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Reality Fault

Close Encounters of a Friendly Kind

    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 crew of the Indigo are in the Silver Egg, where they've discovered Zildjian. They've also discovered a passel of rampantly curious local students, who very much want to talk to the uplifts! And in other news, Vash still needs a shower.

Kerry turns back toward Zil, something she said finally percolating through all the noise. "Karlshtrasseh is the town? Is the world called Crossroads?"

Douglas blinks, looking to Kerry. "What is... uhm, this 'Karlshtrasseh'?"

The bat's pronunciation is even more sibilant than the lamia's as he repeats. "Karlshtrasseh. The name Zil gave to the town here."

Douglas runs that over through his mind, and nods, "Right, sorry. I'm not a linguist, I'm afraid."

Zildjian nods, "Raht, that's th'town's name, an' Crossroads is th'world -- closest translation Ah can come up with, at least."

Douglas says, "Crossroads... that's certainly apt, considering what's in deep space..."

Vash says, "Crossroads? Then... they know that this is the Gate Nexus?"

Kerry grins at the cougar. "You were distracted at that point in the conversation." He turns back to Zil. "Why do they call it that? Do they know about the Nexus Gates? Or are there magical gates here as well?"

Zildjian smiles and shrugs fluidly, "Got me, Kerry. Ah'm still workin' on th'language itself, y'know?" The shrug ripples smoothly down her tail. It's an odd effect.

Douglas thinks for a moment. "Maybe it's not such a long jump to believe that there's a reason why the gates were built in this... universe."

Kerry nods. "The translator isn't always that good to have, I guess."

Vash says, "What're you thinking, Douglas?"

Kerry skrees, "They could have been, I suppose. But by who?"

Zildjian laughs! "Oh, it works great, Kerry. It's just that Ah want to learn th'language itself, without aids."

Douglas says, "I'm not sure, Captain. But there might be properties here that we're unaware of."

Zildjian grins down at Kerry, her golden eyes sparkling teasingly, "Ah am a linguist, after all... even if Ah usually don' bothah talkin' correct-like, lahk you college-edjicated batties!"

Vash laughs, "Ah! Kerry, she's wounded you!"

Kerry chirrips and indulges in rapid-fire, nearly ultrasonic squeaks for a moment. "Zil, nobody else talks like us."

Vash says, "An' a good thing, too." Douglas nods quietly, glancing at the bustle of students. Zildjian grins cheerfully at Vash... then tilts her head startledly, nictitating membranes sliding across her eyes and her bifurcate tongue flickering madly for a moment as she attempts to 'listen' to the ultrasonic squeaks. She chuckles softly, shaking her head, then listens and nods to the largish woman who's one of the students fascinated with Kerry... as the woman speaks hopefully, pointing to the small pile of coinage on the table.

Vash says, "Oh.. that's right. They still want to know how we are... built."

Kerry sighs. "No rest for the wicked. What's she saying? And what does she mean by how we are built, precisely?"

Zildjian smiles at Kerry, "She's sayin', darlin', that they all hope the coinage will convince y'all t'let 'em examine y'all. They're most interested in th'Aztecas, which she thinks you 'n Vash are, an' why y'all's legs aren't lahk theirs."

Douglas blinks. "Aztecas?"

Vash grins a little. "I am flattered but, ah... perhaps you could get them to define examine?"

Zildjian says, "Yeah, Doug. They don' get many Aztecas heahbouts... usually the refugees just cross into th'Iroquois Nation." She grins at Vash, her fangs remaining neatly tucked back out of sight, "It won' hurt, Vash, promise. They're just tryin' t'figger out why y'all are so diff'rent from them, is all. If'n y'all want Ah can take y'all to another room and stay with y'all for translatin'?"

Vash says, "Certainly. If they're willing to buy us a round, the least I can do to repay them is let them look at me."

Kerry skrees, "Recommended, I think... otherwise we won't know what they want. I suppose we can earn our little donation, there." He adds, "No vivisection. We're not that much like Aztecas. We're probably closer to their legends though, just as Sakura is close to the Eurasian ones."

Zildjian tilts her head at Kerry and murmurs softly, "Don' joke 'bout vivisection heah, please, if'n y'ever wearin' a translator, 'kay? Necromancers aren't a joke, heah."

Kerry looks at Zil in some dismay. "Ah. Yes. Point taken, believe me."

Douglas blinks. Iroquois? Aztecs? "Uhm... I don't have any problems with that, I think..."

Zildjian nods, speaking sibilantly to the students, who listen intently, then give a general cheer! They gather up the money, stuff it into a little pouch, hand it to the closest member of the Indigo crew, and with much cheer, drinking, gabbling amongst each other, and glee, the entire crew of the Indigo, the students, another round of drinks, and Zildjian herself are all swept into another room. Sakura alone does not accompany the group, looking almost somnolently blissful at the gentle ear-rubbings she's getting from the native fox type. Zil pauses long enough to speak to him softly, then nods, looking satisfied as she leaves.

Things are hastily set up -- a table at one end with a cloak ceremoniously tossed over it, extra lamps lit for better lighting, and chairs all around for the students. Zil curls up at one end of the table and a student with a huge drawing board sits at the other end. Douglas blinks as he gets pulled over to the room. "Ah... this isn't going to hurt, is it...?"

Zildjian grins at the group, "Ah went through this too... was kinda cute. Nah, they may poke you, but sayin' 'hey!' nicely gets 'em t'stop. So, who's first?"

Vash looks around, and shrugs. "I'll do it."

Zildjian leans down to whisper softly and sibilantly in Vash's ear, "Got Larrikan's promise he'll stay there with her 'til y'all get back. He knows Hotspur'd stomp him if he breaks his promise. 'Zat okay with you?"

Vash nods to Zildjian, only turning his head a little to face her, "That's fine with me, Zildjian. I'm not worried. If he does anything untoward, I'll eat him alive." He grins amiably. Zildjian chuckles softly and straightens, watching quietly and translating as needed. The largish woman grins happily, holding out a broad, strong hand to offer Kerry a lift up onto the table.

Kerry skrees, "What the hey..." He unbelts his tunic and lays it aside first, then jumps up with a sweep of his wings, disdaining the offered hand. "There we are! Now what?" The students ooh appreciatively and stare interestedly as Kerry flutters up onto the table. The largish woman beams, sitting on the table next to Kerry (it creaks protestingly under her) and holds up a hand for an example for the swiftly sketching artist. Another smaller male stands next to them and does the same. Kerry flexes his wing and the hand at its main joint, then holds it out for the artists to sketch. "So what sort of Aztecan do I look like to them, Zil?" Douglas blinks, flicking his ears a little, glancing at the woman beside the table. Hmm... she seems... similar to that man we ran into on the road. Same species? Maybe. Hmmm...

The artist is working swiftly, her charcoal almost dancing across the rather cloth-textured paper. Students gather around behind her as she works, ooh'ing and commenting, pointing things out, until she snaps something authoritatively -- at which point, amongst much snickering and poking each other, the observing students shut up. Vash starts at a singularly unpleasant thought. The large burly woman that seems to be handling Kerry strikes him as awfully familiar. Big hands... claws... looked like she had lower tusks. Is this a... female of that species? His mind slips uncomfortably to the idea of them reproducing, and can't suppress a violent bodily shudder.

Zildjian grins, then turns to Kerry, "Waall, Ah'm no authority on th'Aztecas... but if'n Ah understand correctly there's a real shortage of humans theah... an' that's what theah gods want -- human blood an' hearts."

The artist nods and says something, glancing up at Kerry and raising her hand to twirl her charcoal once. Kerry glances at Zil. "Turn around, was that?" Zil nods, just as the largish woman gently touches Kerry's shoulder, urging him to turn. Kerry turns to face the other way, letting the sketch artist continue. The artist goes back to sketching, absorbed in her work. The largish woman smiles at Kerry now that he's facing her, studying him and saying something pleased-sounding. She tilts her head consideringly, then says something else... Zil laughs softly, then says, "She wants ta know if'n you're an adult, Kerry, an' how big th'li'l baby batties are?"

