New 21, 6105 RTR (22 Feb 2001) Elijah reaches the Outpost and the Sanctuary of Ice.
(Airship) (Elijah's Quest)
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Eternal Vigilance
In part a gift from the Knights' Abaddonian brethren, this airship departs from the old "ship and sail" design, instead sporting a central forest-green and amber zeppelin with an undercarriage and motorized propellers, with two additional floats connected by struts, one on each side. The undercarriage is salvaged from an old warship, modified only to fit the new envelope structure and to accommodate motors at the expense of cargo space, and it has a landing deck nestled underneath the central envelope, with wide openings on each side that can be blocked off to repel boarders, or opened to allow rakhtor riders and flying warriors free access. The front "shield" piece bears the old emblem of the Bounded Star and Anchor … except that the upward turning crescent to complete the "anchor" has been removed. The resultant symbol looks much like the "Bounded Star" of the Abaddonian Knights, only with a sharp point at the bottom, making the shape suggestive of an upturned sword.

Sure enough, the Kavi navigator's predictions were borne out. The sky island of Vanascar eventually met up with the sky island known on the map as the Outpost of Ice. There was some concern as the engineer had considerable trouble trying to get the engines to work, but some clever piloting resulted in the airship still managing to get to the outpost, using the momentum of Vanascar to propel it on an intercept course with the Outpost.

The landing was a bit rough, and the first order of business was to scramble about to make certain that no new damage had been sustained on account of it, but it appears that the rugged old ship is holding up – even the repairs done on Promethea.

Now, the Eternal Vigilance is sitting in dock on a sky island that is covered in snow and ice, although its envelope still provides sufficient air pressure and just "high" enough temperature that no severe risk is presented. Nonetheless, the warmest place to be is back on the airship, though once the word is in that the ship is in decent order, there will likely be a move to check out the outpost, rather than just blindly riding it all the way to the Sanctuary.

Of what can be seen from the airship, there is a mound of ice and snow toward the center of the sky island, and patches of scraggly tundra. Partially buried in all the snow is the framework of the docks the Eternal Vigilance is currently resting in, and large enough to house a couple more airships as well.

Atop a spire that rises from the center of the island flaps a tattered flag bearing the symbol of the Bounded Star and Anchor, on a field of ice blue.

Elijah looks out at the flag, wondering if it might get replaced soon after the latest development with the knights as he works at chipping away some of the built up ice on the outside of the ship. His breath comes out in smoky puffs as he works.

A bolt's shot away from the edges of the frost-covered sky island, chunks of isetis rush past, as an unseen force pushes its way through the tumbling blocks, shoving them to each side. This prompts many collisions, making a low rumble of crashing isetis audible constantly in the background, and smaller chunks spraying upward, covering the island in ethereal, dry mist.

Out of the corner of Elijah's eye, he spots some movement toward the heart of the sky island.

The Vartan whistles sharply as a warning to the crew outside and puts his hand on the handle of his blade just in case it's more of the crystal creatures.

Several crewmembers turn their muzzles and beaks in the direction of the Vartan. "Yverneti!" one of the Wimmers crawks out. He points a wing-arm away from the craft and, sure enough, the hairy head of one of the winged pseudo-serpents can be seen peeking over a ridge, further in toward the heard of the island, and then ducks down after several get a good look at it.

"Someone go get our native; we may be in need of a translator." Elijah flutters down from his perch on the ship and steps out across the dock.

A couple of terns flutter into the landing deck to carry out the order. As Elijah makes his way across the dock, he can see a few more heads pop up over the ridge. Looks like three … maybe four Yverneti, and it looks like they're wearing padded leather amongst their thick furs.

Elijah keeps his blade in its sheath for now as he takes a few steps further. "Ahoy there! We are here on behalf of the Knights Templar of Golgotha, bearing supplies and news. Do you serve the Ice Lance?"

