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Reality Fault

"If I Could Talk to the Animals..."

    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 night before was uneventful, with some of the students quite cheerful at discovering the questing companions had returned. A large group shower ensued, with much splashing and gleeful horseplay amongst the students (and somewhat more nervous crewmembers), and dinner had been a nicely relaxing affair. Over breakfast the next morning Zildjian checks -- will they be going to visit the professor today? Kerry skrees, "Unless we need to make an appointment, we were planning to."

    Kerry Skydancer is tall for a Keero -- nearly five feet in height, counting the oversized and elaborately ridged ears that dominate a short-muzzled face with sharp fangs and solid black eyes. His fur is very dark gray, nearly black; coarse on his body and fine and downy on his wing membranes. The wings attract most folk's attention the first time they meet one of his kind. They unfold to double the length of human arms for a being his size; leathery membranes supported by skeletal frameworks built on the bones corresponding to part of the wrist and the last two fingers of other mammals -- as, unlike his tiny ancestors, they do not allow true flight, but only a barely controlled glide. The membranes attach to his body from shoulder to waist, so he wears a poncho-like tunic instead of a shirt, and a rather low-slung pair of shorts. The fabric is medium gray, but dull and glossy in odd patterns. Supposedly the different textures mean something to Keero sonar.

Vash says, "I think that's a good idea. We don't know if these things have an expiration date, or something."

    Standing about five feet, tall for an uplift, Vash Montoya holds himself straight and relaxed, seemingly at ease with his environment, whatever that may happen to be at the time. An armadillo uplift, he is physically spare, compact under a layer of thick natural armor which covers most of his visible body, beginning at the bridge of his nose and sweeping back over his head. His hands are for the most part unarmored, but come with their own defenses; powerful digging claws. Perhaps for this reason he keeps his fingers loosely curled at his sides, half-concealing them. His muzzle is a bit shorter than a normal armadillo's, a bit clipped, giving him a somewhat Cerebus-esque look. He smiles a little, his eyes gray and cool, and folds his arms. You may notice, just at the back of his left hand, a slight discoloration; a short, lurid white scar.

Douglas nods, as he devours a bowl of hot porridge. "Most professors from college wanted appointments -- we might get there as he's teaching a class or such."

    Douglas Percival is a somewhat tall, stocky feline, with the muted, somber features of a cougar uplift. His sandy fur lightens to a paler shade of muted tan and off-white beneath his chin, and his black-rimmed eyes look about with irises of quiet brown. His paws are large, yet gentle-seeming, his movements for the most part deliberate -- not slow, simply measured. As an afterthought, you may notice that he is tail-less.

Zildjian grins, "Y'all were questin'... Ah think he'll be able t'fit y'all int'a his schedule..."

Vash sits back from the table a bit. "Zildjian has a point. We did go on a quest for this... I think he'll make the time."

Kerry shrugs from his perch. "If not, we can wait an hour or two 'til he's done lecturing. It's not like we have anything else to do."

Sakura double-checks -- again -- to make sure she still has the stone. "Agreed."

    Sakura is a small fox. She doesn't stand more than five feet tall and is fairly slender. Her tail is full and tipped with white, carried in close to her body. Her fur has a red cast to it, offset nicely by the white that runs under her muzzle and down her throat. Her hair is black, pulled into a French braid, and she wears a flowing, almost lacy dress in the native clothing style. Her mannerisms are careful, almost as though she's nervous about the way she acts towards other people.

Vash says, "Also true. If nothing else, it'll be something to pass the time."

Douglas nods quietly, "Besides... going there sounds interesting. I wonder if they have an engineering department... if it's a 'university' or 'school' as we'd recognize one..."

Kerry skrees, "Let's find out." He drops down from overhead, landing in a flurry of wings. "And then these Dreamweavers."

Sakura says, "I'm certainly curious to see it..." Larrikan comes up to Sakura and puts a hand on her shoulder, murmuring something soft and vaguely musical to her.

Douglas nods to Kerry. "Yes... and then we'll try to find them."

Vash hrms. "I'm not certain how keen I am on the Dreamweaver idea... we'll just have to see."

Sakura smiles, "Larrikan-san has offered to take us to the Professor's Office..."

Douglas glances over to Larrikan; the dream he had is still fresh in his mind, and how quickly he was to blame Larrikan for... He smiles, and nods. "That's great. Thank you!" he adds, knowing that the kitsune won't know what he says, but hoping the sentiment transcends the language.

Sakura turns and smiles at Larrikan. "Thank you, Larrikan-san. from all of us. Douglas gives his thanks personally as well." The fox smiles cheerfully at everyone, takes Sakura by the hand, and walks out in to the morning sun, leading the way to the University. Kawaii hastily sits up, putting his small front trotters on the table so he can stretch out enough to snag a last piece of toast in his mouth -- then just as hastily bounces down and out the door, grunting happily as he chews, trit-trotting along after Sakura. Vash sets his shades in place across his nose, and strides out into the early sun. He rolls his shoulders a bit; Haven't done any digging since I left the Corps. Feels nice to be working again.

Zildjian makes sure everyone is fed, including the few bleary-eyed students that are hanging about, then cheerfully but firmly schloosles everyone out of the Egg, and off to the University. She waves from the door, grinning, "Y'all play nice with th'othah kids now, y'heah? No running with scissors!"

    The University campus
    The University is a sprawling place, with tree-buildings larger but still similar to the Silver Egg's tree standing serenely around a central courtyard. Outside the ring of trees are a number of buildings with sod growing on the roofs, most of which are set somewhat down in the earth, rather looking like they're mushrooms snuggled comfortably into place around the trees. Many of them are obviously large enough to be lecture halls. A path winds around the outside of them and into the central clearing between them, in crooked spokes. More trees and the low buildings spread out past that, in no really discernable pattern.

Douglas looks around, looking a little shyly boyish, smiling slightly. "Ah, if only Rutgers had been like this..." For that matter, if only I'd been in a program other than engineering, I'd have gotten out into the 'Big Blue Room' more.

Sakura says, "I would have enjoyed med school a whole lot more if it looked like this!" Kerry looks around with interest at the campus while following along behind Larrikan and Sakura. Nothing like Colorado Springs, that's for sure. Vash hmms, taking in the view. He muses to himself, adjusting his shades. Pretty here... smells like a park. Mama would have wanted me to come to a school like this. I'd have agreed, too...

Larrikan leads Sakura to one of the big lecture halls which circle the courtyard. He gestures for everyone to wait, then pokes his head in briefly. He comes out and says something to Sakura, then takes her hand, apparently leading somewhere else. Kerry skrees, "Okay... now he knows where the professor is hiding."

Sakura turns to her companions. "This is where the professor lectures. He's not here, so we're going to try his office instead."

Vash says, "Lead the way."

Leading the crew across the central field and around the little fountain which burbles quietly in the center (and not unintentionally being seen with all the new interesting folks by the other students), Larrikan heads outside the main ring of buildings and to one of those sprinkled around near the campus. Occasional walkways and trees show this is still part of the university, not just random forest. Douglas's whiskers twitch a little. What was it that his old actor friend (the one who would shout, "Cue dramatic thunder!") would say? 'Better to disturb the tiger in his lair than the sage among his books.' Well, they've completed a quest; that's got to count for something.

Larrikan knocks at the door, pauses briefly, and then opens it, even as the professor's voice comes from the inside, clearly hailing even through the door. The fox smiles and gestures, taking Sakura in by the hand. Vash says, "Anyone home?"

Douglas blinks, looking around the office curiously. It's certainly not an engineer's office... Sakura smiles at the Professor, "Hello, Professor!" Kawaii's snout wriggles interestedly as he trots in, sniff-niff-niffling at the large cabinet. He stands in front of it, nosing curiously at the lower drawers and grunting thoughtfully to himself.

The professor is a short, round, balding humanoid with a full beard and sideburns. He is sitting on a tall stool at a high desk near a window, examining something on the desk. He says something to Larrikan and then sees the others, and says something else, hopping down and rushing over, smiling cheerfully as he babbles something. Douglas had been anxious as to meeting the professor again, but relaxes visibly, smiling quietly, as he sees the professor's clear pleasure at seeing them. Kerry nods as Sakura greets the Professor, but isn't going to try saying anything after the last fiasco. He reaches into his tunic to pull out his pebble. Douglas glances to Kerry as the pilot pulls out the pebble, and fishes out his own pebble from his tunic pocket, holding it still carefully and gingerly in his large paws.

Sakura beams a smile, "Yes, Professor, we did!" The professor looks interestedly at the others as the move, and he smiles, and says something else. He holds out his hand towards the two with pebbles visible, and nods encouragingly. He says something else to Sakura. Sakura dips her paw into her pack and produces another, "Actually, we each got one." She turns to her companions, "The professor is quite delighted at our success."

Vash reaches to one of his pockets and unzips it, holding the pebble gingerly in his claw tips. He holds it out toward the professor. "With a little bit of discussion, we did."

Kerry skrees, "I gather it doesn't matter which ones he uses for which of us?"

Douglas looks to Kerry, then reaches over and puts his own pebble in the professor's hand. He grins quietly to Sakura. "So are we, actually..."

The professor is quite clearly astonished, babbling something excitedly. He collects them all, nodding at each of them. He suddenly looks a bit concernedly at Sakura, and asks something very seriously of her. Sakura shakes her head, "Oh no, Sensei. We did it on our own."

The grin and tone of the words the professor says clear any worry that may be lingering, and he takes the four stones over to his workbench. Clambering up on to his stool, and fishing an almost achingly familiar looking tri-beam balance out of the morass of papers, he weighs each of them. He also pauses to sniff at each one. By the end he has selected one of them, and is beaming happily. Vash folds his arms. "Looks like he found what he's looking for."

Kerry skrees, "Looks like it. I wonder what they're supposed to smell like?"

Douglas watches the professor curiously, wondering what he could be measuring them for and what... well, what scent might have to do with the pebble. "It looks like it, fortunately. " He pauses. "If we'd gotten a wrong size or wrong-smelling pebble, would we have had to go back for another?"

Leaving the pebbles on the bench, the wizened oldster scurries over to the large cabinet. He opens a door on the bottom and takes out three small black boxes. Putting the three pebbles he didn't select in them, he then opens a drawer and files them neatly in the large cabinet. Kawaii brightens noticeably as the cabinet is opened. He rears up to rest his small front trotters on a shelf edge and stretches, sniffing and snorting, his snout wriggling madly as he excitedly grunts. Douglas glances at the piglet. "Looks like Kawaii found something interesting..."

Kerry skrees, "I'm not sure he's supposed to be in there, though..." Sakura giggles at Kawaii.

The professor moves to the other end of his desk and picks up a ceramic pot off of the windowsill. He proceeds to carefully plant the pebble in the middle of the dirt that is in the pot, then waters it from a jug near the door. Placing it on the windowsill again, in a bright sunbeam, and cleaning his hands, he turns back to the others and says something. Kerry blinks at that... Is it supposed to grow into a translator? Douglas deadpans, "He just planted the pebble...?" Vash arches an eyebrow ridge. Do I even want to know what's going to grow out of that?

Kawaii seems fascinated by the scents -- he snorts and sniffs happily for a while, moving from drawer to drawer, occasionally nudging... finally he sighs happily and drops back down to all fours. He trots back over to Sakura and plumpfs down relaxedly on one of her small feet. Sakura says, "Sensei says that he has begun and that we should return in two days..."

The Professor then asks Larrikan something, which the fox-man answers. The professor nods, and replies, then makes shooing motions at the fox and his charges. Vash hehs, and turns to the door. "Right, right. Thanks for your time, Professor."

Douglas blinks, "Two days... no problem, I imagine..." He lets himself be shooed out of the office. Larrikan smiles, and takes Sakura's hand. Leaning towards her, he kisses the back of her hand softly, and murmurs something to her, with a pleased smile.

Kerry mutters, "He's growing them?" The bat sounds a bit aggrieved, somehow.

Sakura allows the professor to shoo her outside, "Apparently we have some free time now."

The white-haired gnome climbs back up on his stool, and tries to remember where he was in the pile of papers before him, although he is humming to himself in what seems a cheerful manner.

    The University campus
    The University is a sprawling place, with tree-buildings similar to the Silver egg standing serenely around a central courtyard. Outside the ring of trees are a number of buildings, with sod growing on the roofs, most of which are set somewhat down in the earth, rather looking like they're snuggled comfortably in to place around the trees. Many of them are obviously large enough to be lecture halls. A path winds around the outside of them, and in to the central clearing between them, in crooked spokes. More trees and the low building spread out past that, in no really discernable pattern.

Vash says, "Seems so. Anyone have anything they want to do?"

Douglas blinks. "Well, two days' worth of free time, at least." He pauses again. "Anyone think we should find the Dreamwalkers?"

Kerry skrees, "Not much point until we can talk to them..."

Larrikan sees something and steps one step aside, whistling sharply. The gesture mostly reminds anyone who notices it of someone hailing a cab in New York City. He then waves. Someone coming out of a building nearby waves back, and heads over. Before too long everyone can see that it's Annifred, who bounds up and gives Douglas a large and enthusiastic hug. Sakura grins at Douglas. Vash grins, seeing the troll leaping this way. "Hey, Doug... incoming!" Kerry chirrips and gets out of the way...

