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    The dawn comes uneventfully, and the crew begins walking again towards where their map says the shuttle was. Feina is leading the way, scouting ahead and most of the time out of sight and stealthy, although it's not clear if she's doing that on purpose, or just being careful. The walk is easy and the forest pleasant.

The party catches up with Feina, who has come out to the path and is waiting for them. She is standing alert, seeming to look or listen or try and scent something. She waves everyone forward to her and asks, unconsciously whispering, "Do you feel that?"

Sakura comes towards Feina... then stands with her head tilted to one side, quiet, trying to figure out what Feina is feeling. She shrugs, "I'm sorry, Feina-chan. I don't feel anything out of sorts."

Kerry peers out from behind dark goggles and pings away in ultrasound. "Nothing out of the ordinary. Why?"

Vash shakes his head. "No... but something's up."

Douglas blinks, looking around. He frowns slightly, trying to feel any breeze ruffling his fur, or cold or... no, wait... He shivers slightly. It isn't temperature. It isn't an electrical charge, or anything like that. It's something... a bit more primal. He shakes his head. No... it's nothing. It's just worry... But then, his mind-kitten mewls, why would Feina feel that, as well? "Something... I can't explain it. What is it, Feina?"

Vash semiconsciously curls his fingers around the grip of his sword. "Something's definitely up."

Feina takes Sakura's hand and says, "Maybe you were right to be worried. It doesn't feel good here." Her nose works and she adds, "I don't know why. I don't smell anything bad... no predators; nothing seems out of place. It just feels wrong."

Sakura smiles a little at Feina. "Well... wrong as it may be, we have no choice now... we have to go on. My offer still stands, though. You don't have to come with us."

Kerry frowns. "How close should we be to Alshain?"

Douglas bites his lip quietly and nods in agreement to Sakura. "Doctor is right..." He almost adds, much as I hate to admit it, but he restrains himself; there's no use to being negative. He looks to Kerry, then checks the map he's been following. "Give me a moment to figure it out, Pilot..." The cougar shakes his head. "One to ten miles, it looks like. I can't pinpoint it any closer. Maybe if I had a differential GPS receiver corrected for... uhm, right. That is the best I can do..."

Feina glares at Sakura and says, "No! I won't be left behind." When Douglas answers the young vixen nods and says, "We're getting there. Let's go." Keeping Sakura's hand, and staying with the group, she continues on.

Kerry peers at the map. "Thought so... we're just about on top of the footprint. I wonder if that's what you're feeling."

Douglas frowns. "I hope not. We'll never be able to get close to it..."

Vash keeps his hand on his sword. He frowns, and picks up his pace a little. "We'll find out."

The bat absently reaches up and unwraps his sling-headband. "Indeed. Let's finish this." Sakura sniffs a little at the air and glances around uncertainly at her teammates.

The party continues up a gentle rise. At the top of the rise the trees break into a clearing. Whether or not the little depression was made or just happened that way, it is a pleasant clearing. A stream runs along one side of it, and at the far end of it is a building made of local stones. Smoke drifts out of its chimney. Sitting in almost the center of the clearing, white and pristine as it was when the crew left it, Alshain shines in the sun, apparently unharmed. The nose faces the house and the passenger entry is on the far side. The cargo ramp at the rear is closed and unguarded.

Feina makes sure everyone isn't plainly visible, then whispers, "That's it, isn't it?"

Douglas hesitates visibly, then reaches up and slips the sheath from the naginata's blade. He squints at the ship, trying to spot whatever is keying in at the pad. He drops his voice to a whisper. "That it is, Feina," he whispers. "We should circle around to the entry, see what's there..."

Kerry skrees, "Head for the center of the footprint, I'd guess, and spiral out from..." his voice trails off as he sees the shuttle and takes cover from any possible guards.

The corner of Vash's mouth turns up slightly, and he chuckles softly under his breath, "Well... hello, señora. Circle around toward the cargo entry; stay in the tree line. Douglas, keep that thing down unless you need it. We don't want any flashing metal to give us away... just in case."

Feina looks at the shuttle, her nose twitching in the air, then says, "There are guards. Let me see if I can find them."

Kerry hisses. "This is bait. We can't take the ship until we've broken his grip on the Hunt. Where's the Horn likely to be?"

