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Visiting Alshain... or Not?

The professor takes his leave, the students going with him, trundling off to their respective classes. The dining room of the big tree is relatively quiet now, and the crew finds a few minutes of relative calm to talk to Zildjian and Aykuh about whatever may be on their minds.

Sakura frowns thoughtfully... quiet while she tries to puzzle this out. Kerry skrees, "Hmm... I know we can't ask for hints, but I'd feel more comfortable with more background. What's Crossroads like, Zil? How many folk live here, how do they make their living, what's the history?"

Zildjian settles next to the table, answering, "Ah haven't been heah long 'nough t'travel th'world 'n see it all, Kerry, so Ah don' know what th'world as a whole is lahk. F'that, you'd have t'talk t'a real lamia, in the Raj Empire, 'r at th'least ask at th'university. Ah have heard that things're diff'rent in th'diff'rent empires, but Ah don' know too many details."

Kerry shrugs, a little uncomfortable at Zil's continued self-deprecation, but lets it slide. "Well, how about locally? I know you've got farmsteads -- what else?"

Zildjian says, "As far as Karlshtrasseh goes, Ah haven' thought t'aysk how many people live inna town. There're foresters, gatherers, hunters, 'n craftsmen heah, who seem t'suppoht each othah's needs pretty well. There's also th'University, with its teachers 'n students. There're some farms, but nothin' lahk th'giant stretches a' farmland at home." Sakura absently smiles just a little at the mention of students. She doesn't seem to notice that she's doing it.

Kerry nods. "And a weird mix of technology and magic, to boot. Seems not to require too much centralized production, though..." He ponders this for a bit, then continues. "What about government? Is there a police force, an army of any sort? Taxes?"

Zildjian says, "Th'gov'ment's a monarchy, led by th'Queen a' th'Fey, with several levels a' lesser nobles representin' her locally. Outside of what'd be our Europe, wahl, Ah don' know how they do things."

Kerry blinks. "That explains the coinage, then. You seem to be happy enough, so I gather they're not unreasonable, for a government."

The lamia shifts a little, coils sliding across one another, and leans a bit against the table, considering the rest of the question before she asks, "Police where? Locally or from th'Queen? Ah haven't run into anything lahk that. Taxes... wahl, they call 'em tithes heah, an' Ah cain't 'splain how they work... but they seem to. It's not a tax-rate system lahk we have; more a barter system based on need 'n surplus. It's quite acceptable t'donate y'time, too." She grins, "Y'maht say it's more of an ad-hoc-racy... if'n y'got extras of somethin', share it with someone that needs it."

Sakura says, "So if you don't have money to pay your taxes, you can do community service?"

Kerry hrrms. "Sounds like working socialism. That never managed to work on Earth Home."

Zildjian nods to Sakura, "Raht... folks all know each othah heah abouts, so you c'n go offah t'help someone that y'know needs it, if'n you don' have any coinage."

Sakura says, "What a wonderful system. I can see why you want to stay, Zildjian-san."

Zildjian nods to Sakura, her demeanor contentedly relaxed, "Ah don' know how they make it work heahbouts... but it does. If'n Ah were more of an anthropologist, Ah'd guess it had t'do with either everyone knowin' each othah, so slackers are noted... or that theah was someone or thing keepin' track." She beams, "But Ah shoah lahk th'results!" Then she glances at Kerry and smiles, "So... what kinda police force were you referrin' to?"

Sakura smiles at Zildjian, "Either way, Zildjian-san, if it works, it is a wonderful thing..."

Kerry skrees, "Something honest keeping track. Although with a small enough population and some kind of social pressure... heck, what did the professor say about the importance of gifts? It might be that the nature of the magic that works here enforces it. The parasite problem was always what killed socialism on Earth home..."

Zildjian nods to Kerry, resting her chin in her hands, "Yeah... ain't seen mucha that heah. Maybe it's diff'rent elsewhere... but this is what Ah was taught it worked lahk heah in Karlshtrassuh."

Kerry skrees, "I suppose we can wait until we have our translators working before we go and hassle the folks at the University. We've got to get Vash back on his feet so we can go looking for these swan pebbles."

Sakura will, while Vash is down, quite happily offer any assistance that she can to the locals. She's more than willing to help out here in the bar in any way that she can. Though she's never worked in a bar or restaurant before, she's an eager learner. Should any of the locals get a little rowdy and need patching up after their night in the bar, her medical kit is ready. Zildjian is very happy to accept Sakura's assistance, since she's occasionally short-handed when Aykuh is... off-line isn't the right word, but there do seem to be times when she doesn't make her presence known.

