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In the Eye of the Labyrinth

The crew of the Indigo has gathered on a ledge, across a ravine created by a fast-moving river. After some effort and thought, they have revealed a tunnel, which seems to lead off into the cliff. Kawaii pauses, turning within the revealed tunnel. He grunts cheerfully, then turns and continues trit-trotting into the darkness.

Kerry calls down from the cliff. "How's it look?"

Douglas watches Kawaii trot up the tunnel, completely unperturbed. "Well... I suppose if one is small enough to squeeze through, you should take advantage of it." He looks up at Kerry and calls out, "Kawaii seems to think it's all right. Moment while I go check it out!" He looks into the dim cavern, then begins looking for a torch or a light in his gear. "Doctor, Captain, do either of you have a light or such...?"

Sakura digs around in her bag and pulls out a torch. She flicks the button on the side on and hands it to Douglas. "Here you are, Douglas-san."

The tunnel seems to start off somewhat narrow, but not so much that one has to crawl into it. The ceiling opens up within a few feet, raising up to stay between two and three meters high. It's made of packed earth, like the other rough and slightly crumbling walls of the cave. Douglas smiles to Sakura as he takes the torch. "Thanks, Doctor." He shines the light into the tunnel (being particularly mindful of spiderwebs -- now there's a cheery thought) and starts inward. "Shouldn't be long..." he calls back optimistically. Kawaii fades quickly into the darkness, his black pelt vanishing into the shadows ahead of the carefully exploring cougar.

Kerry pulls the sliding block back up and loads his own pack and a few items of forgotten gear to send back down. "Incoming!" After Vash catches it, he calls over one last time. "Shall we leave the rope attached?"

Sakura says, "Hai, Kerry-san! Just in case!"

Kerry nods and pulls the sliding block back up one last time. "Okay, here I come!" He glides down with the block as his safety line this time, alighting in a far more controlled fashion than the armadillo had. "What's it look like?" He disentangles himself from the cables and walks over to 'illuminate' the tunnel with a sonar beam.

Douglas blinks in the shadows as the piglet disappears. Oh, heck... please, please, please, don't let me hear a squeal of unpleasant surprise. "Kuh-why-ee, hey... slow down...!" He realizes he just mangled the little thing's name, but not much he can do about it now, he thinks, as he ventures deeper into the tunnel. I just know there's a spider, there's going to be a spider here... no... it'll be a little one, and it'll jump on my shirt and I'll scream and come running out and we'll all see it's a tiny one and we'll laugh and joke about how silly I was... no, it's gonna be a huge spider. As he moves on though, he remembers the dream, even as he's pondering house spiders (that is, spiders the size of a house) and the darkness envelops him but for a single blade of light ahead of him.

Why should I worry? he thinks a little worriedly. I don't have to be afraid... hell no, I can take care of it... He slips his claws from their sheathes, and feels significantly comforted by it. He glances around, then calls back over his shoulder. "Dark!" Pilot isn't the only one who can make cracks like that! Kawaii stands in the tunnel, his eyes glowing slightly in the light of the torch as Doug approaches. He looks very foursquare and sure of himself, like any overconfident piglet who's slightly embarrassed at having been heard squealing madly in panic only moments ago... he looks past Doug with a faintly impatient squeal towards the others. Douglas looks at Kawaii mildly reprovingly. "I am trying to keep up, you know..." Kawaii grunts cheerfully up at Doug, one ear flipping back as he cranes his head up at the tall cougar. Then he looks back down the tunnel, stamping one tiny trotter and snorting imperiously!

Douglas sighs a little, then shakes his head, chuckling. He moves towards the piglet, this time keeping up with the little fellow. The passage curves a little, then makes a harder turn in the other direction, losing sight of the others and the entrance fairly quickly. It is quiet and cool. Douglas does not like this. He shines his light all around him, trying to get some idea of the shape of the cavern. "Kawaii... slow down," he says warningly, trying to get his voice to convey a sense of caution. Kawaii trot-trots in a small figure 8 around Doug's big feet, casually bumping up against the cougar a bit and grunting conversationally to him. Then he turns and trots back towards the rest of the party, his tiny trotters making little 'tap-tap-tap' noises on the packed earth floor.

Sakura says, "Vash-san, do we follow, or wait?"

Kerry catches up. "What's wrong?" He looks around, in his own fashion -- he hasn't even taken his sunglasses off yet.

Sakura says, "Oh, nothing, Kerry-san. Douglas was going in first to check things out. We were going to follow when we get the 'all clear' from him."

Douglas blinks, as he suddenly realizes that Kawaii just left him alone. "Er... I hope you know what we're doing," he murmurs. Louder, "Are you following me in, or waiting out there?"

The little piglet grunts scoldingly at the fox, nudging Sakura's ankle impatiently with his small damp snout. She smiles, "Well, I think that's a vote in favor of going in. Kerry-san?"

