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After the training session Hallifred nods approvingly and says, "Will do, ja?" He makes sure someone is on hand to help the battered humans, then leads the crewmates back to the trollhome, saying, "So, tomorrow renew quest, ja? Get ship. Then what? Go home?"

Sakura looks horrified for a moment before she collects her composure. Kerry shrugs. "Not right away. We'll bring back the Horn first... should we bring it here, or what?"

Douglas looks... slightly uncomfortable at the prospect, but shakes himself. "Certainly -- we should worry about the Horn first." His demeanor becomes one of purposely not concerning himself with anything beyond the end of the quest.

Hallifred considers, then says, "If you not get horn, Hunt take your ship again, ja? So horn first. Know where horn is?"

Kerry grins. "Not really. If we're off course, maybe the Hunt will visit and tell us so. They have before..."

Douglas grimaces slightly. "Uhm... we had thought it was near where our ship is, actually, reasoning that Drek- that he would be nearby both."

Kerry nods. "That was indeed our thought. And if not, getting the ship might let us get there quickly."

Douglas looks to Kerry worriedly. "I wouldn't rely on their help, Pilot. If for no other reason than that seems to be against the... the way quests work here. If we put too much faith in such things... whatever benefits being on a quest are conferred to us may be forfeit."

Hallifred snorts, "Hunt talk twice? Not likely, battie. Hunt talk once not likely." To Douglas he says, "Hopefully ship near horn so you find both, ja." He nods again, "Ja. Always best to depend on yourself, help others -- not depend on others help you."

Sakura frowns thoughtfully, content to listen to the words of others for now. Kerry frowns at the engineer's comment. "Wasn't thinking about that. You may be correct. On the other hand, hypothetical gains from the quest are secondary to completing it... that reminds me, do we have any gloves or anything like that? I'm not so sure I want to touch the thing."

As they get back to the trollhome, Hallifred leaves the crewmates to their own devices for the rest of the evening, saying, "In morning we see off, make sure supplied. Until then, rest, say goodbyes." Hard on his heels is Feina, who darts up to Sakura, nearly crashing into her, "I saw you beat up the humans! The trolls say you're very strong for a vixen. How did you get so strong? Are they right? Can you show me?"

Douglas purses his lips slightly. I'm not so sure, Pilot, he thinks to himself. Being on a quest may be at least as important as what the quest is for. Maybe by just being on a quest we're helping the magic of this world... But he remains silent for the moment, nodding quietly at Hallifred's words as he departs -- and barely dodging the streaking red form of Feina, blinking. He grins quietly at her exuberance, looking up to Sakura.

Sakura smiles at the enthusiastic vixen, blushing a little. "I'm not strong, Feina. I just... received some training for my job back home."

Douglas arches an eyebrow slightly. Her job? I thought her job was as a doctor, not as a swordsvixen? He shakes himself and puts the thought from his mind; it's... not immaterial, but not important, right now. "And quite good training it is, Doctor," he provides cheerfully. Sakura smiles at Douglas and mutters something about lifting stretchers and patients on gurneys.

Kerry chuckles as the infatuated vixen zeroes in on their doctor. Shy Folk, indeed. She's about as shy as a drill sergeant. He watches Sakura and Feina for a moment before heading into the trollhome to find Katla.

Feina looks mildly disappointed, then asks, "Can you really use that big sword? Svala says you're pretty fierce with it! You must be strong, ja?" She looks a bit embarrassed when she realizes she's speaking trollish.

Sakura smiles at Feina. "Yes, I can use the sword to some extent. I just... prefer not to most of the time."

Feina says, "Well, I couldn't use a sword that big, and Aedaith couldn't use it, and I don't think Bande could use it, and he's pretty strong. Oh! And I hear we're leaving tomorrow! Is that right? Are we going? I get to come, right? You're not leaving me here, are you? -that would be a dirty trick!"

Douglas blinks at the "trollism" coming from Feina, and laughs despite his best efforts to resist holding it in. "I'm sorry, Feina. I guess we'll all be picking up a bit of the trolls over time." He ponders meandering inside, a faint rumble in his belly and an agitated mewl in his mind telling him that it's just about time for dinner, or will be soon. Are we ready? he thinks. We'll have to be. But I think only Captain and Pilot have been in fights before -- I don't know if Doctor ever has, but with the way she handles the sword... anyway. I know I haven't. Oh, Mama, look what your son's become, look where your son is! I never wanted to fight, let alone kill, but that whack I gave that human felled him pretty darn quickly. If it came down to it maybe I could, but... I wish I didn't have to find out. Well. Time enough to worry about that later. We have one night, and then the quest resumes...