The days that Sakura is working in the bar go swiftly and easily for her, mostly because there's always music and cheerful people around. This might be due to a certain happy fox spirit spending quite a bit of time there, playing his fiddle for folks and occasionally singing -- and giving the odd rogueish wink to the pretty new waitress at the Silver Egg.

Sakura seems quite happy working at the Silver Egg, and does her best to learn the job well. She soon realizes, between listening at the bar and talking with Zildjian about languages, that she's picked up a good smattering of the local tongue -- enough to make herself understood, even if she's not yet get getting idioms, jokes, or complicated snatches of sung poetry. She also knows a few of the popular, rowdy bar songs, although she suspects they're not the type she really should be singing...

The piglet also seems quite happy with Sakura's current studies... he either trots busily and briskly around Sakura's feet as she patters back and forth, or curls neatly up on the hearthstones next to Larrikan and does his best to 'sing' along with small grunts and squeals in time to the music.

Kerry helps out on the night shift, mainly with cooking and washing up. As a consequence he frequently meets the huge minotaur that works the kitchen of the Silver Egg, since Hotspur (a competent and surprisingly conscientious cook) doesn't leave until late at night. The minotaur is not much given to conversation, which works out well since Kerry doesn't speak the language, but he seems quietly pleased to find out that Kerry's much smaller fingers are occasionally very useful for fine detail work in the kitchen.

    Hotspur towers over most people, looming about 8 or 9 feet tall. He's quite a sight, with his broad, powerful shoulders supporting his thick, muscular neck, and the wide, curving spread of his sharply pointed horns above his large, unmistakably bovine head. Considering what those solid horns must weigh, it's easy to see the necessity for both the heavy musculature and the thick, colossal body. A long, tufted tail swings easily behind him.

A few days into Vash's convalescence Kerry makes a point of speaking more-or-less privately to Zil. "Before we go on this little expedition, I want to make sure Alshain is all right, and maybe pick up some more equipment. Knives at least, and rifles if they work. I want to test that, of course... and no, I won't test them by firing into the woods!" Zildjian suggests he not go alone, since the forest is, like the city, not without its attendant dangers and predators. Kerry chirrips. "After Vash's little encounter, I had no intention of going by myself. I suspect that Doug will want to check on things as well, and I was hoping I could get you to come along. It's not that far."

Zildjian thinks about that, tilting her head... then grins, "Wahl now... Ah guess a short vacation would be all raht, if'n folks don't mahnd!"

Kerry grins. "You do get days off now and then, don't you?"

Zildjian laughs! "Yeah, Ah do... Ah jus' don' usually want 'em!"

Sakura says, "Zildjian-san. I could cover for you, if they'd let me. I don't mind pulling some extra shifts so that you can go and help Kerry-san and Douglas-san."

Preparations for a trip begin. Douglas has gone off with Annifred to look at something she has, and should return the next day. When he doesn't show up in the morning, plans change a little. Hotspur is asked to go along to keep any threats at bay, and Zildjian stays at the inn to cover for him. Sakura comes along to make sure someone can talk to the big minotaur. Larrikan asks to join the group, citing an itch to get out of the town for a little, and nobody seems to mind.

Kerry makes sure he's got a sprig of rowan wood before setting out, although he's not sure yet whether or not iron and steel will negate it -- or, for that matter, whether they will have the effects here that the old tales tell about them. Sakura seems quite happy to be going back to the ship briefly. She's certainly a lot more confident about this trip than she may have been. She carefully packs the medical kit and a backpack of things that she may need. Larrikan finds a moment with Sakura before they depart the inn, and asks her softly, "Are you going to wear your dress?"

Sakura smiles at Larrikan, ducking her head, "Certainly..." She slips upstairs to change into the dress, carefully folding her flight-suit and stuffing it too into her backpack. The piglet turns up with his coat gleaming from careful self-grooming, and trots around Sakura's feet briskly as she prepares. He seems quite pleased with Sakura's dress when she changes, trotting back and forth so the fringes trail across his back, and occasionally giving short, happy squeals. Sakura giggles at the little piglet. "I'm going to start calling you Kawaii, if you keep that up."

