hide something sitting still, than something moving. But … uh … we wouldn't be able to get away, then."

Envoy presses an ear to the flimsy cabin door to learn if the fighting has come below decks yet. "Is Silhouette around? She could scout ahead for us, and let us know how many are attacking. Otherwise, I guess we'll just have to try and rush out through the chaos."

Rory says, "Well … I kind of sent Silhouette off on a little ride on a shadow-airship, and she hasn't come back yet. Uhm … if you gave me a minute, I could make this room totally dark, totally silent, but they'd know that something was going on. Fifteen minutes, and I could just plain hide us. I could also obfuscate us to leave the ship, but that only works if people aren't specifically looking for us."

"How long for the obfuscation spell?" Envoy asks. With all the fighting, it's not likely that anyone would be looking for them specifically.

Rory chews on his lip. "I could push it into a minute, at best. If we wanted to do a serious job of it, fifteen minutes, but I don't think we have that kind of time. We'd be … uh … taking a chance."

"A minute will have to do," Envoy says. "There's a lot going on out there, so anything that helps us be less noticeable will help."

There are sounds of boot-steps coming down the steps below the main deck, and then a sound of one of the doors splintering open. Fortunately, it's not this one … but it's not a terribly large airship.

Rory bristles at the noise, and nods. "I'll work real quick. Uhm … " He takes a deep breath, and starts chanting spidery-sounding incantations, doing his level best to keep his voice relatively calm and his syllables crisp and clear.

Envoy steps back from the door, and holds her staff ready to jab anyone coming through the door… which is just about the only thing she can do with the weapon in such a cramped space. "You might want to keep your ears covered whenever you can, too," she warns the chanting unicorn.

The unicorn nods and covers his ears, and continues to chant. Although he may not be privy to the reason why Envoy asked him to cover his ears, there's reason enough – it sounds like the pirates are rather violently dealing with someone in the hallway. Some shadowy shapes flutter past the window – Eeee fliers – though it is not clear whether they're pirates, crewmen, or fleeing passengers.

The Aeolun concentrates on keeping calm as best she can, not wanting to get Knick and Knack too upset just yet. Once she starts to fight, though, she doubts she'll be able to contain her anxiety.

Knick and Knack, for their part, do a remarkable job of looking like ordinary jewelry. There are more scuffling noises, more shouting – it's hard to pick it all out in the chaos – and someone sounding to be in a panicked state, testing one door, then another, and grabbing at the door to Envoy's and Rory's cabin, pounding on it. "Let me in! Someone, help!"

Envoy hisses quietly, "Dagh!" and flips the door latch with the end of her staff, hoping she isn't falling into a trap by letting the person inside.

The door pops in, and in spills not one, but two persons – a short and plump rat in patched travel clothes, and an even shorter garter Naga in a simple vest with many pockets and pouches in it. Envoy manages to shut the door quickly behind them without any obvious pirates slipping in as well.

"Get on the bunk and stay down," Envoy whispers to the refugees. "How many attackers did you see?"

Envoy feels a tickle of magic, as Rory's spell completes … and then there's a pop, followed by a stifled wail from Rory.

Not wanting to take her eyes off the door, Envoy still turns her head slightly to one side, "Are you okay Rory?"

The rat turns about and stifles his own cry of alarm as he sees Envoy. "Dagh! Or, I mean, thank you, gracious woman. There are at least a dozen of the cutthroats!"

Rory frowns. "My obfuscate spell only included us, so when you talked to them, it made the spell go pop. It's really flimsy, and tends to fall apart when you do stuff that deliberately brings attention to yourself. Sorry, I should have told you that."

"Start again, but just try to cover yourself this time, Rory," Envoy says. To the others, she asks, "Are they all Eeee? How are they armed?"

"With spiny shelly whip-things!" the rat sputters. "They must be deserters from the Babel army, gone rogue!"

The little snake adds in, "They're all Eeee. I heard one of them Say to kill anyone who lookS like a mage firSt."

"Soldiers," Envoy mutters, figuring they aren't likely to be as superstitious or afraid of magic as common Babelites. But skedat-flails aren't as bad as spears or swords. "I'm going out, Rory. The gangway is narrow, so they shouldn't be able to rush me. Keep your ears covered though, because I'm about to make some very painful noises."

Rory's eyes go wide, but he's in the middle of casting his spell, so he can't very well ask Envoy what's on his mind without breaking it. (Envoy can probably fill in the blanks imaginatively enough.)

Envoy takes a deep breath, then unlatches the door and takes a peek out into the hallway.

Outside, Envoy can see the bloody body of a Zerda woman, a companion of one of the other passengers. She certainly doesn't look as if she could have posed much of a threat, and there doesn't seem to be any clear reason why she would have been cut down, except just for being in the way in the middle of the mayhem of the raid. In any case, it appears to be a very recent act, for the bat responsible – holding a large barbed weapon very much like a skedat, but with an elongated sword-like blade on the end – turns about, the blade still wet with blood. He takes one quick look at Envoy, and then shouts, "MAGE!" He lunges for the door.

