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Reconnoitering -- and Capture

    Having reconnoitered the house and discovered nothing terribly conclusive, the crew now seems to have full run of the abandoned manor, the emptied guard shack, and their own shuttle, the Alshain. While exploring the house, the big weights in the clockwork monster against the side of the ship have lowered to the ground. The gears have stopped moving, and it sits, quiescent.

Vash squints. "Doug, did you stop the machine?"

Kerry skrees, "I think the guards ran off without winding it. Remember, they said three times a day they had to?"

Douglas frets slightly, shaking his head. "No, it just hasn't been wound yet... I guess the weights ran out. Erm... you don't think that's alerted their... their Master, somehow, do you? He did tell them to reset it every day, but didn't say he'd know right away if they didn't..."

Vash shrugs, shouldering his rifle. "Hope it does. I'd love to get this over with soon. Doctora, Feina, have we got all the documents loaded?"

Kerry skrees, "Well, if he does show up, I think we want to be on board. Shall we?" Douglas moves to the machine, being very careful, looking around it for an access panel of some sort, his nose twitching slightly. I wonder if there'd be any way I could sense magic? No, this most likely isn't... constant contact with the Alshain would probably make magic go badly, so I doubt this is magical in any way... I think.

Sakura says, "Not yet, Sir... but we can do it quickly. Shall we?"

Vash says, "Yes, let's take everything out of the library; the gears, the tools, and all the plans and documentation. Someone back in town has to know how to decipher them." Sakura grabs Feina's hand and goes to the library with her to begin loading up the documents that her Captain wants. Vash goes along with to help, as it appears that there's nothing left to do here.

Kerry nods. "With a little help from our engineer, at least." He steps outside again, to listen in the darkness for the possible approach of anything, hostile or otherwise.

Douglas nods, satisfied that everything in the mechanism is actually mechanical; nothing seems to be a magical bit. "This looks like it's pure tech, Captain," he says to Vash. "Should we take it as well?"

Vash calls over his shoulder, "Sure, if you can find a way to break it down."

Feina is happy to go with Sakura, to carry and cart things back, although when it comes time to stow them in the storage bins aboard the shuttle, she's a little nervous and shuffles and frets constantly. The papers, tools, and parts fit nicely into storage bins. Kawaii's reaction to the Alshain is much like Feina's... he stands at the gangplank's edge, ears up in curiosity and nose wiggling busily as he sniff-niff-niffs! Sakura giggles at Kawaii on one of the trips, stopping to pat him on the head. "That's what brought me here, Kawaii!" Kawaii enjoys the pat, but snorts in amazement at Saki's news... flying metal bricks indeed! Sakura grins at the pig. "You'll see."

Vash muses while he tucks away the last of the small tools and gears, "Now what we need to consider is where do we park this thing? We don't want to put her down so close to town as to disrupt the townsfolk, but if we drop her too far away, we wake up and it's gone tomorrow morning."

Sakura and Feina continue to make trips back and forth to the house until they've got all the things that the Captain wanted. Sakura stops when they're loaded up. She smiles and bows to the Captain. "The papers are loaded, Vash-sama."

Vash nods, returning a slightly more shallow bow. "Thanks, Doctora. Let's get home and plan the next move."

Feina says, "The soldiers said we're only a few days out of town as it is. As we get closer in, there will be more and more people who might notice something like this." She points at the big shuttle, as if it's hard to believe in, even standing next to it.

The engineer eventually manages to get the wooden assembly into the cargo bay, with only some disassembly of the thing. Doug's first action is to get a couple of nice big C-clamps and bolt the log in place, so that it doesn't fall. Just in case there's something he missed as far as magic goes. He makes the thing fast down in the cargo bay, strapping it down securely, and comes by Vash as he muses that last. "Maybe there's a small field other than the one we put down in.

Kerry skrees, "Plenty of fields that we saw on the way down, and plenty that we could land in. I wouldn't want to set it down on anyone's farm, though. The big clearing near where we first set down, perhaps?"

Vash folds his arms and leans back against the wall of the cargo bay, "I don't mind if they see it, niña, I just don't want it so far away that we can't see if someone tries to get away with her again."

Vash says, "It's a shame we can't send her back and forth from Indigo remotely."

Kerry skrees, "We'll make a slow pass and see what's available, maybe?"

Douglas loads the last of his tools onto the Alshain. "Well, that would mean a field nearby town. We should probably set down in the original location, and send someone to go to town to ask where we can land her closer."

Feina listens quietly. Eventually she quietly asks Sakura, "We're going to take this home? Why wouldn't the Hunt just come for it again, and we'd have to walk all the way back?"

Sakura looks up at Vash, "Vash-sama... what if the Hunt takes it again?" She frowns. She hadn't even considered that possibility until Feina mentioned it...

Douglas glances to Feina and Sakura, and sighs, "And they both have a point. Drekaris might have the Hunt just look for it again. Can we camouflage it? Hide it somehow?" Then, "Can something even be hidden from the Hunt?" Feina looks on, worriedly. She shakes her head no at Douglas' question. She doesn't like the Hunt.

Vash says, "If they want it back... there's probably nothing we can do about it. We need to get these papers figured out, and we need to track down Drekaris. This isn't going to end until the Horn is gone."

Sakura says, "Can we remote pilot it back into space?"

Vash says, "The only safe place for it is inside Indigo, I think... until we take care of this Horn business."

Sakura says, "Can we get it there?"

Douglas blinks to Sakura. "Using the computer on the Egg? Hmmm... that's a thought..." He thinks upon this for a moment, wondering if he can do such a thing using the setup they have.