Douglas blinks, glancing to Vash, not quite spotting Annifred. "What? Who- erp!" The collision is, he finds, heavy and not at all unpleasant, and once he regains his balance he hugs Annifred back warmly and enthusiastically.

Larrikan grins and explains something to Annifred -- who doesn't seem to mind the idea of having a speechless cougar handy for a couple of more days -- at least not if the hug is any indicator! When she finally sets him down, she says something simple, although it's hard to tell if it's directed to Doug or the group. Larrikan grins foxishly in response. Sakura grins, "Larrikan told Annifred that the translators would take a couple of days. Annifred said 'we have fun till then, yah?'... I think they have plans for us."

Vash smirks. "Oh, my."

Annifred apparently finds this quite satisfactory, as she hugs the cougar again in return, grinning widely. Kerry skrees, "Oh, joy... I hope she realizes I'm a bit more fragile than Douglas."

Douglas blinks to Sakura. "'Fun'?' ''til then'? I'm -- erp! ah, I'm... er, definitely confused... then..." He blinks, a little confusedly squirming where he's being (somewhat lasciviously) hugged. Kawaii glances over from where he's been rooting idly around in the grass. He watches the sputtering cougar and the gleeful troll for a moment... then snorts in soft amusement and goes back to his rootling. Sakura grins at Kawaii again. His name was well chosen, she's convinced.

Annifred grins widely, revealing a mouth full of sharp teeth, and hikes her book bag up over one shoulder. Then she waves to the others, takes Douglas by the paw and wraps her tail about his waist, and happily begins to walk away back towards town. Larrikan makes no move to follow her, and still holds Sakura's hand. Vash just can't stifle a grin, watching Annifred walk off with his engineer. He snickers softly. "Heh." Should I feel sorry for him? "Heheh." Nahhhh.

Douglas blinks in confusion, trying to explain that he can't be separated from the group, that he doesn't speak the language, holds no currency, he is a foreigner in a foreign land... he looks back slightly helplessly at the other three... but isn't being particularly quick to jump away from Annifred. Vash smirks widely and waves. "Bye, Doug! Remember to call your mom!" Sakura does the only helpful thing she can think of in this situation -- she grins at Douglas and waves goodbye. Larrikan waves too, although at Doug or Annifred is hard to say. He says something to Sakura, and points to one of the buildings.

Kerry grins at Vash. "What say we head back to the Egg? I don't think we're going to be particularly needed by our doctor or our engineer."

Vash laughs quietly. "You go on ahead, Kerry... I'm going to wander around here awhile longer. There's someone I want to see here, myself."

Kerry skrees, "Suit yourself. I'm going home and take a nap. Maybe I can get myself back to a normal sleeping schedule."

Vash grins. "Good luck."

Sakura says, "Vash-san. Larrikan just said that Blue has a class in that building," she points at the one Larrikan indicated, "-until noon... and she'd be pleased to see you."

Vash smiles, "Yeah? Ah, all right... tell him thanks for me. And not to have too much fun, okay?"

Larrikan adds something else, "The lamia will be back at the Silver Egg, or perhaps one of the flyers would like to talk to the flappy one." Sakura says, "Oh, and Kerry-san. Larrikan said that Zildjian-san would be at the Silver Egg or that perhaps you'd like to talk to the 'flyers'."

Kerry starts to nod, but swivels around at the mention of flyers. "What? Where? Who?"

Sakura says, "Larrikan, who are the flyers?" Larrikan points over to a stand of trees on the far side of the campus, and says something. Stairs seem to wend their way up the trees to the foliage at the top. Sakura says, "I think they're over where Larrikan pointed, Kerry-san. Looks promising, neh?"

Kerry skrees, "Ask him what kind of flying people are they?"

Sakura says, "He says, 'over there, there are classrooms for the navigation and the places where they fly from or to.'" She switches languages, "What kind of flyers? Birds?" Vash wanders away from the conversation, confident that Kerry can find his way, and finds a convenient out-of-the-way place to sit and take up the sun while he waits for noon to come. Doesn't look like my watch is right... ah well. Sun's not quite overhead yet... an hour or so to go yet. That's fine by me.

Larrikan answers, shrugging, "There are several kinds. Skinwalkers, birds, and some crazy trolls who try to build a machine to fly. Who ever heard anything so silly?"

Kerry is intrigued, in spite of feeling sleepy in daylight. I'll probably have to get up at dawn in two days anyway, after all... Sakura says, "It appears that there are many types, Kerry-san. Birds, skinwalks? -and a group of trolls who are trying to build a flying machine."

Larrikan grins at Kerry and then steps up close to Sakura and slides an arm around her waist, murmuring something quietly to her. Sakura smiles up at Larrikan, "Thank you for the kind offer, Larrikan. I believe I'll take you up on it."


Douglas blinks in confusion, trying to explain that he can't be separated from the group, that he doesn't speak the language, holds no currency, he is a foreigner in a foreign land... he looks back slightly helplessly at the other three... but isn't being particularly quick to jump away from Annifred. Vash smirks widely and waves. "Bye, Doug! Remember to call your mom!" Sakura does the only helpful thing she can think of in this situation -- she grins at Douglas and waves goodbye. Larrikan waves too, although at Doug or Annifred is hard to say. He says something to Sakura, and points to one of the buildings.

Annifred isn't looking back, so doesn't notice. She grins down at Douglas, says something positive sounding, and gives him a squeeze with her tail, leading him off campus and into the woods. It's difficult not to notice just how many teeth the troll has, and how pointed they are.

Douglas blinks at the grin, and glances back one more time at the others. Oh, what big teeth you have.... he thinks, unknowing of the origin of that phrase. "Er..." he says, a little weakly, but still managing a shaky smile, "-where are we off to, Annifred?" And what's going to happen to me? Now, now, Doug... relax, it's not like she's going to do something horrible to you. Right? Right? He frets a little, more in concern than outright nervousness or disapproval, though, as she leads him into the woods.

Annifred leads the cougar deeper in to the woods, where the ground begins to get rocky and the trees thin a bit. Here, a bit away from town, is a stone building which leads back into a hill covered in forest. There's a very large older troll sitting by the front door, with the extremely dark, wrinkled, and callused skin typical of the elders, and long, wispy hair. He looks up as Annifred approaches, rumbling something to her. She grins again and talks to him. He also grins when she starts speaking, and it only widens as she continues. When she's done he stands up, and up, and up... nearly two feet taller than Douglas -- and gives each of them a bone-jarring hug, rumbling something enthusiastic.

Douglas blinks in surprise. She's taking me home to meet her parents? But... I can't even speak her langu- "Ack!" -- this last as he's caught up in a tight hug. What in the world did she tell him? He smiles (it doesn't take much effort, confused though he may be), and manages to say, "Th-thank you... for the... warm... welcome...!" The big troll approves, grinning his own sharp-toothed grin down at the two young people, and says something to Annifred before settling down next to the door again, chuckling good-naturedly. Annifred's return grin could be predicted, as she leads Doug on inside.

Inside turns out to be a warren of little passages, and tunnels where the building actually pierces the hillside. The trolls live in a clan, or large extended family -- it's hard to say without understanding the language, even if they differentiate. Most of the passages are big enough for two people the size of Douglas and Annifred to walk side-by-side, but when someone comes the other way, or if a larger troll wants to pass them, it gets a little close. In those cases, Annifred doesn't hesitate to put her arm around Douglas and pull him to her... whether to save space or not is hard to say. Every time a troll comes along who hasn't met Douglas yet, they look quizzically at Annifred, who introduces Douglas -- he can hear his name amidst the tumble of words, anyway. All of them get sly looks, cheerfully gabble things he can't understand, and give the cougar big welcoming hugs of their own. Many of them add a nuzzle and a little friendly groping, too.

Douglas manages a single smile to the elder, before being disappeared through the doorway. Inside is a surprise for him. He probably should have expected it to be something like a labyrinth. Somehow, I don't think the crystal would get me out of this one. Then, And why would I want it to, as I am right now? He manages to fight down his confusion when Annifred pulls him closer. The greeting of other trolls is at first a surprise, even more so when the first one nuzzles him. But he gets used to it. It must be a trollish thing, he decides, and the old instincts, the genetic heritage of felines -- not the trained social heritage of human society -- rather enjoys the contact, like something that seems perfectly natural but simply not done among the people he's normally with. The sly looks worry him -- just what is Annifred introducing him as, anyway? -- but it's the bone-crushing hugs that he thinks will finally do him in. So far, though, none of his vertebrae have popped in protest, so he thinks he's all right. He looks to Annifred, and decides he shouldn't remain silent. He smiles quietly to her. "This is your home, I take it?"

Annifred just grins at him and pulls him in close under one arm, nuzzling him cheerfully right there in the hallway. She's distracted then by a number of trollish children -- each at least four feet tall and as strong as... well... trolls -- running by and giggling cheerfully. She resumes introducing Douglas to everyone, and showing him where things are. A huge cavern lit with glowing lamps as a common room, a kitchen full of wonderful baking-bread smells, an interesting sort of lavatory with running water that Doug doesn't get time to examine, and a huge walk-in shower room filled with steam, water, and laughter from its occupants. All the trolls are, in a word, exuberant about everything they do. Indeed, anyone smaller or more fragile than Douglas would be in serious danger from the level of enthusiasm in the usual greetings -- personal space seems to mean little if anything to the trolls, and they treat physical contact as a pleasant thing.

Douglas didn't really expect much of an answer -- she certainly doesn't know his language, and he knows she knows he doesn't know her -- he stops the analysis right there before he starts getting a headache. Instead, he starts to accept the way things are -- it seems much more pleasant than stodgy human society. He feels incredibly welcome -- and also grateful for his cougar bulk, after a few dozen hugs. In fact, after she shows him around most of the warren/labyrinth/troll-condo, he finds it hard to think of himself as an outsider. The realization somewhat surprises him. I never thought of myself as being apart or segregated, he thinks, but then again, I never paid much attention to anything outside of my work. This is... so much different from what I'm used to back home -- and yet it feels so much more... more...

...comfortable. He smiles, taking in all the sights that he can, enjoying the exuberance, the apparent love of life, the scents and sounds... and Annifred's company.

Having worked a ways into the hillside and introduced her new friend to a dozen or two happy clan members, Annifred finally shows him through what seems to be a common sleeping area -- a dimly lit room, filled with furs and pillows and snoring from one dark end -- into a twisting little hallway with many small partitions off of it. These are apparently where trolls go when they want privacy. Annifred takes Douglas into the one she claims as hers, sliding a curtain across the end of the dim passageway. With the curtain closed it's quite dark, and Annifred slips by Douglas, keeping track of where he is with her hands... and her muzzle. Once past him, she lights a lamp, and golden light slowly fills the little nook, revealing what she claims as hers.

The far end used to be a bunk bed, but the top bunk has been filled with bookshelves, which are crammed full of all sorts of books. Racks of clothes hang against one wall, the other having been hung with tapestries and interestingly patterned cloth, to soften the hard stone walls. The floor is also hidden under cloth rugs. Annifred casually flings her bag on to the top bunk, where it spills books among the others, and then turns and sits on the lower bunk, tail swishing behind her as she grins widely at Douglas.

Douglas is, by the time they reach the commons, perfectly comfortable and at ease. That -- mostly -- changes when Annifred closes the curtain. He fights down some panic -- I mean... I mean, I don't even know her language, right? Right?! -- and instead takes the moment to glance around what is apparently Annifred's room. A lot of books -- well, nothing new there, that at least is familiar to him! He can't imagine a student's room without copious amounts of books. He is momentarily entranced by the tapestries and hanging cloths, then the spillage of books upon the top bunk -- I wonder why Annifred chose to have a room to herself, rather than share it with someone, like apparently seems typical for trolls? -- catches his attention, and he blinks at Annifred's tail-swishing and her fang-filled grin... and for the life of him the only thing he can think of would translate approximately as, "...!"

He manages a quiet smile in return, and says, "Thank... thank you for bringing me to your home, Annifred. You probably don't know what I'm saying, but... it's been wonderful here. I've felt very... very much at home, myself." Annifred's tail swishes happily as she gestures an unmistakable 'c'mere' to Douglas, grinning cheerfully still... maybe even ogling.

Douglas would, presumably, be sweating, if he were human. If he were human, he'd be put off by all the lack of personal space. He'd be nervous about being in a place where nobody speaks his language, where bone-crushing hugs are the order of the day, where perfect strangers cheerfully nuzzle him. If he were human, he'd be appalled by the entire thing, and be running madly for the exit and the safety of the group.

Douglas... is not human.

An idle, not-often-used part of his mind briefly reflects on that, and he recalls how, somehow -- well, at least to himself, at any rate -- his claws were made different from the dream, and how different he's been feeling since arriving. The air, the water, something "magic"... or just plain away from the society which, a scant few generations before, had considered him and other uplifts as chattel. While this sociology discourse gets composed in his mind, he swallows a little nervously. "Er... me? I mean..." he adds hastily, knowing how lame that sounds. ("But she doesn't speak your language, and she knows that you know that she knows-" "Oh, shut UP!") He takes a moment to calm himself. Come on... I've seen how perfectly ignorant of the concept of personal space these people are. It's just so nice here, nothing to run away from. Besides... even if we don't speak the same language (yet)... I find that I rather really like Annifred.

