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Out of the Frying Pan, and Into...?

    Wandering down the trail following the sound of water, it takes several minutes of walking... but soon the distinctive rush and flow of water is plain to all to hear. The path leads out to a wide, swift, chuckling river. Off to the left and in front of the travelers it spreads out quite a bit into a deep, cool pool or pond -- deep enough that its depths are dark, mysterious, and unseen, and its sheltered far shore is heavily shadowed and overhung with the trailing branches of several willow trees. Algae and water plants thrive and bloom on the water over that sheltered end of the pool.

    Even further to the left and over some small dam or obstruction the river twists rapidly away out of sight between more trees and mossy banks, while on both left and right the travelers can see the waterfall... no, waterfalls, it appears -- several of them, over numerous small, rocky outcroppings in the river, splashing and spraying noisily off the rocks.

    Directly before the travelers is a bridge or crossing, of sorts... huge logs hammered upright, on end, into the narrowest portion of the long, wide pool. Each log is at least 4 foot in diameter, none more than 1 or 2 feet in separation from another, forming a crooked but dry and cross-able line across the pool.

Kerry listens, trying to locate the source of the cries for help. Douglas looks to and fro, starting to feel a little thrill of excitement and nervousness in him. "Where, where..." He tries to listen in on the source of the calls. Mindful of the Keero's much more sensitive hearing, he glances to Kerry. "Can you tell where they are, Pilot?"

The piglet takes a couple of running steps, then bounces lightly onto the first of the logs. He keeps going to about the middle, *boingboingboing!* then pauses and turns, grunting happily and wiggling his nose at everyone. Sakura says, "I wonder where he's going to..."

Kerry extends a wing, pointing ahead. "Far side of the bridge; seems to be coming from the thickest part of the foliage."

Sakura says, "Has anyone else noticed that there's writing on the logs?"

Douglas looks across the lake and begins to move to some place where he can ford the lake quickly... but then stops, blinking, seeing something on the logs... he shakes his head; he can get back to that. "I just did, Doctor... but I think the writing will still be here... I don't know if those calls for help will wait..."

Sakura nods, "We should find out who needs help.

Kerry skrees, "Writing? Where?"

Vash says, "Douglas is right, Doctora. They'll have to wait."

Douglas starts to move, trying not to fall into the water as he steps -- or, if necessary, leaps -- across the piles of the former bridge. Sakura carefully follows Douglas across the log bridge. The piglet grunts happily again, and turns, *kerboinging*! across from log to log until he's on the far shore. Doug has a bit of an exciting, arm-waving bobble at one point, in an attempt not to step on the piglet, but everyone crosses easily and dryly to the other side. Vash doesn't have much problem negotiating the logs; a natural leaper, he bounds from log to log with relative ease, and an alacrity one might not expect from a species best known for grappling with Texan motorists' undercarriages. Kerry follows along, peering at the writing on the logs as he crosses them, using his wings to help jump the gaps.

Douglas steps off onto the shoreline, panting a little, and not for the first time since the accident cursing the loss of his tail. He hauls himself up, though, and dashes towards the calls. "Come on!" The cries for help aren't loud or frequent, but from here, with the waterfall behind instead of between, they're audible to everyone... and it's obvious the crier is exhausted. Sakura sets off after Douglas, trying to keep pace with the much-larger uplift. Kerry stops halfway across, peering more closely at the writing - he doesn't think he's going to be much help to the larger and stronger groundlings. "This is odd. It looks like runes."

The piglet has already started trotting down the trail away from the river, but as people start heading along the river he stops in consternation... then squeals loudly and anxiously, stomping one tiny trotter. Sakura wrinkles her nose and makes a face at the smell. She stops to look at the piglet and goes towards him.

Vash frowns, and comes off the landing on the final log in a bit of a crouch, boot toes planted at the edge of the log, and pushes, firing himself after Douglas with a surprisingly arced horizontal leap. Huhhn! Not yet... don't give up yet, we're coming... He pants. Something in the water catches his eye... he gets a sudden, very, very bad feeling. Kerry skrees, "HOLD!"

There's a slightly louder cry, almost pleading, as if the group had been suddenly sighted. Water splashes a bit, and a pale arm can be seen waving weakly. The piglet trots over to Sakura, and nudges strongly back towards the path. Vash hits the sand halfway into a brace, and skids to a halt, half-turned, as he realizes at about the same moment what's happening. He begins sprinting for the shallows. Douglas is about to dash off along the bank of the lake, but stops short when Kerry shouts. He turns. "What...?"

Vash says, "Damn it... more of the plants!"

Sakura skitters to a halt and lets the piglet push her back. Kerry frowns and tries to image the area of the cry. The ultrasound bounces off the water, unfortunately... Vash says, "I see it, I SEE it!" He splashes in up to his knees, and immediately begins looking for creepers, floaters, what have you, that are in the way or close by the shortest path between him and the emergent arm. The piglet sprints after Vash as fast as his little legs will take him, squealing madly and trying to catch up -- but he stops on the edge of the pool, still squealing piercingly.

Sakura points towards the water, something moving. "There!"