Kerry snorts. "Don't know why you waited for me... I'm the one who doesn't need torches to see with. Let's see what happens."

Vash hefts his backpack, and says, "C'mon. Let's see where this goes, then." Kerry shoulders his pack and follows the others through the cave/tunnel/whatever, pinging to find his way without worrying about the light level. Sakura gets her pack back on and also follows Vash, Douglas, and Kerry into the tunnel... Kawaii grunts happily, trotting along with Sakura. She laughs softly.

Douglas glances to Kerry, careful not to shine his light directly at the Keero. "Some of us lack the ability to hear a cricket's legs twitch, Pilot," he says, conversationally, moving forward again, albeit cautiously. "How did these caverns form...?"

Kerry skrees, "Normally they are dissolution pockets in limestone. These look like they might be water erosion."

Douglas nods slowly, waiting as Kawaii and Sakura catch up. "That's sort of what worries me... after all... I'd hate to think that it was something regular that did this..."

When the party catches up with Douglas they see the curve of the tunnel seems to become a little sharper, and the floor continues to descend. Sakura frowns, "Down? Shouldn't we be going up?

Douglas frowns, glancing to Sakura, then looks... down. "You're right. We should be." This is not a good indicator.

Kerry skrees, "That was my thought. Cave networks are often complex, though, so we're not lost yet."

Douglas edges forward slowly, letting his light play over the walls and floor. "That was comforting, Pilot. For about five seconds."

Sakura says, "At least there are no forks, Douglas-san."

Kerry shrugs, his wings rustling in the dark. "I should take point, I think. I won't hurt myself if any pits open up, and I can sense things much better in the dark."

Douglas nods in the darkness. "All right, pilot. Keep close, though, within grabbing distance, all right?"

Kerry's sonar is fine at detailing the shape of the tunnel, but completely misses the slipperiness of the mud. As the tunnel steepens he loses traction, and in the narrow confines he can't open his wings enough to easily regain his footing. He slides faster and faster, finally sailing off a nearly vertical edge. Douglas blinks as Kerry starts moving rather erratically. "Pilot, what...?" Then Kerry seems to be moving forward faster, and Doug leans forward to move faster to catch up... and he does catch up, except he's moving quite a bit faster now, and slipping on the muddy ground. "Oh, no... oh no oh no oh no oh SHIII-!" And then he's going down at what seems to him terminal velocity, flailing wildly about, loosing his flashlight. The floor becomes almost vertical then, and he skitters down the incline, landing heavily at the bottom. His flashlight bounces and tumbles off to the side, pointing away from them and down a dark passage.

Sakura continues to inch her way forward... at the exclamations from her teammates she pauses a moment, "Douglas-san? Kerry-san?" She takes another step forward, slipping on the treacherously slippery ground and goes sailing down the tunnel, her nice foxy body perfectly streamlined for speed. Her "AAHHHH!" echoes off the walls, ending in an inelegant "AAAHHH-OOF!" and something in Japanese that sounds impolite. Kawaii's indignant squeals follow her down. Kerry skreeks as his wings carry him just well enough to bounce off the far wall of the vertical shaft. He partially folds them up, bouncing off the opposite wall again before landing in a heap on top of Douglas. Vash slides down the passageway behind them, actually managing to keep his balance and land in a more or less erect posture.

This new passage is different than the natural curves of the one now above. The walls are still made of dense packed earth, as is the floor, but the floor is smooth and meets the walls at right angles, with a neat corner there. It stretches off to another corner ahead, and a T-shaped intersection behind; this section of hallway being perhaps twenty feet long and fifteen feet high.

In the sudden quiet there's a terribly disgusted-sounding, and muffled, grunt. Kerry skrees, "Well, that answers that question." After much struggling Kawaii practically sproings! out of the pile of bodies, then stands next to the heap and shakes himself off madly, grunting at everyone with vigorous indignation.

Douglas coughs slightly, managing to sit up, wincing. "I can imagine... do we go down that way?"

Kerry tilts his head back, apparently sonar'ing up the shaft. "I don't think I want to try going back up that way. We've still got one of our ropes for emergencies."

Sakura picks herself up out of the heap and grins sheepishly at Kawaii. "Down, neh?" The piglet snorts firmly.

Vash dusts himself off. His landing spared him the worst of the fall. He straightens up slowly and frowns. "Well. Dungeons and Dragons, heh? My luck with dice is terrible."

Douglas glances up the way they came... er, fell. "That's probably not the way to go back, no." He looks oddly at Vash, wondering what the Captain is talking -- no, probably better he doesn't know. "So... forward, I imagine. Unless there's more than that one passage..."

The passage extends forward to a corner, and back to where it connects to another tunnel, where one could go left or right relative to here. Sakura looks around the cave, then motions at the flashlight, "A sign from o-kami-sama?"

