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Dancing with the Drakes... and Others

    The Gathering Clearing
    The gathering is held in a big clearing just outside town. There are a number of people who have set up booths selling food and drink on one side of the clearing, with a large number of plank tables and benches. On the other, a stage has been built, with the space of the clearing between it.
    The afternoon is waning, and a ring of cheerfully bright lights on poles are being set up around the edge of the clearing. Others are hanging over the clearing, with no visible means of support, but there they stay, giving the whole area at warm and candlelit feel.

The gather slows for a moment as a great black shadow crosses overhead, a long, sinuous form, with huge wings. Kerry 'watches' as the drake passes overhead, then turns to his companion. "She is quite large, isn't she?" Douglas is looking up, trying to catch more of the nigh-sinister shape as it drifts overhead, repressing a primal shiver. I guess that's either Schnel's mother, or a close relative, he thinks, recalling that the drake said she had been a "runt."

Schnel'pkebaov'qkgard'dow watches, then sits up a little higher. Looking over the crowd, she coughs once, a narrow lance of flame flicking from her throat and casting yellow light over the nearby tables. The other form circles again, descending towards the light, or perhaps the trees behind it. Settling again, Schnel'pkebaov'qkgard'dow says, "As far as drakes go, not really. I'm quite small." She watches as the long shape lands gracefully in the trees, then says, "Would you like to meet her?" to Kerry.

Kerry grins, just a touch nervously. "I think so. I'd never forgive myself if I missed the opportunity."

The drake runt says, "Come with me." Zildjian also seems interested, and follows, three very different forms moving to the slightly dim edge of where the clearing meets the forest again. No one seems to be there, although Schnel'pkebaov'qkgard'dow settles in a sort of coiled crouch to wait.

Zildjian says, "Ah always look forward to meetin' new people, Schnel. Ah hope yoah kin feels the same way." Even the big lamia is impressed by the suggested size of the shadow that flickered overhead.

Kerry skrees, "I'll second that hope, Zil. Where'd she get to?" The bat is scanning around with his ultrasonic chirps, trying to identify something other than trees. "Still... meeting dragons."

Douglas makes note of where the (much) larger drake settles down, and glances to Annifred to see if she makes any movement towards the drake's landing place. You know, I think I might loose it if she says, 'Sure, we know the drake's mom. She fun.' Now, now, that wasn't meant to be unkind, but it was very silly. Annifred watches the drake land, as do all the trolls. A couple of them are downright enraptured, and it takes several words from their mates to keep them from going over to ask how she does it. After a moment's pause, with no terrible things happening, the band resumes the music, and people begin to relax again. Blue holds Vash's hand and says, "Wow."

Vash squeezes Blue's hand, and grins. "Ain't that the truth."

Kerry hears it, and then gets it on ultrasound before anyone sees it: the sinuous shape of a full-sized drake slithering through the upper branches, peering down at the watchers below, curious but cautious. Kerry opens his mouth to greet the drake, then stops when he realizes he has no idea what the polite form of address is. He shuts it again with a snap and waits for Schnel'pkebaov'qkgard'dow to introduce her mother.

Schnel'pkebaov'qkgard'dow hisses upwards again, and then switches to something the translator can handle, saying, "It's nice to see you too, Mother. Come down and meet some nice people." The form of the bigger drake winds easily down a tree, almost as much snake as dragon, and darts over to Schnel to nuzzle her and say, "Schnel'pkebaov'qkgard'dow. Are you well?"

    Schnel'pkebaov'qkgard'dow's mother is a green drake, like the smaller daughter, but nearly three times as large. Her body is roughly twenty feet long, with a sinuous tail that must reach nearly thirty feet past that, which coils casually around a massive tree trunk. Easily ten feet of neck curve around gracefully to the smaller drake, while the huge triangular head is not quite ten feet long. Her furled wings must be ten yards across, and take up most of the room around her. The lamia is longer than the drake's body alone, and probably masses more than the entire drake -- but the drake is a much more fearsome-seeming creature... who, at this moment, seems quite happy to see the littler one.

Schnel'pkebaov'qkgard'dow returns the gentle head rubs, saying, "Yes, Mother, I am well. Would you like to meet some of the people here?" The older drake says, "I would be pleased to." She twines her neck quietly over her daughter's to look at the folks there, her golden eyes flashing in the dimness. Schnel'pkebaov'qkgard'dow says, "Mother, I would be pleased to introduce you to Zildjian, a lamia who is not, and Kerry who should fly but does not. They are interesting people from a very far place." Turning to the two foreigners, she says, "This is my mother, Schnel'pkebaov'qkgard'kal."

Kerry grins at the introduction and gives the formal bow. "Schnel'pkebaov'qkgard'kal, it is an honor to meet you. Your daughter has been helpful in our quest." The bat is very careful with his pronunciation, thankful that so much of it turns out to be a family name.

Douglas notices the movement of his shipmates over near where the drake landed, and looks to Annifred. "Annifred, could you excuse me for a moment or two? I'd like to find my shipmates. I will be right back."

Seeing he's going over to where the other big drake has landed, Annifred says, "It okay I come with, Douglas?" She beams and says, "Want meet new drake!"

Douglas smiles warmly. "Sure! Of course!" He offers his hand to Annifred, before heading over to the others with her.

Blue watches for a moment, and then asks Vash, "Would you like to dance some more, or go see the new person?"

Vash smiles a little, and tilts his head toward the group. "Let's go say hello." Blue seems happy to do either one. Why she's so happy to go talk to this other person is made clear when she pulls out a little sketchpad and a pencil. As they move towards the quiet group, Vash hears a familiar voice, laughing.

Looking (perhaps somewhat warily) for the source of the laughter, Vash sees the sphinx -- the feared and respected college professor -- lying on her back with several human children playing with her as if she were a very large house cat brought forth entirely for their amusement. Cat doesn't seem to mind it a bit, either. Vash snorts, covering his mouth with a hand to stifle a snicker. Turning to Blue, he touches her shoulder. "Hey, go on ahead, okay? I just saw a friend I want to say hello to. I'll be right behind you."

Cat has managed to roll over, but still has three human children happily playing in her fur and with her tail, and is saying, "Now, be gentle there, that's good." She's laughing at the cheer of the children when Vash comes over to her. She looks up and smiles at him.

