26 Jan 1999. Zoltan faces off against his father, a Titan, and the nations of Abaddon.
(Planet Abaddon) (Kensington) (The Search for Herbir) (Space) (Spheres of Magic) (Wynona) (Zoltan)
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Pit of Himar
Rusty desert extends to the horizon, occasionally broken up by jagged, rocky ridges, blackened craters, or hulks of ruined war machines. However, there is an oasis of greenery within a great pit that breaks up this otherwise bleak landscape. Surrounded by tall, red cliffs, a land of rolling hills, woodlands and bodies of water can be seen. A waterfall cascades down one of the red cliffs, through what appears to be a crude-looking dam that serves to control its flow from above. Nearly in the center of the pit is a city surrounded by stagnant moats, with what might be a river running past it … though the river has run dry in many places, or collected in stagnant pools in others.

Down in the Pit is an open clearing, in the center of which is a gargantuan insectoid creature, tended to by a small force of hippogryph-like Vartans. Vegetation in the area around the bug has been ripped away to feed this great monster, though its feeding has slowed greatly. Sections of its chitinous shell are popped open, revealed to be hatches and portals, showing the creature's true nature as a strange mesh of machine and organism.

Zoltan rushes to pick up his helmet and gloves and tucks them away with his supplies as best as he can. After he's sure everything us secure he moves back over to his father. "Where are you going to fly this thing?"

Herbir scowls, then squawks, "Dagh if I know! One blasted thing at a time!"

Wynona flutters over next to the younger of the two black hippogryphs. "Z – Ah … Sir Shadow? It looks like the Intimidator – or, you know what I mean – is moving!" She points up into the sky. "It looks like they're gaining altitude, and moving right over the Pit!"

The armored Vartan sighs. "It may be a good idea to get ready to get out of here as fast as we can… " he turns to Wynona. "You can call me by my real name now. I've seen what Shadow wanted me to see."

Herbir scrawks, "I assure you, getting FAR out of here is the FIRST thing on my mind." At least he's talking in Vartan-speak now.

For a moment, Zoltan says nothing. "I hope you don't mean that you're not going to do anything to keep this place from getting destroyed," he finally says… looking for the Expedition aircraft that carried him here.

Several winged shapes can be seen far across the Pit of Himar … the silhouettes look like they're the two-and-three-winged craft of the serpentine Imperials … and they're daring to fly right across the Pit. From this distance, it's impossible to tell if they're somehow managing to fly under the power of their engines, but experience would suggest probably not.

The "Southern Star" is out of sight, alas, as the red cliffs of the Pit cut off a view of a great deal of the surrounding land and sky beyond this slice of Himar.

Zoltan frowns. This doesn't look good… he hopes that the Imperials don't intend to try and destroy the pit as well.

Herbir frowns severely. "There's nothing here TO protect. What … you think all of this greenery is going to SURVIVE out in the open in the middle of this land? All this cold, all this desert? The rivers no longer flow! The trees are slowly dying! This place is only good for what can be gotten from it … and right now, everyone wants to get some. And I'm in the middle, with no army to back me up."

Herbir scrawks, "I and mine are getting OUT of here!"

"To WHERE?" Zoltan scrawks back. "The Progenitor is dead… the Imperials have probably looted the Confederate life dome for everything in it. This place could be kept alive if everyone would just keep their guns holstered long enough to try." He takes a deep breath and lets it out slowly. "What if I could arrange for the sides to try and negotiate? What if I found something that might help give this place a hand in staying alive… would you give me a chance before you run away?"

Wynona, momentarily lost in thought, muses, "If only there were some way to build one of those domes above it … maybe they act as giant greenhouses?"

Herbir laughs bitterly. "What? Everyone talks peace and gets along? The spotties and the flat-faces and the scaleys and the rest just shake hands and get along? Even if THAT were possible … how are you going to get their ATTENTION?"

Zoltan looks over to the Air mage. "Do you think you could get thair attention, Wynona?"

A black shape wings down from above, circling overhead before becoming close enough to be made out as Kensington. He makes a few sharp cawwing calls as he glides toward a landing spot.

Wynona squeaks, "Well … I suppose I COULD, though you need to be a bit more specif – KENSINGTON!" She waves to the corsair.

The armored Vartan manages a smile as Kensington arrives. "Kenny! Is the Southern Star still up there?"

The Korv flutters his wings to slow himself down, landing on his feet more or less like he would if he'd simply hopped off a chair. "Aye! They wants t'stay outta fire range, anner watchin' for a chance t'sends some crew after th' Citadel. 'Fraid I don't gots no better news'n that, though. There's a mighty storm a-brewin' outside th' Pit." He doesn't seem to mean an actual weather pattern.

"I know… I know… " Zoltan closes his eyes for a moment and rubs the bridge of his beak, thinking. "Wynona… do you remember the air shield on Paradys? The one that we couldn't pass through for awhile? Would it take everything this place had to put up another one of those?"