Kerry skrees, "Careful. There's something very wrong here."

The piglet is screaming at the top of his lungs, jumping up and down in anxiety. Sakura says, "Vash-san LOOK OUT!" She reaches over to scoop the piglet up as quickly as she can.

Kerry skrees, "Back up. I think the little fellow knows something we don't. Remember the legends of things that lured travelers into the water to drown them?"

Douglas would pale if he didn't have fur. "Oh, damn...!" He fidgets a little in uncertainty, then starts to move much more cautiously towards the shoreline, towards where the cries are coming from. Those plants... this just gets better and better... He is very careful about running into any of the 'vamplants.' He blinks, startled at Sakura's shout, looking quickly at the water. "I don't recall reading any of those legends at Stamford..." he notes warily, staying clear of the water.

Vash splashes out a bit further, "I see them, Doctora, I see them..." He is wading out toward a pale, waterlogged figure lying half-draped over a log out toward the waterfalls. He calls out to them, "If you can understand me... hold still. Don't let go... I'm coming..." Back to the others, "It's the plants... look out in the deeps. The lumps of algae." He keeps his eyes fixed on the water and not on her, looking for creepers, vines... the odd naughty tentacle... the footing is treacherous and muddy under Vash -- he takes a step and something flips up, water flying -- and Vash goes under in a fountain of dirty, smelly water! He gasps for a lungful as he goes down, knowing he can hold it far longer than any of the other crew. Right before the light fades he reflects that somewhere his ancestors are debating as to whether this was a fine example of chivalrous courage gone awry... or the end of quite possibly the stupidest Montoya that ever lived.

Vash clears his vision quickly underwater. He refrains from snarling; he expects what he sees; a beautiful pale woman, watching him, while something cold and sinuous coils around his waist. A water hag. Albondigas. Here now, puta... take advantage of MY sense of honor! Let's see how smooth THIS goes down! He sets his claws, rails back, and lunges for it.

Douglas's shout catches in his throat. He dashes forward, hesitating at the edge of the water... The piglet shrieks! -then falls silent, staring wide-eyed at the turbulent water. Sakura sets the piglet down and takes a single step into the water, "Vash-san!" He shakes himself, mentally cursing his heritage. "Pilot, Doctor, do we have any rope or something, anything, we need to pull him out and I don't feel like getting pulled in with him. I did not sign on to be some watery cabbage's idea of dinner...!" He blinks. "Oh, crap," he mutters, and throws off his pack hurriedly, pulling out some of the portable shelter's tie-down line. He runs off a length, tying a quick double bowline around himself, and tosses the other end to Sakura. "Please, Doctor, tie that off to a stone or tree -- preferably a plant that isn't a co-conspirator with the one in the water..."

Kerry skrees, "Quickly and carefully, folks. Vash can stay down a bit, but if this is a Faerie realm we're dealing with something very dangerous. Sakura, you and I will hold the rope." Sakura takes the end of the rope and looks for a good secure place to tie it. She'll tie it to a rock or something inorganic, preferably. Kerry skrees, "After we tie it off." He moves off the trail now, to assist the rescue effort.

Douglas glances to Sakura and Kerry as he starts wading in, waiting for the line to be tied off before diving after Vash. "A what realm?" he says, almost as an aside. God, I hate water! I'd forgotten how much I hate it... You damn well better not die, Captain, not after I've gotten soaked...!

Sakura finishes tying the rope off and gives it a good hard tug to test the knot. When she's certain that the knot will hold, she walks a little away from the tree and gets a good grip on the rope with her paws, so she can assist the rescue effort. The piglet watches the goings on with bright, worried eyes -- then dashes to the nearest edge of the clearing, braces himself facing out into the underbrush, takes a deeeeep breath -- then lets it out in one long, ear-piercing scream that seems to go on forever! Kerry winces. "What's that all about, piggy? We know it's nasty, we're trying to get Vash back."

Douglas takes a deep breath -- I REALLY hate water! -- and leaps forward, sloshing more than swimming towards the last position of Vash. Maybe there's some frothing in the water where the dillo went down. The water is surging and heaving, algae and rot frothing on the surface. It's easy for Doug to find Vash, actually... because seconds after he leaps into the water a brown, mossy coil of something flips over Doug and draws him down... almost gently. Vash continues to rake at the face in his path, and winces, finding bubbles frothing past his lips, as something coils tighter around his waist. Something cold loops around his wrist, and he turns around in the murk. Ah hah... didn't LIKE that, did you, you dirty agua whore?! Come on, then... Come closer so I can BITE off your FACE! Vash continues to strain against his bonds, bound (literally) and determined not to become the first Montoya to go quietly.

Douglas almost, but not quite, expects it. But not quite. Part of him hoped that the creature was not quite so extensive that it could pay attention to two morsels at once. At this point he realizes that he has actually been caught. Through the murky water that engulfs him -- I almost never want to bathe again, some hysterical part of his mind thinks -- and the equally engulfing tentacle, he thinks he can see the bloody 'water hag' as Kerry called it, and Vash. There's no helping it; even though he promised himself long ago not to let himself go, his mind has other priorities than his self-image right now... namely, his self-survival. He struggles to swim towards Vash, and for the first time since reaching his majority, unsheathes his claws and starts slashing at the tentacle.