Kerry chuckles at Vash's comment. "Might be, at that. Wonder if they got a... leak, could be? From this world to ours? So. Forward or back? Which way is the river?"

Douglas says, "Can you hear it in either direction, Pilot?"

Vash puts his hands on his hips, looking out into the gloom. "Your guess is as good as mine, Doctora." He turns to Kerry, "Something out of the collective unconscious? It's possible, I guess. If that's the case, I hope we find one of the nice lizards at the end of the tunnel..."

Kerry shakes his head. "Can't hear a thing from the river, and I got all turned around on the way down. Flip a coin and takes your choices, I think..."

Douglas sighs, looking to the left, then looking to the right, with his back to the incline. "Well... I just hope we don't find a spider, either... I say we go forward. We can always backtrack. I hope."

Vash says, "Doctora? Any opinion?"

Sakura points at the flashlight again. "I suggest we follow the path that has been illuminated for us."

Vash says, "It's the best lead so far."

Douglas glances at where the flashlight fell, and gets a vaguely queasy feeling. Kawaii grunts cheerfully, and industriously trot-trots down the flashlight-lit path, his small tail waggling behind him. Kerry hums an old show tune under his breath. "By the way... what's 'yellow' look like, and why would it be an unusual color for bricks?"

Vash looks back over his shoulder. "You ask a midget."

Douglas blinks to Kerry. "I have no idea what you're talking about, and I don't think I want to know." Kerry leads the way, poking his head around the corner to 'see' what's there. Sakura dusts herself off and follows down the lit tunnel, clicking her flashlight back on. Douglas follows cautiously, bending down to pick up his flashlight as he follows Kerry and Kawaii.

Around the corner is another stretch of hallway. There's a passage that branches off to one side, and farther on a stairway leading up, and a stairway leading down. Sakura says, "Well... 'up' is an encouraging sight."

Vash grunts in consternation. "Grrrrh. Albondigas. It's a goddamned maze." The piglet is standing in the pool of light cast by the flashlights, looking back and forth between the various possible routes and grunting in some consternation.

Douglas nods slowly. "Yes... and it's a stairway, as well. Nature didn't do that. Erm... well... what we would call 'nature,' anyway."

Vash says, "Keep in mind that nature picked up Zildjian's ship and stuck it in a tree, too."

Kerry skrees, "Good point. I suspect that up is a good direction to explore."

Sakura says, "Well, my vote goes to up. Down was certainly less than amusing."

Vash says, "Let's go on, then."

Kawaii glances over his shoulder at the others, paws the ground a little uncertainly, then nods to himself and starts carefully clambering up the stairs the others are heading for. Douglas moves up the stairs, looking down at them. He stops briefly, leaning down and looking at it. "Hold it..."

Vash reaches out and taps Douglas' elbow. "You see that, Doug?" He reaches up and taps a claw tip against what appears to be... some kind of re-bar?

Douglas says, "Yeah... I see it. There's... metallic beams that seem to be reinforcing the levels. Except for..." He taps lightly upon one of them. "That one. It's angled oddly, like it slipped."

A deep, but quiet and almost breathy voice says something in the native tongue -- almost wistful sounding, "<<Is slipped there. Not knowing how to fix it.>>"

Vash blinks, and freezes. "Did... anyone else hear that?"

Kerry skreeks, almost too high for anyone else to hear. "I hope not."

Douglas blinks, shivering. "Er... I did. Okay... uhm... Doctor...? What did it say...?"

Sakura says, "It says, 'Is slipped there. Not knowing how to fix it'..." Kawaii hastily ducks under Sakura's irregular skirts... then peeks out cautiously from between her feet, a lacy hem trailing across his head.

Douglas blinks, and looks slowly to Sakura. "Is... that all? I mean... it wasn't, 'All who come here shall meet their doom' or something equally cheerful?"

Kerry skrees, "Don't give him ideas, Mr. Percival."

Vash sighs and palms his face. "Ay, caray... don't say things like that. Do you need help with that?"

Sakura says, "Not unless that was some sort of colloquialism, Douglas-san. Can you fix it, Douglas-san?"

Douglas says, "Somehow, 'It slipped there,' doesn't sound like a colloquialism for, 'You will all die most painfully.'" He looks at the bar with renewed engineering interest. "Let's see... I wonder if I can put it back in place..."

There's a faint rustling, and then a nightmarish face looks over the edge of the stairs, down at the people below. Huge curving tusks, narrow yellow-slitted eyes -- and then it comes leaping down the stairs at them, roaring! "<<GrrAAARRR!! NO TOUCH! NO making worse!!!>>" Kawaii shrieks and bolts! Vash jumps back a couple of steps, then drops into a crouch, trying to get in between the... whatever it is, and the closest crewmember. He opens his claws out as widely as possible... as if that would help, he thinks ruefully.