The piglet seems utterly unfazed at the thought of a name... he looks a little smug, in fact, as he trots, head held high, into the main room with Sakura. She comes back into the main room where the others are waiting, with a little blush across her cheeks and creeping towards her ears. She's obviously a little self-conscious in this outfit, but she's careful to move a little more gracefully and carry herself just a little more straightly. Larrikan smiles and says to her, "Not only do its colors flatter you," as he trails his fingers lightly over the ribbons at one of her shoulders, "-but it is stitched against some of the unpleasant things in the forest."

Sakura blushes and gives Larrikan a little hug. "Thank you."

Hotspur comes out of the kitchen, carrying a large sack. He looks at Sakura, then gives Larrikan an odd look. He bows to the lady, rumbling something quietly, which she understands as, "I think we're ready to go now."

Kerry grins as the doctor shows up in native costume. I really do need to ask her where she got that... Sakura looks back to Kerry. "Hotspur-san says that he thinks we're ready, Kerry-san."

Zildjian waves as she sees everyone off, "Take care, y'all! Listen to Hotspur if'n there's any trouble, an' have a good tahm!"

Kerry nods. "Let's be on our way, then." He waves back to Zil. "Will do. Take care of Vash for us 'til we get back, okay?"

Zildjian grins, "Ah'll make sure he stays put, yeah!"

Kerry chuckles. "And remember, if he starts giving you trouble, just call him 'Your Nebulosity'."

Sakura bows formally, in the Japanese style to Hotspur, "My thanks, Hotspur-san. We are ready."

Hotspur steps outside of the tree, smiling in to the sunshine, and asking Sakura, "Which way?"

Sakura looks around, trying to remember which way they came from. Finally, she gives up and looks at Kerry. "Which way, Kerry-san? I can't remember..."

Kerry points down the street with a wing tip. "That-a-way. Four blocks, take a right and out past the city limits."

Sakura says, in both languages in turn, "Maybe we should let you lead for now, Kerry-san? Since you know the way..."

Hotspur nods, and begins walking slowly in the indicated direction, letting someone else lead. The big minotaur's slow walk is enough to keep up with the others, and he works to let Kerry stay in the lead and not overtake him. Kerry grins behind his dark goggles. "Just make sure he stops me if I'm about to step into something nasty." He heads off, moving as quickly as he can to stay ahead of the big minotaur. Larrikan walks next to Sakura, smiling happily in the sunshine. Once out past the city limits, he pulls a recorder from his satchel, and begins to play a happy, energetic tune. The piglet squeaks happily at that, and starts cavorting and dancing around the group in time with the music.

Sakura laughs and turns to Hotspur with a grin, "Kerry-san politely requests that you give him a little warning if he's about to walk into a bat-eating tree or other such danger." The minotaur chuckles, and replies to Sakura, smiling pleasantly at Kerry, which is either reassuring or frightening considering his size and strength. Sakura says, "Hotspur-san assures me that he'll keep an eye out for you, Kerry-san. He wouldn't want anything to happen to you."

Kerry chuckles. "Of course not. Zil likes me, and not even he'd want to cross her. It shouldn't be a problem as long as we don't wander off the trail, I suspect."

The walk towards the clearing where the crew left Alshain seems pleasant and uneventful, even as they get farther out of town. Sakura watches the wood cautiously, but not with the amount of fear she had last time they passed this way. Being with the locals has relaxed her somewhat, since they're most likely to know what's dangerous. She smiles gently at Larrikan at times throughout the day, almost apologetically, while the fox spirit seems almost... disappointed as time goes by?

The group stops for lunch, enjoying a pause in the sunshine, and Hotspur produces a set of filling sandwiches and a big bottle of ale to share from his bag. As they eat, Douglas and Annifred come walking up the path, and find them there. Kerry skrees, "There you are! I thought you were supposed to get back yesterday. We're making a run down to the Alshain to check on her and pick up some stuff."

Sakura waves to Douglas and Annifred, "Hello!"

Annifred beams, her big tusks gleaming in the sunshine as she waves to everyone. Hotspur gets a tight hug -- which doesn't seem to faze the big minotaur in the least -- and everyone else gets more careful, delicate greeting hugs. Douglas waves to the group from afar, and as Annifred and he approach, Doug grins quietly. "Hello, Doctor, Hotspur, Larrikan,, Pilot. The Alshain? That sounds like a good plan. I'm glad we caught up with you, actually. We didn't think you would be very far ahead of us, so we hurried." He smiles and nods to Annifred. "Do you remember that person who was working on an engine when we first arrived? Annifred was showing me one of them. They're incredibly interesting; the principles are the same as ours back home, but they're... put together differently." He shifts his feet a little. "I, er, fixed one. That seemed to make them... very happy, actually.

