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The Hatchling of the Silver Egg

    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 says, "It's English or it's a remarkable coincidence..."

Kerry just looks at the shuttle, bouncing a sonar pulse off it to double-check. "Now how'd they manage that?" His sonar sounds out the shuttle wedged in the tree above them, which seems to be just that: a shuttle with a tree grown around it. He shrugs. "It's either a shuttle or a really good facsimile."

Vash says, "Well... there's one way to find out."

Douglas says quietly, "By the way... I didn't have the chance to thank you both for your rescue, Doctor, Pilot..."

Sakura smiles, "You're welcome, Douglas-san."

Kerry reaches up to pat the cougar on a burly shoulder. "De nada. The wild boars did most of the work anyway."

Vash says, "Perhaps we should be thanking the little one."

Kerry settles his wings back in place and looks at his colleagues. "Shall we go have a drink?"

Vash grins to Kerry, "You read my mind, Pilot."

    The Silver Egg
    Stepping through the tall, wide doorway into the oak tree, you see a very organically shaped room -- elliptical, high-ceilinged, and well lit with strategically placed mirrors and wall-mounted skylights. The tables and seats are all sturdy and wooden, apparently growing from the smooth wooden ground. A fire crackles warmly in a truly huge stone hearth set directly opposite the front door, set into one wooden wall, and warming benches inside the wide, mosaic-tiled fireplace welcome chilly travelers. The walls have a deceptive shimmer to them; the angle at which they're viewed sometimes makes them look to be just wood, other times swirling with decorative, naturalistic patterns. A glossy, wood-topped bar (with a tall door behind it) extends across one narrow side of the ellipse, and a sort of trapdoor lies at the other end of the ellipse. The delicious scent of cooking food drifts lazily through the room.

The patrons are many at this hour. There's one table of tattered but dashingly dressed young folks that are either arguing loudly and animatedly over bowls of delicious-smelling stew and tankards, or reading what looks like thick textbooks, but mostly the crowd is made up of solid, sturdy men and women in working clothes. Some have a few similarly garbed children sitting with them, or rough-coated dogs pragmatically curled up under the table with them, as well. One or two glance up curiously as the crew of the Indigo enters... and jaws drop; friends are elbowed. Within seconds all conversation has trailed off, even that of the most obliviously argumentative of the students -- everyone is staring with astonishment at the new arrivals.

A fox uplift type is amongst those staring at the small group, and as he stares a slow grin spreads across his face. It appears Sakura is the focus of his attention. Without looking away he says something in a frankly admiring tone, causing the student next to him to snicker and elbow him in the side, muttering something that makes the others at the table laugh. The mood in the room changes slightly -- the newcomers are strange, true, but not a problem... people turn back to their food, and conversation quietly starts picking up again. A wispy girl stands up behind the bar from where she's polishing something, and calls out a question to the crew of the Indigo.

Vash grins widely, hands on his hips. Douglas glances around, blinking as everyone's eyes are on them. "Uhm... I wonder what that was all about. Vash finds that the swashbuckler in him is suddenly, and acutely, active. Easy now... let's not get too carried away here. Still... this looks to be the most interesting locale so far... He makes a point of establishing eye contact with anyone that tries. Best to keep an open expression for right now.

The slender, dashingly dressed fox rises, still grinning, and says something cheerful-sounding, as he makes a sweeping gesture that seems to invite the group to their table. Sakura casts a glance downward, breaking the eye contact with the fox uplift in a way that not, to her eyes, rude. Kerry twitches an eyebrow at Sakura. "Shall we join him, Doctor?"

Sakura looks at Kerry, then at Vash. "Sir?"

Vash smiles, "Why don't we, Sakura? Don't worry... we'll protect your honor."

The fox barks something cheerfully towards the bar, and the slight girl nods and starts filling some tankards. Sakura smiles at Vash, "Arigatou, sir..."

Kerry skrees, "Looks like he's buying. This gives us a chance to see what the local medium of exchange is."

Vash grins, "Don't mention it. So let's go." Douglas glances dubiously towards Vash, but only follows the group quietly to the indicated table. Sakura walks towards the table and bows deeply to the students who are sitting at it. Vash nods politely, keeping just behind and to the left of Sakura, staying at her shoulder, just to be a reassuring presence. He gives those at the table a quixotic grin as he seats himself.

The fox beams at Sakura and shoves over the student next to him so there's space for her. With some laughter and joshing room is made for them all. As the group seats itself the slight girl turns up at the table to set a tankard of some alcoholic beverage in front of each of them, then softly says something again.

Aykuh is a slender, almost wispy girl with long and flowing dark-brown hair. She's rather an unkempt little forest waif. Her shapeless slip of a dress is raggedy and faded brown with age, and there are leaves in her tousled hair... but she seems healthy enough. Her long, brown-skinned arms and legs are graceful, obviously past the coltish awkwardness of adolescence, and she has huge green eyes in her small, brown-skinned face.

Sakura whispers, "Vash-san... shall I sit next to him, Sir?"

Vash grins. "Sure. Don't worry... he's close enough for me to reach him if necessary... and Douglas outreaches me. You're safe." He winks.

