Jul 10. The Freedom's Dream goes to war.
(Airship) (Necropolis) (Paradys Lost) (Paradys) (Roho) (Spheres of Magic) (Wynona) (Zoltan)

The chamber of the Navigator is scattered with numerous fallen half-Vartans, and the one full Vartan doesn't look all that much better.

Zoltan pulls himself from the throne, he rubs his head and looks around at his brethren… hoping to see a glimmer of movement in any of them.

One over there is breathing unevenly. And the white gryphon is still alive, though in poor condition. But not all survived this catastrophe.

Zoltan sighs… He's in no condition to heal anyone, nor does he know the first thing about healing. He limps back out of the chamber and tests his wings, praying that he's strong enough to fly and get help.

It will not be an easy flight. It would probably be much easier to … just glide down from the Tower and land as soon as possible … and walk the rest of the way to the airship.

The Vartan limps to the elevator and tries to ride it to the main interior, operating it as best as he can manage.

The elevator rattles and jerks part of the way, and requires some coaxing with the buttons to make it all the way, but it delivers its winged passenger to the main area within the Tower. Several ladders and stairs later, he makes it to the rim of the Tower … and then he flies as far as he can toward the airship before having to descend to the jungle and take the rest of the way through the trees. By the time he reaches the ship, his wings have started to ache less from his misadventure, but the sun is already setting.

A bat cries out, "Zoltan returns!" Some of the other bats squeak in response, and there are some squawks in Vartanspeak as well. At least Zoltan is not alone.

Zoltan looks blearily up at the airship. "Is everyone alrights? Get doctor… there accident in navigation chamber… many hurt badly."

Roho is in the middle of the deck, with a makeshift new office… namely, the whole deck. Bats wander this way and that, complaining of everything under the sun. He turns to face Zoltan as he arrives, looking a little more tired than usual, "What happened?"

"Get boarding deck down!" Zoltan shouts upwards. "I too hurt to fly."

It takes a bit longer than desired, but the bats get into action – with the aid of their Savanite servants – and soon Zoltan is up on the deck, with the aid of the elevator-like platform.

Roho walks over to Zoltan, "Things have been crazy here… What happened up there?"

Zoltan looks around at the deck of the ship, surveying the wounded and looking for the air-mage. "Kryago had accident while turning vanes back on… I try and stop by pulling out one of shinies, but it start shooting lightning around instead. I put shiny back, and then use helmet myself and tell it to fix vanes. I think it be quiets from now on."

Roho slings his herbs over his shoulder, "How do we get back up? Can some others still fly?"

A weary-looking white bat staggers over. "You did it. I … took a chance and did a little cantrip just to see how unstable the energies are. Whatever you all did over there, things are back to normal."

"I no able to fly. Not until I have good long rest at least." The Vartan sighs. "Everyone in chamber out cold… think some are dead. Only other Vartans able to take you there if they up to its."

Zoltan manages a smile at Wynona. "Told you I fixes."

The white bat looks at Zoltan uncertainly, then rushes forward and wraps her arms and wings around him. "Thank you! Oh, you have NO idea how much this means to me!"

Zoltan winces as the bat squeezes his bruised arms.

Wynona eeps and backs off. At least bats aren't particularly strong…

Wynona squeaks, "Well … Once we tend to all the wounded … I guess this means that we're all set! The envelope is still inflated, and I can use a little spell to help push us off … Why, we can get out of this dreary little place and go home! Except that I suppose it WOULD be nice if we found some sort of treasure or something to justify this whole trip first."

The Vartan looks around at the deck. "No… there still Jezebel to deal with." He lowers his voice to a whisper, "And bounty hunter."

Wynona's ears are keen enough to catch that last bit. "Oh dear … Well … Hmm. Maybe we should send out scouts to see if there are any ships approaching … And maybe I could conjure up a storm or something to discourage pursuit… "

Roho spends the time while the two fliers converse, wrapping up (literally) a few more things among the crew…

Zoltan looks to some of the half-vartans. "Go get Kryago and rest… they need doctor now or they die soon… if they no dead already."

The half-Vartans scrawk in alarm at Zoltan's news, and take off immediately for the Tower.

Zoltan looks back to Wynona. "Is hate to ask this… but… is there some way you can test for some kind of barrier outside of island? Something I see make me think we maybe encased in shield of somesort."

Wynona hmms. "Well, yes, I could do that, certainly. I'll start on it immediately."

One of the bats says, "A barrier? I think there's probably a much easier way to find out… "

"NO." Zoltan says to the bat. "We lost too many already. This way hopefully safer."

Wynona returns to the rear of the deck, and starts making alterations to her magic circle, setting out candles, and making other preparations.

The bat shrinks back. "Well … all right. I guess we'll all just stay here on the ship, where it's safe, then."

Zoltan growls. "Sorry. I jumpy. If this no work, then we send scouts." He limps over to an open patch on the deck and seats himself, looking around at the people there. He motions to one of the Savanite workers.