Kerry snickers. "The computers aren't AI, Doctor. It could probably maneuver under computer control in orbit, but it needs a pilot to enter the atmosphere. That's too tricky for a standard computer to handle."

Vash says, "I'm glad you think it's funny, Kerry. You have a suggestion, or are we just going to take this shuttle back and hope the Wild Hunt doesn't ride back?"

Kerry skrees, "To be honest, I'm not even sure I'd trust the computer to dock with Indigo. It's not really very bright."

Sakura nods, ears drooped. "I didn't know. It was just an idea."

Douglas says, "Can you do it remotely, Pilot? Through the terminal on Egg?"

Feina asks, "Why not get the Horn now? We're almost there."

Vash blinks at Feina, "'Scuse me? Almost where?"

Kerry shrugs. "Sorry. Not your specialty. Remote pilot? No. The light-speed lag time on the controls is enough to make it even more dangerous than computer control..." He breaks off to stare at Feina. "You know where it is?"

Feina gives Sakura a hug when her ears droop, then looks startled at Vash's question. She says meekly, as if she's trying to hide behind the vixen she was a moment ago comforting, "Almost to Drekaris' castle. The guards said it was just a few days down the road."

Sakura looks around at her crewmates. "Well... seems to me that it's the best suggestion so far."

Vash says, "Then there's no choice. Let's see if the van still runs."

Kerry nods. "If there's a road, why not?"

Vash says, "We'll at least have a look around... if it turns out to be gigantic, maybe the trolls know how to build a siege engine."

Douglas blinks to Feina quietly. I guess we knew it might come to this..., he thinks. At some point we were going to have to do it... "I... have to concur with Feina, Captain," he says softly. "If there's no guarantee that we can't hide the Alshain from the Wild Hunt again, then..." He lets his voice trail off. There's something... disquieting, he finds, about approaching the culmination of a quest, for better or worse. And he's very, very worried about it being 'worse.'

The van runs perfectly, and once the big beams of the clockwork which were stowed in the way are moved, drives easily out of the hatch -- much to Feina's abject fear, especially from the bright light of its halogen headlamps. She hides behind Sakura, murmuring, "Nobody will miss that coming!"

Sakura does her best to shield Feina from the big bad truck. She grins, "It's quieter than the troll's truck and the lights can be turned out."

Kerry skrees, "Let me drive, and we won't need the lamps..."

Vash says, "Can you even reach the brake?"

Kerry skrees, "I'm not THAT short. Of course I can reach the pedals, if we put the seat all the way forward. We can drive it partway at least, and be there in a few hours tonight. At least that way we'll beat the guards if they decide to be loyal."

Douglas nods quietly, "Much quieter," he notes. "We should actually reach Drekaris' stronghold in a day or two." He blinks. Did he actually say stronghold? He starts to think that maybe watching some of those movies in college might not have been a good idea. He looks to Sakura, blinking, and grins. "A good idea, Sakura-chan. Ghillie nets. I don't know if we have any on Alshain, but I'm sure we can come up with something..."

Vash says, "We can park it somewhere and walk the last eighth of a mile or so."

Sakura says, "Considering how badly we reacted to the other truck, walking the last eighth of a mile may be a blessing."

Feina looks on in some confusion and much uncertainty. She murmurs something else, with the word "patrol" in the middle of it, but she's gotten very quiet and is not talking to anyone in particular. Vash says, "Feina?"

Douglas blinks, looking to Feina, then squats, more to set his naginata down than anything else. "What's wrong, Feina?"

Feina looks at Vash, then says, "Uh. I was just wondering what the patrol on the road will make of it. The closer to the castle, the more likely the roadway is to be guarded. But it'll be okay, right?"

Douglas glances to Vash, grimacing. "Hadn't thought of that, Captain. She's right."

Vash grins, "Niña, if they give us any troubles we'll run over them."

Kerry skrees, "We should be able to blow right past them. If we want to..." He waves a wing at Alshain. "It's a bit late for stealth, I think. We need speed."

Sakura nods. "Agreed. Get them before they expect us to be there." Feina bites her lip and nods, trusting the judgement of the others.

Douglas lets out a breath, still nervous. "I admit to some worry, Captain. We don't really know what we're about to drive to. Do we want to break the speed limit getting there?"

Vash says, "We're going to get there and assess the situation, Douglas. If it turns out to be Alcatraz, we'll take Alshain back to the trollhome and see about getting more firepower."

Kerry skrees, "We've got rifles, we've got the Rover -- if we can't get in, we can certainly retreat."

Vash says, "Actually, Kerry... we have a rifle, and a sidearm each." Douglas bites his lip; he feels the urge in his lower back to swish his tail agitatedly back and forth. Vash says, "So, let's get going and get a look at the place. Maybe we'll get lucky... and we can end this quickly."

Sakura nods at Vash. "Yes, Sir."

Douglas finishes packing his tools and some of the supplies in the Rover, then says softly (perhaps not intending the others to hear him), "If it were simple and quick it wouldn't be a quest, I don't think..." He looks to Feina and smiles warmly -- well, he tries not to show his teeth. "Feina, if you feel sick or uncomfortable please let us know. It's important. This might be as discomfiting as the troll-truck ride, if not more so, and none of us want to be hurt by this. All right?"