Kerry grins and wraps the friendly troll in his wings to return her hug, then replies to Doug. "Well, you know what Zil said about them... they're tinkerers. They probably think you're one of them."

Douglas chuckles softly. "Me, a troll? There are much worse things to be, I think." He looks around. "You haven't run into any vampiric shrubbery, have you?"

Annifred grins and thumps Douglas on the back in a friendly fashion, cheerfully barking, "Strong-pretty-feets helped us tinker -- and isn't he so cute when he's bashful?! Still smells good too," to the group as Douglas shuffles his feet.

Kerry skrees, "Not today." He chuckles. "Did she just call you pretty-feets again?"

Douglas *erks* a little, still managing to smile even though he imagines several lumbar vertebrae shifting position with the friendly thumping. "I... have no idea, Pilot. I don't know the language nearly as well as the Doctor does..."

Sakura grins at Annifred, "I couldn't agree more, Annifred-san." She smiles at Douglas, "Douglas-san... Annifred-san is quite pleased that you helped them tinker and thinks that your bashfulness is very... becoming."

Kerry chuckles. "She did call him pretty-feets, didn't she?"

Sakura nods at Kerry, grinning, "Yes, she did."

Douglas blinks to Sakura. "Oh! It was most certainly my pleasure to help them, I can't believe how much we might be able to learn from-" He stops short and blinks. "Be... becoming?"

Hotspur asks if they've eaten, and when Annifred answers in the negative he produces two more of the large and delicious sandwiches for them, suggesting they should. Annifred's tail curls around Douglas' ankle when they seat themselves. She seems to like touching Douglas quite a bit, running her large clawed hands over his fur whenever she has even half an excuse to do so. Sakura translates most of what Douglas said to Annifred... and Annifred laughs again upon hearing that. She grins and licks her chops at Doug cheerfully. Sakura looks like she's mentally replaying what she just said to Annifred... Maybe this is one of those tragic cross-idioms incidents. Oops.

Douglas accepts the sandwich gratefully, and munches contentedly on it. He's getting a bit used to Annifred's tail's presence upon him at odd times, but still gives a bit of a start when she does so... Erm, just what is she doing? Examining me? Or, maybe it's just, and it's just a feeling, maybe they simply don't believe in the concept of 'personal space.' He tilts his head to the side, pleasantly, watching Annifred. For that matter, why should it? That's a human convention, after all. ...now where did that thought come from? He blinks as his reverie is interrupted by Annifred's laughter at Sakura's translation. He manages a wan grin to Annifred. Oh, dear...

After lunch is finished, the party continues, Kerry still leading the way, with Larrikan playing his recorder, cheerful music surrounding them, perhaps warning of their approach. The path of logs near the water hag is unchanged, although quiet. Continuing past, the clearing where Alshain landed isn't far. Kerry skrees, "The swamp hag seems to be asleep. Almost there."

Douglas deadpans, "Just so long as it doesn't sleepwalk, Pilot..."

Kerry skrees, "That's what the runes are for. And we know better than to listen to her. I suspect she knows better than to mess with us now, too. You and Vash did do quite a bit of damage to her the last time."

Douglas says, "Oh, definitely. And we were about to give her quite a case of indigestion as our finale. That would show her..."

Kerry chuckles. "Well, yeah. But she didn't get to eat you, and that made it a total loss for her after all."

The clearing opens out from the trail, bushes lining the edge of forest and the stream still tinkling merrily through the center. At the far end of the clearing a slender break shows in the much-thinned forest between this smaller valley and the larger one which lies past it. The trees are still moving slowly out of the way, as Aykuh asked them to. A pleasant breeze wafts the scents of the forest across the open land, and the sun shines warmly on it. Kerry is rather impressed, and asks Sakura how to say 'thank you' in the local lingo. He repeats it to the trees as they pass through the widened pathway, bowing respectfully as he does. Hotspur looks around, and nods approvingly at Kerry's thanks.

Sakura gapes out at the clearing. "My goodness... I can't believe how different this looks..." Douglas blinks, stopping short at the amazing sight of an ambulatory tree. Still rather stunned, and realizing that the trees are indeed, well, in some way people, he manages to nod his head in thanks to the trees as they pass, trying to keep his composure.

Annifred asks Sakura, "Where is this flying metal? Are we close?"

Sakura nods at Annifred, "I think that we must be close to it by now..."