Before Envoy has a chance to latch the door closed, the brigand slams the door open with a kick from his boot (relatively strong for a bat, he is!) sending Envoy reeling. The rat and snake shriek out in terror as the warrior dashes in. There are several more shouts in the hall, but in the confusion, it's uncertain whether his call has drawn the attention of his compatriots.

Before doing anything else, Envoy screams into the soldier's face, hoping that he'll reach to protect his ears.

The soldier, however, doesn't. Perhaps the idea of a passenger screaming at him in a high pitched voice isn't something that would come as a terrible surprise while raiding an airship with mixed-species passengers.

The Aeolun brings her staff up just in the nick of time to block the thrust that comes from the soldier's chitin weapon. Perhaps her scream had more effect than she realized, because, despite the apparent training of the soldier (and her own novice stature in the area of combat), she not only manages to avoid having her throat ripped out, but even sends the bat reeling past her, as the ship lurches the other way. The garter Naga shrieks and slithers out of the way as the soldier stumbles past, imbedding his weapon in the thin mattress of the bunk.

Envoy turns and tries to whack the bat on the back of his head with her staff before he can recover.

The staff impacts the bat on the back of his head, but it only gives a glancing blow against his leather cap; the most it manages to do is bruise his ear, perhaps. The brigand curses loudly, and pulls his weapon free, turning about to deal with the offending mage.

Feeling desperate now, since other soldiers are bound to show up soon, Envoy tries to close in and bring Knick and Knack to bear on the attacker before he can get his weapon ready. She rushes him, pushing her staff forward to try and pin his sword-arm.

Perhaps this brigand isn't so soldierly as his mismatched gear might suggest, or else he's just having a really, really bad day. She manages to deflect his sword-arm momentarily, though he's bound to recover shortly. At least she's thrown him off guard.

While she's got the momentum, the Aeolun lets go of her staff with her right hand, and swings it at the Eeee's throat where Knack's mandibles might do some damage.

A gorget worn by the Eeee largely protects him from a throat-punch, but he is completely unprepared for the added danger of Envoy's bracer springing to life and biting him. "YARGH!" he chokes out, as he reflexively clutches at his wound with his free hand.

Boot-steps at the door warn Envoy that someone else has just arrived … and a whistle in the air indicates that whomever it is, is not waiting for her to turn around to be properly introduced.

A chitin blade whistles by Envoy's head, brushing against her wing-feathers, but doing not nearly so much harm as it could have very easily done if she hadn't heard her attacker's approach.

Without a pause, Envoy twists and kicks out at the second attacker, trying to catch him before he can recover from his missed sword stroke.

*chunk* Envoy's staff stroke is neatly blocked by the other bat's chitin sword. The raven-haired, chocolate-furred, nastily-scarred Eeee grins wickedly. "So, it's you on this ship, is it? What a prize! Your pelt would easily fetch several gold."

Behind Envoy, she can hear the other bat gurgling and choking. He must be reacting badly to whatever is in the the bite of Envoy's "ornaments".

Envoy presses forward with her staff, trying to push the Eeee back into the hallway while keeping his sword blocked. She also lets loose one of her full-volume, high-and-low banshee screams at the soldier while she can spare the breath.

The screams have no discernable effect, and as valiant as Envoy's attempt is, the bat deftly twists his blade hand, freeing it from the blade and in the same maneuver spinning the Aeolun around. When she manages to regain her bearings, she has a cold and wet chitin blade up against her throat. "Drop your staff," the bat hisses close into her ear, from behind her head. "One move, one chant, and I slit your pretty throat. Play along … and maybe I'll find something profitable in keeping you intact." Something about the tone of his voice, however, and her time in Babel before, suggests that whatever he has in mind keeping Envoy alive for won't require keeping her alive for long.

Grinding her teeth, Envoy drops her staff and lowers her arms, waiting for a chance to use Knick and Knack.

Envoy can't see his face, but she can almost smell the grin on his features. He roughly shoves her to the bed, not even paying attention to his choking and struggling comrade, or the rat and snake that flee the room. (After all, with the noise going on, their chances of getting very far seem fairly slim.)

There's a tickle to Envoy's senses … a brief hint of magic in the air. She can't, however, over all the screams and shouting and other mayhem, make out any chanting.

Rory's spell must be working! the Aeolun hopes, and tries to get into a more defensible position on the bunk, eyeing the choking Eeee's skedat-blade.

The bat interprets Envoy's position in an entirely different light, apparently, as he seems bold enough to unbuckle some of his armor. His grin seems particularly offensive, given the obvious intent behind it. That, and he has bugs in his teeth.

The choking Eeee's skedat-blade, alas, is the sort that straps onto the forearm – and thus is not as readily available for use as if he had simply dropped it.