Vash grins down at Cat and kneels, or crouches as best he can in his longish garment. "Heh. You didn't tell me you were so popular." He smiles at the kids. "Associates from the University?"

The sphinx stands up a little and nuzzles Vash cheerfully, "Not yet, but maybe some day." She adds with a silly grin, "I like children. They're so innocent."

Vash grins and carefully strokes the sphinx's flank. "And willing to look past the 'scary' Dreamwalker day job. Kids are good about that kind of thing."

The sphinx doesn't object to Vash's careful stroking at all, saying, "Nobody has taught them to be afraid yet. I'm quite pleased to enjoy happiness and innocence wherever I can find it." She looks up at him, adding, "It is lacking in the dreams and hearts of many adults."

Vash smiles, a little ruefully perhaps, and nods, "Don't I know it." He pauses, then smiles, lightening up, "Heh. At least you never want for good company."

The Cat grins rather toothily, "True, true. And they'll go to bed later and I can talk to the adults. Most of these adults know me well enough not to worry... too much."

Vash smirks. "Heh... right. Hey, I'd better catch up with my crew... I'll come around again in a bit; we can talk some more if you like." He turns and grins at each of the kids as he stands. "You guys be good to my friend, now."

The Cat nods, and says, "Okay." She adds, "Say goodbye to Vash, kids." The children wave happily and let the armadillo make his way off.

The large drake hisses and settles a little farther down to the ground, moving closer to Kerry, perhaps to take his scent. A forked tongue flickers against him gently for a slightly alarming moment. She replies, "It pleases me to hear my daughter has been successful in the world of men."

Kerry nods. "She has found a position, I believe. Karlzhstrasse is a good place to be if your natural place does not fit, I have noticed."

The mother drake hisses softly and answers, "More so than many places, yes." She turns to the Lamia and says, "I am pleased to see that my daughter is not the only long form here, too. I was worried she would be so different."

Zildjian smiles, and says, "Ah don' think she'll be alone at the University. It is good t'have someone around who c'n understan' how hard it can be t'be long."

Kerry grins at Zil. "Nor is she the only flier, though I'm afraid I'm not as good at it as she thinks I should be. And I do have a bad habit of encouraging the trolls."

Schnel'pkebaov'qkgard'kal smiles at Zildjian, and then looks oddly at Kerry. She turns to her daughter, and says in surprise, "Trolls here can fly?"

Schnel'pkebaov'qkgard'dow says, "Some trolls at the University are trying to build a machine which flies." Her mother laughs at this, and says to the bat, "Oh, that is funny. What ever has gotten in to them?"

Kerry grins at Schnel'pkebaov'qkgard'kal. "Well, now, can you really blame them for wanting to fly? We'll see if they can manage it."

The larger drake hisses quiet laughter for another moment before she says, "When you put it that way, small-one-with-wings, I can see why they would try. Do you think it is possible to build a machine to fly?"

Kerry darts a glance at 'Dow for clues, but not really getting any simply forges ahead. "I do not know if the trolls can do it, but it can be done. Zildjian, my companions, and I are all from another world where such things are commonplace. I can show you moving pictures if you wish to see them."

The lamia nods and says, "Th'bat has it raht, ma'am. You can make a machine t'fly."

Douglas and Annifred make their way towards the small group, and he catches Zildijan's comment to the... huge... drake. Oh, dear... I hope that doesn't get her as angry as it seemed to get her daughter...! No, it wasn't the idea of flying machines that got her angry... relax, Doug...

Schnel'pkebaov'qkgard'kal listens to the bat, then the lamia, and considers. She says to her daughter, "Are there many people this interesting at the University, 'dow?" The daughter nods, "It is an endlessly fascinating place, Mother." The larger drake settles down, watching the crowd, and saying, "I am relieved you have found a place where you can stay, daughter. The clan would have never let you stay."

Kerry just listens for the moment. No, the drakes do not have a very... forgiving... culture.. Schnel'pkebaov'qkgard'dow rubs her head against the underside of her mother's and murmurs, "They have the rules for reasons." and doesn't sound unhappy about that. She adds, "Have you been in any trouble for having taken me away?"

The elder drake snorts, a curl of irritated smoke making the action more pungent, and says, "Nothing that I cannot handle. I will rest better knowing that you fare well here, too." Kerry listens curiously to the drakes talking about their clan, wondering if they would be offended if he asked questions. He really doesn't want to upset them...

Douglas and Vash both make it up to the small group. A little crowd of curious onlookers is forming, outside of claw or flame distance. Blue is at one end of this, sitting on the ground and sketching madly. Schnel'pkebaov'qkgard'kal notices this and murmurs, "Perhaps I should go, daughter. I don't want to cause a spectacle."

Kerry grins. "Oh, don't fly off already. It's a Gather, there are supposed to be spectacles."

As the Gather continues on, almost oblivious to the huge and usually dangerous guest who has arrived, most of the spacefarers come up to meet her. Schnel'pkebaov'qkgard'kal looks at the gathering crowd, and rustles her huge wings nervously, apparently worried about what a panic would do to this crowd. She nuzzles her daughter again, murmuring, "I see you haven't found anyone who can help you with proper decoration." As she says this one of her wings catches the light, making a fine set of lines, which are painted carefully on the wing membranes, shine attractively. Her voice is almost wistful -- somewhat sad -- as she says, "I'm sorry, 'Dow."

Kerry twitches a wing in the direction of Vash and his friend. "You might want to ask Blue, Schnel'pkebaov'qkgard'dow. She's quite an artist."

Schnel'pkebaov'qkgard'kal gives Kerry an odd look, and 'Dow tries to explain, "I don't think so, Kerry." She seems embarassed by something, and she finally says, "She's an undergraduate. If I asked her, she'd feel she must. And I'm a little large for her to cover, unless it's for a class. I don't much feel like a class project." She shuffles a little, giving her wings a nervous flip, and settling again, hoping that explanation explains it.

Kerry accepts the explanation, though he's not sure that's really all there is to it. "Well, true. You're certainly worthy of being more than a class project. Is there some meaning to the decoration? Or is it purely for ornamentation?"

Zildjian sighs hissingly, then simply lowers herself by curling up on her tail, until her hands are resting on the ground and she's at eye-level with the bat. She whispers into his ear, "Kerry... it's personal... kinda intimate t'let someone get that close, an' share skin with you lahk that. On'y close frien's do stuff lahk that, y'know?"

