Apr. 1. Zoltan pays a visit to his old mentor.
(City of Hands) (Paradys Lost) (Rephidim) (Zoltan)
Nicodemus' Shiny Shoppe
Perhaps none but a Vartan could fully appreciate this strange little store nestled in the Scholar's Quarter of Rephidim City. From the street, one can see a few windows of polished horn (with a look of amber), and others with stained glass patterns of Vartans in heroic poses, holding up glittering jewels, the captions in reverse from the street. A sign identifies the proprietor of this store as Nicodemus, and anyone who knows him expects a strange Cervani-Vartan crossbreed … purportedly just enough Vartan to be able to appreciate their particular interests, but just enough Cervani to be able to part with the shiny baubles (and useful tools and implements) he sells to his almost exclusively Vartan clientele. It's a bit of a specialized market, admittedly, but none caters to it better than he. Inside, the shop is a marvel of glittering trinkets, not necessarily of any material value, but of a wide range of colors and appropriate sizes, catching the light just like so.

Zoltan creaks the shop's door open and enters, he's clutching a small bag to his chest. "Hello?" he scrawks.

It takes a moment for Zoltan's eyes to readjust, as they must first account for a darker interior … and then the dazzling glitter of the sparklies hanging here and there and perched on shelves, which reflect the light that streams in through the windows.

Against one of the windows can be seen a silhouette of a stag's head in profile … and behind it a pair of wings.

Zoltan looks around nervously, and when he's sure that nobody else is in the shop beside the stag, he bolts the door shut. "Master?"

The old half-breed Cervani-Vartan looks up, squinting his eyes as he regards the big black Vartan. "Hello? Is … Is that you, Zoltan?" He slowly stands up, setting aside a trinket he was examining.

Zoltan smiles. "Is me… sorry I not been by in awhile. I been getting more out of Rephidim jobs than normal." He pauses for a moment to hug his old master, preening the shaggy fur on his head.

Nicodemus laughs and pats Zoltan's broad shoulders. "Oho! Many Kavis have come and gone, I'm sure, since I've seen you last! So good of you to visit again. Please, please, have a seat. You have that look in your eye – I can see you have tales to tell, aha?"

The Vartan smiles and rolls his eyes in a 'you don't know the half of it' expression. He takes a seat on a crate and begins to unwrap the binding on his arms, revealing the strange squiggly black tatoos.

Nicodemus' eyes go wide at the tattoos. "Ayeh? What is this? You think yourself an airship sailor?" He squints his eyes. "Oh … no … " He frowns.

Zoltan scrawks, "Was captured by K'hu'an when I was in Himar. They no kill me for some reason… but… " He pauses, sighing quietly.

"But they 'own' you now," Nicodemus says with a grimace, looking up to Zoltan.

Zoltan nods, looking at the floor. He suddenly jerks up and pulls out the bag, after another glance at the door to make sure it's locked, he pulls out the two crystal hands and the black shard. "Was in forbidden zone as well. Found these… but I need to get rid of them. They trouble."

Nicodemus raises his eyebrows. "Trouble? So you bring them to your beloved mentor, eh?" He gives Zoltan a mischievous grin. "Let me take a look," he offers.

"Thought you could find way to get rid of crystal hands. Is not know what black thing is… thought maybe it was spearpoint." Zoltan scrawks. "We find out that crystal hands is for mechanism that predicts path of rephidim… is probably same way Captain Astromancer does it. Could mean big trouble if they found out."

Nicodemus blinks several times without saying anything, digesting Zoltan's remarks about the hands. He gets out a scope and examines the black piece of stone. After a bit, he hands it back. "It is obsidian. Broken off from something larger, I would figure – a weapon. I think not a spear, though. By the thickness, the blade is much larger than a spearhead. But … as for this 'we' … Who would be 'we'?"

Nicodemus evidently takes great interest in the crystal hands. "These are very special, yes," he comments.

Zoltan scratches at his arms. "Two bards. We all go together on trip to weird city. Was built by Savanites… rumor at camp was that lots people started getting killed and they yank us all out. We find hands in pyramid."

Nicodemus shakes his head. Reverting to Vartan, he squawks, "You need not struggle with Rephidim-speak when you are talking with old Nicodemus."

Zoltan smiles, falling back into the more familiar language. "Sorry, it's habit." He screeks. "I think I'm actually getting used to talking the no-beak language."

The Cervani-Vartan takes the crystals over by a beam of light streaming through a gap in the strips of one of the horn windows. Spots of color refract through the surface and play on nearby objects. He grins and taps himself on the muzzle, winking.