Sakura says, "You don't have to come if you don't want to, Feina. It's going to be very dangerous and you were so sick because of the technology. We have to fly our ship back... and that's going to be even worse. I'd rather that you went home to Bande and Aedaith... where you're safe and I don't have to worry all the time for your safety."

Douglas's ears flicker slightly, and he glances to Feina. They're probably tough words on the little vixen, but they needed saying. Feina stops and frowns, considering carefully. She looks between Sakura and Douglas, and then says, "I want to come. I want to help." She looks a little more strident, less worried, "I am not afraid!"

Sakura tilts her head to the side, "You should be afraid. I'm terrified."

At this Feina looks shocked, "What?! You... but..." It takes her a moment to fit this in to her world view -- that the indomitable and unflappable Sakura could be afraid -- she finally simply ignores it, saying, "No, I'm coming. Vash said so!" and daring anyone to say otherwise.

Douglas rumbles softly, and decides not to kneel down to face her closer; that might be too patronizing. "We all are," he says quietly. "Afraid, that is." He casts a glance to the Doctor, though. I'd have never thought she would be frightened. She doesn't look it. I know I am, but that's just me. Then again... Lord knows what we're coming up against. He decides to remain quiet and let Sakura talk to Feina. Not being even remotely close to the Shy Folk, he doesn't feel he can help much. But heaven help us if she gets hurt...

Sakura says, "Feina... Vash would agree with me, I think. I could never live with the guilt of knowing that you were hurt while you were out here with us..."

Feina looks between Douglas and Sakura. Her ears go back and her tail flicks back and forth a time or two. She bites her lip and clenches her fists a little, then seems to bring herself back in to control before she says something she might regret. "I want to go," she finally says, "-and everybody knows where we were going, and what might happen. I still want to go. If I go back, before you're out of the forests... it's not right. If you send me home, and something bad happens, I'll never know what, or if I could have helped, and I'll always wonder." By the end her voice has lowered, and for once she seems to be out of her usual fire.

Sakura looks over at Douglas... she wishes the Captain was here. Feina adds, "I promised Larrikan I'd make sure you were okay. How can I do that if I don't go?" She adds, "So, I'm going," and folds her arms and looks worriedly at Sakura and Douglas.

Douglas glances to Sakura. I wonder... is she now caught up in the quest, as well? He licks his lips, and says softly, "Feina... do you remember how sick you were on the trucks? Our ship... it'll be..." He tries to make a quick calculation, estimating mass and complexity of technology, and gives up. "It'll be a hundred times worse." He hesitates. "I don't know, it might... it might even, well, permanently hurt you... or worse." Hells, Doug... it might do that to you, as well. We were all being affected by the sickness in the trucks, as well.

Feina frowns at Douglas, and says, "Don't care. Wondering what happened would be worse."

Sakura chews her bottom lip. Feina is determined and stubborn... rather like some other foxes that she knows. "All right, Feina. Stay for now. But please, escape if it comes to that. Please." Douglas sighs quietly and looks to Sakura. I'll be as upset as you if anything happens to her, Doctor, believe me, he wants to say. But for the little vixen's sake, he doesn't. It would sound like trying to scare her.

The little vixen looks much relieved, murmuring, "If I escape you're all coming with me." After a moment or two she moves back to Sakura and takes her hand, apparently all being forgiven, even if Feina is still a little contemplative. Sakura keeps Feina's hand in hers but looks completely distracted and utterly worried.

Douglas blinks a little. What in the worlds did she mean by that? he wonders. He smiles to Feina, then looks to the two vixens. "I'm not sure about you two, but I think dinner is about ready to be served. Shall we find Pilot and get something to eat?"

Sakura nods at Douglas. "Good idea, Douglas-kun."

Douglas blinks to Sakura and smiles quietly, walking beside her. "'Douglas-kun'? It wasn't that long before that, I was 'Douglas-san.' Is there a difference?"

Sakura blinks up at Douglas and then blushes a little. "It's a little less formal, Douglas-kun, and indicates a friendship rather than the recipient's social superiority -- or it's used from older to younger in a friendly way."