Kensington glances between Zoltan and Wynona. "It'd 'ave t'be a tough'un. I talked t'the humans 'fore I cames down 'ere. Th' savani-… uh, th' Silent-Ones dropped Titans outside th' Pit… maybe so's they could get high enough over it. Th' human's think th' Silent-Ones want t'wipe it clean off th' face o' Abaddon!"

Wynona says, "Ah … Hmm. That's hard to say. I think I could do it. I certainly couldn't do that in time on SINAI. I don't think it would take everything here, no, but it'd take a lot … and I don't know how long I could hold it. Things aren't … STABLE here. I might … " She wiggles her nose. "… da … I might lose … " She covers her nose with a hankie. "… control," she wheezes, then sneezes into the hankie. "Da! I thought I was over that." She sniffles.

The corsair gives Wynona a funny look. "Ye kin do magic again? And yer sneezin' again? Are ye allergic t'the blinkin' stuff?"

Zoltan looks over at Herbir and then glances at the sky again. "We have the five priests on the Star… the Silent-Ones might be willing to listen if we return their men to them. Hrrr… we'll have to move quickly though."

Wynona looks nearly teary-eyed at the notion. Or else it's just her allergies. "NO! Don't say that! That's AWFUL, Kensington!"

Kensington shuffles uncomfortably. "Uhh… er… I meant… if ye kin do magic again… yer… back ta yer old self! It's great t'see ye back up t'sniff! I mean, back up to snuff!"

Wynona scowls at Kensington, then turns to Zoltan. "Ahem. So … what should we do?"

"As fer th' Silent-Ones… aye, ye better act fast," caws the Korv in an abrupt conversational about-face. "Iffen they wasn't enough, th' Imperials are gonna start 'eadin' fer th' Knight Citadel. They been glidin' their metal birds o'er head… they kin stay in th' air, at least. They'll be doin' their thing while Imperial ground-pounders come marchin' in."

"Marching?" Wynona raises an eyebrow. "I take it that's a figure of speech?"

"We're going to try and save Himar," the armored Vartan replies. "There WAS a treaty here once – the general we met at the Abaddon cliffs said so – maybe we can try and get another one. I suggest we fly to the Star as fast as we can, get the lancer and the Silent-Ones and start trying to get people to calm down." He looks at Wynona, "Do you think you could make the wind around here a bit choppy? Something to keep the Intimidator and the Imperials occupied."

Kensington waves his wings around. "Slitherin' at flank speed! I dunno what in Gretchen's name they do."

The Korv points a wing-claw at Zoltan. "Aye, that's an idea! The Imperial birds kin on'y glide… crosswinds would strike their sails, I bet."

Wynona nods. "Okay. I'll do my best. I just hope it doesn't get out of control … or burn up more of the magic than necessary. I'll get to work immediately."

The air mage bat does just that, unrolling a work-cloth and setting it down a good distance from the bug-cannon. She starts getting out her components.

Herbir scrawks, "You're crazy. You've got to realize that."

Kensington grins around his beak at Herbir. "'At's why I likes 'im! Ehh… who're ye? Ye look a lot like… " He looks at Zoltan, then back at Herbir. "… heeeyy… "

Herbir narrows his eyes at Kensington.

Wynona starts scribing a magic circle on the work-cloth around her, carefully arranging colored stones and candles as she chants.

"I just refuse to give up hope," Zoltan replies. He winces at Kensington's words and then coughs. "The land that was here that got sent to Sinai was big enough to hold the Confederates and the Silent-Ones and whoever those crazy guys in the trenches were. It's still big enough to hold everyone if they're willing to share. And I refuse to believe that it's not possible until I try."

Zoltan holds his hand out to Herbir. "Will you help me?"

The corsair's head turns back and forth, and Kensington falls to scratching the back of his head. Whatever the case is, he claps his beak shut.

Herbir looks in disgust over at Wynona, then back to Zoltan. "And you're employing a MAGE to do your work?" His visage softens just the slightest of degrees as he sees Zoltan's outstretched hand. He pauses … but then something hardens up in his eyes again, as the door shuts once more. "No. Dagh NO! You can stand right in the middle of a battlefield and talk peace if you want … but … " He shakes his head. "WHY? Why do you even CARE if they want to tear each other to pieces?"

"Why DON'T YOU care?" Zoltan scrawks, keeping his hand out. "You want to set things right… Well here's your chance. I care because I know that each and every one of the people marching out here are just people who think they want what's best and what's right… but don't know the whole story… or they won't listen. I may not know these people… but if I can prevent their deaths… isn't that a good cause? Isn't that a thing to try to do? If I have the tools in my hands, shouldn't I try to use them?"

"Paugh!" Kensington snorts, then vigorously nods agreement with Zoltan, folding his wings behind himself to puff out his chest. "Do ye let yer ship bust ta pieces iffen yer too proud ta pick up 'ammer an' nail 'cause yer th' cap'n? Eh? Do ye let it sail inta cliffs because it's notyer job t'chart a course when th' navigator's too bloody drunk t'draw a straight line? Eh? We're all in th' same boat, old man! Th' same bloody damn boat!"