Sakura says, "No-no... please don't touch it. It doesn't want you to touch; afraid you'll make it worse."

Douglas yelps! and draws backwards from the... what the HELL is it?! He barely registers Sakura's words, holding up his hands. "I'm not touching it! I'm not touching it! Look at me not touching it!"

Kerry dodges as well, turning and flapping his wings to leap over Douglas, Sakura, and Vash. He turns around at the bottom of the stairs at Sakura's calm words. "That was a friendly warning? Bozhemoi."

Sakura takes a couple of steps forwards, "<<He won't make it worse. He was just trying to help to fix it for you.>>"

The huge monster thunders down the stairs, still roaring -- and whoooooshes gustily through the group. The wind roars for a moment... Douglas makes a tiny *eep* noise as the... thing goes through them... Vash winces and shudders, feeling suddenly cold and queasy at the pit of his stomach. "Euuughh!" ...and everyone notices after the fact that the creature did indeed go through the group... it whirls at the bottom of the stairs and as the wind dies down it can be seen that the creature is both see-through... and has only a wispy, trailing lower half.

Sakura says, "Was that...?"

Vash shivers visibly and shakes out his arms and head. "Ay."

Douglas blinks, staring now more in dumbfounded surprise than sheer terror at the... creature... down there. He feels at himself slightly, wondering how... how... "It... it went right through us... I mean... clear through us..."

Kerry swallows as he finds himself now closest to the... whatever it is. A pig djinni? Sakura shivers. "Can we just please, please start walking?"

The shimmery thing at the bottom of the stairs slowly forms fully. It's looking most of the group in the eyes, it's so tall. Huge and hulking, a raggedy and more wild looking version of the trolls seen in town... poorly tanned skins with bony plates cover some of its form, and shaggy, matted fur covers the rest. Twisting horns and jutting tusks frame its lumpy face. Vash says, "Madre de Dios..." Sakura makes a little, vaguely panicked noise.

It speaks mournfully and gustily again. "<<Is slipped there. Not knowing how to fix it.>>"

Douglas nods slowly, clearing his throat. Where's the big, bad cougar now, Doug? he thinks. Alive and well and very much wanting to stay alive. Get out of here. he answers himself. And yet... "Doctor... can you ask it... if it would like us to put it back? If not... we'll move on... posthaste, guaranteed..."

Sakura clears her throat a little, "<<May we try to fix it?>>"

The creature sighs gustily, sitting down on the bottom of the stairs with a slightly earth-shaking *thump*, which causes a few clots of dirt and rock to fall from the ceiling. It speaks mournfully again. "<<Is slipped. Can't move it, can't touch it. Don't know how to fix. Can't leave until is fixed.>>"

Kerry hmms. Certainly seems solid enough now. What is going on here?

Sakura walks down the last stair and sits in front of the creature, "<<Could you leave if we fixed it for you?>>" She turns back to her teammates. "He's trapped here until this is fixed, but he can't touch it." She looks sort of sad for him.

Douglas blinks at the surprisingly heavy thump... and the flecks of dust which land atop his muzzle. He glances upwards, then down at the translucent, previously insubstantial beast, then back up. That... is odd. To say the least. He blinks and looks down at Sakura's approach of the beast, fighting down a panicky and ill-advised reaction.

The huge creature looks down at the (relatively) tiny fox woman and mournfully speaks again, "<<Would LOVE to go to beautiful labyrinth under the surface... but must finish maze here first.>>" One huge, clawed paw waves around vaguely at the surrounding walls... then lightly touches the top of Sakura's head... no, wait, only seems to. Once it realizes its paw is passing through the little vixen it growls irritably and settles its chin on its fists, glowering grumpily around itself.

Douglas thinks, How odd... it's solid, but only to this place, not to us... He glances to the metal bars. I think I begin to understand. "Kerry," he whispers quietly, "-what would it take to imprison a spirit? What kind of metal?"

Sakura sighs a little. "<<Tell me how we can help you go to the labyrinth?>>"

The troll growls a short, unhappy bass, "<<Must finish maze here first. Not knowing how to fix. Have been waiting VERY long time for fixing,>>" then sniffles loudly, rubbing one clawed paw across its huge face.

Kerry shrugs and whispers back. "The legends always mention cold-forged iron and steel. Don't know if that works here or not."

Vash says, "Sakura... can you ask how it got here?"

Sakura smiles, "<<We can help you fix it! We'll be your hands. How did you come to be trapped here?>>"

The troll perks up abruptly, large tufty ears swiveling to focus on Sakura, and barks something. "<<This you can be doing? You have knowing of how to fixings be?!>>"

Sakura smiles, "<<Yes, I'm sure we can help you fix it.>>" She looks back up at her teammates, "Can we help him fix it? I'm sure that he probably knows how to get to the surface and would tell us!"