"Knights Templar?" echoes back a voice from over the ridge – a deep voice but with a slight ratch to it. "Ho! Knights Templar!" This is repeated several times down the line, and several of the Yverneti pop up over the line. This unnerves several of the fliers outside the envelope, who squawk and flutter around behind the envelope or down toward the deck, while those down in the landing deck brace in anticipation of possible attack.

The Vartan wipes a few chunks of the misting ice from his beak. "Do you serve the Knights?"

With a flutter of wings, a Yverneti looking even more shaggy than the rest, and with padded leather armor decorated with scrimshaw and pieces of shell, lands at the inner edge of the dock area, peering at the Vartan through low-hanging locks. "We are guardians of the Outpost, for the Knights Templar." His accent is thick, but still intelligible. "Present yourselves!"

Elijah bows low. "I am Elijah, serving on behalf of my brothers. This is the Eternal Vigilance in service to the Knights."

The Yverneti returns the bow. "I am Hekeph, Keeper of the Outpost. Do you seek the Sanctuary of Ice?"

"Yes. There have been changes in Rephidim and this outpost may be given to Rephidim's new order." The Vartan gestures to the Bounded Star emblem on his airship. "I've come to give the brotherhood the news and talk to them about what there is to do."

The Yverneti's bushy eyebrows rise so high that a glimpse of his beady black eyes can briefly be glimpsed underneath. "Ehh? Let us go inside, then, so we do not shout over the crash of breaking isetis! Welcome to the Outpost of Ice, servants of the Knights Templar!"

Elijah nods and turns back to the ship. "As you were, men. Everything is fine. I'll be back in a moment." He hugs his wings around himself. "A bit of warmth would be welcome as well. I'm afraid I've gotten a bit spoiled to heat after spending most of my time in warmer climates during the war."

Hekeph nods. "Come, then!" And then he spreads his wings and lifts up, skimming over the upward slope, in the general direction of the central spire. The other Yverneti dip over the far ridge as well.

The Vartan grins, forgetting momentarily that his escort could fly. He uncurls his wings and sends bits of melting isetis skittering across the dock as he follows after the Yverneti.

Hekeph and the other fliers hold low to the surface of the island, dipping over the ridge, and in a faintly bowl-like depression on a quarter away from the dock, there is a large amount of snow that has been cleared away, revealing an archway and closed door, and several windows that peek out through deep holes in packed ice. Various mounds hint at structures buried in the snow, and in places, it has sloughed off in piles from pitched rooftops. There is no hint of any smoke or chimneys, but Hekeph alights, and as he opens the door, it's apparently warmer inside nonetheless.

Elijah eagerly enters the door, happy to get out of the cold and also excited to see the sanctuary. "I hope you do not take offense to this, but I had been led to believe after some encounters with other Yverneti that you were a neutral people."

Hekeph looks back to Elijah. "Are Vartans a neutral people, hmm?" the Yverneti replies, as he slithers his way down the corridor. There is dim illumination inside, coming from a larger chamber ahead. It looks like this corridor opens up to a taller room, and in the heart of it is a pit from which comes illumination – and, presumably, the warmth felt in here. A couple of other Yverneti crawl into the entrance behind Elijah. It looks like a number of others are already in the chamber, as it seems there are many archways branching off from this central location.

Elijah smirks. "Not quite the answer I was expecting, but I understand your point." He peers over Hekeph to get a better look at the pit, curious if it's a twin to the pit of liquid fire in Golgotha.

Until Elijah actually reaches it, it certainly bears some similarities, but at last, it appears that it is a sunken stone pit at the bottom of which are some exposed clusters of Sifran crystal that glow of their own light, with flickers and traces of red that rush about them, with occasional pulses of purple. Yes, this is certainly the source of the warmth, and it does not appear that it is supplemented by any other fires within the structure that he can see so far.

Hekeph's chest swells, and then he bellows something in an unfamiliar language to those gathered. It sounds like some sort of derivative of the tongue of the Nagai, the best that Elijah can tell, though it lacks the sibilance of true Imperial.

"Have you heard the news from Rephidim? I do not know if you've an air mage or some other means of courier to get outside news," the Vartan scrawks, tearing his eyes away from the pit and trying to focus on his guide once again.

