Zoltan feels a starburst of pain in his shoulder as he left wing is broken. He lashes out with his hand, blinded by the pain but connects only with the rope of the net holding him to the ground. Another blow lands square in his stomach, knocking the wind out of him. The charrering taunts of the Guntergang ring in his ears.
"Thoughtcha could keep pushin' us around, blackie? Well, when we'ze done withya all you'll be pushin' up anymore are the flowers on yer grave." The scarred Kavi slams his boot down on the hippogryph's hand, and the sickening crunch of bone echoes in the alleyway, followed by the screams of the Vartan.
Blinded by pain, and fueled by adreneline, Zoltan grabs the net in his good hand and pulls as hard as he can. The pain in his shoulders as the ropes pull taut around his broken wings is almost too much to bear… But then the ropes slacken as they finally tear away. He's free. The gang members skitter back as their prey frees himself and staggers to his feet.
"Git 'em!" screams their leader. "He'll kill us all if he gits away!" The Kavi leaps on the black Vartan and begins slashing at him with his claws. His shouts suddenly grow quiet as the Vartan grips his head in one hand.
… and then slams it into the cobblestones of the alleyway. Zoltan pulls himself back up and wipes the Kavi blood across his chest. He looks at the other stunned gang members and grins, deliberately stepping on the body as he tries to inch out of the alley.
He manages to get a few feet before the shock of seeing their leader wears off, and then Zoltan finds himself fending off what seems like hundreds of assailants. He flails about with his good hand, kicks with his hooves and even bites at them with his beak … but they manage to bring him down. His last thoughts before blacking out are of revenge…
As the black Vartan comes to, he finds himself partially submerged in a gelatinous red goop, instinctively rising to get a much-needed gasp of air. The chamber is the scene of a battle quickly joined … and quickly ended. The guards are either dead, incapacitated … or standing around, stunned. The other guests and servants likewise have a lost look on their faces, a few blinking and looking as if they might be slowly coming back to reality.
Zoltan shakes his head and makes a grab for the weapon that caused all of this damage… He'll probably need the blade very soon. He shakes the goop out of his wings and looks around for the Savanite that escaped the husker, and for Wynona and Kensington, fearing that they might be drowning under this mess.
The black sword-gun is standing on its blade, which is imbedded in a thick cluster of what used to be part of the Progenitor, blown this far outward by the blast. It is starting to slip, as the foul, viscous, boiling fluids slowly vaporize into a red mist. This mist is pouring out of the open membrane-door that the bug-ship came in … and several guards and workers can be seen peering in. Their expressions seem to indicate curiosity more than intents of vengeance. Wynona is struggling to shake bits of red goo off of her wings … and the black feathered form of a Korv can be seen lying face-down in the mess, a battered silver platter lying half-submerged next to him.
Zoltan pulls out the weapon and makes a grab for the Korv. "Wynona… the ship they fly in… come on."
Some of the red muck rises … and sloughs off, to reveal a soggy-looking cheetah, with a few pieces of one of the broken Husker devices falling off of him. He coughs violently, spitting up some of the mess … then repressing a gag.
The Korv proves to be surprisingly light for his size which is fairly small compared to the Vartan already.
One of the guards murmurs something, then shouts, more loudly, "We're FREE! The Progenitor is DEAD!"
The black Vartan makes as though he's about to grab the Cheetah amd then freezes in his tracks. "What?" he scrawks.
The exclamation of the guard is repeated by other fliers present, until shouts can be heard outside, then cheering. As the red goo continues to vaporize, some chitinous bits can be seen that look like the shoulderpads of the Overseer. It would seem that the chimeric leader is slowly dissolving as well something other than the combination of flying species that he appeared to be in life.
A couple of robed Eeee venture forward. "Zoltan Cambio? The Son of the Black One?" the older one queries. "You are the one who has saved us from this monster?" The second one says nothing, but looks expectantly at the Vartan.
Although the mists are clearing, and the Vartan doesn't appear to be wounded by the blast, he must have taken a hit to the head or something. There's a persistent "buzzing" in his skull, or perhaps a ringing in his ears, which won't quite go away yet. At least he's not feeling as dizzy as he did just a bit ago.
Zoltan keeps his weapon out, "Yes… he… " The Vartan looks to the prisoners, the remnants of the Progenitor, and then back to the Eeee. "He was going to kill the knights!"
At this, a green serpent contributes, "He failed at that. My thanks to you, warrior." It is the same one that was paraded in here earlier. The red-haired human stands beside him, scraping some of the more stubborn goo off of his scales.
The elder bat priest says, "Greetings. I am Father Yan … although our old 'god' is now gone, and my title means nothing now. Yan, then. In any case, the Progenitor has enslaved us for many years now, once an experiment meant to bring prosperity and order to our city … but soon proven to have gone tragically awry. Its pervasive mental powers held us all in its sway … until you managed to defeat it once and for all."