Douglas, for once, is hoping he's slightly intimidating. He remembers something the rugby-cougars had shouted in a night binge. Yeah, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, 'cause in this valley I'm the baddest -- eh? He blinks, looking over to the bargirl and blinking. He hesitates a little in sitting down, frowning slightly. Did he just see her... walk through the bar?! Sakura walks to the other side of the table and bows again before she sits where the fox seems to want her to sit.

There's a general cheerful chorus of replies to the slightly built girl, many of the male students rising to put a hand over their heart or to bow to her. The word 'aykuh' seems to be repeated several times... perhaps it's the girl's name. She blushes and whisks back off to the bar, calling out something as she dashes off. It sounds like 'schilliyan' again. Douglas watches 'Aykuh' as she weaves back to the bar -- if indeed she does weave. Vash nudges Douglas. "You know... I'm starting to think that word means, 'alien.'"

The ceiling above the tables is a natural surface, a collection of gnarled and twisting tree roots which spread out over the room, ranging from fourteen to twenty feet overhead, not in any particularly visible pattern. The students are quite friendly, almost boisterously so -- everyone seems to want to pat or touch the newcomers or speak to them. Kerry skrees, "Acorn. That's a dryad." He looks longingly up at the gnarled roots too far overhead to hang from and perches on a chair, his clawed feet on the seat. "I wonder if she knows where Zil is?"

Vash doesn't seem to mind the attention at all; he even bows his head a little to let one of the students touch his head plates. He lets him rap on it lightly, "Not too rough there now, brother."

Kerry listens carefully, trying to determine if the language is based on English or not -- some words seem like distorted English, at least -- and spreads a wing out after a few of the folks run hands along it. The students are fascinated by Kerry's wing, oohing and patting it gently and running their hands over it. Some of them get into a bit of an argument, pointing at the little claw-hand and wiggling their own fingers, as if in comparison. Kerry grins and wiggles his fingers back, then confirms by picking up his mug and taking a sip of the beverage. Douglas is trying to watch 'Aykuh' as she goes to the bar, but then one of the students gets in his way, studying him. Despite his best Stoogian efforts to look around, above, even through the apparent student, he loses where the waif goes. Stifling a curse and a rather shameful urge to hurt the student badly, he forces a bit of a smile. "Can we get any more popular...?" he asks.

Sakura grins at Douglas, "We should be flattered, Douglas-san, if a little nervously."

Vash smiles up at Douglas. "You look uncomfortable there, brother. Are you alright?"

Douglas tries to keep an eye on the bar for the returning Aykuh. "Yes, well... rather very nervously, Doctor. We are in a world of sea-hags and vampire rhododendrons..."

Sakura says, "Vash-san... The language sounds very Germanic, and the books are in runes. I'm afraid I don't recognize either the spoken or the written components."

There's a sudden bellowed yell from behind the group, causing everyone in the bar to freeze in shock. Some quicker individuals whirl and stare... "KAY-REEEEE!!" Sakura nearly leaps out of her skin at the sudden loud noise. She looks like she might have yelped, if she wasn't so cautious of embarrassing herself.

Vash turns quickly, instinctively reaching for (but not drawing) the kit blade... He asides, very quietly to Sakura, "I got you, Doctora." Douglas blinks, standing quickly and whirling to the sound. Spanner, spanner, wherewherewhere...

Flashing across the bar floor, weaving effortlessly around or over the patrons, there's a bright gold streak heading towards the students' table -- it scoops Kerry up in a very exuberant hug, yelling, "Kerry Skydancah you sho' are a sight fo' sore eyes!!"

Kerry winces slightly at the loudness, but turns just in time to meet the lamia's enthusiastic embrace. "In the *oof* -flesh, dear Zil. I've been hunting for you for years. How've you been?" Vash heaves a huge sigh of relief, and smiles widely. Finally. Hey, lookit. Finally got something right here, Nanno... Douglas blinks as the unfamiliar voice speaking familiar English recognizes Kerry. He starts to relax some, blinking at the sight of the lamia.

The first impression she gives is of gold... golden-tanned skin, a thick, short mane of wiry, bright sun-gold hair, golden pupils with slitted black irises; even her lips and fingernails have a dusty gold hint to them. Her movements are sinuous and carefully articulated, as if she's always precisely aware where every inch of her 20 or so foot length of reptilian tail is. From the waist up she's human enough, however, wearing a wide-necked, neatly cropped tank top with 'UTA' emblazoned across the front, and a curiously engraved and decorated leather armband on her upper left arm. The sole jarring notes are her odd, slightly dusty scent -- and a long, jagged white scar slashing across her slender throat; a relatively fresh remain of a recent wound.

Sakura does her best not to stare rudely at the newcomer, but can't help herself for a moment. She quickly blinks and looks away, blushing a little. Zildjian sets Kerry carefully down, then grins, waves, and cheerfully calls something to the astonished patrons of the bar. There's a general relief and relaxation of the folks in the room... then some of them grin and wave their tankards in cheerful greeting at the newcomers before turning back to their previous conversations. Vash can't help but grin a little. He likes to see anyone out of a collar, and as far as he's concerned that's one mission objective completed -- the important one. Kerry frowns at the scar, going so far as to gently run a fingertip along it. "Collar?"