Hekeph turns to face Elijah, as the other Yverneti bow a few times, and some slither off. "News from Rephidim? News has not come from Rephidim since the whole of the time I have been the Keeper here, appointed by the Champion of Ice himself. I would have hoped you would bring us news, rather than seek it from us, hmm?"

Elijah smirks a bit. "Well, I wanted to make sure I wasn't repeating something you may have heard already." His smile fades somewhat. "May I see the Champion? As this is his sanctuary I should probably deliver the message to him first of all."

Hekeph shakes his head. "No, this is not the Sanctuary. The Sanctuary of Ice is in the coldest part of the expanse. The Outpost will be going there shortly. It wanders all over the lands of the Isetis, going in and out again."

The Vartan's brows shoot up. "The Sanctuary is on another island?"

Hekeph nods. "It stretches from the sea to the sky, a lance that pierces the clouds. The isetis is born there, but also the frost imps and fiends as well. That is where the Champion of Ice keeps vigil, along with his Lance and the monks. I have not set coil inside it since I was young. It is a very secretive place. We bring plants and fish and small beasts from the fiefdoms for the Champion, but hear little from him."

"How long until we are there?" Elijah rubs the feathers on his neck. "And how did you become the guardian here?"

"I have been the Keeper for nearing thirty sun-seasons," Hekeph replies, "and yet I have not been able to predict the exact motions of the Outpost – though it seems that the people of Rephidim can do such things. That said, I can tell you we will see the Sanctuary within a day at the most, within a few hours at the least."

"Do the Yverneti have a colony here or do people come here in the same manner that squires come to the Knights?" Elijah asks.

"Several tribes send some of their young warriors to take turns serving here at the Outpost," Hekeph says. "It gives them practice in fending off the frost imps and even occasionally the frost fiends, for the monsters cannot feed upon the rock of this island, so it provides a retreat for those less experienced."

The Vartan rests his hand on the handle of his gunblade. "I suspect that I've encountered frost imps already, but what are frost fiends?"

"Larger and less friendly," Hekeph replies, his eyebrows rising enough to show a twinkle of amusement in his eyes.

Elijah tilts his head to the side. "Are they living creatures? They remind me a bit of golems."

Hekeph hmphs. "They live more than ice, but they live less than we. They swarm, they eat, they kill. They do not have young, though. They are spawned in the chaos of the isetis fields about the Sanctuary of Ice."

Elijah rubs his beak. "Should I warn my crew to prepare for an attack? If we are nearing that place and more of those creatures show up it may prove wise to inform them. The Vigilance has been damaged enough as of late."

Hekeph mmms. "May well be. Cover up your isetis. They can smell the mists. They roam through the isetis fields, devouring holes from the chunks, but they move on before they have finished anything. One would think they would have more than enough here to feed their hunger, but they most enjoy the smaller pieces, rather than trying to break pieces off the larger ones. So, they inevitably are drawn to the smaller pieces – those used in isetis ships – most of all. They do not terribly bother the Yverneti – for they do not eat meat and blood – but they sometimes attack the isetis-breakers, and sometimes a swarm surprises nesters."

The Vartan nods. "I will go and warn my men, in that case. Our ship is not powered by isetis, but it never hurts to be careful. When we are nearing the Sanctuary, please send a messenger our way so we can ready our supplies. Also, if you have anyone who can help us repair and refuel, we would be deeply grateful."

Hekeph nods. "We will send word, but if you do not use isetis, we have no other fuel for use. If you need rough labor, we may be able to help, but we are simple warriors, not makers of machines."

Elijah grins. "We'll manage. We made it this far, after all." He brushes himself off. "You keep your island well, Master Hekeph."

Hekeph laughs at this. "And you your ship, to have gotten it this far!" He then turns to the others, let's out a shrill whistle, and when a younger Yverneti comes up, he begins rattling off words to him – apparently instructions, judging from the frequent head bobs.

"Then I'll take your leave, sir." The Vartan bows again. "If you have need of supplies yourself, we don't have much but if we can offer anything simply ask and it's yours."