Vash snickers quietly into his hand. Douglas blinks and politely lifts his gaze ceilingward. Then he cringes. Oh, hell... they're going to be asking me that... Kerry chuckles. "Yes, I'm adult. And bigger than average, too. Newborns are about... " He gestures, his hands perhaps nine inches apart, "...so long; the ears are much stubbier at birth." The sturdy woman raises her eyebrows in surprise, then ooh's, fascinated at the tiny size. She reaches one large hand out carefully to touch Kerry's chest, giving him an inquiring glance. Vash snorts into his hand and turns his head away, biting his lip. Kerry chirrips in amusement, but nods. "As long as she doesn't get too frisky, Zil." Vash runs the back of his hand along his forehead. Madre! Isn't there some sort of regulation against this kind of fraternization? *snrrrk*

The big woman gently runs her strong fingers through the fine fur, looking fascinated... then looks up and says something. Zildjian smothers a laugh in a cough. The students perk up interestedly, some going so far as to lightly touch Kerry's fur, if he doesn't object... until the artist clears her throat firmly, making the largish woman grin apologetically and gesture everyone back. Douglas blinks in fascination with the whole examination. Vash grins widely, watching with interest. Something about these people puts him at his ease, and he can't help a few laughs at this... as surreal as it is. Something about this place is infectious, he thinks with a wry grin, Must be from drinking the water... heh. Zildjian says, "She's quite taken with y'fur, Kerry... an' since you're male, they're debating if'n a female'd be larger or smaller than you."

Kerry skrees, "About the same, allowing for the fact that I'm larger than average. We don't have a lot of dimorphism. In fact, there's not a lot of external differences between male and female Keero."

The artist finally looks up and says something, causing the students to break out into pleased gabbling. Drinks are pressed on everyone, and the artist holds up the sketch for Kerry and the rest of the crew to see. It's a quick sketch of a Keero, with a very good guesstimate of the bone and muscular structure as well, and for comparison a human and a larger arm/hand combination sketched in. Vash nudges Douglas, and cants his head toward the large woman. "I think she likes him, Douglas."

Zildjian grins, accepting a drink herself and sipping. Then she says to the Indigo's crew, "So. Y'all doin' okay? Not too pushy?"

Douglas blinks, looking at Vash. "Ah... well, erm... perhaps." He's already realizing he's going to be the center of that attention in a bit.

Zildjian laughs at Vash's comment, "Waall now, she does, but prolly not th'way y're thinkin', Vash. He's toddler size for her, an' they're a real protective species."

Vash grins. "Relax, Douglas. See? They didn't hurt him." He glances up at Zil, "Oh yes? That reminds me... what species is she, anyway? We passed one on the road."

Douglas nods, "We did, yes, I believe."

Zildjian says, "Troll, or ogre, or the Large People. They scare some folks hereabouts, on account of their size an' that they're inveterate tinkerers... but I get alone jus' fine with 'em." She grins over her mug at the woman gently running her fingers along one of Kerry's wings, then adds, "Think they like folks that're as tall an' strong as them."

Vash says, "Really...."

Douglas blinks, perking his ears. Sounds like someone after my own heart, he muses. Then he glances at Vash. Damned if I'm going to let the Captain know that, though. "In that case, I can see why she's fascinated with Kerry. His arms must be mechanical wonders to her."

Zildjian grins down at Vash, "Really. They're real good folks, Vash, be nice."

Vash trails off. Madre de Dios... He starts, "Oh. Ah, don't worry, senyora. I wouldn't do anything impolite. I'm just having a little fun at the expense of my pilot here. The one on the road was kind enough to point us in this direction, actually."

Kerry grins. "I don't mind. I'm used to being one of the smallest folks around." He hops down from the table and admires the pictures. "What, no portrait showing my teeth?"

Zildjian grins, "As you command, mah deah batty!" She points at the drawing, then at Kerry, saying something, and several students, including both the artist and the large woman, brighten and seem quite pleased! The artist speaks for a bit, and the large woman and the previous young man who modeled his arm both nod and obligingly open their mouths very widely. The artist sketches madly while someone else holds a lamp just behind her to improve her light. Zildjian smiles lazily at Vash, a nictitating membrane sliding slowly across one golden eye, "Was teasin', darlin'."

Vash smiles gently, "Yes, well, it's my duty to make certain there are no miscommunications. Captain's duty, and all of that." He shrugs his shoulders a bit.

Kerry's teeth are insectivore fangs in front and carnivore molars behind. Definitely sharp. His tongue is a broad triangle, coming to a definite point at the front. The students are quite excited about the teeth comparison, one of them going so far as to gabble loudly and poke at Kerry's tongue. The troll woman barks something at him and taps his hand with one finger. He winces, withdrawing and rubbing his hand. Kerry snaps at the student's finger, obviously half-heartedly, but in warning. "None of that." The student looks sheepish, especially as several others look over their shoulders momentarily at him with a 'served you right!' look.

The largish woman says something-hopeful sounding to Zildjian, who laughs softly, then lowers to lean her elbows on the table. She opens her mouth widely, her head next to Kerry's. Her retracting fangs snap out neatly, much like a rattlesnake's, and her tongue flickers once, obviously split. Kerry blinks and looks more closely at Zil. "You never showed me those before."

Douglas blinks, taking in a breath at that. "Er... oh, my..."

There's mad sketching and a faint susurrus of interest from the students... a moment later the artist says something triumphant sounding, and presents the art to everyone. Zil closes her mouth, her tongue flickering once about her lips, and grins down at Kerry, "Didja ask? Ah forget." She giggles, then adds more seriously, "Don' usually show 'em to folks... scares 'em. That's real bad, back home... they turn nasty on you."

Vash folds his arms, watching, "Goes without saying, doesn't it, Kerry?" He doesn't look surprised. His family's been talking about those for generations.

Zildjian thinks a moment... then grins broadly, "No. Ain't 'home' theah no mo'. Heah's home. There's the past."

Kerry chirrips. "Come to think of it, I didn't ask. Maybe I should ask about the hypnosis legend, too?"

Zildjian grins at Kerry wickedly, "Sure you wanna know?" Douglas chuckles a little, albeit a bit worriedly.

Kerry looks seriously at her. "If we might meet your legendary counterparts here, yes." Vash doesn't say anything, though he listens intently. If it didn't work on you, nanno, I'm not about to let it work on me. Kerry grins. "At any rate... your table awaits, Your Nebulosity."

Zildjian chuckles, then shakes her head, "They're librarians heah, Kerry. Highly honored. Ah ain't really one of 'em... Ah was designed fo' combat. Someday Ah wanna go find 'em, 'cause they sound lahk real interestin' folks... but most of them's in either the Maharajah's or th'Pharaoh's lands." She listens to the students, then nods to Doug and Vash, "Which of you's next?"

Vash shrugs. "I'll do it." Douglas glances to Vash, letting out a soft breath.

A chair is turned around to make an impromptu step up to the table, and there's some cheerful joshing, drinking, and chatting before the artist is ready for Vash. Vash unzips his jumpsuit to the waist, and pulls it off, pushing it down to his knees, and stepping out of it. He unsnaps the web rig and the holster, setting them aside, and then peels off his T-shirt, breathing a secret sigh of relief to have the still-damp and sticky cloth off of him. He slips off his deck shoes, too, and stretches slowly, arms out to his side. He flexes his fingers. Some of the students wrinkle their noses slightly when Vash stands up on the table. Zil listens to folks, then grins, "Vash, you 'n Doug wanna wash up a bit first?"

Kerry muses to himself. The Pharaoh's lands... three millennia of history in our world, with the populace believing that they served the God-King of Egypt. And here they still continue.. and the belief?

Vash is left wearing a pair of loose black shorts. Lurid white lines crisscross down his thighs to his knees. "Er... actually... that's not a bad idea." There's a soft ooh from the large woman, who reaches out carefully to one of Vash's hands if he'll let her. Vash nods, and gently holds out his hand to her, fingers open.

