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In the Hall of the Mountain King

    The crew quickly arms themselves from the ship's locker, and restock the consumables, taking the time to pick up some more of the things they wished they'd had along since they left. Feina spends the time peering carefully into the ship, standing on the edge of the lowered cargo ramp as if she's not really sure she should go in any farther. It takes perhaps an hour to get everything ready, and night has settled over the land.

Kerry has a thought towards the end of the outfitting and heads back to the command deck. If it is one of the Texans, might be useful to know who it is and what their training was. He downloads all the data available on the two Texas missions into his own datapad computer.

Douglas steps down off the ramp, patting himself down to make sure he has everything he might possibly need from the shuttle. A toolkit feels good after carrying only the spanner for so long. Well, this is it, he thinks. We're on the last... well, hold on now, are we even close to finishing this? Maybe not. He sees Feina standing there, and mindful of the Shy Folks'... dissonance with technology, he smiles to her and asks, "How are you feeling, Feina?"

Feina shrugs and says, "Kind of funny." She looks around and says, "It's big. And metal."

Douglas nods quietly, standing by her. After riding in that trollish four-by-four, I don't blame her. "Well... we're not staying long here." He smiles to her. "If you feel funny again, let us know, okay?" That could very well mean that Drek's little friend is nearby.

Vash spends a few moments rearranging his gear, moving the sword up over one shoulder, leaving it vertical. He checks the rifle's action once, quickly, and moves down to the head of the ramp. "Are we ready? Let's get this over with." More Texans. God damn every one that ever lived... I can't get rid of you cabrones, no matter where I go... it's like having a rash.

Kerry rejoins the group at the cargo door. "All set. If it turns out to be a Texan expatriate, I've got their vital statistics right in here. Are we ready to go?"

Sakura nods, having picked up more of the things from the medical supply and restocked her bag. She also takes a pistol and clips for it, showing she knows their use, if not enthusiasm for them. She was first ready but lingers near Feina, looking anxiously out at the darkening field. Vash says, "If it is a Texan expatriate, I don't plan on leaving him in anything resembling vital condition."

Kerry wiggles his fingers. "Never can tell. Might be magical."

Vash says, "Coming from you, I'm gonna take that as a joke."

Kerry chuckles. "Seriously, if we can ID the fellow, we might be able to learn his expertise fields."

Douglas blinks and snorts softly, albeit worriedly. "Though... it's something to worry about, Captain. If he's been here long enough he might have learned some magic. But probably not enough to be a threat; and if he's had to concentrate on technology as well, we're given to understand that magic and technology don't mix in either direction."

Vash starts down the ramp. "Honestly, Kerry, I don't care what his expertise is. I want to find out what he knows about Drekaris and why we're on this planet. Beyond that, maybe I'll give him to Zildjian to use for a hand puppet."

Kerry shrugs. "Let's find out what we can find out, then. Maybe we can make a nice throw rug out of him when we're done. Shall we?"

Vash says, "Let's move it out." Douglas nods. Vash reaches the bottom of the ramp, and pauses. "Feina... stay close to us, please. I don't know what's in there but it's certain they aren't going to be happy to see us." He leads the group in the direction of the darkened manor house. "Stay alert, all of you."

Kerry jumps from the top of the cargo ramp, intending to glide from there, but lands rather sooner -- and rather more heavily -- than he expected. Uh-oh... the feather doesn't much like Alshain. Vash calls over his shoulder, "Douglas. Button the ship up? Our friends might not have taken our offer to seek new employment seriously."

Douglas walks with the others, cautiously and slowly, towards the manor house. He keeps his naginata at the ready; the sheath covering the blade unbuckled but on the blade, to keep the blade from reflecting any light. The spanner, for some reason, he left in his boot just in case; it's just been too long that he's had it there; it seems like second nature. But he keeps the rest of his tool kit available. Who knows? he thinks. It might just come in handy to sabotage anything this guy might have.

He casts a clearly unwistful glance over his shoulder at the shuttle, then perks his ears to Vash. "I'm on it, Captain." He goes to the cargo bay ramp, keying in the code that will retract it and lock it, sealing the shuttle again. Well, girl, he thinks to the shuttle, we're off again. Hard to believe we once were so eager to find you. Now... now I'm kinda weirdly ambivalent that we did. It's nothing against you, it's just.... He has a brief moment, remembering the warmth of the trollhome, then he shakes his head and closes the cover to the keypad. Enough, he thinks. We have work to do! He pats the shuttle once, then turns and, without looking back, jogs to catch up to the others.