Kawaii's ears droop and his tail uncurls, hanging limply behind him. He sighs gustily, looking gloomily at the truck... yuck. Sakura scoops Kawaii up, "Sorry, Kawaii... But at least this will be a short ride." Kawaii blinks... then groans softly, leaning his head against Sakura. Oh, the pain! He'll need lots of comforting, yup... that just might pull him through this... maybe... Sakura giggles at her poor, pathetic, melodramatic little piglet.

Kerry does the best imitation of a John Wayne drawl that he can with a soprano voice. "Wagons Ho!"

Douglas' ears flicker as he looks slowly to Kerry. He pauses for a moment. "All right, I'll bite; who was that supposed to be?"

Kerry skrees, "It's just another old movie, Douglas. Never mind."

Vash sets the safety on the rifle and goes about finding a place to set both of his somewhat long weapons. Having managed to get them into place more or less close at hand and at the same time out of the way of the wheel and pedals, he climbs into the driver's seat. "I'll roll her down the ramp, Douglas -- button the ship up once we're clear."

Douglas nods, working quickly. "Yes, Captain," he says, moving to stand beside the ramp.

Vash rolls the van down the ramp slowly, and rolls her to a stop a few feet beyond the ramp. "All right... let's load up and get this over with."

Sakura opens the back door for Feina, plopping Kawaii onto the seat. Kawaii oofs as he's plopped onto the seat. Hmf! Feina climbs into the back, tail flicking nervously behind her. She tries to stay close to Sakura, probably as close as the older vixen will let her. Sakura climbs into the truck behind Feina and holds the other vixen's hand. "It'll be okay, Feina... just tell me if you feel sick."

Douglas retracts and locks the cargo hatch, giving the mechanism a brief look before the ramp seals it from view. Here's hoping this 'Master' isn't going to be missing you all that much, he thinks, turning and going to the Rover. Kerry swings up to the other side of the van, sitting with Feina in the middle and leaving the front passenger seat for the cougar. Vash waits for his crew to pile in, resting one hand on the wheel and the other on the gearshift. "Well, niña... don't know if it'll make you sick, but I guarantee this ride'll be smoother, at least."

Feina takes the handholding as permission, and winds up snuggled in closely to Sakura, nodding and saying, "Inside." She looks nervous when Kerry closes the door. Douglas settles into the forward passenger seat, setting the naginata gently in the back, trying to make it easily available yet out of the way of everyone else.

Vash rolls the van out, picking slowly at first through the clearing. "Feina, niña, gonna have to point me to the road."

Feina leans forward and points for Vash, telling him, "There, follow the drive from the stables." The much more gentle rocking of the van as it rolls across unfinished but mostly smooth ground is very unusual for her, and she seems nervous. Kawaii groans softly, closing his eyes in utter misery... it's hard to tell in the dark, but if a piglet could look green, Kawaii would be.

Douglas feels all right, all in all. It's not a bad trip so far, and it's not bothering him nearly as much as the ride in the troll-truck. He glances back to the three passengers in the back. "How are you three -- four, sorry, Kawaii -- back there?

Sakura smiles at Douglas, "I'm just great, Douglas-san! Glad to be going again."

Kerry skrees, "No problems. Might have been the troll tech. Let's hope..."

Douglas smiles quietly, and nods. "Good, glad to hear it, Sakura-chan!" He nods to Kerry, relieved and in agreement. "That makes sense, Pilot. Different universe, and all..." Then he casts his gaze to the young fox-girl, seeing her nervousness, but she doesn't seem horribly sick yet. "And you, Feina?" Sakura checks over on Feina and the piglet, to see that they're doing better this time...

Vash finds the road and sets out relatively quickly, doing thirty, perhaps thirty-five in the straighter spots. He runs on the parking lights alone, the amber light illuminating the dirt road and the trees to either side. The only sound is the hum of the drive train and crunch of the road. Vash is very quiet, himself... too busy thinking. Let's get this done with... I want to go home to Blue and tell her it's finally over. He takes a deep breath, guiding the van over the rutted path. Too early to get tired. We're almost home. Sakura watches the scenery outside of the window with some interest...

The ride is reasonable, although the ruts in the roadway sometimes give a surprising bump to the passengers. Feina clings to Sakura or the arm of the seat, not quite able to see the amber-lit world go by, and a bit unnerved by this. Kawaii crawls into Sakura's lap and tries hard to die right there and then. He groans miserably at each bump. Sakura strokes the poor thing's back, trying to comfort him. Kawaii moans... when he grows up he's just going to carry his vixens everywhere!

At one point the roadway widens a little, and a group of some sort can be barely glimpsed, camped off to one side. They have a fire and at least one sentry sees the vehicle. Anyone watching can catch the gape on the human's face as the van goes by, moving quickly and very quietly for this world. Sakura giggles. Vash sighs a little and grins ruefully. "Well, we've been spotted. Hope I don't have to run those boys over on the way back."

Douglas blinks, turning his head to look at the human as they drive past. As they zoom by he glances back again over his shoulder, then looks over to Vash. "We might have to worry about them getting word to Drekaris. We should stop somewhat earlier than just an eighth of a mile from our destination and hide the Rover."

Vash says, "Anyone want me to stop?"

Sakura shakes her head, "Let's just keep going..."

Kerry skrees, "If they can communicate with Mr. D, they'll have done it. If not, we can just continue, no problem. We knew we'd pass patrols."

Vash looks up into the rear-view mirror once, then accelerates a bit. "Well... we won't be here too long anyway."