Seeing her chance, Envoy changes her body language to what it was when Inala possessed her, and smiles at the Eeee, even shifting to Inala's voice as she says, "I've always thought that scars add character to a man's face."

As most Eeee don't have quite the experience with Inala that Envoy does, the guard isn't overly impressed by the compliment. Rather, he just grins lustily, and continues about what he was doing. If he's at all vulnerable to a surprise attack, it just doesn't get any more vulnerable than this.

Envoy sits up, and offers, "Need any help? Why not come closer and let me take care of that for you?"

"Yeah, I think you can help me," the bat says, with the sort of cheap emphasis on "help" that he no doubt thinks is terribly clever on his part (the sort of cheap humor in which any word, properly stressed, becomes a double entendre), as he lurches forward.

Reaching out as if to ruffle the fur on his chest, Envoy suddenly jerks her hands forward to press Knick and Knack against the Eeee's skin.

Knick bites the Eeee. Knack is somewhat more opportunistic. In any case, the bat is caught totally off guard, and screams such a high-pitched squeal as to challenge even Envoy's eardrums.

Envoy shoves the Eeee to one side, then leaps up to the door, slamming it shut before anyone else can wander in. The latch falls into place, though it seems woefully insufficient to thwart any determined attempt to break into the room.

Away from the bat's screaming, Envoy can pick up a whispered incantation … and then she has the distinct feeling of a spell being held. Not all that time could have passed, so it must be a rushed spell.

Listening at the door, Envoy keeps up the charade that the two soldiers are occupied with her mimicry, and dearly hopes Rory still has his ears covered.

There are several rushed boot-steps coming up to the door … and then … utter silence … and darkness. The lights have gone out – and the sound, too!

Envoy freezes, and nearly panics until she realizes it must be Rory's other spell taking affect. She abandons the door for now, and kneels down to retrieve her staff and as much of the second Eeee's shed armor as she can find.

Once Envoy backs away from the door … her vision returns, though the room is still eerily silent. A curved wall of black forms a dome on its side, protruding through the door, making a very obvious border of the Blot spell's area of effect. There must be a second Blot spell focusing on the sense of sound, overlapping a different area (including the part of the cabin Envoy is standing in). Rory can be seen peering from underneath the bed.

Wrapping the armor that fits to protect her midsection, Envoy signs to Rory, "Will they notice the spell from outside?"

Rory frowns and nods the affirmative, pointing at the wall of darkness. He sticks his tongue out and signs, "Didn't do it perfect."

Envoy thinks about this while trying to unstrap the skedat-sword from the first fallen soldier. "Can the effect be made to move?" she signs one-handed to the unicorn.

Rory shakes his head. "Have to cast another." The ship shakes slightly, and through the porthole, Envoy can see the other airship shifting its position – though to what purpose, it is unclear.

The first fallen soldier, his throat swollen up nastily from the bite, tries to wrestle with Envoy over the blade, but his attempt is too weak, providing a negligible delay. Once she figures out how the skedat-blade is strapped on, she has it off of the fallen warrior.

Envoy straps the blade onto her left arm. She's never used one, but at the very least it should serve as a light shield. Once finished, she signs, "Can I cast a spell while yours is in effect?"

Rory nods. "Minor spell," he signs choppily. "Self-contained. No need to maintain unless past 15 minutes."

Envoy nods, and then signs, "I'm going to try and soften the wood of the hull so we can get out. Can you send a shadow-messenger ahead to the Guild Hall to let them know what is happening?"

Rory frowns. "Not sure where new Guild Hall is. Not been there." He pantomimes slapping his forehead to sign, "Duh!" then, in more traditional fashion, signs, "Will send it to highest concentration of mages." He moves toward the very outer wall of the cabin, and then starts chanting. Envoy can't, incidentally, hear it … but perhaps the area of effect ends there. (Otherwise, he would have a very hard time casting a spell, depending on chants – though the Savanite method wouldn't be hindered much at all.)

The Aeolun moves to the outer wall as well, and presses her palms against the old wood. She's never tried to mold wood that's been worked before, so isn't sure how successful her spell might be… but the wood has almost certainly been treated against rotting. Wishing she could do this while still keeping an eye on out for people coming through Rory's blot spell, she focuses her mind and starts chant-singing a Mold spell.

The minor spell works fairly quickly, this close to the surface – and with Envoy's proficiency in Earth Magic sufficient to be able to rush minor spells as if they were cantrips. The wood does not sport any materials in it especially resistant to magic-working, even the most simple methods that even non-mages can use, attesting to the cheap work employed in making this flimsy vessel. Although there is an initial resistance, the spell starts to make the wood more pliable … but it is more like wet sand than clay, appropriate for making a hole, and not much else.

Envoy digs her fingers into the softened wood, and proceeds to tear out an opening she and Rory could fit through.