Albeit a little nervous and not knowing anything at all of what to expect, he edges towards where Annifred is sitting, pretty sure that even though he's smiling, the nervousness is still at least a little visible. It's barely a handful of steps before he sits beside her. Annifred keeps smiling and snuggles up close to Douglas, nuzzling softly. She slides her arms and tail around him and rubs gently against the feline for a moment, seeing if he'll relax for her.

Douglas closes his eyes and lets out a quiet breath. It just feels... well, nice. Comfortable. It's hard not to relax like this, and even with the sounds of the trolls thoroughly enjoying whatever they're doing echoing faintly through the halls, the big cat in him is simply too enamored of the nuzzling, the touches. Though it is with some nervousness -- born mostly out of never having done anything even approaching that -- that he lightly (even as he starts to make himself relax) gives a slight, almost trepidatious nuzzle in return. The nuzzle makes Annifred happy, so it was probably the right thing to do -- presuming one wants an amorous troll to be happy. Snuggling right up to Douglas, Annifred takes one of his paws in her hands, and rather carefully places it on herself, running it over all sorts of interesting curves and rubbing herself against him some more, not hurrying him... yet.

Douglas isn't taken aback; he's just still continually surprised at the forwardness of the trolls in general, and, well, of Annifred in particular. But no other troll, while there was in his greetings of them an occasional friendly grope... well, none of them were with him in quite this position now. Some part of him wonders, should he just back off RIGHT NOW and quickly, before any chance of him doing something he would regret -- and there might not even be that much -- he may be reading far, far too much into this, after all. A pleasant snuggle after a long day -- wait, it's not too long past noon. He thinks. He's been in the warren a while. Even so... well, of course there is the not-so-small matter of, again with the language thing, he doesn't even know what she's studying! But another part of him, the part that took that first breath of air on Crossroads and felt, for the first time ever at home, disagrees. Because, though he has the mind of an engineer, his heart is comfortable, at peace here. He's not a troll, but even the instincts of companionship he inherited from his big cat forebears might be mirrored here. It just seems natural to relax, to forget for a time the fact that he's a universe away from home -- But where is home for you now, Doug? -- and enjoy the time with someone whom he is becoming, as the time with her continues on, more and more comfortable with, at ease with, and attracted to.

Annifred wriggles against Douglas, shedding her clothing, and revealing her trollish form. Other than the muscles and tail and teeth and claws, she's close to the human norm. There'd probably be more between the humans and the trolls if the humans weren't so fragile. Annifred continues rubbing Douglas's hands over her now-naked body, and begins to try and remove his clothing, too. Any question of her desires is now past... and any worry Douglas had over the lack of a common language is put aside, as he finds that there is at least one language that Annifred and he can, for the moment, share.


Some time later Annifred moves a little, reluctantly squirming away from warm fur, which she seems to have decided she likes. Dressing minimally, as the trolls tend to do, she nudges Douglas and offers him his pants, grinning cheerfully again. Douglas is... no, 'sore' isn't the right word. He's not sore, or hurt by any stretch of the imagination. Just... very, very comfortable, a faint pleasant buzz seeming to occupy most of his conscious mind. He does, however, blush as Annifred presents his clothing to him. "Thank you," he says, smiling sheepishly to her, and starts to re-clothe himself as well. As he gets his trousers back on and finds himself next looking for his shirt, he leans over to Annifred (only a little on impulse) and nuzzles her in the same way she has nuzzled him. She seems quite pleased, nuzzling him happily back.

Before he can bother with the shirt, and with Annifred herself only minimally dressed -- as the trolls often do -- Annifred leads the cougar back out to one of the big common rooms, where a trollish meal is in full swing. They are warmly welcomed, and voluminous amounts of food are offered, most of it delicious. Annifred stays close by Douglas, enjoying his company and his now-exposed chest fur, and many of the other trolls come by to talk with Annifred and give the both of them more of the enthusiastic and sometimes rather personal hugs.

Douglas enjoys the meal and, more than that, Annifred's closeness. The food is wonderful (except, he finds, those small [for a troll] little round things in that bowl over there... Lord knows what they are but after one taste they seem capable of kicking his taste buds clear through the back of his mouth. Probably best to avoid them for the time being...) and he could not possibly ask for a more enjoyable time. Indeed, there've been only a few times before when he felt nearly this at ease and comfortable, and none of them, at first blush, were back on Earth. He isn't quite as exuberant and vivacious as the trolls -- he probably never will be -- but he certainly doesn't mind the warmth and sheer gregariousness of Annifred's clan. It feels like... he blinks a little -- family. Oh, my, an idle part of him thinks, while he continues to enjoy the feast, I wonder... considering Annifred's question when we first were able to talk via the professor's lens.... I wonder if we've just gotten, somehow, hitched? It's probably telling in some way that the thought doesn't terrify him nearly as much as it could have.

After the meal, everybody pitches in, in one way or another, to clear the room of tables and chairs. Most of the trolls gather at one side of the room in a companionably warm and cuddly pile with each other, relaxing and being comfortably close after the meal. Douglas and Annifred winding up near one edge... but not alone. A troll comes to the front and sings some sort of story or ballad... it's beautiful, if unintelligible to Douglas.

After the skald finishes everybody claps and roars appreciatively, hugging and nuzzling the singer. Slowly folks wander off -- some on their own, many to sleep. Annifred takes Douglas with her, curling up with him in the big central sleeping room. Others soon join them, and warmth and the sounds of sleeping trolls -- they sleep as exuberantly as they do everything else, apparently -- soon fill the room.


The afternoon is just beginning. The others have all been pulled, lured, or otherwise left to find their own amusements, leaving Kerry alone for the afternoon on the University campus, with nothing much to do for a couple of days until the translators are ready.

Kerry pauses for a moment, debating whether or not to visit the local 'fliers' (whatever they are) or not. He calls to Sakura just before she wanders off with Larrikan, "Wait! How do I say, 'I'm Zildjian's friend'?"

Sakura stops, and teaches Kerry. Larrikan suggests something, and Sakura says, "That's a good idea," and teaches Kerry how to ask for directions to the Silver Egg, should he get separated. With his mild grasp of the language, those phrases only take a moment or two to learn.

Kerry grins. "Thank you... at least I won't get arrested now as a vagrant." He turns back to the trees pointed out as the flight school and trots up the stairs. The flight school trees are some distance across the campus, and Kerry walks there unmolested by the college students. Some give him a second glance, but most don't, as the University tends to attract the unusual. He sees a lot of humans -- mostly humans, in fact... quite a few of the big trollish sort, and several different kinds of the local exotic species.

When Kerry reaches the indicated tree, he finds one of the low buildings at its base, probably a classroom, and the stairs, which wend their way up the tree. Interestingly, the stairs seem to be made of some sort of vine or cable, woven and knotted around the tree and the planks of the stairs, so that there aren't any nails in the tree. Kerry isn't a bit surprised by the lack of iron, and listens outside the classroom to see if there is anything going on there. The classroom seems empty. Kerry sticks his head in, to make sure, then heads up the stairs to see what can be seen. The classroom is empty, sunbeams slanting in through the half-high windows and casting light on an ordinary-looking blackboard, a number of desks facing the lecturer's podium, and several large maps on the walls. The only odd thing is that some of the aisles and desks seem farther apart (or larger) than might be expected.

The stairs aren't rickety or shaky, but aren't rock-solid, the tied cabling or whatever it is having just a little give. The treads are a bit high for Kerry, although if this is because someone larger than normal built them, or just because they were trying to make less steps isn't clear. The width is not unexpected.

At the top of the stairs there is a large flat platform built so that it rests in the branches of the tree. It appears to be tied down. It extends out over the clearing on the far side a little further on one edge. From here, there is a lovely view of the University campus, which is mostly green trees and green-roofed buildings, and of the surrounding countryside. There is a pair of trolls working on an odd machine near the extended edge, and a dryad is talking to them. Kerry watches for a moment, looking at the machine and trying to see if it's built on what he would recognize as proper physical principles, on Earth-historical mistaken principles, or on something else entirely.

The machine is sort of shaped like an inverted bathtub, with two seats in it. There's some gears showing through a hatch in the back, and some rods which stick out a ways. Kerry hmms to himself. Obviously they're working on the thing. Looks a bit heavy for a beginning flying machine. And why two seats? They can't have an engine to lift that kind of weight yet.

It's about this point that the dryad says, "Maybe he can help," to the two trolls and points at Kerry. Both of the trolls look up, and then get huge, sharp-toothed grins, and start talking excitedly at Kerry. Kerry can make out things about wings and flying and help, but they're going very fast. Kerry holds his hands up, trying to stem the torrent of words, and tries the phrases and words he's learned. "Zildjian's friend. Silver Egg lamia? No... talk yet." He makes a gesture around his wrist, miming Zil's translator bracelet. Hope that gets through.

The trolls stop and look confused. The dryad nods and talks to them for a moment. They listen, then nod, apparently understanding he's a foreigner and doesn't speak the language. There's a moment of frustration, because they can see he obviously knows something about flying -- he's got wings! -- but they don't know how to ask. One of them suddenly grins, then points to Kerry and flaps his arms, then at the machine, and then at the sky.

Kerry hates to disappoint them, really... but he doesn't really fly under his own power, after all, and he recognizes their problem now. They're doing what some of the humans tried at first -- building a machine that flaps its wings without knowing the full range of motions necessary. He finally decides to demonstrate something... he stands beside the bathtub and runs an arm slowly through the entire flight-beat cycle, showing them the complex of motions necessary to make it work.

The trolls watch. One says something and gestures at one point -- and the other counters him. The countering troll asks something with "-show you?" at the end, and the other troll nods enthusiastically. Kerry nods, hoping he understands it correctly. Either they want me to show someone else, or they want to show me something...

With big grins and a flurry of activity the trolls run across the platform, shaking it a bit, and pull a long roll of something up from where it was hanging off a branch. Unrolling it reveals a large piece of bright blue material of some sort, and several long poles, one of which is sewn into the material. They hook the poles to the rods on one side of the machine, and thread them through other pockets in the wing, revealing a single wing, nearly twenty feet long and six or seven feet wide, attached to the central frame at several points. Kerry watches the trolls put their machine together, estimating lift vs. weight factors and trying to see if the wing has a proper Bernoulli cross-section or not.

One of the trolls gestures for Kerry to come stand behind the machine, and shouts something at the other, who is setting a big block in front of it. He clambers into one of the seats, where he begins to pedal furiously. After a few moments a steady whirring noise comes from the machine, and the troll yanks hard on a lever, which engages a clutch inside that begins the wing moving, flapping greatly and blowing the leaves back with some force. Kerry studies the machine in motion. Well, they've got a decent approximation of the wing stroke, so it's got to be the weight. Let's see... He holds up a wing-hand, nodding in what he hopes looks like comprehension and waiting for them to stop the machine. The trolls do stop the machine, and come over and look expectantly. Did he like it? What does he think?

Kerry ponders the communication problem. I know what the problem is, but how to make them see it... wait... He checks around the loft for a block or brick, maybe a bit of metal, and grabs a couple of the loose leaves that were blowing around. Setting his props down, he points to the machine, swings his arms in the beat cycle once more, and says, "This good." He then picks up the leaves, drops them and points to himself... then picks up the brick, drops it and points to the machine. "This bad."

The trolls watch, interested. They seem terribly familiar with the dropping-like-a-brick action, and sigh. One says something to the other who looks at Kerry and points at the machine, and says, "Yes?" The other thunders off, returning with the other wing, which he begins to unfold. The dryad sighs, "You fools are going to kill yourselves one of these times," to which both trolls merely snort. Kerry watches the other wing with interest, trying to see if they've managed to come up with the hollow-tube construction method yet.

The tubes seem to be solid and wooden -- or something at least as strong. They don't seem to flex much. When the other wing is assembled, both trolls climb into the machine, and after setting several levers with gear-grinding noises, they begin to pedal. It seems to take a while for them to get the machine whirring at the speed they want before they engage the wings. Kerry nods to himself. Okay, they're pedaling, which is probably why they want a two-man craft. But there's way too much friction loss in that kind of gearing. Have to teach them about airfoil propellers. He stands back out of the way, in case they're planning to demonstrate how well it plummets again... then he clicks his tongue, thinking of something. Maple trees. Do they have maple trees in Europe?

One of the trolls says something, and the other moves a lever. There's a grinding of gears, and the whirring noise changes as the rest of the gears are engaged. The wings judder, then begin to flap in very respectable wing patterns, in synch with each other. The trolls both look at them and one of them happily shouts something like, "Yes!" The wings speed up, blowing a lot of air back through the upper branches of the tree and sending leaves skittering down. The dryad frowns a little bit and walks up to Kerry, saying something he can't understand or hear very well. He shrugs apologetically to the dryad, not sure how to stop the trolls from blowing leaves off the poor girl. Maybe they'll take off soon, or give it up as a bad job...

The troll in the rear, pedaling madly, calls something, to which the other says, "Yes!" The rearmost troll pulls a rope, which frees the vibrating craft from the safety of the tree. It begins to lurch ponderously forward under its own power, when he pulls another rope, causing the far end of the platform to abruptly drop about thirty degrees -- turning their slow advance into a much more rapid roll. The dryad doesn't watch, cringing at the sound of the platform shifting. Kerry winces, but can't resist watching, his sonar-sense imaging the whole train wreck in excruciating detail.

