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After the crew has selected weapons, Hallifred takes them out to a practice yard the trolls have nearby in the woods. There are usually other trolls around who're willing to practice. Some of the younger ones are a reasonable match for the crewmembers, and the older ones are very patient, as well as extremely strong and skilled. They seem to enjoy practicing weaponry as much as they do everything else.

    Practice Yard
    The trolls have a little clearing set aside for weapons practice. It has water handy to it, but is mostly a large empty clearing. It is about fifteen meters across, and surrounded with trees. The ground is firm-packed and not dusty; this area is apparently pretty well used. There is a little stone shed off to one side, partly in the trees, for storage of various things. There are some targets set up in front of one of its walls.

Hallifred says, "Ja, here we practice, show you new toys, ja? Be fun, ja?"

Vash grins a little. "Guess we'll find out."

Kerry skrees, "Outside? During the day??" He sighs. "I suppose I can manage..."

Douglas, having clothed himself (to the amusement of the trolls, no doubt) before joining in the practice, returns to the group and nods slowly to Hallifred, letting out a breath. "Fun, ja," he murmurs. I've never done this sort of thing before! Well, all right, boxing, but that's not the same! That was just battering the other fellow with padded gloves. He looks up at the gleaming blade, the ribbons in Stanford maroon and gold. This is poking sharp metal things into people. Well... He sobers somewhat. It's against Drekaris and his folks. And Lord knows he'll be wanting to do the same, and worse, to us. Your claws aren't going to stand you in the best of stead all the time, Mr. Big Time Cougar Hero...

Vash says, "Relax, Kerry, we're not throwing you into combat."

Kerry looks indignant at the very idea. "Not until we have a working aircraft, you're not. I'll take high sentry and whip rocks at the enemy."

Vash says, "It's my suggestion you go hide behind something, if it comes to that."

Kerry skrees, "Hard to use a sling properly while hiding behind things. That's up to all of you."

Hallifred delegates the instruction of weapons to other trolls, and leaves the group in their capable hands and tails. Douglas winds up paired up with an adult troll spearman, who cheerfully and almost idly deflects the cougar's attacks, and begins, surprisingly patiently, to show Douglas how to use his weapon.

Svala takes Vash on as her student personally, either liking the armadillo, or perhaps just wanting to see how tough he is. First thing she does is to teach him how to care for and then hold his sword, praising him on the beauty of his choice. Then, using wooden practice weapons, she tries to teach him what he will need to know.

Sakura surprises everyone by being reasonably skilled with her big sword and, much to the delight of the sword master, holding her own or beating several of the younger trolls. The sword master, Svala, claps her hands and cheers happily, then dives in to show the vixen better ways to stab her trollish students.

Kerry watches the vixen in some amazement, not having expected such skill in the usually gentle medic. Still, I shouldn't have been that surprised. Japanese culture did have a martial underpinning. Vash shakes his head, holding his own weapon over one shoulder. I knew she was holding something back. That's useful to know. Maybe I ought to take this up with her later...

Using the targets on the side of the storage building, several young and excitable trolls are led by a sling instructor who is barely older than the students. Kerry is soon delegated to practicing with them. His knowledge of physics doesn't hurt any, and he has slightly better aim than the untrained trolls -- although not nearly as much strength or pure enthusiasm and gusto.

Kerry takes a little while to figure out the mechanism of the sling, but at least he knows enough physics to avoid the novice mistake of sending the stone off at right angles to its intended target, and he picks up the basics quickly. Hmm. They ought to put this thing into the survival course. It'd be easy enough to make one on the run. He practices with the sling for half-hour stints, interspersed with rest breaks during which he watches the others and looks around the compound. Curious... no fields. How do they get their food? Do they trade for all of it?

Douglas tries his best to wield the... the "naginata" as Doctor called it. It's hard, the thing has an odd balance and it doesn't handle at all like the club he's trying at first to use it as. He tries not to be surprised at the troll's relative ease with which his attacks are parried. He remembers what Hallifred had said about the weapon getting to know him, or such, and tries to take it from an engineering point of view; a matter of leverage, angular momentum, and -- as the troll spear man cheerfully points out -- the shortest distance between two points: where the naginata's tip is now, and where the other guy's belly is.

He manages to take a breather at one point, and looks across the way to where Doctor is... He blinks. Amazing. Good heavens, I'd never have expected that from her! The quiet and reserved and nervous Doctor... He finds himself admiring the vixen's form -- and technique, and is distracted only when a glint of scarlet to the side catches his eyes. Little Feina practicing herself as well -- Feina the kitsune, Feina of the fox people, Larrikan's people...

Doug returns to the practicing and sparring, focusing on the glittering, whirling, and thrusting blades, sparing only enough thought to think, I hope Annifred and Larrikan and Blue and Zildjian and all the rest at the University are all right... Such a thought, of course, is enough to earn him a sprawl as his instructor clips his legs right out from under him -- cheerfully and with gusto.

The training continues. Hallifred asks Vash one evening at the trollhome, "So, everything good, ja?"