Vash leads the small group ahead into the dark, past the guardhouse and the small line of trees separating the manor yard from the clearing. He thumbs the light under his rifle for a moment, sweeping it across the space between the trees, then thumbs it off again. He frowns a little. No dice. Figured they'd string some line or something through here. Maybe I'm getting paranoid. Hrm. Trust my own eyes from now on. Kerry is back in mission mode as they head toward the manor house. He is quite happy in darkness, ultrasonic pings and night-pupiled eyes making things clear for him. He winces at the flash of light as the Captain uses the rifle-flash.

The cougar winces a little as the light flashes, but it doesn't hurt what nighttime vision he has overly much; shortly after, his eyes adjust again. But he keeps his other senses alert as well, hearing and little-used smell, too. He tries to let the nature of the place speak to him, to his genetic heritage, like it has once in a while here on Crossroads already. Something... something seems to be telling him, or maybe it's his imagination, that his heritage, that of the cougar and not some short-lived overly hairy person trained to be a human, is what he shall need most...

The manor house seems large, quiet, and dark. It has two wings meeting at a central hall with an entry of large wooden doors. Smaller doors lead by the stable into the far end of one wing, which has less regularly spaced windows and more chimneys. The stables seem quiet and empty, and the house seems dark. No light shows in the windows, or smoke comes from the chimneys.

Douglas crouches as they near the manor, narrowing his eyes slightly. What is it that they say that's cliché? 'It's quiet, too quiet.' Now I know what they mean for certain. Vash pauses, observing the front door, then turns to the crew. "Let's hit the stable side first," he murmurs, "This here smells like encirclement." Douglas nods quietly, his whiskers twitching.

Feina moves nearly silently through the tree line and quickly across the open space to the house, peeking in one of the windows curiously. She looks at Vash, wondering which way to go in. Kerry nods, whispering back, "Seems crazy to leave the whole place untended..."

Vash nods, and waves the group around to the stable side. "We'll start at that end and work across."

Kerry checks the manor house walls as they get closer. "Captain... I think I can climb that. Shall we go in a window?"

Vash says, "Why?"

Kerry blinks. "Well... outflank them?"

Nothing seems to move or react to the crew's stealthy creeping over to the doors. Peering inside reveals a dim hearth and cabinets. Feina begins peering at the door, and whispers, "I think I can open this." Douglas blinks, glancing over to Feina, then looking to Vash for his call.

Vash says, "Outflank who? And with what? Just you? Besides... I'd rather secure at least one entrance, in case it becomes necessary to leave in a hurry."

Kerry nods. "Just a thought." He checks the perimeter again, waiting for Feina to open the door.

Vash moves to behind and a little to one side of Feina. "Open it," he says, lifting the rifle to his shoulder. "I'll cover you." Douglas slips to the side of the door, holding his naginata at the ready, one of his hands baring his claws, one eye on Vash in case he wants a silent takedown of whomever might be on the other side of the door. He blinks to himself. Where the hell did that thought come from?

Feina works quietly at the door, looking quite determined. Long moments pass, and she works her dagger tip gently amidst the lock and turns quietly several times. Finally there is a gentle scraping, and then she pushes the door. Nothing happens. She fiddles with the latch for another moment, frowning, and pushes again -- and the door slides inwards a couple of inches, creaking softly. At the sound she freezes, listening. Douglas tenses, his breath catching in his throat, half-leaning forward to leap in. Vash remains still as a statue, eyes on the small wedge of darkness beyond the door.

Feina steps back from the door, very slowly, and lets the two larger and sturdier folks have clear access. She looks behind them, in the direction of the guard shack, her whiskers flickering nervously. Kerry turns at the sound, then turns back to 'watch' for movement in the surrounding clearing.

Nothing continues to happen.

Vash says. "Douglas. Reach over and push it open. I've got it covered." Douglas swallows slightly and nods. He crouches low, standing by the side with the hinges, and considers for a moment. He uses the butt of the naginata to reach across the door, levering it open slowly and trying to not make any sounds as he looks into the room beyond.