Vash actually stops for a moment, spying Douglas coming down. That stops him cold. He hadn't intended for any of his crew to go down with him. No one else is supposed to take the hit for his own fit of Cervantes-like gallantry. This only lasts a moment though, as he realizes that he's a few moments away from dying and Grandfather will definitely be watching. He's not going to disappoint NOW. He redoubles his efforts, straining at the coils and trying desperately to get his claws against something they can do damage to.

On the shore the piglet pauses long enough to gasp another breath -- something big and heavy is rustling in the underbrush somewhere, moving rapidly! -- then freezes, his tiny ears perked up, listening intently. The rope lies in Sakura's small paws, light and deceptively thin. Sakura freezes in place, her hands still tight on the rope and looks over at the trees, looking as though she's dangerously close to screaming in terror.

Sakura says, "K-Kerry-san..? There's something in the woods there... it's... b-big.."

Kerry nods. "I know, I heard it. One problem at a time, I think. Doug has been down long enough, let's help pull him back out." Sakura nods and starts pulling...

Vash keeps straining; his lungs will hold for awhile yet, she's not killed him so soon, but his limbs are starting to burn. Not what you hoped for, I'm sure, nanno. Forgive me, okay? Douglas finds, as the damnable thing squeezes them together -- some part of his mind thinks this is an awfully twisted plant -- that for a brief moment as the tentacles shift he can get one arm free. He doesn't know how long he has, or even if Vash is likewise unfettered. He simply reacts, digging his claws in ad deeply as he can into the closest part of the tentacle, and raking them across...

Vash grunts softly, a few more precious seconds of O2 slipping past his lips as something collides with him; is she going to bludgeon him to death now? His eyes clear a moment... she's somehow slammed him into Douglas. This is awkward. He's all for dying in a romantic embrace... but... he offers Douglas his very best winning grin, under the circumstances. Before he can mentally compose any fitting one-liners, there's a shift in the tentacles and his arm is free! He jerks free, sets his claws, and RAKES.

Douglas suddenly finds that... he's free! His skin is screaming in pain, in fact he realizes at the last moment that he's wasting what air is in his lungs by screaming, which explains his lack of clear vision. Remembering why the hell he jumped into the water in the first place, feeling the rope tightening, he wraps his arms tightly around Vash, hoping he doesn't get a faceful of the dillo's claws in the process... Vash suppresses the urge to just scream with satisfaction. Before he can set himself for another attack, he realizes... he's free! He turns and throws an arm around Douglas' shoulders, kicking like mad for the surface.

On the shore, the heavy tread of many very large things can be heard. The piglet squeals excitedly and dives into the underbrush. Something is definitely happening under the water. There's a huge surge of water! -then viscous, sickly green slime oozes to the surface. Sakura is pulling as hard as she can. Kerry puts his back into pulling, helping Sakura as much as he can... though he's not really built for it. He's actually facing back toward the forest, and is pinging while he pulls. Sakura and Kerry both are hauling as hard as they can at the rope, but it's a difficult struggle. Sometimes it seems like they've got their friends free, and then there'll be a sudden severe jolt that almost hauls them into the water. Sakura pulls hard and as quickly as she can. "Come on, come on.. please.."

Douglas almost looses what little air is left in his lungs; they burn and ache in protest and agony as the tentacles hold onto him tightly. He swings one arm down, trying desperately to rake his claws into the tentacle again, feeling himself becoming weaker by the moment as second after second of the lack of air tick by... Vash jolts to a halt. Something's got his ankle. Estas apedrear! I'm going to KILL you! He wheels back, and lashes at the tentacle around his leg.

Several things happen at once, although not everyone's aware of it. First, the tentacles roll smoothly up and tangle Vash neatly, trussing him up with the weakening cougar. Second, Sakura is suddenly jerked towards the water, and realizes she's just not strong enough to do this -- the water monster is just more powerful than she. Sakura just about looses her balance as the rope jerks her forward, but she refuses to let go of it. Then Doug loses the battle to hold his breath, and starts choking on slimy water -- it's getting dark and very cold... and up above, on shore, Kerry sees the piglet burst out of the underbrush -- followed by 4 or 5 enormous, black bristled forest boars. The smallest stands as tall as Kerry's ear tips at the shoulder, and they move silently, champing their huge tusks slightly, their tiny eyes darting around, taking in the scenario. Kerry skrees, "Bozhemoi. I hope your friends are here to help, little fellow." He looks at the huge boars. "Can you understand me? Can you help pull?"

Douglas gags, unable to stop taking in the slimy, murky water, struggling with increased weakness against the tentacles. All I wanted was to go into space... Vash finds that his lungs are just starting to burn, down at the very pit of his chest. He finds himself growing slowly weaker, the adrenaline and just plain rage beginning to lose their effect. He continues to struggle, determined to be killed rather than just die... no Montoya has ever gone out quietly... Damn it! Damn it... nanno, I'm sorry... Douglas... oh.. shit.