One of the slaves comes over, holding his head low in Zoltan's presence.

Zoltan motions for the Savanite to sit in front of him. "Don't be afraid. I just need to ask you few things, and don't fear my wrath if you think you maybe say something I no like, I not hurt you."

The cheetah nods cautiously to the Vartan.

Zoltan adjusts himself and unfolds his wings to serve as a blinder, so that the signing can be private. "The Savanite that was with me, Jezebel. You and others seemed afraid of her. Why? She threaten you? "

The cheetah looks around, then back to Zoltan. "Why do you ask me this, sir? She is the future Priest-King, and you are her Consort." The exact meaning of this last word-sign isn't necessarily clear in the context. It could just as easily mean "bodyguard" or "most trusted advisor" or "personal attendant". "We are honored to be in her presence."

"I no longer 'concort' to her." Zoltan signs. "Listen closely, she been enslaved by powerful mind mage… mage promise her everything she want. But lie. I need to Rescue Jezebel from this person. Is important that you tell me… she say anything about her plans on island? Give you and others any strange orders?" He pauses, and furrows his brow. "Any of you had any strange visions?"

The cheetah shakes his head. "Third-Eye left the ship last night. She bid us not to pursue. This very night, she is to partake in a great spell that will aid in the restoration of our Empire. Let us wait until the morning. Even now, she is building our future!"

Zoltan's eyes go wide. "Has she say what kinds of spell?"

The cheetah smiles. "No, but we will all have great power when it is completed! We will all be granted the gift of … " He looks back and forth, before continuing, with an excited expression, "immortality!"

Zoltan makes a choked noise. "How you mean? And has she say anything about another person speaking to her?"

The cheetah nods. "Yes. A great Savanite queen of a Lost Kingdom – one who rules on a throne even today – has promised to make an alliance with our Empire."

"Do you know where this queen is? Where I can find her?" Zoltan sighs.

The cheetah nods. "Third-Eye has gone to meet with the Queen Amenlichtli this very night. The Queen is a powerful enchantress as well."

The Savanite slowly adopts a more curious expression. "Why do you ask me so many questions, sir? Surely you already know… "

Zoltan shakes his head, frowning. "No… she not signed word to me about this. Listen… I care great deal for Jezebel, not want her to get hurt. You can chose to believe me or not… but listen. Third-Eye is under the power of queen. She not care for you or other Savanites. She struck Twilight-Wing down when he was abouts to warn Third-Eye about her. The secrets of city of hands… the queen has thrown them to winds. Twilight-Wing say that probably ever mind mage on sinai know abouts it now."

The cheetah blinks with wide eyes. "That is so? Where is Twilight-Wing?"

"He was below deck casting ward to protect me and Roho from mind-mage queen… but I get hurt in tower and not able to come back until now." The Vartan puts a hand to his knee, preparing to rise up to his feet.

The cheetah helps the Vartan back up to his feet … though, considering how much smaller the cheetah is, the help is more a token than anything.

Zoltan stands shakily. "Thank you, I look for him. Please, I not ask you to believe me… but please… be cautious. Enough have died." he signs, and then walks toward the hatch.

Belowdecks, Zoltan finds Twilight-Wing in a corner of the hold, where he was previously running his ritual. The cheetah is slumped against some crates, the materials for his ritual scattered about. He looks up at Zoltan's approach, his face partially visible in the light of a still-lit candle, but he is evidently not in the best condition.

Zoltan rushes up to the fallen Savanite. "What happen? Everything go alrights?"

The cheetah shakes his head. "I failed in the ritual, when that … disturbance occurred. But that has passed. There is no time for me to start again. I had visions. A dark ritual is taking place, and not only Third-Eye … but all of us shall pay for it."

"A Savanite on the deck told me about queen, her name… " the Vartan fumbles with the sign… the slowly repeats what the slave above had signed. "Queen A-men-li-chtli. She has promised Third-Eye, and all slaves immortality. Is same immortality of old Priest-King?"

Zoltan curses himself. If Jezebel has gone to the bottom of the island, he's too weak to follow… and probably too weak to fight. If only he could have a few extra days to rest. Just a little while to get his strength back…

Twilight-Wing nods. "Queen A-men-li-chtli, yes," he signs, having to use the phonetic sign of the slaves. "But she has many other names. To us, she is Necropolis. Her immortality is not the same as the old Priest-King … but yet no better."

Zoltan signs, "How can we stop her? And you know where Jezebel might be to cast ritual?"

"Among the ruins," signs Twilight-Wing, "far across the sky-island, amongst the cannibals. I realize what they are now. They are the servants of A-men-li-chtli, and now that magic has returned, so has she awakened fully."

Zoltan's ears go back. "Would this queen be inside a coffin?"

Twilight-Wing ponders, then nods, "That is quite possible, while she rests, until her thirst has been satiated and her strength regained. That is the purpose of this ritual this night."