Herbir scowls, looking as if he's about to just engage in a staring match with Zoltan, while Wynona keeps chanting and making magical preparations in the background. "Okay. I'll help, Dagh take it. Not because I care. Not that I care one broken egg." He stares up into some empty spot above Zoltan's head. "Not one broken egg."

"Thank you," Zoltan says, his voice falling soft. "The winds are probably going to get too wild to fly in… so we need to move quickly. Post some guards here to protect Wynona, and we'll need some extra hands to help carry people off of the Southern Star." He glances down at himself. "Bah… I wish I had time ot get this armor off."

Herbir snorts. "You'll probably stay together longer with it ON." He then turns and chases down his remaining Vartans again. There appears to be some arguing going on, but some of them shrug, others nod, and a few of them go over to stand near Wynona. Herbir grumbles and gives the Bombardier-Queen a hard kick – not that it would notice.

( I think I know where I got my temper from now… I just pray that his isn't as destructive as mine was… ) The armored Vartan opens up his wings. "Kensington… think you can lead the way to the Star?"

Kensington nods, looking up into the air. "Aye, we kin prob'ly gets back, no problem. Don't thinks anythin's started yet… "

Herbir comes back to Zoltan. "All right. What's my part in this? Just stay with your girlfriend?"

"Come with me," Zoltan answers. "You command respect with the Confederates… that will come in handy, and you're strong. Just follow us." He turns to the Korv, "Lead the way, Kensington."

The Korv lifts himself into the air, and with a tight spiralling circle, gains some altitude.

The armored Vartan glances at Herbir one last time and then flies up after Kensington.

The fliers make their way out of the Pit. As they rise, it is easier to see the forces mounting just past the rim. There are several great machine warriors – Titans – with a host of robed and masked fighters flying standards of the Silent-Ones. A temporary camp of Imperial reptilians has been set up on the rim, with tightly-bundled serpents and lizards fitting together gliders of various sizes, to carry their troops into the fray.

Further along, there are several squads of machines riding on large wheels and treads, belching clouds of steam and smoke. No sign can be seen of the pilots of these craft, nor any way they expect to descend into the Pit. The Winged Citadel is still intact, though it and its out-buildings show signs of being hit by the Bombardier-Queen's barrage of exploding eggs.

Further out, the "Southern Star" has gone to ground, tethered a distance past the Citadel, as various human and lupine crewmen can be seen gathered beneath it.

Zoltan whistles sharply and plummets down towards the crewmen, he looks for the Savanites… or at least robed figures that might be Savanites.

Kensington, across from Zoltan, maintains the same, if leisurely, tack.

There are two such robed figures amongst the party. It's hard to pick out their mask-markings. (It was hard enough trying to remember which one was which in the first place.)

Zoltan carefully lands, wary of the sharp points on his wings because of the armor. "Riddle? Malachite? Where are you?"

The serpent warrior looks up at Zoltan, wiggling his way out of the party to meet the hippogryph. "Greetings, Sir Shadow! We are about to head for the Winged Citadel. Have you any idea how much time we have before the cannon fires again?"

Herbir keeps frowning as he lands and looks at the snake. "Not fire anytime soons," he scrawks in Rephidim Standard.

The Korv lands nearby, but instead of walking too close to the conversation, he takes to wandering around it, looking over the preparations.

"Zoltan… call me Zoltan. I'm not a Knight." He gestures towards the pit and falls into Standard as well, "Gots bigger problems… Imperials, Silent-One titans. Was hoping we coulds negotiate treaty again. You think Silent-Ones be willing to talks to us if we give them they men back?"

Sir Malachite hiss-laughs. "Ah. I was not sure if you were sticking to the charade I heard about." He glances over to Herbir, then back to Zoltan. "A treaty? It is hard to talk while your sword is already in mid-swing."

A crash of thunder erupts from somewhere within the Pit. A strong wind starts blowing, and the ground crew rushes to secure the tethers holding down the Southern Star.

"They CAN'T be so eager to blow up pit… not when everyone fight so hard for its," Zoltan scrawks, ruffling his feathers. "Is you on good terms with Imperials? I would like to try and arrange a meetings of leaders from each side."

"Good terms … would not be accurate," hisses the Green Lancer. "Especially when the Champion I serve is in the Citadel they're about to attack."

Malachite shrugs. "Nonetheless, I shall try."

A cyclone rises from somewhere within the pit, darkening with dirt and debris sucked up within itself. A black cloud starts spreading outward over the Pit of Himar. The Imperial aircraft break formation, trying to keep clear of the anamoly.

Kensington watches the cloud in the distance, and whistles.

The Armored Vartan looks up at the skies and then puts a hand on the Naga's shoulder. "Tell them that you offer way to gain pit withouts bloodshed and perhaps even bigger gain laters. Remind them that warm land they wants going to get cold real quick if they destroy it alls." He takes a deep breath. "May the Star guide you."