Kerry nods slightly at Zil's explanation, not letting on for fear of embarassing the drake, and wondering what her answer will be.

Schnel'pkebaov'qkgard'kal chooses to ignore the bat's little faux pas, and murmurs to her daughter, "Your aunt is pregnant, and will soon lay her clutch. We'll have more hatchlings soon, which will probably be good. It will likely help many let your exile go unremarked, with a brood of healthy young to dote on."

Kerry settles back to listen, not totally oblivious to the fact that he said something stupid and quite happy to let it slide. Zildjian grins ruefully at the small bat, her fangs showing slightly and gleaming in the faint lamplight. She gently pats Kerry's shoulder commiseratively, then straightens up to more her usual height, to interestedly listen with him to the drakes.

The smaller drake says, "I hope that makes it easier for you. Is Schnel'pkebaov'qkgard'ell doing well with the eggs, or are they bothering her again?" Her mother answers, "She's always a bitch, isn't she? I can't say it's the eggs any more than anything else."

Kerry doesn't even want to think about the idea of a bitchy dragoness. He also doesn't want to get involved in their clan gossip, so he waits until he can politely take his leave and return to the trolls and his crewmates.

It's not long before the older drake's worry of crowds makes her nervous enough to leave, telling her daughter she'll try to come back for a while later. The elder's huge wings cause a breeze over the whole crowd, and a quiet, "Oooooh." It is only a moment before darkness swallows her. Schnel'pkebaov'qkgard'dow watches silently, while a couple of the trolls wave cheerfully.

Sakura watches the elder drake leave, with something less than fear in her eyes as she watches the impressive takeoff. Her mouth forms a silent "o" of appreciation for the sight... Blue comes back up to Vash's side and takes his hand again as they watch the big drake fly off. Her sketchpad is filled with some new quick studies. Vash grins a little. "Impressive, huh?" He squeezes Blue's hand gently.

As soon as the hubbub has sort of ended Annifred asks Douglas, "You going with Hallifred back to big trollhome in south, find ship?"

Douglas feels... not scared or terrified, merely oddly disquieted. Witnessing the meeting between mother drake and daughter seemed, to him, rather bittersweet. He's perfectly incapable of missing the grandeur of the drake's flight, however. The legends... he thinks, slightly stunned, the legends about dragons couldn't do them justice... He jumps a bit at Annifred's question, then ohs! "Yes, we probably will, Annifred. Doctor, Captain, Pilot... Annifred's uncle Hallifred and his... uhm, clan of trolls came here tonight on a truck and they've offered us a ride back to that area. They're very close to the Alshain and it could cut quite some time off of our journey."

Vash says, "That'd be quite helpful, Douglas... I think we should take them up on their offer."

Annifred grins toothily and nods enthusiastically. She says, "Hallifred good troll. If he say his truck get you home, will. Want meet him?"

Vash nods, "Sure, Annifred. It'd only be polite if he's gonna give us a lift."

Sakura nods at Douglas. "Every little bit helps..."

Douglas grins a little bit to the others. "Careful when he hugs you. He's very strong..."

Larrikan listens to this and looks kind of dismayed. He squeezes Sakura's hand and smiles. None of the others will see the sadness and worry that underlie the fox's appearance of good cheer. Sakura squeezes her kitsune's paw, looking up at him with eyebrows raised in silent question... Larrikan's smile fades a little when he realizes Sakura noticed, and he shakes his head a little, to sort of say, 'Not now.' He is relieved to be distracted by the rather large troll. Sakura holds Larrikan's cheek in her paw and leans up to kiss his other cheek before she turns to meet the troll, Hallifred...

Annifred leads the way back over to the trolls, with Douglas cheerfully in tow. When she gets close to Hal, she calls out, "Uncle Hallifred! Want meet friends of Douglas who ride back with you?" A troll, quite old, gnarled, and huge, stands up and beams, "Ja, want meet new friends!"

Hallifred is a little taller than most, and quite amazingly wide-shouldered. This is particularly notable because he seems to be older than most, having the hard, stony skin and lack of unneeded movements which set off the older trolls from the younger. "So, who coming with us, ja?" He beams at the interesting collection of little people Annifred has brought over.

Vash grins, looking up -- way up, at Hallifred. Physical specimen? Hell, this guy's practically a landmark. Wonder if Annifred's gonna be built like that in forty years... He nods to the troll. "Good to meet you, sir."

Hallifred says, "Honor to meet people who have helped find labyrinth," and gives Vash a huge and somewhat stifling hug. Vash catches his breath, and does his best to hug the big troll back, straining somewhat with his arms trapped in at his sides. For a moment he has a flash of genetic memory; it's a bit like being hit by a truck. The armadillo's armor does its job and he isn't left stunned or hurt, which seems to impress and please the big troll.

Douglas watches Hallifred greet his shipmates cheerfully, a part of his mind really, really hoping that the large troll doesn't hurt them -- Captain, at least, is armor plated. Doctor is somewhat lighter of frame, and Heavens help Pilot! He isn't worried, however, as he's sure the troll has had much experience in hugging people who aren't as... robust as he. Vash grins a bit, rolling his shoulders, and scratches a head plate absently. "My name's Vash... Vash Montoya. This is my crew: Sakura Murasaki, Kerry Skydancer... and, ah, I think you know Douglas already, heh."

Douglas bobs his head, smiling to Hallifred. Sakura bows deeply to Hallifred, bending nearly to a 45-degree angle, the deepest respect for an elder or one of higher stature. Her hands are folded as if in prayer before her and she remains here for a few seconds before straightening and smiling at Hallifred, "It is a great honor..."

Stepping back from Vash, Hallifred smiles and says, "Hi, foxes!" Larrikan says, "It is a pleasure to meet yo-*oof!*" He is interrupted when Hallifred steps over to give Sakura and Larrikan both a hug at the same time, one of his arms around each. He might be being a little more gentle for them, having been told the fox people are a little bit fragile, but not much. Sakura finds the hug rather stunning, but not unmanageably so. Larrikan, on the other hand, staggers a step back and tries to catch his breath. Sakura smiles at the troll, glancing over quickly at Larrikan to make sure he's not going to do something foolish like fall over dead.