Zoltan signs, "I think I know where Necropolis rests." He curses verbally, not able to (or wanting to) sign the equivalent. "Could have reached in and destroyed her… her giant bone-monster on black ship stop me from exploring further."

Zoltan ponders. "Air mage… if air-mage mage big storm over graveyard… that delay them?"

The cheetah looks up to Zoltan, signing, "One of her creations is already animated? Then our time is short or even past." He grasps for the wall, trying to pull himself up. He pauses, looking to Zoltan. "Perhaps. It might buy time, but not much. The Queen is powerful. She is older than me and my brethren … and has not spent all these years frozen in stone."

Zoltan offers the mage his shoulder. "I need to know everything you know about queen, need to know exactly what she going to do, and any ideas you maybe have. Meanwhile, you need to tell slaves on deck if you strong enough… they listen to you."

Twilight-Wing leans on Zoltan, and tries to sign with one hand as they go, much more slowly, managing little on the way out. "She is not alive except by magic, living on in specially prepared vessels. She is the queen of Aeztepa – the Dead Lands across the ocean. Her subjects are fodder for her experiments, for she from time to time needs new flesh."

The cheetah looks to Zoltan, signing, "She is not merely a necromancer. She has given herself truly over to evil, and delights in it. If you shall aim to interrupt her ritual, you must not be faint of heart. She feeds upon the corruption in mortal hearts, and sups upon the fear it inspires in those who do not give in to her false promises."

Zoltan takes the Savanite to the deck slowly. "I will fight her with all of my being. But I weak and wounded. Flightless, unless I find some way to heal quickly, I be of no use. You have any idea exactly WHAT kind of ritual she getting Third-Eye to perform?"

Twilight-Wing signs back to Zoltan, "She does not truly need Third-Eye's assistance. The queen wishes to toy with her, and them consume her, and gain something of the Mark that Third-Eye was gifted with."

Roho stands on the deck, looking exasperated at a worried-looking bat, "No, it is *not* broken. You are perfectly fit to fly, and I will not give Boghaz an excuse for you."

"Have you had visions of one that look like me?" Zoltan signs, wearily leading the Savanite up to the deck. "I think Queen might have taken Shokar long time ago."

Twilight-Wing shakes his head, signing, "No, I am sorry. I have had no visions of that one."

Zoltan squawks to the Zerda as he appears and waves frantically with his free hand.

Roho nods at the squawk, "Hello, Zoltan." He doesn't see the wave, of course, and continues tending to the bat.

Zoltan sets Twilight-Wing down next to the fennec. "Roho… things really bad right now," he murmurs.

Roho blinks, and whispers back, "How bad? What's happened? And how are your wounds?"

Zoltan eases himself down. "I still bruised lots and very tired." He lowers his voice to a whisper. "Roho, Remember shiny cat I see in vision? She using Jezebel in ritual tonights… I not know what it going to do, but it probably get us all killed."

The Savanite slave Zoltan signed to earlier rushes over to Twilight-Wing. "Is it true? The Vartan said that Third-Eye is in danger!"

Roho nods slightly, "Then we have to go back… "

Twilight-Wing signs back to the slave in the background, nodding. The slave looks shocked.

Zoltan squawks, "Roho, can you get me in shape to fly tonight? Even if it mean that I going to be useless for awhile after that."

the Vartan turns to look at the air-mage's progress.

Roho stands in thought for a long time… then slowly nods, "I can. But I don't like it, and you'll like it even less in the long term."

Zoltan squawks, "How dangerous it going to be?"

Wisps of colored smoke are rising from candles about the white bat's magical circle, streaming away into the night and spreading out toward the edge of the island. In the glow of the Procession, the streams of smoke can be seen … abruptly dissipating against a point which seems like some invisible wall of air around the island's circumference and just a bit beyond.

( I still have a bounty hunter after me… if I'm just a useless heap in a bed, that won't help me escape… ) Zoltan thinks to himself.

Roho rasps, "Well, the treatment itself isn't dangerous. But, it will make you feel almost normal again. You're wounded, but you won't act like it. You'll heal much more slowly, and your wounds may even grow worse from the exertion."

Zoltan narrows his eyes. There IS a barrier. "Do what you can… maybe leave little bit of pain so I have reminder not to push self. Hrrr… if only I knew how to bring magic draining ball back… or if there some controls on island that might stop her for awhiles."

Roho nods, "Whenever you're ready. I can have you feeling well in an hour, maybe two… and you'll feel well for maybe two, before you start to crash."

Zoltan looks down at his feet, thinking hard. "Tell air-mage to start making storm… maybe we distract them. I not want to turn this into giant battle… but maybe we no gots choice. Also, get Boghaz, I got lots to tell him."