Hekeph seems to be contemplating, but then bobs his head. "Return to your ship, then. Well met."

Elijah turns on his heel and heads back to the entrance. His wings flutter and rustle as he warms them up for the flight back.


Back aboard the Eternal Vigilance, Elijah is approached by several curious crew members who want to find out what exchange took place … and what remains on their quest.

"The Keeper here told me that we'll be reaching the Sanctuary within a day at the most, apparently it's on a separate island that this one meets up with. I don't know much more than that except that the natives seem to be friendly, and there's lots of those ice creatures around the sanctuary that seem to enjoy feeding off of the Isetis, so if we have any chunks of it here we need to ditch them until we pass by." The Vartan leans against one of the walls inside the ship. "They don't have any engine fuel, so we'll either have to journey back with just the power of the sails or see if we can use the Isetis ourselves."

The captain frowns. "We have some in reserve thanks to the engineer's 'short cut'. Hopefully the Sanctuary will have some on hand."

"Don't count on it. The Champion of Ice is more isolated then his guardians here. It may be a good idea to start thinking up a contingency plan just in case." Elijah drums his fingers against the wood of the ship. "Anything happen here while I was away?"

"No," the captain replies. "We landed rough, but no damage. I'm still having some more reinforcement done on the strut regardless. The Prometheans are bright ones, but they don't seem to go far from their island, so they might not have been keeping in mind that we've got a long journey into even colder territory than theirs."

Elijah nods. "I'm going to go to my cabin and try and get some rest while I still can. The Yverneti here have offered to help, but they're not engineers like the Prometheans." The Vartan stretches. "If anyone needs me, just bang on my cabin door and I'll come running."


Some time later, Elijah is disturbed from his solitude by a heavy banging on his cabin door. "It's the Sanctuary! Or something! I think we're there!" comes the muffled voice of a lupine crew member.

The Vartan pulls himself from the floor and adjusts his eyepatch. "Thank you." He takes a moment to put on his shirt and cloak to fight off the chill and then heads outside. "Sukara, I'm afraid you'll have to stay here this time. I think the captain and crew will draw the line at you accompanying me to the sanctuary."

Sukara nods. "I understand. I can't imagine that there would be much for me to do there in any case."

"Until I return, then." The Vartan bows to the Eeee and then heads outside.

Once Elijah gets to a window he can look out, he can see that, yes, the Eternal Vigilance and the sky island it's on is certainly getting somewhere. The view is somewhat obscured by the breaking isetis mists – and the breaking isetis – but it looks like there is a mind-bogglingly large tower far ahead, forming a line that reaches up to the cloud cover, and descends, widening at a curve as it goes toward the base, like a straight trumpet that has been up-ended and perched on its bell atop mounds of ice. Its base disappears into fields of isetis and genuine ice, shrouded by swirling mists. The tower itself glitters with frost and a tinge of blue.

"Is that an island or are we skimming the ground?" Elijah wonders to himself as he peers out at the tower.

"It looks like that's an island all right … but not a sky island," the captain says, his tone tinted by awe. "That's gigantic." He adjusts his hat. "I'm going to have the engineer start up the engines. At the pace this island is going, we may not have long to get over to the Sanctuary."

"Aye aye, Captain." The Vartan grins. "I'm going to ride outside. I want to get a good view of this, plus it might help to have a hand or two watching the gondola in case one of the crystal creatures gets curious."

The captain shudders at the thought of the "crystal creatures", and then heads on up to the bridge. Meanwhile, the tower seems to be getting no closer, though the fields of isetis rush by at the same speed as ever. But then, something that large isn't going to be obviously "approaching" until the distance is closed a little more.

Elijah buttons up his cloak. "Are we over a forbidden zone? Maybe that's muddling with the view."

A nearby crew member – the same wolf who called on him earlier – whurfs, "Odds are yeah." The ship rattles as the engineer tries to start the engines. They don't seem to be cooperating.