Zildjian winces automatically, flinching away sharply from the touch on her neck... then realizes it's a friend and smiles ruefully, "Waaall... yeah, 'fraid so. It's gone now though!" She grins more widely, pointing up very high on one wall... where, mostly hidden by shadows, the tattered remains of a convict's bright neon green shirt are nailed to the wall by the shattered remains of a Terran slave collar.

Vash smiles. "Good on you for it, then. Hey. Kerry. You going to introduce us to your girlfriend?" He smirks broadly. It's fairly obvious he knows who this is... but he figures if he gets her engaged in conversation it might just keep his doctor from vaulting bodily out of her skin. Douglas blinks up at the little trophy. A prisoner? he thinks. Her? And how did she get the collar off...? So that's what one of those look like... He glances down at Vash, arching an eyebrow.

Kerry grins, chirruping laughter at the question. "Indeed. Doctor Zildjian Sidhe -- Schilliyan to the locals, I suspect? -this is the crew of the AGT Indigo. Vash Montoya, our fearless leader... medical officer, Sakura Murasaki... and our engineer, Douglas Percival. We're off exploring to find where the diamonds came from supposedly."

Vash bows theatrically. "Vashti Ramos Montoya at your service, madam." He rolls his r's slightly... normally it's something he makes an effort to tone down, but under the circumstances he can't help himself.

The young fox grins broadly at Sakura's expression and pats her gently on her small paw, murmuring something reassuring... then he waggles his eyebrows cheerfully at her! Sakura smiles at the fox. Zildjian beams, her slitted eyes glittering happily and her rather sharply pointed fangs showing, "Pleasure ta meetch'y'all! Y'all want somethin' t'eat?" and offers a strong, slender hand to shake to everyone in turn.

Douglas's eyes go over to Zil and Kerry... then move down slightly, and he frowns a little. He looks up to the lamia and smiles quietly, inclining his head, but his eyes drop again. "A pleasure to meet you, ma'am..."

Kerry skrees, "Depends. We've been debating what they use for money here."

Sakura stands and bows to Zildjian. "It's lovely to meet you, Zildjian-san."

Vash says, "And taking advantage of the local exuberance by way of running up this young man's tab."

Zildjian laughs, tossing her head back -- she seems far more relaxed and open in her body language to Kerry now -- and curls up on her tail so she's seated with everyone else at the table. The students are firing questions at her now -- one holds up Kerry's claw hand, positioning her own hand next to it, another waves his arms, obviously disputing, and several are clustered around Doug, all asking about different parts of his anatomy... but it's the fox uplift type's question that causes Zil to laugh again, then grin at Sakura and say, "He wantsta know if you're married, darlin'?"

Vash looks at the fox, then at Sakura, and for the doctor's sake turns his face away from her while he chokes down a grin. Douglas maintains a demeanor of polite aloofness, trying not to let himself be bothered by the questions. They are students, after all, he thinks. He blinks in surprise at the question. Sakura instantly turns a vibrant shade of red right up to her ear tips. The young fox immediately looks absolutely delighted, picking up one of Sakura's small paws, placing his free hand over his heart, and saying something soulful to her... then he'll bend his head to gently kiss the back of her hand. Kerry shakes his head at Sakura. "That is going to make it hard to say yes, doctor."

Douglas blinks again, glancing between Sakura and the fox. "They don't waste much time, here, do they?"

Vash begins to laugh quietly and shakes his head. "But you certainly must admire the man's technique, eh?" Kerry skreeks and nods to his interrogator, using his other hand to trace the equivalent bones in her arm and hand, and his own... the last two fingers of the human hand matching to his outer wing struts.

Sakura looks terribly embarrassed. She turns to Zildjian, "C-could you tell him that... uhm... I thank him very much, but I would prefer not to be hasty, please?"

Zildjian looks like she's struggling not to laugh -- she hastily turns to Kerry, "Uh! Wha... oh! Raht, money, money..." She grins, hissing something to the students gathered around Kerry and Douglas. They all stare in some dismay... then hastily start gabbling to each other, pulling out small pouches and counting out coins onto the table... a few silver pieces, some brass pennies, one large gold piece... they're stamped with the delicate, pointed-eared face of a beautiful woman on one side, and a crossed wand and sword surrounded by a wreath of some type of greenery on the other. Douglas frowns slightly, glancing at the coinage but not touching it. "I don't believe I've ever seen symbols like that. The woman might be a local ruler?

Kerry skrees, "Well, our pennies ought to work, at least. Does anyone have any?"

Vash says, "Ah... had a bit of change in my jacket when we left, but that's back on the ship."

The students all look rather pleadingly at Doug and Kerry... except for the fox, who's still gazing expressively at Sakura's averted face. He sighs deeply, beaming at Zildjian's quietly hissed comment, and says something soulful again... then gently turns Sakura's paw over and lays a long-stemmed red rose across her palm. Sakura beams a smile at the fox, "Arigatou."