Sir Malachite bobs his head. "And may the Star guide you as well, Zoltan Cambio of Sinai!" His gaze briefly falls upon Herbir again, but he quickly heads over to a human astride a contraption that looks like a topless buggy, minus a Drokar to pull it. The snake slithers aboard, and the buggy belches steam, then rolls away under its own power, toward the Imperial glider camp.

"Kensington… helps me find the Silent-Ones," Zoltan scrawks, searching around as well.

"Huh? Oh, right!" The corsair snaps out of his reverie, and begins wandering around the camp, keeping an eye out for any spotted folks in a hood and robes.

A couple of robed felines look down at the Korv as he approaches. One is slightly shorter than the other. Must be either the youngest one, or the female one.

Zoltan goes looking for the other three. He decides against asking Herbir tohelp him for this particular part of his plans.

Kensington stops short in front of the two felines. He stands there expectantly, then looks satisfied. "Aye, yer pretty silent. Zoltan's lookin' fer ye."

A large basket is lowered down from the Southern Star, carrying a group of crewmen. As they disembark, the three other Silent-Ones are among them. All spotted felines accounted for.

The dark cloud over the Pit grows. The "Intimidator" is completely obscured from sight now.

"Come on," Zoltan signs to the three cheetahs. "We taking you back to you people; hopefully we can convince them to talk instead of destroying this place."

The cheetahs don't bother signing anything in response, but seem content to follow the hippogryph for now.

Content, that is, until one of them signs, "What is this? You bring us to be slaughtered at the hands of this murderer! Traitor!" The hand-signing looks like the style of Bringer-of-Light.

Zoltan scowls, "Do NOT sign of my father like that," his hands practically cut the signs into the air. "We taking you to you people… Have I given you ANY reason to no trust me?"

The corsair's brow pinches together, making his crest stick up a little.

The expression of Bringer-of-Light is hidden under a cowl, but he folds his hands together, in a martyr-like pose.

The armored Vartan nods his head sharply and points off towards the Titans. "Come on."

Much marching later, the group makes its way up to the Titans. Five massive warriors stand, watching the pit, and much smaller, normal-sized warriors can be seen, taking positions behind boulders at their feet. They regard the maelstrom swirling about inside the Pit. Occasionally, a glimpse can be seen of the "Intimidator", bobbing uneasily above the storm.

Zoltan pants a bit, still not quite used to the weight of the armor. He's grateful that the storm seems to provide a bit of a reprieve though.

The Korv following along eyes the Titans with a certain amount of appreciation, the kind someone might have with some experience, despite the fact he's never touched one. He admires the swords in particular.

"Halt!" says the hand-sign of a warrior on the fringe of the group.

Zoltan steps forward, "I here to hopefully negotiate. We bring you men back as a gesture of goodwill. May we speak to you leaders?" He waves at the cheetahs behind him to step forwards.

Bringer-of-Light dashes forward, "The black one slew Sun-Daughter at the Citadel of Morning!"

"And this black one saved these five men from the Progenitor," the Armored Vartan signs, frowning. "I risked my life when it would have been easier to sit back and watch them all get eaten. That count for anything?"

"He signs the truth!" signs Keeper-of-Promises. She looks over toward Zoltan, then clarifies, "The armored one saved us, and slew the Progenitor himself. He wishes to make peace. His feats demand that his signs be seen."

Born-in-Shame nods solemnly in agreement, but signs nothing more.

The armored Savanite who first told the group to halt looks Zoltan up and down. His mask has sigils upon it that resemble Savanite signs. They could be read as "Son-of-Swords". "If these can slay the Progenitor," he signs, "then surely their prowess can be tested against a lesser foe."

Zoltan's fists clench, and then unclench to form shaky signs. "Will you leaders be willing to sign with us if we do battle?"

Kensington's beak-tip rises several haughty degrees.

"Certainly," signs Son-of-Swords. "By my honor … by all those present. I hereby challenge you. You have a right, of course, to name a champion who will fight for you in your place."

Born-in-Shame hastily signs, "A trick! Don't agree!"

"I… " Zoltan begins to sign, and then looks to Born-in-Shame curiously. "But it only way. How it a trick?"

Born-in-Shame signs, "HE can declare a champion as well!"

The armored Vartan nods. "I am Redeemer-of-Shadow," he signs to the challenger. "I will fight you… I need no champion."

"So be it!" signs Son-of-Swords. "As for myself, I have an assault to command. I find it necessary to call forth my champion – Bearer-of-Arms!" He gestures upward.

Zoltan growls and looks upwards… he starts to fumble for his helmet and gloves.

Lightning flashes within the Pit. An Imperial craft screams by overhead, out of control. But the gesture that Son-of-Swords is not toward the sky. Rather, it is toward his champion … firmly encased within a suit … of Titan Armor. The goliath, fashioned to resemble a giant version of a Silent-Ones warrior, large enough for the pilot to fit within a cavity in its chest, looks down upon the relatively puny hippogryph.

Kensington caws, "Hoo, boy."