The 'plane' lurches off the platform and falls, still flapping hard. One of the trolls cries out something along the lines of, "WOOOOHOOOO!" -- which needs no translation. The flight could be worse, as the wings keep the machine from spinning or crashing upside-down, and in fact give it a little direction and help it glide a hundred yards or so before it meets the ground. That meeting is definitely hard, however, and the sound of wood breaking can be heard from the tree, which makes the dryad wince again, then turn and look. The great swooping shape of the wings freezes in mid beat as its gearing binds on the ground -- then some of the long support poles break with the shock, and they fall to the ground in pieces. Kerry watches, actually impressed in spite of himself that they got as far as they did before crashing. Once they're down, he reaches into his tunic for the feather and glides down after them, tucking it away again when he lands.

The trolls have climbed out of their machine, one running back to the tree, while the other waved reassuringly to the dryad. When Kerry leaps from the platform and glides down, both trolls stop and stare, fascinated at the bat's wings extended. They run over to him, pointing at their machine (whose nose is rather wrecked), and gabble excitedly at him. They seem pleased at their wreck. One of the trolls grins and runs back to the tree. Kerry shakes his head. And they're pleased by this? I'd hate to have seen their first trial...

The first troll comes walking back towards them slowly, trailing something long and white -- a line he's tied to the tree. When he gets to the wreck he triumphantly announces something to the other -- perhaps a number? The other troll gleefully shouts, "Woohoo!" again, grinning delightedly. Kerry watches them closely. On the other hand... they're strong enough, if they drove an ornithopter that far. With an airscrew they might be able to do muscle-powered flight after all. He gestures to the trolls and points back to the classroom at the base of their tree.

The trolls are quite pleased, hugging each other with bone crushing backslaps, jumping up and down, and gleefully shouting their number at each other. They turn towards Kerry and quickly bound his way, seeming more than happy to involve him in their congratulations. Kerry swallows, hoping the trolls don't get too rambunctious. He points to the classroom again, trying to dodge over-exuberant hugs.

One of the trolls stops before he gets to the bat and grabs the other, pointing up and saying something akin to, "Oy! Look!" They both stand and watch the sky intently as a shadow flickers over the ground, obscuring the sun for a moment. The trolls turn and watch fascinatedly as a sinuous shape with wings goes cruising over the clearing, turning at the far end and heading in towards the tree. It's initially aimed for the platform at the top, but circles again to land on the ground when it sees the wreck in the clearing. Kerry turns to follow the trolls' gaze, and gets an initial impression of a dragon.. no, too small... he narrows the sonar beam to get a detailed image of the creature, whatever it is.

The drake lands in the grass nearby, almost a flying snake. It has a slender, supple body that's about eight feet long, with a winding tail of about twelve feet, which it curls neatly around its feet, like a cat. Its gracefully curved neck is four feet or so in length, with a triangular head. Overall it's a lovely, deep, dark jade green, crowned with a bright gold crest which continues, gleaming, down its curving spine to the pointed tail tip. The wings, leathery like Kerry's, are each about fifteen feet across. They also are jade green, but of a pale, translucent shade, and fold up behind the creature, sticking above its shoulders. It hisses something at the trolls, and then shakes its head. It peers around under the wreckage and says something else. Kerry is impressed. Small for a dragon, I suppose... but it's still darn big.

The trolls talk to the drake and then point at Kerry. The snake-like flyer looks at the bat, cocking its head curiously, "Oh, hello there!" and then, "Can you speak Dragon?" One of the trolls says some things, and the drake says something in a different language, which makes no more sense. Seeing no comprehension, it settles for a gesture of its first two fingers, which make its large wings rustle. Kerry repeats what he told the trolls earlier. "Friend of Zildjian. No talk good."

The drake ahs (releasing a faint puff of smoke), then nods and smiles, hissing, "Zildjian friend too." and something else which Kerry can't understand.

Kerry sighs to himself... This is getting old really fast... and gestures to his wrist. "Need..." Oh, ##ee#!# I didn't get the word for translator! He holds up two fingers, and sweeps his hand twice across the sky after pointing to the sun.

The drake looks lost, looking at the trolls and asking something. The trolls answer, "No, no," then start more gabblings.

Kerry tries again. "Zildjian talk, me talk," pointing at his wrist again, then repeats the gestures with which he is trying to convey 'two days.' He shakes his head. So much to tell them, and no way to do it until that translator thing gets made. Pedal-driven ultralight, that's what they need. He shakes his head in frustration, then tries once more. "Go Silver Egg. Make..." He gestures for a moment, then bends down to a patch of bare dirt left in the wake of the crash and sketches a quick picture of a hang-glider with a propeller. When the sketch is finished, he looks up expectantly.

There is some confusion and chatter between the trolls and the drake, and Kerry ends up taking the group into the classroom to put the design up in more detail on the chalkboard.


    The University
    The University campus is a sprawling place, with tree-buildings similar to the Silver egg standing serenely around a central courtyard. Outside the ring of trees are a number of buildings, with sod growing on the roofs, most of which are set somewhat down in the earth, rather looking like they're snuggled comfortably in to place around the trees. Many of them are obviously large enough to be lecture halls. A path winds around the outside of them, and in to the central clearing between them, in crooked spokes. More trees and the low building spread out past that, in no really discernable pattern.

The professor has sent the four crew members off for a couple of days, needing the time to prepare the translators. Just outside his office, Larrikan flagged down Annifred, who bounced up happily, said she's looking forward to having fun 'til then! -with Doug, and proceeded to cheerfully tow him away. Kerry wandered off in search of the flyers, and Vash settled down in an out-of-the-way sunbeam to wait for Blue to get out of class.

Having rather handily gotten rid of the other crew, Larrikan offers Sakura his hand and says, "I would very much enjoy your company, Sakura."

Sakura takes Larrikan's hand, smiling at him, "As if I could refuse an offer as tempting as that..."

Kawaii stops snuffling around in the grass nearby, having dismissed the abduction of Douglas as harmless, and snorts once, trotting back over to the two foxes and looking at Sakura quizzically. Sakura catches the edge of Larrikan's glance down at the piglet. He doesn't look nearly so pleased to have Kawaii along, but he looks away and says nothing, merely taking Sakura's hand and leading her slowly through the campus. It's not long before a happy smile wipes any shadow of irritation away from his features, as he keeps looking over at Sakura and admiring.

Sakura grins at the piglet, choosing not to comment on Larrikan's look at it. She looks around at all of the buildings of the campus, drinking it all in and pausing for frequent smiles at Larrikan, a little blush rising in her ears at his admiring looks.

Their slow meandering through the afternoon sun takes them off campus and down an only slightly populated street, as this sort of town seems to have several of. Larrikan looks down at Sakura and asks, "Would you like to see something beautiful?" He then smiles, adding, "Nearly as beautiful as you."

Sakura sighs happily, "This whole place is beautiful... but I would love to see what you have in mind..."

The fox smiles, "I'm happy to take you anywhere you like." He directs her just outside of town, walking along a stream and past a flat rock which gives a lovely and artistic view of the area. However, Larrikan leads past it and downstream, the green woods and happily burbling stream cool and smelling of moss and growing things.

Sakura looks around as Larrikan leads her, eyes wide in wonder, as they have been almost since she arrived on this planet. At least, when they weren't wide with fear. "Wow..." Kawaii follows, looking relaxed and pleased with Larrikan's choice of expedition so far, pausing sometimes to root at something in the underbrush, and then darting along to catch up.

Larrikan smiles, "We're almost there." Another stream and a creek or two has trickled in to the stream the foxes follow, one of them crossing their path. Larrikan steps over it, then helps Sakura over, making sure the lady remains dry.

Sakura smiles at the gesture, "Thank you, Larrikan." She looks carefully at the foliage ahead of her, as if trying to get a sneak-peek at whatever lies ahead, genuinely curious as to where Larrikan is leading her.

The sound of rushing water increases before anything visible changes, but it's not long before the top of a ridge is reached, the stream turning in to a waterfall and dropping a couple of meters at once, then flowing over a steep grade filled with rocks. The water is white and fast moving. The banks of the stream are mud, but past them is a strip of grass before the trees take over again, and it's to this strip of grass at the top of the ridge that Larrikan leads, on the sunnier side of the creek. He pauses to look at the water -- which is doing exactly what he expects it to -- then turns to look at Sakura, who is much more interesting to him, "Here we are."

Sakura looks at the waterfall, mouth slightly open. "Oh, Larrikan. It's beautiful..." She turns to him and smiles, "Thank you for bringing me here..."

Larrikan smiles, obviously pleased that Sakura thinks this is a nice place. He walks to a grassy, sunny spot on the top of the ridge and sits down, his tail staying spread out behind him in a mass of red and white fur, patting the ground next to him, "Would you like to rest and watch a bit, before we go back?"

Sakura comes over to Larrikan's side, settling herself on the ground next to him. She leans against him and nods, "I'd like to stay for a while, if that's okay..."

Larrikan smiles and puts his arm around her, drawing her to him gently, "I'd like that, yes." The sun shines down on the two foxes and warms their fur. After a quarter hour or so, Larrikan turns his head and nuzzles gently at Sakura's ear, just a little bit.

Sakura's eyes slip shut and she leans her head in towards the nuzzling. "Mmm..." She is warm from the sun and pleasant company and certainly doesn't seem to mind the extra closeness... Kawaii, who has been rooting about the edge of the trees, looks up when Larrikan nuzzles, and takes one tentative step over. Sakura's quiet enjoyment doesn't seem to warrant any objection, though, so he goes back to looking for interesting smells.

Larrikan smiles contentedly, and doesn't do anything more than nuzzle gently, enjoying Sakura's slightly exotic scent and soft fur. Another little piece of quite pleasant time passes before he asks the vixen, "It's getting on into mid afternoon. Would you like to go find some supper someplace?" After a little pause, he asks hopefully, "And perhaps dancing?" and smiles winningly at Sakura.

Sakura nods, "Dinner would be wonderful... but dancing would be even better. You're such a good dancer."

Larrikan smiles, not at all modestly, and says, "It helps when I have a lovely partner to inspire me." He stands and offers Sakura his hand, adding, "The place I have in mind is a bit of a walk from here, so we should head that way while there's still plenty of daylight."

Sakura stands up, keeping Larrikan's hand in hers. She blushes again at his compliment, ducking her muzzle and grinning like a schoolgirl. "Lead the way, Larrikan. I trust you..."

Kawaii trots back up and makes one little snort at this last statement -- possibly a slightly derisive one. Larrikan says, "We'll go a different way then, and you can see more of the forest."

Sakura nods, "That would be lovely, thank you... I love the forest..." Larrikan leads back the way they had come for a little ways, until a narrow and easily crossed section of stream appears, and they then set off at an angle to it. Occasionally he points things out to Sakura, who he correctly reads as a city-girl... beehives and different birdsongs, and poison ivy. After a while the two foxes stroll in to a clearing, which is filled with a huge snarl of brambles. He smiles, "Blackberries are ripe, look," and points. "Would you like to try some?"

Sakura acts just like a city girl as Larrikan points things out, looking closer without touching, asking more questions and generally staring and looking around like a tourist. She nods at Larrikan's suggestion. "Oh, yes please..."

Kawaii has already squealed happily at the bushes, and is munching along on low-hanging berries, the spikes of the plants not bothering him with his tough skin and fur. Larrikan is a lot more careful, as he'd get hurt, and he warns Sakura of the thorns. He pulls down a number of the hanging bunches of berries, and shows her how to pull the berry off without getting the core. The berries are tart and leave purple stains on fingers. Sakura takes one carefully off the bunch, following Larrikan's directions. She holds it between her thumb and one finger and offers it towards Larrikan, grinning a little impishly. Larrikan smiles and leans down and nips the berry from her fingers, delivering a soft kiss to her fingertips at the same time. He then plucks a berry and offers it to Sakura in the same way.

Sakura takes the berry from between Larrikan's finger with a little flick of her tongue, then pauses to kiss the pads of both fingers before she swallows it... Larrikan smiles at Sakura, "As happy as I might be to stay here and feed you berries all afternoon, I think I would enjoy dancing with you more." Counter to his words, he offers her another berry.

Sakura eats this one as well, then nods, "I agree... I would very much like to go and dance..."

Larrikan whistles for Kawaii, and tosses the rest of the bunch of berries he holds to the piglet, who catches them and chews them up happily. Not bothering to watch, he turns to Sakura and takes her hand, then leans in to give her a very quick kiss on the cheek, saying, "I shall be happy to please the lovely vixen." He once again leads the way. Sakura squeezes Larrikan's paw and follows his lead again...

The fox shows Sakura other things from the forest as they pass, naming flowers and trees and stopping to show her deer tracks. Kawaii keeps up relaxedly, having decided that this fox isn't making Sakura unhappy and that he isn't likely to need to interrupt. It's not too long before the sound of music and other people is heard, and they come upon a clearing ringed with lights -- the source of this pleasant sound. Sakura smiles upon entering the clearing and turns to Larrikan. "This reminds me of the first night that we danced..."

The fox smiles, "This won't be quite as special as that night, as it's just dancing, not a rade, but I hope you'll enjoy it." He leads her off to one side where there is a large group of people making and eating food, asking, "Shall we get something to eat before the music starts?"

Sakura looks a little curious at that... "A rade?" She follows Larrikan over towards the food, "Please..."

Larrikan procures two bowls and wooden spoons, and finds a corner of a table for them to eat at. Once he has made sure the lady has something to eat, he tries to answer her question without going into too much detail, "The rade is where my people collect the energy they use -- by dancing in the moonlight."