The troll barks something painfully loudly, then clumsily swings huge arms around as if to hug the tiny vixen. It realizes a little late that it can't touch her... then growls something else, rubbing its head ruefully. "<<Would be LOVING to have fixings! Came for buildings of beautifuls, and buildings was of perfects, but was one small problems which making things go *BOOM*! and fallings on head! Very ouchies...>>"

Sakura says, "<<Did the fallings on head make you have to stay here?>>"

Douglas listens as Kerry talks to him, looking carefully at the being. Now that the creature is still, he can tell it's -- he's much like Annifred -- a troll. But a bit more... rugged. And bigger, or at least seems bigger! He looks at the metal beam again. No, it's neither steel or cold-forged iron, but rather cast iron. Odd... this was a major construction project. He blinks as the troll attempts to embrace Sakura, but waits... the Doctor is competent; when they need to know what to do she'll tell them. Vash hmms. "Maybe it's part of the geometry of this place... like feng shui or something. The bent reinforcement throws off the flow."

"<<Can't leave when head is smooshies. Gots to fix maze first, eyah?>>" The huge troll puts both paws up to its massive head... then lifts its head off its shoulders, tilting it as if it were offering the head to Sakura. Douglas just... blinks. "Well," he finally says. "That's not something you see every day." Kerry starts to snort at Vash's comment, then stops to consider... when the troll takes his head off, he jumps back for a moment.

Vash makes a face. "Eeeeegh."

Sakura turns her head up to the others again. "He said he can't leave because of 'fallings on head.' Something hit him in the head and killed him. Can we help him?"

Vash says, "Ask him, Doctora. I think we should, if we're able."

Douglas says, "Uhm... er... Doctor... all of us would be more than happy to do that, but... uhm... hasn't the damage been done?" He sighs and shakes his head. "Right, this is a quest. Must remember that..." He looks down at Sakura again. "Where did he fall, and does he remember what he hit?"

Sakura says, "<<Do you know the way of leaving this place to the sunlight? Would you tell us in return for us helping you fix?>>" To her companions she adds, "Well, he said that when it's fixed he can leave... and I think he was quite glad when I told him that we had the ability to help if he'd let us..."

Kerry skrees, "I just hope we do..."

The huge, now-headless troll growls, "<<Not sure where problem is that makes my maze not beautifuls, but can show place of smooshings?>>"

Sakura stands up and nods at the troll, "<<Yes, please, show me>>. Douglas-san, Kerry-san, Vash-san. He's going to take us to the 'place of smooshings'."

Vash says, "Place of... all right."

Douglas nods slowly, and moves slowly down the stairs. "All right..." He smiles to the troll and nods. "We're glad to help," he says, even though he knows the troll-ghost can't understand him.

The huge troll rises, tucking his head neatly under one arm, and waves the other huge hairy arm off down one of the tunnels. With long, heavy strides he leads the crew through his maze, surely and directly, although the maze is confusing and impossible to follow. Stairs lead up and down levels, which are set at odd angles from one another or contain all curving passages. Keeping track of which direction is where is impossible, and apparently straight-line travel from point to point is unfeasible. The ghost hurries along, waiting impatiently for the following crew, and darting around corners closely enough that his huge shoulder or waving tail occasionally passes through them. If he didn't glow very slightly it might be that he'd have outdistanced the following crew in the gloom. He waits for them to catch up periodically as he leads the way.

Douglas follows, keeping pace with his crewmates so as not to get lost, and... just in case they stumble into another slide. He takes note of the corners the troll-ghost barely takes. Kerry follows along, his goggles off now as he watches the pathways the troll-ghost takes. Just like a hologram. Visible but not... there. No sonar return at all.

The 'place of smooshings' isn't a very terribly different place from the rest of the maze; a corridor which meets another at an oblique angle. The ceiling has corroded, one of the heavy iron beams having slipped and knocked a few rocks down. The smallest is the size of a basketball, and the largest nearly twice that. The troll points up at the ceiling and points, saying something again. "<<Is slipped here too. Not knowing how to fix.>>" The dusty, fragile bones (which are all that remains) don't seem to bother the troll in the least.

Vash trails along after the ghost as quickly as he can, half-sprinting to keep pace with the thing. He skids to a halt as the debris becomes thicker and nods. "Well. That's self-explanatory."

Douglas blinks, really unable to take his eyes off the bones, glancing between them and the ghost. Um, that had to have hurt... he finds himself thinking inanely. "Any idea what we do now?" he murmurs.

Sakura says, "This is the section that upsets him. 'Is slipped here, too. Not knowing how to fix.' He wants his maze to be beautiful."

Vash crouches down and looks up at the subsidence. "We can probably bend the re-bar back into place, can't we, Doug?"