"Kensington… father. If I don't make it… try and get back to Sinai." Zoltan quickly dons his gloves and helmet. "My children still need a protector from Necropolis. Oh eggs… "

The Titan steps away from the others, the smaller warriors parting way for their champion to stride forth. The Silent-Ones around Zoltan head off to rejoin their own people. Born-in-Shame pauses to salute the armored hippogryph.

The Korv shakes his head incredulously. "Great gobs of Gretchen's grease! That's a 'Lawbringer'! It ain't gonna make th' same mistake I did with th' Pit, y'know. What d'ya think yer gonna do to it, scratch its paint up?!"

"And Kensington… your airship. Name it… name it The Riskah for me, and take care of it," the armored Vartan pulls out his gunblade, whispers a prayer, and jumps into the air. "IT'S THE ONLY WAY!"

Zoltan starts to eye his opponent, looking for tubes or parts that might be a little less armored than the rest.

"But… !" The Korv's cry is lost to the winds of the storm, and he lets the wing he stretched out imploringly fall to his side. (Great Machine… Star, Dagh, whoever's listening, don't let Zoltan die… )

The mechanical arm of the Titan swings up, bearing a great sword larger than the Vartan … in a warrior's salute. The other arm brings up a shield, and the legs move into a fighting stance, as if preparing for a battle against an opponent of equal size.

(It's so big… one swing and I'm dead… ) The black armored Vartan returns the salute and continues to size up his opponent. Perhaps it's slow, perhaps it's back might be unshielded… anything that might give him a better chance.

So far, it looks pretty near impregnable. The Titan ends its salute … and with a whine of its mechanical innards, charges forward, sword held out to swing at the hippogryph!

Zoltan gets a glimmer of an idea… he flies upwards and pedals backwards, hoping to get the Titan to raise his sword even higher into the air.

Kensington rubs the base of his skull in agitation as he watches, the black feathers on his head mussing into disorganized spikes.

Thunder crashes, the clouds swirling about as the cyclone continues to wind about a single focal point within the Pit.

The Titan raises its sword to swing against the hippogryph, but altitude is in the Vartan's favor for now.

The spectators, for the time being, watch silently. It is not their nature to cheer, it seems.

Zoltan inches back, mumbles a prayer, and then tries to make a powerdive around the Titan's back, slashing at its armor with his sword and then trying to fly out of reach again before it can hit him.

Kensington dances from foot to foot… then, as the Titan raises its arm, something occurs to him. There! He glances at the Savanite onlookers, then risks a yell in Vartan. "Under the arm, Zoltan! It's open under the arm!"

As the hippogryph darts down, the Titan spins about … and rises. Flames erupt from nacelles on its legs and back, lifting it off of the ground! The Vartan's blow glances off of the thick armor, and he narrowly avoids being rammed by the force of the upward-leaping Titan.

The Vartan recovers. ( Blast… apparently the Champions never intended to fight Titans. ) He swoops around and tries to manuver himself in a position to strike at the arm's weak point the next time it takes a swing at him.

The Titan is too fast. Perhaps he's catching on to Zoltan's strategy … or perhaps it's just too hard to get him to swing upward, then safely get below without the danger of being crushed during the Titan's downward descents from his "booster-jumps". The armor is heavy on Zoltan, and he's starting to tire. It's bound to start affecting his ability to keep dodging the blows.

( Star… guide my hand, give me strength… ) The armored Vartan takes a deep breath, waits for the Titan to swing, and then dives in, slashing at the point under the arm.

The Korv on the ground grinds his beak. (Damn… damn! For the love of Gretchen, there has to be another way!) He wheels on whatever Savanite is standing nearby, his wing-claws fumbling over themselves in a hurried and clumsy attempt to sign. "How can you watch all this?! It's not fair at all! Zoltan might as well be unarmed!"

An opening presents itself. Zoltan flies in, swift for the kill … but a deflective glance of the Titan's shield rams into him, sending him hurtling as stars dance in front of his eyes. The hippogryph barely manages to control himself enough to skid into the red dirt of the ground, rather than directly into it. As he gets a chance for his head to clear, it's evident that nothing's broken … but just about everything bruised, and he can taste the tang of blood in his beak.

The armored Vartan chokes on a scream and staggers to stay on his feet. He keeps his wings open and continues to back towards the pit… trying to egg the Titan into following him.

The Korv, aghast, can do little but flinch. He takes a step forward to run out, but stops himself. (I can't let myself do that… it'd ruin everything… but if I don't, we'll gain nothing anyway… nnNNGH!)

The Titan makes a few steps after Zoltan … but seems not inclined to make the same mistake that a certain other Titan made a couple of months previous. Instead, it adopts a defensive stance, looking at Zoltan … calculating…

"Look OUT, Zoltan! It has a cannon!" For all the good he's doing, it's all the advice the Korv can give.

Zoltan takes this chance to catch a few scant seconds of his breath. His feathers suddenly bristle out inside the armor and he leaps upwards into the air again.

Just in time. There is a crack, as a flaming bolt launches from the shoulder of the Titan, slicing through the spot in which Zoltan stood just a moment ago. The missile bursts into a ball of fire some short distance into the boundary of the Pit, and dissolves into trails of smoking shrapnel.