Douglas rumblepurrs a bit, then smiles quietly. "I'm glad you think of us that way, as friends." He chuckles quietly. "Lord knows, we've been through enough." He tilts his head to the side then. "Thank you... Sakura-kun." He flubs the accent badly, of course, and doesn't get the pronunciation perfect.

Sakura grins at Douglas, "Kun is just for boys, Douglas-kun. Chan is the one for girls."

Douglas blinks, then laughs. "Oh, my. I'm sorry. 'Sakura-chan,' then?" Again, the pronunciation leaves a little to be desired; at least, he reasons, he's not asking for the nearest hotel.

Sakura smiles and says for Douglas, "Sakura-chan... almost right."

Douglas grins and nods, "Sakura-chan," he tries again. "If Pilot can say the drake's name after a day's practice..."

Sakura laughs, "Sakura-chan is much easier than Sch- the drake's name."

Douglas chuckles. "Just a little bit..." His nose twitches. "Oh! It smells like they're cooking... uhm... you know, I never got the name of the dish. But it's good, rust me!" Sakura looks at little dubious at the thought of food-without-name.


Kerry wanders the dark corridors of the trollhome, looking for Katla but alone with his thoughts for the moment. There are trollish youth, but not many given the number of them here... and not nearly as many infants as one might expect from the tech level and, well, exuberance of these folk. And the eldest among them are half-petrified, but they blame that on the Horn. None of them is decrepit. The realization finally sinks in, something that's been nibbling at the back of his brain for weeks now, ever since they arrived at the trollhome, and which has been growing stronger since Katla's offhand dismissal of a 'decade or two.' Bozhemoi. They're immortal, or near enough to make no difference to the likes of us. The demographics are right, and all the little hints... not very fertile, but they don't wear out. I'm not going to tell the others...

Katla doesn't come in until night is falling, having been out hunting or doing some other task for the trollhome. Dinner is well into preparation when Kerry finally finds her, headed out of the twisty warren of the back tunnels in the the common room. He grins and waves to Katla. "There you are! Busy day?"

Katla grins a wide grin -- doesn't seem she has any other kind -- and says, "Hiya, battie!" She heads over to him and gives him a gentle hug, only lifting him off the floor and squeezing a little. She says, "Good day, ja. Smoked meats for winter." She fuzzles his fur idly, adding, "Messy. You missed fun bath." She grins some more.

Kerry grins. "I'm sorry I missed it. I probably should take one tonight, since we're heading out tomorrow." He makes a point of checking behind her ears. "Maybe you could take another one?"

Katla laughs, "Ja, if like. You have good day? Still practice fight?"

Kerry nods. "Ja. Getting pretty good with the sling. I hope I won't actually have to use it, but I'd rather be prepared. No use heading into a possible fight already Winchester..." He realizes that the translator is not going to handle that bit of fighter-jockish. "Unarmed, that is."

Katla says, "Ja, good. Not smart go out unarmed. You know when you ready to go?"

Kerry skrees, "In the morning. It's time to get on with our quest. We'll be back at some point, at least long enough to drop off the Horn to Hallifred."

Katla ohs, then says, "Tomorrow?" She considers, then says, "Hallifred take horn, ja. Not good for others have, that clear."

Dinner soon pulls everyone's attention in, the trolls as usual enjoying it with gusto. As Douglas promised, the dish-with-an-unpronounceable-name (there's a reason he lost it!) is good. By the time dinner is over, Feina has forgiven Douglas and Sakura of any upset she had, and is sitting happily with Sakura. After dinner and skalding the group splits out into the now-comfortable groups of trolls and cats or bat, and foxes. Feina curls up to sleep with Sakura and Kawaii rather contentedly.

Kerry spends dinner sitting with Katla, feeding her tidbits and letting her return the favor, now that he's been around long enough to know which troll dishes he likes and which should be reserved for topping off Alshain's power plant. When the meal is over he grins to his companion. "Time for some fun, ja?"

Katla grins, and says, "Ja, if you going tomorrow, have fun now. Katla not think vixens share."

Sakura blushes! Kerry chuckles. "Kerry not ask vixens if they share or not. He likes his wings without tatters."

Feina merely looks fierce at Katla. Sakura grins at Feina. "It's okay, Feina." She settles down with the other vixen, curling around her to sleep.

Katla laughs and says, "Katla teasing! Is okay!" then cheerfully hauls Kerry off to someplace dark and quiet. Privacy isn't much on her list of requirements, although her usual nook is.