The piglet squeals anxiously again as Sakura's jerked towards the water, and dashes up to grab her pants leg in his little teeth -- he sets his feet and pulls with all his might! Sakura smiles down at the little piglet as she realizes what's happening, "Arigatou, little one." The big forest boars take only a moment to take in the scene... then they gently shoulder between the uplifted bat and fox, and work the slight rope around their chests... then all start walking, slowly and determinedly, in the same direction -- away from the water hag's lair. It's not effortless -- their huge trotters dig into the grass, leaving gashes, as they strain... but slowly, agonizingly slowly, the amount of rope in the water is lessening...

It feels like it takes forever, although it's probably only seconds, when tentacles start being seen snapping and thrashing above water, desperately trying to drag down two water-logged, limp shapes. The boars keep slowly, determinedly straining forwards, skidding slightly and clawing up the grass as, with a final desperate surge, the tentacles struggle to keep their prey... and then, finally, the two slippery, limp bodies are on shore, trailing water streamers and slime behind them. Sakura drops the rope and runs for the edge of the water to check on the Captain and Douglas-san... Vash collapses heavily on the sand, not making a sound. Finally, he exhales what remains of his last desperate lungful, and groans once, quietly. Douglas is dragged up onto the sand, looking much the worse for wear -- or at least he would think so, were he conscious -- trickles of the murky water seeping from his mouth. But, there isn't as much water in his lungs as there might have been.

Kerry bows to the boars, his wings spread out and forward. "Thank you." He then turns to help the doctor with his shipmates. Vash coughs wetly, and manages to roll onto his knees. He waves the doctor away from him. "I'll live... Douglas...*ahuk*..." Sakura checks Vash quickly and, assured that he's well enough, she goes to work on the unconscious Doug, checking vital signs and stabilizing him.

The big boars watch silently as Sakura rushes to her companions' sides. The largest dips his head slightly as Kerry bows... perhaps it was just to nuzzle the tiny piglet. Then the boars all turn and drift quietly into the underbrush... all but the little piglet, who prances over to Sakura, tail and head proudly up in the air -- until he sees Vash, at which point he squeals anxiously and almost tramples the groggy dillo, nudging and snorting in his face, trying to wake him up. Vash pants a bit, exhausted, and turns to look at the massive newcomers. He gives them a weak, winsome grin, and then collapses, unceremoniously pork-sided. "Uhm... *cough* *khack* okay... okay, I'm all right, ninyo." He smiles a bit.

The piglet is finally convinced Vash will survive -- doubtless due to the piglet's efforts, of course! -- and trots around the little group busily, still looking rather pleased with himself. Sakura turns Douglas over and gives his back a couple of hard whacks to dislodge the water in his lungs. She leaves him on his side, waiting for him to take a breath. More than a little of the rank water is evacuated from Doug's chest, and shortly a gurgling intake of breath is followed by a racking, wet cough. He curls up slightly, ducking his head as he coughs up the horrible water. It takes a few moments of the lung-breaking coughing, and he still hasn't gotten all the water out, by the time he has enough of his wits about him to weakly open his eyes. *hack*cough* "Gaaarrgh... Urgh... I'm... I'm not dead...?" And then another momentary rack of coughing takes him.

Kerry nods to Vash as he wakes up. "Let's get Douglas back to the path ASAP. I think this universe is one where magic works, and the bridge is protected by the runes on it." He scowls. "And the next time I yell hold don't keep charging in, okay?"

Vash coughs once. "Kerry... shut up."

Kerry snorts in a high-pitched sort of way. "Whatever."

Sakura's ears lower slightly at Kerry's words. They're even just a little red. "Sorry, Kerry-san."

Vash begins collecting himself, and shakes his head once he gets back to his knees. "Made a mistake... knew it was a trap... but I assumed that she was bait... not the trap herself. Damn. Didn't think my British lit courses would be applied science..."

Kerry nods. "Understandable. I recognized it from mythology. Weird world, this one is. I don't think they could have built the Gates unless they've got science as well, but... we'll have to see."

Sakura pats Douglas' back with one paw. "No, Douglas-san. You are quite alive, despite the best intentions of that thing in the water."

Douglas blinks a little, managing to look up. For one wild moment, before Sakura's words sink in, he actually does think he's dead. Angels look like Sakura. That's appropriate, she always seemed like one... Then he blinks and groans, but it comes out wetly and makes him wince, only partly in pain. And since a wet pain like this could only come from still being alive, albeit having had a close brush with drowning, he decides that no, he's not dead. Right... I'm alive, and now I really, really, really, REALLY hate [profanity deleted] water!! First thing I'm gonna do back aboard the Indigo is rip out the zeegee showers, then...

Vash stands up and unzips his jumpsuit, undoing his web-rig and peeling off his shirt. "Could be someone else placed the gates..." He wrings out his T-shirt, thick streamers of black water and bits of algae dropping into the sand. The network of scars that trace his forearms continue all the way up his shoulders and over his trunk, disappearing into the waist of his jumpsuit. He snaps the shirt out and reluctantly tugs the wet cloth back on over his head, grimacing at the feel of clinging damp cloth on his fur.