Zildjian nods, and gestures to the students, some of whom look relieved at the news that the last two members of the crew will be washing up first. The troll woman is absorbed in carefully studying Vash's claws, comparing them to her own and cheerfully speaking to Vash. Vash glances to Zildjian, looking for a translation. Zildjian laughs! "She wants ta know if'n y'need help washing up... an' how y'keep your claws from growing too long... 'pparently that's a problem for trolls?" She smiles, adding, "Keep in mind, y'all, that there wasn't no Christianity heah, 'kay? She's offerin' a courtesy."

Douglas blinks. "Ah... washing sounds..." he takes a sniff and winces at his own scent, "-sounds... like a very, very good idea."

Vash laughs softly, and runs a hand over the back of his head plates. You could almost swear.. did he blush? No, of course not. You imagined it. "Er... I don't wish to be rude. Would it be impolite of me to decline?"

Kerry chuckles. "I don't think she has designs on your virtue, Your Nebulosity."

The artist chimes in interestedly, causing several of the students to eagerly add their voices to the offers. After some squabbling, the group settles on sending the artist, the male model, and the troll woman with the two uplifts. They stand up, waiting for the group. Zildjian grins, "Nah, you can if'n you want. Ah'll jus' tell 'em y'all are still shy."

Vash looks around, and can't stifle a snicker at all this attention. Where were all these girls back in Colorado? He smiles amiably. "No, no, that's all right. I'll go with them." You could still almost swear that he... nah. Of course not.

Washing is upstairs in the shuttle. Once up there it can be clearly seen that this shuttle will never fly again -- the side against the tree itself has been neatly sheered off, although by what is impossible to tell now. The shuttle itself has also been heavily modified, with the 'shower' being a large room that looks like Zildjian could almost stretch out in it if she wanted, and the water streaming out of little root-like extrusions from the wooden wall. The students are chattering happily with each other, pulling out towels, soap bars, and various other things from cupboards. They strip with no embarrassment for the shower. How the uplifts feel is another matter entirely, of course... especially since the students are quite interested in examining their new friends more closely!

Vash blinks a few times, and takes a deep breath. "Douglas, we are about to break so many regulations that our lives themselves may be forfeit." He exhales slowly and strips out of his shorts. "But if you don't say anything, I'm not about to." Douglas blinks. Slowly. Then, rather glad that he cannot see Sakura (or at least she isn't in eyeshot) he reluctantly removes his clothing. Vash tries to keep his eyes lowered, completely unsure of where he's supposed to be looking right now. As a female student approaches him with a bar of soap he realizes, too late, that this was not the place.

The troll woman wrinkles her nose at the clothing, dropping them in a tub-like indentation in the floor, holding the clothing with only two fingers. She taps or twists or something on the wall there, and gently steaming water starts flowing into the tub, letting the clothing soak.

Vash thinks to himself. I'm naked. I'm about to be lathered up by a nubile young student. My heritage as a Spaniard tells me that I should be thanking the applicable deity right now. This doesn't explain why the other parts haven't made up their minds yet. The wash-up is sudsy, cheerfully unself-conscious, and thorough, with the artist and the human male lathering up Vash (and exclaiming fascinatedly over his carapace), and the tall troll woman lathering up Douglas. She seems a little startled at how tall he is, up close... then grins delightedly, pushing him lightly in the chest and watching him interestedly.

Douglas is relatively unperturbed by the washing, though mildly surprised at the push. He manages to keep himself from toppling over completely, blinking at the Troll. "Ah... pleased to meet you...?" he manages to say to the Troll-lady. I really hope she's not sizing me up for anything...! The troll grins broadly at Doug, her eyes and her lower tusks gleaming, and barks something happy sounding at him... then proceeds to give him a rough, thorough lathering. Her sense of modesty is non-existent, but Doug is squeaky clean when she's done. Her long, almost prehensile tail can be seen while she's nude... it sports a big blue (now soggy) bow, and seems to reflect her mood, waving about happily as she works on Doug.

Vash averts his eyes. Douglas doesn't need any more scrutiny than he's already getting. He closes his eyes and lets himself be lathered up... he actually doesn't mind being touched about the carapace at all. It's actually rather pleasant when approached properly. He curls his scaly-ringed tail into his lap, and exhales deeply. He decides he's going to enjoy this as best he can... after that dip in the hag-pond, he can't complain when a shower literally falls in his lap. She's actually kind of cute from the right angle... no. No, I did not just think that.

The male student checks on the clothing, waving a hand cautiously in front of his nose... then nods, drops a bar of soap into the dirty water, and turns to say something to the others. Zildjian laughs softly from where she's curled up safely outside the shower, and replies, then slithers away to fetch some dry clothing. It's rough, homespun tunics, but dry and comfortably loose to wear. The trousers are a problem for Douglas' digitigrade stance, though, and the group finally compromises by simply tearing them off into a loose pair of shorts for the cougar.

Douglas almost imagines that his fur is squeaking, he gets washed so firmly. During it, he notices her tail. A tail? Odd... I never noticed that on the man from the roadside? When the toll is done, he blinks as he looks at himself. He feels cleaner, oddly enough, and the experience was enough that he could ignore his dislike of water for the duration... though he's not going to complain about drying off. He manages to smile and nod to the troll. "Thank you," he says. Then he wonders if baring his teeth might be construed as some sort of challenge... or if it means something else entirely, as he remembers her grinning.

The troll says something inquiring to Zildjian, who replies, then adds a carefully enunciated 'you're welcome.' The troll turns back to Douglas, beaming, and barks a rough, "Rrr veel kom!" at Douglas. She points inquiringly at his lower portions, then holds up her own tail, stepping next to him to pat his rear curiously. Vash blinks, and tries his best to interpret that as objectively as he can. She gives Doug another inquiring look as she (literally) wrings out her tail and the bow. It's a little alarming to watch, in fact... she looks like she should be tearing the poor thing in two... but she doesn't seem at all fazed by what she's doing.

Douglas blinks, wondering what she -- oh, that's right. His tail, or rather lack thereof. "Ah... I had an... accident. I used to have a tail, about... oh..." He indicates a length of about one meter from the barely noticeable stump. He hopes that comes through in translation all right. The troll woman makes a sad face, then hands her tail to Doug, and pats his rear commiseratively.

The male student is cheerfully drying and polishing Vash's carapace. The artist, however, is sitting on the ground next to Vash, her fingers lightly running along the join between carapace and skin, a fascinated look on her face. Vash nods to the male student, actually fairly impressed. His carapace hasn't been treated this well in years. "Thank you very much." He leaves off the honorific senyor, figuring it'd just complicate the translation. He starts a little at the touch on his side. He smiles gently at the artist, and takes her hand carefully in his. "Here. Show you something." He guides her fingertips up his side to where his back plates start to overlap so he can bend, at a plate-plate-plate-skin junction, and leans back a little so that she can feel the plates slide over each other as they articulate.

Douglas blinks, wondering what to do with the troll's tail in his hands. "Oh... ah... it's all right. Thank you..." He smiles again, not looking at all sad; it's been a long time since he had that nice, balancing appendage. Then he jumps a bit -- did she just pinch his rear?! -but looking more like he jumped out of his fur, and rather surprised.

The artist ooohs softly, her fingers carefully checking how Vash's plates all slide together, putting her face closer and pushing fur out of the way so she can watch. The troll woman grins cheerfully at Doug. Zildjian grins, "So... y'all ready now for comp'ny?" The tail in Doug's hands flicks lightly and loosely around one wrist, and the troll heads for her pile of clothing, flashing a grin over her shoulder at the startled cougar as her tail trails slowly out of his hands.

Douglas gulps a bit, and manages to smile weakly to the troll woman. Oh, dear... He starts to head over to where his clothing is -- er, was. Rather, where the new clothing is. He hasn't worn shorts all that much, but, he admits that they're comfortable for a digitigrade-stance person.