Roho looks lost, "Distract who? Zoltan, I need to know what's going on here… "

Zoltan looks upward at the procession. "Jezebel is under control of queen who will bring defeat to us all. Her name is Amenlichtli, Twilight-Wing call her Necropolis. Now that magic is back, they going to use Jezebel in great ritual and probably kill us all. We go gots chance though. I find coffin while looking for shinies in black ship. Maybe if we destroy it we can get rid of queen."

Roho nods and stands, "That's enough for me. I'll get Boghaz, and try to find Wynona. Who else on the ship knows of this?"

"Twilight-Wing." Zoltan squawks. "The Savanites know some, but not all of story. They think Jezebel is going to make everyone immortal… "

The fennec manages to locate Boghaz … and Wynona isn't terribly hard to find, either, still being at the rear of the deck.

Boghaz comes up, looking concerned. "What is this? Do we have some sort of trouble?"

Wynona squeaks, "Summon a storm? I'm SUPPOSED to summon a storm?"

Zoltan squawks, "Cannibals on island. Tonight they going to perform ritual that could bring death to us all. There black ship in middle of graveyard where it going to happen." He pauses and clutches his fists tightly. "Savanite slave that was with me is being used by them.""

Roho talks to Wynona, "We may be facing some fighting. A storm could confuse things enough to slow the battle until we're done with what needs to be done."

Boghaz frowns. "Those monsters! Have we any chance of stopping them? Or should we loosen the moorings and escape while we can?"

Wynona looks ponderous. "I … When do you need this storm? Oh dear. I'd better start immediately. We're high enough that I'm not at full form, you know. For a full-fledged storm, I might need as many as four hours!"

Wynona adds … "… unless we want something that I wouldn't really have any control over." She bites her lip, worriedly.

Roho nods, "We have at least two or three… do what you can… " He squeezes the bat's shoulder.

Zoltan shakes his head. "Wynona check… there a barrier around island… we no can escape and even if we do, their wrath maybe reach all of Sinai."

Wynona nods. "I'll start to work immediately. If you need to give me further instructions, you can talk to me – Just don't surprise me. I probably won't be able to talk back to you very well." She ponders at Zoltan's statement. "The barrier? Oh. You must have seen my trails. There's something out there, yes, but it WOULD be possible for us to get out. Those are walls. There's no ceiling. We can fly over them."

The white bat adds in a low whisper, "… just pray I don't sneeze, okay?" She wanders back off to her magical circle.

The Vartan turns to Twilight Wing and squawks loudly to get his attention. "Do you recommend escape? We could leave island right now and let third-Eye have fate… but we be safe from her if we escape?"

Twilight-Wing shakes his head. "I do not know. Do what you feel is right. As for myself, I must stay, so long as Third-Eye lives."

"But will we be safe from A-men-lich-tli's powers if we go?" Zoltan signs. He looks back up to the captain for a moment. "How many spare fighters you gots? And you got resources to fight something big if need be?"

Boghaz ponders, then answers, "Yes, we still have our bows. We were a bit shaken up by that noise earlier, but that's all. Plus, the Solus are friends of yours, yes? They look rather formidable."

Twilight-Wing signs to Zoltan, "We were never safe from her powers even before we came here. I do not know how to explain to you. It is a matter of magic."

Zoltan nods. "Savanites too. My slave dear to them… they fight to rescue her."

The bat captain adds, "We DO have some supplies for fighting Waashu… "

Wynona finishes remaking her magic circle, and begins chanting rapidly, her eyes tightly squinted shut, her body tense.

"And call them Vartans… otherwise you makes them mad." The hippogryph grins for a moment, then sober quickly. "Warn solders that they maybe see things that no there, or that there maybe things out there that real but no can be seen. They gots mind mage and shadow mage in they service."

Boghaz raises his eyebrows at this. "Mages? And you wish me to call them Vartans? Yes, they DO act like that. I think telling them that we have mages to fight should certainly give them reason to get angry, yes."

The bat raises his voice, summoning some of his crew, and beginning to give orders. As the word gets around that there's some sort of not-totally-defined danger out there, the crew bursts into action, and more weapons are brought out and readied.

Zoltan droops his head. "I sorry I get you into this, Captain… is not island of gold that we expected."

Captain Boghaz claps Zoltan on the shoulder. "I understand. I am rather disappointed myself … but right now, I think we have more concerns than just gold."

Boghaz adds, "Are we expecting them to attack us, then? Or are we going to try to take the fight to them first?"

Zoltan squawks, "We take battle to them, if they attack us, it probably too late." He shuts his eyes for a moment, recalling yet another dream image. "If you see any cannibals with magic wands, be careful. I think they use to make people insane."

Over an hour but not quite two hours later, Zoltan is feeling better already, thanks to Roho's ministrations. Wynona is still chanting away, though already something is happening with the weather, as the Procession is no longer visible overhead, and winds have begun to buffet the airship at random intervals.

Boghaz is fitted up in skedat armor, along with several of his best warriors, and even the Savanite slaves have been entrusted with blunt instruments to use as weapons. The half-Vartans apparently prefer to get more close and personal, relying on their beaks and claws, though a few opt for long spears to throw before they enter the fray.