Kerry skrees, "Yah, but then why is this universe the Nexus. Weird..."

The piglet meanwhile has trotted over closer to where the water hag lairs. He turns his back, paws the ground back with first one, then the other hind trotter, and gives a short, haughty squeal. Sakura giggles at the little piglet.

Vash says, "Won't get any argument from me."

The black water heaves slightly -- then surges upwards in a rolling wave towards the piglet. Algae, water plants, and goopy streamers of something nasty and rotting ride the wave... the piglet squeaks! -and dashes hastily for the Indigo's crew! Kerry frowns. "C'mon, Douglas, let's get back to the path."

Vash goes about setting his web rig back in place, and draws his gun. He turns it, water pouring out of the barrel, and then glances at the water. "Easy, ninyo. C'mon. Nothing more for us here."

The piglet ducks behind Sakura, peering out from behind her at the water... it washes up on the shore, reaching greedily towards the group... then recedes. A moment later the water heaves again... this time the wave reaches closer... Kerry skrees, "Quickly, I think..."

Sakura scoops the pig and her bag up and starts backing away, "Towards the logs, Sir?" The piglet is more than happy to cuddle into Sakura's arms, although he'll keep a wary eye on the water.

Douglas manages to pull himself up painfully and weakly, as the wave moves a second time. "Yeah-" and he hacks again. "We... we'd better move..." Kerry retreats to the path himself, not wanting to get wet... and uncertain how much of the water hag can hide in those wet surges.

Vash hisses back at the water, "You stay there, bacalao..." He kneels down and throws one of Douglas' arms over his shoulders. Douglas lets himself be carried up by Vash, trying to simply get away from the beast in the water. The path is well lit from above by the noontime sun, as well as being clear and dry. Vash spits, the taste of algae and dead things thick in his mouth. "How are you holding up, Douglas?"

Douglas hacks heavily and wetly and moans a little, trying hard not to but unable to avoid it. "I'm holding... well enough."

Vash pats Douglas' back. "You can lean on me, Douglas. Sorry you had to take a dip for my fit of chivalry."

Sakura backs up onto the path. "To the logs, Sir?" she asks again, a little more frantically this time.

Having collected in the relative safety of the path, our intrepid heroes decide what to do next. Vash coughs. "So... where now?"

Douglas hacks again, wincing and rubbing his chest. "We're lost without information," he mutters. "We need to find out just what's going on, on this world."

Kerry shrugs. "Continue on, unless Douglas needs to rest up for a few days?"

Vash says, "That's up to Douglas. How are you feeling?"

Douglas says, "Well enough, just give me a few minutes to get the rest of that lake out of my lungs."

Sakura says, "Douglas-san will be able to continue, but there must be no strenuous activity, Sir. A little light exercise is good for him." Douglas is thankful that Sakura isn't talking about what muck and mire must have coated his lungs, and what bugs he might have picked up from it.

Having given Douglas and Vash a few minutes to dry out and catch their breath, the party continues down the path towards the town they noted from the air. The trees often close over the path, making pleasant shade and blocking the view from the air; the dense forest will have made it difficult to have seen many of the details which may lurk beneath its green canopy. The afternoon wears slowly on, the day being warm but not too hot, and the lush greenery abounding suggesting late springtime. The scents of flowers and trees drift through the air, in sharp contrast to the lingering boggy scent from Vash and Douglas. Douglas glances to Vash as they walk along. I'm not going to mention the smell if he doesn't... Vash isn't saying a WORD. Sakura looks around at the forest nervously as she walks. Once on the trail the piglet relaxes, wriggling comfortably into Sakura's arms and enjoying the view from this unusual height -- for him. Kerry trudges along, watching the forest with ultrasonic pings and enjoying the warmth.

Sakura's ears perk up and she whispers, "Did anyone hear that?"

Vash sighs a little, sadly examining his sidearm. I'm going to have to fieldstrip this and dry it out now. I wonder if there's a pointy stick handy in the meantime. He re-holsters it, and as long as they're trudging along in the summer heat he peels the blackguard T-shirt off again, determined not to be more damp and squidgy than is absolutely necessary. He pauses. "No..."

Douglas perks his ears, blinking and looking ahead of them. "Yes, I did..." Sakura shoots a relieved look at Douglas. She's glad that she's not going insane... or if she is, at least she has good company.

Kerry frowns. "Singing. First water hags, now what? Die Lorelei?"

Douglas's ears flick a little, then he looks heavily to Kerry. "Tell me that's not a legendary monster. Please."

Sakura stops walking. "I don't like this.."

Douglas stops as well. "Nor do I, considering the last encounter we had..."

Vash frowns, setting his stance a little. "Something tells me that isn't Puck waiting back there." He reaches back for the camping knife included with the away kit, but doesn't draw yet. The piglet grunts softly, inquiringly, glancing up at Sakura. He seems unfazed... at least currently.

The singing continues, neither getting louder or softer, moving neither closer nor farther way, mostly just wordless notes, with the occasional phrase they're too far away to hear. It doesn't sound terribly threatening, almost cheerful. Sakura says, "I think we should just go back to the ship.."