Vash blushes almost imperceptibly. Letting someone touch the vulnerable chinks in his armor is not just a concession he very rarely makes for anyone, but is considered... rather intimate contact for an armadillo; but she doesn't know that. He just smiles slightly and watches her work. Zildjian says something, causing the artist to start slightly and murmur something sheepish. She bounces happily to her feet, taking one of Vash's hands in her own, and heads for the door, gabbling excitedly and waving her free hand. Vash lets himself be led, smiling still, and lashes his tail as he stands. I really could get used to this... *sighhh* The male student laughs, calling after her and pointing to her forgotten clothes.


Downstairs, regardless of the fact that the artist has left, the remaining students are happily and avidly clustered around Kerry, some on all fours, to closely examine his small, clawed feet. Kerry demonstrates how the claws work, the three forward and one backward toe capable of clamping on a branch or a rough surface. After letting them watch for a bit, he demonstrates by handstanding to get his feet against the ceiling of the room and hanging from one of the ubiquitous branch/roots.

The students gabble excitedly amongst themselves, and laugh and applaud at Kerry's sudden flip to hang from the ceiling. One of them sits on the table and pulls his boots and socks off, wriggling his toes and pointing at Kerry's toes as he excitedly talks.

Shortly thereafter the small group is reunited with everyone else in the sketching room. There's still damp hair and fur, but the smell in the room is much more pleasant now! Doug and Vash are dressed in comfortable, loose local clothing, and the artist is soon happily sketching Vash, although she occasionally pauses to patter over and gently check by touch to make sure she's getting the plates' intersections correct. Vash smiles serenely the entire time, and sits very straight for her. He holds his arms out a little from his sides so that the shoulder and upper arm interlocks are easier to see. Zildjian quietly makes sure that the Indigo's crew has enough to drink and eat as well. Modeling gets tiring after a while.

The troll woman sits on the floor next to Doug while they wait for Vash's sketches to be done, and runs her fingers curiously along the long, powerful digitigrade legs, comparing them interestedly to her own plantigrade legs. Douglas blinks again, giving a bit of a start at the touch, but holds still. After all, this much physical contact is seriously unusual in their home culture. It's just something that's Not Done. This world is a lot looser... no, probably better to say that it's a lot more free, and natural. Why else would he have had the most unusual craving for rather rare food earlier? Certainly, the atmosphere is just... very agreeable.

Vash's plates are modified slightly from a normal armadillo's, mainly because he needs his arms to pivot in directions other than directly out in front of him. His shoulders and upper arms have special modified plates that slide more agreeably over the shoulder plates. He flicks his tail idly, a habit he thought he'd broken. Uhhhn. I really could get used to this. Must be something in the water. Or in the way that girl was touching him. He's not precisely sure which.

The artist beams when she's done, handing her sketch to someone to show off, and giving Vash a cheerful hug. She calls out something happily, and the students answer in an agreeing clamor. Zil smiles, "They'd lahk t'know if'n there's anything they can do for y'all. Y'all lettin' them stare at you so much is gonna gain 'em some major brownie points at the university." She thinks a bit, then adds thoughtfully, "Y'all might wanna consider translators if'n y're plannin' on stayin' around for a while?"

Douglas blinks. Translators! Oh, I'd love to get a close look at one of them...! Oh, yeah. They'd be very useful, too. "I'm rather in favor of that idea..."

Kerry skrees, "That will depend on what we find when we get back to Alshain. But they'd certainly be useful for now."

Vash nods, "Good point. I wouldn't mind being able to thank them properly, either."

Zildjian says, "Ahh... waall, they take a bit to make, naow. But Ah imagine you could talk th'students into doing most of th'work for yah?"

Kerry skrees, "Possibly... the technical parts we might manage ourselves, but I suspect we'd need someone to cast the proper spells, eh?"

Zildjian nods and smiles, "'Fraid so, Kerry." Douglas blinks again. Spells? That's right... it's not just technology here. Only the Wild Hunt really uses technology... Blast. Talking with them sounds like a Bad Idea, too.

Doug is the last one to be sketched, and the artist pays particular attention to his dentition and his legs, getting him to bend them back and forth several times. When the claws pop out there's an excited 'ooh!' from the group, many of whom want to touch Doug's toes and claws and odd (to them) leg jointing. Douglas tries to retain his composure. He's never been particularly excited about his claws, in fact a part of him is rather embarrassed, seeing them as an atavistic throwback and something of a mark of the stereotypical cougar. Still... again, the whole atmosphere has been very pleasant, very freeing, and -- "YIPE!" he splutters, pulling his foot up quickly before the student gets jabbed with a claw, stifling a laugh as the students find a spot that he didn't know he was ticklish in.

There's a start amongst the students, pulling back and looking uncertain -- is he injured? They grin in relief as he laughs, and as Zil says something amusedly cautioning, and then cheerfully gather closer about the laughing cougar, patting him on the shoulder, pressing a drink into his hands, gabbling happily, and being a bit more cautious when checking his toes! Douglas blinks, looking at the drink they hand him and wondering whatever in the world... er, the worlds it might be... Vash nods to the troll woman while Douglas is being sketched. "I didn't answer her question before, Zildjian. About the claws."

Zildjian smiles at Vash, "Go ahead then, Vash. Ah'll translate."

Vash nods, and catches the troll's eye. He holds up his hand, fingers open. "I didn't get a chance to answer you earlier, senyora. You wanted to know about my claws?" The troll looks interested, coming over and crouching next to Vash so they're at eye level. She grins cheerfully at him, her tusks showing clearly, and takes his hand gently in her own, laying her free hand over his in comparison. Her hand is much larger, of course, but Vash's increased claw length more than compensates, size-wise.

Vash smiles, and nods. "Mine only grow so far... ah.. like so?" He holds his other hand at the tips of his claws to indicate, "They don't go farther than this... but if you let them go for enough time, they will grow dull." He flexes his fingers to indicate how he keeps them relatively sharp. "I drag them against something to keep them sharp," he smiles, wiggling his fingers demonstratively.

Zildjian translates, leaning over on her tail towards Vash and the troll woman so they can hear her. The troll woman nods interestedly, gently examining Vash's fingers, and Zil translates her reply -- that their claws seem to be very similarly designed. Vash nods, tilting his head. "Hmm.. yes, I think so too. Mine are adapted for digging... we were originally burrowing creatures."

The artist is lying on her stomach on the table, relaxing now that all the intensive artwork is done. She occasionally sips from her mug as she lazily sketches Kerry's toes. She giggles softly, running her fingers over them to see if the bat is ticklish too. Kerry isn't particularly ticklish on his feet, so he doesn't really react to the touch. He sips his ale, and wonders what Aykuhbowmedchen translates too. Medchen is close to German for 'girl'... bow. Wasn't that something to do with architecture? Bauhaus, that was it... Aykuh probably does mean acorn or oak or something...

Zildjian translates Vash's comments, and the troll woman answers excitedly. Zil reports, "She thinks that might explain part of why you're the way you are... her people are the Stone folk, after all. Those claws can, with time, tear through rock." The big lamia smiles, "She wants to know the name of your people? Unfortunately she's having trouble believing that no magic went into their creation... but I've assured her it's true."

Kerry skrees, "Well... it's the equivalent of magic for our world. All we have is technology, though." The artist finishes, then sits on the table next to Kerry, sipping her drink and offering him the sketch to see. A good breakdown of his feet have been neatly sketched in one corner of the paper.

Douglas tilts his head to the side. "I don't know, Kerry. It could be said that magic is another kind of science, and technology only another set of tools."

Vash smiles gently. "We were called Armadillo... the name means the 'little armored one.' Pretty good, right?" He grins, "But my clan... we are called Montoya." He makes the words three careful syllables so his accent doesn't get too heavily in the way.