Vash smiles broadly, "The man is a true professional." Kerry blinks. Where did that come from?

Douglas looks around worriedly. "Er, what are they wanting...?" Then he blinks at the rose. He hadn't seen where that came from. More of what Kerry calls magic?

Kerry returns his attention to Zil once the immediate furor dies down. "So what happened? How'd you end up here, and what happened to the cowboys?"

Zildjian says, "Oh! Yeah, Ah 'magine y'all might be interested in that..." She grins, thanking the wispy girl as she hands a tankard over the big lamia's shoulder, and taking a sip. "Lemme see... okay, so Ah don' really r'membah what happened t'get the collar offa me... jus' that they came downside with me... Ah think we almost crashed or somethin'? -an' then we wandered through a forest lookin' for someone that could help with th'shuttle, and came out heah. There was some kinda commotion, Ah remembah that... and then it was lahk something smacked me inna head! An' when Ah woke up... th'collar was broken off, an' the humans were gone! On'y thing Ah could get outta th'locals is that the Wild Hunt took 'em."

Douglas blinks as the girl shows up again. First the girl, then the rose, then the girl again... arrgh, what's going on here? He listens quietly to Zildjian. "Did you get your armband from the locals?" he asks. "I'm sorry, it just... well, looks very interesting."

Vash frowns a bit. "Wild Hunt? Like... a festival or something?"

Zildjian takes a sip of her drink, then adds pragmatically, "Almost bled t'death from th'slash th'collar gave me... wasn't f'Aykuh 'n her frien' Hotspur, Ah'd'a died." She laughs a little ruefully, "Nah... ain't no festiv-" she's interrupted by a student tapping her arm, saying something and pointing hopefully at the small pile of coinage.

Zildjian grins, "Th'students wanna know if y'all'll tell 'em about how y'all are built. That's what th'coins are foah."

Kerry skrees, "Someone took a dislike to the collar, I suspect, but didn't know how to get it off safely. Well, I told you to defect years ago..." He grins, trying to take the sting out of 'I told you so.' "Interested in a ride home, or do you like it here?"

Sakura says, "Zildjian-san, what is the Wild Hunt? Is that the creatures in the forests around here or...?"

Kerry's historian persona comes to the fore again. "The Wild Hunt was a Celtic myth... hunters of the wicked."

Vash says, "How... we're built?" Douglas blinks, listening to the exchange of information.

Kerry looks at the door. "Zil... there are engines approaching, the first I've heard since we landed. What's happening?"

Zildjian smiles and nods politely to Sakura, covering most of the fangs, "Sakura-san, Kerry is correct about th'Wild Hunt. Th'forest creatures aroun' heah-abouts... waall, y'all're already frien's wi'them, raht? Th' li'l piglet wouldn't be leadin' y'all t'heah-" She pauses, turning to stare at Kerry, her forked and startlingly long tongue flickering out for a moment.

Kerry skrees, "Do they want an anatomy lesson, or do they think we're mechanicals? Doctor Murasaki's the only one really qualified to take about the genetic engineering aspects."

Douglas blinks, flicking his ears and looking to the doorway. "I have a bad feeling about this..." Sakura's ears perk up and she looks at the door.

The door SLAMS open, making everyone jump. Framed in the doorway is a huge man who bellows something, then lumbers into the room and slams the door behind him, yanking down a huge bar across it as a barricade. The room explodes into action, many folks leaping for the windows, yanking shutters across them and slapping bars across them. Douglas deadpans, "Make that... a very bad feeling."

Vash reaches for his knife, instinctively getting his back to or at least near a wall. "Chingate tu madre..."

Sakura watches the activity in the room around her for some clue of what she should do... Kerry skreeks as the room bursts into panicked action and does his best to stay out of the way. "Zil??"

The room falls silent after the sudden flurry of movement, everyone watching the street-side wall in silent fear, anger, or worry. In the sudden quiet the low, throbbing rumble of heavy engines can be heard... it sounds rather like several old-fashioned Harley Davidsons, in fact... except... strange somehow... Zildjian hisses very softly into the low, growing, ominous, throbbing rumble, "That... is th'Wild Hunt."

Vash exhales low, and slow, regulating his breathing. "Couldn't happen to a nicer bunch of slavers..."

Sakura's eyes widen. "Let's hope that we're 'Good Guys'."

Kerry skrees, "I'm not going to shed any tears over the cowboys, but the Wild Hunt was notorious for not checking credentials too carefully. I think as long as we're inside, we're all right."

Vash says, "We'll see."

Douglas says softly, "Pilot... I don't believe the Wild Hunt of Celtic myth rode four-liter two-stroke internal combustion... horses."

Vash says, "And how many Celts do you think took engineering wildcats into account, Douglas? You adapt to the times, eh?"

Kerry almost chuckles in spite of the tension, and whispers back, "Perhaps not. This world is parallel, not identical."