Vash says, "And do what, Doctora? The ship is immobile."

Kerry shrugs. "Keep an eye on your psyche. If it is a siren or a lorelei or something, you'll start wanting to go to the singer. On the other hand, it might just be a shepherd girl. Let's continue, but cautiously. And if you feel like you need to run off to meet the singer, stuff your hands in your ears."

Vash frowns, suddenly recalling what happened to Odysseus. He moves forward, VERY cautiously. Douglas glances to Kerry. "What if we don't want to stop listening?"

Vash says, "One of us will restrain you." He says that with the greatest of confidence. Mentally he starts to wonder if joint-lock grappling will work on a large cougar with a LOT of motivation. Sakura's ears go back down and she shrugs helplessly at Vash.. She trails along behind the other in the group, obviously unhappy about this whole situation from being tricked into getting here to being made to continue.

If it is a lorelei, it's a male one... with a rough and rather untrained voice. But what it lacks in training it seems to make up with in cheery, if muffled, enthusiasm. Kerry looks relieved as the voice starts to become more defined and less ethereal. "Could be all right. Shall we continue, or scout it out?"

Douglas glances to Kerry as they near the source. "Well... if you think it's safe, Pilot..."

Vash says, "Let's scout it out. I'd like to know what we're getting into... and if it is just some shepherd, how best not to startle him." he adds, as an afterthought, "...too much."

Moving farther down the path, around a gentle bend, a single person is revealed. Rather, his wide back is, a dark brown color with long black hair tumbling down over it. Wearing only breeches, he's bending over an open panel on an odd looking machine, a canvas bag open by his boot-clad feet. The machine is probably some kind of vehicle. It has four narrow, spoked wheels with what look to be inflated tires, and narrow fenders; a long, almost tubular body, painted a bright green, and finished with wood. The open panel hinges up from the center near the front of the machine, and three seats, two side-by-side and one centered behind those, have openings from the rounded top of the body. A shiny yellow and black square on the slanted rear panel is marked with several unknown symbols around the edge, and five large ones in the middle, which look more like "GEN 11" than anything else. The person working on it is singing cheerfully while he works, and hasn't noticed anyone come up.

Douglas blinks a little. the machine is certainly not what he'd expected in a pre-industrial civilization! Vash frowns, scratching a shoulder plate absently. I've heard that tune before... The big man continues his singing, a few words breaking through the melody, of which only "majah ton" is remotely recognizable. He's looking at what he's doing, and hasn't noticed anyone arriving yet. Vash blinks, and suddenly recognizes the tune. He stands bolt upright. "No... no WAY..."

Sakura says, "What is he singing, Sir?"

Kerry skrees, "Ground control to Major Tom... ##*#!."

Vash says, "David Bowie... Space Oddity."

Douglas perks his ears in alarm. "Oh, no," he murmurs. "What's this world's story, then...?"

Kerry's squeak carries down the path, and the fellow's singing trails off. He turns around, and looks curiously at the odd group he sees. He says something none of the party understands. Sakura says, "I don't believe I've ever heard it, Sir." Vash stands up a little straighter. He nods to the stranger, quite unsure of what to do now.

Douglas blinks back at the man. "Captain, Pilot... the large man sees us," he deadpans.

Kerry skrees, "And something like a Reo Runabout." He straightens up as the fellow turns. "Take us to your leader?"

Douglas blinks a little and murmurs. "Wait... he's an uplift..." Vash almost winces. Almost. The man is either an uplift... or really... REALLY ugly. His teeth are huge, like tusks, and he has what can only be described as claws.

The reaction to Kerry's words isn't clear. The big man puts the tool he's holding down, and sets both feet on the ground, facing the group and standing more warily, although not doing anything threatening. Vash keeps his hands where they can be seen, adding as an aside, "Doctora.. what do you think?"

Sakura blinks, "Sir, he's not an uplift. He's human.. Just look at him."

Vash says, "If you can call it that..."

Kerry skrees, "He is? Wait a sec." The bat goes to an intense ultrasonic examination, comparing what he sees to what he hears. "Hmm." The dark skinned person says something else, questioning, but unintelligible.

Douglas says, "But the tusks, the hands..." He glances to the piglet in Sakura's arms and his eyes widen a little. "Much like our little friend there..." He looks back to the man and tries not to do anything threatening, in fact tries to look as peaceable as possible while remembering not to smile with his teeth.

Sakura says, "Douglas-san? All due respect but... what tusks?"

Vash says, "I think our friend is waiting for an explanation."

Douglas says, "Erm... well... his teeth... they're almost tusks..." He glances to Vash. "I'd be glad to explain anything he wants an explanation about, if I knew what he was asking..."

Kerry skrees, "Nothing odd about his teeth."

Sakura says, "I don't know what language he's speaking. Does anyone else recognize it?"

Having heard them talk a bit, the big man comes over a little closer and asks something else questioningly. When he starts across the clearing it become apparent that he was farther away than anyone but Kerry thought... he's only a little shorter than Douglas' 7', and built broadly enough to hide that fact.