Elijah's wings flutter. "If it comes down to it, I may have to bail to meet the Champion and you'll have to try and meet up with me later. Keep hammering the engines though, as I'd rather not fly in the cold by myself."

A while later, and several engine attempts later, it looks like the tower is indeed approaching … though as the sky island whips toward the tower, its speed seems to be slowing. The Yverneti are out and watching, and a swarm of frost imps can be seen to rush by … though they take no notice of the sky island or the airship parked on it, and disappear amidst the tumbling blocks of isetis.

The captain goes back to check on the engineer, and Elijah hears a bit of shouting. There are several more attempts … and it looks like the engines aren't cooperating just yet. Meanwhile, the sky island continues its approach … but instead of going directly toward the tower, it's orbiting it, in a spiraling path that seems to draw it in closer with each pass. On each pass around, Elijah can spy what looks like an opening in the side of the tower, and a ledge outside of it, high above what is presumably the ground (or the water) far below.

The Vartan looks down at the Yverneti to see if they're making any sort of move to dock with the island or send out a ship to meet with it.

For the time being, it looks like the Yverneti are just sitting and watching. At last, though, the sky island draws even closer … then slides to a stop. Bits of snow and ice fall away from the island as it brushes against the rocky ledge on the outside of the tower, forming a bridge over to a recessed tunnel and what appears to be some sort of a crystal window inside.

It also appears that there is illumination coming from within the window. The cloud cover makes the sky dark enough – despite the sun being ever-present in the sky – that the window stands out all the more.

Elijah raps on the side of the ship. "Captain, I'm going to go in. If you don't get the ship started up again then try to meet up with me later."

The captain calls back, "Eh … all right! Be careful – We'll keep working on it!"

Several Yverneti flutter up to the ledge, carrying bags with green leaves poking out. They fly past Elijah, and set down the bag in front of the crystal window, then fly, minus their load, back to the sky island.

"I'll do my best, sir," the Vartan scrawks in reply and then snaps his wings out into the cold air, a few wisps of steam rise out from the feathers as he lets go of the gondola, drops, and then glides out towards the ledge.

The ledge is stable, and the sky island shows no signs of moving just yet. Ahead is a clear window, much like one of those that might be found on the Gateway Tower. It looks like a corridor continues inward, and a shadowy form can be seen shuffling along toward the window, dressed in monks' robes.

Elijah quickly drops to one knee to greet the figure, wishing he'd had the foresight to bring a Templar robe with him to look more official, but his word will have to do for now.

The robed figure touches a hand to the crystal window, and cracks radiate outward, and then the shards slip into the walls. The monk shuffles out, and hefts up the sack. Even though Elijah is within plain view, the monk says nothing, just grabs the sack, and heads back in.

The Vartan blinks and promptly stands up again. "Um… sir?" He shrugs and reaches out to the window, emulating the manner in which the monk touched it to try and open it again.

The window cracks open again, the shards sliding out, temporarily opening the way. The monk, meanwhile, trundles on down the passage quietly, bag slung over his shoulder.

( If I stay outside, I'll freeze eventually. I might as well follow. Hopefully the Champion won't want to skin me for intruding on his sanctuary. ) The Vartan swallows and jogs to catch up with the monk. "Master? Sir?"

As the Vartan catches up with the monk, the corridor takes a turn, and then he can see the interior. It's not freezing cold in here, though still a bit nippy. On the contrary, while there's quite an impressive drop going down, the inside of the tower is hollow – with bridges and walkways and stairways going this way and that – and vegetation grows up from somewhere far below, poking through mists, and climbing up the interior walls, lining the room in terraces, and watered by falls that cascade down the inside from mists that cloud up the shaft high above.

Illumination comes from the crystalline walls, as if sunlight filtered through ice, though outside the Vartan recalls that the sun was mostly blotted out by the cloud cover … so it's more likely that this illumination comes from the crystal structures themselves.

The monk trundles over toward a round stone disc, and sets down his burden, then holds his hand up to a crystal-like bulb, though he pauses, his hand a few inches away, his cowled face turning in the direction of the following Vartan.