The students that are clustered around Vash mouth the unfamiliar words carefully... then several of them, one after another, point to themselves and happily give names. It's catching... soon all the students are eagerly introducing themselves, in a confusion of names and faces. The artist calls something to Zildjian, who replies, then smiles and says to Kerry, "Her name means Blue in the local tongue, and she wants to know what your name and your people's name is, Kerry?"

Kerry considers that, and nods. "Correct, I'd say. Science is the process... on Earth Home, it leads only to technology, whereas here it leads to controlled magic as well. The rules are different." He turns to Zil and the artist, then hops down from the table and makes that formal wing-sweep bow. "Kerry Skydancer of the Keero at your service, Ms. Blue."

Vash grins a bit, "Ah, that reminds me, Zildjian... I never did return your formal introduction."

The artist claps happily at the bow, then hops off the table and sweeps a bow herself, even though she's got only a long tunic instead of full skirts. She listens to Zildjian, then beams, gabbling something with the word 'Keerree Keerroo' repeated several times in it, and soon Zildjian is besieged with requests to introduce everyone. Zil laughs, waving helplessly, "Now'd be good then, cap'n!"

Vash smiles broadly. He stands, and bows theatrically to Zildjian. "Very well then." He straightens up, beaming, and delivers in a stately cadence, edged with just the right amount of accent, even softly rolling his r's, "I am Vashti Ramos Montoya, the youngest of Totentanz, Wili, and Undine, Ramos Montoyas all. We are the sons of Domingo Gabriel Montoya, and Corazon de Santiago Montoya, and he the son of the great soldier of the southern War, my grandfather Juan-Miguel Ramos Montoya." He bows again, and kisses Zildjian's hand lightly. "It is a pleasure to meet you, senyora." He repeats the gesture for the troll, "And you, senyorita." He goes for the last mile, and does the same for the artist, "And... especially you, senyorita."

Zildjian stares in astonishment at Vash... but recovers quickly, smiling and swaying in a fluid bow in return. She translates for everyone, causing more chatter, bowing, introducing, and smiles. Kerry skrees, "Undine? That's a female name! I thought you were all identical quads?"

Zildjian murmurs softly to Vash, at the low point of her bow and under cover of the crowd chatter, "Think we might wanna talk later, yeah?"

Vash grins widely, "And don't think we ever let him forget it for a second." He snickers a moment. "Actually, we call him Dino. Our grandfather's idea to name us... we just shorten them. I'm Vash... they're Willie, Dino and Tony." To Zil, Vash nods softly, "Yes, I think we might."

Zildjian straightens, murmuring loftily to Kerry, "You gotta problem with unusual names?" and then grinning.

Kerry nods, his ears picking up the soft voices through the gabble. "Time for peace between your families, I think. Our humans built us to fight their wars, and we should perhaps lead the way away from that. Remember what happened to Terra Two."

Vash grins. "Our older brother, he got the better name, I think. Means 'dances with death'."

Kerry grins at Zildjian. "Nothing wrong with unusual names. But there are usually gender conventions."

Zildjian grins amusedly, "Yeah, raaaaht... like there're a lotta women named Wrath... or gendered cymbals."

Vash snickers. "But they're good cymbals. My brother Tony swears by them."

Kerry skrees, "Oh, I dunno... Wrath is a good name for some femmes I know."

Zildjian laughs easily, then grins, "Okay... y'all got anythin' else you wanna ask the students, or want me to shoo 'em out now?"

Douglas blinks. "I don't think I do, at least... not that I can think of..."

Kerry shakes his head. "It's been fun, but we need to think seriously about our plans now."

Vash smiles in parting to the artist. "Thank you again." He bows his head to her.

Zildjian grins, flickering her tongue teasingly at Kerry... then nods and starts shooing students out. They generally troop out, more or less protestingly/resignedly, although the artist and Annifred, the troll woman, peek back in and wave cheerfully before leaving. Vash grins widely. Douglas waves back as the troll woman waves, still more than a little dazed. Zildjian whews! -flopping across the table (which creaks loudly again) once they're all out. "Man, they's an enthusiastic bunch!"

Vash sits back against the table, leaning his elbows on the surface with his back to it. "I can see why you're happy here."

Kerry chirrips in agreement as he flips himself upside down to hang from the ceiling again. "For sure and certain. I'm not sure I'd ever really be happy stuck on the ground for the rest of my life, but there's worse places to do it."

Zildjian slithers part of her tail up and folds her arms over it, resting her chin on her fist and smiling at Vash, "Ayup... 're mostly nice folks heah, long as you know the protocols."

Douglas nods quietly. "It -- this place, that is -- has quite an effect on us -- well, on me, at least -- I don't know about the rest of you..."

Zildjian rolls her eyes to grin up at Kerry, "You wanna be up inna air? Heh... ask Annifred -- or any of the Stone folk -- for a toss!"

Kerry grins and sticks his tongue out. "It's not the same as flying a jet or a spacecraft, or living in freefall. Unless... Zil, are there dragons here?"

Vash nods, looking up at Zil. "I have to admit I'm a bit jealous. The peace back on Earth is pretty tenuous... between the Southwest and the situation in Europe... feels like everything's just ready to fall apart at any time." He sighs and shakes his head. "Idiots."

Zildjian nods slowly to Kerry, "Ayup... there are places with dragons, Kerry. But... be real careful if'n you decide to go visit, 'kay? Some of 'em aren't nice folks." The dryad, disconcertingly, sticks her head directly out of the wall and queries Zildjian, who answers. Douglas gives a start as the dryad -- isn't that what Kerry called her? -- suddenly appears. Vash just waves languidly when she makes her appearance.

Kerry chuckles. "The legends agree on that wholeheartedly. If they can fly, though, maybe I could do it myself... with the right magic..."

Zildjian says, "The Azteca... they follow a dragon, or a flying serpent... no one heahbouts has been able to examine it definitively. Quetzalcoatl... an' the're dragons in the Chin Empire."

The dryad smiles shyly at Douglas... then slips back into the wall and vanishes. Kerry blinks at the dryad. "I do not want to try to calculate her probability function. Not one bit."

Vash says, "Kerry, I'm not sure she has one."

Zildjian grins lazily, "Don' worry yo' pretty li'l pointy-eared head 'bout it. She don' care, really."

Douglas blinks at the disappearing dryad, then says distractedly, "Quetzalcoatl... wasn't that what you called that dragon we saw, Pilot?"

Vash says, "Well, it wasn't really a dragon. That didn't look like Quetzalcoatl... that was more like the kind of feathers he'd have."

Kerry nods. "Came from the right area, and had the right phenotype. The Feathered Serpent."

Zildjian reaches up to lazily rub one of Kerry's tall ears, "Aykuh's real nice too. Wasn't fo' her, Ah'd prolly be dead. She thought Ah was a real lamia -- that's why she saved me -- but we became frien's anyways, even though Ah ain't one a' th'immortals."

Douglas says, "...except, of course, that it went right through the shuttle."

Kerry looks seriously at Zil. "Maybe not, but you're a phoenix immortal, aren't you. You slipped earlier... said you had fought Vash's ancestor, then corrected it to your grandmother. You have their memories, don't you?" Douglas blinks, looking at Kerry.

Zildjian nods distractedly to Doug, "Dunno what 'zact-" She cuts off suddenly, starting and sitting bolt upright so she's eye to eye with the upside down bat. Vash sits up slowly. He doesn't smile, or move, or blink. He hopes, in his most guarded heart, that isn't true. Zildjian stares intently at Kerry for a while, obviously not sure what to say and thinking furiously... finally she sighs softly, settling down on her coils so she's only about 3 or 4 feet high on the table. "Man... you don' miss a beat, do you?" She laughs ruefully, "Damn batties." She sighs, flexing her hands nervously, "Okay... Ah'm gonna ask a real big favor of y'all now, 'kay? Please, please, please... if'n you go back t'Old Terra, don't tell that? 'Cause you're close, Kerry... but not quite on, an'... Ah'd rather you didn't snoop aroun' tryin' to find out. That'd be... bad..."