Vash nods a few times, looking out across the darkening training field. "Yeah, all good, Hallifred. Everyone's coming along well, yeah? Though... y'know, come to think of it, there's something I've been wondering about."

Hallifred says, "Ja?"

Vash unzips his shipsuit down to his navel. "Well... I got this weapon from home, Hallifred. 'Fore I got down to this world I relied on it pretty heavily, actually... but it's all tech. And a little chemistry. I dunno if it still works here. I was wondering if we could try it out here... since I'd rather know right now if it's gonna blow apart in my hand than find out while we're fighting Drekaris."

Hallifred looks at the gun Vash produces, and is not particularly impressed. He says, "What need for test? Target? We got."

Vash pulls the weapon out of its holster. It's a very large, very black piece of metal. He hefts it a little, feeling the weight. "Doesn't look real impressive, no. I wanna fire it, if you don't mind a target getting torn up."

Hallifred says, "That what targets for. Better them than person. Want do now?"

Vash says, "Yeah, Hallifred, if it's not too much trouble."

Kerry looks over, at the sight of Vash's pistol, from where he's chatting with the trollish skald. He drops down from his perch and lands by them. "Probably want to do it somewhere other than in your hand, Captain... just in case."

Hallifred shrugs, and says, "Is good. Follow." He stands up and collects a couple of things and people, and leads the way back out to the training yard, Svala and Katla in tow, all three trolls carrying as-yet-unlit lanterns. The sun is low in the sky, and the shadows long. Night will fall shortly.

Vash follows the trolls out into the yard, and looks around at the darkening field. "Just right to my eyes. Gonna be a pretty night." He reaches into his shipsuit and produces a large clip. He frowns and checks the action of the pistol again, out of nervous habit.

Hallifred nods and says, "Ja, is nice night." He points at the targets in the growing dimness and says, "Bright enough? Want lanterns? What need?"

Kerry follows along, more out of morbid curiosity than anything else, slipping his dark goggles on as they leave the trollhome. It's not dark yet, not quite. Once outside, he finds a perch and watches the proceedings.

Vash hrmns, looking down at the weapon. "Looks good. Feels good, too. Still bugging me. Ah well... least it didn't make me ill." He shakes his head, "Nah, this is good, Hallifred... thanks. Just right for me." He wanders over to get himself aligned with a target in the distance. "Oh," he says, glancing up, "-might wanna cover your ears."

Kerry braces himself for the sound as Vash brings the pistol up to the ready position. I hope it works right... Vash slides the clip home in the pistol, and chambers the first round. The slide clicks satisfyingly. Maybe it's all faith... yeah. This gun is not gonna blow up on me. It's gonna knock the living shit out of that target, and it's gonna make me happy, and it's gonna scare the shit out of these trolls. Yeah. He takes a ready position, and brings the weapon up...

Vash clears his mind. It'll look really stupid if he misses, now. He inhales, and squeezes the trigger.

The gun's report echoes off the mortar walls of the training field. There's a brief bright muzzle flash, and down at the end of the field there's a sharp crack and a puff of mortar dust. Vash fairly jumps -- then yells, "AiiiiYAH! All RIGHT!" pushing a fist into the air, "Ay, chinga!! It still works!"

Kerry cheers and does a barrel roll in exuberance on his way back to the ground. "Yes! Excellent! It works!" Why not? It's not all that tech-ish. Just a lump of iron and nitrocellulose. But... the failures don't always make sense, do they?

Hallifred looks impressed, and Svala winces at the noise. Katla says, "Ooo..." and sniffs at the odor of gunpowder, wondering, "What this? How work?"

Hallifred says, "That good, ja? Sound fierce enough."

Vash can't contain a burst of enthusiasm, "Ja! You know it, Hallifred! C'mon, have a look at this!" He sprints down toward the far end of the field.

Kerry grins. "Seems to be. Let's go look for the bullet, shall we?" He scurries down to the target end of the field after Vash, looking for the flattened bullet near the chipped wall.

Hallifred comes along, Katla and Svala more quickly, wanting to know what this noisy thing has done. The big hole in the wooden target elicits a respectful "Ooo!" from all the trolls. It takes them a moment to realize Vash and the others are ignoring that and looking at the wall of the building, and the reasonable chunk which has been taken out of that. Hallifred says, "Works good, ja?"

Kerry grins and wingwaves the trolls over to where the uplifts are standing. "Works good, ja!"

Vash grins widely, and very carefully slides the clip out of the gun, stashing it in his shipsuit again. "Ja! Works real good! Damn, it blew a stone out here!" He straightens up, scratching the back of his head plates. "I'm shocked as you are. Sorry about your building, Hallifred..."

Svala is looking between the building and Vash with great respect. Hallifred says, "Building easy. Not winter yet, no rain, ja?" He grins a big grin, then says, "All good, ja? Go back for dinner?" Katla is standing, looking at the damage to the building, running a finger over it slowly and not saying much that's comprehensible.

Vash nods, taking a deep breath and quickly holstering the weapon again. "Yeah... yeah. Let's go get some dinner... I think that's enough excitement for me tonight."