The door does not cooperate with Douglas' wish for quiet, creaking clearly in the quiet night. Nothing seems to mind, though, and the crew can see into a room with a flagstone floor and dim shapes lurking near the edges. The bat can see that it's a kitchen, with a couple of large flat tables, an oddly empty space, and a large stone hearth and ovens, as well as a big stockpile of wood for the fire. No lights or fire is lit, and the room seems cold and smells a little musty.

Douglas' ears perk, and his whiskers twitch nervously. He glances to Vash. "Captain," he murmurs, "I have a feeling that whatever was here, was a long time ago. This isn't a room used recently." Feina sniffsniffs and nods, silently agreeing with Douglas.

Vash says, "We'll go room by room, just the way we did now. If anything is here, we'll find it. If not... then hey, we all get to go home early. Drinks on me for your troubles, even."

Kerry skrees, "Strange. Why the empty patch? Those guards were definitely scared of something."

Inside, it's too dark for anyone but Kerry to see clearly. Vash says, "Kerry, I'm going to turn the light on now. You might want to look away."

Kerry closes his eyes. "I'm set. Light away, if you insist."

Vash thumbs the light on. "It's not a matter of insistence," he says softly, stepping past the threshold, "But Sakura and I can't shoot at something only you can see." Kerry chirrips a brief chuckle and turns back to watch the outside. Vash makes a brief sweep of the room, playing the light over the walls and furniture, looking for another exit.

The room, lit, reveals that it is indeed a kitchen. The hearth is unlit and seems clean. The woodbox is loaded and ready, and several pots and pans are hanging on hooks. The beams of light from the flashlights reveal dust on everything. The odd, empty space seems the size of the other big tables, like one has been removed. There is a door leading farther into the house on the other side of the room, and a walk-in pantry, which might have a cellar.

Douglas enters, following quietly behind Vash, and trying not to bump up against the Captain. Kerry waits for Sakura and Feina to enter, then brings up the rear. The outside remains quiet as far as he can tell.

After everyone's entered, Kawaii slips almost startlingly out of the night, a black piglet from shadow, and snorts once, quietly but firmly, as he lies down across the doorway. Anyone unfriendly trying to set up an ambush, or flee past him will certainly be noticed -- especially when they trip! Kerry chuckles to himself at Kawaii's attitude, then peers into the pantry. Douglas glances to Kawaii, blinking, then grins -- couldn't have asked for a better or more innocuous guard.

Vash waves Douglas over toward the pantry. "Let's have a look here." Douglas nods, and moves quietly over to the door of the pantry, taking a similar position as he took with the outside door, standing on the side with the hinges, ready to unlatch the door then move it open with the butt of his naginata.

The pantry is very much like the rest of the room so far... a bit dusty, mostly empty, the few lingering scents rather old. The few tubers found look more like they're returning to a more natural state... than something you'd want to eat. Vash hms. "Nothing here. C'mon. We'll keep moving." He moves to the next door, just the same as before. Douglas frowns, and nods to Vash, doing the same routine, trying not to get complacent. This place hasn't been lived in, in a while. What gives? Kerry also is puzzled by the general air of neglect. No servants, nothing. What the heck is going on here?

The door opens, quietly this time, and reveals what might be another dormitory, with several beds and wardrobes along one wall. The beds are bare and a thin layer of dust continues to cover things. There is a fireplace sharing the kitchen's chimney, also unlit. A door on the far side of the room leads out into the main house proper. Kerry chirrs quietly. "You think he just doesn't like servants? This is weird."

Vash moves slowly forward, playing the light along each bed. "We'll find out." He takes up a place in front of the far door. "Douglas."

Douglas straightens slightly, frowning. Are we even in the right place? he thinks. It's like nobody's been here! "I don't know, did the guards down near Alshain see an hologram of this place of some sort? But, no, why would our guy make some sort of illusion for just guards...?" He nods to Vash, and performs the same operation on the door.

Feina sniffsniffs and creeps into the room, peeking into one of the wardrobes. She turns back and murmurs, "Empty. No one here. The stables were empty, too."

The far door opens into a great entry hall, and the entryway from the main doors. The hall has several doors and tall windows, which would let in a lot of light during the day to show off the paintings on the far wall and the fine workmanship. There are a couple of sets of double doors on the far wall, and another small door at the far end of the hall, as well as the door out. Dust has settled on the woodwork and on the few pieces of furniture here. Douglas shakes his head slowly. "Captain... the guards at the shuttle did say that the Master lived here, didn't they?"