Roho keeps his staff handy, but little else… He figures he's more use tending the wounded.

A half-Vartan comes up to Zoltan, scrawking, "We are ready to avenge the blood of our kin and ancestors!"

Zoltan looks grimly at the preparations around him. He's requested a few stones for his sling, but never being able to afford a crossbow, he remains with his trusty… but quite often inefficient weapon of choice.

Boghaz nods to Zoltan. "We're ready, and I think the storm will be breaking soon."

The black hippogryph looks up to the half-Vartan. "Good. You think you and others could distract cannibals while Roho and I slip onto black ship? If we ruin spell things and destroy coffin, it should end problem." He speaks his words in Vartan and Rephidim standard. Then looking at Boghaz, "I need tinderbox if you gots one. Something to make light… and wrapped up so storm won't get wet."

A half-Vartan walks up to Roho, and starts putting some sort of helmet on him (evidently specially crafted, since it has room for his ears), scrawking something encouragingly.

Roho chuckles and gives the Vartan a smile, "Thank you… if you understand me."

Boghaz nods. "Of course. We have just the thing for fighting Waashu." He signals, and one of his aides comes up with a thick-looking projectile. "It's a flare-dart. We haven't many of these. They tend to be duds. I'll give you a tinderbox as well, just in case of that." A tinderbox is handed over as well.

The half-Vartan next to Zoltan scrawks back, "Just tell us when to take flight! We will keep the cannibals busy!"

Boghaz says, "We have a few who can't fly, who will remain here, along with the slaves … since they obviously can't keep up with us."

Roho nods, "I'll stay with Zoltan, as my transport?"

Zoltan swallows a lump in his throat, and feels it sink into the pit of his stomach. He takes up the items and places them in his belt pouch. He ponders for a moment. "Roho… you think we could get there by foot with Slaves following?"

Roho nods, "We could make it… but it would take time. It would be better for you if we walked, though."

Zoltan looks to a group of Savanites. "Will you come with us to rescue Third-Eye?"

The spotted cats nod, signing pledges variously to the effect that, yes, they would do so, and proudly.

Boghaz raises an eyebrow at the proud reactions from the slaves, then looks to Zoltan. "The storm may provide you some time and cover, if you go by foot. We could have some of our fliers go along with you by foot, as well, perhaps … and a distraction by air. But we have another option as well, you know."

The bat claps the pole he's leaning against. "Don't forget. We have an airship."

Roho rasps, "Do you think… we could really fly in?"

Zoltan looks at Boghaz, agreeing. "With storm and all… can we do it?"

"Of course. So long as Wynona is skilled enough to keep the storm from overwhelming us. It IS a magical storm, after all." The bat looks back toward Wynona, as if looking for a little reassurance, though.

"Going to airship graveyard in airship… " Zoltan murmurs. He looks up to the half-Vartan that was speaking to him before. "Are there enough of you left to be able to carry the Savanites on this ship to the ground?" he scrawks in Vartan.

Lightning flashes across the sky, followed almost immediately by a rumble of thunder. Rain begins to pour from the clouds.

The half-Vartan nods. "Plenty!" He looks up at the clouds, wincing as he's starting to get wet from the rain. Perhaps it's the cat side of him.

Zoltan smirks. If the ritual of the cannibals needed candles, they're going to have some difficulty now. And the thunder and lightning should prove a distraction as well.

The envelope suspended above the airship does much to shelter from the initial onslaught of the rain, but the wind is blowing enough to still get some on the deck a bit too wet for their liking.

Roho cinches his pouch at his waist shut against the rain, and tucks his cloak a little closer…

Boghaz says, "If we're going to go, it had better be NOW. I'd rather not be anywhere near the tower when the storm gets worse."

Zoltan nods to his captain. "Then we go. Dagh protect us all."

"CAST OFF!" shouts the bat, and his crew springs into action. The Freedom's Dream, for the first time since being moored on this sky island, sets off into the air again.

Zoltan walks to the front of the ship, looking in the direction of the graveyard.

Wynona continues her frantic chanting, her hair beginning to mat down on her forehead. The candles around her have all extinguished, but apparently her spell continues. The wind buffets the ship along, toward the tower … and then past it, to the other side of the sky island. Lights can be seen below in the airship graveyard.

Shadows can be seen as well – moving jaguars – and something taking flight … many somethings which fly on black wings, up toward the airship.

Zoltan gasps… fliers! "We being attacked! Get ready!"

The half-Vartans shriek out warcries, and leap into the air after the shadow-fliers, claws bared and spears at the ready.

Roho grabs the railing with one paw, his staff in the other, looking profoundly unhappy.

Zoltan loads a rock into his sling and wings it towards one of the shapes.

The bats hold back on loosing any arrows, for fear of shooting any of their comrades.

The rock sails true … It couldn't have missed! It … must have passed right through the creature!