Katla looks back at Hallifred, and says, "You see that? Bang! Wall broken." She seems stunned.

Kerry grins and pounces on the tiny bit of flattened metal glinting in the dust. "Ah-hah. Here it is, Katla. This is what is left of the pellet the gun throws." He holds it carefully, the metal still quite warm to the touch.

Katla looks back down and says to Kerry, "Metal?" She takes it from him, looking oddly at it. Svala wants to see it too, asking, "What is?" Hal seems unconcerned, and is poking around in his pouch, looking for something. He eventually produces a dagger, which he uses to strike a spark to light his lantern.

Vash says, "Call it a bullet. Here, I can show you one that's not flat..."

Kerry skrees, "Steel jacket covering a lead pellet, about yay big." He holds up his fingers. "We call them bullets, though they're much smaller than what a sling uses. The pistol throws them out at 1500 feet per second... well, they'd cover a league in three heartbeats."

Vash recalls that after he unloaded the clip he didn't dechamber the next round... he pulls the gun from his armpit and pumps the round out. He holds it up to the light of Hallifred's lantern, "Here, have a look... just don't touch the flat end."

Katla lights her lantern with a stray fragment of the target, and Hal's. She and Svala compare the two bullets, and seem quite impressed. Kerry's suggestion of speed is met with blank stares, and then, "That damn fast."

Kerry nods. "That's what does the damage..."

Vash grins a little. "Tell you all about how it works over dinner."

Kerry looks uncomfortable for a moment, then nods. "Tell trolls, ja. We shouldn't tell anyone else here on Crossroads. This knowledge would be very dangerous, if works here."

Hallifred finishes lighting Svala's lantern and says, "Dinner good, ja." He begins to head back to the trollhome. Svala and Katla seem quite impressed, and don't even know what to ask, until Hallifred says, "Louder than crossbow. Smell awful," and apparently puts it out of his mind.

Vash says, "I don't think anyone's got the facilities to do machining like this on Crossroads."

Kerry nods. "Not directly, no. But primitive powder weapons? I don't want to think about Drekaris with machine pistols -- or even muskets."

Vash says, "We'll see. I'll talk to the trolls about it. For right now, though... let's go eat. It's been a long day."

Back at the trollhome, dinner is in full swing, and three trolls and two uplifts can come in generally unnoticed. Hallifred seems quite content to settle in and eat, but Svala and Katla both are thinking hard -- although not hard enough to keep them from eating.

Vash stretches himself as he makes his way into the trollhome. "Kerry, I think I'll see you later. I'm gonna go talk to Alfdis and Gudrun, eat something, and think about sleeping. I'm beat."

Kerry waves a wing at Vash as he drifts off. "Sounds like a plan. See you in the morning. Well, maybe the afternoon."

Vash nods, "Got that right." He waves without turning around, "Take it easy until then." Alfdis is quite pleased to see Vash, and pulls him in to the warm and relaxed little group of trolls she is with, talking about things which need to be done reasonably soon, before the season ends, casually planning what they may do. She makes sure he has a bowl of stew, then cuddles up with him while she talks. It's hard to say if he'll get away that night, although he doesn't seem to be trying terribly hard.

Kerry finds a spot on the roof near Katla, as he often does, waiting to answer her questions about the gun. He'll be happy to let her ponder things through dinner, but once the meal is over he intends to continue his exploration of Crossroad's history. Katla doesn't ask too many questions about the gun, though, and food seems to revive her, reawakening her normal trollish outlook.

Kerry is quietly relieved that Katla doesn't ask about the gun... it keeps him from having to decide how much is safe to tell her. If anyone here could build one of their own, the trolls could.... Over dessert he asks what her plans are for the evening.

Katla shrugs, "Food. Maybe talk, maybe listen to skald. Maybe sleep." She looks at the bat and says, "Maybe have some fun?"

Kerry grins and reaches down to run his wing-claws through her hair. "Maybe fun, ja. What's the skald going to sing tonight?"

Katla mmms quietly and tries to lean up and nuzzle at a bat. She answers his question with a shrug and, "Not know. Not sing yet."

Kerry grins fondly at the big troll-lady. "I should know better than to ask. I still want to ask you about the lamias, and about the Azteka/Iroquois fighting."

Katla says, "Okay," and reaches up to rub Kerry's fur.

Kerry waits for the meal to end before he drops back down to the benches, wrapping a wing around Katla as he does so. "So. Where's the skald?"

Katla has finished her meal, and happily encourages a warm bat to curl up in her lap. She says, "Soon."

Shortly the skald does come out, and asks, "What good?" Lots of trolls make suggestions. The skald laughs and talks and eventually picks a song, settling down to sing a long and complicated tale of a trollhome far away by the sea, which traded fish to its neighbors. Someone picks up a quiet melody on a flute, and the simple story catches the ear and the mind and leads it along gently.

Kerry drifts along with the sense of community the trolls have over these traditional tales... even it if isn't a major historical event in the sense that Earth Home understands them, it gives insight into the culture of these gentle, if boisterous, giants. Katla settles quietly, petting Kerry and humming along with the skald, knowing either the tune or the whole thing herself. When the song ends she says, "Should thank skald, ja?"