Zildjian covers a nervous grin in spite of herself, even though she also is watching the doorway with some worry, and whispers, "It's strange heah, Douglas... some magic, 'n some tech works. One a'th'reasons th'Wild Hunt is feared is 'cause they c'n make tech work dependably, 'pparently. They's still soul-stealers though, from what folks've said t'me... Jessa says she thinks th'reason th'collar broke is 'cause they tried ta steal mah soul..." She falls silent as the heavy, rumbling roar gets louder... one of the students whimpers softly, covering his mouth tightly, and the few dogs in the room are bristling and growling, slinking back into shadows... the piglet squeals, startling everyone, and climbs into Sakura's lap, hiding his head against her, and the fox gently puts his arms protectively around her... although his face is still and worried, watching the wall.

Sakura strokes the piglet's back gently and watches the wall nervously, chewing at her bottom lip a little. Douglas blinks, looking to Zildjian. "Wonderful. Techno-faeries." He looks to the wall, setting his jaw. I think the baddest in the valley just met the baddest on the continent. I wish those dunderheaded rugby cougars were here right now; they'd make some fine faerie-fodder... I think. Vash keeps his hands where they can be seen. No point in seeming too aggressive. But he keeps to the front of his little knot... just to be sure.

The snarling engines get louder... louder and closer... the huge man takes a few steps back, swinging his head back and forth a bit in baffled anger, a low grumble in his chest. People hold each others' hands, or hug each other reassuringly, staring silently... the slightly built girl is nowhere to be seen at all. Zildjian shakes her head slowly and murmurs softly, "Ah... don' know 'zactly what they are, Douglas... to meet their eyes is to have y'soul stolen, they say..."

Douglas murmurs, "Do you think they're after us?"

Kerry skrees, "To meet their eyes... hmmm..."

The heavy, rolling, throbbing rumble grows very loud indeed... absolute silence falls in the room -- people are pale and frozen... and then the angry, snarling roar sounds like it passes right by the inn's front door! There's a soft sigh from the room's inhabitants as breathes are taken again -- perhaps this time it's not for them -- they listen intently, still nervous but not as fearful.

The Keero stares silently at the walls as the Hunt moves in, trying to track them by their sound. His eyes are closed behind his dark goggles as he wonders if it would be safe to try to watch them by sonar... the low, ground throbbing rumble slowly passes out of hearing.

Douglas lets out his breath, discovering that he was holding his breath. Zildjian sighs softly, straightening when the sound has completely passed and faded... she smiles and calls out to the crowd, then translates for the group, "They're gone... y'all c'n open th'windows now. One round on th'house!" Kerry listens as the noise fades out, for some time after the rest of the room has started to get back to normal.

Douglas blinks to Zildjian. "What normally happens when they pass by?"

Vash folds his arms and settles back against the wall. "Tense."

Kerry stretches his wings and resettles them. "Still making that four alarm chili, Zil?"

Sakura sits up a little and checks on the piglet in her lap... "Okay, little one?" She smiles gratefully at the other fox. The piglet is quite comfortable now in Sakura's lap, curling around so he can face the table and grunting with quiet contentment. The young fox smiles back at Sakura, his arm still around her, his dark-masked face very close to Sakura's. With his free hand he gently touches the piglet, then strokes the small head when the piglet doesn't seem to mind.

Zildjian nods quietly to Vash, then looks to Douglas, "Waall... they don' usually drive through town. Usually they're outta town, an' up in flaht inna storm clouds... lots quieter that way, an' they c'n sneak up on folks easier."

Douglas nods slowly, then looks to Kerry. "Any idea which direction they were headed, Pilot?"

Zildjian grins at Kerry, her slitted golden eyes lighting up, "Oh yeah! Ah sure do -- it's real pop'lar 'roun' heah!" She'll call out, and the slight girl pokes her head cautiously out of the back room... then shyly slips out with one tiny bowl and five normal sized, steaming bowls of chili. She serves the piglet, the crew of the Indigo, and Zildjian, then slips swiftly away again. Sakura grins at the piglet, then at the other fox. Douglas watches the girl cautiously as she goes back to the bar, half-listening to Zildjian.

Kerry blinks as the dryad gives a bowl to the piglet, then shrugs. He stares pensively out the window. "Headed toward the forest. And toward Alshain, I think. We may have found our culprits. How we're going to get them to put our shuttle back in the air escapes me, unfortunately."

Vash says, "Provided they leave it intact."

The girl heads back for the bar... actually, the watching crew could swear she walked through the big wooden bar...

Douglas frowns, saying distractedly, "And if they... well... steal souls, that would make... it... difficult..." He trails off. He pauses... "Please tell me I wasn't the only one to see her do that that time."

Sakura blinks at the girl. "Did... did she just walk through the bar?"

Kerry doesn't even turn. "She's a dryad. In a sense, she is the tree. Of course she can walk through it." Vash sighs raggedly and rubs his eyes. He doesn't much care if she did or not at this point. There's too much to think about.

The piglet grunts happily at his little bowl and puts one tiny trotter neatly on the edge, tilting it towards him so he can put his nose in it and eat. Zil pauses to look at Kerry, a spoon in hand, "What? What culprits? Uh..." She glances at the others, "What? Do..." She listens... then grins, "Ah. Aykuhbowmedchen is a dryahd, yeah. She's... kinda shy... for someone that old." The huge man lumbers quietly out of the room through the back door, following the young wisp of a girl.