Zoltan zips behind the Titan and then shoots upwards… again trying to get the great contraption to slash its weapon upwards after him.

Kensington makes to grab one of the spectators, until he realizes he needs his fingers to speak. "This is pointless! Are there any more rules to the duel? Is there any way they will let me help?! Tell me!"

The Titan obligingly slices upward with its sword, missing the still-swift Vartan this time. So the grueling match stretches on.

Son-of-Swords signs, "Very well, Confederate. Your friend never chose a Champion. If he chooses, he may yet name one. Of course, he can also choose to surrender and end this duel with his body intact."

Again the Vartan dives down after the swing, and again he tries to slash at the weak point in the arm.

Kensington pauses. "Would the contender be allowed a weapon to match Bearer-of-Arms? "

"Certainly," signs Son-of-Swords, "if he has one in his possession."

The Vartan's blow connects! He severs some sort of hose, which spews gases and fluids into the air! However, it's not as deep a thrust as might have been possible, and it would seem that the Titan isn't completely crippled just yet.

A brief ray of hope crosses Kensington's face as Zoltan's swipe strikes true. "Keep your distance!" he squawks, in Vartan. "He won't be able to use that arm much longer!"

( I've slowed it! He'll be on the guard more… but hopefully it'll be harder for him to hit me.) The armored Vartan quickly zips out of the way and focuses on his next strike.

Kensington turns back to Son-of-Swords, switching back to Savanite sign as he does so. "Would any of those Titan pilots be compelled to fight on Zoltan's behalf?"

Son-of-Swords signs, "Hardly! Not one of them is loyal to the Confederates or the Knights, or they would not have come to fight this day!"

The grinding of Kensington's beak is clearly audible now. "Well, then could I use one of the blasted things?"

( The Champion of Roses always said that one of my greatest problems was the predictability of my strategy… so maybe it's time to try something different.) The Armored Vartan takes a deep breath and moves in for another one of his 'zip behind and slash out on other side' attacks… except this time he attempts to turn around while behind the Titan, pop out on the same side he came in and make another slash at the open wound on the arm.

Son-of-Swords' expression … pardon the term … would somehow seem amused despite the mask. "What, and let you wreck it?"

"Besides," signs Son-of-Swords, as he turns toward the Titan again, "the fight is nearly ov – "

*CRASH* *CRACKLE* *FIZZLE*

The Korv huffs, and tosses his beak. "You think I'd crash it, don't you? Let me tell you someth-… " The noise startles him into looking back at the fight.

Sparks spray from underneath the arm of the Titan as a black shadow slices through the momentarily exposed mechanical innards. Several flaming bursts erupt from the cannon, firing randomly over the rim of the pit, and bursting into shrapnel and smoke harmlessly.

Warriors dash away to get a wide berth as the goliath stumbles, its systems wracked by overloads and a loss of fluid pressure.

"Well, I'll be jiggered." The corsair raises a feather ridge over his eye.

The armored Vartan flies out of the way from the explosions and heads back to Kensingtion, Herbir, and Son-of-Swords.

Son-of-Swords makes a choking noise. Not terribly silent of him.

The Titan collapses to the ground, vapors leaking from every gap in the armor.

Kensington reaches up to pat Son-of-Swords on the shoulder before signing, "Well, guess you were right. Never mind."

Son-of-Swords regards the scene, then turns toward the armored Vartan. "I concede."

Herbir's beak just hangs open. He hasn't said anything for the entire battle.

Zoltan pulls of his helmet and spits blood onto the ground. "Now," he signs… violet eyes ablaze, "we negotiate?"


Inside the meeting hall of the Winged Citadel, a contingent of warriors from many factions on Abaddon is gathered. A bandaged-up but still imposing black Vartan has the "stage", so to speak. Wynona is not present at the gathering, still being in the Pit of Himar in case her specialty is needed once more.

Zoltan ruffles his feathers, thankful to be out of the armor and hopeful that he won't need it again. He looks at the assembled fighters and speaks, his hands mirroring his words in sign, "I know very little about your war, about your ways, and about your reasons… yet all of you have mirrors on Sinai in one manner or another. I have fought alongside all of you, and against all of you at one point or another on my planet. Yet now that I see this world, I realize how we took everything we had for advantage. Here you have a place, large enough to share… and the chance to share with one another to keep this one patch of fertile ground alive… maybe even make it grow bigger with time. I wished all of you here today to ask for a treaty, a chance to make that happen. There was a treaty here once, can there not be again?"

Away from the delegation, Kensington stays on his own 'turf', leaning on a pillar to watch and listen.

There are some murmurings, and wiggling of fingers, but it seems no one has much of a retort. At last, a blue-scaled Naga stands. "Why should we think," hisses the Naga, "that we have reached a point to guarantee the keeping of any treaty, any more so than in the past? You have placed yourself in the middle of our battle, and proven your prowess, but what is that to us? Will it make Abaddon turn any slower?"