Half-Vartans dig into their flying opponents … and then shriek out in alarm and start sailing about wildly, some colliding with each other in mid-air, and others spinning downward toward the jungle.

Zoltan growls. "Magic!" He spits. "COME BACK QUICKLY!" He shrieks to the other Vartans.

The other half-Vartans see what is happening to their allies, and most start coming back to the deck, hissing and spitting at the trickery used against them.

The remaining shadow-creatures dissolve and fade away. The ship is now above the edge of the airship graveyard. The black ship can be seen below … and lights on its deck, revealing that some sort of dance and ritual is indeed taking place, despite the storm.

Zoltan looks downward at the shapes, trying to make out the form of a particular Savanite.

A bat standing next to Zoltan, holding a spyglass, gasps and lowers the glass, muttering at the sight. Zoltan, however, is possessed of keen eyesight common to Vartans, and needs no such enhancement to see the scene which unfolds…

Yes, Jezebel can be seen, dancing in the midst of several dancers – jaguars, all. And, around the dancers, various jaguars can be seen sprawled about, gorging themselves on meat and drink. Let one not think too deeply about where the meat may have been procured. There are not so many jaguars visible running about as the Vartan remembers seeing during his previous visit.

The jaguars dance in concentric circles around Jezebel, flailing their limbs wildly, and some crouching and leaping, as if making pretend to be nothing more than wild beasts. As the dance progresses, it becomes all the more so, as they begin slashing at themselves and each other with their claws. Clothing rends and tears free. Still the dancers exult in their mad celebration. Beads and pieces of jewelry fall to the deck and are trampled underfoot.

Rending. Tearing. Beasts, all of them. There's nothing more to cast off. No more lines to pass to show just what barriers they are willing to overcome to satisfy themselves. But still they slash and tear.

That's when the screaming begins.

Several bats drop their weapons in horror at the scene below.

Roho huddles onto the deck, groaning a bit, "What on Sinai is going on down there?" His paws clamp over his nose, and his ears flatten…

Zoltan describes the scene below while he tries to keep the contents of his stomach intact. "Pick up you weapons!" He squawks to the bats, then looks to the Vartans. "Do enough of you remain to carry the Savanites to the bottom? Someplace nearby the ship where we can sneak up?"

Even over the sounds of the storm, somehow the screams carry on the air. It must be by magic. But many of the screams begin to die away, replaced by insane laughter. The jaguars still dance, but they are no longer alive – not in any meaningful sense. Other shapes join them on the deck … shambling, withered forms of other races that come forth from all over the airship graveyard. Walking corpses, once airmen, now slaves to the one who commands them.

"Yes!" squawks a half-Vartan, his eyes wild with hatred and anger and fear at what he has beheld. "DEATH TO THE SORCERORS!"

Zoltan looks to Jezebel once again on the ship to see how she fares.

Jezebel is evidently NOT the one in command of this. Her dancing movements slow to a stop, as she looks about her, and puts her hands to her face at the visage about her. The dancers about her turn toward her, claws bared. They close in, and she falls.

The bats and half-Vartans wait no longer for any command to charge. The warriors take to the air, some bearing those who cannot fly, after a hail of arrows let loose by the archers.

Zoltan squawks, "NO! NOOOO!!!" He scoops up Roho and jumps off as well, heading for that dark passage in the back of the ship."

The airship lowers over a grounded air-barge, and several Savanites gather on the landing-deck.

"Follow me if you want to save you queen!" Zoltan shouts to the Savanites.

As soon as the ship is low enough for the landing platform to be landed – and not bothering to moor properly – the cheetahs spill out, and dash away.

Zoltan makes his way to the ship, towards that stinking dark room where, Dagh willing, the body of Amenlichtli lies.

Roho drops from Zoltan's grasp once they've touched down, and scampers low behind him, following to the back room…

The chaos on the deck allows Zoltan the freedom to move. Jezebel can't be seen amidst the melee – a tangle of bodies, living and dead.

The Vartan points to the melee, "If you can save her… there she is. some of you come with me. QUICK!"

Three cheetahs break through the confusion, running up to Zoltan and Roho.

Zoltan squawks, "Roho… I going to need you senses lots right now." He looks around for something to burn as a torch, or a standing torch. "Is dark… and eyes maybe lie to us."

Down the stairs, the air is still, the light nonexistent … though much thumping can be heard on the ceiling.

Roho nods, and steps up beside Zoltan, all senses alert…

Zoltan walks in the direction he remembers the coffin to be in, fishing out the tinderbox and the flare.

There is a flicker in the darkness, and then the room bursts into light. "Here. Is this better?" comes a female voice that sounds like Jezebel's, from those dreams, a voice thick with some hard-to-place accent. The coffin is right before Zoltan, but it is empty, save for dry rags and dust.

The chamber is decorated in a fashion similar to the exterior of the ship – with features that suggest the skeletal and macabre. Scattered on the floor are some fallen stands, while some are still upright and holding some more crystals which glint in the light.