Blue watches this, then stays nimbly out of the troll's reach, nodding and smiling sweetly at him. Vash ahs, "Oh, and these are our friends, Larrikan, and Blue...?" He trails off a moment, looking around for the artist -- was right next to him a moment ago... Larrikan coughs and sits down kind of hard on the nearest bench. The troll next to him grins widely and pats him on the back, probably too hard.

Hallifred doesn't seem surprised or upset by the fox's reaction either. Instead he asks, "All you come? Or just some? We not leave tonight, or probably tomorrow, but next day." The big troll sits back down again, chuckling, and comments, "Tomorrow not be Gather, but be Hangover Day."

Vash laughs quietly. "I like this already. The four of us are definitely coming..." He glances inquisitively at the artist and fox. Douglas chuckles softly at the troll's definition of the following day. Well, I'm certainly not planning on imbibing quite that much...

Blue frowns and bites her lip, then shakes her head a tiny 'no.' "I need to stay for the end of the quarter. I don't know how much help I'd be anyway."

Vash smiles gently, and nods. "It's okay, Blue. We'll be coming back to you in no time at all." Blue nods, but is still frowning. Having seen the big troll sit down, she comes back to Vash's side and stays there. Vash curls an arm around his companion's waist. He smiles reassuringly. "Don't worry. It won't be long at all."

Sakura sits down next to Larrikan, "Feeling okay?

Larrikan nods to Sakura and catches his breath. When Blue speaks he looks glum for a moment, then says, "I should stay, too." He adds, "I'm sorry," mostly to Sakura.

Sakura nods at Larrikan, smiling a little. "It's okay. I understand... school is important and I know that..."

Douglas blinks, his ears flicking slightly as he looks to Larrikan and Blue. Then he looks inquiringly, with a quiet and hopefully reassuring smile, to Annifred. Can't ask them to put their lives on hold... or even to risk them... on this. Annifred says, "You take good care of cougar, eh, uncle? Annifred need stay and take finals, too."

Larrikan moves closer to Sakura and slides his arm around her, just being close to her. He doesn't look very happy about their going. Sakura snuggles up closer to Larrikan, wrapping her arms around his waist. Kawaii trots over, snorting happily to himself as his tiny trotters hitting the ground in time with the music. He's got a tiny wreath of flowers around his neck, and he trots neatly around Hallifred and sits on Sakura's foot, looking up at her and groinking cheerfully to her. It's about then he realizes he trotted around an actual troll and not just a terrain feature... his eyes widen and he snorts softly in amazement as his head tilts farther and farther back, looking up the huge troll... he teeters slightly, almost tipping over due to looking up so high -- for him at least! Sakura giggles at Kawaii...

Hallifred says, "Ja, Annifred, no worry. Nobody mess with troll caravan. Nobody that stupid. Especially with trucks, ja?" He pauses and does say, a little more seriously, "We not going quite far enough for all their trip though. Still should be easy walk." Annifred nods and gooses Douglas a good one, "That good, ja?"

Douglas erps! with the goose, his ears perking straight up as he blinks. She still surprises me with that, darnit! He grins softly and nods. "Ja. I mean, yes, it is. That'll be great!"

Larrikan listens, then pauses to nuzzle Sakura's cheek a moment before he says, "I'll be right back. There's something I need to do." He darts off a little ways into the crowd, heading for some people at a farther table. They seem to be foxish. Sakura watches him go and sighs wistfully, looking at once upset that Larrikan is not coming with them, and angry with herself for being selfish.

Kawaii grunts softly at Sakura's expression, then reassuringly nuzzles her ankle... he'll take care of her. Sakura scoops Kawaii up to hug him and kisses the top of his little head, then sets him down gently. "Thank you, Kawaii." Kawaii sighs happily at the kiss... he smells faintly of mead, now that she thinks about it. Sakura sniffs the air a little... then looks down suspiciously at the pig. Alcohol... who knew?

Kawaii blinks innocently up at Sakura, one ear flopping disarmingly cutely across one eye. Sakura reaches down and scritches behind Kawaii's ear, chuckling in amusement at his state. Kawaii sighs happily again, leaning into the scritchies.

Hallifred says, "Four easy. We go back mostly empty, just few supplies. Be good have new friends on trip."

Vash gently runs his hand over Blue's back, trying his best to just be there and reassuring for her while he's still here. "Yeah, Hallifred. That'd be great; we owe you one."

Hallifred grins and says, "You want make up for trip? Tell Hal all about labyrinth. That wonderful thing, even without horn. Horn almost too good to be true."

Vash smiles, "I think that definitely be arranged, Hallifred. Doug?"

Douglas looks up to Hallifred and nods enthusiastically. "Definitely, Captain. I'd be honored to do that, Sir."

Hallifred picks up a troll-sized tankard, "That good then!" and toasts the group with it, before draining it completely and leaning back against the table, chuckling. He also waves someone over, a female troll who has a huge platter of drinks, all of which are probably on the large side for anyone who isn't a troll. She enthusiastically distributes them, pausing to give a hug, and often a kiss, to those she doesn't know. Her hugs are fortunately not as terrifying as Hallifred's.

Vash mmfs, troll-hugged, then turns back to Blue to gently loop his other arm around her waist. "Are you alright?"

Blue nods, and says, "Yes, she was gentle." She looks dubiously at the very-large tankard and takes a little sip.

Vash smiles, taking a long pull at the tankard, gamely determined to do his soldierly line proud in response to this frothy challenge. He turns to Blue, "I didn't mean the troll, Blue... you just seem down."

Blue leans against Vash, and shakes her head, saying, "I'm fine, Vash, it's all right."

Vash nods softly, and leans in to touch his nose to Blue's cheek. "Okay, Blue... let's not think about tomorrow or the day after. We're here right now... we should have our fun while we still can."

Douglas glances towards Sakura, and lets his voice drop quietly. "We won't be gone long, Doctor. We'll be back before you and he know it," he says, smiling encouragingly.

Sakura manages a brave smile for Douglas, "Thank you..." Larrikan talks earnestly to some other foxes at a distant table. One of them stands up and flings themselves at him, resulting in a long embrace. When he eventually disentangles himself, the four foxes talk. One of the others seems quite excited about something. Sakura watches the goings-on at the table Larrikan is at with undisguised curiosity, muttering to herself. "Huh... what's he up to?"