Elijah presses his hand against the wall as he follows. It must be more Sifran crystal, it makes for a useful little greenhouse. He coughs as the monk notices him. "I need to speak with the Champion of Ice. I am on business on behalf of the Knights Templar. My apologies for intruding, but it's very urgent."

The monk just stands there on the stone disc, which hovers in the air, just off of the side of the walkway. The walkway appears to continue clockwise and counterclockwise around the chamber, leading to other such ledges and hovering discs. In the distance, the shadowy forms of monks can be seen hobbling about, some of them tending to the greenery, others just walking here and there.

The Vartan shrugs and steps out onto the disk alongside the monk. He's had enough experience with people who have taken vows of silence to know that there's certain nonverbal ways of telling someone to shove off if they intrude too deeply.

Once the Vartan is on the disc, the monk touches his hand to the crystal knob. It glows faintly … and then the disc begins to drop – slowly at first, but then increasing its descent, at a gradual enough acceleration so as not to leave the Vartan's stomach anywhere other than where it belongs.

Elijah glances back at the monk as the disk descends, trying to see if he can determine what sort of species he and the others who inhabit here might be.

Given the monk's short stature, and a bit of fluff, it looks like he might be some sort of Khatta, though definitely not one of the big proud sabertooths living here in the region. Of the other monks, it looks like an assortment of avians, lupines and felines, though they keep their heads cowled, and walk in humble manner. It's quiet, save for the rush of cascading waters. The disc passes through a layer of mists, and then into another open area. Many of the trees now rise above Elijah, and there are other wondrous plants – if they can be called that – below. Really, it looks like that there are several "trees" fashioned of ice itself, complete with delicately fashioned leaves and blossoms. In some of the terraces, there are other gardens of "ice plants" as well. At last, though, the disc slows its descent. It at last comes to a stop, and the monk shoulders his burden again, then shuffles off, onto a bridge leading to another rim walkway.

There is a large archway up ahead, and through it can be seen a chamber in which there is the flicker of candle-light, and an armored form kneeling before a shrine.

"Thank you, brother," the Vartan whispers as he steps off the disk. He shivers a bit at the figure in front of the shrine, remembering how he found the armor of the Champion of Shadows so many years ago. He quietly walks up and kneels alongside, although slightly behind, the Knight to announce his presence but not to disturb.

As the Vartan enters, he can see that the Champion is indeed kneeling before a shrine, but – more specifically – a table set out in the chamber, upon which are various vials, bowls and pestles, with bits of powders and plant fragments. The Champion of Ice is adorned in bluish-silver armor, and he has the proportions of a lupine, but he is somewhat smaller of build. A vulpine, perhaps? He also has, in addition to the expected heraldry, some runes upon his armor. He seems to be mixing something in one of the bowls, and for the moment shows no notice of the visitor.

Elijah takes a sharp breath in through his nostrils, but remains where he is. After all, the knight might be mixing something delicate and needs to finish before greeting him.

The Champion continues mixing, then pats the pestle against the rim of the bowl, knocking some of the powders off, and sets it aside. He then takes up the bowl, pours its contents into a vial of reddish translucent liquid – wine? – and takes a stirring stick and mixes until the powder dissolves. He moves the vial over to a holder over a low-burning flame. After all this is done, he slowly turns his helmeted head to regard the Vartan. "Greetings. I am the Champion of Ice. Who might you be, traveler?" His voice sounds long unused, dry and cold.

"My name is Elijah, although in another life I was Shadows, your brother. I am on a vision quest of sorts as I try to reclaim something I lost during the war." He keeps his head down, focusing on the floor and not making eye contact. "I've come to give you news of Rephidim. They're dissolving the order and replacing it with a new one that follows the First Ones and is comprised mostly of nobles. They intend to lay claim to all that the Knights possess, and they may try to claim this island."

"Oh?" responds the Champion. "No doubt, the Technopriesthood would be interested in my findings. Or perhaps the College Esoterica. I am, you see, not only a Champion, but also a Guild Member – a practitioner of the Art of Water – a specialty in Ice, naturally – and some dabbling in Air."