Vash sits stone still for several long moments. He regards Zildjian with a look that doesn't speak so much of surprise as disappointment. He stands up, slowly, and picks up his deck shoes. He turns toward the door, saying quietly, "Excuse me a moment, please."

Zildjian hisses gently, "Vash... don't go yet, please." Vash pauses, but only turns back halfway.

Kerry drops back to the floor, turning an aerial somersault on the way down, and bows deeply to the lamia in apology. "My word of honor, Doctor. I should not have voiced that suspicion in public." He stands up, pivoting to where Vash was sitting. "Captain. Please." Vash remains where he is, listening.

Zildjian sighs at Kerry's comment, nodding. "Waall... what's said is said." She gives Vash a worried look, then glances towards Douglas.

Douglas looks between Kerry and Zil, then back and forth a couple of times. He looks about ready to ask what the hell that was all about... when something like comprehension alights upon his features. "But... that makes no sense..." he murmurs. "I can't even begin to think about what it would take, this is much more the Doctor's field..." He looks at Zil, blinking in surprise. "Uhm... oh, right. No, I won't say anything. When we get back to Terra." Even with his purposeful emphasis, he isn't really sure if he wants to go back, but for the moment that's moot. Besides, he ponders, there's no reason that the humans need to know that. He blinks again, wondering where that thought came from.

Zildjian looks relieved at Doug's words... then looks at Vash. Her gaze is almost -- hard to tell, but almost... pleading looking? Vash looks away. "You have my word. As a Montoya."

Zildjian sighs softly and hissingly, settling on the table... then smiles a bit ruefully, "Okay. Ah cain't tell y'all how much that means to me... Ah... waall, keeping secrets is impor'nt to survival... fo' a lamia." She pauses, thinking a bit, then continues slowly, "Dunno what it's lahk where y'all come from... but one a' th'things uplifts in Texias learn real quick is that... that y'ain't... real. Y're... disposable... even if'n y'don' feel that way 'bout y'self. So... hiding, keeping secrets... it's just part of survival, y'know?" She looks embarrassed, "Ah f'got that, heah... got outta th'habit."

Kerry looks nearly as relieved as Zildjian by the armadillo's agreement. Next time, you think before you speculate on someone else's secrets in public, you idiot. He skrees, "You don't need to keep secrets so much here, and I can only imagine how free you must have felt. I only wish we could bring the rest of your people here, Zildjian."

Zildjian takes a deep breath... then nods firmly and continues, "So... theah was 250 of us originally. In that first series of wars they din' know to breed us first, then send the parent generation out to battle... so we lost about half of us in those years." She goes very quiet and still, her eyes far away, then continues, her voice soft and low, almost lost sounding, "We keep our lost sisters alive in memory. All of us... it was an accident... we have eidetic memories, an' it passes on t'th'daughter. All th'memories... memory's jus' chemicals inna brain, y'know. We knew... we knew telling that would erase any chance any of us had t'escape. So we kept it a secret... killed those that found out, however necessary, and kept it a secret." She looks pleadingly at the small group, "Can y'all unnerstand that? -that need to lie an' kill t'survive? 'Cause... after th'last fertile one of us dies... we're gone, doomed... even if we're still alive."

Vash turns away again. "I understand. I gave you my word. At the moment... I haven't got anything else to say." He moves silently toward the door, his tail lashing violently. He doesn't seem particularly angry. It's not the same sort of energy that he exhibited during the boarding exercise, or when being sucked into the hag pond. It's rather like someone just pulled the string out of his back.

Kerry skrees, "Could you let us talk alone, Captain?"

Zildjian watches Vash quietly... then murmurs, "Yo' gran'father was frien's with Xenon of th'Rupali line. If'n you wanna hear what she said 'bout him, Ah'd be happy to tell you."

Vash pauses for just a moment, "...yes. But... later." He turns back and is gone.

Kerry nods to Zil, and continues after Vash and Douglas leave. "The Keero did the same thing at the beginning. For those of us in the US, it was never as urgent, but we still have an ultrasound language that few know about... and we share that with our compatriots in Texas. It transcends national boundaries for us."

Zildjian waits until everyone's gone... then turns to Kerry, her hands on her hips, and hisses, "What th'hayl you think you doin', heah, boah?! Thought you guys was s'pposed to be discreet!" She mutters irritatedly under her breath to herself, then folds her arms and glowers at Kerry.

Kerry looks terribly embarrassed. "I don't know, to be honest. What's in that ale? It... it just came together for me at that moment. And I've been with these three for months now... I guess I was thinking of them as fellow Keero. Will you forgive me? Someday?"

Zildjian snaps, "Ale! Jus' good ale!" She stares down at the diminutive bat, her eyes glittering... then finally sighs and settles to rest an elbow on the table, "Man, yo' one hayl of a shit disturber... what'm Ah s'pposed t'do now? Ah cain't jus' kill y'all... ain't raht... but Ah cain't exactly betray mah entire species! What happens if'n y'all blurt it out by accident again?" She drums her long-nailed fingers nervously on the table, resting her chin in her free hand and staring into the distance. Her tail tip quivers nervously, a small reminder of the few rattler genes used in her species' initial creation.

Kerry goes back to his perch on the roof, huddled in his wings and rather miserable looking. "Anything local that might work to selectively erase memories?"

Zildjian sighs hissingly again, "Dunno, Kerry. Been strugglin' t'learn the language -- ain't spent any time learning about what's taught at the university yet, so Ah dunno if there's anything special theah in that regard." She stares up at Kerry in the dim roof above her, and sighs softly, "You got any suggestions, batty?"

Kerry sighs. "I won't say anything again -- it just caught me by surprise -- and I'd trust Vash the same way. Douglas... he seems absent minded at times, but he isn't really. I've put you in a spot through a moment's carelessness, though. It's a moot point if we can't get Alshain off the ground, anyway."

Zildjian mutters, "Don' tempt me, Kerry..." then goes back to drumming her fingers nervously.

Kerry breathes a little easier. "I had to point it out. Mea culpa."


Vash stalks out into the dark, and puts one foot out in front of the other. Just walking. He doesn't even know where he's going. Just automatic. The crushed gravel crunches under his deck shoes. He takes a deep breath, rubbing his eyes with the heels of his hands. They probably think he's angry. That's not really true... he's just broken up badly. I don't... I never... blamed any of the Texan uplifts for anything that happened to them... not after El Paso. I don't blame HER either... Zildjian... He takes one turn, and then another, crisscrossing through shadowed alleyways. Eventually he breaks clear into a small, unpaved atrium. Standing up against the starlight is a familiar scaffold. I don't blame her either.

Vash stares up at the twisted rope. He sighs bitterly, dragging his hands over his head plates, clawtips digging into the carapace surface. He turns and collapses back onto his haunches with a long exhalation, leaning against the structure. It creaks under his weight; it doesn't appear to have been used for years. Some distant part of himself evaluates the rope; don't think it'd even hold a criminal now if they tried. He tells it to shut up; he's got enough clutter in his mind. He doesn't blame Zildjian, no... just the opposite. He likes her. Very, very much so. But the possibility exists that in some way she may be the same person that fought Grandfather all those decades ago. And if that's the case... isn't he bound by his honor to hate her? Part of him tries to rise up in his throat, start reviling himself for being so friendly. He squashes it. I have enough problems already.

Vash groans softly under his breath. He hangs his head, clasping his hands over his neck. It's cold out here in the shadow of the scaffold, and he can feel his Grandfather's shadow very heavily. What's he supposed to do? Who the hell is that back there? And... what if she is that person from long ago? What can he do? Challenge her... even though he knows that the odds are dramatically in her favor. Even though it'd mean his death. He stands up and shakes himself a little at that thought, pushing it away. Please... for once in my life, Grandfather... SHUT UP! He runs his hands back over his head again, and as he opens his eyes again, seeing the moon opposite the line of buildings he realizes that he's standing in the shadow of the loop. He starts to laugh brokenly under his breath; it's either karma or it's arbitrary, but either way it's just not his night.