Douglas smiles to Sakura and nods gently, then peers over to Larrikan, arching a brow and ear. "I'm not sure...?" At that point he's troll-hugged again and simply blinks at the size of the tankard set before him, "Oh, my..."

Sakura looks at the tankard... then looks at Douglas. "Er... good luck?"

Douglas glances to Sakura and deadpans, "If I down this entire drink, will someone please pour me into a reasonably comfortable bed when I'm done...?"

Sakura looks at her own tankard and can't help but giggle. "Yeah... right." Kawaii stands up, then carefully (and a bit wobblingly) jumps up onto the bench Sakura's sitting on, so he can sniff interestedly at the huge tankard also.

Vash grins a little. "I'm sure that was part of someone's plan all along, Doug."

Douglas straightens. Well, the trolls are drinking it; it can't be lethal. He glances to Vash as he lifts up the tankard. "Somehow, Captain, that's hardly reassuring." Before he can rethink his logic regarding 'trolls => drinking => non-lethal => for cougars also,' he takes a draught of the tankard.

It isn't long before a serious-looking Larrikan comes back, leaving two foxes, one of whom is much less happy with him now than she was, with another vixen following him. She is bright-eyed and perky, her ears cocked forward in direct interest. She's shorter than Larrikan and a little higher energy, not quite bouncing with every step. Sakura smiles and comes to her feet as Larrikan returns with his rather... bouncy... companion. Kawaii blinks a little owlishly as the tankard and his fox-lady move out of immediate reach. He plumps his small rear down, watching the returning foxes.

Larrikan asks, "Hallifred, sir? Is there room for one more to go with you?" Hallifred beams at the foxes and says, "Ja, sure. Got three trucks. Easy." Larrikan nods, then turns to Vash and says, "Sir, would you be interested in taking a local guide?"

Vash grins widely. "I was hopin' you'd say something like that, Larrikan."

The as-yet-unintroduced vixen beams at Vash and says, "Oh, yes, pleasepleasepleaseplease?" When Vash seems pleased with the idea she says, "Yay!" and bounces a little bit. Seeing Blue with Vash, she resists the urge to dart in and hug him.

Sakura smiles at Larrikan and the vixen, "Thank you..." Kawaii eyes the new fox arrival dubiously... then snorts in faint disdain, turning his short snout up and away. As if he'd trust his fox lady off alone with some bouncy flibberty-gibbet newcomer!

Vash blinks a little and realizes -- too late -- that Larrikan might have been referring to his mildly frightening companion. He ponders whether or not this counts as a bad command decision. Larrikan murmurs something to the vixen, who beams at him, and then darts in and gives first Blue, and then Vash a short but energetic hug. Blue is a little surprised by this, and it takes her a moment to realize the implications. She hardly notes the energetic hug Vash got, and isn't sure if she's happy about this or not. She puts her arm around the armadillo and stays there.

Douglas sets down the tankard, blinking. Wow... a beer that drinks like a meal! Good heavens, this is rich and thick! An old college-urban-myth comes is remembered. I wonder if I could stand a spoon straight up in it...? An idle part of his mind looks around for said spoon. His ever-present mental voice, in the meantime, is starting to do a weaving two-step on his shoulder. He blinks, taking the world back into focus, looking up at Larrikan and the fox-girl, brow furrowed slightly. A guide...? I wonder what Larrikan is thinking...? He glances with concealed nervousness towards Sakura.

Sakura settles back down into her chair and eyes her large tankard dubiously... She's not quite sure if she can even get that to her lips without soaking herself.

Kawaii brightens as Doug sets a tankard down near him -- excellent taste! He puts his front trotters up on the table, leaning carefully to insert his head into the wide-mouthed tankard. A moment later neat slurping noises can be heard echoing from inside the slowly tilting mug.

Larrikan introduces, "Everyone, this is Feina." The bouncy fox girl says, "Hihi!" and beams.

Vash grins a little, glancing at Blue with a bit of a sheepish grin. His expression says, No, I didn't know that was gonna happen either. He takes solace in another long pull from his tankard. And another. Suddenly he finds himself requiring that kind of unique comfort one finds in dark beer. "Feina... pleased to meet you."

Sakura smiles, "Hello, Feina... I'm Sakura Murasaki..." Larrikan introduces Vash, Blue, Sakura, Douglas, Annifred, Kerry, Zildjian, Hallifred, and as many of the other trolls as he can remember the names of. With apparently inexhaustible energy, Feina gives everyone a hug.

Larrikan explains, "You will have to do some travelling by yourselves, and there are so many things to be careful of on the road which are so different from where you seem to come from. She, as is the nature of most foxes, has traveled a lot, and should know all sorts of useful things." He seems quite relieved that he won't have to spend as much time convincing Vash this is a good idea as he did convincing the foxes she was with.

Vash continues to smile accommodatingly, and continues to have at that tankard with surprising alacrity. It's shaping up to be that kind of night. He nods politely at intervals to what Larrikan is telling him, "I think that's a great idea, Larrikan. Yeah."

Sakura leans over and sips the level of the ale down to the point where she can move it without upsetting it, then takes a drink of it. "Got a feeling I'm going to need this... Douglas nods pleasantly to the vixen and smiles quietly. "Pleased to meet you, miss. Douglas Perci- eh? Hey! Kawaii, nono, that's not boar-beer...!" He tries to disengage the piglet from the tankard. Oh, great... Larrikan brings a vixen into things, she turns out to be an painfully exuberant lady, and I'm letting the pig get tanked... and here I thought I'd managed to get out of the worst of the parties back in Rutgers...

Kawaii squeals indignantly (and very echoingly inside the metal tankard) as he's grabbed. Both front trotters come up, trying to grab onto the mug ...and unsurprisingly, it dumps. The piglet squeals again indignantly at Doug -- what'd he go and waste good beer for?! Sakura laughs! "Kawaii! That's not your beer!" The rich scent of spilled beer fills the air as it spreads across the wooden table in a shining pool.

Douglas erps! and straightens. "Ooh, dear." He hunts about for a cloth or something. "You're right, sorry, shouldn't try to separate a pig from his beer." He stops, his internal voice blinking incredulously at him for saying that.