The dawn dawns, brightening the road a little and letting Vash pick up the speed even a little more. The road begins to work its way uphill, twisting and turning a little. It is accordingly rather a surprise when the road bursts out of the forest and merges with a roadway leading around the outer edge of some worked fields. The van is fully out of the woods before Vash has a chance to stop. There's a couple of miles of fields, with peasants visible in some of them, although not in the fallow fields that are immediately next to the van. Roads spoke out from the castle at the center, towards an encircling road, which also has heading off from it the smaller paths into the woods. The castle has a good view of the fields and tree line surrounding.

    Castle Drekaris

    Not as tall and graceful as many castles from home, this does seem to be a reasonably well designed and well built fort, with walls thick enough to stand off attacks from even trollish equipment, and a dry moat all around its outer wall. There appears to be an inner keep beyond the outer wall as well. The walls are no more than thirty feet tall, but quite deep looking. They would be relatively easy to scale -- if it weren't for the armed men on the battlements. There is one gate in the front of the castle, with an almost iconic drawbridge and portcullis arrangement, leading through a short access tunnel to the inner yard.

    The inner keep seems to be at most six stories high and made of stone, with thick walls. It is not a particularly beautiful or inspiring place, but it seems very functional and well thought out.

Douglas is almost thrown against the seatbelt as Vash stops short a little quicker than Doug had expected. He blinks at the view outside, and after a moment he deadpans, "Well... driving to an eighth of a mile from the castle might be contraindicated at this point, Captain. I recommend we get back into the forest and hide the Rover. Quickly."

Vash puts the van in reverse and starts backing up into the forest again. "Definitely going to need help on this."

Feina is thrown forward, completely unprepared for the sudden stop. The van's sudden reversal makes her a little queasy, and she climbs up from the floor, looking at things moving away. She says, "Oooh," at the castle, staring at it until the trees surround them again. Sakura smiles at Feina's reaction... she always wanted to see a real castle, too... she watches it, awed.

Sakura says, "Vash-sama... who can help us?"

Vash says, "I say we go ask the trolls for help."

Douglas makes a soft, rumbling sound. "That'll mean a siege of some sort," he says worriedly. Then, "A war." He glances quietly to Vash, not sure if he should say what's on his mind.

Vash doesn't bother to look up, "What is it, Douglas?"

Douglas grimaces slightly. I should know better, can't hide anything from him... "Isn't... isn't Blue from this region?" He winces and sighs, looking away. There. It's said.

Vash says, "Are you suggesting we take on a castle full of soldiers ourselves?"

Kerry skrees, "We don't want a war. We really don't want a war. And I doubt that it would help the Quest at all."

Sakura says, "Maybe we can lure Drekaris out?"

Kerry skrees, "Stealth."

Sakura points up at where the castle is through the tress, "Sir. I think we've been seen. There's activity on one of those towers..."

Douglas says quickly, "No matter what, we can't go in there right away... oh, blast... I suggest speed, Captain. Copious amounts of speed." Sakura blinks and swings her head around, looking for whatever it was that Douglas saw...

Vash continues to watch the road and back the truck up. "Yes, Douglas, she is. Hang on, now." He gives the truck a sharp left turn, trying to back it around and get her facing the opposite direction.

Douglas glances back over his shoulder, frowning. He can't see too clearly, but... yes, he's just making out the activity Sakura indicated. He sees Sakura look back, and says, "You've excellent eyes, Sakura-chan... *hurk*!" The seatbelt almost cuts into his chest with the sudden turn.

Feina asks worriedly, "We're running away?"

Vash whips the van around and heads back the way they came, at greater speed now that the dawn is broken. "Not running away, just pulling back to plan ahead. Now keep your head down."

Feina nods, "Okay." She seems relieved to be moving away from the castle.

Kerry skrees, "Let's not get trapped between two groups, though."

Vash says, "Everyone who's not driving, shut up, please. I don't want to flip this goddamned thing over." About half an hour later, he pulls the van off to the side and parks it. "All right," he says, "-we can discuss what to do now."

Kawaii almost falls off Sakura's lap, tottering over to the door and looking up with a pitiful expression. Douglas lets out a breath and nods quietly. "Right. I think even trollish siege weapons would have problems with attacking that castle. Heck, siege engines modern to us would have a hard time for a bit."

Vash says, "We can't take the castle alone. And sneaking in is a losing proposition; their view is unchallenged all the way around."

Sakura says, "What about luring him out with... bait?"

Kerry snorts. "Any artillery since 1865 could take it down in a few hours. But that doesn't help us here. Sneaking in during daylight isn't possible, but... hmm. Bait? You mean Alshain?"

Vash says, "Like what, Doctora?"

Sakura shrugs a little. "I don't know, Sir."

Vash says, "He's more likely to just send the Hunt out to retrieve something we dangle in front of him."

Douglas taps his chin, frowning, his ears twitching quietly as he looks to Sakura. He oddly looks a little relieved when she admits to not knowing, then nods to Vash. "There is that. Maybe... uhm, this will be an odd suggestion, Captain, but if we had some way of appearing... well... human, we would induce less notice..."

Vash says, "What would be the point, Douglas?" Kawaii taps at the door with one trotter... *clickclickclick*. Sakura looks at Kawaii... then out the door to see if there's something out there. Vash says, "Human or uplift, we still don't have any business in the- ay, caray, what?!"

Kerry skrees, "I think he wants out." The piglet gives Kerry a relieved look.

Douglas says, "To get closer to the castle, and perhaps get in... uhm... maybe if we got out for a few minutes, captain. We'd be better able to hear anyone approaching... and we'll be able to hear ourselves thinking..."

Sakura pops open the door and sets the piglet on the ground... Kawaii sighs in relief! -then wanders around a bit, stretching and nibbling grass to settle his stomach.