Kerry skrees, "Mind you, whenever I think about trying to write down her Heisenberg probability function, I feel all queasy."

Sakura says, "Was that man a giant?" She shakes her head slightly as she gets a better look at the big man while he's leaving -- horns and a tail? Strange... there are no bovine uplifts that she's ever heard of. Still... "Oh... an uplift, then. My mistake."

Vash says, "Einstein'd flip over in his grave. God doesn't just play dice... the dice are loaded."

Douglas lets out a bit of a breath. "Well, thank you for sharing that with us now, Pilot," he says lightly, lifting up utensils to eat the chili. It smells wonderful, actually. "I hope you're this unflappable when we run into the next crisis." He pauses. "Which would probably be them tearing apart the Alshain... or wondering where we've gone off to."

Kerry sits down again, next to Zil. "We were on a normal re-entry when something grabbed us and lowered us gently into a clearing about twice the size of the shuttle. We came to the nearest town to see if we could make amends and get put somewhere where we could take off again. On the way we rescued the doctor's little friend from what looked like a carnivorous plant and had a run-in with a water hag."

Zildjian grins, putting an arm around Kerry and happily hugging him for a second, "Aw, tha's nice -- y'all did good all on y'own!" She giggles softly, adding, "That would account fo' th'smell..."

Vash says, "We haven't exactly had time to shower, ma'am."

Douglas looks mildly self-conscious. "And believe me," he adds to Vash's comment, "if we'd had a choice, swimming with the hag is the last thing we wanted to do..."

Zildjian grins again -- then laughs at Doug's comment! "Tha's all raht... y'all c'n use the showahs in th'shuttle upstairs if'n y'want!"

Douglas blinks. "They still work?"

Vash says, "Much appreciated. So... that is your shuttle? And you've no idea how it got in the tree."

Zildjian says, "'Course they still work! Aykuh helped me with 'em, linking it up into herself. Yeah, Ah s'ppose it is mahn now... no one else of th'Texian team left!"

Kerry skrees, "As the surviving crew member, the command of both your shuttle and the Yellow Rose devolves to you, Zil. I suspect you were the most qualified anyway."

Douglas coughs slightly. "Ma'am... I'm sorry for asking this, but... your armband... may I ask you about it?"

Zildjian spoons up a bit more chili, then nods and smiles, still chewing. She works the armband off and hands it over to Douglas to take if he wants, "It's mah translator... mix a' tech 'n magic, from what Ah was taught."

Douglas blinks. "Tech and magic...? I didn't know they could be combined..." Then he arches an eyebrow, looking to Kerry. "Did you?"

Zildjian grins amusedly at Kerry, "Y'want th'Rose, Kerry? It's y'all's. Have a ball with it!"

Vash says, "I assume that means you're staying here."

Kerry skrees, "Ah-hah. That explains the instantaneous translation I was getting every time you talked to the other folks here." He grins. "I take it that means you like it better here on Earth Nexus than on Earth Home? Wild Hunt and all?"

Vash says, "Noticed the buzzing echo. Didn't expect it to come from that, though. Impressive trinket."

Zildjian tilts her head thoughtfully at Vash... then smiles, "Ain't got nuthin' back there but another collar waitin'. Here... Ah got friends, Ah got influence, Ah got a bajillion languages to research and learn!" She brightens, glancing around the group hopefully, "Don' s'ppose any of y'all are linguists? Ah'd love t'compare notes with you?"

Sakura smiles, "I am, Zildjian-san."

Vash smiles, and nods. "I understand, senyora. And, well... if you can detach the Doctora from her suitor a moment..." Sakura blushes furiously.

Kerry twitches a wing toward Sakura. "That's one of the doctor's specialties. I just know how to say 'Hello' and 'Where's the beer' in a couple dozen languages, as befits any good fighter jock."

Sakura grins at Kerry, and mentally rolls her eyes. "Tsk. Flyboys."

Zildjian laughs delightedly! -then grins, "Kerry, Ah love it heah in Kurlstrazuh! Crossroads is mah new home now." She beams at Sakura, doing a half-bow, "We gotta go talk sometahm, Sakura-san, hai?" She grins a bit embarrassedly, "If foh no othah reason than t'work on mah Japanese!"

Sakura smiles, "Hai, Zildjian-san! I'd love to know a little more about this language they speak."

Kerry grins. "Indeed. They've got very good beer. Have to learn how to ask the barkeep for it."

Vash nods to Kerry. "All in all it's not such a bad place once one's out of the wilds."

Douglas finishes his bowl of chili, one of the reasons he's been so quiet. "Ms. Zildjian... have you seen anything... well, anything at all about this world that marks it as in any way similar to ours? Like, why are there uplifts here?" He hesitates. "Or... if that should be a question for another time..."

Zildjian beams around at the group, "Ah'm so glad y'all turned up! We can git'ch'awll showahs, an' some beer, and y'all can hang around fo' while an' enjoy y'selves!" She blinks at Douglas, then grins, her slitted eyes sparkling with mischief, "Ain't no uplifts heah but ou'selves, Douglas."