The piglet grunts indignantly at Sakura -- was near him, was his beer, no? Sakura slips away from the table before anything can spill on her, still giggling. "Sorry, Douglas-kun. I should have been keeping a better eye on him..." She looks around for somewhere that might have cloths to mop the spill up with. Kawaii hmfs, settling down with dignity next to Sakura on the bench. The effect is marred only slightly by his small hiccup.

One of the trolls comes up laughing, and says to Kawaii, "You wanted better glass, you should say so, ja?" and mops up most of the beer. The rest sort of cascades down on to the ground harmlessly. Kawaii nods graciously to the troll... well, mostly at the troll. He looks a bit bleary eyed at this point. The troll patpats Kawaii and calls a name and says, "Refills here, ja?" and at the gesture he gets back, laughs. He walks towards wherever it was he was shouting at, commenting, "Oh, and we need glass for pig..."

Sakura shakes her head in amusement, then grins at Doug. "Looks you're going to have to start a new tankard."

Vash grins a little and raises his glass, "Go for it, Douglas." Blue takes a good-sized belt from her own tankard, and then leans gently against Vash, and murmurs something to him. Vash smiles brightly and nods to Blue. He stands and offers her his hand. "If you would do me the honor."

Sakura sits back down and takes another sip of her beer. She smiles at Larrikan. "Thank you for your thoughtfulness."

Douglas smiles to Sakura, settling back down to his chair, sighing a bit. "That's quite all right, Doctor. He seems to be very much his own piglet where beer is concerned." He arches an eyebrow, looking to Kawaii. "I probably will, Doctor, though our friend here might need a tankard himself... followed by a pot of strong, black coffee..." He blinks to Vash, mock-affronted. "Captain, you've realized how... strong this is, haven't you...?

Vash smirks a little. "Remember who you're asking, Doug." He pats the cougar's shoulder as he passes. "Do me a favor? Keep the pig out of my drink, will you?"

Blue giggles, and says, "Me, too." and then stands, trying to lead Vash back out to the dance floor.

Vash laughs softly as he lets himself be led. "Be gentle with me now, I bruise easily..." His words fade into the background chatter, but his laughter can still be heard as he vanishes into the crowd.

Sakura grins at Douglas, muttering so only he can hear, "He's going to realize it in the morning, one way or another."

Douglas almost, but not quite, completely stifles his laughter at Sakura's comment. He nods to Vash cheerfully, with an, "I'll try, but you saw how insistent he was..." then as the 'dillo is out of earshot, he comments to Sakura, "Oh, I think he will indeed."

Larrikan sits back down next to Sakura and puts his arm around her. He murmurs, "Well, this way I'll worry about you less." He says, "She's good fox too; she's Aedaith's little sister. I don't know if Aedaith will ever forgive me though." He picks up his tankard and considers it, then takes a drink. He comments, "Probably, once she realizes she and Bandé will be able to travel alone."

The troll who had the tankards in the first place comes back with a bowl for Kawaii, and a pitcher, topping off the various glasses. Hallifred rumbles something, and she laughs, and teases him with her tail. Kawaii looks blearily delighted at receiving his own glass, and snuffles it happily down... then just sits, beaming benignly around himself at the goings-on. It's not entirely clear that he's, er, got all his mental trotters on the ground any more...

Sakura turns her head to press a quick, chaste kiss to Larrikan's lips. "You're very sweet... I will miss you terribly."

Larrikan nods, still looking a little glum. He says, "Oh, I'm going to miss you too, Sakura." He looks like he'd say something, but doesn't. Sakura tilts her head to the side, not quite sure what Larrikan was going to say, but didn't. She mentally shrugs and gets closer to him. Words don't matter so much... as long as I'm close. Larrikan looks off, at nothing in particular, and runs his fingers through Sakura's fur, considering. He doesn't seem so interested in the dance as in just being here with Sakura. He still seems worried she won't come back. Sakura tucks her feet up underneath her, wraps her arms around Larrikan, and lounges into his embrace.

Annifred notes the dance, and beams happily at Douglas, asking, "Want go dance, Douglas?" Feina buttonholes Kerry and Zildjian with sheer exuberance and starts to ask them all sorts of questions about why they'd go here, and what they want, and where they're from, and how they got here, and who Drakeris is... and every answer seems to lead to two more questions.

Douglas doesn't miss the tone kiss that Sakura gives Larrikan. He gives a mental sigh. Why am I feeling that this is boding ill for us? Oh, I should relax... we're getting a guide, aren't we? Well... sort of. He said it was someone's little sister... little sister? His mental voice is now pacing, tail lashing and whacking the sides of his head -- or maybe that's just the beer starting to affect him. Is that a guide, or are we babysitting? Or... wait, wait... we don't know Larrikan's people. She could have come from that area, be very familiar with it.

Maybe. But I really hope she's not the one to wake us up in the morning. Then again, for Pilot's sake I hope she doesn't. If he gets annoyed with us being awake and about even by mid-morning... He trails off the conversation, glancing worriedly to Sakura and Larrikan again, then turns his attention to whatever conversation the trolls are having, and the beer, which is becoming progressively more palatable... big surprise there... I hope this hasn't hurt them lastingly.

On the way back to the dance floor someone else apparently heard Vash's commentary about being fragile, because a warm and persistent form rather suddenly bumps him from the side, saying, "Mmm, I'll be more gentle this time, promise," and giggles.

Vash takes a step to the side, blinking, and glances up at his "assailant." For a moment, he's not sure what to do. A single phrase echoes up from the back of his mind. Uh oh. The sphinx stands there, grinning like an idiot, her tail swishing idly and curiously behind her. She says, "Hiya, Vash!" and giggles again. When she comes forward to try and nuzzle the armadillo -- he can't tell if she nearly winds up under the dress deliberately or not -- it is clear she too has had something to drink. Blue reacts to this with a muffled, "Eep!" and a shocked look.

Vash grins a little bit, and sways some with the nuzzling, which, while not unpleasant, gives him a moment's pause as he realizes he might just have given the tipsy Sphinx a bit of a show. On the other hand, he realizes, that might have been the intention. Either way, he just strokes Cat's ears lightly and grins a little at Blue. "Ah, Blue... I take it you've met my friend?"

The sphinx leans gently against Vash, quietly purring at the rubbing, and says, "Hi," to Blue. Blue nods and says, "Yes," as she curtsies a little to the sphinx.