Falling apart is something that the magically weakened wood does very well, especially with the shaking of the airship, and the bluster of the storm outside. About the time Envoy has a sizeable hole torn open, a shadow-creen flits across the surface of the wall, and slips out the hole (never mind whether that was actually necessary) and flutters off into the storm, quickly vanishing.

"How much do you weigh, Rory?" Envoy signs while trying to get a glimpse of the ground through the hole.

Rory gulps, and signs, "Not much? Don't know. A water Naga carried me just fine across the Sphere of Water."

Outside, Envoy can see mountainous country beneath, and a few outlying buildings … but the ship hasn't made it over Babel proper. Still, that a pirate attack could happen this close to the city is a dire testament to the state of law and order there.

She can also see that boarding lines are being cast off. It seems that the pirates are shoving off – though given that the pirates have wings, that doesn't necessarily mean that those pirates still on the ship have any intention of being any nicer to anyone who pops up. And then, there are tales of some pirates who like to destroy airships once they've finished plundering them…

"I think we're over one of the Sisters," Envoy signs, "which is just as well, since landing anyplace but the Guild Hall in the city wouldn't be good. Make sure your bag is secure, then come over and hold onto me."

Rory slings the strap of his back over his shoulder, and draws the clasp tightly so that it has little to no slack to spare. He then rushes over and grabs Envoy about the waist, clinging tightly like … well … like a little kid.

Envoy checks her own pack, and breaks down and sheathes her staff. She kneels down to get Rory to hug her around the shoulders instead of her waist, so she can get her own arms around him … then hops through the hole in the wall and lets them drop a bit before spreading her wings to try and control the descent.

Rory, alas, can't quite manage to restrain himself when the sensation hits him of dropping out of the airship. He shrieks, "AAAAAAAAAAAAA!"

But for the moment, Envoy is free of the airship. She's too weighted down by Rory, armor and luggage to be able to fly very far before fatigue sets in, but she's sufficiently high enough to at least be able to glide down to somewhere (hopefully) more friendly. (All right, so it's hard to tell what is "friendly" in Babel from this high up.)

It looks as if a third airship is approaching the fray. There's no telling just what its purpose is. For as lawless as rumors say Babel is, it could be a rival band of pirates coming in for their share of the spoils. As for the ground, Envoy could try to reach the fringes of the city, take her chances in the open wilderness, or try to land on one of the mountains. It might be one of the Sisters, but the buffeting storm has thrown off her bearings for the time being, so she can't be entirely sure.

Searching for one of the structures she saw from above, the Aeolun starts banking her wings for a landing. "Keep watch over my shoulder, Rory! We need to know if anyone is following us," she says, hoping the unicorn's previous yell was swallowed by the storm. Unsure of the third airship, she tries to aim for the nearest mountain.

Rory struggles to open his eyes against the rainfall, and sputters out something unintelligible.

As Envoy begins to descend, she can make out some patterns on the mountain … arrangements of stones or something on the ground … spelling out runes of some sort. They don't seem to be particular to the Colleges of Magic … but rather to … Babelite sorcery.

There is a clap of thunder, and a lightning bolt launches out. The smell of ozone fills the air … and out of the corner of Envoy's eye, she can see a flash of light, a fire somewhere above her, an envelope ignited.

The tingle of magic in the air is strong. That lightning strike was no accident.

"Rory, which airship was hit?!" Envoy nearly yells into the unicorn's ear. "Did the newcomer launch that bolt?"

Rory gasps out, "The CLOUDS launched the bolt! The pirate ship is on fire AND IT'S COMING DOWN TOWARD US!"

"That must be Wynona then!" the Aeolun says, and dives to pick up more speed while angling away from the falling ship. "Uh … we might land a little hard," she warns, having sacrificed a lot of altitude.

Heading towards the side of the mountain, Envoy catches a lucky updraft. With the extra lift, she's able to regain some height and bleed off enough speed to make a decent landing on both feet.

Rory, bracing for a crash landing, is quite surprised with the soft landing. "Are we safe yet?" he asks, voice shaking.

Envoy, meanwhile, feels another tingle of magic … and is immediately aware that she has triggered some sort of magical alarm by her landing. Someone knows of her presence here.

Rory mutters, "Uh oh." Perhaps he noticed, too.

"No, but we're on the ground," Envoy answers honestly. "You can let go now. I think that third ship is with the Yodhrephath."

The unicorn reluctantly lets go, and drops to the ground, collapsing. "Whew." Then, he blinks. "But … what about the others? What about the little Naga and the Skreek? We left them behind!"

"Only the pirate ship was shot down," Envoy says. "They might have made it to safety, but I wouldn't count on it," she adds unhappily. "I really hate pirates."

Rory nods slowly. "Yeah … pirates are bad." He breathes in and out loudly, trying to calm his nerves. "Should we hide?"

Envoy chews on her lip. "I wish I knew where we are – probably Mount Zakaro, if they set an alarm like that. You'd better start another Shadow spell to hide yourself while I try to signal that ship."