Kerry nods. "Definitely. He knows all these songs and stories by memory, doesn't he? That's quite an impressive feat."

Katla stands up and carries Kerry easily over to the skald, who is talking to another of the trolls. On the way there she says, "Most of us know most of songs. Songs nice. Singers take turns skalding." When she gets there she says, "Nice song, ja," and leans over and gives the skald a friendly kiss. Not a short one, either.

Kerry grins and wraps a wing around each of the trolls, which at least will keep him from getting squashed between them. He nuzzles Katla's cheek while she's busy... and what the heck, the skald's too. The skald eventually finishes with Katla and grins to Kerry, giving him a friendly nuzzle in return. He says to Katla, "Bat fun?" and she says, "Fragile, ja?" to which the skald only nods sagely.

Kerry grins at the exchange. "Not my fault. Fliers can't be all that sturdy and still get off the ground."

The skald laughs and says, "Ja, true! Fliers fragile, and trolls strong." Someone else says something, and he looks away, distracted by another thank-you. Katla, apparently satisfied, moves off, chuckling quietly. She murmurs, "Fun good, ja?"

Kerry chuckles. "Fun always good. But I wanted to ask more questions first, Katla. I still don't understand what happens in the west. Do the Iroquois and the Azteka fight; do they have wars?"

Katla considers as she continues walking away from the central room and into dark, quiet warrens. The dark doesn't bother Kerry at all, nor does Katla seem concerned. She says, "Borders often wars. One wants what another has, ja?" She hums a bit, then sings a verse or two of something rhymed -- obviously part of one of the historical songs. The translator gives meaning over her quiet and melodious crooning, the language even more bent than normal for trolls, "Far to west/lands of men/lands of gods./Gods eat men/men not-want be eaten."

Kerry waits for the bit of song to end, then snorts in amusement. "Can't say as I blame them. I'm not too keen on being someone's dinner either." He continues. "The Azteka gods are the ones who eat their worshippers?"

Katla giggles, and says, "Ja, me too." She turns in to one of the many alcoves strewn through the maze, brushing past its curtain confidently and closing it behind her. Kerry can see at one end a bed of the typical troll hugeness, a small shelf full of books, and a lamp, which isn't lit. There are some tangles of cloth along the edges of the room, but purely by sonar it's difficult to figure out what they are... maybe blankets, maybe clothes, maybe decorations.

Katla walks in and sits down on the bed with Kerry in her lap, then nuzzles him cheerfully. She says, "Songs say, ja." She sings some more, "Land of riches/land of gold/Gods offer Man/to trap and hold..." She hums a little and changes her tune, adding, "Gods keep cattle/Cattle are men/Men for food/Men for skin." She says, "Songs also say world is flat, so who know what song know?"

Kerry shudders at the 'men for skin' line. The song is interesting, but not in the way he wants. He thinks about the issue, then tries another tack. "Does the border between the Azteka and the Iroquois shift, or do they just raid back and forth across it?"

Katls is somewhat distracting at the moment. She murmurs, "Don't know. Trolls not go there. May be notes in records of visitors."

Kerry looks shocked. "No trolls in the Iroquois lands? How boring. Trolls fun, ja!" He lets himself be distracted for a moment, then remembers the other question he had. "Oh, yes. The lamia. Do they mostly live in the Pharaoh's lands, or somewhere else?"

In a moment of distraction, Katla has managed to lose the few clothes she's wearing, and is now even more distracting. She says, "Only met one Lamia; don't know. Hallifred say from there."

Kerry grins, nuzzling the charmingly distracting troll. "What do they do? Zil said that they were librarians, record keepers, things like that?"

Katla mmms and clearly likes that, and her responses encourage more. She murmurs, "Katla not know. Ask lamia, or go see. Only take decade or two, ja? Then come tell Katla, and both know."

Kerry chuckles. "Well, once we have Alshain back, we can get there in just a few hours. Maybe I'll go look. Or maybe not..." He lets her peel him out of his flight suit. "Maybe come back here and have fun instead, ja?" Katla's response is mostly nonverbal, actions speaking louder than words. Part of the message is clearly, Why wait? Kerry grins and indulges her. Later he blinks as something belatedly sinks in. Only a decade or two, and she shrugs it off like that? How long do trolls live??

Days go by, with visible improvement among the crew; the trolls seem impressed with how fast the uplifts learn. Svala works some more with Sakura and Vash, pleased and surprised with how quickly they learn. The two uplifts spar nearly constantly, Sakura actually winding up teaching some of the very newest a few things, Vash included. She is constantly demure and respectful, even as she holds someone at sword point and waits for them to acknowledge she has won. Exactly how she is quite so fierce at the same time is something of a mystery.

Vash picks up very quickly, and Svala tells him, "Is good sword with you. You stay and learn all skill?" She adds hopefully, "Just few years, ja?"

Vash grins lopsidedly. "Maybe I'll be back to finish... but we've gotta take care of the asshole before I have that long to spare, Svala... I don't think Drekaris is gonna wait a few years."