Much later, when Kerry and his paramour are quietly cuddling, the bat gets more serious than he has been. "Katla... may I ask you something?"

Katla, who is warm and relaxed now in the near total darkness, murmurs, "Ja?" Her voice conveys quiet curiosity, with lack of worry.

Kerry skrees, "We are heading out tomorrow on our quest. I think we can succeed -- for all of Crossroad's sake, I hope we do -- but I don't know if we'll all come through. And even if we do -- we'll be gone again soon enough. Even if we stay, we'll be gone soon enough by your standards. I will be lucky to see another sixty years, and my companions... half that, if they are lucky. Please... remember me. Remember us all."

Katla mmms, then says, "You near Horn. You talk to Hunt. Soon, you be in songs, and not forgotten." She runs her fingers over his long ears, gently, and says, "Is too bad so many live so fast," and seems to leave it at that.

Kerry chuckles, unwilling to maintain the solemnity of that moment. "How do you think we feel about it?" He stays with Katla until she falls asleep, then clambers up to his favorite perch, watching her breathe until he finally dozes off himself.

Douglas is this evening, probably to the consternation of some, not terribly sleepy or cuddly; he feels like his hackles are always rising. He begs off for a time, sitting outside a bit, probably some part of him thinking it's what should be done or it's the appropriate thing to ponder a quest before setting off on it. Reality comes for him, however, with a vengeance -- it isn't long before, sitting upon a rock beside the entrance to the warren, odd, buzzing-purring-snores might be heard, and some kindly soul perhaps rouses him enough to help him shuffle back inside. And the little kitten of his mind, tail curled around its nose in sleep, makes nary a comment to him.

The morning comes bright and clear, and the trolls get their usual tasks underway. Hallifred makes sure the crew has eaten a full meal and have supplies they need; Feina was terribly pleased to be able to help make sure they had appropriate food and gear. It is nearing noon by the time they are actually standing outside the trollhome with all their gear. Hallifred, Katla, and Svala have also come out to see them off.

Kerry has gotten a small rucksack modified to fit his body, so he can carry his share of gear -- the sling he wears like a headband, and a few missiles are easily accessible in a pouch hanging from the pack straps. Douglas has a roll or pack upon his back. He adjusts the cords which hold it there, trying to keep from twitching nervously. I'm glad I don't have a tail, he thinks. I'd probably whack Pilot most heavily if I did, I'm so nervous...

Feina is carrying a pack and quite upbeat and perky, which is apparently normal. She says, "Thank you, Hallifred, Svala, Katla!" and darts over to give each of them a quick hug, adding, "We'll be back!" and beaming energetically.

Sakura bids her farewells more subduedly. She's dreading this and it's rapidly becoming obvious to everyone around her. She's just as reserved as always... but somehow she's even more withdrawn. She bows politely to the trolls and thanks them for their generosity and help. Douglas follows Feina's lead, trying to be cheerful as he hugs them each in turn, submitting to the inevitable bone-crushing hug that is typical of trolls. He's nervous and frightened, but tries to hide it.

Hallifred says, "You come back, bring horn, tell us tale. Will be told many winters, ja."

Katla nods at this and adds, "Trolls not forget friends."

Kerry waits for Feina to finish, and bows formally to Hallifred and Svala, head low with wings spread. "Thank you for all your assistance, and for the training. We'll be back with it as soon as we can." The little bat straightens up again and pulls his wings in, then spreads them out again to enfold Katla in a hug. "We celebrate after, ja?"

Svala cautions, "Be careful. Fight if you must. If you do, do well. You can now. Not forget what we taught, or Svala be very unhappy, ja?"

Kerry grins at the Trollish weaponsmistress. "We'll do our best. We certainly wouldn't want you unhappy with us."

Hallifred nods, "Be careful." He then says, "Sooner go, sooner return." Having so said, he turns and goes back into the trollhome, the two younger trolls following, but smiling back and waving encouragingly. Shortly, the crew is alone.

Kerry nods to Feina. "Since you insist on coming with us, you might as well lead the way. You're our wilderness expert. Douglas lets out his breath, watching after the departing trolls as, for the first time in this quest, he feels alone. Even with the short quest for the pebbles at Swan Lake didn't have this weight. So alone... No, not alone! he chides himself, and turns to his crewmates. Not alone at all.

Feina snorts and tells Kerry, "That's why I'm here. Of course I lead," and does so. She takes her scouting seriously, staying a little ahead of the group to check things. Relatively frequently she adjusts their course a little bit, often to bring them alongside a stream for easier walking, or for other relatively harmless but helpful things.