"Shouldn't I hide you, too?" Rory asks. "I don't want anything bad to happen to you! And … and, if you're just worried about me, well, I'm not going to do so great on my own, you know. I'm just a kid. So if you get yourself killed or something, don't think you're doing me any favors!"

"I can't fly up to get a better look at that airship and carry you as well though, Rory," Envoy explains. "Can you hide us both but still let me fly?"

Rory frowns. "Not really well. I can sort of camouflage you, though, if you can sit here for a little bit. But if someone's casting spells, they're probably going to notice you anyway." He sniffles.

Envoy sits down next to the unicorn. "Well, someone knows we're here already. I guess it's best if you try and hide us here until we know who it is. We can always send another shadow message out afterwards, right?"

Rory nods, and starts chanting, digging out some materials from his pouches and setting up an impromptu magic circle.

Meanwhile, above, the pirate ship continues to descend. As Envoy gets a better chance to watch it, it seems that perhaps Rory was a bit hasty to claim that it was falling down on top of them. Perhaps they could have been hit by some errant debris, but the airship slowly collapses and descends over the ridge, its Eeee crew abandoning the ramshackle-looking craft and scattering. Given the condition of the craft (and the likelihood that it was stolen), it's probably not a great setback to them, really.

Envoy reassembles her staff while she watches, noting if any of the pirates look like they're going to head this way, and keeping an eye on the still airborne ships to see what they do.

The Winsome Smile is slightly leaning to one side, hinting at a few cells in its envelope being ruptured. It drifts along slowly, borne by the storm winds, but the newcomer craft quickly gains on it. Envoy can make out, sure enough, the rune of Rephath, and another "seeing eye" emblem that hearkens back to the badge of the Sabaoth. Some fliers leap out from the ship, chasing down some of the fleeing pirates, and even cutting a few of them down, but it looks like the bulk of the pirates are getting away scot-free. There are no other airships or forces to hem them in and block their means of escape, after all … and as impressive as that lightning bolt strike was, there are no more forthcoming to zap the brigands out of the air.

"It is the Yodhrephath patrol ship," Envoy says, and looks to Rory, who is still chanting. "They'll rescue us, if we can signal them, Rory."

Rory stops, letting his spell fizzle. "Oh! Oh! I can do that!" He starts chanting a new spell. The magic slowly building up feels very different from his usual spells.

Envoy watches the unicorn closely. This must be Light Magic he's attempting, she supposes, and from what he's told me it isn't anything he learned at the College.

It doesn't take all that terribly long, before a light starts glowing around Rory. It's not a terribly impressive light, no more so than, say, a bright lantern, but it still stands out conspicuously, since an unshuttered flame would quickly go out in a storm like this, and the mountain has no other points of light noticeable on its surface.

Rory takes a break from chanting, once the power is built up, and suggests to Envoy, "Uhm … do you know any sort of distress codes? Maybe you can wave your wings to block the light and send a special distress signal!" He then resumes chanting, to keep feeding magical power into the cantrip, lest it fizzle out due to a lapse in his concentration in the storm.

Grinning, Envoy gets up and uses her staff to etch a large pattern in the dirt. "Something like that," she says. "I'm going to sketch out the rune for 'Rephath' in the dirt and enchant it to glow. It won't be as bright, but will certainly draw their attention."

Rory nods, mouthing an "Oooo!" at the thought.

Envoy finishes the oversized drawing, and sings a cantrip to enchant it. Hopefully, whoever this mountain belongs too won't be too insulted, she thinks.

The Aeolun casts her Foxfire spell on the rune, and turns her attention skyward once more to see if anyone is taking notice.

Time passes, and it's hard to tell just who must be taking notice … until Envoy feels a few magical prods and pokes. Someone's "scanning" the area, by some magical means, without bothering to keep this fact hidden.

Envoy tenses, and looks to Rory. "Well, someone's coming, at least. Maybe I should have spelled out 'Wynona' instead."

A ptera swoops down, with an Eeee rider, caparisoned with markings similar to that on the airship. By its bearing, it would seem that, indeed, the rune has been noticed.

Meanwhile … a flutter of wings can be heard, along with some loud shrieks. "Defiler!" Envoy can make out through the downpour. Someone's not happy.

Waving with her wings, Envoy hails the rider in Babelite, "Sorry! We escaped the pirates! Can you help us? Is Wynona Windcaller with you?"

After a moment, it seems more apparent that the rider wasn't the originator of the accusation. Rather, there are a few female Eeee, their fur covered in runes, in the robes of Yodhzakaro, approaching the site, though not so quickly as the descending Ptera.

The ptera alights upon the ground, a female Eeee – very definitely not Wynona or anyone else Envoy knows – on its back looking down at Envoy with a cruel smirk. "Now that is a way to draw attention!" she remarks.