Sakura takes a couple of spoonfuls while Larrikan explains what the rade was... She smile at him. "I never got the chance to thank you for that... but thank you. It was a wonderful evening, even if I didn't understand at the time. I enjoy your company very much..."

Larrikan says, "I'm pleased you enjoyed it. I was a bit worried you would find it frightening. Some people do." He eats some of his own dinner, then says, "I'm enjoying spending time with you, too. I think the dance will be fun."

Sakura shakes her head, "I was a little nervous... but not scared... not with you there."

Larrikan smiles, looking quite pleased. The sound of instruments starts near the clear space behind them, and Larrikan's ears perk. He beams happily. Sakura perks her ears up also and smiles, finishing off the last of her meal. She looks eagerly towards where the musicians are warming up... Larrikan has finished his meal as well. When the music starts he offers his hand to Sakura and says, "Shall we dance, milady?" and smiles at her.

Sakura stands and takes Larrikan's hand in hers, "I'd love to..."

The fox leads Sakura to the dance floor, when the dances begin, and leads her through dancing. The dances tend to be fast and energetic, and often let people change partners, forms of what would be called a "square dance" at home. Larrikan always looks happiest when he is dancing with Sakura, and enjoys the chance to put his arms around her and be close to her. Sakura seems fairly relaxed as she dances, following the lead of the dancers around her in the steps. She beams a nearly-constant smile at Larrikan no matter where he is, but especially when she's in his arms.

As the night progresses, the dances tend to slow down -- either the dancers getting tired, or the band slowing deliberately -- it's hard to tell. Larrikan winds up dancing more and more with Sakura, and often able to hold her quite closely, and even give her the occasional little nuzzle on her cheek. He is warm and relaxed and happy there with her. Sakura snuggles her body close to Larrikan's as the dances slow, pressing her cheek into his nuzzles and nuzzling him back.

The night finally ends, the sun having set and lamps around the edge of the clearing providing the light. Kawaii has been poking around and people have been feeding him or talking to him, but he shows up as Larrikan leads Sakura off the dance floor, hand in hand. He says to her, "There's one thing more I'd like to show you tonight, if you'd allow me."

Sakura nods, "Yes, of course I will, Larrikan..."

Larrikan smiles, deciding he'd better check before he makes too great an assumption, "I wanted to show you a fox's den... mine, in particular. Will you join me tonight, lovely lady?"

Sakura very nearly glows at this suggestion, blushing straight to her ear-tips, but looking terribly happy. She nods her head, "I'd enjoy that..."

Larrikan kisses the vixen gently and says, "I hope we'll both enjoy it." He leads her off into temptation, which is to say, his home...


    The afternoon progresses. Not too far after noon, the building that Larrikan had suggested earlier disgorges a brace of students, who each head off from class with their own destinations in mind.

Vash remains sitting down on the grass nearby, his back against the building, arms on his knees. He blinks himself awake, hearing the class disperse, then stands and stretches to shake off the effects of an hour in the pleasant afternoon sun. Scanning the faces, it doesn't take very long for him to spot the face he's looking for. Weaving as best he can through the crowd, he tries to close in from the side.

Coming out of the classroom, Blue is carrying a large bag slung over one shoulder, wearing a baggy top and shaped breeches or leggings of some sort as she talks to another girl. When she sees Vash making his way towards her, she gets the other girl's attention and heads over to him. As people are making way for the armored uplift, this is fairly simple. She smiles happily at Vash and says something to the other girl, who smiles a bit timidly. Vash smiles broadly and nods to Blue. "Ah, just who I was looking for." He nods to her friend, giving her his polite little half-bow. "Afternoon, senyora."

The other girl smiles, still timidly, unused to the foreign language. Blue seems unperturbed, saying something else. Her friend nods slowly, then gestures to follow. Hefting her bag on her shoulder again, Blue smiles and takes a step or two after her, glancing back at Vash. Vash shrugs, and follows in step with Blue. "Sure," he grins. "Why not?"

When Vash comes up next to her Blue sort of shyly takes his hand -- to make sure he doesn't get lost, of course -- her touch is light on his fingers. Vash smiles a little and very gently takes Blue's hand. The two girls walk to one of the buildings surrounding the central meadow. This one has many entrances, seems a bit taller than the others, and has more glass in the windows. When they go in it's crowded with students, all at a jumble of tables and chairs in a wild mixture of sizes, colors, and even leg numbers. The scent of food drifts from the back -- this must be the student union. Vash adjusts his shades with his free hand as they enter, grinning. "Ah... now this seems familiar."

Blue and her friend head to a table near one corner where there are already three others seated, all guys. All of them smile at the two girls, although two of them get a sort of guarded, wary look when they realize Blue is bringing Vash to them. Casually nicking a chair from another table, Blue dumps her bag on it with a hearty thump and says something brightly. Vash waits for an indication from Blue before he sits. When he does, he rests his hands on the table, his fingers carefully curled in to keep his claws hidden. He smiles amiably at the students, nodding to each in turn. "Afternoon."

Blue sits down next to Vash, and her friend sits on her other side, the large round table having room for a couple more people before anybody has to squeeze in too close. Blue talks for a minute or two, and the three fellows nod. One of the wary ones relaxes, but the other seems skeptical of what she's saying. As Blue talks, her friend rummages in her backpack and pulls out something which she unwraps, revealing a sandwich. She eats with some gusto. Vash relaxes a bit, seeing that no one's run screaming or threatened him with a chair yet. He grins a little and sits back, folding his arms. That idiot at TAG that said smiling made you more accessible was out of his mind. He laughs internally. What they must think of me. The mute alien. I wonder if they have situation comedies here... if not, I've just invented them.

Blue giggles at something one of the guys says, and then notices the other girl's sandwich. She oohs! -then puts her hand on Vash's arm and says something. Realizing this isn't likely too meaningful, she tries to pantomime eating, and then looks quizzically at the armadillo. Vash ahs and nods. "Yes, I think so."

Blue says something to the others, then stands up. She carefully takes Vash's hand again, leading him to the back of the building, where they find a very cramped sort of cafeteria. Blue realizes that Vash won't be able to read the signs or talk to the chef, but has seen him eat back at the Silver Egg, so she knows he does. She hands him a tray and orders some things, letting him carry them while she harangues the chef for what she wants. The chef seems not to want to argue with her, unlike how he's dealt with the others. Vash just stands there like a great armored statue, feeling more than a little like an incoming freshman. He just grins resignedly and lets Blue do her thing. Ah... heh. Strong-willed, too. I like you more and more, Blue.

Having placed enough food on the tray for both of them, Blue puts her hand out and gestures, very carefully resting her other hand on his elbow, pointing out the exit. People are walking to it, setting their trays down and sliding them through an arch of sorts, pausing in front of it, then picking their tray up and walking off. Vash nods and heads in the direction of the exit. He sets the tray down and leans around the arch to glance at the other side. He slides the tray through and then picks it up. Huh. Magic bar code scanner. Blue pauses to place her thumb in a depression where the others had paused, and the counter emits a pleasant little chime.

Blue then leads Vash carefully, mindful of the tray of food, back to their table. A couple more people have arrived, one of whom has commandeered Vash's chair. Vash follows behind Blue, and leans carefully past the one that's pirated his seat to place the tray in front of her. "Pardon me, ese."

One of the newcomers is another human woman. She's sitting between two of the guys who were there when Blue arrived, and she looks at Vash but doesn't say a word to him -- not snubbing him -- more simply speechless. The other newcomer, who is a young-looking human man with a tousle of unmanageable curly brown hair, glances up at Vash. When he does his face lights up, and he rattles off a long stream of words.

Blue eeps and moves her bag onto the floor, then pushes her chair towards Vash, saying something. A second later she darts off to scout for another chair. Vash grins and sits down carefully, mindful of the tail. He looks after Blue for a second, then realizes he's being addressed. "Ah, pleased to meet you too... sorry I don't speak the language yet." He could be saying 'Your mother was a Sherman tank' for all you know. Ah well. Give him the benefit of the doubt, eh?

The curly haired man stares at Vash some more, fascinated. Blue returns with a different chair, and he says something to her. She nods enthusiastically, rummaging in her bag for a sketchbook, which he goes over and looks at. It contains sketches of all four of the foreigners. Vash folds his hands in his lap, idly craning his neck to glance at the sketches. Not a bad likeness at all. Wonder if my jaw's really that angular.

Blue shoos the man off, then picks up a bowl of stew and starts to eat. She motions at Vash, "Eat! Eat!" The other fellow digs in his bag and produces his own sketchbook. He asks a question, looking expectant, wielding a pencil and a blank page. Vash pauses with half a sandwich partway to his mouth. He glances at the man, then at Blue, unsure what's being asked. Blue notices, and points to Vash, to the sketches, then to the man.

Vash ohs, "Ah, you want to do one as well? Sure... I don't see why not." He nods to Blue, then to the man. "Sure. It's cool." He then gets back to that sandwich. The brown haired man grins and begins to sketch Vash, sandwich and all. Blue shakes her head in amusement at him, and keeps eating too. Vash grins, eating as politely as he's able under the circumstances. Finishing his sandwich, he splits a bit of local fruit in half. Holding it gingerly in his claws, he offers Blue the other half.

The man says something and snickers, and Blue shoots him a look that could curdle milk. The man chuckles, using Vash's chivalry as an excuse to look at armadillo claws. Blue smiles at Vash though, and takes the fruit, saying something pleasant sounding and looking quietly pleased. Vash smirks a little. Wow. I wonder what THAT was about. He nods when Blue takes the fruit from him. "My pleasure, senyora."

Lunch continues, with Blue talking nicely to other people and paying as much attention to Vash as she can without understanding him, mostly regarding food. The other artist draws several sketches -- not nearly as accurate as Blue's, but interesting nonetheless -- and then gets distracted by a buxom girl across the room, whom he also sketches. Vash just pays polite attention, nodding where appropriate. He follows the artist's eyes across the room and gives him a quick, conspiratorial little grin. After about an hour (and within a couple of minutes of each other) the others all pack up and head out, apparently having a class. Blue waves to them, then looks up at Vash. She seems to suddenly realize she's alone with him, and gets a bit shy.

Vash takes the opportunity as the others leave to sit up a bit, rolling his neck and shoulders. Settling back again, he realizes he's been left alone with Blue, and that she's noticed it as well. He smiles very gently and places his hand carefully over hers. "I know exactly how you feel," he says softly, hoping that even if the words don't make sense, his tone will carry across. Blue smiles at Vash a bit shyly and nods, sitting very still with his hand over hers. After a moment she begins to put the dirty dishes on the tray, then gathers up her bag. She pushes the tray at Vash, and stands up again, idly pushing her chair in after she's stood up. Vash nods and stands slowly, indulging in another long stretch. He picks up the tray and glances around for somewhere to put the thing. Now, if the magic scanner is over there... where exactly would the magic trash chute be?

Blue leads Vash by what has to be the pickup for the dishes, as others are leaving trays there -- then outside, into the late afternoon. She takes his hand -- a bit more assuredly this time -- and walks along slowly, following the meandering gravel path through the campus. Vash smiles and curls his fingers gently around hers, walking alongside. He doesn't say much; what's the need? Instead he just tilts his head toward the late sun, and enjoys the warmth, the quiet and the company, relishing at least one opportunity to not be the Captain for just a little while.

Blue walks slowly along, smiling at nothing much more than the warm sun. She leads off campus and through town/woods, with small houses and dryad-trees being close enough together that you can usually see more than one at once. Arriving at a little wooden cabin nestled under a stand of small trees, Blue takes Vash's hand and puts it on one of the small trees, saying one word several times as she looks at him, then points to the ground. Vash says, "I'm not sure I understand.... your home? This is your home?" He shrugs. "Okay. I'll just wait here. Do what you gotta, heh."

Blue looks hesitant, backing away from Vash a step, then turning and darting in to the house. She emerges just a couple of minutes later, carrying a much smaller bag and wearing different shoes. She beams at Vash and takes his hand again, leading again.

A few minutes' walk reveals a burbling stream. Vash grins a bit and lets himself be led. "I wasn't going anywhere alone, Blue.... I learned that lesson already." Heh. You think I look bad, you should see the other guy. He nods, gesturing to the stream. "It's... very lovely here." He smiles widely and nods again, trying to get his meaning across. Blue grins at him, then leads the way to a largish, flat rock, which overlooks the stream and sits up out of the ground about a foot and a half -- the very one that Sakura and Larrikan walked by earlier, in fact. Blue clambers up on to the sun-warmed rock, then sits there, silhouetted by the low-angled sun. After a moment, she pats the rock next to her and watches what Vash does.

Vash just stands there smiling for a moment. Beautiful. Just... beautiful. He climbs up to the rock with little difficulty, and sits down alongside her, reclining a bit on his elbow to spare his tail. Blue smiles and leans gently against Vash, looking up at him to make sure that's okay. Vash leans close, resting his head against hers, signaling yes. That's okay. Blue smiles again and relaxes. The big armadillo is secure and reassuring, the sun and the rock is warm, and the quiet susurration of the stream is very soothing. For several minutes she doesn't do anything but rest there, letting the cares of the day drain away.