A priest of the Silent-Ones waves his hands, signing, "The land is dying. It is only fuel for the war machines of those Confederates who still remain. It is better that none have it."

"I do not know why your past treaties have failed… but I would wager a guess that it had something to do with mustrust or placing blame, much like the Confederates on Sinai blamed the Silent-Ones for what had happened and vice versa," Zoltan scrawks, wincing a bit as a bruised spot on his leg bumps against a table. "The only thing that will help you is if you trust one another… and I do not expect that to suddenly happen at this meeting. What I would like to propose instead is that all of you form colonies here, make this area a no-fire zone and tend to the land. You could work together to build a dome to protect the land, grow plants that could be transported to other domes. Make this ground neutral… Alone it is doomed to die; together you can keep it alive."

"Death and destruction is never a better alternative… It is only a final decision when nothing else can be done. The Star gives life," Zoltan scrawks to the Cheetah, his hands still moving to mirror his words.

The priest signs to Zoltan, "What is this, you of another world, that you speak to us of the Star? What is the Star to such as you?"

"There are Silent-Ones on Sinai, as well as the Knights. I first heard of the Star from them. When I thought of stars, I thought of of cold points of light that were small and so far away that you could never reach them in a thousand lifetimes if you tried to fly to one. They're cold, distant, and aren't bright enough to light your path at night. The best they can do is vaguely guide you when you travel, and show you images of imagined things like the Sky Creen or the Great Vartan Warrior to the south, or the Eye of the Aeonian that airshipmen use so they always know which way north is… " He takes a deep breath and turns to look at Herbir, his father.

No one interrupts the Vartan. The "Sky Creen", "Great Vartan Warrior" and "Aeonian" phrases don't seem to be registering any sort of recognition, though.

"Yet, there is another type of star. When I was a child I was taught that the sun is a star as well. And without the sun we would all be dead. There would be no light to grow crops, no warmth to keep us from freezing." Zoltan closes his eyes and then slowly reopens them. "But the Sun does not favor anybody; it does not choose to just shine on the Silent-Ones or the Confederates or the Knights. The light that shines upon me is no warmer than the light that shines upon anyone else. If the sun so chose to burn out, it would… yet it stays bright and burning. I can only take this to mean that it still sees hope in people… ALL people. It shines to make the plants I eat grow just as it does for anyone else. It keeps me warm and alive just as it would anyone else… and if the sun decided that my life was useless and should be ended then ts could stop giving life to my food and it could stop sending rays on me to keep me warm."

The Vartan's violet eyes turn to look back on the assembled men. "I have been evil. I was once a monster who preyed upon people for sport, I convinced myself they deserved it because they were guttertrash and thieves. They feared me and I enjoyed being feared. Yet even when my prey turned upon me and left me to die… the sun did not stop shining upon me. I stopped being a monster, I became a hard worker, a defender of my city, an explorer and a discover, a diplomat, and the dearest thing to me… a father. I stand here today, twenty years later, as what I am. I do not seek death, I do not seek revenge… and neither should you. The only thing I wanted when I came here was to look upon my father and gain his forgiveness. I do not know if I ever will gain these things, but it won't change who I am, or why I am. It will not stop the sun from shining upon me, or him, or any of you."

Zoltan says, "Nobody can claim to speak for the sun. You can claim that the sun's will is to shine only upon one person and kill all the rest of the people… but it was you who killed them, not the sun. The sun could burn out and kill us all if it wanted… It chooses not to." Slowly, Zoltan starts to show his weariness and how much all this has taken from his strength and energy. "The sun shines upon the evil. The good. The heroes. The traitors. And for some reason it thinks that we each have a reason to share in its warmth and life. That is the Star I believe in. The one that believes in second chances, the one that loves everybody equally, the one that speaks not with wrath but with compassion.""

The edge of Herbir's mouth, at the edge of his beak, twitches just a bit. His face seems otherwise impassive, but it's the frozen expression of one wearing a mask.

The Silent-Ones confer amongst themselves. The other parties follow suit, doing likewise.

The Vartan seats himself, trying to distract the thoughts in his head by absently rubbing a sore spot on his arm and staring intently at one of the glass windows.

The priest of the Silent-Ones signs, "You talk boldly and with words that hurt the ears. But there is some truth in what you tell. So long as the Pit of Himar is not used as a weapon against the People, we shall not seek to destroy it."

Zoltan tamps down his whoop of joy, instead only letting a smile creep in. "I thank you. I deeply thank you."

Ambassador Riddle Smith says, "It is in the interests of the Expedition to partake in such a venture." She smiles faintly at the hippogryph.

And the others, one by one, indicate their willingness – with various stipulations and openings for withdrawal if anyone else "cheats", of course – to partake in such an "experiment".

One by one, Zoltan thanks each of them. As his smile grows, his body seems weaker and weaker.

It would seem that many of the parties, after making these "concessions", are not inclined to remain for small-talk. The Naga delegation slithers out first, followed by the Silent-Ones. And the rest leave as well, leaving just the Knights. (After all, they live here.)