Douglas blinks. "Then... what about..." He glances over to Sakura's would-be paramour. The fox raises his chin... somehow he'd ended up resting his chin quietly on Sakura's shoulder, his arms still warmly wrapped around her -- and flicks his ears up inquiringly at Douglas's glance.

Sakura looks a little confused. "What about...?" She looks beside her, then blushes. "Oh dear, my manners are atrocious..."

Kerry nods agreement. "Not in the sense of genetically engineered beings, no. Sakura's friend is, I suspect, a kitsune."

Vash says, "Yeah? How many tails he have?"

Kerry skrees, "Am I right, Zil? They're not all humans, are they?"

Douglas blinks. "A world with... people like us, naturally...?"

The fox smiles reassuringly at Sakura's blush, and softly strokes her hair again, rubbing gently behind her ears. Sakura flicks her ears and half-closes her eyes, "...mmm..." Douglas perks his ears, blinking again as he glances at Sakura. Vash smiles a bit at Sakura, and then returns to watching Zildjian, so as not to provide them with any undue scrutiny. He'd never be able to forgive himself if he broke up a sigh like that.

Zildjian neatly ties the armband securely back on after showing it to Douglas, then grins at the group, "Y'all... this ain't our old Terra. Humans evolved heah, yeah... but all of th'legends we read about? They's all true too... heah."

Sakura manages to look both fascinated and completely relaxed. "What an interesting place..."

Zildjian waves a hand around the room, including everyone, "Some o'them's humans, but none o'them's genetically engineered." The fox tilts an ear to listen to the soft buzzing that echoes Zil's words... then grins, resting his chin on Sakura's shoulder again and continuing to rub gently behind her ears.

Douglas's ears flicker for a little, looking rather carefully back to Zildjian. "Including the Wild Hunt." At least here is better than the last Terra we were at. At least it has a future.

Kerry nods. "This is the second world we've visited. The last one was parallel to Earth Home down to the corporate logos... but they'd fought their Uplift War with nukes instead of us. Dead, these two centuries... they're parallel dimensions, not gates within our own universe."

Vash nods, thoughtfully. "All said... this is a far better place than the last."

Kerry skrees, "Not as depressing. I could have lived without being tractor-beamed out of orbit."

Vash smiles a bit again. "We're glad we were able to find you, regardless. Even better that you're happy here."

Zildjian smiles at Kerry, "But no, he ain't a kitsune. He's native to this area... still a mischief spirit though." The fox chuckles quietly at Zildjian's words... then murmurs something quietly. She nods to the fox, then says formally, "Sakura-san, Larrikan of the Swift Folk says he's enhanced an' strength'ned by meetin' you."

Douglas blinks, his ears flicking. "'Enhanced and strengthened?'"

Kerry skrees, "Really. So tell me! What happened after you'd..." He trails off and grins at the obviously formal phrasing of the translation. "Makes her sound like a breakfast cereal."

Sakura smiles, "Would you please tell Larrikan-san that Murasaki Sakura is delighted to meet him?"

Zildjian smiles slowly, her eyes bright with happiness, and gives Kerry another one-armed hug as she beams at the Indigo's crew, "Y'all are bein' real naa- nice, I mean, about me not wantin' t'go back... thank y'all!" She grins at the reactions to Larrikan's announcement, "Yeah... cities are hard places for th'Swift Folk t'live. Lotta tech... so he's sayin' she's good for th'soul." She thinks about that for a moment, then adds, "Dunno if they've really got souls or not... but Ah guess it doesn' really mattah..." She pauses, then repeats back Sakura's comment to Larrikan, who brightens, then snuggles up to Sakura and nuzzles her cheek lightly.

Douglas's ears flicker a gain, and he folds his hands, leaning back a little. "'Good for the soul,'" he murmurs. He shakes his head a little. "All things considered, Ms. Zildjian, if here is where you wish to stay, we've no intent of dragging you back." In fact it might be tempting to stay...

Vash folds his hands on the table. "No one here is going to grudge you your freedom, Zildjian. I did some time fighting with Texans myself... I've seen people in collars. Under the circumstances... the Indigo will take you wherever you want to go."

Sakura nods at the comments from the others, "I agree, Zildjian-san. I wouldn't have the heart to make you go back to something that you hate. This is obviously a good place for you." And the locals aren't so bad either... She smiles again, although this is almost to herself.

Kerry wraps a wing around Zil. "I have no intention of dragging you back against your will, Zildjian. I have spent a fair amount of my spare time trying to find out what happened to you after Dallas Station. So give! What happened?"

Zildjian smiles at Vash, then at everyone else, "Y'all are too kind, cap'n... but Ah kinda lahk it heah. Maybe Ah c'n help y'all though instead, while y'all're heah?" She blinks, her train of thought changing, and addresses Kerry, "Waall, lemme see. Ah spent maybe 2 yeahs theah in LA Station, translatin'..." She pauses, reminiscing...