Vash closes his eyes and exhales slowly. He smiles to himself, and very gently curls an arm around her waist. I'd better not suddenly wake up... that's all I can think to say. Blue's response is to rest her arm on top of Vash's and slowly stroke his fingers for several more moments. Vash sighs quietly. He just sits still, and wonders if it's possible for him to memorize all of it; the sound of the water, her touch, and the scent of her hair. He doesn't think he can. All the more reason to pay attention now.

Blue seems quite content to stay just like that for a while. Then, finally, she notices it's getting later, and sighs a little, sitting up and rummaging in her bag a moment, producing a sketchbook. Shifting so she's sitting up more, but still against Vash's warmth, she looks out at the stream and begins to sketch. Vash tilts his head a little and looks out at the stream. He redistributes his limbs to make himself more comfortable, and more comfortable to be leaned upon, and watches her fingers as she works, seeing the picture take shape.

It's a picture of a rock... in the stream, with water cascading over it. She goes into detail where the rock meets the water, the rest fading out into abstract sketches. After a few minutes she starts another different image. Vash leans in, his cheek against hers, and murmurs some soft word of appreciation. Blue looks a bit startled at Vash's words, then uncomprehending. But she smiles at the tone of voice and settles back in to drawing again, this new drawing being larger, filling the whole page from edge to edge -- a panoramic view of the stream and trees in front of them. Vash smiles deferentially and keeps silent so as not to disturb her. He reaches up with his free hand and pulls off his shades as the light begins to fade to a level that he's comfortable with.

As it gets darker, Blue hurries to finish her drawing. When she's done, a spectacular sunset is filling the sky with reds and oranges, making the trees stand out black against it. She uses the last of her light to finish a detail, then pack her bag back up. As she does so, the sunset fades to twilight and the stars slowly come out. Only when it starts to get cooler does Blue move to stand up, standing and stretching. Vash does the same, remaining flat while he does so though, then rising and dusting himself off. He looks up at the sky. I should thank you for tempting me out here. Blue picks up her bag, and holds out her hand to Vash.

Vash nods and takes Blue's hand, and moves to the edge of the rock. He drops down to the ground first, turning to help her descend more easily. Blue lets the armadillo help her down, takes his hand again, and begins to walk. She hums a little tune, repeatedly and deliberately. As she does, the night seems to be less frightening, if it was at all, and a little less dark. Between that, the lights of the homes and businesses they pass, and her knowing her way about, there seems to be no trouble on the city streets. Occasionally they pass other people; humans in pairs or small groups, and trolls out for the night. Vash can't help but smile a little. He lets her lead the way, and for the moment doesn't worry about rats or dirty guys in bad haberdashery in the alleyways.

The form of the Silver Egg is easily seen, with its hard edged shape in the tree blocking out the starlight and reflecting dim glimmers from the torches and lanterns outside. Blue leads Vash home (not wanting to leave him lost), taking him inside to the warm and familiar common room. Vash nods, then sighs a bit. Over already. Ah well... guess I've got to be the Captain again sometime. He turns to Blue and says quietly, "I had a good time." Blue waves down Zildjian and says a few words to her. Zil nods, hissing something quiet back to her. Blue smiles and turns to Vash, standing on tiptoe to give him a gentle but brief kiss on the cheek before she leaves, a brief wave at the door being her last action before she makes her way home.

Vash stands and watches her go for a long time, well after she's left. Finally he turns and says, "Let's have a drink, Zil. On me."

Zildjian smiles, "Ahll raht," and slides behind the bar, rummaging for a moment before handing Vash a heavy mug. She then leans on the bar and smiles, adding, "Ah told her what y'all said. She said Ah should let y'all know that she had a nahce time, too, 'n' thanks you f'helpin' her with her homework."

Vash grins a bit. "Heh." He runs his hand over his head plates. "So have I gone completely insane yet? I've wrestled a water hag, punched a hole in a street tough, and now I think I've fallen for a local. All said, I think I've just about broken every rule in the manual." He takes a long pull and smirks. "Well. Just the capital offenses, anyway."


    -- Excerpt from personal log Montoya, Vashti R., Captain, AGES Indigo
    -- Gate Expedition 1, Date unknown, time unknown

    ...I haven't been able to sleep. Just too much to think about. Spent today with Blue and some of her friends. Later just with Blue. I'm almost afraid to hold her too close, as if I squeezed too hard she'd slip through my hands and disappear. It's not all quite real, like sleepwalking. It's all just... too perfect. Since we've arrived, it's as if things have been laid out for us. Sakura found companions immediately, in Kawaii and in Larrikan. Kerry's found what he's been looking for all along; his friend as well as his wings. Douglas didn't find what he was looking for so much as what he seemed to need -- someone to pull him out from under.

    Which leaves me. I don't know what it is that I need, and as for what I want... hard to say. It's all too easy. My family secret... a sense of purpose... and now someone to care for. Forget that I'm too scared to think of what she'll finally say to me when the time comes. Is someone trying to make up for what happened to us, in El Paso and Austin and Colorado Springs? What did we do to deserve... I don't know what else to call it besides reparations. Maybe it's true that our dreams are linked and there's something serious going down on the Crossroads. If that's the case, then maybe they expect us to give something back in exchange... but I saw Douglas smile today at a passing remark in a way that made me forget what the punchline was. I'll fight for that, if Crossroads wants. For people who've taken a backseat their entire lives, it's a fair trade.

    For a second chance, it's a bargain. Red tags and all.


Vash studies the small bundle with apprehension. I don't even know if this is the right kind.

He shrugs it off, ducking his head a bit as he strides over the cobbles in the gray half-light just before dawn. The gaslights are starting to gutter as he passes. He stuffs his hands in the pockets of his shorts, his claws curled protectively over their secret little cargo. I could have asked Larrikan to do it... no. I'm not Cyrano. Or whatever his friend's name was. Besides... that'd defeat the purpose.

He rounds the corner toward the University green and moves quietly over the lawn, glancing up at a lit window across the yard. The yellow light twists on the surface of his shades; he turns away quickly and disappears through the ring of trees, threading his careful way through the low outbuildings. That vendor better not have been lying to me. At least Zildjian was good enough to help me write the note.

He pauses at last outside the door... he's sure this is the right one... she all but leashed him to the tree outside while she changed. He gnaws his lower lip, hesitating. Oh, this is stupid. I wasn't this nervous at the gallows. Just... go on and do it, Vashti, if you're doing it.

He studies the windowsill, then the door and the step. Should I knock? No... no. A surprise. It should be a surprise. He kneels down and places the little bundle at the doorstep. He glances around quickly to see that no one has witnessed his coming, and then quickly disappears across the lawn again, before the sun can come up and give him away.

Waiting for Blue, as she leaves that morning for classes, is a small folded piece of paper, weighted down with something in the fold. Inside is a trio of beautiful art pencils, crafted of some dark wood native to Crossroads and tied together with a tiny length of ribbon. The paper reads, in small hand-lettering, 'Forgive me for not bringing the real thing.' Beneath that is a very careful representation of a long, wild rose, done with an obvious eye toward detail. Beneath that, 'Thank you for the lovely evening.' It is unsigned.


Two mornings later, the crew collects in the dining room at the Silver Egg, feeling relaxed and recharged. Larrikan is on hand again, although the other students have class in the mornings. The fox apparently usually avoids them if he can... mornings, that is. Zildjian politely doesn't comment on the somewhat er... fluffy state of affairs of some of the Indigo's crew... but she does grin cheerfully quite a bit, and her tongue flickers more than usual as she watches them eating breakfast with lesser or greater levels of enthusiasm and awakeness.

Vash finds himself sitting at a table, wearing his blackguard T-shirt and shorts, having shed his jumpsuit in favor of the warm weather. He stretches languidly, looking at the morning crowd. Sakura smiles at Zildjian, "Good morning, Zildjian-san!"

Zildjian beams, "Mornin', Saki-san! How're y'all feelin'?"

Sakura says, "Great, thanks. How are you?"

Zildjian smiles, "Ah'm ac'sh'ly rather lookin' forward t'seein' how things go with y'all an' th'professor... Ah know it was real 'xcitin' f'me to finally be able t'talk t'folks heah."

Douglas is relaxed -- he slept well, and it was anything but an unpleasant few days. "He planted the pebble," he says, in between munches of toast. "I mean... I know that it has to do with magic, it was... just a surprise."

Vash grins. "I'm sure it was. So did you have to trek down to the lake yourself?"

Zildjian chuckles, "Nah. Ah'm a lamia heah, to them... they seemed t'think, even though Ah tried t'tell 'em otherwise, that Ah was too impo'tant t'go traipsin' about onna quest." A little wistfully she adds, "It did sound kinda interestin'..."

Vash nods, stretching again. "It was... yeah. Interesting is the word for it."

Kerry skrees, "You can always do one some other time. Face it, you had enough of a quest with what you went through to get here, Zil."

Zildjian pauses a moment, thinking, her tongue flickering once... then just nods quietly, "Ah guess so. Ah certainly don' wanna do anythin' like that again, that's f'sure."

Sakura says, "So do these translators just grow from the stones?" Larrikan yawns widely, not being accustomed to this 'morning' thing, and seems in little rush to go anywhere other than the quiet snuggling of Sakura he's managing right here in the dining room.

Zildjian shakes her head, "Ah don' really know, Sakura-san. They jus' handed me mahn, a few days after Ah gave them the bit o'blood 'n stuff."

Douglas nods slowly and lets out a breath. He stretches a little, stifling only a little bit of a yawn, but seems perfectly awake. He can still feel the small map-crystal in his pocket, and promises himself again to go to the labyrinth sometime. "And I have a feeling," he notes, folding his arms and leaning comfortably upon the table, "-that the quests aren't over yet."

Kerry snorts. "We still have a shuttle to find. Unless it reappears as mysteriously as it vanished, I suspect we've got a nasty one ahead of us." Zildjian nods quietly, watching Kerry.

Sakura nods at Kerry Not that I'm in any rush... Vash cricks his neck softly. Nasty. Hm. I don't want to fight here. Of all places. Always some damn thing.

Zildjian grins as her gaze travels across the group and she notices the warmly snuggling Larrikan. She hisses something amused-sounding at him, and waves a hand towards the door, grinning, when the fox man gives her a startled glance. He scrambles to his feet. Kerry arches an eyebrow at Zil's gaze. "What? We'll come back. But there's still eleven more Gates to investigate." Sakura blinks at Larrikan's sudden movement... Larrikan offer Sakura his hand and says something to the party.

Douglas blinks at Kerry for a moment, uncomprehending. Then he shivers. I think there's a reason that so far, our world's been the only one sending people through those gates. Either they're like here -- peaceful, pre-spaceflight, and with more than enough going on -- or they're like the Nexus system... He blinks, and looks up at Larrikan. Sakura says, "Er. Looks like I'm leaving for now?"

Kerry skrees, "Yep. We're off to see the wizard!"

Zildjian laughs! "So you are, Kerry... y'all have fun!"

Vash says, "Where to, Doctora, if not the University?"

Sakura says, "No. I think that we're all leaving actually. Looks like it's time to go to the university."

Douglas looks at Kerry as he stands. "You know, some day I'm going to get up enough courage to ask you what in the worlds that means. But not today. Let's be off. Zil, thank you and Hotspur for the wonderful breakfast."

Kerry grins at Douglas as they head off. "It's nothing so awful as that. Just a line from an old pre-War movie...."

Vash says, "Yeah. Sounds good. We'll be back before long, Zildjian. Don't work too hard, now."

Zildjian grins, "You got it, Douglas, Vash." She waves as the group leaves, reclining in a comfortable pile of coils.

The fox leads the way back to the University, skipping the lecture hall and going straight to the office. He knocks on the door, and goes in afterwards, gesturing for the others to follow him.

Douglas is much less worried about meeting the professor this time, actually looking forward to seeing what ended up sprouting from the pot the professor planted the pebble in... he blinks, and grimaces to himself. Enough with the alliteration, already! Kerry is still unconvinced that the pebble is going to grow the translators, but is interested in whether his will look much like Zil's. Heck, where am I going to put the thing? I certainly can't wear an armband... Vash walks at his own pace, musing to himself, something he notices he finds himself doing a lot lately. All this sun after so long in the ship... what was that line about mad dogs and Englishmen? Ah well. 'S good for me. He knocks softly on the door as he enters.

The Professor beams brightly, and gestures them in. He babbles rapidly at Larrikan, who helps him set up a table in the middle of them room. The professor sets some things on it and directs Larrikan to get some others. He asks Sakura to have the others come up close. One of the last things he brings is a ceramic pot from the windowsill, with a leafy green plant in it. Douglas blinks at the pot in abject wonder. "I'm stunned," is all he says.

Sakura comes up to the desk at the Professor's urging. She looks surprised at the plant in the pot. "Neat." Vash blinks a couple times, but grins a bit. Well, Vashti... before you act surprised... what'd you expect to come outta there?

The Professor talks to Larrikan, apparently taking this chance to give the fox a random lesson in something he doesn't see every day. Sakura can hear, but not really understand, the professor going on rapidly to Larrikan, explaining about the armbands -- something about the Tree of Foreknowledge, a drop of the wearer's blood to bind it together, and some kind of strange gobbledygook about patterns. Larrikan listens intently, nodding. As the older fellow explains, Larrikan sets out four strips of leather, a spool of red thread, a silver needle, four bowls, four wooden spoons, a mortar and pestle, and a long, sharp looking dagger.