Douglas blinks. His maze! he thinks. Stunning... even in death, the penultimate engineer... He looks at the troll-ghost with new respect, wondering if he could ever be that dedicated -- that he'd tend to his work even after death. He drags himself back to the conversation and looks to Vash. "Uhmmm..." He looks up at the bar, considering...

Kerry chitters. Looks awfully heavy for four of us and no lifting equipment. Sakura turns back to the troll, "<<We're trying to think how we can fix it, if this is what you want fixed.>>"

Douglas shakes his head slowly as he looks up at the ceiling. "No... it's not bent, and we can't bend it without weakening it. The maze wouldn't nearly be as good as it was before." For the moment he neglects to think of the fact that they are standing in the middle of said maze. "Look... a plate came loose, and the upper joint separated..."

The huge troll sort of shudders... then stops and plonks its head firmly back onto its shoulders. Then it nods the heavy head on the short, thick neck several times, pointing a huge, clawed paw upwards to where the bar shows, up against the ceiling, and barks something. "<<Ayah! Capping of bar keeps separating, and not understandings of whyso. Wanting to see breakings?>>"

Vash sighs a bit. "You're the engineer, Douglas. This isn't my field of expertise."

Kerry skrees, "I wonder if there are any tools left around here anywhere..."

Douglas doesn't seem to hear Vash as he squints, trying to lean up and look... "Vash, can you give me a lift; I need a closer look up there. And pass me a flashlight -- oh, wait, I got one..."

Sakura says, "Douglas. He says that the capping of bar keeps separating and he doesn't understand why..." To the troll she says, "<<Yes, please show us the breaking...>>" To the others she adds, "He's going to show us the breaking..."

Douglas looks to Sakura and the Troll and nods thoughtfully, "Thank you..."

The troll chuffs once to Sakura, then turns and heads for the doorway again, his upper head passing without resistance through the top of the door. Sakura follows the troll... Douglas glances up at the ceiling, then follows after Sakura and the Troll. Vash hmms and straightens. "May not be necessary..." He trails after Doug.

The troll heads out again, twisting through the maze, which seems to double back and fold in on itself. He deftly heads to a large, octagonal room which has doorways on all eight sides, and more sets of doors on balconies from a second level above. Stairways lead up into the roof and down into the floor in at least five places. The cast iron support beams glint dully on the ceiling, and the troll points up to the central joint, and roars something frustrated. "<<Capping of bars separates. Not knowing how to fix!>>"

Sakura translates for Douglas, "Capping of bars separates. Not knowing how to fix!"

Douglas looks around. Oh, I would have gotten an A+ in Intro to Architectural Engineering if I'd thought up a room like this! But then he drags himself back to the matter at hand. "Capping... where the bars meet each other? Where they're joined to each other?" I hope not. We don't have any arc welders with us...

Vash frowns, looking around. Lovecraft would flip in his grave... capping? I don't think we can forge a joint with my Zippo...

Douglas says, "'Separates'... I wish I knew more precisely what that means!" He looks to the troll. "Separates?" he asks, putting his fists together and separating them. "Or... this?" He puts his fists together, and bends his arms downward about halfway before separating his fists. He really hopes that gets the idea across... the troll watches the big cougar with bemused interest... then shakes his heavy head. He puts his huge fists together, then lets them slip sideways, away from each other. "<<See?>>" Then he points upwards, growling frustratedly under his breath.

Sakura says, "He says 'see?'"

Douglas nods to the troll. That went well! he thinks. "I think he means that shearing stress is making the joints separate. Damn, that means we'd need to weld... but... no, I need a closer look at the joints..." He looks around, seeing if any of the stairs go up to that central key-joint. A moment later he grimaces; he can't get up close to them as he'd like. But he shines his flashlight up at the joint, trying to figure out or even divine how the joints are made.

Sakura looks at the troll, "<<Can you tell me what the problem is, so I can tell him... How do they separate?>>"

The beams are all there, with a great weld across the bottoms of them -- a weld with a clear break in it -- a clean shear from one edge to the other. "<<Bars are sliding, always to that same side. See where is broken? Has slipped.>>"

Sakura says, "He says 'bars are sliding, always to that same side. See where is broken? Has slipped'..."

Douglas nods slowly, looking up at it. "Yeah... it's gonna take some welding. We can clamp it in place, though, first... how did he do it?" He blinks to Sakura. "To the same side? That sounds like environmental stress, everything moving in that direction..."

Kerry skrees, "Good point. Ask him if the stream was here when he built this."

Vash says, "The river shifting?"

Sakura looks back at the troll, "<<Do you have the tools that made this?>>" She points at a weld. "<<And was there water here once?>>"

Douglas says, "Possibly, Pilot..."