Kerry's improvement is visible too, leaving the novice trolls behind, and moving from "hitting the broad side of a barn" to "hitting near the target" to actually "hitting the target." The instructor begins having the bat back away from the target, and to increase his accuracy at range.

Kerry works hard to keep up with the learning curve of his fellow uplifts. He's more used to human-standard education rates than they are, but he manages to develop facility with the sling by the time the others have met the minimum standards of the demanding instructors. He's even managing to hit moving targets, as some of the trolls drag wheeled targets across the practice ground for a bit more realism.

Douglas is soon not only not being tripped by his instructor, but also making the troll work to defend himself. The troll laughs delightedly and eggs Douglas on, clearly perfectly happy to have the big cat trying to cut him in half with the long and flashing blade of the naginata.

Nearly two weeks have gone by when Hallifred shows up on the practice field again. While he's been present at the trollhome in the evenings, and perfectly happy to talk to the crew, he has left the training to the others. He watches quietly, then grunts, turning to leave. One of the younger trolls, who is practicing with a sword, calls out, "Ay! Uncle Hal! You spar, ja?" Svala tries to shush him, and fails.

Vash takes a step back and gives Sakura a hand signal; he halts his practice with the vixen and smirks, jerking his head over toward the younger troll with an expression that says, C'mon... you know this'll be good. Douglas pauses in his exertions, letting out a breath, but blinking at the young troll's call and Svala's hurried shushing of him. I wonder what that's all about...? Maybe Hallifred's just so very darn good? Or slowed because of the petrification?

Hallifred turns back around and asks, "You want spar with Hallifred?" The younger troll nods, and says, "Ja!" Hal looks at Svala, standing behind the youngster, who shakes her head no! but doesn't actually say anything. Hal grins a slow grin, showing his hugely pointed teeth, and his tail flicks slowly as he says, "Ja, Hallifred spar."

Kerry looks interested at Svala's reaction, and then at Hallifred. I have a feeling that the kid is not going to enjoy this... Douglas blinks again, straightening and setting the naginata upright, butt onto the ground, mindful of where the blade is. The muted-hue streamers dance lightly against his ear, as he watches interestedly.

A space clears like magic as Hallifred merely walks towards the youngster. Svala falls back with the others, unwilling or unable to help her student now. Hallifred removes the bag he'd had slung over his shoulder and sets it down as he approaches. The older troll stops before the swordsman, apparently unarmed and wearing only a loincloth, and says, "Ja. Ready?"

The younger troll only seems to worry when Hallifred makes no move to arm himself. He asks, "Hallifred, you need sword, ja?" to which Hallifred shrugs, and grins, saying, "I ready."

Vash turns and stands, shifting his weight to one foot and resting the back ridge of his blade across his shoulders. He adjusts his shades a bit and grins, tipping his head to the vixen. "Wanna put some money on this one?"

Kerry launches from his tree-stand and lands beside Vash, chirriping at the tail end of that comment. "You backing the kid? I wonder how fast the big fella is. I'm beginning to think that the sword won't even cut him."

Vash says, "Pffft. I guarantee it won't. And if it does... he won't care. You watch."

Kerry nods. "That I'll certainly agree with." The bat subsides, wondering what's going to happen next. I hope this isn't a way to weed out stupid youngsters...

Taking his stance, the younger troll moves cautiously towards Hallifred, who turns a little to follow him. When the young troll swings, with a flash of steel in sunlight, there is a loud, *CLANG!* and a spark leaps from Hallifred's stony shoulder. The troll apparently ignores it.

Douglas perks his ears. 'I ready.' Oh, that would make me nervous if the guy I was facing said them with a smile... He meanders over to the rest of the crew. "This should be instructive," he says dryly. "Ah... should have known." He becomes thoughtful. "I wonder... if the Horn is in Dre- uhm, that guy's hands... Hallifred seems to feel that the older trolls will return to normal and not be near-petrified..."

Vash grins, waving a hand to shush the cougar. "In a minute, Doug, I wanna see this."

Kerry skrees, "I gathered that the process would stop, not necessarily reverse. Who knows?"

Hallifred lets the now-frightened troll swing a couple of more times, sparks and unpleasant scraping sounds of metal-on-stone filling the clearing, making several of the trolls and Feina wince visibly. Eventually he tires of the game, and ends it -- by stepping forward after a failed swing and grabbing the young troll's hand behind the sword, before he can recover properly from the jolting blow. Despite Hallifred's usually slow appearance, this step-and-grab is lighting fast, and leaves the young troll staring, obviously shaken and frightened -- and completely unable to get away from the iron grip on his wrist.

Kerry nods. Ah-hah. I thought so. He's normally slow because he's being careful. Note to self. Don't make him angry... Douglas blinks, his tail and ears twitching, stunned by the speed Hallifred demonstrates. Good heavens! That was fast! he thinks. Then: How the devil did Drekaris get the horn from the trolls, after all?

Vash grins. "Hah. Knew it." He's holding back.