The sphinx says, only a little slurred, "I was going to ask you to dance, Not-a-snack, but I see you've got a friend, and that's good." She leans over and looks up at Blue, and says, "This one's nice. Trust me. And, I think, important, although I can't say why." She giggles again, then sighs contentedly at the ear-rubs.

Vash smiles and brushes his claw tips across the Sphinx's mane. "Well, I do owe you for taking good care of Sakura and Douglas after that nightmare. I... er... ah..." He trails off, as he realizes it's suddenly gotten really breezy in here... Mi Dios, is that her tail back there?!

The Cat says, "Maybe. Another time, though." She nuzzles Vash's hand, then Blue's, before contentedly meandering -- not quite staggering -- off. Blue just stares for several seconds... then finally says, "You have a lot of interesting friends, Vash."

Vash blinks and surreptitiously adjusts his kilt. "You're telling me..."

Blue giggles and smoothes out the back of Vash's kilt for him, unasked and not too worried about where her hands might go. She asks, "Think anything else will keep us from dancing?"

Vash smiles a little at the touch, and snickers. "Let's get started before something else tries." He smiles a bit. "I am going to have to dance with her at least once, though... she did Doug and Saki a big favor, I should at least show some gratitude."

Annifred beams happily at Douglas and tows him off to the dance floor, finding a mostly-troll-occupied corner where she's less likely to hurt a human by accident. Douglas hasn't quite imbibed half of the new tankard of beer, and so as he stands and accepts Annifred's offer (well, all right, he cheerfully had no choice in the matter) to dance, he isn't really staggering much if at all. Certainly he doesn't feel anything amiss. Sakura watches the dance from her comfortable spot in Larrikan's arms. She drinks only occasionally, and small sips at that...

Nothing else does interfere, and Vash and Blue do manage to make it to the dance floor and merge into the now less-organized dances that are going on. As the evening wears on, people get a little less organized, or have imbibed more, and the band tends to play livelier music to keep people moving. People are mostly dancing with a steady partner now, and there are a lot of people dancing now. Kawaii is occasionally seen dancing neatly through the spiraling dancers as well, grunting happily to himself along with the music... the long, swaying lines of folk are well-suited to his current slightly inebriated state. Personal space is near-to-impossible, but nobody seems to mind much... least of all Blue or Annifred.

Zildjian can also be seen through the crowd on occasion, happily dancing with anyone willing to ask. She doesn't seem to be at all bothered by the beer... which has caused a few individuals who tried to match her drinking to end up neatly laid out under a protective table. She even does a spin or two with Schnel'pkebaov'qkgard'dow -- an eerily graceful dance as the two of them shadow each other's moves in sinuous mirror image.

Larrikan listens to the music, professionally curious, and spends time with Sakura, feeling as if he might never get the chance again. I should go with her. But classes... I've worked so hard to get where I am now. And she'll find her "shuttle" and realize that this isn't home and that maybe she should go there. And I can't go there, if it's anything like they say it is. No magic. The very idea. He is quiet and warm and contemplative and not saying much to Sakura. Sakura almost seems to sense Larrikan's sadness, mirrored as it is by her own. She does her best not to seem upset, though...

Feina has talked Kerry and Zil out, and has bounced over to try and talk to Hallifred. As he now has the troll who had the refills in his lap, he doesn't much want to talk to the vixen. The lady in his lap tells her that everybody likes the one with the beer, and hands her the pitcher. The vixen "Ooooh!"s happily, and starts to talk to anybody who'll stand still. As she has beer, that's quite a few people.

Larrikan looks at all the happy, noisy, drunken folks about, and murmurs to Sakura, "Would you like to go home, where it's quiet?"

Sakura nods at Larrikan. "Yes. Please."

Douglas dances cheerfully with Annifred, just simply trying to enjoy himself -- She isn't worried, not at all, she's enjoying herself immensely why shouldn't I...? -and is unsuccessfully trying to stave off concerns about his shipmates. Doctor and Captain... I know this is eating them up. You'll just have to do what you can for them, Douglas. They've been there for you, now it's your turn, as is only right: we're in this together. For him there are no second thoughts as to what will happen after they reach the Alshain.

Blue dances with Vash long in to the night. Cat stays missing in the crowd, and nobody else seems brave enough to ask the armadillo. Although the trolls might do so, perhaps Blue's fierce look send a message not to. Vash grins a bit, turning in formal circles with Blue as best he can, which is still pretty good even after a tankard's worth of trollish beer. His arms lie loosely around Blue's waist, nearly cheek to cheek with her amid the crowd. He catches a couple of inquisitive looks in the crowd, and wonders if he really is that imposing.

Blue stumbles a little, finally. "I'm getting tired, Vash." She yawns widely, then adds, "Maybe I should go home."

Vash catches her, a steadying hand at her side, and nods. "Shall I walk you home?"

Blue says, "Yes, please." She makes her way out of the dancing throng, not letting go of Vash's hand. She's been close to him all evening, and seems quite content to stay that way. Vash walks out alongside Blue, one arm still looped around her waist.

There are a few other people leaving the Gather too, but it is a cool and quiet night, a pleasant change after the warmth and motion of the dancing. Blue walks slowly, asking Vash if he enjoyed the Gather, and other apparent inconsequentialities. Vash nods absently, taking in the cool of the evening. He speaks in low tones, making jokes, just... relaxing, though he keeps a careful eye out at the darker corners of the street.

It's not long before Blue reaches her home again. As she and Vash come up to the snug little house, she hasn't let go of his hand as she opens the front door. She turns back to face the armadillo and leans forward to give him a kiss, then says, "I had a wonderful Gather, Vash. I hope you did too."

Vash smiles a little and kisses his companion gently. "I did, Blue. Thanks for being around for my first."

Blue looks a little uncertain... then looks up at the armadillo and says softly, "Would you like to stay with me tonight, Vash?"

Vash smiles gently and nods, once. He squeezes her hand. "I'd be honored, Blue... yes."

Blue smiles, "I'd like that very much." She leads him in, closing the door behind them.

Douglas dances long into the night with Annifred. Nothing seems more natural, to live life for a little while longer, despite the worry nagging him about shipmates. Though as he sees them, bit by bit, drift off into the beckoning shadows of deeper night, for a moment there's the faintest of bittersweet smiles upon his muzzle, then resolve -- We will return, he thinks. We will do what we came here to do! And we'll return, we'll return things to the way they should be, and we'll return to our friends...