Zildjian goes utterly still, eerily reminiscent of her reptilian ancestors, staring into the darkness of one corner... then, slowly, her golden-eyed gaze rises to the small bat, "Kerry... you serious 'bout wantin' t'help cover this up?"

Kerry skrees, "My mistake, my responsibility. Hmm... how about a geas? That ought to work here if they have dragons and trolls and God-Kings."

Zildjian's nictitating lids flash across her eyes in surprise... then, in spite of herself she grins. She straightens, one hand on the wall, rising up on her tail easily until she's once again eye to eye with Kerry. She hisses softly, "You asked earlier 'bout lamia legends, yah? Waall... it's not 'zactly lahk a geas... mo' a mental command. You willin' t'try it?" She hesitates, then adds quietly, "Fo' mah people, even if not fo' me?"

Kerry skrees, "I would do it for you, Zil. For your people, I would risk much more. I have a duty to my own folk -- all our Uplifted folk -- back on Earth Home, and if this is what is necessary to ensure your kind's safety, I'll risk it."

Zildjian studies Kerry silently for a moment, her tongue flickering thoughtfully, very close to Kerry's face as she thinks... then she smiles, her face relaxing, and reaches out (slowly enough to not cause alarm) to carefully hug the upside-down bat. "Thanks, Kerry. Ah don' know why yo' so nice t'me alla th'time... but Ah won' evah f'get this. None a'mah line-" she hesitates, then continues firmly, "None a'mah line, if I have any, will f'get you, Kerry. Promise."

Kerry wraps his wings around Zil, and tries to be nonchalant. "There's a few skeletons in my closet too, Zil. I owe something to those ghosts, not to let it happen again." A moment later Kerry sighs. "I didn't think it through. I should have known I wasn't actually the first to figure it out. The cowboys aren't stupid, really, except for a couple blind spots about us uplifts."

Zildjian just hugs Kerry for a moment... then lets go, lowering herself enough so they're eye to eye again, even though they're upside down to each other. "So... if'n y'don' mahnd, c'n we take care a'this raht away... please?"

Kerry nods. "What do we need to do?"

Zildjian grins ruefully, tapping one long-nailed golden finger gently against the tip of one of Kerry's large, sensitive ears, "Live an' learn, mah dams always useta say. Jes' think first next tahm, 'kay?" She hesitates, thinking a moment, then nods, "Ah'm thinkin' maht be best t'do this in mah room. Won't be no interruptions, an' if'n you fall over Ah c'n just tuck you in an' let you sleep it off."

Kerry chuckles. "Didn't you ever look in on me when I was asleep on the Platte? Just give me an overhead pipe, and I'll be fine."

Zildjian nods, "Yeah, but unless you grab automatically Ah don'know how t'hook you up theah if'n you're unconscious." She tilts her body and head curiously, almost right-side up to his point of view, "How close are y'all instinctively t'real bats, d'y'know?"

Kerry shrugs. "Hard to tell. We know how to use the sonar sense, we automatically try to fly -- sometimes as young kits we actually can, y'know -- and we like roosting upside down. I'll automatically grab if I fall asleep and not let go, and I resist falling asleep if I'm upright or prone."

Zildjian nods and waves a hand towards the door, "All raht then... we'll give it a try. This way. Want a lift? Ah gotta flume chimney in Aykuh that you maht have a li'l trouble with." She'll lower her upper torso a bit so he can climb on if he wants, adding quietly, "Don' touch mah neck though, please, if'n you c'n help it? Makes me uncomfortable."

Kerry nods and climbs on. "No wonder. I noticed you flinch before. I'll try not to touch it."

Riding Zildjian is a... different experience. Her gait, if it can be called that, is extremely smooth and fluid, and Kerry's point of view is much higher than ordinary for him when on foot. However, she seems to have as loose a definition of 'upright' as Kerry himself, lowering or raising her torso as needed to fit through doors and around smaller objects. She slithers up to the shuttle, where Kerry also can see its sheered condition, then continues up the 'flume chimney.' It's a narrow vein or channel up through the tree, barely wider than the lamia herself. She climbs easily though, using her own strength to press her coils outwards against the rough walls, slowly slithering upwards in a circular path. She emerges into a small, warm, dimly lit, round room which is stuffed with pillows, blankets, and other bedding stuff, giving the room a cozy, almost womb-like feel -- except for the clear panel across one wall. That shows the room is way up in the highest branches of the tree... and in fact, Kerry can feel the room swaying slightly, now that Zil's stopped her own swaying movement.

Kerry blinks at the sheared hull. "Did you do that, or was it that way when you recovered from the removal of the collar?"

There's a trapdoor in the ceiling, and Zil closes the trapdoor she just slid through. She shakes her head, "We crashed, Kerry. Dunno 'zactly what happened, since Ah was still jus' tossed into engineerin' then... jus' that we came down hard." She reaches for the lamp, then pauses, "You prefer it dimmer, raht?"

Kerry skrees, "Ah. That's... not a relief, exactly, but I was afraid that the Hunt had done it for some reason." He chuckles at her query, "You might say that. 'S why I only took my goggles off to let them sketch my eyes." Then he remembers something. "Oh, by the way. I had wanted to ask, who's Hotspur?"

Zildjian says, "When Ah regained mahself, Ah asked some a' th'Stone folk t'trim it off neatly-lahk, and Aykuh picked it up fo' me an' hooked it into herself a bit. We had ta use a lotta padding so th'tech din' hurt her... but we made it work, finally." She smiles, "Oh, Hotspur's nice... he's gotta crush on Aykuh, Ah think. He's a minotaur on pilgrimage, but Ah don' think he's evah goin' back t'th'islands."

Kerry skrees, "The big fella who came in just before the Wild Hunt showed up?"

She adds, "You've seen him. He was th'guy that slammed th'door shut on th'Wi- raht, him. Not real smart, but sweet."

Kerry finds a spot to hang. "So, this requires eye contact, I assume?"

Zildjian nods. "Yeah. Y'got any questions 'fore we start? Ah'd lahk you t'feel comfortable 'bout this... if'n y'can..." She sounds a bit... apologetic, or perhaps even a touch guilty.

Kerry sighs. "As comfortable as I deserve. I babbled something that I shouldn't have, and I know better. You're going to... whatever it is... hypnotize me to be unable to talk about it, right?

Zildjian nods again, curling up slightly. "An' 'bout th'hypnotism too. That ain't a secret... but if'n you know too much 'bout it, any Texian in th'know will know it's been done to you. An' since most folks it's been used on are daid... waall..." She sighs softly, "Ah'd rather not take chances they'd try to pry why it was done outta you?"

Kerry skrees, "They bred you for that, and the other accidentally came along, I suspect. Trust me, I don't intend to visit Texas any time soon. Come to think of it, I don't intend to visit Texas anytime in my next two lives."

Zildjian stays politely curled up at one end of the room, doing her best to keep the much smaller bat from feeling either claustrophobic or trapped. She grins faintly at his comment, then looks interested, "Y'all pass on memories too?"

Kerry chuckles. "No, no. A joke about reincarnation, is all."

Zildjian says, "Ah, gotcha. Waall..." She thinks a bit, then shifts her coils around, making a small declivity in front of her torso so that she's about eye-to-eye with it. She looks up at Kerry a little solemnly, and pats her coils, "Come sit?"

Kerry blinks. "Oh, okay. Body contact helps, eh? I wonder if my goggles would block it... might be an interesting experiment..." He flits back down and perches, settling into the coils as well as he can with a body not built for sitting.

Zildjian looks a little embarrassed, "Waall, nah... it um... reassures me that Ah ain't hurtin' you. Nevah done this in this body, an'... um... waall, nevah mind." She shifts her coils slightly under Kerry to accommodate him a bit better. "Comfy? Need a blanket 'r a pillow 'r something?"