Nicodemus scrawks, "I worry that 'we' would include bards. They have loose tongues. It is the nature of their profession, for they always need new tales to tell. Even if they change the names, it will slip into their songs, I am sure."

Zoltan scrawks, "The hands were places in two beams of sunlight… and somehow it caused a projection of Sinai to appear, with Rephidim showing up. We found that by manipulating certain globes… we could make the island move backwards and forwards along its route.

Nicodemus squints, and screeks, "Very narrow beams, yes? The sort you can barely see, except for when they hit clouds of dust?"

"Hrr… they WERE bards. But one of them understood the danger of the situation, the other was quickly taught… she was a strange case… an Exile, I was told." Zoltan squawks.

Zoltan nods. "Very narrow beams."

Nicodemus hrms at Zoltan's talk of the bards, then nods at the clarification about the beams. He takes the two crystal hands over to a table and sets them down, the palms facing each other – though that's not the way they were aligned in the chamber. He goes through the shelves and looks about the contraptions nearby.

The Cervani-Vartan wheels a few stands over, bearing mirrors on poseable "arms", normally being used to reflect light for some dazzling effects with the arrangements of "shinies" he has collected in the store. He climbs up on a stool and opens a shutter that lets in some more light from above.

Zoltan quirks an eyebrow. "Do you think you can activate them, master?"

Nicodemus smiles and cricks, "Not really. But an old man can give a try, yes?" He rolls another cart over, bearing an obscure, antique contraption. The arrangement is a bit awkward … but at last he manages to have two narrow beams bouncing about several mirrors and aiming down on the table at the two hands. Several broken and blurred shapes of different colors play on the surfaces of nearby shelves and walls, and cause nearby shiny trinkets to seem to light up from inside.

Nicodemus scrawks in pleased surprise, "Yes! Quite a curio you have here! This should fetch a nice price … or get all our feathers plucked," he adds.

Zoltan squints at the light. "I considered shattering them at one point, but finally decided to bring them to you. at the very least, you may be able to sell them to someone in such a way that it won't get traced back. You're welcome to keep whatever you make from the hands… I want as little more to do with them as I can."

Nicodemus nods, still looking at the hands. He tries rotating them around on the table, rearranging them, and switching them. He notices some patterns projected on the wall, and rearranges everything some more, squinting as he becomes intent on his work.

Zoltan screeks, "I… er… believe that the light shined down on a large crystal orb. With other orbs around it that were used to focus the image somehow."

With some further adjustment … there are some blurry images on the wall. Nicodemus looks disappointed.

Nicodemus scrawks, "Not so good without these orbs, hmm? And I don't think that's something I could put in my shop. I could sell these, of course, and fetch a good price. But a pity, not to use them for whatever purpose they were intended."

Zoltan smirks. "Who would you tell? If you were able to say 'we'll be over Babel in two weeks', and were right… it might get you into trouble."

Nicodemus shrugs and squawks, "Maybe if I wanted to go travelling, I could know when not to waste my money on airship fare, yes?"

Zoltan laughs despite himself. "Good point." He squawks. "But I fear that the only place where those little hands might work would be either the pyramid… or some secret chamber in the Temple. Neither of which I'd like to go to anytime soon."

Nicodemus looks over the hands. "You said … a city built by Savanites? Eh?" Something seems to register, by the look in his eyes. "Do these hands mean anything? I don't know the flutter-finger talk of the spotties."

Zoltan yawks, "I'm not sure myself. Perhaps they mean 'Sinai' or 'Rephidim'. I'll have to ask the Aeolun if I run into her again.

Nicodemus ponders over the hands, and then says, "I can give you … three silvers for them? More if they sell well. For the piece of obsidian … I do not know if that will sell quickly. Only to someone whose tail is not black, I think."

Zoltan shakes his head. "You keep whatever money you make. More than likely I've broken more than three silvers' worth of gemstones and other trinkets while I lived here." His face takes on a mischevious grin. "Besides… old men are supposed to retire eventually."

Nicodemus grins to Zoltan. "My, but you have gone so far, Zoltan! Very well, then, I will not refuse your offer."

Zoltan traces the dust in the ground with a hoof. "I'm forever grateful to you, master. I would probably not be alive today were it not for you rescuing me."

Nicodemus grins and says, "Most certainly not!" He pauses. "What, you expect humility from me? You were more than a clawful, indeed!" He winks. "But you have more than settled any debts."

Zoltan shakes his head, returning to the matter at hand. "The city was deep in the Forbidden Zone. And has been put under quarantine by the Temple, from what I understand. I have my guesses as to why." He squawks.