Kerry frowns, looking more and more alarmed as they pass through the last belt of trees. "We should be able to see her by now..."

Sakura looks around, "Kerry-san... where's the ship?"

Douglas also looks around. "Erm... this is the clearing where the Alshain is... was... should be... isn't it? Is that brook around here?"

Sakura walks around the clearing looking at the ground. "How odd... All of the tracks from before are here. What do you make of these ones, Douglas-san." She points at the tracks leading away from where the ship was, into a wall of trees.

Kerry runs forward, pinging away in ultrasound, but the ship is nowhere to be seen. "I know this is where we left her!" In his mad rush forward, the bat manages to trip and fall into the stream. "Awwk... pfoo! ######. I hate getting wet." Hotspur looks worried, reaching one massive hand down to carefully and gently grasp Kerry's waist, lifting him out of the water and onto the shore. He is a rather pathetically bedraggled sight when he drags himself out to look at the tracks. Hotspur rumbles something basso and concerned sounding at the tiny, soggy bat.

Douglas frowns, kneeling and looking at the ground. "Yes... there's the brook." He squints, then gets up and starts to wade into the brook... stopping short at the edge and instead kneeling there. "That's odd... the shuttle landed partly in the brook, but there are no marks here to show- ACK!" A nice dash of water from Kerry's plunge splatters him. "If you think you hate it," he says mildly and wryly to Kerry, "-imagine how I feel. I don't think the Captain and I will go swimming ever again..." He blinks and walks over to Sakura, frowning at the tracks. "I don't know, Doctor," he admits worriedly. "Though we've seen ambulatory trees... I wonder if we can get through there..."

Sakura says, "Kerry-san, Hotspur-san wants to know if you're okay...and so do I. Do you want something to dry with?"

Kerry thanks the minotaur. "I'll be all right. What did you find, Sakura? Who dragged off our shuttle?"

Sakura points the tracks out to Kerry... "I don't know, but maybe we should take a look on the other side of those?"

The tire marks in the brook are obliterated (as flowing water tends to do), but all the other tracks are clear. The small group can make out imprints from where the shuttle landed, and some other, general tracks, which seem to be the crew's initial attempt to move the shuttle. Leading straight from those initial marks, the group can see the dragging tracks of the tires, which head directly away from the landing area. They apparently advance unswervingly towards a thick wall of trees, although the tracks stop cleanly and abruptly some distance before the trees.

Kerry traces the tire marks up to the point where they vanish. "Doctor... I don't think Alshain is behind the trees. I think whoever brought us down in the first place has taken it away again. Translators first... then we hunt down whoever did this once and for all."

Sakura nods at Kerry. "Agreed."

Douglas frowns deeper, his brow furrowing. "This is extremely disturbing. Do you think... the Wild... erm... the local chapter of Hell's Faeries did this?"

Kerry skrees, "That's what worries me. How does one deal with a group that the locals fear?"

Sakura says, "I don't even want to think about it..."

Douglas says, "Let's hope it isn't them, then, Pilot. You are right, translators first..."

Hotspur looks down and asks Sakura again, "Is this the right clearing?" He seems somewhat concerned. Annifred asks Douglas, "What's wrong?" at the furrowed look, but he doesn't understand her. Larrikan has wandered off, along the stream, where he stands and plays some more of his infectious music, not yet realizing anything might be amiss.

Sakura looks at Hotspur and Annifred, "This is the right clearing. These tracks are from our ship, but it's not here now and we were speculating about where it might have gone."

Douglas blinks to Annifred, wishing that they had the translators now. "Erm... Doctor, if I may ask of you, what Annifred said...?"

Sakura says, "Annifred wished to know what was wrong, Douglas-san... I just told her that our ship seems to have... wandered off."

Douglas nods a little dazedly to Sakura. "Thank you, Doctor."

Sakura wanders over to Larrikan, "There's not much to be done here, Larrikan-kun. Our ship is gone..."

Hotspur says, "Oh, my," and looks around seriously, considering. Annifred hugs Douglas crushingly and says, "Don't worry. We'll try and find it." The piglet sits on Sakura's feet, giving her a mournfully commiserative look.

Douglas *erks* at the overwhelming hug, guessing that Annifred is offering -- rather, insisting he take -- commiserations. "Gak... thank... you..." he manages to say. I wonder if the good Doctor knows chiropracty as well...