Vash says quietly, "I'm aware of the situation, Pilot. We're examining the clearing from cover first. Now move out." His tone of voice does not leave room for argument. Sakura gets her sword into quick reach range and follows the others through the trees, quietly as she can... Kerry nods and follows, staying in cover well back from the edge of the clearing.

Feina follows along with the crew, almost absently moving more easily than they do through the woods. Her nose works, and she occasionally steps out of cover to scent something and look at tracks. As the group moves so it is directly behind the shuttle, Feina murmurs, "Guards walk the perimeter every hour or so. They're due any time."

Vash says, "Drop back several more yards and stay down. We'll let them pass if we can." The sun has made its way overhead, a warm noontime. The forest is quiet and shadowed compared to the bright light of the clearing. Feina nods at Vash's suggestion and urges people into the darkness, to stay down and quiet. Sakura follows the Captain's instructions. She backs away to where he indicates and comes down to ground level.

Kerry mutters darkly, "And if they're not looking for tracks..." but moves back into the forest.

Vash breaks the silence just once to say, still very softly, "Discussion later, Kerry; shut the fuck up on the field."

Douglas nods quietly, lowering the blade so it's down near the ground and not visible. He nods to Feina also, letting out a breath, "We should hide, then," he says quietly, "-and wait until they pass." The cougar nods to Vash, starting to move back into the underbrush. He glances to Sakura as they move back. "Are you all right, Sakura-chan?" he whispers quietly to her.

Sakura nods at Douglas, eyes a little wide, though it's probably from alertness rather than fear. Douglas's ears twitch as he catches Vash's order and he falls silent, only nodding quietly to Sakura, smiling. He glances back towards the field, his ears perked and keeping all his senses alert towards where the guards will be walking by.

Kerry nods at the armadillo's order. A moment later he turns his head, pivoting his ears toward a distant sound. He mouths nearly silently, "They're coming," and extends two fingers. Feina is just starting to look worried that she's made a mistake when her ears prick up and she nods at Kerry, who is looking off to one direction, having heard something before she did. She stays still and quiet, and moments later everyone can hear walking feet coming around the clearing.

Vash nods, gesturing the party to the ground before going nearly flat in the undergrowth. Sakura goes as flat against the ground as she can. She puts her chin to the ground and flattens her ears. Two shadows pass the hidden crew, not slowing as they go by. They seem to be humans, wearing armor and carrying swords and looking as if they're bored out of their minds. One of them sighs and comments, "Yeah, I know. This isn't the worst part either," as the two guards walk past.

Douglas drops flat, covering the blade with the sheath quickly but quietly. Shouldn't have taken the sheath off so soon, blast it! he thinks harshly to himself. His ears flick as he catches the... the humans' conversation. What could they be talking about...? he thinks. What's worse than them walking around and guarding the Alshain? Kerry listens as they pass, hoping for an elaboration from the guard. Go on, groundling... what else don't you like?

A couple of minutes pass, with only the wind making any sound in the forest. Feina nudges Vash and gestures outwards, looking inquisitively at him, apparently asking, Shall I see? Vash nods. "Don't go far, niña. Keep your head down." Sakura turns her head slowly to look over at the Captain... Vash says, "And come right back to us, you see anything."

Douglas's heart seems to leap into his throat, and he opens his mouth... then shuts it. Vash knows how dangerous it is, he thinks. And if anyone can escape notice it's someone who's one of the 'Shy Folk.' If anything, we're hampering her style. This seems to comfort him somewhat, but he can't hide a look of worry.

Kerry has obviously been listening to the guards even after they've gone out of earshot for everyone else. "Hmm. Something they don't like that they take turns on. They didn't say what, though. Maybe they take turns trying to open the door... or maybe something else."

Feina slithers lithely away, vanishing easily in to the underbrush. Her fox-markings suddenly reveal why they're in that pattern; she vanishes in the underbrush. Nature serves her well. A couple more tense moments pass before she comes back, still carefully, and says quietly, "They walked around the clearing. One is doing something by the ship, and the other watches. I don't know what, I couldn't see."

Sakura frowns at Feina's words. What are they doing there? Vash nods. Taking turns at the keypad? He whispers, "Watch it a few moments more, niña... see if they leave together or if there's always one guard."