Hallifred isn't smiling any more, but watching the reaction of the other troll, his gaze apparently almost hypnotic. The other troll tries to say something, which doesn't come out clearly. Hallifred shifts a little and the youngster gasps and drops his sword as Hal's hand squeezes on a pressure point. Once his opponent is unarmed, Hal lets go. The younger troll staggers backwards, actually tripping on his tail and falling down. Hallifred rumbles, "You fight good. Ja. But you fight more than you, not matter how good, you still dead, ja?" Having said his piece, Hallifred walks away, pausing only to pick up his bag.

Douglas blinks, staring after the troll as he walks off, his mental voice likewise stunned into silence, breaking its silence only the mewl, Note to self: never, ever piss him off. Kerry lets out a breath that he hadn't realized he was holding. "By the Makers. Pity we can't take him along on our quest."

Vash watches impassively as the troll does his business and walks away. After a long moment he turns to Sakura and says, startlingly casually, "Guess that bet's off, huh?"

Kerry walks over to Svala as Hallifred leaves. "Might I ask a question?"

Svala says, "Moment, ja?" and goes over to talk to the beaten troll. She talks to him for a while before she comes back to Kerry and says, "Sorry, need make sure he okay."

Kerry nods when the weapons mistress returns. "No problem." He pauses, before plunging in. "Was Hallifred one of the guards of the Horn when he was younger?"

Svala looks oddly at Kerry and says, "Trolls had horn. Hallifred troll."

Kerry nods, wondering whether he should press ahead. He finally decides the trolls may be cryptic at times, but have never actually objected to a question. "How could anyone have taken it away from such powerful guardians?"

Svala says, "Not know. Hallifred tough old bastard, ja. Not know where was, or how guarded. May have just been secret, no trolls. Ask Hallifred, maybe he tell."

Kerry nods. "He showed me a picture of it, and it showed a guardian and a sort of shrine. I suppose we'll find out if we succeed." He nods to her and heads back to his sling practice. "Let's try a smaller target this time, eh? Just the cart; don't put an archery target in it this time..."

The incident with Hallifred passes, although it is not forgotten. The next day, when quite early in the morning Hallifred shows up again, he is treated deferentially and with respect, which he seems to find laughable. He has three humans with him. He calls the crew of the Indigo over by name, "Ay! Doug, Kerry, Vash! Pretty vixen Sakura! Come meet."

Kerry wanders over, intrigued by the guests. He hasn't seen a human here since they arrived. Kawaii has apparently found someplace cool and quiet to sleep, but Feina is nearby, not-quite fawning at Sakura. She trots along with the other vixen, perky and curious, asking her, "What do you think Hallifred wants? Yesterday was pretty impressive, wasn't it? He's very strong. I'm glad he's a friend, not an enemy. Never know anybody who has troll enemy, though."

Douglas looks over, then blinks as he sees the newcomers. Humans? Interesting! He glances over to Vash, then makes his way over to Hallifred. Well, we know there are humans on Crossroads. It's just surprising to see them at a trollhome. I don't recall seeing any at Annifred's warren. His ear tips pinken slightly at remembering the time there -- not only the time spent with Annifred, but also the warmth and camaraderie. That was before you really knew the quest had you, Doug, his mental voice chides him gently, as he arrives near Hallifred.

Vash lowers his blade slowly, nodding to Svala. "Thanks, Svala... be back in a second." He wanders back toward Hallifred and his guests, and shrugs when Doug catches his eye.

Hallifred grins at the spacefarers and says, "You do okay. Want have practice against people, though, and trolls too hard." He gestures at the humans, who look pretty sturdy, and says, "This Ross, Chad, Perry. They farmers, trade grain with trolls. Hallifred asked if they come practice."

Perry speaks up, saying, "Hallifred says you've only worked with the trolls. You must have taken quite a beating, eh?" He's a stocky young human man wearing thickly padded armor and a sword strapped to his belt. He looks to be mostly a farmer who practices a little with his sword to keep family and home safe.

Vash grins lopsidedly. "A few of us are pretty used to it by now. I'm Vash. Nice to meet you."

Kerry chirrips laughter. "They did. I don't do hand-to-hand." He holds out a wing-hand to the newcomers. "I'm Kerry."

Ross also looks like a farmer, strong and tough, but he's a little lankier than Perry. He is wearing differently made heavy padding, and something that reminds the crew vaguely of a billy club. He says, "Always nice to have some new folks to practice with; see something new."

Douglas's whiskers twitch, as suddenly he's not around people he knows and whom he doesn't have a professional relationship with. "Uhm... hi, I'm Doug," he says, offering his paw to shake, checking to make sure that his claws aren't extended, making sure that his teeth aren't showing when he smiles, albeit slightly shyly. Hallifred grins widely at Doug's caution, his own teeth in prominence.

The middle fellow, Chad, is quiet. He nods amiably, but doesn't say much, instead eyeballing the crewmembers and considering what they are carrying. He has a sword and looks skilled in its use; he's wearing real armor, although it's only leather. After a moment he says, "Yeah, hi. Let's see how you do," and walks towards the marked out sparring ring.