Larrikan stops playing, and listens to what Sakura tells him. He says, "That's too bad." He then brightens and adds, "I'll be able to spend more time with you!" Sakura smiles at Larrikan. Larrikan smiles widely, leans forward and gives Sakura a happy kiss on her cheek, and then resumes playing the enticing dance tune, skipping merrily along the bank of the stream, his tail flouncing along behind him.

Kerry skrees, "I hope he just said he'll help us find her, Doctor."

Sakura says, "I'm sure, Kerry-san." She goes back over to the rest of the group, saying in both languages. "Should we start looking now or go back and do the translators first?"

Hotspur says to the vixen, "You need to be able to talk. You might also find out what happened from the dryads here."

Kerry skrees, "Translators. If we need to deal with the Hunt we will need to be able to communicate."

Sakura tilts her head to the side, curiously. "How do we speak to them, Hotspur-san?"

Hotspur adds, "I can't talk to them, but the fox might be able to." He points at the skipping Larrikan and adds after a pause, "And if he doesn't, Aykuh can."

Douglas says, "Not that we do not appreciate your success at translating for us, Doctor. But you won't be able to be everywhere if we have to split up for whatever reason." He sighs, looking around. "And I'm hoping the translators will be useful for... nonverbal communication."

Sakura nods at Douglas, "Of course, Douglas-san... You're right."

Kerry picks Aykuh's name out of the minotaur's speech. "Of course... the dryads! We've got witnesses, at least."

Sakura smiles, "Thank you, Hotspur-san." Hotspur smiles somewhat sheepishly and nods in reply to Sakura. She adds for the others, "Hotspur-san has suggested that we try asking the dryads in the area if they know what has happened to the ship, when we start to look for it."

Kerry skrees, "Why not ask them now?"

Sakura slips back over to Larrikan, "Larrikan-kun, can you speak with dryads?"

Larrikan smiles and stops playing his recorder. He answers Sakura with, "When they will talk to me, I can talk to them."

Douglas watches the conversation between the two foxes worriedly and concernedly. Sakura grins, "Do you think they would be willing to speak to you today? Are they talkative?"

Larrikan answers Sakura, "They're not usually very talkative."

Sakura says, "Would you be willing to try? We're hoping that maybe they'll know where the ship went..."

Larrikan says to her, "As a favor to you, I will try. Wait here for my return. It will be a little while."

Sakura leans up on her toes and kisses Larrikan's cheek, "Thank you." Larrikan beams at her, and bounds off into the trees, playing his recorder all the while. Sakura comes back to the group, blushing a little, "Larrikan-san is going to try to speak with the dryads."

Hotspur nods and says, "If that silly fox comes back today it'll be a surprise." He watches the vulpine vanish into the trees, then says, "We should set up camp. We won't make it all the way back today, anyway."

Douglas watches the fox (?) dash off into the forest, and has a sudden suspicion that they aren't going to be seeing him again. "Doctor, Pilot, I confess to nervousness. This doesn't seem like the kind of world where one can safely go into forests for long periods of time..."

Sakura translates Hotspur's words for the rest of the group... then smiles at Douglas, "I'm sure he'll be all right on his own. He fits here."

Kerry skrees, "He's managed to live this long here. I'm sure he knows what he's doing."

Douglas settles down, sitting cross-legged on the ground. "Perhaps. But he didn't know what took the Alshain. But you're right. He's just going to talk to the dryads." One of my friends in the Rutgers drama club would, at this point, jump up and shout, 'Cue dramatic lightning of foreboding!' He looks up into the sky and lets out a bit of a sigh. At least it's not cloudy; ergo no thunder.

The afternoon wears on. Hotspur and the troll rummage around the edge of the clearing for deadwood, and Annifred builds a fire. Over this Hotspur places a large pot, which had been carried here with its lid clamped shut, in his bag. The scent of food begins to drift through the clearing as he heats the stew pot, humming contentedly, unconsciously repeating Larrikan's melody from earlier in the day. Sakura settles down on the ground with the piglet, scritching his back and watching the forest around her. Annifred draws Douglas down to sit next to her also, then contentedly starts running her blunt-clawed fingers through his fur in slow, lazy grooming strokes. She also is humming the fox spirit's tune quietly under her breath.

The native fox hasn't returned even as the sun sets. Neither Annifred nor Hotspur seem to think this is a worry, the minotaur explaining, "He'll probably be back by morning." Hotspur has brought a couple of large blankets and had merely assumed everyone would share them, which seems to delight Annifred.