The black Vartan frowns in thought. "Then he … then my father… Oh Star! My father! I have to get to him!"
Zoltan gently sets Kensington down. "A doctor… he needs a doctor."
The elder priest frowns. "It would be impossible to reach him in time. Even now, he is surely completing the destruction with the forbidden weapons given to him by the Progenitor. Alas, he was as susceptible as ourselves to the Progenitor's mental influence, even though he was from another world."
"Except " the younger priest interjects. "I … Please forgive me, Fath er … Elder Yan … but there is still the Grand Editor. The Progenitor is gone, but it is yet powered for one more use. Surely it would be worthwhile to grant this great hero the last use of that contraption?"
"Isn't there SOME way! I transported myself from Sinai to here, surely there must be a way to get from here to there quickly… " Zoltan's ears perk. "The what?"
The elder priest says, "The Grand Editor. It was the means by which the Overseer who was once mortal like ourselves cemented his power, and quite literally erased all his mistakes. Or, that is, all those mistakes he believed he had made. It is perhaps the grandest invention of all time … but its workings were understandable only by the genious which the Overseer once was, with the help of his creation, the Progenitor … who eventually became his source of life. It allows you to transcend the boundaries of time … but only within your own lifetime. It allows you to relive parts of your life. To 'edit' the past."
The younger priest throws in, "It's quite amazing, really. I would have feared that time travel would cause all manners of paradoxes … but time is more resilient than we would have realized. Things change … yet you do not erase yourself in the process. You still retain your memories … but also those of the new past."
Meanwhile, a couple of physicians tend to Kensington. The Korv coughs a few times, but he's still out of it.
Zoltan staggers back. "How could this help me?"
The elder priest says, "Well … he's your father, is he not? Surely there is something you could do differently in the past that would change the present. Perhaps you could stop him from coming here at all. Maybe you could warn him about the Progenitor ahead of time. Once you use the Grand Editor, you are free to guide yourself through your own past with but your own thoughts … and then return to the present by concentrating on it. If at first you don't succeed … " The elder priest manages a smile. "Try, try again."
Zoltan carefully sheathes his sword. "But… but what if changing parts of my past change parts of my present I no wants it to? I have children at home… I have friends who needed me and I helped them." He looks back to the lancer. "What do you think of this thing?"
The Lancer says, "I have heard of this. It is an ancient artifact of the Ancestors, that long lay useless, until the Overseer recreated it. Thanks to it, he was impossible to defeat in battle … It was only possible to hold him at bay."
The elder priest says, "The Grand Editor is a masterpiece. It is not a mere time machine, but a tool. Somehow, you can change just certain elements of the past. The rest will fit itself back together, to be as uniform and complete as possible."
"If I make it so that my father never came here, then I never would have come here… and the Progenitor would be alive again, wouldn't he?" Zoltan scrawks.
The elder priest says, "Yes … but you could then see to it that you come here sooner than before, and catch the Progenitor unawares. For every piece you change, yes, there will be more to change … but one session in the Grand Editor is enough to rewrite several lifetimes."
The young priest adds, "And even death cannot touch you in the Grand Editor. It will be a great tool that we lose when it finally dies. But perhaps it is for the best."
"What happens when I'm done, and can I bring anything with me?" Zoltan carefully looks at the blade in his hands. He's seen what it can do… and knows that it could easily take out the Babelite ship over some unpopulated area, or perhaps even over the ocean. "It sounds like so much… "
The elder priest shakes his head. "Anything you take with you is still here, in this future. If you go back to the time when you were a hatchling … you will be a hatchling, with only whatever was in your talons at that time. Only your mind can you take with you."
The Vartan sits down, rubbing his head. "And its limitations beyond that?"
Yan says, "The primary limitation would be that once you decide you are finished, you cannot change your mind. If the present reality still stands, not much changed from what you see here, the Grand Editor will have spent its last energy, and will function more. If the present is changed even further than that … then we cannot say what you would find. Your present might not even be here on Abaddon. But if you use the Grand Editor with care, there should be no surprises when you return."
Zoltan looks back to the Lancer and the Savanites, "What will happen to your people if Herbir wins in the Himar pit?" his hands echo his words in Savanite sign.
The Lancer looks to the Savanites, then back to Zoltan. "I would like to hold out hope," the Green Lancer hisses, "but it is most probable that they will be completely annihilated, without mercy."
"Then there is no choice," Zoltan scrawks grimly. "If there is no way I can reach him in time… I will try to return and stop the Progenitor when I'm finished, but I doubt I will be as quickly welcomed at his table if he has never heard of Cambio Herbir."