The Knights, that is, and an older black Hippogryph. And even most of the Knights are already filing away to return to whatever duties they have in the Winged Citadel.

Kensington stops leaning against the pillar he's staked out now that enough people have left, and folds his wings.

Zoltan wearily walks over to Herbir. He doesn't say anything, and his expression show no trace of malice or anger. He just stands there in front of his father and looks at him. Neither angry or joyful, not happy or sad… just… tired.

Herbir looks back, his eyes straining under unknown forces. At last, he reaches forward and pats Zoltan on the shoulder. "That's my boy," he says, in a cracked voice. He swallows heavily, and turns toward the exit.

the younger Vartan reaches out and clasps the older one's shoulder. "Wait." His voice is hoarse.

The elder hippogryph clenches his beak, then scrawks, "I must go now. You have to understand."

"Why?" Zoltan says, his hand shakes so frantically that it's easily noticed. "I came here to find you, to bring you back home. Please stay… please come with me."

Herbir says, "It's not that easy. I … I need to be alone." His beak scrapes. "I'm not like you. Not like you are now. Dagh! I don't even RECOGNIZE you."

Zoltan doesn't even try to hold in his tears… he's no longer trying to pretend to be the strong man with the sword, he's not trying to impress anyone. For now all he is is a child (albeit a very BIG one) talking to his father. "I know… and I know you still need to find your path… but… " He takes in a breath and moves closer to his elder, putting his hand on his other shoulder and dropping his head. "I want to help you find your path, Father. I need you… and my children need you." He swallows. "Paradys. All this happened because Paradys has no guardian; you could be that guardian. There is nobody there… and looters are always trying to take it. Kryago is old." He sighs. "I just don't want to lose you again. I'm sorry… " his words fall into untelligible sobs.

"Paradys?!" scrawks Herbir. "What is this? You traipse across worlds, single-handedly defeat giants, slay immortals, visit mythical lands … Next I suppose you'll tell me you've shared tea with the First Ones?" There's something about his expression that suggests he might not be surprised if Zoltan says "Yes."

"I'm the Baron of Paradys," Zoltan says, finally catching his voice. "The boomer that transported Himar to here was stolen from Paradys by the Babelites. Shokar's cabin is there… " He sighs. "Many of the inhabitants there are dead or have left… It is what made the island easy prey for the Babelites. You could fix up the cabin… and only I would know the location of the island."

Herbir just nods his head several times, looking dazed.

"How about," scrawks Herbir, "I get some time … to think about it?"

"Zoltanos Cambio of Mountain Shadow Tribe, Redeemer of Shadow, Baron of Paradys, Slayer of Plaguebringers… " Zoltan shakes his head. "Names. Nothing but names. The only name I truly hold dear is the one that belongs to you and the one you gave me." He gently releases his father's shoulder. "Alright. I understand… just… " Zoltan shakes his head, reaches out and hugs his father tightly and then steps back. "Remember that I love you."

Herbir is silent for a bit, then just nods. "I'll think about it." He turns for the door again.

This time, Zoltan doesn't try to stop his father He moves over to Kensington and sits down next to the Korv, his eyes follow Herbir as he walks out.

The elder hippogryph's silhouette darkens the doors to the sanctuary … and then he's gone.

Kchak. Kchak. Talons on marble mix with the jingle of Kensington's sabers as he steps to the side to make room for Zoltan. It's the only noise echoing in the cathedral for a bit. Kensington takes a sidelong glance at Zoltan, since they're about head level, then looks at the windows again, simply taking in the soothing silence.

The remaining Vartan folds his arms across his knees and presses his head into them. "I'm tired," he says.

"Can't say as I blame ye," is the raspy reply.

"Thank you, Kensington. Thank you for everything. The Titan would have killed me had it not been for you… and you probably thought I'd gone crazy when I attacked the Progenitor. You're a good and loyal friend, and I'm proud to know you." The Vartan wipes his face against his arms and slowly raises his head back up.

"Eh… " The corsair finally looks over at Zoltan. "Ferget 'bout it. We alls just takes it as it comes. I'll tell ye… ain't ne'er met someone likes ye, but I'm glad enough t'call ye 'friend'." He looks back up at the stained glass windows again, the reflection in his beak multi-coloured. "Makes me wonder, though… whatta we do now?"

"Well… for now I think we need to rest. I probably shouldn't travel until I've healed up – and I'd like to give Herbir a chance to think." The Vartan rubs a hand through the scraggly feathers on his neck, slightly matted with sweat from the armor. "After that, we either go back to the crystal formation or find out how the Knights got to Sinai to begin with. they did it once… maybe they can do it again."

Kensington nods soberly, raising an imaginery flask. "'Ere's to a job well done, then. Let's go."

Zoltan smirks and mimicks the gesture. "I'm sure the Knights won't mind putting us up… This isn't too different from Golgotha." His smile fades a bit. He's really starting to miss Rephidim.

---

GMed by Greywolf

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Today is 12 days after Harvest Tide, Year 25 of the Reign of Archelaus the First (6124)