Vash says, "They said it belonged to him. We're here for information anyway, Douglas. He might've left something behind even if he's pulled up stakes."

Douglas nods quietly. "Good point. We should sweep the house, then check for things like secret doors? Mad wizards always had secret doors. In the movies I saw in college, anyway."

Kerry looks a bit skeptical. "If he was ever here in the first place. I think we should go find the guards and ask them exactly what he showed them about tracking them down -- and where it was."

Vash moves to the first door in the far wall. "I think this guy's a mad engineer, Doug."

Kerry grimaces. "Lovely. They always had booby traps in the movies."

Douglas says dryly, "The same thing, isn't it? One works with magic, the other with mechanism...." He moves to the door with Vash.

Vash says, "Same thing? Heh. You have been here too long, Douglas..." He grins. "Push it."

Douglas blinks to Vash, wondering why -- oh, right. He grins a little. "Maybe I have, Captain." He nods, and pushes open the door.

Opening the set of double doors reveals something unusual. A large room, which has obviously had a wall removed from between a sitting room or dining room and a library, which were the large double doors from the main hall. Half of the room was obviously library, and is still lined with filled bookshelves, and carpeted. The other half of the room has great hanging chandeliers, which are unlit, and hang over a hardwood floor, with finely papered walls and portraits.

The sharp division shows where a wall was removed, and a couple of big posts put in to make sure the roof stayed up. The far wall has some large windows, which show the dim outlines of stars. The library's tables are pushed together in one place, covered in papers and notes written in a meticulous hand, and diagramming all sorts of strange things. They seem to be plans, filled with gears and weights.

Vash says, "Bingo."

The former dining room has several large tables in it, one matching the apparently missing one from the kitchens, one the fine table from that room, now badly scratched, and another pulled in from somewhere. These are filled with bits of gears, wood, wood chips and shavings, chisels, saws, and other woodworking tools, and stains and oils to finish them. There are several freestanding frames, filled with gearing, of which the purpose isn't clear.

Douglas blinks, looking around. "Oh, my...." He looks around carefully for any traps or tripwires or even laser trips, before moving towards the tables filled with gears. "Clockwork," he murmurs. "You were right, Pilot."

Kerry perks up. "Indeed. This looks more promising. Let's see what he's got here." He moves toward the table slowly, also checking for traps as he goes. Vash also moves very carefully toward the other table, the one filled with papers, picking his way slowly across the floor. Douglas looks around, and moves towards one of the tables with all the papers on it, trying to glean what this 'mad engineer' was perhaps plotting out.

The papers consist of many diagrams, in detail, of either metal parts or single gears, sometimes of complex assemblies. There is some writing, which none of the crew can read, as the translators don't cope with writing. Feina, when asked, shrugs and doesn't read. Sakura can't make heads or tails of it, either. Other papers contain mostly writing, in an oddly organized way. Sakura points to one of the sheets more filled with words, and asks, "Doesn't this look vaguely familiar to anyone? It reminds me of something, but I can't place what."

Douglas frowns, looking over at the sheet that Sakura is pointing at. "Let me see...."

The sheet seems to have several lines on it, on one side, with a column of other characters off to the other side. Some have things marked across them. Kerry comes over to look as well. "Almost looks like a spreadsheet, or maybe accounting. An invoice, maybe?" The other sheets seem to have a large picture of a gear or assembly, and clearly recognizable (at least to the engineer) dimensioning lines, and well as a lot of other words and notations, often pointing at parts of the diagram.

Douglas says, "Or a checklist..."

Sakura says, "Yes, maybe that's it, Kerry-san." She puzzles at the words, then says, "But what for, I couldn't say."

Kerry skrees, "Not without being able to read the script, no. Take it with us, I guess."

Douglas frowns slightly, "What if he finds it missing?"

Kerry skrees, "Does this look at all like bits and pieces of the big clockwork automatic door opener?"

Vash says, "We were looking for him anyway. We'll take it all with us."

Kerry chuckles. "Then he'll know we were here. I think Alshain being missing might clue him in."

Douglas frowns slightly, looking around, then looks at the sheets of paper, his gaze going back and forth between them. "It's... hard to say. Looks like there are multiple mechanisms being built here, judging by the diagrams. One or two things on each. They all come together, apparently. These... the machines here. They're measuring, or counting clockworks. It's really very masterfully done; the workmanship is impressive, and to be able to do all this with wood... but that writing certainly isn't in Texan drawl. Unless it's some odd sort of shorthand."