"May the Star shine brightly upon you, Zoltan Cambio," hisses the Green Lancer. "I am Sir Malachite, of the Green Lance. Though I may not remember you in the new future, the Star will not forget your deeds here."
The Savanites salute the Vartan. The fliers echo this with salutes as well. Wynona smiles weakly and waves. "I hope you don't change things too much. Be sure to look me up again, okay? And Kensington is really nice. Be sure to introduce me again?"
The Vartan says, "I will need as many of your prayers to the Star as I can." He walks over and hugs Wynona tightly and then goes to prepare himself…
Wynona returns the hug. "Take care. I'll miss you. And Kensington … " She looks at the black bird. "Well … He'd say something witty and encouraging if he were conscious, I'm sure."
"I scared," Zoltan whispers in the bat's ear. "But I not goings to change things too much, not if it hurt more people than it help. Just pray for me." He gives the Korv's shoulder a pat and then shakes his feathers out. "I'm ready," he scrawks.
A curtain is drawn aside from a wall, revealing a glittering archway. It very much resembles the gateway that brought Zoltan to this world in the first place, right down to what appears to be a solid wall on the other side. Or … not QUITE solid. There's something murky and misty about its surface, as if another realm lies just behind a window of dark glass.
Zoltan moves to stand in front of the archway, where he waits for instructions.
The elder priest says, "Just step through … and focus on where you want to go. Remember what it was like. What did you smell? What did you hear? Fix it in your mind, and you will be there. And once you are there, it is up to you to change it from that point on. When you are ready to let things continue on their course, simply concentrate and focus again. And so your journey will continue."
The Vartan nods and closes his eyes. He tries to remember Himar, the Himar before the bomb struck it, and the Himar he took work at so many years ago when he was just a simple dockworker in Rephidim. He remembers his flight over the Himaat as he was going to head back to Rephidim … and thinks about changing those plans. Swallowing, he steps through the portal.
He had just escaped the K'hu'an and had been set free for no apparent reason. Their mark was upon his arms a mark which he kept hidden under bits of leather. He had been in the mountains and couldn't find a ship to take him back to Rephidim in Elamoore… but now, he didn't want to go back to Rephidim. He was instead flying over the treetops, following his memory as best as he could towards a cabin in the woods, a cabin that Herbir was hopefully flying home to as well.
There it is. It wouldn't be visible from the air unless one were looking for it. A cabin perched in a tree, located near a tributary stream, a short flight away from the river.
Zoltan feels his heart leap in his chest. He zooms down and tries to land nearby.
The cabin looks just like it did … or didn't … sometime, somewhere elsewhere. There are no red cliffs. The house is not a facade buried in rock. There are some clothes laid out on a rock for washing … but they have several scorch-marks on them, and some hasty patches. A big black Vartan is up on the porch, hanging a ship's wheel on the railing, a chitin spike in one beak, and a hammer held in one talon.
Trembling, Zoltan pays little heed of the trees around him as he roughly lands. Somehow he manages to find his voice. "C-Cambio?" he calls. "Are you Cambio Herbir?"
The wheel drops, falling to the forest floor. "I don't know ANYTHING about it!" scrawks the Vartan, wielding the hammer menacingly. "It WASN'T my FAULT! And that stinkin' EXILE stole my sword, too! And … " He stops scrawking in Vartan long enough to get a good look at Zoltan. "Ah … yes. That'd be me." The nail, of course, has fallen to the ground as well long before this point.
Zoltan takes a few hesitant steps out of the woods. "I found you. I searched… and I finally found you."
Herbir says, "Yes … yes, you did. And … you … you are … " His beak clacks nervously.
"I… I… " The younger Vartan stoops to pick up the wheel in his arms, holding as though it were his only anchor. "I'm Zoltan. Zoltanos Cambio, of Mountain Shadow Tribe."
"I'm your son," he adds in a much quieter tone.
The black Vartan on the porch wobbles a bit on his hooves, then disappears from sight. A heavy thump can be heard on the wooden planks of the porch as his body comes to rest on them. "My … son… " the older Vartan hisses through his beak.
Zoltan drops the wheel and leaps up to the porch. He rushes over and holds the fallen Vartan. "Are you alright? I'm sorry… I'm so sorry… "
The older Vartan is lying on the porch, tears streaming from his eyes. "Sorry? Sorry? You're … you're alive. They didn't get you … they didn't … "
The younger holds the older tightly, as though he might vanish in his hands. "I'm sorry I never said goodbye… I was so terrible. I thought you were dead;that's why I never went looking for you."
The older Vartan cries for a very long time.
Zoltan can't find his own voice anymore either. He just sits with his father in his arms and lets his own tears flow. In between sobs he whispers "I'm sorry" and "I love you" over and over again.