Elijah raises his head slightly. "The ice sculptures I saw outside … yours?"

"Sculptures?" the Champion responds, then makes a raspy chuckle. "Oh no … those are plants. They're alive. Just a different sort of life – drawn from the powers of this wondrous structure left to us by the First Ones. Much like those dreadful creatures – the frost imps – that lurk outside, other strange forms of life can be created from this magic. It may seem cold and lifeless … but quite the contrary … the southernmost part of Sinai is flourishing with life, but of a different sort than we've been accustomed to."

"My lord, you mentioned the Technopriesthood. There is also talk of buying some of the Knights' land back from the Temple. Ashes has retired and has donated a great deal to the order as thanks for his time. Do you wish to accept a place within the Temple and have your sanctuary fall to the Audit, or do you wish us to try and purchase it back?" The Vartan starts to creakily pull himself up before his knee protests too much.

"It hardly matters to me one way or the other, I suppose," the Champion says. "Just so long as I am allowed to continue my research. Imagine the possibilities. If we could learn to live in cold environments such as this, then both of the poles of Sinai would be opened up to us." He stands as well.

Elijah frowns a bit. "Lord, the Temple is disbanding us because we do not venerate the First Ones, and they also do not approve of some of our customs. If you are looking purely for resources, then I suggest that you take the path of the Temple. Caroban has also gone neutral and I'm sure would be pleased to support you as well. But if you believe in the brotherhood and follow the Star, then I think you would do well to stay with us."

"Hmm. I have always followed the First Ones and the Star. And what is this – Caroban? – Oh! That's what you call the College Esoterica now, hmm? Well, I suppose I've followed them, too. Now I have to choose between the three? Quite the unsettling messenger you are. How long shall you be staying? Should I have rooms prepared?" queries the Champion of Ice.

"I will stay as long as you need me to, although if my ship doesn't make it to the island then I may be a while longer. We're low on fuel and the engines were giving us some problems." The Vartan shrugs. "I'll give you time to think about it, although if you can't choose on your own, you may consider declaring neutrality yourself. I suspect that the Temple won't be paying you a visit anytime soon, considering how isolated you are here." He grinds his beak as he considers saying more, and after a pause to think he voices his thoughts. "I do not speak for the order myself, as I am on leave from it for a time. But after the betrayals the Knights have suffered over the war, I do not want any fence sitters in the order. Someone betrayed the Knights and let a dangerous explosive device slip through our fingers, later to turn up in Babel as it destroyed thousands of lives. Then the Temple sent the Knights out into battles we couldn't win and our numbers were decimated, and now they intend to strip us of our holdings and put poodles in our seats so they can pretend they're warriors. Caroban claims neutrality, but their numbers are falling to the Babelites even now if the rumors I've heard are true."

The Champion of Ice nods. "It is much to think about. I am so used to following orders, and it is a strange thing you are asking me to do – to choose anew whom I will serve. As for your vessel, if you are using engines, I should be surprised if they would work at all here, for this is a very potent Forbidden Zone. With any hope, they should be back to normal once you leave, though I've never put much faith in machines."

Elijah smirks. "They weren't working, actually, although this now explains why. If the ship can't move, then I suppose I'm stuck here until they find a way to get here or until the outpost comes back around again."

"Hmm? Well, that's a shame. Never fear. That island is typically here once a day or so," the Champion says. "You can just catch it the next time around, certainly." He looks out of the chamber. "Besides, you've come so far, it'd be a shame to just send you on without letting you explore a bit first. Do stay a little while. I'm certain it will be enlightening."

"I accept your invitation." The Vartan bows. "Although please keep my identity a secret. I do not mind my brothers knowing, but I would shame myself if I casually told others who I am." He looks down at the vials in the Champion's hands. "Now then, what is that you're working on? It smells very nice… "

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GMed by Greywolf

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Today is 12 days before Landing Day, Year 24 of the Reign of Archelaus the First (6123)