Several days go by, with the crew walking south and east steadily, Feina stopping to ask Douglas where he is on his map, and telling him how far they have come each day. The land agrees with his calculations, and they skirt the edge of some mountains and wind up walking through foothills. The group settles into a steady and predictable routine: taking watches, taking care of the camp, and then walking for most of the day. Feina is not entirely inexhaustible, and at the end of the day even she is worn out, all too happy to snuggle up with Sakura and Kawaii next to the campfire, asking to hear of the crew's adventures here and, when she can, of the bizarre and incomprehensible ones from their home.

Sakura seems to take a genuine interest in glancing around at the forests around them and looking to see what's about, but she remains fairly quiet throughout the journey. Kerry isn't particularly fond of the journey, and finds himself missing Hotspur particularly. Bats are not built for walking across entire states. Douglas keeps a close track of their path on the map; he doesn't mark their route for fear of, if something should happen, their route being traced back to the trollhome. His agitation only increases as they near their goal, though he tries to distract himself from such thoughts when they rest.

After consulting the map with Douglas one evening, Feina beams at him and says, "Tomorrow afternoon, maybe next morning, depending on where we stop and how the land is! Isn't that wonderful? Are we in a hurry; should we work hard to get there tomorrow, or go more slowly and arrive rested?"

Sakura almost looks queasy at Feina's exclamation that getting closer to Drekaris is "wonderful." Douglas blinks. "Tomorrow? Uhm..." He glances to Vash. "I would recommend we get there slowly, rested, and cautious, Captain."

Vash concurs, "Yes, getting to unknown territory tired is probably a mistake." Douglas nods quietly.

Kerry also concurs. "We are not in so much of a hurry that we wish to arrive exhausted. We take it slowly, and cautiously, and scout the place as much as we can ahead of time."

Feina nods, "Okay!" Later, after dinner, she snuggles up with Sakura and says, "We're almost there! Isn't that good?" When Sakura stays tense, the young vixen snuggles some more, her nose working softly against the older vixen's fur. She says softly, "You smell afraid." Considering, Feina adds, "So did Douglas. "

Douglas bites his lip slightly. 'Good'? In that we might be able to end this soon, yes, it's good, but... I was never trained to go against a wizard! He glances slightly and a bit wryly to Feina as she notes his scent of fear. I figured my scent would get me into trouble. Heck, Annifred picked up on it well enough that one time... And despite the fear and muted terror his eartips pinken slightly and he tends studiously to the fire, the mind-kitten glad for the distraction.

Kerry wonders if it's a good idea to have a fire burning this close to their destination, but decides not to press the issue until after dinner is cooked. He picks a tree for the night, content to wait for his diurnal compatriots -- as long as he's got his dark goggles. Sakura says, "I am afraid, Feina. I'm very afraid... and the closer we get the more afraid I am..."

Feina stays as close to Sakura as Sakura will let her, which is probably pretty close, and considers for a long time, mulling over the idea that these powerful, strong people are afraid. She finally says, "You don't have to be afraid; you're not alone. You have friends to help overcome, and that makes all the difference." She nuzzles Sakura's cheek, adding, "You have me, too. We'll get your ship back. Will be okay." She wonders what else she could do to reassure them, but doesn't know.

Sakura smiles at Feina. "Thank you for your words, Feina... I do appreciate them. It just... doesn't make me much less afraid. It's irrational fear, I think."

Kerry mutters "Nothing irrational about it..." from overhead.

Feina says, "Drekaris is just a local thug, anyway, who's gotten too big for his britches. He's just a mean human, and it's a good thing for him he hasn't done anything to the trolls we just left, or they'd have had his head on a spike." She giggles, adding, "Cheerfully had his head on a spike, but there it would be. I like the trolls." Sakura smiles at Feina.

Douglas says, "I wish I could make myself believe that, Feina. But everything we've heard about the Hunt... and with him controlling it..."

Kerry nods. "This is exactly it. He's a two-bit thug, but he's acquired something extremely dangerous. He's a two-bit thug with a thermonuclear missile squadron at his command."

Feina takes the moment to give Sakura a shy little kiss, then cuddle up with her happily. She says, "You'll take care of him," then adds firmly, "We'll take care of him." That is, as far as she's concerned, the end of the discussion.




Last modified: 2001-Aug-19 23:17:02

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