Nicodemus cocks a bushy eyebrow again. "Care you to share any of those guesses with me?" the Cervani-Vartan scrawks. "You make me wonder whether you have gifted me with an Eep in a gilded cage! Er … You've never seen an Eep, have you? Nevermind."

Zoltan looks at the stained glass pattern on the window. "Well, it could be because of the crystal mechanism. Or maybe because of the Priest-King. This Priest-King had somehow melded himself with his temple… he killed many people at the site. Also, the city was definitely built by the Savanites… but great pains were taken to make it look as if it had been built by the Naga."

Nicodemus puzzles, squawking, "So, Savanites built this secret city, but made it look like a Naga city?"

The stained glass window displays, in heroic grandeur, a noble Vartan holding up a shiny bauble. The script below, readable from the inside, proclaims, "Nicodemus' Shiny Shoppe". Odd, that it's readable from the inside and not the outside. Perhaps Nicodemus was hoping that curious Vartans would come inside so they could read the captions and admire the windows.

Zoltan shakes his head. "No… Savanites built it, and it looked as though Savanites built it, but the crew I was with there attempted to disguise city in certain places to resemble Naga. They covered up the Savanite portraits with mud, stuck paper mache Naga statues everywhere, things of that sort."

Nicodemus gives Zoltan a scrutinizing look. "You are telling me that those spotty cats built themselves a whole city?"

Zoltan holds up a hand, "May the hairs of my tail fall out if I'm lying. The city was built by the cheetahs, probably hundreds, if not thousands of years ago… probably at a time before they were slaves. But they did indeed build it. Rumor has it that a young Savanite even saved many people when the priest-king thing started killing people."

Nicodemus leans over to peek at Zoltan's tail to see if the hairs start popping out. His expression indicates that he wouldn't be terribly surprised if they did.

Zoltan frowns and swishes his tail. Dust swirls around, but the hairs stay in place.

Nicodemus snorts, "Well, an interesting tale it is. In any case, I suspect these hands may well be a bit of trouble … but still worth something if I find the right buyer. Risks aside, I think I may look forward to a good deal." He churrs, his equivalent for a "Hmmm… "

"I have one request in regards to whom you sell it too, Master… " Zoltan scrawks.

Nicodemus gets up and walks over to a bookshelf. He scrawks, "I received a very interesting book lately, from a pretty golden vixen. She tried to slip off with several shinies when she thought I wasn't looking… " He turns toward Zoltan. "Yes?"

Zoltan says, "No poodles."

Nicodemus raises both of his bushy eyebrows. "No poodles? Ah well. As you wish. No poodles." Mentally, he crosses off several possible collectors from his list of customers to approach.

Zoltan relaxes a bit. "Now… what about this book?" He screeks.

The Cervani-Vartan clears his throat, taking a leatherbound book off the shelf. "When I looked at this, I couldn't help but think of you," he scrawks, "though I'm not entirely sure why. Perhaps you may find it amusing."

"It is a log book. Of a Vartan airship captain. Shokar, captain of the Silver Bell," he scrawks, smiling as legends of the great Vartan airship captain – the one and only – are invoked.

"I have asked around," Nicodemus scrawks, "and this golden vixen came in on the Freedom's Dream, that strange ship in the Docks owned by that bat- prince."

Zoltan blinks in suprise. "Interesting, what made you think of me when you read it?" He holds his tatooed arms out, gesturing to see the book.

The Cervani-Vartan grins mysteriously as he hands over the book. "Look at the portrait inside the cover," he scrawks. The book has a clasp, but it is open. There's no sign of a key to fit the lock, should it be inadvertently closed.

The hippogryph gives his master a strange look, then gently opens the book up to look at the portrait.

The book's pages are made of something other than paper … vellum? There's a silky sheen to them. In the proper light, the pages would be shiny – not necessarily great for reading a book, but something about the material hints that this was not the intended purpose of the choice of this material. Although the pages are intact, something about the smell of the book speaks of great age. But the portrait inside the cover … depicts a large, muscular, black Vartan with bracers on his arms, and an outfit that could make for a passable portrait of Zoltan himself … not that it couldn't represent several other Vartans as well, though.

Zoltan blinks! "He could be my brother!" He looks up at the book. "How old is this? Perhaps he's family… "

Nicodemus scrawks, "I don't know how much of this is true, but now I know the Silver Bell is no legend. I have seen it with my own eyes." He makes a dramatic pause. "This very ship is at the Docks of Rephidim as we speak!"