Douglas's ears flick and his hand drops. He looks a little quizzical. Uplift bigotry...? No, it can't be. He's just got a bad attitude -- that's all. That must be it. He hefts the naginata and moves towards the sparring ring himself. Vash doesn't say anything. He slips his shades into his pocket, and hefts his weapon, moving toward the ring. Quite a set of aguacates on you, for a guy named Chad.

The fighters array themselves in two groups across the sparring circle, standing ten meters apart, and waiting for one or the other to make a movement first.

Kerry takes station behind the line of fighters, with a stack of dried mudballs to sling at their opponents, the closest one can come to practice weapons. He whips the sling around, taking aim at Chad. The dirt clod sails in and bursts on Chad's shoulder, scattering dust everywhere. It would have been a glancing hit even with a real slingstone.

Sakura adjusts her two-handed ready grip on her hand-and-a-half sword and edges forward, closer to the opposition. Douglas drops the naginata to a ready position as the dirtball smacks into Chad's shoulder. He advances forward quickly but cautiously, but three meters, and holds himself ready to defend against any advance-and-attack from the three. Vash smirks broadly, holding his sword at the ready, the point bearing on Chad's eye level. He jerks his head back, beckoningly. "C'mere, beautiful."

Sakura moves up to flank Douglas, keeping her fingers wrapped around her sword in readiness. Ross moves forward three meters towards Sakura, apparently thinking the vixen will be the easiest target, then waits, letting her close.

Chad ignores Vash's taunt and moves forward next to Ross, eyeing Douglas and watching the big cat's long spear. Perry comes up to flank Chad, looking past them at Kerry and Vash, apparently considering. Douglas edges forward slightly, holding his naginata ready to protect himself from the three opponents.

Kerry bounces a dirt clod solidly off Chad's chest hard enough to be felt through the leather, the dust spraying. This one would have been a good hit if it had been real. Douglas reconsiders, then slashes the shaft of the weapon forward against Chad -- and the heavy shaft catches the farmer across the chest. None are quite more surprised than Doug when the man falls backwards into a heavy pile upon the ground -- and doesn't immediately stand back up.

Vash moves up quickly to close the gap on the Sakura's flank, before Perry gets it in his head to attempt to flank Sakura. Kerry grins and winds up with a third chunk of dirt, but this time it bursts on the ground between the two remaining fighters. Sakura comes about two meters closer to Ross and gives him a cute-girl smile, tilting her head vapidly off to one side. Feina watches Sakura a little worriedly, and fairly confused. What is wrong with Sakura? Ross moves forward the last couple of meters and attacks Sakura.

Ross grins and swings his club at Sakura, missing her completely as she lithely and easily avoids his clumsy blow. Sakura smiles sweetly at Ross one more time before she brings the sword back and swings it in a wicked arc, straight towards him. However, she is somewhat caught off guard by Ross' sudden movement towards her and his resulting attack. She swings, but ineffectually, and misses him. Perhaps when she steadies herself...

Perry says, "Here, kitty, kitty..." He moves forward, closing on Douglas, swinging his short sword at him. Douglas blinks at the, for him, unfamiliar insult, and moves his weapon to block, but not quickly enough to block the strike. Perry's strike hits him across the belly, and he winces but doesn't quite stagger, a little off-balance from trying to block the strike. 'Kitty'?! he thinks, incensed. 'KITTY'?!

Vash closes the gap quickly on Perry's flank, and sets his teeth, hearing the imprecation on his engineer. He turns his blade out to the side and slices it in a clean arc at the back of Perry's legs. There's a loud, wet crack as it strikes the back of the human's leathers. The armadillo growls, "You watch your mouth when you talk to my crew, cabrón."

Kerry turns his attention to Sakura's opponent Ross, but the dirt clod sails over his head. His next attempt is even worse, the clod flying wide to the right.

Douglas glares at Perry, but sees the man dazed and staggering slightly from Captain's hit. He glances between that one and Ross and decides that, while he should let Sakura take her opponent herself, one conscious and active opponent is one more than they need. The naginata swings up in a tight, shallow arc against the human facing Sakura...

Douglas grimaces as the weapon whooshes well and clear past Ross' side, cleanly missing the man -- and now leaving the naginata's shaft almost vertical; well and truly useless for the moment. Vash leans wide of Douglas' wild swing, using the awkward position to give him greater momentum on the swing in as he shifts his weight. He cracks the edge of his blade along the small of the human's back -- and Perry goes down on his face. Vash steadies himself, glancing back at the remaining human. "Ay, chinga..." He grins widely.

Sakura turns the sword in her grip and brings it up to take another cut at Ross. Having gathered herself from her initial shock, she manages to hit him this time. Not hard, but it was a hit. Ross curses the vixen, and says, "Take that!" as he swings at her again. Ross curses some more at himself this time as he misses. Perry and Chad are both still out, which doesn't do much to inspire Ross. He looks around unhappily at the three uplifts -- who are now all focusing on him.

Kerry looks back and forth at the others. "What do you think? Let Sakura handle this on her own?"