Feina says, "Good idea, Douglas," and is out of the van right after the piglet. She manages not to actually hug a tree, but seems very happy to be in the sunshine.

Vash sighs heavily and climbs out of the van. He perches on the hood. "We'll still be strangers, Douglas. Suspicious no matter what."

Kerry nods. "Especially near a stronghold like that."

The quiet and reassuring sounds of the forest come back reasonably quickly, once the van has stopped. Neither Kawaii nor Feina are likely to disturb them, either. The woods seem calm and peaceful at the moment. Sakura climbs out of the van with her crewmates and settles onto the ground near it... Douglas slips out of the Rover, stretching slightly and sighing... "You've a point, Captain. The Horn's in the tower. Drekaris is in the tower. We can't go in to get either, and if he's smart he won't come out." Then he blinks and looks over to Kerry. "Pilot... what was it in your dream that Drekaris was ranting about? Something about an... an 'inter-realm coalition' not being able to stop him?"

Kerry climbs up to sit on the roof rack. "Something like that. Though at the moment I'm not sure if it was D himself or the Master the guards were talking about. Hmm... Cat said it was D, though. So let's assume it was him... he had plans that he was sure couldn't be stopped, and he was worried about spies."

Douglas nods slowly, fretting and thinking deeply. "I would say that if Ms. Cat said that it was, then it was." He looks to Vash. "Captain, maybe we don't have to do this alone."

Vash says, "You change your mind all of a sudden, Douglas?"

Kerry skrees, "I think it was in his imagination. But even paranoids have enemies..."

Sakura looks over at Feina. "Any idea what this coalition might be?"

Feina shakes her head, "No. I knew there was a castle here, but there's always been a local lord. Drekaris seems more worrisome."

Sakura says, "What about the local lord?"

Feina looks puzzled, "Drakeris is the local lord, Sakura."

Sakura says, "Oh! I thought perhaps there was another local lord..." Feina shakes her head unhappily. Vash takes the pistol out from under his arm and checks the action, more out of force of habit and a need to do something with his hands than a real mechanical worry. It clicks. Sakura smiles at Vash. "A peasant uprising, Vash-sama?"

Vash grins. "Be appropriate, wouldn't it? Nah... they're probably even more scared of him than the guards were."

Douglas winces a little at Vash's blunt question to him, and looks away. "I... remembered those dreams, Captain." He looks back to Vash, trying to hide the abashed expression. "I still believe that we have an important role in this. I still believe that the Quest will require all of us. I had thought that was all we would need."

He points back the way they just came. "But then, after seeing what we've just seen, there seems to be more to do in this quest than just 'six heroes trooping into the catacombs and saving the world.' Hells, Captain, I don't know what to do in a situation like this, but even I can see that we'd have a hard time-"

Kerry looks back toward the castles. "Oh-oh... I think the issue is going to be moot very soon. Back in the Rover, quick! The Hunt's coming!!" Doug whirls, looking in sudden horror at Kerry's expression, starts to look towards the castle -- and stops himself from looking. Don't look! his mind shouts to himself, Don't ever look at the Hunt! And he is diving into the passenger seat, slamming the door shut and opening Vash's side if it's not open yet, checking that everyone else is in.

Kawaii gives Kerry an aghast, tragic look! then blinks, turning his head to look back down the trail, his ears perking up. A moment later the piglet gives a small, worried squeak, and starts trotting hastily towards the van. Feina starts, "Oh, no!" She pulls Sakura towards the woods, "Run!" Sakura leaps to her feet and scrambles for the van also, grabbing the piglet and Feina's hand as she goes. Her fur is standing on end everywhere, especially her tail. Kawaii grunts as he's suddenly picked up, but doesn't struggle. Towed away from the comfort of the trees, Feina looks unhappy but goes along, worried.

Vash slides off the hood of the van and jumps inside, starting the engine. He sighs, more out of irritation than actual fear. "Well, that was over quick." Well, now we're dead. I'm sorry, Blue.

Kerry swings back into his seat. "Back to Alshain. We can fly using radar, and if they steal the ship at least we'll be aboard her."

Vash waits to hear that last door slam and then puts the hammer down, pedal to the floor and racing dead-on for Alshain. "I don't know if this thing will outrun a motorcycle. We might be better off ditching into the woods."

Kerry rolls down his window, listening for the roar of the cycles. "If they start catching up, I'll let you know. For now, I think we're gaining."

Sakura covers the piglet's eyes with one hand, squeezes Feina's hand with her other hand, and mumbles under her breath, "Don't look back, dontlookbackdontlookback." Feina curls up in a ball on the seat next to Sakura and clings to her, humming softly some quiet song of warding, which unfortunately is probably ineffective against the power of the Hunt. Kawaii squeaks unhappily in Sakura's lap... then takes a breath and grumbles quietly along with Feina -- it's the most he can help right now.

Douglas has a death-grip on the nearest Jesus grip, looking straight out the window, feeling his heart starting to race and pound madly. Light catches the mirror out of the corner of his eye -- the mirror! He rolls down the window, still looking straight ahead, and slaps the passenger-side rearview against the body of the Rover, not breaking it but making it so it won't reflect anything or tempt him or Vash into looking.