Kerry sighs, wondering if it would be safe to sleep on one of the dryad trees. Lying on the ground is not his favorite position for sleeping. He skrees, "Sakura... could you ask Hotspur if it would be safe for me to sleep in one of the trees?"

Sakura smiles, "Certainly, Kerry-san. Hotspur-san, Kerry-san would like to know if it would be permissible for him to sleep in one of the trees?"

Hotspur looks bemusedly at the bat and answers, "As long as you don't hurt the tree, and respect them, the dryads won't mind."

Sakura says, "Hotspur-san says that as long as you don't hurt the trees and respect them that the dryads won't mind."

Kerry waits for the translation, then smiles at the answer. "That's a relief. I won't hurt any of them, I assure you."

Douglas sits mostly looking out into the night, enjoying the (for him) unusual experience of being able to exercise his somewhat better-than-human-average night vision. He gives a bit of a start as Annifred starts to, effectively, groom his fur. He wonders about this for only a moment, then sighs comfortably, mentally shrugs, and lightly does the same for Annifred's arm. He glances curiously between Kerry and Hotspur. The dryads should be used to forest animals sleeping on them, after all.

Kerry walks over to the oak nearest the tent, bows, and asks politely if she minds him sleeping there tonight. He doesn't really expect an answer, but adds 'thank you' in the local tongue before making a leap and making it into the lower branches by rapidly beating his wings.

Night falls, the sky black and filled with many more stars than the Indigo's city-bred crew is used to from home. The Milky Way is a bright, creamy splash across the inky sky, the moon casting only a little light. Hotspur offers everyone the blankets, saying, "I'll watch. Sleep, until morning or the fox returns." Annifred has somehow managed to entangle herself comfortably and thoroughly with Douglas... and looks somewhat reluctant to untangle from the warm heap they've made. Douglas doesn't look uncomfortable or put-off, but rather mildly puzzled and a bit hapless. He doesn't mind, though, and finds in the pleasing and rather atavistic atmosphere of the forest, something in his genetic heritage that very much enjoys the night air, the scent of grass and trees, the flickering starlight clearly discernible to his fully-dilated eyes... much against his better judgment, he soon falls asleep. Sakura lays down and tries to get comfortable. She stares up at the night sky, ears perked for music and finding it a little difficult to sleep...

The sun rises and wakes people up early. Hotspur is sitting where he spent the night, watching over the sleepers, and Larrikan has returned, apparently waking no one and curling up warmly with Sakura. As she wakes and realizes this, Sakura makes a happy little sound and just relaxes, reluctant to move... as the sun wakes Larrikan, he yawns widely, and then looks down at the relaxed vixen he is curled up with. He gives her a gentle nuzzle, then licks her ear in a very canine gesture. Sakura twitches her ear a little at the unexpected lick and giggles softly. She opens one eye and looks up at Larrikan, "Morning!"

Larrikan resists the urge to groom the rest of the pretty vixen and says, "So it is. And much nicer because you're here," and smiles dazzlingly at her.

Sakura blushes at Larrikan's words, "Thank you, Larrikan-kun."

Hotspur stands and stretches in the dawn and, after offering apples and nuts for breakfast from his sack, says, "Shall we go back to the inn?"

Annifred yawns hugely when she wakes, her tusks gleaming slightly in the light of the rising sun. She blinks sleepily at Hotspur, then at Douglas... then grins lazily and scritchies Doug's ears gently with her clawed fingertips, rumbling something quietly. Douglas awakens at Hotspur's rumblings also, glancing over to... how the devil did Larrikan...? No, better not ask. He's probably the sprightliest fox Doug has ever seen. No, probably not a fox. What was it Kerry had said? Kitsune. His morning musings are interrupted by a rather more pleasant sensation that starts at, of all places, his ears. Blinking in surprise at first, he holds his head rather still, enjoying the scritching. Ooooh, this is nice... I could have even handled the news that I'd lost my tail for good if the nurse telling me that was doing this at the time.

Kerry slept comfortably in the sheltering oak, waking occasionally to listen to the night and check on Hotspur, who doesn't seem to sleep at all. Kerry sleeps a little later than the others, but finally stretches his wings out and glides back down to the camp for breakfast. "A rather disappointing trip, I'm afraid... but we should head back."

The walk back is somehow a cheerful and lighthearted time regardless of the news the group carries. Larrikan's lovely music is entrancing, inviting one to the Dance, and the piglet and Sakura lead in an oddly graceful duet. The little black piglet cavorts happily around the lovely fox maid, her wispy skirts swirling, and even the big, stolid minotaur nods his heavy head with the music as he lumbers slowly along. Annifred grins at Douglas, grabbing his hands and teasing him into dancing along the path with her as well.