The huge troll barks something at Sakura, then sniffles again, looking up forlornly. "<<Neh, no tools -- I make beauties here! Just... *sniffle* not beauties yet... oh, ayah, yah! Water out there now, carving beauty lower in rock.>>"

Sakura says, "Yes... there was water here once. He says that the water is out there now."

Douglas blinks. "That changes much. The water was in here? Then this would have been designed to be underwater. The water level must have lowered some time relatively recently..."

Kerry skrees, "That could do it...drying out of the spaces can change the stresses dramatically."

Douglas says, "Yes... now how to relieve those stresses..."

The troll rumbles, "<<Would still make beauties, but not sure how -- and not wanting to break worse.>>"

Sakura says, "He wants to make it beautiful again, but he's not sure how and he doesn't want to break it more. He also says that he didn't use tools to build this..."

Douglas blinks to Sakura. "Could you ask him how he did it? And if he shows us how, even just with hand gestures..."

Sakura says, "<<Could you show us how you did this? Use hand gestures so my friends can see and think of how they might help?>>"

The huge creature waves up at the ceiling, barking, "<<It goes like this!>>" He steps to the side of the room, laying insubstantial paws on one earthy wall and one of the exposed beams. A moment of concentration... and then, with an ear-piercing squeal of metal against metal, the sheared plates slide back together. He points up at the plate, roaring something, and with a shattering *BANG*!! lightning lances from his claw tips, welding the plate! He pauses, sighing and fading out somewhat... and then, with another horrible, explosive *BANG*!! the new weld shears again. He sniffles sadly, staring up at the again-broken plate. Dust settles slowly to the ground and the uplifts, along with the acrid tang of ozone and heat... and a few small rocks.

Vash nods, impressed. "Magic, then. Something's working against him there... pressure on the plate... or someone else?"

Douglas's fur pretty much stands out on end with the screech... then he blinks. "What... the... Hell..." he murmurs.

Kerry unwraps his wings from around his head when the noise finally stops. "Impressive. It's not exactly successful, but it's impressive."

Sakura looks sad for the troll, though she does wince at the loud noise. There's a small whimper from between Sakura's feet, under her dress. Sakura says, "Shh... it's okay, Kawaii."

Douglas blinks, slowly coming to grips with what he's just seen. He looks at the troll, at the joints, at the troll, then at the joints again. "I think you're right, Vash. Something is breaking the joints, and it's not simple environmental stress over time."

Kerry skrees, "Not if he can do that... you'd expect it to hold for a while before breaking if it was a normal overstress."

Vash says, "If it's any comfort, we probably stand a better chance of fixing it that way. A person... persons... ghosts... whatever... would be easier to get a handle on than a mountain of soft stone."

Kerry skrees, "If you say so..."

Vash frowns. "If you know where we can rent a backhoe and some dynamite on this planet, Pilot, I'd love to know."

Douglas narrows his eyes and taps his chin with a claw tip, realizing that the troll used one heck of a hand gesture. "A capstone," he says. "That'll possibly be a better thing than just welding them all together at one point. He needs a capstone there, or the metal equivalent." He looks around for stones or debris to illustrate to the troll what he'd like to do.

Sakura turns to the troll, "<<They think that someone, not something, is causing this. Douglas-san, the cougar, thinks that a capstone would be better than zapping them all together.>>"

The troll stares blankly down at the vixen. "<<What is 'capstone'? Is a beauties?>>"

Vash says, "Um... hmm. Maybe Doug should try to illustrate what he means."

Douglas gathers up a few stones and pebbles, and places a set of eight of them together, all touching. He points up to the joints above, then to the small pattern of stones. Then he carefully separates the eight pebbles, places a larger pebble in the middle, then nudges all eight pebbles inwards, to touch the central pebble. He says, mildly distractedly, most of his attention on the troll, "Half a step ahead of you, Captain."

The troll hunkers down next to the cougar, staring at what he's doing for a long, silent moment. Sakura motions to what Douglas is doing, and smiles, "<<Capstone.>>"

Vash grins. "As opposed to underneath me, right?" He puts his hands in his pockets and cranes his neck, watching the illustration.

The troll looks over and down at the vixen, tapping with a clawed finger through the central stone, growling something. "<<This is beauty making capstone?>>"

Douglas says, "It should make it stronger... erp?"

Vash says, "I hope that's a sign of approval."

Sakura smiles and nods, "<<Yes! The capstone should make it beauty again, we hope!>>"

The troll stares at the pebbles for a long moment. Finally it lowers down to all fours, snuffling at the pebbles... then straightens, head tilting as it continues to stare. Finally it stands up, dust billowing faintly away from it, as it drifts upwards, off the ground, to stare and snuffle at the central plate. It looks down over its shoulder at the small group and growls something uncertainly again. "<<In betweens all, eyah, to hold together? Will be making beauties?>>"

Sakura nods at the troll, "<<That's what it should do, yes.>>" Douglas watches the troll's concerned movements, glancing to Sakura as she and the troll exchange phrases.