Douglas closes his eyes, taking in gulps of air and forcing himself to be calm; failing but for a small island within his psyche. The eye of the storm? he wonders. This must be the inner calm of one about to enter battle, knowing they're going to die. I wish they'd taught us more history... maybe some of those names would come back to me, let me know that we're not the only ones to have ever died like this... no, that's not true. Captain was in the horrible, 'undeclared wars' with Texas after the War. He must have seen others die fighting, probably expected he'd die likewise. Somehow, I think he has a very good reason for not wanting to die now, though. And her name is Blue.

And my reason's name is Annifred. And Sakura-chan's is Larrikan. And Kerry's is his friendship with Dr. Zildjian. And Feina has her sister. But it's for those reasons we had to try to end this, even at the cost... the cost... no... oh, God, no, I don't want to die, not like this, not out here... Titania... that's the name of the Queen, isn't it? I hope she's seeing this... I hope she sees us, I hope that someone knows what we're about to give, anyone, anyone besides Drekaris...

Vash blows down the road; over fifty miles an hour, slowing just barely to skid the van around a corner. Not enough, apparently, as at that moment the van strikes a wall -- and several large trees felled across the road. Anyone not strapped in is left to the whims of momentum; Vash's forehead strikes the wheel. The van isn't totaled, exactly, although the front end is considerably bent -- not surprising considering that the wall slid back with the impact. The sides of the van fare better, except that on either side are ten armored soldiers with crossbows. Vash groans softly. "Guess we should have stopped."

There's a shocked squeal, abruptly cut off with a grunt, as Kawaii goes flying off Sakura's lap -- into the back of the front seat. Sakura lets out a little scream as the truck hits the wall. She was not expecting that. The tableau holds only a moment before there's a sharp command from outside and a couple more huge logs fall across the roadway behind the van from either side, where they had apparently been held in place against trees with block and tackle. More crossbowmen come running up and aim at the crew inside the van. One of the crossbowmen, slightly better armored and decorated than the others, shouts, "Put your hands where we can see them and come out slowly."

At the moment of impact, Doug is just resolving himself to face fate, to face the ugly truth that maybe, just maybe, some quests aren't a given. And then his head collides with the dash, barely buffered by whatever padding or airbag or whatever is there. He doesn't even have time for a cry of surprise before he lies there motionless for a long moment. Something -- the kitten? Is it still there, though all this? -- in his mind thinks inanely, "They sound like what we would hear on our old Earth..."

Sakura whimpers, ears flattened against her head... Kawaii's ears go straight up in shock, and he looks around hastily... then he darts under a seat, creeping back under it and going utterly silent. Kerry skreeks as he's thrown into the shoulder harness. "Bozhemoi. Are we still mobile?" The thud of extra trees answers that question. He spreads his wings out. "I'm strapped in. Can't do both."

Vash sits up slowly. There's a tiny cut above his left eye. "Do what they say," he says, very quietly. "Don't give them a reason."

At Sakura's soft whimper Doug lets out a quiet breath, slowly opening his eyes, something tightening in his chest. He barely sees Vash's form beside him. Almost automatically, but knowing it needs saying, needing to say it, he murmurs, "Captain... thank you for getting us this far."

Vash keeps his hands on the wheel, where they can be seen. "Don't thank me, Douglas. Do what they say."

Sakura completely ignores Kawaii. Don't let them see you, Kawaii... maybe you can help us. She puts her hands on the 'shoulders' of the seat in front of her, then says softly, "...captain?"

Feina, thrown up against the back of the driver's seat, remains sitting on the floor. She looks under the back bench seat, realizes she can't hide there, and hopes the young pig can. She hisses up at Sakura, "Outside, faint!" then slowly climbs back up on the seat, keeping her hands visible. She looks at Kerry, closest to the door, and says, "Well?"

Kerry flicks a wingtip at the latch. "Press there so I can get the shoulder belt off. I don't think they want me to put my hands down."

Sakura mutters, "Me, faint?"

Vash grates under his breath, "Don't you dare do something stupid, Feina."

Feina murmurs, "Mmhmm," to Sakura. Her ears go back at Vash's words, though, and she whimpers. Already unbuckled -- she didn't like the seat belt -- she looks at the soldiers and says, "They're secured in the seats. Can I unfasten the others?" The Captain, relayed this message, nods tersely. Feina moves very slowly, one of the other soldiers coming up to watch what she's doing, and unbuckles Sakura's belt, and then leans over to unfasten Kerry's, pulling it out of the way. She even manages not to jump when the spring-loaded belt retracts.

Sakura says, "...Captain?"

Vash says, "Go, Sakura." Sakura nods and motions to the door handle before slowly moving her hands towards it to open it up so she can get out.

Douglas keeps his hands where they can be seen, moving slowly... but more from weary daze than from being ordered to, watching the soldiers outside carefully to be sure they can see his hands. The mind-kitten is still mewling about something as he waits for Feina to unlatch his seatbelt. Then he remembers: Is the Wild Hunt still coming? He finds he's avoiding looking.

Feina points at the buckles on Douglas and Vash and says, "I'm going to unfasten them too." The human captain nods warily. She leans forward carefully and presses the button on each of the two front belts, then sits back with her hands raised and looks at the guard.

Sakura steps out of the van, keeping her hands in front of her, open and palms up so that they can see she has nothing. When Sakura gets out of the van Feina clings to her, looking very afraid and very timid, rather like a younger sister in over her head. The fact that this is somewhat true makes this easier to pull off. Kerry opens his door, swinging it slowly to the fully open position before stepping down.

Vash continues looking straight ahead, hands on the wheel, expression impassive. The cut above his eye is running into it. Douglas looks to Vash for just a moment, and before the 'dillo can say anything he is unlatching the door, again slowly, opening it cautiously and letting the door open fully before he steps out, keeping his hands -- The claws! They can't take them from me, at least... -- visible... and still trying to avoid looking back in the direction of the castle. Vash waits for the rest of the crew to get out before slowly leaving the van.