Douglas blinks, glancing at the dagger. Uhm... I do recall Zil saying something about 'blood 'n stuff.' I wonder if I should commence worrying yet... Kerry hops up on a chair to watch the proceedings more comfortably, since hanging from the roof seems to be out of the question. Hmm... Zil's was fancier. Sakura looks like she understands the words that the Professor is saying, but really just has no idea. He may as well be speaking a language she doesn't know again. Vash doesn't say much as Larrikan sets out the equipment, just watching. This looks complicated. Nice knife, though. He semiconsciously rubs the back of his left hand. Better than I'm used to seeing, anyway.

The Professor tells the group something. He then smiles and says something to Larrikan. They two of them begin a quiet chant, which sounds like they're together, except that they aren't, and then they are. Douglas blinks, looking between Larrikan and the professor. This is starting to get confusing. I wonder... well, obviously it's magic, but there's got to be more to it than just chanting. I wonder how it works... Their chanting finished, the professor takes the knife, and cuts the plant off at the dirt level, handing the pot to Larrikan who puts it out of harm's way. The professor minces up the leaves and stems of the plant, looking for all the world like he's making a salad. He continues to chant while he does it.

Sakura says, "Sensei, could I help by taking them for you? I'm a Doctor." To her friends she says, "The Professor needs to take a blood sample from each of us. He says that they'll ask for our hands and not to be afraid of the knife."

Vash finds himself nodding softly in time. He's reminded of something his grandmother used to sing, but that was so long ago he can hardly remember the tune, and the words are gone entirely. He nods. "Of course. Whenever he's ready, Sakura."

Larrikan looks at Sakura and answers something, as the professor is busy, putting all the parts of plant in a heavy pestle, carefully. Larrikan goes back to watching, intently. Douglas blinks to Sakura. "Ahh... all right..." Kerry just watches, his eyes concealed by his heavy goggles, but his posture alert.

The professor picks up the heavy stone mortar, and turns and bows in the four compass directions, murmuring to the mortar as he does so. He then begins to pound and grind the green plant in to a thick and sticky paste. As he does so, Larrikan occasionally adds something from one of the jars he fetched from the big cabinet earlier. After several minutes the professor finishes with the pestle. The plant is now a gooey homogeneous mass, dark green and sticky. Larrikan hands him the four bowls, one at a time, and the professor puts a quarter of the gooey stuff in each bowl. Setting them down, one next to each of the Indigo's crew, the professor picks up the knife, and again faces the four cardinal directions.

Douglas swallows slightly. He's not too fond of the idea of giving blood, but he'll do it; at some point he does have to trust the professor, after all. The gnome stops his singing and walks to Vash, wielding the knife. Larrikan follows, carrying one of the bowls of goo and its associated spoon. The professor stops and holds out one of his hands to the armadillo, and looks seriously at him.

Vash keeps his face carefully expressionless, unfolding his arms. He holds out his right hand and slowly uncurls his fingers. Taking Vash's right hand, the Professor turns it palm-up and chants over it. Moving carefully but not too slowly, he puts the long edge of the blade against the soft part of the ring finger and makes a careful little cut, singing softly. He cuts only until a few drops of blood begin to well out. He tips Vash's hand and lets three or four of them fall in to the bowl, which Larrikan is stirring.

Larrikan hands Vash a clump of some white and natural looking substance; a little scratchier than cotton, but similarly absorbent. He presses this against the cut and closes Vash's hand over it. Vash curls his hand tightly around it, and folds his arms again. The professor is using a red cloth to wipe the blade clean and let Larrikan catch up. Nodding approvingly at Vash, the Professor waits for Larrikan to pick up the next bowl before he moves on to Kerry. For a moment he stares at the bat's wing-hands, then holds out his hand, expecting the bat to give him some appropriate hint.

Kerry wonders if he should offer a foot instead, but shakes off the image. He swings his right wing around between them, offering the two fingers and thumb to the professor in what would be palm-up if he had a palm. The professor looks at this for a moment, then shakes his head in wonder. He uses the knife to make a cut on Kerry's 'forefinger' and lets the bowl catch its blood. He is careful to cut where Kerry himself will be able to use his thumb to hold the little bunch of white stuff Larrikan hands him. Kerry takes the pad, and then looks at it more closely. He nods, and watches his fellows undergo the procedure.

Again having cleaned the blade, and Larrikan having stirred and set aside the bowl again, the Professor turns to Douglas and holds out his hand for the cougar's paw. Douglas blinks and gulps, then simply wordlessly holds out his right paw to the professor. The professor smiles encouragingly at the huge feline, seeing his discomfort. He does what he can to make the cut as free of trauma as he can, collecting the drops of Douglas' blood as quickly as possible, and letting Larrikan get the wound stanched before the big cat can do something unhelpful -- like faint. Douglas blinks, looking at the stanched wound. Well, that wasn't bad at all. He seems to completely miss the professor's courtesy, which is probably fortunate for Douglas.

Finally the professor is ready for Sakura, and he approaches her. Larrikan is on hand with the last bowl, looking as encouraging as he knows how, although also somewhat embarrassed to have to do something so ungentlemanly to the lovely lady. Sakura sticks her hand out, not looking worried in the slightest at the procedure. She offers Larrikan a quick, encouraging smile. Douglas studies the pad for a moment, barely able to comprehend what it might do, but grateful for it all the same. He looks up, then glances over to Sakura. He's not trying to put her in the spotlight -- though obviously she's made of sterner stuff than he. Sakura looks at the cloth curiously as the wound is stanched.

The last cut is unremarkable, and the final blood is drawn and collected. Putting the knife down and going back to the table, the professor sings softly over each of the four bowls of paste, which are all turning faintly brown. Larrikan lays the four leather strips out, one by each bowl. The professor smears the stuff from each bowl onto each of the four strips, using a separate spoon for all of them, to keep them from becoming contaminated with each other. The goo begins to sink in to the leather, leaving a mottled pattern on it. While they're still absorbing it the professor folds each strip over and tacks them shut with red thread. Kerry nods. Good procedure, that. I'm sure we don't all have the same blood type, even if the spell wouldn't care.

The final step takes more time, but the participants seem to be in no hurry. Larrikan and the professor both work, stitching a complex pattern of red thread in to the strips, occasionally sewing a little trinket on to the strip -- a feather or a shiny stone. Usually the Professor suggests to Larrikan, or the fox asks for input, obviously taking care in helping the older wizard. Sakura watches with a great deal of curiosity as they work. Douglas watches the procedure carefully and curiously, though he's certain that even if he had been taking notes he wouldn't have been able to learn anything directly from this.

The morning ends, and the afternoon begins. One of the other professors whose office is here, a troll, comes in and grins widely at the goings on and rumbles something before settling in at his desk, pulling several large things out of tubes, spreading them out on the tabletop, and commencing reading. Vash glances up at the troll for a moment, before returning his attention to the work.

Larrikan asks something, and shows the professor the band he's working on. The professor nods and turns to the four, pointing at Sakura and saying something, gesturing her to him. Douglas glances to the troll, pausing to nod in greeting, then turns back to the procedure. He blinks in surprise, looking between Sakura and the professor. Sakura comes cautiously towards Larrikan, moving slowly in case he didn't want her to move.

The professor gestures the vixen over again, smiling, " Come here, lass. I haven't got the knife any more. We're ready for you." Sakura laughs softly at the Professor's words to her when she moves hesitantly. When she finally comes close enough he helps her put the band around her arm and tie it down firmly. He says something to her, then gestures to Douglas. Douglas blinks and straightens... then, with a brief glance to Sakura, he stands and moves over to the professor. The professor carefully puts on Douglas' band too, smiling cheerfully. Larrikan has Vash's at hand when the professor is done with the cougar, and he gestures to the armadillo to come over also. Douglas steps back, looking at the band, admittedly a little dubiously. But I've come to expect weirdness here, he thinks. Still... this is pretty unusual... to say the least...

Vash nods and steps closer to Larrikan. Vash's armband is tied on him, too, with a cheerful smile, and an encouraging word. He grins a bit and nods. "Thanks."

Douglas remembers himself, and bobs his head to the professor and Larrikan. "Yes, definitely, thank you!" he says, ear tips burning from embarrassment.

The last armband in hand, the gnome walks to Kerry and considers the bat for a moment. Kerry grins, and gestures to his neck and to his ankle in succession as possible sites. The professor shrugs and sits down on the floor, fastening the band to Kerry's ankle. He looks up at the bat and says something. Kerry, Douglas, and Vash all understand it to be something about this being all right and something about choking, while Sakura understands it clearly, "This will work as well, and I wouldn't want to tie that about your neck and choke you."

Douglas blinks at the unusual means of translation. Conceptual, rather than verbal. In some ways, this could be a definite boon...

Clambering back up to his stool, the Professor begins to talk, settling into a comforting lecturer's tone. Sakura understands it perfectly, while Kerry, Vash, and Douglas only get a vague idea of what he's saying. He's talking about something at the university in the past, and several people the group have never heard of. Douglas then hears the professor begin his lecture. Then again, maybe not... Vash adjusts the band a little around his arm. Maybe I need some time to get tuned into this thing. Larrikan cleans up the mess, apparently uninterested in what the professor has to say, or having heard it before.

As the professor talks, the meanings begin to become clearer. Douglas tries to concentrate on what the professor is saying, guessing that this is a way to 'break in' the translators. Kerry nods to himself as the meanings gradually drift from minimal comprehension into full clarity. It certainly beats 'Testing, one, two, three.' Vash squints a bit, leaning forward and trying to wrap his head around the words, trying to force the meanings to crystallize into something clearer than the vague impressions he's getting.

The professor continues to expound on the history of the University. He goes in to great detail about the building of the quad, the cooperation of the dryads and trolls. It takes about a half an hour before he's speaking perfectly clearly. Larrikan finishes his cleanup and keeps himself (and likely Sakura as well) amused by leaning gently against the vixen and humming unrelatedly. It is only when the other professor, with tact only tenure can give, says, "Ay! That enough, gnome! I know that blank look anywhere -- they listening. No one care about what adviser ordered fountain but you anyway." He adds, mumbling, "Near put me to sleep."

Vash snickers softly, and turns his head away from the gnome slightly so as not to show it directly. He gives the troll a conspiratorial grin, though. Sakura grins up at Larrikan. The interrupted professor harrumphs a bit, then says, "Perhaps, perhaps not." He looks at the four strangers, and asks, "Have I been making sense, or is this still unclear?"

Kerry skrees, "You must admit, though, that it is a good test of a translator. If it can handle dry academic language, it can handle nearly anything." He thinks to himself, Though I wonder what it will do with true Keero... have to experiment with that...

Douglas blinks in surprise. "You're perfectly clear, now, sir. It's... a new experience for us, to be certain, but I know I understand you clearly."

Vash smiles and straightens up a bit. "No, no, I believe it's all working now, Professor... thank you." He wonders in passing what the translator does for his accent, but doesn't give it too much thought.

The gnome looks disappointed that he'll have to stop for one fraction of a second, but then he realizes he has four strangers -- and these are stranger than most! -- to ask things of. He remembers that they found four stones too, and looks more pleased, saying, "That's very good! You're quite welcome. I'm sure you'll be able to tell us all sorts of interesting things, too."

Kerry skrees, "We certainly hope so. It was a fascinating process to watch."

Douglas says, "We can certainly try..."

Vash nods, "It's the least we can do, senyor." He winces internally. He has to stop dropping in broken Spanish.

The professor looks over at Larrikan to say something, but winds up laughing cheerfully at the fox's guilty half step away from the vixen. With a chuckle, he says, "Well, Larrikan, did you see how the spell went?" The fox nods, and says, "Yes sir. Thank you for letting me assist you. It was quite informative." The old man nods approvingly, and says, "You were paying attention then too. Good." Looking back at the four travelers, he asks, "So, tell me about how you got here and what has happened. I've gotten a very confusing version, and I think it will help a great deal if you explain it yourselves." The troll turns to listen, too.

Kerry looks at Vash. "You wish to do the honors, or should I?" Douglas folds his hands in his lap, looking between Captain and Pilot, and Doctor.

Vash hms. "I can start. But I'd encourage the crew to interject things I might forget." He grins. "I have taken more than one blow to the head since we started."

Sakura looks at the Captain. "Vash-san, I think it should be you who tells it."

Kerry skrees, "If you want the historical background, I can fill it in later."

Vash takes a deep breath, and runs a hand over his head plates. "Well... I'll start where we come in... since the historical part is... complicated, and better left to someone like my pilot to give you the whole story, and not my own fairly slanted view. We represent a company on Earth, The Aurora Group..." Time wears on as Vash retells the salient points of the journey here, usually asking for one or more of the crew to add their takes on a particular event or story. He does his best to keep the pace brisk and inject humor where he can -- with the notable exception of the second Earth, which he neither glosses over nor dwells upon.

After the long tale, the Professor says, "Amazing. I don't know what to make of that. On the other hand, quests aren't my area of expertise; I'm more a practical mage than the theorist." He brightens, "You should go talk to the Dreamwalkers, though. They might be able to gain some extra insight." Douglas blinks. The Dreamwalkers again. And interesting... interesting that he differentiates 'quests' from 'practical magic.'

The troll in the other corner rumbles, "I very interested in your ship, and in maze. You found a real labyrinth unknown to trolldom? That very interesting."