Nicodemus laughs a "no-beak" laugh, then scrawks, "Come now! I heard legends of Captain Shokar myself when I was but a hatchling. Perhaps a great great uncle … or a great grandfather, if you have notions of grandeur," he winks.

Zoltan squawks, "Do you know for how long?" He glances back at the book, flipping through the pages and reading it in quick snatches. "I think I would very much like to see this ship."

Nicodemus nods. "The bat prince who arrived in Rephidim came with it, and he has renamed it the Freedom's Dream. He is refitting it," Nicodemus snorts. "He does not realize its legendary significance."

Zoltan squints as he reads the scribbly Vartan handwriting. "Odd that it was abandoned; were it not for the log book, I'd think the ship was a fake."

Nicodemus shrugs. "If it is a fake," he scrawks, "then it is one badly misused. I am sure the name of the Silver Bell has been painted over by now." He sighs, but adds with a wink, "At least I got to see it for myself first."

"But this book, it may well be a treasure itself. The units are very old and not what I am familiar with, and some of the names of places I am not certain about, but if one can fill in the gaps… " Nicodemus says, "… there might be clues as to where one can find some treasures … and perhaps some lost cities." He flips to the last entry. "And then, there is the matter of Paradys." He points at the entry describing the floating island of gold and diamonds. "Could it be real? I am inclined to think so – or at least it was when this was written," he scrawks.

The Vartan muses over the last entry. "I wonder what happened to them all. Perhaps they found Paradys. Although I'm more inclined to fear the worse. This world doesn't seem to give you anything of value without asking for blood or trouble in return."

Nicodemus frowns, then at last nods. "Yes, perhaps. But to even see Paradys … or to know its location. Surely that could be turned to good fortune … if for nothing else than to sell the secrets of its location to some fool who wishes its treasures for himself."

Zoltan drums his talons against the paper. "Do you know where the new crew of the Silver Bell plans to go? I wonder if they also hunt Paradys… "

The Cervani-Vartan shrugs again. "I have no idea. But whatever its worth, at least the entries make for good reading. The Captain would have been a good story-teller."

"Even though his writing is atrocious," Zoltan adds.

Nicodemus nods in agreement.

Zoltan gently closes the book, then pauses. "Do you really think you could place the island? It… it… would be a great tribute to Shokar to find the island in his ship. I think I will pay the Bell a visit later… and perhaps speak with its crew… "

Nicodemus grins, "Islands move. Who could possibly predict the movement of a sky island?"

Zoltan smacks himself in the head. "The hands… " he warbles quietly, glancing at the large contraption with the little crystal hands perched upon it.

Nicodemus raises an eyebrow. "Would you like the crystal hands back? Perhaps I could loan them to you," he winks.

Zoltan scrawks. "I'm not sure… there's really no way to use them. Except back in the City of Hands."

Nicodemus hrms, then scrawks, "I will let you sort this out. If you change your mind, let me know. It will doubtless take me some time to make arrangements to find a buyer … especially since no poodles are allowed!"

Nicodemus winks, "If you find Paradys, let me know. Perhaps I could relocate my shop there."

Zoltan nods absently, he feels a headache starting to creep in. "Perhaps I'll speak further with Envoy if I can find her. If I knew Savanite sign, I'd try and talk with the cheetah cub that is said to have saved everyone. And I'll also have to get a good look at that ship."

Zoltan laughs! "You could sell bits of it. And the rest of your time would be spent swatting every Vartan on Sinai off the island."

Zoltan imagines hundreds of Vartans trying to tie the island to their tails. Perhaps that's how the island moves.

Nicodemus laughs as well. "Almost every Vartan. You will be welcome to come and have as many shinies as you want. Just as long as you leave some for me!"

Zoltan grins. "I make no promises… but I'll give it a try."

Nicodemus smiles. "Now then," he scrawks, "maybe you can unlock the door again, so I can entertain some customers?"

Zoltan holds the book in his hands. "May I… borrow this?" He looks back to the door. "Put the hands away first. I've developed a slight sense of paranoia over the past few months."

Nicodemus smiles and hides away the crystal hands, and rearranges the mirrors and lenses. "Certainly," he scrawks. "I won't spoil any of the good parts for you."

Zoltan starts binding his arms again in the leather straps, tucks the book under his arm and unlocks the door. "It was good seeing you again, Master."

Promptly, a light-colored Vartan pokes her head into the door. "SCRAWK! It's about TIME you opened up," she fusses.

Nicodemus is already in salesman mode. "Aha! Laera! I have some dazzling blues that I think would go so well with your eyes… "

Zoltan waves to Nicodemus and quietly slips out.


GMed by Greywolf

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