Kerry skrees, "Different... but we'll have to see."

The troll puts both huge paws on the sides of the central plate, and goes silent for a while. Metal bulges out of the ceiling, forming a rough, round capstone that presses outward between all the beam ends... and then the lightning comes with a shattering *CRACK*!! -blinding and deafening... Sakura tries to cover her tender ears when she realizes what he's doing. It's too late to do much good though... Kerry sees it coming this time and is already wrapped up in a ball when it happens... Vash winces, waving a clawed hand in front of his eyes, "Ay, caray... gotta warn us about that next time..."

Douglas blinks. Slowly. He doesn't even bother covering his ears, he's so stunned. "Oh my," is all he can say, and he barely hears himself say it.

The troll slowly sways down to the floor, looking whispier and more insubstantial, still staring upwards. His voice is husky and soft. "<<Is holding... maybe now, finally, will be beauties?>>"

Kerry skrees, "Hey! No disappearing, you've got to lead us out first!"

Sakura looks up, smiling. "<<I think so...>>"

A moment later the huge beast perks up transparent ears at the little vixen, his huge fangs framing a toothy grin. "<<Come! Will be checking in central rooms with me, ayah!>>"

Douglas places a hand lightly on Kerry's shoulder. "Let him rest," he says. "It must have taken a lot to do that. He's not going anywhere. He's got a maze to tend, after all."

The troll treads much more lightly as he hastily exits the room, absently waving folks to follow over his shoulder. Sakura says, "He wants us to check the other rooms with him..." She follows the troll...

Vash shrugs and follows. "You heard the man..."

Douglas blinks, and follows along after Sakura and the troll again... Kerry whistles another old show tune... "We're off to see the wizard..."

The troll leads them through another unfathomable set of twists, turns, and stairways -- a path that would give Escher a headache. They finally emerge into the center of the maze... a large, crystalline room. The flashlights send sweeping arcs of rainbows and fragments of jeweled light dancing about the myriad diamond-like surfaces. Douglas takes in a gasp as he looks around at the room. "Good heavens," he breathes, "-it's beautiful here!"

Sakura gasps, "My goodness!"

Vash stares up at the crystalline walls, half-agape. "Madre...! Would you look at this!"

Even Kerry agrees, though in his own worldview the visual play is secondary to the sound bouncing around the crystal surfaces, echoes sharp but splintered. "Fascinating."

The huge troll snuffles hastily through the arching stalagmites and stalactites, his under-the-breath grumblings somehow sounding progressively happier. Finally he comes back, a large crystal carefully held between his huge, clawed paws. He beams through his fangs at the smaller cougar, setting the crystal carefully down in front of Doug, and growls something, "<<This for almost-tall furriness who helps fixings to beauty>>", then turns to the little vixen and bows over her, in what would be a gentle nuzzle on the top of her head, if he could actually touch her. "<<And gratefulnesses for words of fixings to small nice smelling lady of furriness.>>"

Sakura looks at the Troll, "<<It's beautiful... we all think it's beautiful.>>" Douglas blinks, watching the troll, still dumbfounded. One part of him realizes, Wait... he's handling it... he's not insubstantial to it...

Vash squints a moment, "Hey. He can move this crystal."

Sakura turns to Doug and translates, "'This for almost-tall furriness who helps fixings to beauty.'" She blushes a little, "And to me he says, 'and gratefulnesses for words of fixings to small nice smelling lady of furriness.'"

Douglas blinks. "Oh, my... I... don't know what to say..." He tries to recall what the other trolls he has seen would do when expressing thanks, if he could even tell.

Sakura smiles at the Troll, "<<I'm happy that I could help you with your beauty. It is beauty.>>"

The huge troll's wide mouth seems to almost split and wrap around his head, he's beaming so widely at Sakura's words. He chuffs proudly, fluffing up the fur on his chest a bit, and barks to her. "<<Is a beauty now, because of alls of yous. Now I can goes to home.>>"

Vash just watches, trying to absorb all of this. "We're, ah... we're glad we were able to help you... ah... what should we call you?"

The troll fades slowly away, sinking into the crystalline ground, still smiling contentedly.

Sakura translates. "'Is a beauty now, because of alls of yous. Now I can goes to home.'" She sniffs a little.

Vash stares at the floor a few moments. "Damn... gone..."

Douglas can only stare, as if struck dumb, as the troll sinks into the ground. Going off to fix the rest of the maze, undoubtedly, he thinks. Then he hears Sakura's words, and shivers a little. No... the engineer's work is done... He finds it hard to keep his eyes from becoming damp.

Then his eyes go to the crystal. He bends down, and reaches a fingertip to the crystal.

Last modified: 2001-Feb-08 01:18:01

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