The bat emerging from the van causes a couple of comments along the lines of, "Whoa!" and "Where did that come from?" The cougar also gets a couple of trepidatious looks and an extra crossbow pointed at him when he stands up all the way. The captain addresses Vash, "Very wise. If you want to continue breathing, you will do exactly as you are told." Nobody much looks at the vixens. They've seen vixens before.

Vash doesn't say anything. Douglas casts a slow glance at the crossbow -- not the soldier carrying it -- pointed at him. He's still somewhat dazed from the crash. Always it's the distrust, the fear, the caution. We can't go anywhere without experiencing it. Maybe this isn't 'home' either... Sakura looks around at the men slowly, she appears to be just as scared as her "little sister."

The captain says to the soldiers, "Bring them over here." He leads them away from the van and to one side of the road, issuing some other orders while the troops move the crew around. Once they're assembled, and two more soldiers have brought up a large trunk, he tells the crew, "One at a time -- move forward and strip. Put everything into the trunk. Do anything funny and you'll be shot. Can I be any clearer?" He points to Douglas, "You first." After Douglas he points to Vash, then Kerry, then Sakura. Feina keeps clinging to her, and nobody seems to care that they're moving together as long as neither do anything odd.

Douglas' jaw works slightly. Strip, the captain had said. Not so much to keep them from hiding anything, he's sure, but to humiliate them, beat them down. The thought starts to infuriate him. Damn you, he thinks, his mental voice sounding less like a kitten now and more like a pissed off alley cat. He pauses, but then starts to slowly take off his jump suit. Go ahead, he thinks, idly tossing his jumper into the trunk. Take my clothes. Take my tools. You can't have my pride. I'm not going to let you have that. Some part of him that is still Douglas remains very carefully polite, though, and he does not look at Sakura or Feina. But his ears remain alert, and out of the corner of his eyes he can still see them.

Two soldiers are dispatched to search the van. They approach very cautiously, crossbows up and covering each other... several minutes later they come back, looking much more relaxed. They're carrying the long weapons the group owns, which are placed in the box with everyone else's equipment. Sakura goes into the little lineup, moving just as slowly as she did before, with a slightly dazed expression. She seems to be leaning quite heavily on her "sister." Vash's expression doesn't change. Not smiling or frowning, and staring straight ahead. Maybe he's stunned. The cut on his eye has dripped down to his jaw.

Sakura comes up to the box... she undoes the zipper on the front of her flight-suit with shaky paws. She slides it off her upper body and bends over to slip it off of her feet. When she stands to toss it into the box, her daze increases, as though the sudden rush of blood to her head is far too much for her to take in her injured state. She groans softly and crumples bonelessly to the ground. Feina gasps and tries to catch Sakura, but misses, pulled down by the vixen. There is a good solid *whump* as her head hits the trunk. Feina is still clothed also, having only unfastened a few things.

The captain curses, then points to a soldier, "Take care of those two." He also points to Vash, "And he's bleeding. Get the medic." The first doctor sighs, and gets one of the crossbowmen to help him move the vixens out of harm's way while he checks them over. Another soldier comes up and very briefly frisks each of those still standing, then calls to the Captain, "Sir? What about these?" He is pointing to Douglas' translator.

Douglas' head snaps over to look at Sakura at her sudden motion... and the anger, the red sheen falters from his eyes, and he starts to take a half-step towards Sakura... at the last moment seeing the crossbows directly aimed at him. He twitches a little, his ears flicking... and it's with visible pain on his face that he doesn't move closer. The panic and dismay starts to return. Oh, Sakura-chan, he sighs mentally, then glances to Vash, who has been silent throughout all this. Captain... he's not taking this well... stupid cougar, is there a good way to take this?!

Kerry waits for his turn, then unfastens his flight-suit, shrugging it off of his shoulders. He drops his gunbelt into the trunk first, followed by the flight suit, his sling bullet pouch, and the sling. He leaves his goggles in place for the moment, wondering how the guards will react. He skrees, "If you take those, we won't be able to talk to you. They're translating for us."

The captain doesn't even answer... just snaps his fingers at Kerry and points to the box. The soldiers haven't stood down even a little, keeping crossbows trained on the dangerous fighters. Two others come up, one with a black bag. The second is dispatched with some leaves and a roll of bandage, to squeeze the juices of the leaves on Vash's cut, then bind it. He also cleans up the blood that's run down the armadillo's face. Vash remains perfectly still. He doesn't blink.

Kerry shrugs and reaches down to remove the anklet. "Have it your way. Don't say I didn't ####@%@'#..." His speech fades into Keero squeaks as he slips it over his foot and deposits it into the box. He sighs and takes the goggles off last, his eyes tightly shut against the sunlight.

Eventually the first doctor tells the Captain something unclear without translators, "> They should be all right. They must have gotten pretty banged up when they hit the wall. One might be mildly concussed.<" The Captain nods.

Kerry's ears perk up, and he skrees, "Our motorcycle friends are back, I'm afraid. Should be interesting to see how our new friends react."

Vash murmurs hoarsely, "...sorry."

Doug swallows his own internal rebuke to himself, instead looking alternatively and helplessly between the vixens and Vash, taking off his translator and putting it into the box as well. One last flicker of defiance, one last thought of bravado -- Just try begging me not to rip your throat out, bastard, without me being able to understand you, -- then he holds himself as still as possible at Kerry's comment.