Vash grins a little. "Douglas, I think that's yours to field."

Kerry skrees, "Assuming we can find it again..."

Douglas coughs slightly, nodding to Vash. "Erm... sort of, Sir. Though there was a troll tending the maze... at least, he had been. Once."

The troll nods, "Been long time since we able to build mazes like that. Important heritage of trolldom. If you really have map crystal, we able to find again. That very special thing he give to you."

Douglas blinks a little. "It... it certainly felt like he had given us a great honor by doing that, sir..." Douglas is almost back in 'college student' mode, it seems.

Kerry skrees, "Well, you did give him the hint he needed to fix the support bracing."

Douglas says, "I was a little lucky, Pilot. I'm not an architect..."

Vash nods. "It seemed a fair trade, considering how long he'd been tending the break."

Douglas looks to the troll professor. "He seemed to have been tending it for a great many years. Is that a... a tradition? -to tend labyrinths?

The little professor says, "You should see the Dreamwalkers. I think they are the most likely to be able to tell you what this nebulous threat in the dreams was. Perhaps they can tell you if this person is who has absconded with your shuttle."

Vash says, "It'd be convenient if it were. Relatively speaking."

Kerry nods to the gnome. "That would be a great help. At least we might find a direction to look." Douglas shivers slightly. The 'nebulous threat' seemed rather large and fuzzy and had far too many legs to be merely 'nebulous,' though he knows that if they were to really face the... whatever-it-is, then it would not appear as Attila the Spider.

Sakura nods, "If nothing else I would like the reassurance that I'm not going crazy, that something is actually trying to get me."

The troll professor answers Douglas, "It not so much tending maze, but lifelong goal to finish. Sound like he so want to finish it went past 'lifelong.' You free him from his unhappiness, and you find maze. All trolldom owe you at least respect, if not more."

Douglas blinks to the professor. "It... I mean... it was the least we could do... to help him..." he stammers, "and... he helped show us the way out of the maze..."

The gnome listens, apparently not initially realizing the maze was so important. He says, "Another foreboding, I think." He tells Sakura, taking her for the leader, "The Dreamweavers are across campus. Go see them, and see if anyone there can help you. Larrikan can show you." Turning away, the white-haired professor adds, "Let me write you a little note, so they take you seriously."

Kerry bows to both the professors, then. "Thank you. This may be important to Crossroads, not just to us."

Sakura says, "Thank you, Sensei."

Douglas also bows to the professors. "Thank you both for the information, and your insight." Maybe... we've been pulled onto a quest, a quest that's been going on since the day we got picked up by Aurora... Could the whole 'thing' behind quests reach across universes, or through the Gates?

The professor rummages around, muttering about not having a pen. Before he can find one, the troll has found paper, pen, written a note, and signed it. He takes it over to the other professor, "Ay, sign this. Two professors better than one." Looking up startledly, the gnome takes the technical pen the other offers and signs his crabbed scribbling. The troll gives the message rather seriously to Sakura.

Vash nods. "We appreciate all your help. If there's any more that we can do, you can find us at the Silver Egg. Please don't hesitate to ask."

The troll says, "Ay! You with her? Should have known," and nods more seriously, saying, "Fare well."

Kerry skrees, "Same world. Different realms, but I knew her before she came here."

Vash says, "Adios, professor."

Larrikan is looking a little bit overawed, having just heard the whole story and what both of these respected men are saying. He nods repeatedly when it is suggested he will help them, and gazes at Sakura with a large dose of respect... maybe even awe. Such a pretty vixen, and so very smart and important. Wow. "Shall we find a Dreamwalker for you?"

Sakura takes the note with another thanks to the Sensei. She offers it carefully to Vash, "Captain, perhaps this would be better in your hands than mine."

Vash nods and takes it carefully. "I'll hold onto it, Sakura."

Douglas stands and nods to the professors. "Good day, and thank you again..."

Kerry skrees, "Hmm... bet the translator doesn't work on text, does it?"

Larrikan leads the way through the afternoon sunshine, into the central clearing and around the fountain. Douglas looks around the campus as they leave the office, letting out his breath. "I think," he says softly, "-that we've taken only the first few steps along something that's going to be rather..." He struggles visibly for the right word.

Vash says, "Involved."

Across the courtyard, a voice cries out, "Aay! Hold there!" A quiet stirring begins at that end of the courtyard as people start to cautiously, slowly back out of harm's way.

Douglas nods quietly. "'Involved.' 'Involved' works. The question is... how much should we do to keep it from spilling over into our home- eh...?"

Vash straightens a bit, looking around for the source of the voice. "That sounds like... who's there?"

Kerry shrugs. "If worse comes to worst, we may have to become a lost ship..." At the noise, he turns, sonar-pinging to get a quick view of whatever the situation is. "Bozhemoi! I didn't think she was that big from your description, Vash..." He moves away from what promises to be a titanic meeting.

A large, tawny quadruped is galumphing across the campus, crying, "Is that who I think it is?!" at the top of her voice -- as students and other faculty are quietly backing out of her way.

Vash's eyes get HUGE. He takes a half-step back, quite unsure what to do now. At best, he manages, "...you!"

The shuddering of the ground is quite clear now as the lioness reaches the group and nearly bowls Larrikan over, thudding to a slightly skidding halt in front of Vash. She cries out, "Not-a-snack!" and nuzzles him firmly and cheerfully.

Douglas looks to Vash, fretting, then looks in the direction of the voice. Then he looks between the quadruped and Vash (he's doing this head-motion a lot lately), then blinks. "Oh, dear," he murmurs. "So..." he says in an aside to Kerry, "that's a 'sphinx,' I take it?"

Kerry nods to Douglas. "I guess so. Supposed to be a lion body with a human head."

Vash blinks. He wobbles a bit with the nuzzle, and can't help but grin a bit. He reaches out and gently touches her cheek. "...it's you! Isn't it? I thought you were a dream." Sakura stands there with her mouth open in a completely rude 'o,' too surprised to bother with decorum.

The sphinx is a lioness, sleek and strong, with only a human face hiding the fact that she isn't purely a feline. As Vash splutters she grins, reaching behind his feet with one big paw, and nudges... well... pushes him over, knocking him to the ground, and steps over him, although she doesn't put her weight on him. Larrikan is staring in shock at this -- this usually quite respected and aloof professor... who is happily licking the armadillo's face! Vash does only what he is able to. "Ooof!"

Douglas is, frankly, stunned. Again. 'Big' doesn't quite seem to do the sphinx justice; 'impressive' and 'intimidating' come to mind more readily! Some small part of his mind is starting a catalog. Let's see... 'Pretty-Big-Feets.' 'Not-a-snack.' That leaves epithets for Doctor, and Pilot. He thinks for a moment, then nods. For the sake of our continued reputation as noteworthy scientists and professionals when we return to Earth, I think I'll leave this out of the report. Vash laughs quietly. "Ach! I'm glad to see you too!"

The sphinx, apparently satisfied that Vash has been thoroughly greeted, settles back and sits down, although still pretty much looming cheerfully over Vash. She says, "I'm glad to be able to talk to you again! I didn't think I'd be able to find you. Fancy you showing up at the university." She finally looks around her a bit, noticing the others. She asks, "Are these friends of yours?"

Vash grins and sits up on his elbows. "I was thinking the same thing." He nods, "Yeah, actually... ah, these are my crew. They came here with me."

The sphinx asks, "Are they the one you were following through the clearing that night? I only remember three of them."

An idle part -- the college engineer, in fact -- of Douglas's mind notes that it was not too far from here that Annifred tackled him a few days ago, and reluctantly declines the opportunity to suggest Vash call his 'mum.' Kerry grins and gives an abbreviated version of the Keero bow. "Lieutenant Colonel Kerry Skydancer, Retired, USAF, at your service, ma'am."

Vash nods and turns slightly towards the other. "Yes, these are the ones I was after... this is Sakura Murasaki, Douglas Percival, and Kerry Skydancer. My crew."

The sphinx stands up, steps casually over the toppled Vash, and pads over to the bat, sniffing curiously before she leans forward and rubs the side of her head against him, marking him in a gentle feline way. Vash just lies back and goes flat to facilitate the passage of the sphinx, there being little else for him to do under the circumstances. He sits up, then stands, after she passes over him, and dusts himself off. Douglas blinks a little as he's introduced, and hurriedly bows politely to the sphinx. Kawaii peeks cautiously out from behind Sakura's ankles at the huge lioness, then grunts a soft greeting. Vash grins. "Ah, right. Sorry, ninyo. And this here is Kawaii, our companion since landing." Kawaii snorts in soft amusement at Vash... then looks cautiously back at the big sphinx.

She greets the others the same way -- carefully, gently, and politely. When she's done she pads back to Vash, rubbing along him casually as she asks, "What of these other two?" She ahhs, and says, "Hello, little one. You have nothing to fear from me." She then looks at Larrikan and asks him, "Do you hail with these folks too?"

Kawaii looks relieved, stepping delicately out from behind Sakura. He doesn't stray too far from her yet, though... Larrikan shakes his head no, then yes, then no, then says, "I'm their friend, ma'am. I'm a student at the University." He seems flustered for the first time that the group has seen. "Professor Djarlee and Ktharr said they should see a Dreamwalker..." He trails off confusedly, then apologizes, "I'm very sorry, ma'am, I didn't know they already knew one."

Kerry skrees, "S'okay, Larrikan... we didn't know it, either."

Vash says, "Though it does explain a bit."

Sakura looks around at her crewmates, a little confused. Is this the sphynx from Vash's dream? Larrikan manages to resist the urge to hide behind Sakura too, but does give the piglet a slightly jealous glance. He nods emphatically at Kerry's words. The sphinx laughs loudly, clearly enjoying the irony, and then says, "Relax, fox. I won't hurt you for what you couldn't know."

Douglas blinks, still getting over the novelty of the feline greeting; he hadn't been greeted by another feline like that since... well, ever. The sphinx is a Dreamwalker?! Then, I... I imagine that makes some sort of sense... I mean, if she was real -- that is, since she is and not merely conjured up by Vash's dream.

The sphinx settles down again, "So, you wanted a Dreamwalker. And you've met me while dreaming. Let's go someplace quiet, get something cool to drink, and see if we can understand this, and perhaps what is going on. It feels like too many coincidences to me to be any at all."

Vash nods. "Excellent idea... I've just been thinking the same thing." Douglas nods, slowly, in agreement.

Kerry skrees, "Indeed. And it may tie in with our missing spacecraft."

The sphinx stands up again, "Come along then. We'll go to my office and see what we can see." She rubs casually against Vash again as she passes, only making him stumble a little bit, and leads off in a different direction, tail swishing merrily behind her.

Vash takes a breath, following the sphinx. "It's good that we met each other again, ah... that's right, you and I haven't actually been introduced, have we?"

The sphinx purrs casually over one massive shoulder, "No, we haven't. My name is..." and then she begins to make a long, low, hissing and swishing sort of noise that goes on and on. The translators utterly fail to make meaning of it, although it feels, if possible, old. When she finishes she says, "Most around here just call me 'the sphinx' or 'ma'am,' which will do." She winks at Vash and says, "You can call me 'Cat' if you like."

Vash smiles, and nods. He gives her a theatrical little half-bow. "Vashti Ramos Montoya, at your service, and very pleased to meet you... Cat."

Douglas is pretty sure that invitation was for Vash only, and he's perfectly comfortable with that arrangement. "Thank you for talking with us about these dreams, ma'am."

The sphinx says, "Oh, well, having been actually trapped in the dream-world until Vash here set me free, I've got a vested interest in knowing. I owe that bastard, don't I?"

Sakura follows Vash's lead quietly, happy to let him deal with the Sphynx, as he seems to get along with her. She notices, though, that people seem to be quietly moving out of the sphinx's way -- nobody seems to want to get between her and where she's going. It would seem she commands a lot of respect... or a lot of fear. Vash smiles a tight little smile. "You certainly do. And we may yet owe him as well." He glances around at the rapidly withdrawing students. "I notice you seem to inspire a great deal of... respect, in the students."

The sphynx shrugs, and purrs, "People're funny, you know? Half of them are afraid I'll read all their dirty secrets out of their dreams every time I get anywhere near 'em, and the other half are afraid I'll eat them." She snorts, adding, "I haven't eaten a student in years! And she deserved it!"

Vash laughs unreservedly. "I believe you." Douglas stumbles in his steps, but only once. Oh, lordy, he thinks, talk about a harsh grader...

The sphynx arrives at a big building -- one of the half-sunk-underground ones, with a sod roof growing grass atop it, set under the comforting shade of a dryad's tree. The big lion-woman purrs, "Welcome to my office and my home. I always like to work at home, so I live at work." She walks into the door, which seems to be merely spring-loaded, and says, "Come on in!" as it swings slowly shut behind her swaying tail.

Vash gestures his crew to follow as he passes the door, taking care to keep his tail out of the spring-return. Kerry ducks through quickly before it can close, not wanting to be caught in it. Douglas hesitates, glancing at Sakura and Kerry. "Well," he provides helpfully, "-after all, she hasn't eaten a student in years." He straightens a bit, then thinks about the ludicrousness of that statement. He then ducks slightly, moving through the door and holding it open a bit for the remaining two persons. Larrikan goes in, looking terribly unsure and only mildly reassured that she hasn't eaten a student in years...




Last modified: 2006-Jun-06 18:43:04

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