For in that mad moment of resolution, as the stars alone bear witness to others' promises made and gentle words and life lived and cherished, the belief that the magic of the quest brought them there from the start is strongest in him... and in that belief, the happiness in the dance and companionship Doug finds with Annifred and her kin becomes strongest. As the dizzying cacophony of the Gather reaches into the darkest hours of the night, with an exuberance to match any sun's, drawing the celebration to near-close, he speaks quietly to Annifred; a gentle, almost hesitant suggestion to share what they have before but which he has never himself asked of her, what she has given so readily before and which he hopes now to give to her in return in this, the drawing close of the solstice, before the journey in the coming days.

Annifred blinks at Douglas, and then grins, and gives him a very large and rather personal kiss. The other trolls don't seem to mind. She says, "Ja, Douglas!" and is rather cheerfully led off by the cougar, very happily so.

The Gather wends its way through the night, slowing only gradually, with people slipping off in ones and twos and families, having had enough of the good time to last until the summertime. One of these pairs of tired folks making their way home is Larrikan and Sakura. After a long night of dancing together, and with the vixen likely leaving on a difficult and dangerous errand the next day or the day after, Larrikan walks along quietly, holding her hand, and thinking heavy thoughts.

Sakura comes to a dead stop, still holding Larrikan's hand firmly. She waits until he turns to find out why she's stopped and puts on the bravest smile she can muster. "I'm coming back."

Larrikan smiles and looks at Sakura for a long moment in the moonlight, before he says, "Am I that obvious?" It's only a moment before his smile fades a little as he says, "I hope so, Sakura. I..." He trails off, unsure if he should go on.

Sakura slips into Larrikan's arms and put her arms around him. She comes up on her toes and plants a kiss to the tip of his nose. "I said it as much for me. I want you to know that I'm happy here. Happier than I can ever remembering being. I don't want to leave but I know that I have to. I will come back to you..."

Larrikan relaxes in Sakura's arms, letting his slide comfortably and easily around her, to pull her close. "You're very special, Sakura," the fox says, "-and I never expected to find someone as beautiful or as exotic as you who didn't have the same insatiable desire for travel as most of the foxes." He sighs and says, "I've been trying not to think too hard that it might last, so it doesn't hurt when you move on, like so many others have."

Sakura beams a smile up at Larrikan. "Why would I travel? You're here, not out there?

Larrikan sniffs, and leans down and kisses Sakura gently, then uses the argument he's heard so many times before, "Why would you stay here? There's a whole world to see."

Sakura returns the kiss. "Larrikan... the rest of the world holds no interest for me if you're not with me." She blushes a little and looks down. "Am I being too forward? I... don't want to scare you off."

Larrikan says, "Too forward? Why would I be scared off by having a beautiful, intelligent, sensitive, caring, educated healer vixen tell me that she wants to be with me?" He leans down and kisses the top of Sakura's head, and uses a finger under her muzzle to lift her head back up so he can look her in the eye to say, "Nothing has ever made me happier. I'm hoping it's not all a dream which I'll wake up from, and have fade away to nothing."

Sakura smiles and blinks a couple of times. "It better not be a dream, Larrikan... I'd hate to wake without you..."

Larrikan smiles like an idiot and doesn't manage to do anything but stand there and hold Sakura, gently stroking her head fur and ears, feeling her close to him and smelling her foreign and delicate scent. He finally says, "I don't want that, either." Looking down at her, he asks, "But, can you really stay here?"

Sakura smiles, tinged with just a little bit of sadness. "There's not much reason to go home, Larrikan. There's little place for my kind on my world, except as slaves to the humans in all but name. I don't want to go back there." She looks up, eyes shining, "I want to stay here, with my friends and the kitsune that I've fallen in love with."

Larrikan looks somewhat taken aback, and clings to Sakura almost instinctively, protectively. He says, "You don't have to go back to slavery, no. Stay here with us. With me." He smiles and says, "I know I love you, and I'm certain some of the other kitsune here like you." He frowns, then adds, "What of your family? What of the responsibility to these other people you travel with and that clan?"

Sakura tilts her head to the side, "My family I've said goodbye to. I love them dearly, but I came on this mission knowing that I may not come back for many years, if at all... my crewmates... I will respect their decisions, whether they decide to leave or to stay, and hope that they will accept mine."

The fox murmurs, "That's a brave thing to do, that I could never have done... to have looked my family in the eye and just walked away." He hugs Sakura close again and says, "I hope I can make that worthwhile." Finally he steps back slightly and looks around a little self-consciously... but no one seems to be about. He says, "Shall we keep walking, before it gets colder?"

Sakura smiles and takes Larrikan's hand in hers again. "Yes... please." She stays close to him as they walk. Larrikan slides his arm around Sakura, and lets her nestle as closely against him as she likes. He walks along, almost in a daze, the thought, She wants to stay here, with me. Not just here. With me. rattling around his head and not quite settling anywhere yet. Her closeness to him only serves to make this feel all the more important. Sakura can't help but look up at Larrikan, often and with open adoration. She is more than happy to let him lead her off towards home, though she barely pays attention to the way.

They reach Larrikan's snug little fox den, and he looks a little askance at it, then asks Sakura, "Have you thought about what you can do here? What things do you want in your life, in your home?"

Sakura says, "I want to do what I do now. I want to heal people... it's my passion. I would love to learn the local ways of medicine and continue practicing medicine here."

Larrikan opens the simple wooden door, murmuring a quiet rhyme to unlock it first, and gestures for Sakura to enter. He says, "Healers are always welcome. I'm sure we can find a way for you to continue your life's work." Once she steps into the room he follows, closing the door and making it almost completely dark.

Sakura smiles, "Thank you, Larrikan... for everything."

Larrikan steps up behind Sakura, sliding his arms around her from behind, and pulls her gently into him, relaxing against her. He says, "I couldn't have helped myself, Sakura. Not only was it the right thing to do, it was easy, because of who you are." Standing there in the darkness he begins to gently caress her. He murmurs to her, "Do you want to be alone, private? -or to have a big household?" He adds, softly, "I kind of envisioned a place where all the passing foxes could stop and know they'd be welcomed."

Last modified: 2001-Jun-20 00:11:07

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