Kerry skrees, "It's your show. Although if polarized goggles could block you, it might be a hint that we could do that with the Hunt folks. Maybe..." He shakes his head. "No, I don't think I want a pillow. They're hard on the ears." Zildjian nods, her expression faintly concerned... then fusses a bit with blankets behind herself, apparently not able to get them exactly right. He grins, and breaks into an old song for a moment. "I've got my wings to keep my warm..." He twitches a little. "Zil, is something wrong?"

Zildjian says, "No! Nuthin'... Ah'm jus'... um..." she looks guilty, "Ah... Ah'm still new t'havin' frien's, Kerry. Ah'm sorry. Ah jus' feel... really funny, doin' this t'a frien'." She sighs, straightening and taking a deep breath, "Okay okay okay... Ah'm ready. Ah'm sorry... no moah stallin'."

Kerry nods and settles, staring into the lamia's wide-slitted eyes with his pure black ones. "Let's try it, then. This isn't for you, it's for your kind. Safer this way, too. If you tried to just erase it, then I'd probably figure it out again later."

Zildjian sighs and nods ruefully... then nods again firmly to herself. She settles down, wriggling her coils and her shoulders a bit to loosen up, then reaches forward to gently cup Kerry's small face in her golden hands. "Okay... yo'raht agin, Kerry." She smiles faintly, her tongue flickering softly across his cheek for a moment, warm and smooth... her eyes are huge in the dimness, glowing almost a lambent, liquid gold that's very pretty. Her voice murmurs softly, sounding as if it comes from a great distance, "Ssoo... tell me 'bout yo' fam'ly, Kerry? Wha'ss th'earliesst mem'ry y'have?"

Kerry skrees, "Earliest memories... the crèche. Don't have families like most Uplifts and humans... but the crèche-mothers and our age-mates were our family. Remember the first time we went out in the open... so strange that first time, so sound-dark... no echoes from the walls and ceilings... The crèche-mothers all wore flight boosters to chase us down when we tried to fly... loved that...."

Zildjian is humming faintly, a peacefully monotonous drone... her hands are warm where they gently hold Kerry's face still, and the coils behind him are firm and warm, cradling him snugly... warmth and stillness and huge golden lamps over him, and being held very, very still...

    ...and swimming up from atavistic genetic memory it comes the nightmare he'd been warned never forget always watch he'd forgotten so huge so huge and swift faster than he can react and mouth full caught trapped on the branch coils too tight so tight can't breath can't move can't fly...!

Kerry skreeks in panic, wings beating frantically as he tries to push off and flee from the vision, calling for help in the Keero language, ultrasonic pulses filling the air and his own ears. He wakes in terror, one wing pinned at an awkward angle, the other restrained against his straining body by firm coils, and hissing in his ears, "Kerry! Kerry, wake up! Kerry, 'ss'awl raht, yo' ssafe -- Kerry, talk to me!"

Kerry shivers. "Eeee, what a nightmare. I'm back, Zil, I'm okay now. What happened?"

Zildjian studies him worriedly, her coils still holding him, searching his eyes, "If'n Ah let go, y'ain't gonna ssmassh y'sself into th'sceiling, are ya?"

Kerry chuckles, although it's a bit shaken. "Not likely. I lost the ability to actually lift my own weight off the ground when I was six. Does that sort of thing happen a lot?"

Zildjian whews gustily, her coils flipping off him smoothly, "Damn if'n Ah know what it wass, Kerr... Ah'd just finisshed ssettin' thingss in y'haid, an' assked you if'n y'unnersstood. Y'sstarted t'ansswer, but y'ssounded real blurry, lahk y'were havin' trouble makin' wordss... an' then y'juss' about exsploded inta action! Fortunately Ah grabbed ya pretty quick-lahk..." She mutters something to herself about needing a drink, and searches under the pillows until she finds a cork-stoppered flask. She glances around for a mug or something, then simply shrugs, pops the cork, and has a long swig. "Whew... needed that. Y'jus'bout gave me a heart attack theah, Kerry... thought Ah'd killed ya or somethin'! Heah, have some."

Kerry shivers again. "Nasty nightmare, it was. Being attacked by a snake, somehow... no offense."

Zildjian nods, surprisingly unsurprised and her accent more hissing than Texan, "Sshould have exspected that, all thingss conssidered." She sighs, curling up with her elbows resting on a raised coil and her chin in her hands, "Ussually that'ss ssaved for last ditch effortss... that ssplit ssecond of sshocked sstillness that letss you ssuccsesssfully finissh the attack againsst overwhelming oddss... or..." she goes still for a moment, then sighs gustily again, "-or... when sstarving and you can't afford to missss..."

Kerry takes the flask, sniffs it cautiously, and takes a sip. "Whoooof." He relaxes though, as the liquid warms his blood. "It was... I wasn't thinking in words, just in perceptions and vectors. Maybe we all do have a bit of that ancestral memory after all. And one of my ancestors was almost nabbed by a rattlesnake one fine evening... unpleasant experience, it was. Let's see if it worked, eh?"

Zildjian smiles faintly at the bat's reaction to the liquor, "Tha'ss th'good sstuff... for when I need ssomethin' to curl up with..." She nods, lifting her head slightly, "Ssure, let'ss tesst. What did we jusst do, Kerry?"

Kerry nods. "Easy enough. You were... giving me a seat and asking me about my childhood, and I dozed off and had a nightmare for some reason. Sleeping in that position, probably."

Zildjian sighs softly and smiles, her face lightening for the first time in the last hour or so. "Thank goodnesss... thankss, Kerry. Wouldja lahk to resst a bit? You c'n hang from that branch theah, if'n y'want? An' Ah'll go find the othahss?"

Kerry blinks at his response. "Interesting." He pauses, his brain obviously tracking around the problem of articulating what he can't easily say. "Have to be careful with loaded weapons, not to have an accidental discharge, eh?" He shakes his head. "I'd best go along. I doubt they'll go without my persuasion." He looks worn, but not sleepy.

Zildjian nods quietly, "Then lemme give ya a ride down." She opens the trapdoor in the floor, then rolls a shoulder forward so he can hop on if he wants, glancing inquiringly over her shoulder at him.

Kerry looks longingly out the window, but it doesn't seem to be openable -- and the shaft is too narrow for his wingspan -- so he climbs on again. "Hiyo, Goldie! Away!"

Zildjian's nictitating membranes slide across her eyes in startlement... then she giggles, "Ain't gonna rear... we'd smack our heads! So we'll jus' have t'do our down-th'-rabbit-hole impression..." She lets them fall forward and downward into the hole, swirling smoothly down it with the practiced ease and pleasure of someone who's enjoying what they're doing.

Kerry resists the urge to open his wings on the way down, and soon enough gets off again at the bottom. "Now, let's see if Vash and Douglas are around anywhere."

Kerry and Zildjian head into the main room, looking for Doug or Vash. They pass the blissful-looking Sakura and Larrikan, who gives them a wink and a knowing grin. In response to Zil's quietly hissed question he points to the door. The big lamia looks worried, increasing the speed of her formerly easy slither, "He left. He'ss out inna ss'city... alone. C'mon, we bettah hurry... if'n y'don'know what t'watch out for it can be dangerousss out theah..." She grabs a rather frayed looking jacket from a peg by the bar, shrugging into it as she heads out the front door. The jacket has had the entire collar region ripped out and roughly sewn down, and sports a perky swatch of greenery tied with a little brown bow to one shoulder.

Kerry skrees, "Why am I not surprised. I'll keep my ears open."

Zildjian turns to look down at Kerry once they're outside, "You heah anythin', or sshould Ah try trackin' 'im down?"

Kerry points. "Don't know if it's him, but someone's fighting off that way." Zildjian looks more worried, and whips down the roadway swiftly, her coils swirling back and forth and propelling her with surprising speed along the crushed rock road. Kerry squeaks and hangs on. "Remind not to race you, Zil." There's only a soft, hissing laugh as a response.




Last modified: 2000-Dec-15 10:56:14

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