Having reached the inn, the crew discovers that Zildjian has moved Vash down to the main room so he doesn't quite go insane, and it is there where the returning party finds the two of them. Vash appears to be having an animated conversation with Zil, gesturing to punctuate his words, "...I'm telling you... was worth every bit of trouble we went to..." Zildjian is curled up in a neat heap with Blue, the artist, seated on top of the coils and sketching the armadillo as he talks.

Kerry sighs and clambers back up to the overhead once he's dropped off his pack. "I hope you've got plenty of ammunition for that pistol, boss. We've got a serious problem." Zildjian straightens slightly, looking worried... then relaxes slightly at seeing everyone enter, all apparently undamaged.

Vash pauses, resting his hand on the tabletop. "Two clips in my jump-suit and one loaded. How serious is serious?" Hotspur says something to Zildjian at her look of concern, and moves off in to the kitchen, to put thing away and see what a disaster has been made of his kitchen. Zildjian nods, looking relieved at Hotspur's comment, and settles back to listen.

Kerry skrees, "Whatever dropped us into the clearing took Alshain away again. We're going to have to go looking for her, and hope that whoever did it isn't going to try stealing the Indigo -- or the Rose -- before then."

Douglas glances to Kerry. "Actually, Pilot, there's nothing saying for certain that what brought us down is the same thing that took the Alshain. That's something we should remember."

Vash blinks, and shakes his head. "I'm sure I misheard that. Took her."

Kerry skrees, "Tire tracks from the stream halfway to the trees. And then -- *poof*."

Vash says, "Poof." He takes a deep breath, placing his hands on his upper head plates. "AY, CAGADA!" He sighs. "Always something."

Kerry nods. "Poof. The tracks just ended, no sign that she'd been fired up."

Vash says, "Albondigas... I like it here, but... I'm not ready to move in just yet."

Sakura leans close to Larrikan, "Did the dryads know anything, Larrikan-kun?"

Larrikan simply says, "The dryads didn't say anything related."

Sakura shakes her head at the others, "The dryads didn't say anything about the ship... sorry..." She smiles at Larrikan, "Thank you for trying."

Larrikan looks deeply in to Sakura's eyes and says, "I did it for you."

Sakura beams a smile at Larrikan, blushing, "Thank you..."

Blue looks startled at Vash's outburst, then glances up at Zildjian inquiringly. The big lamia murmurs quietly to the artist, who gets an 'oh!' of comprehension. She jumps up, putting her sketchboard and charcoal neatly on the table, then settles next to Vash on the bench. She shyly offers him a commiserative hug. Douglas glances up at Vash's expletive, wondering briefly what it means. "We may yet find it, Captain. I am not at all convinced that it is forever lost to us."

Vash says, "You're damned right she's not. Can't give up on her yet."

Kerry skrees, "Of course not. Heck, if nothing else it gives us something to do for the next bit of time. So, at any rate. Get your lazy bones healed up so we can go get our translator stone and start the search in earnest."

Vash blinks and looks up as Blue settles next to him, then smiles gently, "Ah, I'm sorry." He hugs Blue reciprocally, then snrks at Kerry. "Whatever you say, Pilot."

Hotspur comes back out with a rather large tankard of something hot, and settles at a table, asking, "So, fox, did you find the dryads?" When Larrikan answers him -- that they hadn't said anything related -- he frowns a bit and thinks about that before he says, "Perhaps Aykuh could ask them. They might talk to her more sensibly." Sakura translates the interchange for the others.

Kerry sighs. "She needs to tell them they can stop running anyway. Nothing in that little clearing to get out now."

Vash says, "True enough."

Douglas winces slightly. "I hope they won't think it wasted effort..."

Kerry skrees, "Heh. Maybe we can convince them that exercise is good for them."

Vash says, "Get the old sap flowing. Heh."

Hotspur apparently talks to the table for a moment, and Aykuh comes out. She has heard the whole conversation, and tells Hotspur, "I can ask them, but to do so and get a clear answer I'll have to go there myself. We'll have to go back."

Kerry sighs when this has been translated. "We don't want to put you to too much trouble, ma'am."

The dryad smiles, and says, "It's no problem to visit my sisters."

Last modified: 2001-Jan-03 16:01:18

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