Zoltan snarls at the figure. "You… should have guessed."

Spots of blood run along the floor, down the steps, looking as if someone bleeding has been dragged down the steps. The trail leads across the chamber, to where the speaker stands – a spotted feline adorned with much jewelry that sparkles and shines. Collapsed at her feet is a wounded cheetah, recognizableas Jezebel.

The Vartan takes a small step forward, wanting desperately to help his friend.

"Pay proper respects to your elders, Vartan," purrs the Queen from the Vartan's vision.

Zoltan squawks, "Respect?" His hands fumble on the flare, feeling for a way to activate it. "You use you magic on me… hurt and kill my friends. And… the bloodbath outside! Respect from Vartan is something earned… "

Zoltan looks closely at the spotted cat, trying to place her species.

Jezebel looks up at Zoltan through eyes that are blackened and swollen, but she quickly looks away as the room burns bright with hot, white light from the flare. It sputters, hinting that it may not last very long.

The spotted cat standing before Zoltan could pass for Savanite upon a cursory inspection, but is not. She is a jaguar, plantigrade, her spots not quite the same, nor her bone structure.

The Queen speaks, "Now then. You have been a useful tool, and an amusement. But, please, spare me the lame heroics. I could crush you and all that you care about. You have no notion what I truly am."

Roho stays still in the shadows cast by the flare… his paw clenches over his medicine bag absently…

Zoltan throws the flare over the queen's head and then dives down, trying to grab Jezebel and yank her back to him.

The Queen's expression flashes with anger, and she slides to one side, abandoning Jezebel to the Vartan. Jezebel presents no resistance, and feebly shuffles toward the hippogryph as he grabs her.

Zoltan backs away, clutching the Savanite tightly in his arms. "It be alrights." he murmurs softly to her, even though this is probably the greatest lie of all.

The flare catches the wood of the wall on fire, and the flames begin to lick upward. The Queen smiles fangily at Zoltan, and applauds lightly. "There. You have rescued the damsel in distress. Now you can live happily ever after, hmm? Oh dear, but that was MUCH too easy. To make it a proper rescue, I really think it should cost you just a little bit."

Roho's paw steals into his pouch, and makes a fist around something…

The Queen muses, "Hmm. What should it be? Perhaps … your eyesight? I think you are afraid of being blind, are you not? Or perhaps you have overexerted yourself in your eagerness and have doomed yourself to lose the use of your wings."

As the flames grow higher, Roho takes the paw from his pouch, and throws the herbs into the fire, towards the Queen. The herbs light quickly, creating a bright flash and a cloud of glowing cinders. At the same time, he shouts, "Run!"

Zoltan looks around the room, realizing that this may be the last time he'll ever see anything again… then… his ears perk. "Roho… ROHO… she can't see you!"

The Queen starts to make another mocking statement, then cries out in anger at the action of the fennec.

Zoltan backs away, clutching Jezebel in his arms. He starts to walk back up the stairs.

"YOU WILL PAY!" the voice of the Queen shouts after Zoltan, then breaks into laughter.

"Roho! You a healer! Maybe it mean she no can see you?" Zoltan whispers loudly to Roho.

Roho whispers back, "Or maybe because I'm blind myself?" He backs after Zoltan for a moment, then pauses, and ducks to one side.

The Queen continues laughing, even as the flames lick at her form hungrily, consuming her like paper.

Zoltan thinks for a moment, and then join's Roho's side, squinting his eyes.

Abovedecks, there are several bats and half-Vartans crying out in dismay, some wrestling and fighting with each other … but they begin to stop, looking about as if snapped out of their momentary madness. Corpses lie about, no longer animated as before.

Roho whispers to Zoltan, "Maybe you should get her out of here… " His ears lift, as the cries die out…

Smoke begins billowing out of cracks in the black ship, and flames leap up … though the rain is coming down in a full torrent now, and keeping the flame from spreading far once it reaches out of the hold.

Zoltan's eyes pop open, he looks to Jezebel. "Have we stopped her?" He signs.

Jezebel looks weakly to Zoltan, then signs, "Yes. Let us flee." She doesn't look to be in much condition to do so on her own.

Cheetahs, bats and half-Vartans abandon the ship, either by air or by the walkways bridging it to the other wreckage in the airship graveyard.

Zoltan hugs the Savanite tightly. "Next time… trust me?"" He signs, feeling his own aches returning. "Destroy anything magic on ship!" He squawks. "May followers of Amenlichtli never use this in they rituals again!"

Roho starts to back out, coughing at the smoke, "I don't think they will… Come on, let's get out before we join the ashes… "

Those warriors remaining follow Zoltan's command, smashing at figureheads, at the altar, and anything else that looks remotely functional in magical terms. But the smoke is getting to be overpowering, and they don't partake of this activity for long.