Kerry skrees, "Thought so. Stinking cowboys gave all the credit for the work you'd done to that useless passel of humans who came with you." Douglas remains quiet, listening to Zildjian's story and stoically maintaining his attention entirely upon her. Vash keeps a corner of his eye on the fox and Sakura, but doesn't let it get too obvious... he's just looking out for her honor, just as promised. He nods, punctuating Zildjian's words.

Zildjian smiles ruefully, "Waaall... yeah. Dennis woulda given me credit on account of he had th'hots fo' me, but Vicious Vikky was jealous of both him bein' top dog, an' me... so she pulled strings t'have him deposed. When th'ship came f'just th'humans Ah shoulda realized somethin' was up... po' Dennis tried t'protect me, but he'd been discredited b'hind his back." She shrugs slightly (Kerry getting accidentally shifted up and down as well from her arm around him), her gaze quiet and far away... "They'd set a trap fo' me... gassed th'room. Ah almos' got through th'doah..." She smiles ruefully and shrugs again, "So... next thing Ah remembah is wakin' up w-with..." She takes a long, slow breath, her arm tightening slightly where it rests around Kerry... then says carefully and clearly, "That... is in the past. Fortunately."

Vash nods. "Yes. Dead now, and buried." Douglas blinks, then shakes his head. It would almost make someone wish for war against them, to stop that sort of thing. Then he blinks, surprised and dismayed by that thought. He grimaces. Nice one, Doug...

Kerry skrees, "No need to tell about that. I just wanted to know for sure."

Zildjian turns to face Vash for a moment, nictitating membranes sliding smoothly across her eyes... then she slowly nods, "Yeah. Dead... 'n buried." Vash nods again. He doesn't smile.

Kerry glances down at the lamia's snake-half, looking for he isn't sure what. "And... your daughter?"

Zildjian straightens, looking faintly embarrassed as she carefully releases Kerry from the too-tight hold, "Sorry, Kerry." She takes another deep breath, "Ah... don' know, Kerry. Don' know yet if Ah can or not... been afraid t'try yet, y'know?" She looks a little stricken for a moment... then smiles, deliberately changing the subject, "One a'mah frien's... uh, one a'mah mothah's frien's was named Vashti." Then she straightens, "Oh! Y'all nevah tole me... what was th'culprits? What was wrong with y'all's shuttle?"

Vash smiles a bit, expression relaxing immediately. He tilts his head a bit. "Oh... yeah? It's not a very common name, I think."

Douglas gestures, nodding in the general direction of outside. "The current candidates seem to be the Wild Hunt, or something associated with them."

Kerry skrees, "Nothing's wrong with the shuttle, Zil. Someone caught it and stuck it in a clearing too small for a takeoff run. Heck, whatever pulled it down was still on after we'd landed; I couldn't even shift it out of the stream they'd dropped it in. Any ideas?"

Zildjian looks puzzled, "Th'Wild Hunt?" She listens to Kerry, then nods slowly, "That's... very strange. If'n Ah recall correctly, somethin' lahk that happened to ou- to mah shuttle too." She frowns, thinking... then says pragmatically, "Y'all're gonna need help gettin' yoh shuttle up agin, yeah?"

Vash says, "It would seem so, senyora."

Zildjian adds to Vash, "Yeah, she was part a'th'Texias bordah patrol durin' th'not-wars they were havin' down thereabouts back then." She smiles, "Waall... lemme see. Ah think Ah c'n help y'all get her moved t' a bettah lifting spot, if y'all c'n give me a day to contact some folks?"

Sakura nods, "Of course. I certainly don't mind waiting, though I can't speak for my fellows..."

Vash says, "Take your time, senyora... we're certainly not going anyplace." He grins winsomely.

Douglas blinks. "You think it can be actually moved...?"

Zildjian grins at Vash, "Perils a'bein' an uplift t' a certifiable loony -- y'get named weird-like!"

Vash laughs softly. "I'll tell you my brothers' names sometime."

Douglas grins softly. "I suppose I was lucky, then..."

Kerry skrees, "Zil, if you can arrange for the shuttle to be moved, the time factor is not a problem. She's stuck fast with something, though, at least when I left... so I'm not sure getting it to a better clearing will be enough."

Zildjian grins at Doug, "Oh yeah! Just need some a' Aykuh's frien's t'help out, should be!" She chuckles at Vash, "Cain't be any worse than our full family names, sure 'nuff! Mah name's Zil Sidhe, but mah full name includes mah bloodline wi'all a' mah mothahs as well... Ah'm Zildjian Yasmina Xanadu Wrath Vixen Urit Tempest Sidhe-" she pauses to take a big breath, adding, "-of the Sidhe bloodline!" She laughs, adding, "We keep our families alive thaht way, in mem'ry!" She beams at Kerry, "That'd be great, Kerry!" She looks at the group, "Y'all are awful welcome t'stay, y'know!"

Kerry grins. "Well, maybe we'll come back to visit sometime. But we need to continue our search. One thing, though... do you know where the first Texan shuttle went?"

Zildjian frowns, "Sort of... the MO sounds lahk th'folks ovah in Azteca." She shakes her head, "Ah don' lahk Texians... but even Ah feel a li'l sorry foh those po' SOBs..."

Last modified: 2000-Dec-06 23:00:19

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