Several awkward minutes later, the two black Vartans are seated inside the cabin, at a table that looks like it, too, was salvaged from a wrecked airship. Herbir must be quite the scavenger. Some spicy drink is set out for himself and his guest. "So," the elder Vartan scrawks, "how did you find me?"
"You're going to think I'm crazy," Zoltan says, "but I had to go to Abaddon to find you."
Herbir blinks at that. "You haven't been dabbling in some sort of cursed magic, now have you, boy?" he scrawks, furrowing his brow a bit. "It's trouble. Vartans and magic are like airships and open flame! Don't put them together!"
"I don't know what it was," the younger Vartan replies. "You had ended up in Abaddon because the Babelites dropped the Boomer over Himar and were about to attack a bunch of people because their leader had tricked you and you were too far away for me to reach … but I had found out enough about you to know where you'd been … so they sent me here." He rubs his head. "There's so much I'd like to tell you, but it hasn't happened yet."
Zoltan focuses on his tea. "I sound crazy; I probably wouldn't even believe my story."
Herbir blinks several times. "It's strange… That reminds me of a dream I had last night. But … " He goes back to sipping his tea, while he gathers his thoughts.
"What dream? Tell me… please." The younger Vartan folds his arms across the table and rests his head in them. It lowers his perspective a bit, making Herbir seem taller. It seems more appropriate somehow.
Herbir mumbles, "Something about … lots of bugs. Bugs, bugs, bugs. And things blowing up and breaking. And more bugs. And lots of red. And the house fell apart. That really annoyed me." He chuckles. "Just a dream, you know. Nonsense."
"That was Abaddon! Did you see the Vartans there? Do you remember the big brain bug thing and their leader the Overseer? It wasn't a dream, Father… and it might still happen again. That's why I'm here." Zoltan sighs. "I wish I knew how much I should do or how much I should say without hurting things too much."
"Just a dream, you know. Nonsense," Herbir repeats, looking worried. Thunder booms outside.
Zoltan shakes his head. "I can prove it. In that trunk you have your journal. I found it when I came here; I read the poem you wrote about mother, and I saw the pages you had ripped out. I know that before you came here you were in the Forbidden Zone in the Himaat and found the crystal thing. I saw your map. I even saw the locket with the baby feather inside." He starts to get that strange feeling in his stomach when something doesn't seem quite right.
The buzzing in Zoltan's head, which never really went away, is turning into a really mean headache. The tea doesn't seem to be helping.
"Nnngh." Zoltan grunts, rubbing his head. "I… I… ow."
The thunder booms more loudly outside, and Zoltan's vision grows blurry for a moment. He can see Herbir reaching for him.
Zoltan pushes back against the table. "What's happening?" He shakes his head, trying to clear it.
Herbir scrawks, "You don't look too good. But you're home now. Why don't you get some rest? You can use my bed."
"I'll be alright. It's just … something must be happening that the Confederates didn't tell me about." Zoltan reaches out and tries to grab his father's hand. "There's something I want to tell you … something important."
There's another buzzing inside Zoltan's head. It sounds almost like a voice. But if it is, it makes no sense whatsoever.
"Yes?" scrawks Herbir. "What is it?"
For a moment, Zoltan's vision hazes again. Everything is in grays, black and white. He can still see Herbir, but for a moment he has the odd sensation of seeing his father through someone else's eyes. And then it's back to normal again, such as it is.
Zoltan puts his free hand on his head again. "Star … it hurts." He shakes his feathers out. "You were wrong. Your reasons were good but you were wrong. I know you are angry at the Savanites because of the Lalee Papu, but don't judge them all because of that. And in a year from now Moffat and all of his corrupt followers are going to fall… You don't have to prove anything anymore. Don't make a mistake like you did with the Rotten Eye. When the time comes, find out everything you can before you leap into battle … before you hurt more people. I need you, Father. And so will my children."
There's a sharp pain in Zoltans' beak. As if something were being forcibly ripped out of his nostrils. A disembodied voice screams in his ears, "Zoltan, wake up! Wake UP!"
"No!" roars Herbir. Suddenly, a chair's form changes, warping into the shape of a spotted female feline. She laughs wickedly, as flames dance about her. "You can kill me! You can strike me down here! Do not leave! Don't GO! You can have ANYTHING! ANYTHING!"
The elder priest says, "You can change the past! All your mistakes can be undone! But you can only do that HERE!" Pouncer mews, "Don't leave me, Papa!" Thunder booms outside, hurting Zoltan's ears. The whole cabin rocks with the impact.
Zoltan jerks upwards. "No… NO!" He whirls around at the image of his father. "You're a lie… aren't you? None of this is real… it's just some Dagh horrible nightmare of a LIE!!"
And then the dream melts away, revealing the destroyed chamber of the Progenitor once more…