Zoltan rushes towards the ship with Jezebel in his arms. ( It happened so quickly! Did we really defeat her? ) He smiles to himself… remembering how Nicodemus had once said that many of the great things that happen in our lives happen in the briefest of instants.

The landing platform is at hand, with several Savanites who help Zoltan by pulling Jezebel over. It rises, lifting Zoltan, Roho and the rest up to the Freedom's Dream, and away from the ruins of the ancient ship.

Zoltan walks to the center of the ship and leans against the mast. He looks out at the rain.

Roho, soot-caked and slightly singed, moves a few yards from the platform, and just stands there for a few moments… getting ready for the flood of patients…

The next morning, from the safety of the airship the scene can be surveyed below. The fire did not spread far from the black ship before being subdued by the rain. There is still a remnant drizzle even this morning, though the air mage sleeps heavily, her chalk runes washed and smeared across the planks of the deck.

A half-Vartan flies back up to the ship, scrawking his report, "I can find no more cannibals. They must have all perished, to the last one." His expression is unreadable. He only says it as a matter of fact, with no judgement.

Zoltan looks down at the deck. "Or maybe they kill themselves… or maybe they never even alive to begin with." He sighs at the touch of the rain. It's soothing in its own way … even if it IS a magical storm.

"How many Vartans are dead?" The black hippogryph asks grimly.

Some early risers among the bats (or late sleepers, depending upon just how nocturnal one expects bats to be) can be seen scouring the ruins, chattering at high frequencies. By the booty accumulating on the deck, it would seem that perhaps there IS some treasure on Paradys after all … brought by those who came seeking treasure in the first place.

"Many," comes the glum answer from the tawny-furred half-Vartan. "But now Paradys is ours."

Zoltan smiles. At least some gold came of this. "What of Kryago… will he live?"

Something shiny catches the Vartan's eyes – something golden. The golden trees of the dreams can now be seen quite clearly, running along the edge of the island. They wouldn't pass for true trees, but the resemblance is there. They sparkle in the dim morning light filtered through the clouds, wet with drizzle.

"Yes," answers the half-Vartan. "He rests, but he lives."

Jezebel lies against a crate of booty, several Savanites slumbering nearby. Her wounds have been bandaged and tended to, and the fur will cover much, but she will not come through this without lasting scars. She looks up to Zoltan, then averts her gaze from him, sinking back against the crate.

Zoltan staggers to his feet, scanning the skies. "It is a beautiful morning… " he comments.

Roho continues to tend to the wounded, much happier in his work than before, now that the threat of battle is has passed, with less casualties than had been expected…

The half-Vartan nods, scrawking quietly. He then looks to Zoltan, and adds, "Some of the bats say some of the airships are not in that bad condition. Maybe some work, and we could piece together something to fly. Do you think so?"

The black Vartan pats his half-brother's shoulder. "You would make Shokar proud… but it would take lots of time."

The half-Vartan smiles. "Time. We have more of that now." With that, he walks away, toward the edge of the deck.

Zoltan looks to his departing comrade, dreams of captaining his own airship dance through his head… but those dreams are quickly overpowered by the simple wish of wanting to return home. He turns and walks over to the crates and joins the Savanite. "Good morning" he signs.

Jezebel doesn't fully look up to Zoltan, feebly maintaining the illusion of not gazing at him, though she still responds, "Yes. A good morning." She pauses a bit, then signs, "Please forgive me. I have failed."

"Have you learned anything?" Zoltan signs, keeping his expression as gentle as he can.

The cheetah pulls her knees up closer to her chin and nods her head slowly, still keeping her gaze slightly downcast.

Zoltan reaches out and hugs the Savanite again, ruffling his beak through the messy locks of her hair. "I almost killed once as well… although price was not as great as you. But someone there to help me as well, even though I not deserve it at time. Eventually I came to deserve."

The cheetah tries to pull away, tears wetting her cheeks. "No. Don't touch me. I'm filthy."

"Remember this day… you not rescued by Savanites, or Vartans, or Eeees, or Zerda… but by all of us. We all come together and in one force, managed to do job that alone we could never done." He keeps his gentle grasp on the slave. "I am you friend, Third-Eye. I stay by your side when dreams tell me no to, then friends tell me no to, and even when own conscience tell me no to. My trust in you is hurt very bad… but friendship not entirely made of trust… they also made of love."

The Savanite looks up to Zoltan, then falls forward, burying her face in his chest, her shoulders heaving with silent sobs.

Roho comes up to the deck for a few moments of rest, smiling and sniffing. He hears Zoltan and Jezebel nearby… hears the sobs of the cheetah. He smiles, remembering what Zoltan told him what seems so long ago. He turns, and leaves the two uninterrupted, returning to his patients.

Zoltan just sits and quietly holds the Savanite, rocking her back and forth and whispering little words of comfort.


GMed by Greywolf

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Today is 1 day after Midsummer's Day, Year 26 of the Reign of Archelaus the First (6125)