Rory sputters, "We were on the ship, and got attacked by pirates and there was this Skreek and Naga we tried to help, but they ran away, and there was this pirate that attacked Envoy but he got bit, and another one and he started taking off his armor, so he got bit, too, and I used a spell to make things dark and quiet, and Envoy made a hole in the wall and carried me out and we landed here and we're sorry if we're trespassing really but they were going to kill us!"

"I don't suppose you could take us back to your airship?" Envoy hastily asks the ptera-rider after Rory's introduction. "I don't think the Yodhzakaro will recognize me, but I'd rather not find out."

"Not recognize you? Ha!" the rider says, throwing her head back in a loud laugh. "Climb aboard, before they get to you first!" she commands, slapping the hide of the winged lizard.

Envoy helps Rory up onto the saddle before clambering up herself.

The ptera alights into the air. A bit of green fire leaps past, exploding in a shower of sparks in the air, and the Yodhzakaro shriek in protest, but the large winged lizard easily outpaces them, beating its way upward and away from the mountain. The glowing stones forming the rune of Rephath soon vanish, as the Yodhzakaro set to the business of destroying this blemish upon the mountain of their goddess.

"This is Mage Rorschach of Shadow," Envoy says by way of introduction. "We've come for Reckoning. You aren't going to kill me, are you?"

"I'll let someone more important have that honor," the Yodhrephath says, in a tone of voice hard to tell whether it's serious or jest. The ptera wings its way back up to the level of the patrol ship, and toward the deck.

Envoy chuckles nervously, and starts to unstrap the skedat-sword from her arm. It wouldn't be good manners to thank her rescuers while armed.


A while later, Envoy is back aboard the Winsome Smile again, along with Rory, after a brief visit to the Vigilant Eye – the patrol craft now in the service of the Yodhrephath.

Both of them have been given stern warnings to practice no spellcasting, under punishment of having their tongues cut out (and with the impression given that this is no mere threat). The general atmosphere is not especially friendly, though obviously not as hostile as the pirate threat.

Back in a recently vacated cabin not unlike the one they were previously in (but minus any dead or dying bodies and holes in the wall), Rory mostly just keeps hunched up in a corner, as if trying to shrink in and disappear upon himself, though hardly anyone has paid him much heed. It is only once another ship has come along, and arrangements have been made for a replacement skeleton crew to see the Winsome Smile to safe port for its surviving passengers to disembark, that the craft moves on.

And it is only then that Wynona breaks away from her business to pay a visit to Envoy. She seems to be fitting much more tightly into this "Yodhrephath" business. When she meets Envoy, not so much as a smile or a "how do you do" is given. It is more of a brusque and ironic, "Welcome back to Babel, Mage Envoy of Lothrhyn."

Envoy blinks at the further changes in her friend. "Hello Wynona, it's good to see you again! You're part of the reason I'm back, actually," she says with a smile, but refrains from her initial impulse to hug the Air Mage. "This is Rory, he's along to try and find the family of a friend he lost to the boomer. Is… everything going well with you?"

Rory bows formally and quietly, not bothering to add anything to Envoy's introduction.

"As well as could be expected," Wynona says, her uncharacteristically tough veneer cracking enough to hint at weary eyes. "Babel is not faring well. We're doing what we can to maintain some semblance of order, before Rephidim, in its boundless beneficence, decides to come in and give us a new government."

"What?" Envoy asks, surprised. "I hadn't heard anything about Rephidim planning action. Their only interest I've seen is towards uncovering more of the boomer conspiracy. Is Captain Karada holding up?"

"His performance is exemplary," Wynona says, "and no one would expect any less from him. He has compelled many former soldiers to rally to our cause … though there are many errant former soldiers who have turned to piracy and banditry, since there is no one to pay their wages any more, and many of them have known nothing but fighting, or could not bear to bring themselves to demeaning labor."

"You're sounding a lot more confident than before, Wynona," Envoy says, trying to sound encouraging. "Please come and sit down. I might have some information to help cheer you up a bit."

Wynona seems hesitant at first, almost as if she were about to take offense at something Envoy said … but if there is something ugly warring inside her head, it doesn't show itself for now. She nods, and sits down near Envoy. "Good news would be a welcome rarity here."

Envoy smiles and risks putting a hand on her friend's shoulder. "I don't suppose you've heard from Cryona?" she asks.

"No," Wynona says. Envoy can feel a tenseness in Wynona when she touches her shoulder, but the tenseness vanishes quickly. Whatever outer confidence Wynona is showing, the price of it must be that she's wound up tightly.

"Well, she's in Babel," Envoy says. "When I was here last, she was in good health too. There is a Yodhsunala named Gemma that can put you in touch with her if you like."

"I will look into that, then," Wynona says. After a noticeable pause, she adds, "Thank you."

"There's also something … well, I'm not too sure about," Envoy starts, and then looks to the quiet unicorn. "I need to talk about some things you may not want to listen to, Rory. Could you go outside and see if we're close to landing yet?"

Rory nods. "All right," he says, and gets up to head out, relieved to be dismissed. He quietly closes the door behind him as he trots out into the trashed central corridor.