Douglas regains control of his weapon, letting the haft drop. The butt of the weapon falls to the ground with a heavy sound as he looks to Ross with a touch of trollish cheerfulness, though he isn't smiling with his teeth showing. "I think that's a good idea, Pilot."

Vash just smiles broadly at the human. "Hola." He waves bye-bye, and kicks the unconscious Perry's weapon away, resting a foot on the small of his back.

Sakura, apparently feeling the pressure of the watching eyes of her crewmates, readies the sword for another strike. Unfortunately, distracted by thoughts of not being able to perform to the best of her abilities to honor her family and crew, she fumbles and misses completely. Ross sneers at the vixen, long enough to swing his sword back at her, and miss. He manages to keep the fierce look, despite being ineffective.

Douglas fidgets slightly; he's not used to seeing Doctor flustered and it starts to bother him, particularly the apparent viciousness Ross shows in the practice sparring. He hefts the naginata slightly, pondering whether to intervene, then decides not to; he keeps himself alert though, crouching slightly, just in case Ross takes the sparring far more personally than he should.

Vash frowns a little, and turns a moment. "Hey Doug. Put a foot up on this guy for me." He walks slowly toward the two, calling out, "Ay! Watch your mouth, talking to a lady like that. Maybe you wanna think about surrender now?" Kerry continues watching the human, ready to intervene if Sakura gets hit, but for now content to let her practice. Besides, my aim's been off. I'd probably hit her...

Douglas glances to Vash and nods, "Yes, Captain." He edges back slightly and drops his hindpaw-foot lightly yet firmly atop the small of Perry's back, looking back to the continuing duel.

Vash raises his weapon, resting the back ridge on one shoulder, and growls, "Last chance, ese. Gonna look bad if she puts you on your ass."

Sakura almost seems to be getting frustrated, both with herself and the trash-talking that she's getting from someone who certainly doesn't seem able to hit any better than she can. Her next swing is obviously one of frustration and she misses yet again. Ross doesn't ignore Vash's words. Sakura's heavy blade swooshing by him helps convince him -- he wonders, Maybe she's just playing with me? and says, "Yeah, I surrender." He drops his weapon and holds up his hands, backing slowly away.

Sakura lowers the tip of her own weapon to the dirt and bows to her opponent for backing out honorably and saving her any further embarrassment. Vash nods once, slowly, and extends his arm, pointing the angled tip of his blade at the human, "We accept." He looks to the sword master, "This match is over!" He adds, "You did the right thing, homes."

Kerry chirrips. "You know the translator's going to have trouble with that, Captain."

Vash snorts. "And it's got no problems with Keero? Heh. They'll live."

Douglas lets out a breath and looks down to Perry, lifting up his foot from the man and starting to politely offer him a hand up -- then realizes the fellow is, well, out cold. Then he glances at Chad, seeing he's out as well. He tilts his head to the side. This is good. They barely touched us. He winces a bit, and rubs at his chest -- a slight bruise, but nothing more than that. Well, almost barely. We should be so lucky as to have this be what all our future battles will be like. He glances back to his shipmates. We could do even better as a team, I think. Maybe we should practice doing that before we head off for Drekaris...

Kerry just grins. "Touché. I don't usually try to have it translate Keero, though."

Svala claps happily at her most recent students, and comes up to give Sakura a pointer or two on how not to be frustrated. She's blocked by a red and white furry blur as Feina zooms in to give Sakura a hug and tell her how brave and fierce she was -- probably in great detail. Sakura listens carefully to Svala's pointers, though she does look fairly disappointed. She can't help but smile at Feina's actions and words, even if it is half-hearted.

Vash turns, giving his blade a wide formal swing, then another, then sheathes it. There's no blood on his blade, but it's a habit he reminds himself he needs to get into. He smiles at Douglas. "And you! I didn't think you had it in you, niño!"

Douglas smiles wanly and a little shakily to Vash. "Erm... well, Captain, it was... something of a surprise to me, really... I mean, I didn't expect that to happen..." He sobers sharply. "And I don't expect that to happen every time we enter battle..."

Svala finishes up and goes to talk to Vash. A couple of the other trolls come over and try to wake up the other humans, one offering Ross some water. Hallifred comes up and says, "That not bad, ja? Maybe try trolls, ja?"

Kerry nods. "I think we should, Hallifred. If we can hold our own against trolls, we might be able to handle our real opponents."

Vash grins widely, talking with his sword master, "...how was that, Svala?" He grins up at the big troll, "Heh. Long as you're not volunteering, Hallifred."

Hallifred laughs, and says, "No fight Hallifred, ja."

Vash smiles. "'S right." He nods to Doug, "Stay loose, Doug. Just stay relaxed, you'll get the hang of it."

Douglas lets out a breath and nods slowly to Vash. "I'll try, Captain. And... thank you."

Vash grins. "De nada, Douglas. You did good."

Kerry nods. "Looked good from the back, gang. I think we may have a chance after all." Sakura sheathes her sword and settles on the grass to reflect quietly on her own performance in combat.




Last modified: 2001-Aug-20 01:35:34

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