The piglet shifts slightly, snuffling towards the strange man, and grunts cheerfully. Vash glances down. "The little one seems to like him."

Douglas says quietly, "Well, he hasn't run away in fear, so we're not all that odd to him..." He tries to give what he hopes is a perplexed expression, pointing to his throat and shaking his head, hoping that'll mean something to the effect of 'we don't speak your language.'

Sakura sets the piglet down to see what he'll do. He shakes himself off vigorously, grunts contentedly up at Sakura... then wanders over to root casually in the grass at the side of the path. The big man hears the pig in Sakura's arms, and seems a bit startled that it's content to be there. He nods to it and says something as it meanders away, although he doesn't look to expect an answer. He looks back at Sakura, apparently having decided she's the leader, and appears somewhat more relaxed.

Vash thinks he'll let the big man focus on Sakura for now... it's just that much easier if he has to blindside the guy later. Sakura smiles and bows formally in the Japanese style to the large man. "Ohayo! Zdravstvuyte! Good day to you."

The unknown mechanic looks confused, and makes a gesture at Sakura, as if to beckon her for more, listening intently. Kerry adds, "Guten Tag. Bonsoir. Buenos dias."

Sakura spreads her hands and shrugs a little, looking apologetic. "I'm sorry, that's all I know." He makes the gesture again, listening intently. He says something else quietly incomprehensible.

Vash says, "Yo."

Douglas simply does not trust himself in this situation. If the man were a ship's engine or computer, fine, he'd be able to figure out how to talk to him... Kerry skrees, "Loquerisne Latine? Ellenikos?" Sakura steps back to let Kerry take over; clearly he's the one that the group should be trusting for linguistics.

Douglas tilts his head to the side, looking past the man at the engine. "Is there a problem with your vehicle?" he asks.

The large person nods and rattles off a whole bunch of words, still addressing Sakura. He nods, and points emphatically down the trail the way they've been heading. He talks some more, and the phrase "schiliyan" or something like it repeats several times. Vash says, "Huh. The magic words." The big man beams at them.

Kerry skrees, "Well, I guess he thinks we should head that way..."

Vash mutters. "Tusks. Definitely tusks..."

After a moment, and blank looks from all of the group, the large man realizes they don't understand and points clearly down the path, repeating, "Schiliyan," and then pointing up in the air and adding a couple more words which have a vowel in them none of Indigo's crew have ever heard before. Douglas nods sagely at Vash's utterance. "Again, like our little friend..." He blinks and looks around. Where did the piglet go off to. He looks to the man, thinking. "Shilliyan?" he asks, hopefully politely and hopefully not mangling it too badly.

Vash nods, and starts moving in the indicated direction. "Let's go, for now... he's the first one we've met in an hour that hasn't tried to eat us."

The big man says a few more words to the piglet, which looks at him attentively, and nods at Douglas's words, beaming again. He makes unmistakable shooing motions at the party, and then ambles back to his machine to contemplate it some more. Sakura smiles at the man, "Thank you." She takes the time to bow to him again. "My guess is that Schiliyan is the name of the city." She turns to Kerry, "As a fellow linguist I'm sure you'd agree?"

Kerry skrees, "Either that or the name of the boss. We'll find out."

Douglas says, "Well, let's hope it doesn't mean 'you're dinner!'" He starts to head down the path, but still can't help but notice the vehicle again. He glances at the man, and points to it (hopefully) inquiringly, taking a step towards it. The piglet looks up at the huge man and snuffle-snorts... glances at the group, then grunts happily and goes back to rooting around the front tire of the weird vehicle. The man looks at Douglas, noticing him with a sudden sniff or two, and grinning again (Doug can see the tusks!) and babbling at him, shooing towards town. Douglas blinks a little, edging away from the engine and on the path towards what is hopefully the town. "Ah... I'll take that as a 'no,' for the moment..." The piglet looks up again... then trots briskly towards the group, heading towards the town purposefully. The man nods at their slow move to town, and watches to make sure they get off the right way.

The piglet trots busily ahead, and when he gets too far ahead he canters lightly back and trots around everyone in large, looping circles, grunting encouragingly and occasionally nudging folks. Vash says, "Well... he seems comfortable. Eh, ninyo?"

Douglas murmurs to the others. "Well, he doesn't seem to be following us. Probably thought we were lost and was giving us directions..." He turns and smiles, waving to the man, muttering a little under his breath, "Well, at least he didn't try to burn us at the stake..." He glances to Sakura, and *erks* a little. "Er... not that anyone here would...?" he provides lamely.

Kerry skrees, "Really. He certainly didn't react to us as if we were totally outlandish. A good sign, if you ask me."

Vash nods. "Seemed a nice guy. Wonder what the hell he's doing on THIS world." Sakura doesn't look nearly so scared about things anymore, at least, not at the moment. She half-smiles at Douglas. The town isn't much farther down the path, which widens in to an honest street...