Envoy chooses her words carefully. "Before you found me last time, Wynona, I'd been given a dream that I think must have come from Rephath. It had the last memories of many of the boomer victims in it, with one exception. Captain Karada's memories. But I can't be sure how accurate they are, or if I was just influenced by the people I was with when I fell asleep."

"I think his youngest son may still be alive, in the Undercity," the Aeolun says, and watches for Wynona's reaction.

Wynona blinks. "Where? How?" She immediately stands up. "Why didn't you say something sooner?"

"I wasn't sure," Envoy says. "I was pretty confused when I came out of the dream. I mistook the priest for Karada, even. But the Karada in my dream had lost an eye and part of an ear in the battle over Fetiss Island. He had a maid named Matra that was taking care of the baby, and the girl with the priest I ran into was also named Matra, and had a boy the right age … and she reacted pretty strongly when I asked her if she was the same Matra. The priest told her to take the boy away, and then stabbed me."

"Wait, wait," Wynona says. "What priest? Where was this? When was this?"

Envoy backtracks. "Well, it was the night before Saraizadze's death. I had run into a sort of bazaar in the Undercity, and took shelter in an old tomb with a shrine to Rinala-Sunala in it. There was an old priest, and a girl who could have been his wife or daughter, and a small boy. The priest agreed to help me find a way to the surface if I would deliver an important message to the Yodhbarada for him. While I was resting, I had the dream. By the time I woke up after being stabbed and having tea with Sunala and fighting with those demons … uh … well, they'd all fled, the bazaar was on fire because the Yodhgorphat were purging the area, and I recovered the message before fleeing through one of the buildings. Then I ended up out in the Wound, and you found me the next day."

"I didn't read the message meant for the Yodhbarada, and they didn't want to tell me what it was, but it seemed important to them," Envoy adds.

"You … delivered this message to the Yodhbarada … without reading it?" Wynona asks.

Envoy nods. "There was a curse on it," she adds.

"That was probably a bluff," Wynona says, looking dubious. "Any priest capable of delivering an actual curse could have sent a message to the Yodhbarada himself."

"The Yodhbarada that I delivered it to sort of said as much," Envoy admits. "But if I'd read it, then she would have known I'd broken the seal at least."

Wynona nods. "True enough." She frowns, contemplative. "Captain Karada seemed troubled after a visit to the Yodhbarada. I feared they might have some sort of blackmail on him… "

Envoy clears her throat. "Uh, well … there is something about the boy that I suppose could be embarrassing… "

Wynona looks back to Envoy, one eyebrow raised. "And that would be … ?"

"Are you sure you want to know, Wynona?" Envoy asks. "I mean … it's nothing bad about Karada, but maybe he wouldn't want you knowing."

Wynona bites your lip, and nods, at last. "You're right. I should show more discretion than that. Actually, I'm glad to know what – whatever it is – you're not loose-lipped about it."

"I don't want to add the Captain to the list of people that probably want to kill me," Envoy says, glad that Wynona didn't push for the secret. "I'm sure he'll tell you himself in time. Umm … how are things in that regard, if I may ask? You seemed to be getting close before."

Wynona lets out a sigh. "That's rather a personal thing to ask. I admire him, yes. And I would be lying if I said I didn't have strong feelings for him … but the feeling is not mutual. He's very … supportive of me … but he's … I just don't think he's eager to get close to anyone. Not anymore."

Envoy frowns briefly, then smiles and says, "Well, once all this mess is sorted out and Babel has a future again, maybe he'll be interested?"

The air mage bat looks away, an irrepressible grin betraying her as she shakes her head. "Maybe. But there are a lot of 'maybes'. Yes, maybe when Babel has a future again. Maybe when there aren't so many aiming to cut up Babel's still-warm corpse." Her grin quickly fades into a sigh. "So, did you come to Babel just to bring me this news, then? Should I deliver a sealed letter to Captain Karada with your news for you?"

"If you think it will help him, sure," Envoy says. "I also came to help Rory, and for Reckoning of course. A lot of people died because of me, Wynona, and I have to … I don't know what I have to do, but I have to do something."

Wynona frowns. "A lot of death happens in Babel. But I must be honest with you – there are many who look at you as a worthy target of their frustration. You aren't seen as some sort of hero. You're … a meddler, an outsider, a trespasser. And maybe Inala Herself dragged you into it … but people see what they want to see."

"I doubt I can change any of that," the Aeolun says. "But do you think it will lock me out from doing any sort of atonement? I don't even know how many died in the raid on Inala's temple that I caused, and I never really apologized to Rephath for upsetting her or even got to thank her for rescuing you. What do you think I should do?"

Wynona shakes her head. "I think you should just go far, far away. Babel is an angry place. You just can't make everyone happy. The only way you might possibly make Babel happy would be if you renounced everyone else – Caroban, Rephidim, everyone who has ever been an enemy of Babel. And I know you can't do that."