He closes his eyes. It will be quick, at least. It's far too much to hope for the Hunt's help again. The Hunt gave them their one chance. They tried to regain the Horn, and they... haven't gotten any closer. Now the Hunt is coming, and they're about to see what Drekaris has in store for them.

The Captain issues some orders. Huge long tunics are given to the crew, and they're urged to dress. The clothes are far, far too large. They don't quite know what to make of Kerry. Kerry wraps his wings around his body and doesn't even try the tunic. Clothing built for human forms won't even come close to fitting over them. He skrees, "Something different about the motors. Either the Hunt is using a truck or it's a trollish vehicle. Stay loose, people."

Douglas opens his eyes at Vash's whispered comment. He pulls on the tunic, part of him glad for at least this much modesty... part of him working up even more anger at their captors. Finally he speaks. "Don't be, Vashti," he says quietly. It is the first time he's ever used the Captain's name. "None of us could see this coming. Not even you. You have been and always will be the best person I've ever worked for."

Vash just mutters, "Guess we should have pulled over after all."

One or two of the guards glance over their shoulders, down towards the castle. The crew of the Alshain can hear well by now also... a truck or two coming. The Captain orders the prisoners hobbled, and leads them off to the side of the road. It's not long before two large troll-style trucks pull up, billowing smoke, and more guardsmen disembark. Lots of talking goes on between the arrivals and the Captain. Some men change places with those on the truck, some new supplies are unloaded, and the prisoners are put in the middle of what seems to be a troop carrier, with a dozen soldiers.

Kerry skrees, "Hmm. Camping through the daylight probably would have ended the same way. D obviously has ways to send messages to his patrols." Douglas's ears flicker a bit, both at Kerry's announcement -- It's too much to hope for the cavalry, Douglas. He glances at the trucks as they arrive, and despite his admonitions he's disappointed that they don't have trolls at their helm.

As the trucks arrive, with much roaring of engines and screeching of metal, only the most alert of the Alshain's crew would notice a small black shape slip out of the van and vanish silently into the woods. Sakura creeps to her feet at some unknown cue and dashes into the woods behind Feina, who is also running. They seem to get away without the guards noticing, for now, rapidly disappearing in the brush. Vash doesn't give any indication, if he noticed.

Something out of the corner of Douglas' eye moves, something red and nimble and quick, something in a pair... but he stops himself from looking. Instead the tomcat of his mental voice smiles slyly, in that very feline way, secretly pleased -- while outwardly he remains stoically silent. He silently jeers the soldiers as they hobble him. THis is nothing compared to what our kind have gone through, damn you. You don't have collars. There's only so much you can do to me, and taking away who I am isn't one of them, bastards!

As the prisoners are being loaded, someone thinks to count noses, and it's noticed that the two "unconscious" vixens are missing. The captain shouts at a lot of people, and backhands one, obviously berating them. The leader of the troops on the truck laughs, and returns some quip. The Captain, now red-faced, orders the trunk put aboard the other truck, and stomps off, having apparently dismissed the troops.

Kerry chirrips to himself at the guard's reaction. Serves you right, you kulaks. Good luck finding Feina and Sakura in a forest. As the call goes out for the escaped vixens, Douglas allows himself the faintest of smiles, not showing teeth... oh, no, not yet. That will be for later. At least Sakura-chan made it, with Feina. And Kawaii, too, if they haven't found him. Someone will know about us. Someone will remember. Even if I get skewered with my claws in one of these bastards' gullet...

He blinks then, and grimaces faintly, taking in a shaking breath. This isn't like me. Why am I... so angry? Well, DUH. I've a right to be angry. I've a right to be raging, infuriated, burning. But so... bestial? Why not? I've gotten closer to who I am while I've been here. If to fight is to live, or if to fight is to die, at least I will be who I am, here, more than I ever could back on Earth. I only wish... I could see Annifred again. He sighs internally, Enough angst, kitten. Be quiet. Be alert. And wait.

It's not long before the truck with the crew aboard makes a ponderous turn about and rumbles slowly down the road back toward the castle. Kerry remains calm on the trip to wherever they're headed. Probably going to the castle. The instructors were right, though. That survival course was no fun, but I'm glad I had it now. Vash just rides along quietly, looking straight ahead. If he noticed the vixens leaving, he doesn't give an indication. He doesn't look at anyone, guard or crew, just at the wall.

Sakura, laying in a bush nearby, watches wide-eyed as her crewmates rumble away. She'd probably swear if silence weren't so important. Feina, pressed against Sakura's side, watches also... then finally, after the trucks have left, touches Saki's arm lightly and tilts her head to indicate they should pull back. She helps the other vixen move silently away from the encampment -- although she can't help a small, almost silent squeak of delight when a small black shadow steps out of a bush and beams up at them.

Sakura takes half a step to the side, ready to bolt if this shadow means trouble... then she grabs the piglet and hugs him tightly! Feina also hugs them both, looking very much happier... while Kawaii looks uncommonly pleased with himself, grunting softly and reassuringly -- no worries, he's back! A moment later Feina says, "We have to save the others! C'mon, let's get started." Heading in what is almost certainly the right direction, she adds, "We'll need a plan." The idea of not helping the other three spacefarers doesn't even seem to cross her mind.

Sakura nods at Feina... "We've got a long walk. Let's go while the trail is still fresh." Kawaii grunts firmly, and heads off ahead of them to scout the way.




Last modified: 2001-Sep-07 01:02:33

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