Kerry shrugs. "Be that as it may. I suspect we're going to have to open the passenger lock and let that gadget call the fellow here, if it will. There doesn't seem to be a horn anywhere around here."

Douglas nods slowly. "On the plus side, I don't see anything here that suggests he knows more than just clockwork. But I don't want to make the mistake of underestimating him. It'd be just our luck to run into his version of a giant clockwork fighting robot."

Kerry sighs. "Finish checking the place, I'd suggest. There might be something else here." Douglas nods quietly.

Vash says, "We'll come back to this. Let's finish sweeping the house, and then we'll take the rest of this back with us. Maybe the University can help us." He sighs. "I really gotta learn to read," then mutters, moving toward the next door, "...four years in college, and I'm back at fucking Sesame Street level."

Douglas nods quietly, "As I do, Captain. How do you think I feel? These are engineering diagrams -- you and I would think that they should be universal, but I have no idea what this madman is doing."

Kerry chuckles. "It's not quite that bad. We can keep notes for ourselves; we're just not mutually literate with the locals. You'd be no worse off at home in China."

Slow and careful exploration of the rest of the house reveals some very ornate and tasteful bedrooms, all of which are unoccupied, and don't look as if they have been in ages -- perhaps longer than the rest of the building has been unused. Vash brings the rest of the crew back to the main library area. "All right. No one home... I've had one last thought before we leave." Douglas tilts his head to Vash inquiringly.

When she comes back to the library, Feina comments, "It's like nobody had used the bedrooms in even longer than the rest of the building."

Kerry nods. "Strange, that. You think there might be secret chambers somewhere?"

Vash says, "Doctora, Pilot, could you see to getting the papers and other bits together to be taken out of here?" Sakura nods, and starts to gather papers up, sorting them all in to neat stacks. Vash turns to Feina, "Do you know anything about secret doors, niña?"

Kerry nods. "On it, Captain."

Vash says, "Thank you, Pilot."

Feina looks furtively around and says, "Maybe."

Vash smiles a little. "Do you think you could help me and Douglas look for some?" Feina nods energetically! She'd be happy to.

Some time later, Vash takes a deep breath, the search having produced no results. Feina comes back kind of dejectedly, meeting Douglas and Vash in the library, "Nothing, Vash."

Vash sighs, "Ah, well. When we get back, niña, I'll take you for another walk for your troubles, all right?"

Feina smiles, then sits on one of the tables, "What now? How will you keep the Hunt from taking the ship again?"

Douglas lets out a breath. "We'll need to hide it. Can anything be hidden from the Hunt, though?" Feina shakes her head no.

Vash shoulders the rifle and folds his arms. "Don't know, Feina. For right now we'll try to find out what we can from this one's papers, and hope it turns up a better lead." He grins, "If all else fails, we burn this place to the ground and see if he notices."

Douglas sighs and nods to Feina, then blinks to Vash. "That might not be wise, Captain. The fire might be uncontrollable with nobody around to fight it. I wouldn't want to be the one to explain that to the dryads."

Vash grins. "I'm just kidding, Doug."

Douglas blinks, then grins a little. "Right. Sorry, Captain."

Kerry chuckles. "The clockwork might call him -- wasn't there a log that was leaning against the airlock to hold the door open once it hit on the right combination?

Vash says, "How exactly does a log serve as a signaling device, Pilot? Unless that thing's magical, and it doesn't look it to me."

Douglas frowns slightly, "It could just be something to jam the door open..."

Kerry skrees, "No idea. It might be just a jammer, but then how would he know when to show up?"

Vash says, "Maybe he doesn't... and that's why he's got to jam the door open. Regardless... let's get our stuff together and take Alshain back. We'll probably have to park it someplace outside of town, but let's get it away from here."

Kerry skrees, "Sounds like a plan. We can stay on board in case someone comes calling again."

Douglas nods slowly, thinking. "True.. though I don't think I want to be on board when the entire Hunt comes calling to take it back."

Vash says, "So let's go see to that clockwork monster and go home. I'm exhausted; we can think about this after we've rested."

Last modified: 2001-Aug-24 23:13:38

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