Douglas blinks a little, then drops his voice as well. "That doesn't make sense, Pilot. The keypad's been worked on almost constantly since it's been moved here. Unless our thoughts of a golem of some sort are, well, wrong."

Kerry mutters, "Maybe they've got to feed it or something. We need to get around the other side, I think, and see what's happening."

Douglas glances to Feina, whispering, "Did you see anything unusual about the person at the ship, Feina?"

Feina brightens at the assignment, and darts away again. She's gone for longer before she comes back. This time she talks more normally, and says, "I went a little further around. One of them stood and did something at the side, which I don't understand. There's a big thing there that isn't white like the rest of the ship. The other just stayed back and watched. Eventually, they both went in to the house down there. I think there are maybe six different guards, from the scents around the clearing." She adds, "I didn't scent any others anywhere nearby, though. I didn't go see if they were all in the house."

Vash frowns. "A big thing?"

Douglas blinks. "That could be the golem we've been talking about..."

Feina nods and says, "It's kind of a big triangular thing sitting on the ground that looks like it leans up against the side of the shuttle. The guard did something at the bottom of it for a while. I've never seen anything like it before. It's brown, like it's made of wood."

Sakura raises an eyebrow, "A cage, perhaps?"

Vash hms. "You did good, Feina." He turns to the others, "We'll circle around to that side and see if we can get a better look while the guards are still in the house."

Kerry chuckles softly. "Maybe just a platform. Or... Feina, what exactly was the guard doing? Did it look like he was turning something?"

Feina doesn't know if Sakura is right, shrugging. She answers Kerry's question with a quick nod and, "Maybe. It was hard to say."

Sakura nods at Vash. "Ready when you are, Sir."

Douglas frowns slightly. "We'll know soon enough." He nods to Vash. "That sounds good, Captain."

Vash says, "Let's move."

Kerry grins. "Turning, or pulling, or winding something. It's not a golem, it's clockwork."

Moving around the outside of the clearing, there is no sign of any other guards. Feina sniffs at the trail, looks around, and keeps moving along quietly. As the crew circles, they can see the big thing Feina described. From any distance it's difficult to say what it is, except that it covers the passenger access door.

Douglas squints slightly. Clockwork, he thinks to himself. I can see that, but... that's still technology, isn't it? It's... if anything, it's Drekaris' technological answer to a magical golem... and in that sense... even worse than a golem. For Crossroads.

Sakura says, "Captain?"

Vash huhs. "Looks like a jetway."

Kerry tries to make out the thing, commenting, "It does, doesn't it? How are we going to go in? Humans aren't at their best at night. Wait until dark? We probably need to capture one to find out where His Nibs is hiding out."

Vash says, "Normally I'd agree with you. But I'm worried about," he glances behind him into the deeper forest, "-environmental factors, this far out at night."

Feina says, "Usually our fire keeps the worst away. Would we want a fire this close?" She looks nervously at the big white shuttle.

Kerry skrees, "Definitely not. Might as well walk in waving a flag."

Vash says, "We'll wait for twilight, yes."

Kerry nods, reluctantly. "True. Dusk, perhaps?" Douglas nods quietly, and glances up to the sky, swallowing. It's for real this time, Douglas... no, don't think of it... Sakura chews on her bottom lip... she stays quiet, though. They're right, without a doubt. Dusk is best.

Vash says, "I can fight best just after sunset. Do any of you have a problem with this plan? Now's the time to speak up."

Douglas shakes his head, "I have decent night-vision, Captain. It isn't my ideal environment, but I imagine it's better than the humans'."

The day progresses slowly, especially with the crew trying to be quiet and alert. About every hour the guards circle the clearing again. More bits of conversation, all of it unimportant, get overheard. Dusk begins to fall over the clearing and the anxiously waiting crew. Finally Vash looks up through the tree line. "It's time now. Let's get moving... we'll take the patrol while they're farthest from the house. Quietly, if at all possible. Leaves us the option to fade back into the trees if the situation turns."

Sakura puts her hand on the hilt of her sword and follows behind the Captain, ears turning this way and that, listening to out-of-place noises. Douglas keeps the sheath upon the blade of the naginata as he follows along after Sakura and Vash, ready to flip the sheath off and... I'm not ready for this...




Last modified: 2001-Aug-20 01:06:37

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