    The street the small group follows is strangely laid out... neat wooden sidewalks frame the wide, slightly twisty, packed dirt street, which has down its center a white ribbon of crushed rock smoothed out with some sort of pale glop packed in around it. A black line appears to be painted down the middle of the road. The light traffic sorts itself out by direction on either side of that marker, with pedestrians on the sidewalks, slower means of transportation on the dirt sections of the road, and swifter vehicles and riders on the firmer central sections of the road.

Douglas says quietly, "Looks much like a farmers' community back home."

Kerry skrees, "Interesting layout. Three traffic zones?"

    The people that inhabit the town are an eclectic mix of styles, to the casual viewer. Dapper young men in dagged, brilliantly colored clothing, pedaling bicycles or mounted on swift riding beasts, dash down the center part of the road. They're mostly obscured from view by the carts and wagons drawn by oxen or huge horses and driven by laconic, straw-hatted farmers in old, stained blue jeans, colorful tunics, and Wellington boots, all busily traveling the packed dirt sections of the road. Curiously enough, some of the heavier wagons appear to have treaded black rubber tires... and bicycle tires seem popular on the lighter one-horse surreys. Nearer the sidewalks are hitching posts, which have both draft animals tied to them, and a few non-animal-drawn vehicles leaning against them.

Vash says, "Odd... that guy... that guy was wearing blue jeans." He decides he'd better make himself presentable. He pulls his still slightly damp T-shirt back on and zips up his jumpsuit, smoothing it out as best he can.

    The sidewalks themselves are where the passersby travel on foot. The variety here is nothing short of eye-popping. Men, children, and women dressed in everything from pearls, satin gowns and gleaming robes; to cotton hosen, boots, and embroidered tunics; to what looks like the barest shreds of strategically placed spider webs and brilliantly colored leaves -- and every variant in between -- stare in astonishment at the travelers, whispering to each other, and smiling and nodding curiously when the uplifts look at them. Even the occasional similarly dressed, animal-uplift type seems startled to see them.

Kerry skrees, "Looks like a mix of 18th through early 20th Century technology. They can't have built the Gates, or the tractor beam."

Vash nudges Douglas. "There. Did you see? A cat. That was DEFINITELY a cat. There are uplifts here... wonder how they came up with those."

Douglas blinks, looking to Vash. "Now that you mention it... you're right. What kind of mass of anachronisms have we walked... into. Oh, no." He looks around, almost faltering in his step. "You don't suppose... that in this world... the War was a little bit worse than it was in ours? Huh?" He blinks. "A cat? Where?"

Vash says, "There. Wearing the Wellington boots."

Douglas blinks, looking over. "So... we're not the only uplifts here. But then... why are we... erm... drawing so much attention...?"

Kerry skrees, "I didn't see a cat. Where?"

Vash says, "It's our clothing... we're all wearing flight gear."

    The town can now be seen to be rather expansive, actually, spread comfortably out under the breathtakingly enormous trees that stand within it and spread huge shading branches over it. Narrow, tall houses stand cheek-by-jowl with business establishments and other buildings that appear to be a shop on the bottom and a home on the top floor. Building decorating styles vary widely, from runic markings and icons scratched into the whitewashed walls, to intricately colorful winding beasts painted and carved into the supporting beams, to beautiful and carefully dyed symmetrical patterns woven around the building's shape. Some of the buildings appear somewhat unstable, gravitationally speaking, leaning over the street with an almost rickety air of age; while others have an odd, organic look to them, like giant mushrooms. Narrower, twistier little streets snake off from the main road, and from the little you can see down them, the strangely built and decorated houses cluster tightly together down those. Even the huge, spreading trees towering high above ground level are pressed into service. Some of them have stores or homes hollowed out at ground level, while others sport structures built right up the trunk and into the branches, with connecting steps and ladders up the sides.

Kerry skrees, "Be my guess, yes."

Vash says, "This is... quite impressive."

Douglas nods slowly, looking around in wonder. "Yeah... it is..."

Kerry skrees, "And... fairy tale stuff. The water hag and the runes are not in any technology I can envision."

One huge, shady, spreading oak is especially noteworthy, for the lowermost of its spreading limbs are carefully entangled around a large, shining, and unmistakable metal object -- a slightly damaged shuttle. The shuttle is firmly held above ground at what would be about the second story, well above the business flourishing in the oak tree's trunk. Set into that ground floor business are open windows with shutters, the sturdy wooden door, and a large wooden sign on a branch, which swings slightly overhead. Painted on the sign is a silvery egg with a spiked golden dragon's tail sticking out of a crack in the egg. Words encircle the picture in several writing styles... angular, paint-filled runes; some sort of almost-recognizable alphabet; some graceful, kanji-like pictograms; what looks suspiciously like hen scratchings... and, shockingly distinctive to the travelers, words in English: "The Silver Egg / Food & Drink."

Vash blinks, once. "Madre de dios."

Sakura looks around in awe at all of the buildings. Douglas stops short as he sees the shuttle. A small part of his mind is already trying to catalogue it, wondering if it could possibly be the Texan shuttle. Whether it is or not... his eyes trail downward, and widen as they spot the English letters of the name in the sign. "The plot thickens," he murmurs.

Last modified: 2000-Dec-01 21:43:36

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