Envoy nods. "I'm not going to try and make Babel happy, or ask for forgiveness. I just need to find a way to redeem myself in my own eyes, if that makes any sense. I'm afraid of becoming a monster if I don't."

The Eeee shakes her head. "Then I don't know what to tell you. I don't know what gods you serve, and what their rules are. And if you have only yourself, I know even less about what would earn redemption in your own eyes. But if you're going to travel about Babel, you'll need a very clever disguise. There are too many who would remember you from that dream – that dream of the foreigners slaying Saraizadze. I've heard the news, Thath claiming that it was all a plot by Saraizadze, but most of the people don't believe that. They suppose that Thath would say such a thing to appease Rephidim from crushing him and all of Babel once and for all … or else to draw attention away from his own bloody hands. Saraizadze is, to many, a heroine, no matter what she did."

The Aeolun sighs. "Well, can you tell Rephath that I'm sorry and grateful to her? I'll probably stay at the Guild Hall until Rory is ready to leave then, but if you want to visit I can tell you the whole story about my last visit. And do you know if they still play Blakatball in the old stadium?"

Wynona nods at Envoy's request to pass a message to Rephath. "I think I would do well to keep up on your wild adventures. One can never tell when the news will be relevant. And, yes, Blakatball is being played in not only the old stadium, but in a number of woebegotten arenas in the Streets Below. The Yodhblakat are fond of saying that they have stolen the hearts of the lower classes."

Envoy smirks. "Well, at least some of my influence is appreciated then, even it is a rather violent sport."

The bat nods. "That it is, I suppose. The Yodhblakat would no doubt claim that they had stolen the idea from you. They are rather tiresome at that."

"I was thinking of stealing back the Children of Inala they took in the raid," Envoy says. "But I'm not sure they'd be in any condition to return to their Temple by now. I don't want to upset the Yodhblakat, though. They've been one of the few groups to tolerate me."

Wynona shakes her head. "The Children of Inala are peculiar that way. I am sure that if they were returned, the Yodhinala would find some pretense under which to do away with them – if for no other reason than for the disgrace of taking part in this whole business of Blakatball. It may be popular with the lower classes, but the Yodh dread that it makes them all a laughingstock. The happy lunatics, cheerfully playing violent games to the adoration of the unwashed flock… "

"Oh well," Envoy says, and shrugs. "At least I hope I've helped you out a little. I need to go to Moltpaa after this, and I worry that I'm missing too much time that I should be spending with Barabbas. I almost have a family now."

This earns something remotely approximating a smile from Wynona. "Good for you, Envoy. I'm glad to hear you have done so well for yourself."

Envoy smiles a bit. "I have a long way to go, still. I can only manage minor spells at the moment, and that only after going through some weird experiences on Abaddon and Ashtoreth. But at least I'm not quite a pariah on Caroban anymore."

Wynona frowns at the mention of Caroban, looking away. "Well, that is good, then."

The Earth Mage decides not to mention the sky island anymore. "Don't let politics keep you from being happy, Wynona. And if the Yodhbarada are putting pressure on Captain Karada … well, maybe I can help. I probably know something they'd want in exchange for leaving him alone."

The bat shakes her head. "Maybe. And then they would add to their arsenal the fact that Captain Karada had been bailed out by the Exile, Envoy of Lothrhyn. It never ends with them."

"I suppose it wouldn't help if I could return the remains of the people lost to the boomer?" Envoy asks.

Wynona lets out a heavy breath at this. "If you could … yes … yes, I think that would be worth quite a lot, if anyone could do such a thing. But if you turned about and said, 'Behold, I have done this on behalf of all my friends in Caroban,' then … " She shakes her head. "It is a hard thing to predict. What – do you actually have such power, then?"

"No," Envoy admits. "But I've got friends who might be able to at least locate them. It's a start."

The bat mage nods at this. "Yes, that is a start. That is certainly a start." She looks back to Envoy. "I had best get to pushing this ship along. All my talking won't move us to safety any faster, and with winter coming, the raiders have become more bold. Many will starve in Babel this winter, and desperate men will shed much blood rather than to be counted in that number – even to the point of challenging the Yodhrephath, and they know the Yodhzakaro would not lift a finger to defend an airship drifting over their grounds."

Envoy nods solemnly. "I wish I could help there as well, but even if I had the power to, it wouldn't be good to use it. Not the way I am now." Smiling again, she gives in and hugs the Eeee. "I'm glad I got to see you again, Wynona! It's worth facing a few pirates for."

Wynona braces at first, but then relaxes a bit, and returns the hug, though Envoy can still sense the tension in her. "That is the nicest thing anyone has said to me for a long time. It is good to see you again, Envoy." She pulls away, heading out the door, but turns back to look once more at her friend. "Be careful."

---

GMed by Greywolf

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Today is 13 days after Harvest Tide, Year 25 of the Reign of Archelaus the First (6124)